Counters for the top decks are evolving, tournament data is pouring in, and for the first time in a while we have a good sense of where the Legacy metagame is at.
Tier 1: UR Delver, Stoneblade, Miracles, Storm
Tier 2: Show and Tell, Elves, RUG, UWR Delver, D&T,
Tier 3: Reanimator, Maverick, Lands, Infect
This is a flavor-of-the-month tier list, meaning that it isn’t so much a theory-crafted ranking of the best decks so much as a reflection on what has been doing well lately. For example, I think Infect is better positioned than Elves, but has put up fewer finishes for whatever reason (quantity and quality of pilots being factors).
I’m not going to go through this list one by one, but I do have a few thoughts on what’s overplayed and what’s underplayed and why.
David McDarby recently took down an Open with the deck, and on paper a Thalia + Spirit of the Labyrinth deck seems really good. The problem is that the Cruise decks typically have a ton of answers to random dorks, and once the hosers are off the board they get to draw cards. It’s the softest of soft locks, and Thalia in general is awkward when people are running more basics since it’s much better when combined with Wasteland.
And when you consider that Darby played UR Sneak and Show in the following Invitational (a deck much more his style), it’s easy to think there is some discrepancy between how Maverick looks on paper and how good it actually is.
Unless you’re looking to “gotcha!” people who forget that Spirit of the Labyrinth is in play, I don’t think Maverick is better positioned than usual.
A lot of people picked up Storm to fight Treasure Cruise decks, and for good reason. By the time the fair decks can cast their nifty draw spell, Storm is firing off discard and fast mana and winning through multiple counters.
The deck performed at the Invitational, putting multiple people in the 7-1-or-better bracket as well as three players into the Top 8. With a couple copies in the Legacy Top 16 that weekend, and some reasonable performances on MTGO recently, the deck has overtaken Sneak and Show as the combo deck of choice. And Sneak is still putting up numbers! Don’t get me wrong, Sneak is one of the best decks of the past two years, and possibly of all time, it’s just worse than Storm at the moment.
One of the main reasons that Sneak is worse than Storm is the sheer number of Pyroblasts floating around, which are pretty good against Show and Tell. From the UR Delver side, I’ve even gotten to Hydroblast a few Sneak Attacks, which feels awesome. Hydroblast is meant as a hedge against Burn and the mirror, and here it is countering one of the most important spells imaginable.
Storm doesn’t have that weakness. You can Pyroblast a cantrip or two, but that may or may not set the Storm deck back a turn, and in general Storm is solid against decks trying to build up walls of countermagic.
Storm, by Wilson Hunter
I haven’t seen a multiple Grim Tutor list in a while, as most people prefer the Ad Nauseum or Burning Wish route. Between these three options I prefer this build, as it makes for a better Past in Flames deck, and Past in Flames is the most consistent win.
The other benefit to cutting Ad Nauseum from the main is that we can up the curve a bit, giving access to maindeck Empty the Warrens. This allows for more explosive turn ones, dropping 10-16 power into play before the opponent can represent disruption.
Post-board, we can cut some number of Grim Tutor, Empty the Warrens, and Past in Flames to bring in Ad Nauseam, becoming less dependent on the graveyard in the face of possible hate.
The main benefit this list has over the Burning Wish variants is that all of the tutors work well with Past in Flames, while Burning Wish exiles itself and can’t be flashed back. The mana is a lot better too since this version will rarely need double-red and never need white for Silence.
Elves is in rougher shape than usual. On a strictly Glimpse of Nature vs. Treasure Cruise level the fair folk can compete, but it’s the rest of the field that’s troubling. Miracles is still playable, and Storm/Ascendancy/Reanimator are all terrible matchups. Compare this to when Sneak and Show was the combo deck of choice, and Elves had a pretty OK matchup against the top combo deck.
Pointy-eared enthusiasts will still put up numbers, but that’s because the Legacy metagame is so diverse. Even if a deck is poorly positioned, it can still face a run of good matchups, especially if those good matchups include most fair decks. Still, I wouldn’t pick up Elves if I was trying to win a tournament.
As an aside, it was nice to see Daniel Nguyen adapting Julian23’s Wren’s-Run Packmaster. It looks silly on paper, but it’s actually a great middle of the road Green Sun’s Zenith target that bridges the gap between Elvish Visionary and Craterhoof Behemoth. And it’s a sink for Gaea’s Cradle to boot! While it’s best against a field of Tarmogoyfs, it’s yet another way that Elves can grind through a Treasure Cruise or three.
UWR Ascendancy is a port to Legacy from the Modern variant that performed well at Worlds. The deck isn’t an answer to the Cruise meta, it’s a part of it, trying to turn the extra cards into a more direct win than what the tempo decks are doing.
The deck is still fresh, and has room to adapt. After seeing a few versions do well on MTGO I gave it a spin, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Clearly the deck was good because good players were winning with it, but when I tested the deck I was having difficulty slogging through disruption against prepared opponents, and sometimes even when I achieved an advantage I had difficulty closing out the game.
It sucks to be a combo deck that’s weak to spot removal. A lot of the time you can power through it, but the one time the midrange deck beats you because their last card is a removal spell feels awful. Even the equipment decks aren’t weak to Swords to Plowshares!
Perhaps I was late to the party, or perhaps the deck was still evolving.
Ascendancy, by Sam Black
This list looks closer to the original pure combo builds from Modern, which makes sense since Josh Utter-Leyton, the architect behind the Modern version, shipped Sam his Legacy build.
Unlike the Young Pyromancer lists, this features Lotus Petal to win faster, and Pact of Negation to force through the win. It’s kind of reminiscent of a Hive Mind/Storm hybrid. While Sam didn’t like the Pacts, they are a free way to force Ascendancy through and protect Fatestitcher.
I’ve been particularly impressed with Lotus Petal. As a free spell for delve, it sort of makes two mana (1.5?), dramatically increasing the tempo of the deck.
Wind Zendikon is another non-green mana critter that people have been kicking around with Ascendancy. Unlike Fatestitcher, it can’t start from the graveyard, but it does trigger Ascendancy. I like Zendikon’s inclusion here because having more dudes makes the deck much less weak to random spot removal when you need to combo off. Young Pyromancer kind of did this, but it was a dud in the games where you needed to combo to win.
One of the side benefits of Zendikon is that the pieces are a little more redundant. This might be one of the reasons Sam got away with maximizing the superior delve spell even though it’s less direct at finding combo pieces.
Gut Shot is an interesting one, and it goes to show just how badly Sam wants to trigger Ascendancy on the turn he taps out for it. Young Pyromancer and Delver of Secrets are popular, and Thalia is a frightening hate bear to face, but there are going to be plenty of matchups where Gut Shot is a Gitaxian Probe that doesn’t draw a card or look at their hand. Having a couple of high-variance slots isn’t the worst in a deck full of Ancestral Recalls and free loots, though, and it’s a sort of counterpart to Pact of Negation.
The full eight Mental Note/Thought Scour is an engine that I never would have come to, but it makes sense in the context of the deck. Sam will always be delving, and a lot of the time he’ll find half the combo (Fatestitcher) in the process. Still, it’s painful to see random cantripping in this our day of Ponder and Preordain.
One of the advantages they have over otherwise-superior cantrips is the instant speed, letting the deck combo out in response to a Pyroblast or Abrupt Decay on Ascendancy. It’s also a neat way to clear off Brainstorm chaff, letting the deck Brainstorm on turn one for full value.
The original Intuition-based UR Painted Stone was one of mine. The deck had its strengths, but couldn’t cut it after Abrupt Decay was printed. Still, the Grindstone combo itself used to see a decent amount of Vintage play, and any time you can abuse a Vintage-level interaction in other formats you probably should.
Grixis Welder, by Jonathan Salem
While this has some elements of Painted Stone, Painter is more of a pure combo deck while this is control with a combo finish. I could see winning with Jace just as often as Grindstone.
In actuality, this is closer to the mono-red versions, since that deck is also toolbox-focused and full of prison-y soft locks. The difference being that this deck plays Brainstorm and is therefore better.
The artifact theme gives us more tools than a typical Grixis shell. Welder + Top/Strix serves as a card advantage engine and we have a few different ways of tutoring up control elements or combo pieces.
The control elements solve some problems too, and the deck is much less vulnerable to disruption than the all-in combo version is.
Dig Through Time is a better miser’s than Treasure Cruise because the deck doesn’t have many cantrips and you’re probably going to be paying some mana anyway. In fact, I’m not convinced that Dig is better here than Fact or Fiction or Thirst for Knowledge, both of which will cost about the same and work better with Welder.
Overall, this is a strong, versatile control deck with enough options and value plays to compete in the current environment. Post-board, it has access to both discard and the countertop engine, giving it a very strong combo matchup. As people continue to flock to Storm/Ascendancy/Reanimator to beat the UR Delver decks, this brew will be well positioned to take advantage of the shift.
What to Play
If you’re a spike looking for a top deck, play Storm. If you’re comfortable enough with an archetype to tune it for the existing meta and win some 45% matchups, then just keep playing that.
If you’re looking to brew, now is a good time to throw CounterTop into just about anything. Even if your opponent is Cruising, they aren’t necessarily resolving their key spells, and this way you have some maindeck hate for combo.