Getting into formats is hard. Every competitive player out there started playing Magic not knowing anything about Standard, T1.5, or rotations. If you were anything like me you played against your friends during school breaks (and school periods, as long as the teachers weren't watching too carefully), enjoying the game but not having any idea of what lies beyond. No idea about Grand Prix or Pro Tours, no idea about metagames and spoilers. For me it was a time when getting a new sick card for my deck (mind the singular) was an occasion and surprising my friends with the brokenness that is Krosan Cloudscraper felt like the greatest thrill ever. You played what you had and managed to cram into your deck.
Assuming you were like me, then, it seems like one of the biggest steps you had to take on your path to playing Magic more seriously was the moment you accepted that you weren't allowed to put Skullclamp into your Selesnya tokens deck, no matter how much it fit in there. This means that the idea of card restriction is the first obstacle one has to overcome. But sooner or later you got used to the idea of Standard and the sets you were allowed to play with. You grew comfortable with it, just like we all did. If you were any bit serious you learned which cards were legal and which weren't quite early on. It gave you a sense of security and control over the situation. You might have discovered the holy land of the Internet by then, and you were soon familiar with all the big decks and what you might expect at your local FNM. That was a blissful time, wasn't it?
But then, after a while, you probably learned about the other formats as well: Block constructed, that people played with the commons they had acquired while drafting; Extended, the format older players talked about around a month or so every year; and then there was Legacy (or possibly even Vintage), the format no one played. There may have been "that guy" who brought his Gobbos or Threshold and always asked everyone if they wanted to play a game or two. Sometimes a new player would accept and you could witness something that didn't look like Magic at all, usually ending with a resounding "You die," on turn three or so. Everyone then went back to ignoring that guy and he left soon after that, maybe buying something worthless like Life from the Loam for an absurd price. Your ignorance was spared. The second obstacle is lack of knowledge and there are many that never pass that one.
Every now and then a player will climb over the first two obstacles and start finding out more about this weirdo format. They might read an article about it online, watch two of "those guys" battle it out or even ask them to describe it briefly. And boy is that a monstrous thing! Sporting over fifteen years' worth of cards with only a select few pruned out, Legacy is (to quote Matt Elias) the format that is both fair and unfair at the same time. Chains of Mephistopheles. Lion's Eye Diamond. Chain of Vapor. Nimble Mongoose. After years of skimming over decklists where every card is a known quantity, to read a Solidarity decklist and not recognize any card there except for the numerous basic Islands is somewhat unnerving. Thus, the third and final obstacle that one has to overcome is card abundance . The complete opposite of the first obstacle (which by now has become a pillar of guidance and support), it fights against much of what one has learned until then. This is the reason why a huge number of players never cross it, despite having crossed the others.
Once you have fought your way through the difficulties in your path, however, you will find a format where variety goes hand in hand with versatility, where there is a card for every job and a job for every card (except for poor old Chimney Imp, no one seems to like him). But even then, when you've been good and done your homework, the biggest leap of them all still awaits: getting the cards you need.
Acquiring the Cards
When you decide to start playing Legacy, you will probably need a deck to play. Few people have friends generous enough to lend entire decks for tournaments, and even those who do will usually want to obtain at least some of the more played cards as they go along. That said, many players getting into the format will create large and unnecessary financial burdens for themselves simply by lack of knowledge about the format. This part of the article will seek to change this.
Although Legacy is a very open format with loads of different decks capable of competing at the highest level, there are a large number of cards that appear time and time again in numerous decks. Acquiring these will prove to be much more efficient than buying (or trading for) a deck full of powerful but fringe cards, limiting your options from the get-go. Below is a list of what I consider to be the most useful cards seeing heavy play in multiple decks right now.
Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, Oblivion Ring, Jötun Grunt, Ethersworn Canonist.
White is currently in a funny spot in Legacy. It has arguably the best spot removal of all the colors, but the rest of the color sees little to no play. A lot of decks will happily splash into white for a playset of Swords but not much else. That said, four Swords to Plowshares is the only really important packet of cards I would consider buying when starting off.
Force of Will, Brainstorm, Counterbalance, Ponder, Daze, Spell Snare, Vendilion Clique, Threads of Disloyalty, Stifle, Sower of Temptation, Spellstutter Sprite, Standstill.
Blue is the best color in Legacy. Every competitive deck in the format either plays blue or has a strong game against blue decks. Looking at just the much shortened list above shows why: with free or cheap counterspells, a vast array of card selection, the ability to steal creatures, and other ways to create card advantage, the blue machine is unstoppable once it gets rolling. Considering this, as costly as it may seem, four Force of Will is probably the first purchase an aspiring Legacy player should make. Playsets of Brainstorm, Ponder, Daze, Counterbalance, and Spell Snare, as well as three Vendilion Clique, three Threads of Disloyalty and two Sower of Temptation should be enough to get you on your way.
Thoughtseize, Duress, Smother, Dark Confidant, Tombstalker, Snuff Out, Dark Ritual, Darkblast, Diabolic Edict, Hymn to Tourach.
Black ranks second right behind blue in regards to its strength as a main color, but its role is quite different. Although both colors have powerful card advantage machines, black is supreme in its discard suite. Luckily, many of its best cards are relatively cheap, but be prepared to dish out for the cream of the crop. Playsets of Dark Confidant, Thoughtseize, Duress, Smother, and Dark Ritual should be complemented by two Darkblast and two Tombstalker.
Lightning Bolt, Pyroblast, Red Elemental Blast, Burning Wish, Grim Lavamancer, Fireblast.
By itself, red is pathetic. The abysmally short list above serves to illustrate this quite obviously, with half of the cards being important simply because of the power of blue. Find four Lightning Bolt and three each of Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast and you'll be set.
Tarmogoyf, Nimble Mongoose, Krosan Grip, Noble Hierarch, Life from the Loam.
Or is it?
Or is it?
Ah, green. As befits the color of nature and monsters, green is the home of the best beater in the format—Tarmogoyf. The rest are mainly support cards but Krosan Grip sees play in heaps of decks. That said, four Tarmogoyf are right up there with four Force of Will with things to buy first and the playsets of Mongeese and Krosan Grip should follow soon.
Sensei's Divining Top, Chalice of the Void, Æther Vial, Tormod's Crypt, Relic of Progenitus, Mox Diamond, Lion's Eye Diamond, Umezawa's Jitte, Engineered Explosives, Pithing Needle.
The sixth color of Magic, designed to provide blue with what it can't have itself. Jokes aside, artifacts are a very important part of the Legacy card pool, fulfilling multiple tasks. From the best card manipulation and opponent frustration (Sensei's Divining Top) and hosing dedicated strategies, to accelerating mana and board sweeping, artifacts are the real deal. Grab playsets of Sensei's Diving Top, Chalice of the Void, Aether Vial, Tormod's Crypt and three Jitte to get you on your way. Add seasoning to taste with four Lion's Eye Diamond if you're the combo-type.
Duals, Fetchlands, Wasteland, Mishra's Factory, Mutavault.
There is nothing quite like an Underground Sea when it comes to fixing your mana base on turn one. Luckily, the recent printing of enemy-colored fetchlands means that it is possible to build very good mana bases much cheaper than before, including only two or three of the appropriate dual land. Even three-color decks can be run in such a way. Wasteland is a universally great card to punish greedy opponents. Considering this, I wouldn't recommend buying too many dual lands when you're first starting out—three Flooded Strand, three Polluted Delta, two Misty Rainforest, four Wasteland, four Mishra's Factory, two Underground Sea, two Tropical Island and two Bayou is probably as good a bet as any to start you off.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the playable cards in Legacy (Stephen Menedian recently published his version of that in the premium section on SCG), but rather a basis one can build upon. Rounding out the most popular—and viable—decks will still require some cards but the majority should be there.
Note that many decks will require lots of additional cards, but these are fringe decks. That doesn't mean they aren't good, but rather specific in their game plan and card choice.
You probably aren't used to being told to study something in regards to Magic but there is no better way to get you up to date on the state of the format as quickly and efficiently as reading what some of the best have to say.
Matt Elias and Doug Linn both write quality, informative articles about the format on StarCityGames.com. There hasn't been much in the sense of dedicated Legacy articles on MTGSalvation recently (Shinjutsei was the last to write about it before he left), so your next best bet are probably the forums. Be it here or on The Source—mtgthesource.com—many users will provide amazing amounts of information. Debates often produce more than the sum of their parts as well, so don't be afraid to ask (and answer, when you feel ready).
Choosing a Deck and Playtesting
After you've done some reading, you should choose a deck you would like to play. Put thought into your choice, as this is an important step, but don't worry: it doesn't mean you can't change it afterwards! The whole point of an open list of cards to acquire at first is to give you options to change and develop. When you've found a deck you would like to try out, proxy it up and test it out! The easiest ways of doing this are using Magic Workstation or proxying it up and testing against whomever you can find.
Try out different versions of the deck but refrain from changing the lists yourself for now. Don't focus on your results; focus on how the deck plays out. Does it fit your play style? Does it challenge you to grow as a player? If you dislike a deck, don't hesitate to try out something new. The more thorough you are at this point, the better your grasp on the deck, as well as the whole format, will be. For that reason it is important to test against different decks and different opponents. Playing against one guy who has been slinging his Standstill deck for years is unlikely to teach you much. It's useful but not useful enough.
Once you've found a deck you like, focus on the build. This is the time when you should begin making changes to the decklist. Before swapping out half the deck, however, make sure to understand what the cards you're taking out were in the deck for, what the original designer intended them for, and how they contributed to the deck's overall strategy. It's too easy to fall into the trap of stuffing a deck full of the most powerful cards you can find and calling it a day, but it won't get you far. Legacy decks are way too coherent and synergistic to be defeated by a deck full of good cards but devoid of a focused plan.
As your beloved deck starts to evolve into a form you like and feel comfortable with, you should start testing against a gauntlet of Legacy decks to get a feel on your deck's strong and weak matchups, as well as begin to accumulate knowledge on how to win all sorts of matchups. I suggest the following decks to form a basic gauntlet for initial testing: Canadian Threshold, CounterTop, Zoo, ANT, Merfolk, Dragon Stompy and Eva Green (or even Vesper Green ). This isn't a complete list of viable decks, but rather a representation of the types of decks you are most likely to face in a usual tournament. They attack their opponent from different angles and should help you see where your deck is strong and where it still needs work. The rest of the gauntlet should include decks you often face in your own metagame.
As you playtest, it is important not to forget about the sideboard. It has been mentioned numerous times by numerous people but here it is once more: two thirds of the games you play at a tournament will be played sideboarded. And yet, people seem to forget about this, testing mostly with their maindeck. It's easier, sure, but it will give you skewed results. Sideboarding and de-sideboarding may be tedious when you're "just testing" but even that in itself is a skill you must develop if you plan on doing well. Knowing which cards to bring in, which ones to take out and finding them, all the while giving your opponent as little information as possible (and trying to gain bits of information they give you) is impossible without practice. I've even witnessed aspiring players get confused by the simple task of getting their deck back to its maindeck form, having to ask for their decklist and wasting valuable time intended for playing the match.
Tournaments and EV
The only thing left now is going to the actual tournaments themselves. Get in touch with other local players and organizers to find out when and where they are being held. There might be a regular, even weekly, tournament at your local store; the Eternal enthusiasts may have started a league of their own (more on this in a future article!); or there might even be a really big tournament—like a SCG $5K or a GP—coming up somewhere in the vicinity.
It can BLOCK??!
It can BLOCK??!
When going to your first Legacy tournament, there are two things you should remember: first, although you're new to the format, if you've done your homework, tested your deck, and prepared for the likeliest matchups, there's nothing to be nervous about. Legacy (and Vintage) players can be rude, obnoxious, and conceited towards new players and the best way to shut them up is by playing soundly, not getting distracted, and, ultimately, beating one of them. They will make fun of your deck, your cards, your sleeves, your plays, and your mother but a few solid finishes later you'll be one of the regulars. Also, outplaying the old guns is easiest where they are weakest: the combat step. If you're a regular Standard or Limited player, you'll probably find that their experience with attacking and blocking is extremely limited. In the words of Stephen Menedian, former Vintage World Champion: "Gah! Creature combat!"
The second thing to remember, however, is to watch, listen, and learn. No matter your study and testing, you don't know everything yet. The guys trash-talking and complaining about some newbie's luck have probably played hundreds of matches in dozens of tournaments, so they might know a thing or two. But take whatever they say with a grain of salt, as experience does not always equal knowledge and a few fresh ideas never hurt anybody.
While playing, be sure to make notes on as many things as possible: any mulligans, your opponent's hand (from Duress effects), cool plays, unexpected tricks etc. Not only is this useful during the tournament for resolving disputes, reading through these notes afterward can be a great learning experience, and one that most players fail to implement.
After the tournament, go over your decklist critically, look at what worked and what didn't. Try to figure out why you lost the games you lost and how you won the games you won. Don't make excuses or blame luck, that's not the way to grow as a player! Only through honesty to yourself can you develop the skills needed to one day go for the crown. Do, or do not. There is no try.
Take all this information into consideration as you prepare for your next tournament. Try to learn something new from every single game you play and with proper dedication you will be ready for the next step—whatever it may be.
Evolving Vesper Depths
In my previous article, I left off with a decklist of a Vesper Green deck featuring the ferocious Vampire Hexmage + Dark Depths combo. There has been some interest in seeing how the deck evolves so here's a minor update:
During my games, the combo proved very powerful and resilient, combined with the multitude of disruption the deck was packed with. The other creatures also provided enough disruption that I could win without the combo (or if it was disrupted), or else forced the opponent into using up his resources to fight them and left the big bad Avatar to mop up the stragglers.
I moved the Vines of Vastwood to the sideboard, figuring I could bring them in when necessary. This gave me room for an extra Swamp and two Smother. Smother is good removal by itself and an answer to the usual chump blockers the Marit Lage token can face.
|Vesper Depths, as suggested by Mitja BosničMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards|
4 Dark Confidant|
3 Vampire Hexmage
4 Hypnotic Specter
4 Dark Ritual
4 Hymn to Tourach
2 Grim Discovery
2 Living Wish
|3 Dark Depths|
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Polluted Delta
3 Vines of Vastwood
1 Vampire Hexmage
1 Eternal Witness
1 Dark Depths
3 Krosan Grip
3 Tormod's Crypt
And remember: when the Opportunity presents itself, ThoughtSeize it!