My goal with this guide over the coming weeks is to paint a picture of the Legacy format, and today we are going to focus on a very important part of the process – picking your deck.
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Legacy Guide Part III: Choosing Your Deck
Choosing your deck is often the most stressful aspect of competing in a Magic tournament. Nowhere is this more true than in Legacy, where making a poor deck choice can be so swiftly and painfully punished. The amount of effort needed to master a new strategy is enormous. And for most of us, budget and card availability issues make switching decks inconvenient or impossible.
Legacy rewards players who are experienced with their decks. Sticking with the same deck through multiple tournaments is the best way to improve, while switching decks frequently can leave you frustrated and wondering why nothing seems to be working.
While I recommend committing yourself to one deck, sometimes such a thing is easier said than done. One risk that comes along with sticking to the same deck is getting trapped with something that’s simply not very good. Not only could your tournament results suffer, but your investment of effort and money wouldn’t be properly rewarded. I’ll offer two pieces of advice to help you protect yourself against being trapped with a bad deck.
First, choose a deck with Brainstorm.
Blue decks with card selection are well-rounded and customizable, so you’re less likely to get locked into a situation where there’s no way to improve.
If a deck features a reasonable shell of Legacy cards and four Brainstorms, it probably can’t be that bad. These blue decks are the “safe” choices of the format. They’re also good examples of decks that highly reward practice and tuning.
My experience has taught me that Brainstorm decks are more resilient to metagame shifts than non-blue decks. Hogaak and Death and Taxes are two of the best decks in Legacy right now. However, I would still hesitate to recommend a new player buying into either of these strategies, because it’s difficult to say whether or not they will still be among the best decks several years from now. It’s possible for shifts in the metagame or the printing of new cards to dramatically change the effectiveness of these strategies. (Note that of the examples I used three years ago in my original Legacy Guide, Death and Taxes stood the test of time while some other decks didn’t fare as well).
Second: Choose a fast or proactive deck.
Slow decks have a tough time in Legacy because the card pool is so large, and there are so many ways for your opponents to attack you. It’s hard to be prepared for them all. If you play a fast deck like Storm, Reanimator, or even Delver, you can always hope to simply win the game before your opponent presents a threat or combination that you can’t answer. However, if you choose a slow deck like Landstill, you give up the chance to score easy wins, and open the door for too many things to go wrong.
Note that there are ways to make slow decks more proactive. For example, you could include potent threats like Monastery Mentor, or you could build in a way to kill your opponent out of nowhere like Dark Depths plus Thespian’s Stage.
Goldfish Deck and Metagame Decks
When you jump into a challenging format like Legacy, the difficulty level of your deck should be an important factor. Virtually all Legacy decks are complicated and skill-testing. However, newer players should note the difference between strategies that require a specific skill set versus strategies that require general mastery of the format.
To put it simply, the faster and more proactive your deck is, the less you have to worry about what your opponents are doing. Piloting Storm combo at a high level is extremely difficult. However, once you can do it, you’ll more or less be able to do it in any matchup, in any metagame, for as long as you don’t get rusty.
On the other hand, interactive decks like Snow, Delver, and Death and Taxes require you to know what your opponents are up to in order to effectively combat them. Which spells should you counter? When should you attack their mana, or leave your own mana untapped? Should you protect your life total, or save your removal for more potent threats? You won’t be able to answer all of these questions the first time you play Legacy. However, if you’re able to put in the reps, these decks will greatly reward your growing mastery of the format.
When it comes to budget, I’ve already given you the most important piece of advice: try to switch decks as infrequently as possible. Beyond that, everyone’s resources and limitations are going to be a little bit different, and I won’t be able to have the perfect answer for everybody. That said, I’ll try to go over a couple of the more common budget problems Legacy players might encounter.
Transitioning from Modern to Legacy
Maybe you’re a Modern player and you own either one complete modern deck, or a larger collection of Modern staples. However, you’re discouraged that you don’t own Legacy-specific cards like Dual Lands, Force of Wills, and Wastelands.
If this is you, don’t despair, because you’re in great shape! Most of the top strategies in Modern–with the exception of the ones particularly vulnerable to Wasteland–will be competitive (at least on some level) in Legacy. Infect is a fantastic choice, while Jund, Burn, Dredge, Affinity, Eldrazi, Humans, Elves, and Hate Bears can all work too.
It’s not the end of the world if you have to use a Modern-style manabase in Legacy. For example, a W/G manabase in Legacy usually consists of Savannahs and Fetch Lands. However, Razorverge Thicket and Horizon Canopy are still totally fine cards in Legacy. You could even fetch for Temple Garden at only a minor disadvantage compared to Savannah. If you can get your hands on even a single copy of your appropriate dual land, you’ll be in even better shape.
Missing Dual Lands
Maybe you’re the type that really doesn’t want to play with Watery Grave, simply on principle. But you also can’t shell out for Underground Seas. Here are some strong decks in Legacy that can be built without the Fetch/Dual manabase:
- Death and Taxes
- Elves (use Forests)
Death’s Shadow actually prefers to play with the Ravnica shocklands over traditional dual lands!
Here are some strong decks that can be built without Wasteland.
- Storm Combo
- Sneak and Show
Missing Force of Will
Here are some strong decks that can be built without Force of Will.
- Storm Combo
- Death and Taxes
- Dark Depths
Starting From Scratch
Maybe you don’t have access to much of a collection at all, and are looking to buy into Legacy in the most affordable way you reasonably can.
Note that Belcher, Dredge, and Burn are examples of decks that don’t require Dual Lands, Wastelands, or Force of Wills. Personally, I believe that Burn is the perfect intersection of being affordable while also being highly competitive.
Legacy Burn - Reid Duke
In my opinion, Burn is a chronically underrated deck in Legacy. Price of Progress is one of the best ways to punish greedy manabases, and Eidolon of the Great Revel is one of the best maindeck cards you can play against combo decks.
R/B Reanimator is one of the most explosive decks in the format. It uses the fast mana of Lotus Petal and Dark Ritual alongside the free disruption of Unmask and Chancellor of the Annex to compress the game into a battle over a reanimation spell on the first or second turn (a battle it’s very well suited to winning). It’s also a huge winner from the new London Mulligan rule, which improves its consistency and gives it one of the highest game-one win rates in all of Legacy.
R/B Reanimator is a strong deck, and yet another option for those with major Legacy staples missing from their collections.
How to Practice Legacy
Practicing Legacy should be much different from practicing Standard. When I practice for a Standard tournament, I’ll sometimes sit down at the kitchen table with a friend and play ten games each of the most popular matchups in the format. If we tried to do the same thing in Legacy, we’d play for dozens of hours and wouldn’t even scratch the surface.
Legacy is simply too diverse to engage in complete and thorough testing, no matter how much you might want to. Instead, the key is to learn your deck in a wide enough variety of situations that you’re comfortable confronting the unknown.
If you really want to improve you’ll want to branch out and face as wide a range of opponents as possible. There’s no substitute for tournament experience. In fact, you should make an effort to play out all the rounds of the Legacy tournaments you attend, even when you’re already out of contention. As always, Magic Online is a great way to face a variety of opponents in a compressed amount of time.
Practice with attention to detail. Improving at Legacy involves mastering subtle decisions like timing, which land to fetch, and how to stack your cards with Brainstorms and Ponders. No question should be too small! I find it valuable every once in a while to play games with a friend over my shoulder (Magic Online is ideal for this) in order to talk over these little things. You can also play kitchen table games with your hands face-up to facilitate discussion and learning, or you can pick a key decision to talk about after each game.
Once you have a solid foundation in the format, you can use focused testing to answer specific questions you might encounter. For example, you’re not sure whether or not to sideboard out Force of Will when your opponent brings in Veil of Summer? Maybe now’s the time to seek out some targeted practice.
If you do want to maintain a small Legacy gauntlet for practice, I’d recommend: Delver (U/R or Grixis), Snow, Death and Taxes, a combo deck like Sneak and Show or Storm, and a graveyard deck like Hogaak or Reanimator. Make sure to emphasize sideboarded games in your practice, since the presence of a few sideboard cards can make a big difference in Legacy.
I wish there was an easy answer for the question of, “What deck should I play in Legacy?” Personally, I’ve devoted countless hours to this question, and will surely spend a lot more before I have an answer. More importantly, everybody is different when it comes to their collection and resources, the amount of practice and experience they’ll be able to amass, and what decks they find fun and engaging. If you’re like me and you’re still searching for a deck, I hope this article has set you on the right track.