2021 was a long year. While I could talk about the million world events that occurred and changed life for people worldwide, that’s beyond the scope of my simple Legacy column. Legacy was not safe from changes and this year yielded some of the most significant Legacy changes in the format’s history. Reflecting on them, I could barely remember some of these events, so I thought it would be fun to take a walk down memory lane and chat about what happened this year. This is mostly a fun exercise to reflect on what happened this year, but it will also provide me with opportunities to reflect on the major events and what their long-term impacts were.
We entered into this year with a relatively stale format. With the power of Oko, Thief of Crowns and Dreadhorde Arcanist, Temur Delver was the top dog of the format and has been since March of the previous year. This deck was particularly potent since it was challenging to effectively find an answer that would address each of the problems the deck presented. Swords to Plowshares didn’t answer Oko, Abrupt Decay didn’t answer Hooting Mandrills and Lightning Bolt only really answered Dreadhorde and Delver. In addition to this, Delver players fully adopted Klothys, God of Destiny as a sideboard strategy, which put the kibosh on the answers that existed at the time.
Meanwhile, Arcum’s Astrolabe was fueling four and five-color snow decks that used Oko and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath to take over any game that went somewhat long. This deck was problematic because it was challenging to effectively punish them. Astrolabe enabled them to cast spells of the entire color pie and would often lead to ridiculous situations (such as the deck using Blood Moon quite easily or casting Abrupt Decay off of a Plains and Island). This deck had answers for just about everything and would lead to games that felt completely hopeless from the opposite side of the table. While there were other decks in the format, these two were clearly among the top two and players were getting sick of playing against them (rightfully so, in my opinion).
This was among the most notable Legacy events over the past few years. This year was so long and MH2 was so impactful that I almost forgot that this happened this past February. Legacy players knew the Oko ban was coming. The card was not only absurd to play with and against, but it was completely miserable in any game it resolved. Astrolabe was not far behind on people’s lists. Yes, it wasn’t a part of Delver, which was the de facto best deck in the format, but it allowed control decks to play whatever they wanted with no consequence and made it extremely challenging and unfun to play against.
Dreadhorde Arcanist was an interesting one. I think players who played a lot of Legacy identified this as one of the most problematic cards but from an outsider perspective, banning a creature that dies to every removal spell in the format looks weird. The issue with Arcanist is that the problem it presented was “kill it or lose.” This placed a lot of pressure on the early stages of the game and really truncated the most relevant turns of the game. An unchecked Arcanist was the easiest way to win a game as it would snowball the card advantage generated in a trivial way, which was enough to beat any strategy. I think this ban was great and that Legacy was made significantly better as a result.
One of the most interesting notes from this ban announcement was the lack of Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. An announcement was issued from Wizards of the Coast as a result of a Secret Lair product that involved Uro and mentioned that they were planning to ban Uro in many formats. In the announcement, Uro was specifically excluded on the conditions that the Legacy format could adapt to it. This was controversial at the time, but something I agreed with. I’m not a fan of playing against Uro, but with Astrolabe out of the format, it seemed like decks would have to push their mana bases a bit more to consistently cast and escape it. It’s still among the best cards you can play in Legacy right now, but I think for the most part, this has been the case, so I actually like the choice that Wizards made here.
I think most individual set releases this year don’t warrant mention, but Strixhaven had a profound impact on the format. Most people (including myself) shifted their focus towards Witherbloom Apprentice and Sedgemoor Witch as ways to go infinite with Chain of Smog. While there was some power in that combo that would continue to get explored, the most impactful card in the set for Legacy (and every format) was Expressive Iteration.
It was easy to write off since it looked like cards we’ve seen in the past that didn’t quite have the staying power for Legacy (such as Light Up the Stage). However, it’s become incredibly clear that this is one of the most powerful cards in the format. While Delver is the most prominent home for the card (and the most natural, since the deck tends to be Izzet and play proactive cards) we have seen all flavors of fair blue decks using this card over the past few months. While it may look innocuous, this card has secretly held blue decks together since its release.
With the release of Strixhaven, Delver once again held a comfortable position at the top of the format. This led the conversation back to bans, which I addressed back then. These essentially broke down into two camps: ban the new cards, such as Expressive Iteration (which back then seemed absurd, but now seems appropriate) or ban a staple. The “ban Delver” argument hasn’t stood up over time since MH2 introduced new threats that usurped the Delver role.
Banning Daze has been a conversation that has persisted. I still do not think this is the right move for reasons I’ve illustrated in a number of articles over the past few months, but I do understand the impetus for wanting this. However, these conversations were occurring right around the time MH2 was coming out and most people wanted to wait to see how the format shaped up with the release of a powerful new set.
People were not happy with the format pre-MH2 release, which was primarily a result of Delver’s performance. While some people are not a fan of the Horizons-style sets as a result of their direct-to-format changes, it did promise to change up the format. MH2 certainly shook up the format. The introduction of the slew of powerful cards MH2 contained seriously powerful cards which impacted decks that already existed and helped spawn new archetypes. Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Dragon’s Rage Channeler were the immediate standouts, Murktide Regent was one of the “sleeper” cards of the set and players realized shortly after its release that this was one of the more underrated cards in the set during preview season.
Cards like Urza’s Saga, Endurance and Thought Monitor have all had a significant impact on the format and have changed the way people have to play and build their decks. As I have been covering different decks and writing deck guides over the past few months I have noticed that there has been a ton of innovation. This set is chock full of exciting cards that players have clearly taken to brewing with and exploring, which has been really nice to see.
The major criticism of the actual set release (not just the philosophy of Horizons sets) was that it promoted the status quo of pre-MH2 Legacy. The best cards from the set were all aggressively-slanted blue and red cards which fit perfectly into the Delver shell. “Delver” decks shifted away from their namesake card and adopted the full suite of MH2 creatures as their threats. The power of Delver has been significantly increased so despite an overall increase in power in the format, in many ways it doesn’t feel like that much has changed. In fact, while the rest of the format has developed around it, the Izzet Ragavan decks haven’t changed much since MH2‘s release.
This leads us to the recent past and the present. In the weeks leading up to Eternal Weekend in November, Wizards announced that they would hold off on any format changes until after Eternal Weekend. This had a pretty profound effect on Legacy players. On the one hand, it was a moment of communication from WotC who generally don’t spend a lot of time acknowledging the players when it comes to ban announcements. This indicated to players that they were aware that change would be preferable but that they did not want to ban in advance of a major event.
The problem with this is that many players viewed this event as a so-called “lame duck” format. Playing tournaments is significantly less exciting when you know the testing you put in for an event is likely to be useless afterwards. While I would usually be sympathetic to the fact that card availability is an issue when you make a huge change right before an event, EW Online provided access to the full card pool of Legacy, so that wasn’t a concern. The other counterpoint that comes to mind, that Wizards wanted to gather more data and information about the format before making a decision, doesn’t really resonate with me in this situation either. There have been a relatively large number of events in the five or six months that MH2 has been legal. This provides substantial evidence to make a decision on.
When we look at what happened post-Eternal Weekend, the present enters into view and nothing has changed since the event. Realistically, Wizards of the Coast examined the data from the event and in the events leading up to it and had a discussion about whether or not Delver, or any cards from it, were too represented and dominant. It is true to some degree that the data we have seen over the past few months suggests that Izzet decks do not make up the most dominant share possible. I’m not really looking to examine the data and explore what that means here (plenty of people have been doing that on twitter, if you’re interested), but I wouldn’t be surprised if their evaluation revealed that the deck isn’t performing at a degree worthy of a ban.
However, leaving the announcement of a potential ban hanging in the air without addressing it has left players pretty disenfranchised and frustrated. While I have been continuing to have fun in this format, as I have said many times, I think this format needs a change. It’s become far too stale and dominated by a single deck. However, if they are not going to make a change, I want to know why so that the community is not left to speculate on the same topic on repeat week after week.
It’s been quite a year. Legacy has undergone a fair amount of development but we still end the year in the same place we started. I understand the frustration that some people experience in these regards, but I think one of the best pieces of advice I can give is to broaden your horizons. Even after a couple of bans happen, the reality is that Legacy is going to be a generally more powerful format that is even more driven by newer printings as opposed to old standbys. For some, this is enough of a turnoff that they no longer wish to engage with the format. However, if you can find a way to change your perspective and accept this a bit more, it will make your experience a lot more enjoyable. Despite all of these changes, Legacy still brought me a lot of joy this year and even now, when people seem to be as soured as ever on the format, there’s a lot of fun to be had.
I don’t hope for much change, but I would really prefer to have more transparency from Wizards of the Coast going forward. I think this will help alleviate concerns that people have and overall make the community feel like we are being listened to. I am really looking forward to what 2022 will provide us and have a lot of hope for the future, even beyond Legacy, so here’s to a great new year!