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Legacy Lessons: Tips From the Format’s Most Successful Players

I’m a huge lover of data, and for a while now, the good people from MTGEloProject have been gathering a large MTG database. Currently, the site has a whopping decade of data that includes all the Grand Prix and Pro Tours since 2007. A little while ago, they added a nifty list of statistics, including win rate by format. For the format specific data see here.

Now, I reached out to Adam Lizzi from MTGEloProject and he helped provide data for all 24 Legacy GPs (including pre-2007), as well as the 3 Eternal Weekends (2013 through 2015) that are on the Wizards website. This was an incredible data set, and many thanks to Adam for helping make this a possibility. Some quick stats: There have been 26,297 different people who played in at least one of these 27 events. 18,500 of these players only played in only one of these events, putting the repeat player count at 7,797. Reid Duke has played in the most events (15), followed by Brian DeMars (14), and Ben Friedman (13).

Let’s dive in to the rest. Here is the list of players who have played at least 50 matches and have a win rate of 65% or higher in Legacy. (Keep in mind the actual website does not have the data from the early Legacy GPs or Eternal Weekends, so their list is slightly different.)

Name W L Total %
1 Calderon, Andrew 50 14 64 78.1%
2 Enevoldsen, Thomas 49 14 63 77.8%
3 Ayers, Daryl 44 14 58 75.9%
4 Dudognon, Yohan 42 14 56 75.0%
5 Schonegger, Philipp 44 15 59 74.6%
6 Tierney, Patrick 41 15 56 73.2%
7 Saito, Tomoharu 87 32 119 73.1%
8 Cesari, Paolo 62 23 85 72.9%
9 Keith, Jody 67 25 92 72.8%
10 Ross, Tom 48 18 66 72.7%
11 Damo da Rosa, Paulo Vitor 61 23 84 72.6%
12 Geeraerts, Jo 39 15 54 72.2%
13 Chilbert, Colin 41 16 57 71.9%
14 Ford, Jason 41 16 57 71.9%
15 Marcotti, Emanuele 43 17 60 71.7%
16 Martell, Tom 55 22 77 71.4%
17 Jordan, Daniel 45 18 63 71.4%
18 Walker, Noah 37 15 52 71.2%
19 Hunter, Wilson 59 24 83 71.1%
20 Schuetz, Stefan 41 17 58 70.7%
21 Vlcek, Tomas 38 16 54 70.4%
22 Corvese, Harry 59 25 84 70.2%
23 Yu, Jarvis 73 31 104 70.2%
24 Majors, Michael 47 20 67 70.1%
25 Lossett, Joe 68 29 97 70.1%
26 Dominguez, Javier 63 27 90 70.0%
27 Sui, Xin 42 18 60 70.0%
28 Takahashi, Yuta 35 15 50 70.0%
29 Sommen, Pierre 58 25 83 69.9%
30 Logan, Colin 44 19 63 69.8%
31 Braun-Duin, Brian 46 20 66 69.7%
32 Tholance, Nicolas 39 17 56 69.6%
33 Duke, Reid 96 42 138 69.6%
34 Schmaltz Tziritas, Mathew 43 19 62 69.4%
35 Pikula, Chris 43 19 62 69.4%
36 Coleman, Jason 38 17 55 69.1%
37 Walter, Royce 42 19 61 68.9%
38 Das, Anuraag 46 21 67 68.7%
39 Nelson, Brad 37 17 54 68.5%
40 Kesseler, Marco 37 17 54 68.5%
41 Bernat, Michael 39 18 57 68.4%
42 Ellingsen, Mats 41 19 60 68.3%
43 Le Briand, Loic 58 27 85 68.2%
44 Vidugiris, Gaudenis 58 27 85 68.2%
45 Pogue, James 47 22 69 68.1%
46 Friedman, Samuel 49 23 72 68.1%
47 Dagen, Pierre 34 16 50 68.0%
48 Malatesta, Nicholas 34 16 50 68.0%
49 Hatfield, Alix 87 41 128 68.0%
50 Signorini, Daniel 76 36 112 67.9%
51 Herrera, Marco 38 18 56 67.9%
52 Light, Matthew 35 17 52 67.3%
53 Stewart, Michael 35 17 52 67.3%
54 Herbig, Michael 39 19 58 67.2%
55 Levin, Drew 45 22 67 67.2%
56 Froehlich, Eric 47 23 70 67.1%
57 Turtenwald, Owen 73 36 109 67.0%
58 Ulanov, Denis 52 26 78 66.7%
59 Hinkle, Charles 52 26 78 66.7%
60 Ahmad, Anwar 50 25 75 66.7%
61 Gorzgen, Fabian 50 25 75 66.7%
62 Westlake, Jamie 48 24 72 66.7%
63 Saitou, Ryuuga 38 19 57 66.7%
64 Tenjum, Andrew 38 19 57 66.7%
65 Pasek, Maciej 36 18 54 66.7%
66 Markowicz, Eric 36 18 54 66.7%
67 Hayne, Alexander 67 34 101 66.3%
68 Sourcin, Christoph 45 23 68 66.2%
69 Friedman, Ben 88 45 133 66.2%
70 Yam, Philip 43 22 65 66.2%
71 Littman, Fai 35 18 53 66.0%
72 Donegan, Dylan 33 17 50 66.0%
73 Ravitz, Joshua 58 30 88 65.9%
74 Shay, Rich 50 26 76 65.8%
75 Merriam, Ross 73 38 111 65.8%
76 Wienburg, Ben 48 25 73 65.8%
77 Polzl, Tristan 44 23 67 65.7%
78 Folinus, Jeff 76 40 116 65.5%
79 Naidu, Akash 55 29 84 65.5%
80 Huang, Bob 72 38 110 65.5%
81 Smiley, Thomas 36 19 55 65.5%
82 Pakka, Esko 34 18 52 65.4%
83 Wescoe, Craig 77 41 118 65.3%
84 Jones, Kevin 45 24 69 65.2%
85 Togores, Rodrigo 45 24 69 65.2%
86 Durward, Caleb 43 23 66 65.2%
87 Anderson, Todd 52 28 80 65.0%
88 Bonaventura, Ciro 39 21 60 65.0%
89 Euser, Kasper 39 21 60 65.0%
90 Lybaert, Marijn 39 21 60 65.0%

I reached out to as many people on this list as I could, and conducted a survey trying to get at the heart of the question: What do successful Legacy players have in common?

I distilled that question into several questions:

Q1. Do you consider yourself a Legacy specialist or general Magic player?

A. Of the 40 players who replied, 23 considered themselves general Magic players while 17 considered themselves Legacy specialists.

I found this to be somewhat surprising at first. There has always been this idea floating around that “Legacy specialists” are better than “Pros” at Legacy because the format requires a significant amount of investment and understanding. I think there is some truth to that, but reality is more nuanced. For example, some players like PV play so well that they can “re-learn” Legacy at a fast enough pace and rely on MTG fundamentals to succeed at the highest level of Legacy. Others, like Thomas Enevoldsen, are well known for their Legacy finishes, but still consider themselves MTG generalists and perhaps a large part of their Legacy prowess comes from being well-versed in MTG fundamentals. On the other hand, there are a handful of players on this list that only play Legacy.

But even those who consider themselves “Legacy specialists” often are just solid Magic players who don’t play the other formats as much. Caleb Durward is an excellent example of a Legacy specialist who has branched out and achieved a lot of success. Recently, Wilson Hunter was able to Top 16 a Limited GP and qualified for the PT via playing a Standard RPTQ. I think the debate between “Legacy specialist” versus “pro” is perhaps the wrong question to ask. It’s interesting to think about and debate, but ultimately I believe success in Legacy is dependent on understanding the format and understanding your deck’s role in every matchup. For most people, this means playing and practicing a fair amount of Legacy. But for the gifted, they can probably translate a lot of their MTG knowledge to Legacy in a week or so of dedicated testing.

Q2. What’s your approach for deck selection in Legacy? Do you prefer to play what you know, or do you gravitate toward trying to learn and play the best deck?

A. 28 replied “familiarity” and 12 replied “best deck.”

Overall, I’m inclined to agree with “familiarity” over “best deck” as a strategy for success. Reid Duke wrote an excellent article outlining his answer to the question. There aren’t too many players talented enough to pick up a new Legacy deck and consistently succeed with it, and after exploring many different Legacy decks, I’ve concluded that I can play Delver well, but make tons of mistakes when I switch to other decks. There can be a few exceptions, such as when Miracles was the best deck. I played Miracles suboptimally, but it was enough better than other available options that I still did well with the deck.

My personal strategy going forward is to play a fair Brainstorm deck that I am comfortable with. Over the long horizon, Brainstorm decks have outperformed the field by a significant amount, and they are customizable to beat a known field. In general, they are also less susceptible to sideboard hate. Legacy sideboards are inherently powerful, and this power becomes magnified as you gain access to cantrips like Ponder and Brainstorm. Back in November, I wrote an article diving into sideboard construction in Legacy, and it expands further on why fair decks have outperformed unfair decks here.

Some insightful comments from the survey:

Jason Ford: “I am confident enough in my play that I think it’s more important that my deck choice is not handicapping me than exploiting some metagame hole. If I’m playing a tier 1 deck and that deck gives me room to navigate (as most tier 1 decks do, being blue and playing Brainstorm), I’ll be just fine.”

Rich Shay: “For deck selection, I use a blended approach. If there is a deck that is so much better than the rest of the field, I will play that. This is why I ran Miracles last year. Note that when this is the case, this usually indicates a problem with the format. If there is no such deck, then I’ll go with what I feel comfortable with.”

Chas Hinkle: “Chris Pikula pointed out to me years ago that there are some decks that especially reward knowledge of Legacy and others that especially reward knowledge of Magic.” (Knowing your strengths is half the battle right? The other half is knowing who to listen to and quote.)

Q3. For GPs, have you historically played fair decks, unfair decks, or both?

A. 29 people played only fair decks, 8 people played both, and 3 people played only unfair decks (2 Storm players, plus Tom Ross on Infect).

In my metagame analyses, I’ve noticed that as I increase the cutoff for “top finishing decks,” the number of fair Brainstorm decks tends to increase, while the number of Chalice of the Void and combo decks tends to decrease. For example, if I look at the top 10% of decks, combo usually is about 30-35% of the format. But if I reduce the cutoff to top 2%, it usually ticks down to ~25%. This trend has held true since 2013 when I first started tracking the metagame. This fact, plus the fact that successful players consistently favor fair decks, leads me to believe that the best strategy for deck selection/deckbuilding is to build your deck to beat the major fair decks, while having a coherent sideboard for combating the unfair decks in Legacy.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for this data. I’ll be revisiting the data and surveys that I sent out next month as I dive into what the experts think of the current Legacy metagame, as well as more detailed information on their deck selection over the years.

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