The Legacy Purge

“Oh, my, God Becky, look at that B&R announcement, it’s sooooo big!”

I like big B&R announcements and I cannot lie… in case you missed it, which I’m sure you didn’t:

Deathrite Shaman is banned in Legacy.

Gitaxian Probe is banned in Legacy.

I’ll start by saying that this is not the kind of banning anybody will feel lukewarm about. Whether you woke up yesterday and looked at your screen and cheered or blurted out a loud stream of curse words, I know that this is one that people felt pretty hard. So if you lost a trusted little Elf buddy who was a steadfast part of your game, I feel for you.

“Get off my plane!”

I agree immediately pivoting from Sir-Mix-A-Lot to Air Force One is a little disjointed. It’s a big subject and I have a lot of thoughts on it, so I’ll likely bounce around a little, but just imagine Maro or Ian Duke doing their best Harrison Ford growl before kicking a pile of Deathrite Shamans out the back of a moving aircraft. Or, if you like puns, maybe they could be dropkicking cards off the edge of Ravincia or Dominaria and BANishing them to the strange and mysterious realm of Vintage.

I cannot understate the impact these changes will have on the future of Legacy. I know, I know… Brainstorm and Force of Will are, and have always been, the mainstays that will bind the format back together, but DRS was on the same level of efficiency and power. Legacy will go forward without one of its best and most played cards. And don’t kid yourself… DRS has been a player on the same level as BS and FoW for years now.

In terms of impact, this is bigger than Top going down in flames. It’s similar, but way bigger. The July 2 B&R announcement will likely be talked about as one of (if not the) most significant banning in a non-rotating format.

The other banning I can think of that changed the foundation of what a format looked like would be the restriction of Brainstorm in Vintage way back in the day:

Brainstorm, Force of Will, and Deathrite Shaman are not the busted combo finish. These are the glue cards that hold decks together. There are different kinds of high impact bannings, and the ones that pull at the threads that hold a format together are always the most risky and impactful.

As a point of contrast:

Here today, but gone in a Flash.

There are bannings where a blatant combo deck rises up and is just better than everything else. These are the kinds of bannings where after one season of dominating the format, the overwhelming majority of players look to the DCI and say: “Can you handle this? We’re ready to get back to playing actual Magic again.”

Neither of today’s bannings cleanly fit into the Flash model, although I do think a case can easily be made that Probe shouldn’t exist and that it only facilitates bad things happening. These are cards that are incredibly efficient and have become integral cogs in the machines that were the Grixis Delver and 4c Midrange decks.

DRS and Probe are fair cards that are just so efficient for their cost that they blur the line into unfair cards.

Let’s start with Probe, because my thoughts on that card are more focused and straightforward.

Wizards is Right to Pretend that Probe Simply Does Not Exist

“Git-outta-here Probe.”

Gitaxian Probe is 100% a mistake that should never have been made. There is a big difference between what is neat, novel, and fun in casual Magic and tournament Magic.

It’s the kind of card you sleeve up knowing it will be banned someday, and you’re just enjoying doing busted things for the time being.

Phyrexian mana was one of the biggest design mistakes ever. It’s a cool idea to use other resources (life, exiling cards from the graveyard, etc.) as a way to circumvent cost. The problem is that when the game speeds up and becomes 100% about efficiency and synergy that cards that break the rules, well, they do exactly that, and it’s obnoxious!

The biggest problem is when things that should have a significant cost start to approach having little or no cost: Gitaxian Probe, Treasure Cruise, and Dig Through Time, for example. Basically, a list of cards that are rightly banned and the world is better for it. Cards that were an exploration into design space that didn’t work out well in Eternal formats.

I like the idea of simply removing cards like these from the tournament card pool because they don’t add much other than speed up the format for no reason, or generate extra storm or cast triggers.

These are cards that can now only be played as a singleton in Vintage alongside other “oops” cards like Ancestral Recall and Treasure Cruise. I wonder if we’ll see Probe eventually banned in Pauper…

I think this move was a slam dunk and the fallout is straightforward. The decks that utilized this effect get worse because they don’t have it anymore. But they should never have had access to this effect in the first place, so it’s kind of a wash. The world is made right again.

But Was it the Rite Move?

The Deathrite Shaman banning is by far the more interesting and higher impact decision to come out of the July 2nd announcement.

For starters, unlike other format warping decks like Flash or Survival of the Fittest, I think it’s debatable whether Deathrite Shaman was a problem (or how big it was).

It felt close to 50/50 with maybe a slight lean toward “ban it.” But to be fair, I think a lot of people (myself included) will tend to lean toward a ban in a lot of situations because change is fun in a format that doesn’t rotate. To be fair, in this particular case, I did not have ban-lust and advocated a hope that Wizards would let it ride for the time being, because I thought the format and games were well above average by my standards.

The point is, it wasn’t like Flash where basically everyone agreed “this is not OK.” There were good points on both sides:

The card is everywhere and it’s super strong—ban it.

But the games are decent and it’s a card that goes into fair decks that helps against unfair decks—don’t ban it.

Yeah, but the fair deck has the best winner’s metagame percentage and it’s growing—ban it.

But there are a bunch of different decks that play the card. The card sort of fosters diversity—don’t ban it.

How you felt about Deathrite likely boiled down to what you valued about Legacy and I can respect both sides of the argument. No matter how you felt about the card, there is no denying that burning down the largest pillar of a huge and dynamic format will have far reaching implications.

So What Now?

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of Sultai and Grixis players suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.”

I cannot even begin to imagine the full impact that such a banning will have on Legacy. I’ve had a few hours to mull it over and I’m still a little bit shocked by just how big this change is going to be.

On the one hand, it is pretty easy to imagine that the decks most oppressed by Deathrite Shaman are most likely due for a comeback. Anything that relied on doing powerful things out of the graveyard got a huge upgrade:

While the Grixis and Sultai mages are licking their wounds today, the Golgari are having a straight-up Ewok-style teddy bear picnic in celebration of not having to play against DRS in game 1 anymore.

The fact that these fair decks no longer have access to a bunch of free graveyard interaction probably means that more dedicated hate cards are coming to fight the impeding rise of graveyard decks.

Another card that I think becomes much, much more important in the format:

Without Deathrite Shaman to insulate against mana denial, I expect Wasteland to become a much more effective way to apply pressure to an opponent. Not that it wasn’t great already, but it gets even better when half of the format don’t have DRS anymore.

Death and Taxes, or Eldrazi and Taxes, with a nice graveyard hate package seem like nice ways to exploit Wasteland and counter combo at the same time. Perhaps the biggest silver lining of a banning like this is that it puts so much up into the air and creates more room for deck builders to try new things in a more open field. Obviously, things will begin to solidify and stick quickly, but there is a whole new metagame to think about.

Personally, I’m stoked about building a sweet Eldrazi deck based around:

With some Wastelands and Chalice of the Voids for good measure. While it’s true you can’t DRS anymore, my biggest hope is that by banning the card it will open up more space for deck building without losing too much of the element where both decks have a chance in most matchups.

After having gone through the motions and digesting the banning for a while, I’d characterize my measured reaction as:

  • Surprised – The topic has been discussed to death, but there is a big difference between something that could happen and something that did happen.
  • Excited – The upside of any banning (regardless of whether it breaks your heart and deck) is that it creates new space to play new strategies. A big piece of the metagame took a hit and the push back will be fun to participate in, as well as watch in coverage!

The takeaway is that the July 2nd B&R announcement is an absolute game-changer that will send shockwaves through the format for months to come.

Was it the correct move? What should you play now? How will the removal of DRS shape a new metagame? These are all questions we should be thinking about and discussing moving forward. If you’ve got ideas, be sure to drop them in the comments section to discuss. If you want to shout out cheers or jeers about the banning, you can drop it here as well.

It was risky… I’ll give them that. My biggest hope is that Legacy continues to be a dynamic and fun format moving forward. The format was great before Deathrite Shaman and I’m sure that it’ll continue to be great without it now.

If you’re feeling a little blue today, remember: “You still have Brainstorm and Force of Will, and with those tools the fair decks will rebuild and go forward in Legacy.”

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