“Legacy is stagnant.”
“You either play [ccProd]True-Name Nemesis[/ccProd] or a deck that doesn’t care about it.”
[ccProd]True-Name Nemesis[/ccProd] is a lot of things. It’s a resilient, blue, non-interactive evasive creature. It sees a lot of play, but does it make the format more stagnant?
It does constrict things in a way. Since it’s a strictly superior threat in the blue midrange mirror, those blue decks are forced to run it. Before, they had some options between [ccProd]Lingering Souls[/ccProd], [ccProd]Geist of Saint Traft[/ccProd], or [ccProd]Dark Confidant[/ccProd], all of which had their pros and cons. With [ccProd]True-Name Nemesis[/ccProd] locking in certain slots, people have fewer options, and some mirrors are reduced to [ccProd]True-Name Nemesis[/ccProd] battles.
This isn’t the first time a superior option has existed in Legacy. When you consider [ccProd]Tarmogoyf[/ccProd]’s long and bloody reign, the impact of [ccProd]True-Name Nemesis[/ccProd] pales in comparison. This happens with less obvious cards, too. Most decks start with four Brainstorm, BG decks need [ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd]s, and tribal decks start with [ccProd]Aether Vial[/ccProd].
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Wizards will always print more good cards, and sometimes that pushes other cards out.
Of course, you can hate other things about TNN. Patrick Sullivan described it as: “Everything Spikes hate about Hexproof combined with everything non-Spikes hate about [ccProd]Moat[/ccProd].” Zvi, while not calling the card unbeatable, bemoaned its influence, claiming it led to less interactive, less fun Magic.
Those arguments in mind, I don’t think the card will damage Legacy significantly.
Currently, Legacy is more than TNN decks and decks that can ignore it (and there are a ton of decks that can ignore it). The other creature decks have already started to evolve. Death and Taxes runs a maindeck SoFI, and sometimes more hate in the sideboard. Deadguy ale is one of the few decks that can maindeck [ccProd]Zealous Persecution[/ccProd] on top of Liliana, and I’ve seen the more token heavy versions run [ccProd]Humility[/ccProd] as part of an [ccProd]Enlightened Tutor[/ccProd] package. Goblins has its own personalized goblin edict. Junk, possibly the heaviest hit by the card, has options like [ccProd]Pernicious Deed[/ccProd], [ccProd]Diabolic Edict[/ccProd], Liliana, and [ccProd]Toxic Deluge[/ccProd].
These decks might worsen, but they aren’t dead. Here’s an example:
3 Windswept Heath
3 Marsh Flats
3 Verdant Catacombs
1 Horizon Canopy
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Deathrite Shaman
2 Hero of Bladehold
3 Liliana of the Veil
4 Hymn to Tourach
2 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Pernicious Deed
2 Toxic Deluge
3 Abrupt Decay
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Gaddock Teeg
3 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Tower of the Magistrate
1 Bojuka Bog
2 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Chains of Mephistopheles
2 Seal of Primordium[/deck]
This list oozes fun, power, and consistency, and it doesn’t fold to a 3/1. The main deck is a little weak to Jace, but between the discard and Chains + Pulse post-board I think it’s fine.
[ccProd]Toxic Deluge[/ccProd] excites me. It’s not the best [ccProd]Wrath of God[/ccProd] around, but it is the best [ccProd]Plague Wind[/ccProd]. Imagine wiping the opponent’s board so that your Tarmogoyf/Knight/[ccProd]Hero of Bladehold[/ccProd] can beat face.
If I was looking for a fair blue deck that didn’t run [ccProd]True-Name Nemesis[/ccProd], I’d look to control.
1 Darkslick Shores
4 Polluted Delta
4 Underground Sea
2 Mishra’s Factory
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Marsh Flats
1 Chrome Mox
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Force of Will
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Crucible of Worlds
4 Innocent Blood
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Spell Pierce
2 Pithing Needle
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Dread of Night
3 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Engineered Plague[/deck]
A few people suggested [ccProd]Toxic Deluge[/ccProd], but when you have to kill a [ccProd]Tarmogoyf[.ccProd] (or, heaven forbid, a [ccProd]Knight of the Reliquary[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Emrakul[/ccProd]), the life loss is too much. Remember that the deck runs [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd]. Usually, the difference between paying life to wrath earlier or waiting a turn is negligible, and this deck cares about its draws past turn four.
I like UB Landstill because it’s a fair, interactive deck with a great Show and Tell matchup that doesn’t care about [ccProd]True-Name Nemesis[/ccProd]. [ccProd]Diabolic Edict[/ccProd] might be too inefficient these days, but [ccProd]Innocent Blood[/ccProd] is still a fine card. Come to think of it, regular old [ccProd]Pox[/ccProd] could be a fine option too.
While sweet, these lists can’t help everyone. Fortunately, it’s not my job to make [ccProd]True-Name Nemesis[/ccProd] more tolerable, and people don’t expect me to. People don’t always complain because they want a solution. They complain to vent, to air their frustrations. And the goal of my column isn’t to supply easy answers, but rather to teach, and right now that goal is best served with a comparison to a different game entirely.
League of Similarities
There’s a lot of overlap between the communities of Magic: the Gathering and League of Legends, and for good reason. Someone once told me that Riot learned a lot from Magic, and that they like to hire Magic players because of the similarities between the two games.
In Magic, players build decks that they think can take down a tournament, decks that are designed for what they expect their opponents to throw at them. Since the main deck needs to be consistently good across a variety of matchups, the sideboard is there to cover specific weaknesses.
Since League is a real-time strategy game, as opposed to a turn-based deckbuilding game, the sideboarding happens more on the fly. That is, players are constantly adapting to the items (or “build”) that their opponents are constructing. If one player builds armor, the other has to build armor penetration in order to do damage efficiently.
Different items and abilities (like cards in Magic), combine to become more than the sum of their parts. Many items hose specific strategies, and the game has its fair share of [ccProd]Red Elemental Blast[/ccProd]s and [ccProd]Timely Reinforcements[/ccProd].
Before the game starts, you’re given a set of runes and masteries to adjust before the game. Filling them out is a lot like registering a deck sheet for a tournament.
In fact, League has its own form of net-decking, and the competitive community is constantly putting out guides for different champions and builds, which are similar to deck tech articles. As in Magic, the best guides don’t just say what to do, but help the reader understand the decisions too.
League of Stagnation
Both League of Legends and Magic: the Gathering have a very steep learning curve. It’s more of a learning cliff, really. The sheer amount of information necessary to understand what’s going on is incredibly daunting for new players, and League doesn’t have a simplified version like Duels of the Planeswalkers to make things easier.
When you’ve finally climbed the learning cliff, or at least learned that which you set out to know, or are capable of knowing, the staleness phenomenon can occur. In League, that might be knowing all the best characters and their matchups. In Magic, that might be knowing the few best decks inside and out.
Regardless of the game, a solved format means repeating matchups. At this point, players grow tired, and a sense of weariness takes over. Many think it’s from seeing the same decks/champions over and over again, but I’m not so sure. Some have more replayability than others, after all. Instead, I think it’s because we hit a learning plateau.
The reason we find complicated games like League and Magic so satisfying is because of the work involved, because it forces us to become better. With a solved format we feel like the puzzle is solved. Even if there is room for innovation, what’s our motivation to try new things when the established builds are so very good?
The terminology is defeating. Solved. Would you spend time on a solved math problem? Some might value the experience, but most would rather copy the proof down and move on with their lives.
This is why I think Magic R&D would be the best job ever. Imagine breaking formats before they ever exist and testing cards that the rest of the world never gets to see. Although every job becomes a grind eventually. Sometimes I wonder if the Future Future League ever grows stale.
League of Freshness
Just like Magic releases new sets every once and a while, League releases new champions. These champions are intentionally above the power curve so that players have incentive to buy them.
For a bit, the new champions warp the metagame before Riot releases a new patch that nerfs them. In Magic, Wizards does something similar by printing busted new cards and then hosers for them a set or two down the line. This gives players time to play with their new toys before they’re effectively nerfed. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t, and the dominance of overpowered new cards can lead to bannings. [ccProd]Lingering Souls[/ccProd] had a hoser printed in every set, and that card still got banned in Block.
[ccProd]True-Name Nemesis[/ccProd] was designed for EDH play, but it was aggressively costed so that Legacy players would want to buy it. I’ve heard a lot of players complain about this. It’s a complaint that’s constantly dredged back up over the years, that Wizards is just trying to sell cards. You should be glad Wizards/Riot knows how to sell cards/champions. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t have a game to play!
One thing I like about League is that the new, overpowered champions don’t destroy the competitive scene thanks to the game’s player-controlled ban phase. At the start of each game, both teams decide on banning three champions. This increases an individual’s control over staleness (sick of playing against a champion? Just ban it!), while keeping a leash on power creep. It also forces players to branch out of their comfort zones. Just like in Magic, specializing in one thing can lead to success, but having a narrow champion pool means you could get banned out of a game. Some Magic players play nothing but Esper Control, and when Esper isn’t playable they’re at a loss.
On top of new champions and casual formats, League also introduces rules and map updates regularly, which keeps the competitive players on their toes. Magic has done this a few times over the years, if less regularly, the most recent example being the new legend rule. In the case of both games, the companies have given reasons why the changes supposedly improve gameplay. And usually they do. Still, remember that change carries benefits in and of itself.
As in Magic, the competitive League players complain about the changes. Who can blame them? Before they felt like they had the game figured out. There’s a feeling of power in knowing all there is to know, in knowing more than anyone else.
“If it weren’t for the updates, I’d be unbeatable.” -Dyrus
But it’s the changes that keep games fresh, whether the pros like it or not. Players at the top have to relearn, temporarily shaking things up and giving new players a chance. Everyone, at all levels, gets to experience that rush of accomplishment over again.
Following this logic, changing the legend rule was good for Magic. Changing it again will also be good for Magic. They could make damage stack again, and that’d be fine too. Not because damage stacking is good or bad for the game, that’s mostly irrelevant. A small, arbitrary shift to the game, just to keep people on their toes, has value in itself.
Back to that 3/1
In the context of all of this, [ccProd]True-Name Nemesis[/ccProd] is a necessary evil. Wizards needs to print powerful cards to keep people excited and cracking packs. These cards need to have an impact to help keep things fresh.
And, for a time these cards might seem stifling. That’s the game. We’ll adapt and learn, or we’ll just get used to it, or new hosers will get printed.
I’m not telling anyone not to complain. I love complaining. There’s no harm in it, and it tells Wizards which types of cards we’re enjoying and which we could do without.
Still, if you’re sick of a format, take a break! Try other formats, or other games. When you come back, the game will be as fresh as ever.
That new set excitement never stales.
“Hey Caleb, what do you think of this Standard format?”
“It’s about average, why?”
“Oh, I was thinking it’s kind of stagnant is all…”