What Next for Legacy? See Jack Expound

There are a lot, I mean a lot of decks to choose from in Legacy. Legacy's playable cardpool is more of a card ocean, so along with all of the latest and greatest you can always select something from days of yore. Roland Chang did it last year, proving that nothing ever really goes away in Legacy. It just swims around the bottom for awhile until someone brings it back to the surface. Pretty much anything that succeeded in Standard or Extended at one time or another has been tried and tweaked for Legacy as well. And despite the power of those decks during their tenure, very few of them have made a splash in Legacy's metagame. Thus is the power level of this format. And that is why it is of particular interest when a person is capable of making something original that can swim with the top tier of Legacy's decks. Jack Elgin has done so repeatedly, proving just how big a fish he can be.

Hello, Jack. I understand that the Northeast United States is a major hub of the Legacy community. How would you describe Legacy there in New York?

Well, I actually live in Northern Virginia myself, which is one of the two big hubs of East Coast activity, at least in terms of deck design. Both communities are based around what you would expect a competitive Legacy environment to be based around; a respect for and appreciation of a number of antiquated decks and strategies, and a wide knowledge of the card pool. New York tends to have slightly more players, whereas I consider Virginia players a bit better on the whole, for reasons I’ll get into in a bit.

My general description of the Legacy format is: laid-back. I don’t want to use the word “casual” because it’s not- at least in these two metagames, actual results and an understanding of deck design are taken very seriously- but there’s not the sense of urgency of a lot of other metagames. Testing occurs about once a week, and a single deck can take ages to develop from idea to a competitive build. New sets are regarded with interest, but the power level of the format is so high that people don’t really need to scramble over one another to find spoilers. Which is one of the nicer things about Legacy; you’re usually completely comfortable waiting for over-inflated prices on a new set to drop before purchasing whatever you might want.

What about the multitudes of players that just dabble in the format? Are they pushing the environment at all?

Pushing is not the word I would use. New players definitely have an effect, but unless in general it’s to reaffirm the status quo. New players tend to drift towards existing, strong decks, which is a good thing. If everyone played their pet creation, the level of competition would sink as people weren’t forced to keep up with very dangerous decks such as Goblins or Threshold, and decks would start sucking.

But as far as creating and innovating new strategies, no, dabblers generally aren’t doing much. I mean, if you’re amazing at the game and happen to know all the old cards, you can design something interesting, like Chris Pikula or Shaheen Soorani, but mainly I think the attitude, sometimes exhibited, that someone can, without knowing the format at all, waltz in and wreck up the metagame is laughable.

You are the designer of a number of successful decks in this format including Rabid Wombat, Train Wreck, and Truffle Shuffle. Can you describe each of these decks for us with a little analysis of why and when each deck is at its best?

Sure thing. Rabid Wombat is a Mono-White control deck that was actually heavily influenced by Gro (it was Gro at the time I created Wombat, as Threshold hadn’t been developed yet). My idea was that I would really like to cut down to seventeen lands and fit in more spells, after I realized just how many good cantripping spells there were in the color. Skullclamp having been banned, there wasn’t a great engine for raw card advantage left in the archetype, but the cantrip engine would allow you a high degree of card selection, combined with a powerful arsenal of creature removal. I couldn’t get it quite down to seventeen safely, as unlike blue cantrips, the white ones don’t allow actual card selection. Part of that is made up for in a net effect; most of these cards do something while cycling through the deck. The high number of bandage effects in particular are to stem early bleeding against aggro. Here’s a current list;
Rabid WombatMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
19 Plains

3 Eternal Dragon

4 Abeyance
3 Gilded Light
4 Renewed Faith
4 Bandage
2 Heal
4 Festival of the Guildpact
2 Rune of Protection: Red
3 Decree of Justice
2 Akroma’s Vengeance
2 Disenchant
4 Wing Shards
4 Wrath of God

One of the more interesting decisions here was to cut Swords to Plowshares, usually a staple in this archetype. The truth is that after realizing I didn’t want Condemn in the deck, I started to wonder if I actually wanted Swords to Plowshares in the deck, or if I had fallen into the trap of assuming it had to be in every white deck. Obviously I decided on the latter. While StP is the most powerful one-for-one creature removal ever printed, the deck isn’t interested in one-for-ones; it only wants to stall up the early game with various bandage effects until it can clear the board with a Wrath or a lethal Wing Shards.

The deck is at its strongest against aggro or other creature-reliant strategies, especially Goblins- it’s one of the few decks in the format that actually beats Goblins regularly and doesn’t pack Tendrils of Agony. Its two biggest weaknesses are graveyard recursion and Solidarity- most other combo can be dealt with fairly easily with a well placed Abeyance or Gilded Light, but the latter has a much greater ability to hold back and play around those spells. The entire sideboard can be brought in against Solidarity, with Grunts doing double time against graveyard based decks.

In truth, most of the sideboard should come in game two more often than not. Not only because creature hate tends to get sided out against you, but because the deck’s other biggest weakness is time. While it’s a behemoth in testing, in a 50 minute time limit with shuffling and sideboarding, it’s dangerously easy to land in draws you should have won. My best advice to anyone interested in the deck is to practice a lot. I had heard this complaint from others, but wasn’t a big believer when I was first playing the deck, because I was so practiced with it that decisions had become easy and quick. But when I picked the deck back up six months later at one of last year’s Duel for Duals, I ended up drawing two separate rounds I should have won because of time lost in trying to make decisions that would’ve been much easier if I had been in practice.

Train WreckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Bayou
4 Polluted Delta
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Cabal Coffers
10 Swamp

The Disruption:
4 Duress
4 Hymn to Tourach

The Board Control:
4 Pernicious Deed
3 Mutilate
3 Chainer's Edict
3 Putrefy
3 Decree of Pain

The Utility:
3 Regrowth
3 Staff of Domination

The Kill:
3 Helldozer
2 Haunting Echoes

Train Wreck is an almost-Mono-Black control deck based around the power of Cabal Coffers and Pernicious Deed. It splashes green for this, with optional other choices being Punishment (of Crime/Punishment), Putrefy, Gaea’s Blessing and Regrowth. It packs the most powerful discard in the format, in Duress and Hymn to Tourach, tons of creature removal, Staff of Domination, and Haunting Echoes and Helldozer as the kill conditions. The deck is designed to rip apart an enemy board and hand, including their manabase if Helldozer becomes active. Originally created for Extended, I had actually been spending more effort on the deck there recently, including adding Sensei’s Divining Tops. The deck absolutely destroys Threshold or anything else running Counterspell, but both the Goblins and Solidarity matchups needed improvement, Solidarity much more so. I haven’t updated the Legacy build in a while. The deck is objectively powerful, but I’m not really sure what it’s niche is at the moment.

Truffle Shuffle is a deck that was partly influenced by most of the different board control decks I had seen or played, including Train Wreck, Dirt, Rabid Wombat, and PT Funk. The deck is Black/Green/White control. The idea here was simply to run all the best control cards all three colors had to offer. The kill conditions are versatile fat, and Sensei’s Divining Top is the engine that holds the deck together.
The Truffle ShuffleMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Bayou
3 Savannah
3 Scrubland
4 Windswept Heath
2 Polluted Delta
2 Forest
3 Swamp
1 Plains

3 Krosan Tusker
2 Eternal Dragon
2 Gigapede
2 Grave-Shell Scarab

4 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Gaea’s Blessing
1 Haunting Echoes
4 Pernicious Deed
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Vindicate
3 Damnation
4 Duress
4 Hymn to Tourach

[Ted] Knutson actually described it pretty well; “Combine the best spot removal with the best board clearing, plus discard, card filtering and versatile fat and you get this deck.” The sideboard is highly malleable; there aren’t any obvious hate cards, aside from Leyline, but it enables you to switch your maindeck around to find an arrangement that best works in any given matchup. Witnesses, for instance, should come in just about every round, but they’ll be coming in for very different things

Deed is at least as good in Legacy
as it ever was in Extended. The
ability to kill an Aether Vial,
Nimble Mongoose, or Survival
without packing specialized hate is
such an enormous boon that even
Landstill has gotten onboard.

This deck is at its best against decks that contain either of the words “Aggro” or “Control”, particularly next to each other. Goblins is a fairly tough matchup because of the combination of speed and mana disruption, but UG Madness is a very favorable matchup because, while they have mana disruption, the deck can recover from it, and they don’t have the speed to capitalize on that tempo. Combo is unfavorable, but not a slaughter, especially after bringing in Therapies. The worst is Iggy Pop, as you rely on your discard very heavily, which Ill-Gotten Gains can nullify. Non-Storm combo is generally very favorable; I’ve never lost a game against Golden Grahams/Salvagers-Game, for instance, and preliminary testing indicates that Aluren is also favorable. Not every matchup is great, but the only truly bad matchups are Life from the Loam (assuming they pack Armageddon or Devastating Dreams) and Friggorid, both of which can be answered with Leylines. With fifteen ways of killing creatures before you get to blocking with large fatties, the deck tends to tear apart aggro, and Threshold is one of it’s best matchups, with discard stripping away counterspells and your creature kill out numbering their creatures.

If you had to choose one, which of these would you recommend people take to Grand Prix: Columbus? Why?

Generally I would recommend Truffle Shuffle. As I said, the deck is heavily favored against aggro, with aggro-control usually being a cake walk as they lack the speed to occasionally sneak in a third turn kill, and I expect those two to be the dominant archetypes. Meanwhile, the deck’s matchup against traditional forms of control and non-storm combo tends to be spectacular. There are a few decks that give it real headaches, usually involving graveyard recursion to get through removal or mana disruption plus a fast clock against your somewhat-fragile manabase, but generally those decks are difficult to play, and therefore unlikely to show up in large numbers. The deck rewards a high skill level, especially post sideboard, and offers the tools to win any given matchup- you won’t walk into any one-sided slaughters, and should almost always win against a less skilled opponent. Also, of all three decks, Truffle Shuffle is the one that most rarely has any trouble finishing rounds within time.

All of your decks mentioned here appear to be control decks. In the vast sea of Legacy decks on the 1st and 2nd tiers, there are only a handful of true control builds that can compete. Why do you suppose that is?

A number of reasons. I think some people simply find control tedious or boring. Control tends to be a job for the player archetype I like to label Dave, the Jerk Opponent. You have to get a kick out of messing up your opponent’s plans moreso than pursuing your own. But luckily, those players exist, as we all know from the existence of things like Pox and Wildfire.

I think, also, that a number of people in Legacy, because serious Legacy players tend to be so “old school," are still stuck in a mindset, long since abandoned in newer formats, that Control means Blue. Tons of competitive decks in other formats in the past several years have been sans counterspells, but to some people, in a format with Force of Will and Brainstorm, that is unacceptable. So they try to play Blue-based control... which really doesn’t work in Legacy.

I noticed that you don't have a single blue card in any of your designs. Is there a particular reason?

Well, relating back to the previous point, Blue-based control simply doesn’t work very well in Legacy. While it has the draw power, the counter-base is atrocious in the metagame for control purposes. This is weird to people because they see Solidarity and Threshold doing very well with counters, but they’re using those counters solely to buy a turn or two. The problems with counterspells in the format can be summed up in three words; Lackey, Vial, Storm.

Goblin Lackey is one of the most conspicuous cards in the format, so I won’t talk about him too much. Most decks have answers to him. Threshold alone has twelve answers on the play, and will almost never get hit. Blue-based control could have answers to Lackey. The problem is the other two.

Vial is not answered by almost any spell besides a Force of Will that actually hits any other cards in the deck running it, which is one of the problems. Even if you run Pithing Needle, what’s your next target- Siege-Gang Commander? Rishadan Port? Vial is a great card in Goblins because it creates virtual card advantage. Duress or Naturalize and even Needle might hit it, but they won’t touch the rest of Goblins’ cards, giving them a definite edge- if you draw an answer and they don’t draw the threat, they’ve created dead cards in your hand and they’ll merrily continue killing you. If they draw the threat and you don’t have the answer, however, you’re in trouble. And even if you simply Force it, Goblins doesn’t mind paying one generic mana to Mind Rot you.

After over a decade of defining
control it's not the err, force it once
was. It's still a staple, but there is
finally an environment that has
solved this card.
The reason this is less of a problem in Threshold or Solidarity is that they plan to win before or around the turns when Vial becomes truly dangerous and Ringleaders start falling from the sky. Vial, for all it’s power, is still slow. You can’t drop a Siege-Gang off of it until turn 6. It’s part of Goblins’ fall-back plan, not it’s main offensive- which is part of why it’s so dangerous to plan around the card.

The other problem is simply storm. Counters are completely reactive. You have to wait until they cast the spell you want to counter before you can use them. In a way, this gives control to the combo player. Without a fast clock, they can simply wait to unleash their combo until their own opportune moment, often with a board full of land and eight cards in hand, or, in the case of Solidarity, seven cards in hand and a Flash in the yard, which amounts to the same thing.

Blue based control, therefore, can never afford to wait. This is why it’s forced different hybrid strategies. Solidarity is the most efficent combo-control, and Threshold is the most effective aggro-control archetype, but there isn’t room for a pure Blue-based control deck.

Conversely, Black-based control offers board clearing that can mitigate the Goblin horde, along with proactive discard that can cripple a combo before it’s setup. Board removal also has a form of built in virtual card advantage- a Counterspell drawn the turn after Psychatog hits the board is mocking. A Vindicate drawn there is reassuring. For these reasons, while I play board control in Legacy, I wouldn’t seriously consider any Blue-based strategy.

So are you active in other formats as well?

Somewhat. I designed a Type 2 deck in the Fall that got a friend 9th place at the Virginia State Championship, and that one did play Blue and twelve counterspells. I’m not an azuraphobe. I also designed Train Wreck, as I mentioned, originally for Extended, where I won a PTQ with it. Legacy is definitely my default format, however, especially as I have another five months of banning to sit through.

OK, so in your opinion, what does an idea need to merit pursuit into a deck for Legacy? Is that somehow different from other formats?

I don’t think there’s any hard rules here. If an idea seems worthwhile to you, pursue it vigorously. Odds are, the deck is going to suck. Most decks suck. Even I, genius that I am, create many more bad decks than good ones. But that’s what you need to do to build good decks. It’s the same as anything- practice, practice, practice. Be willing to explore new ideas, but also be critical of those new ideas, and don’t become too attached to a deck.

What are some of the common pitfalls would-be deck designers tend to fall into?

Niceness. Optimism. Northern Virginia became a hub of Legacy deckbuilding because, as players, we tend to be complete [male reproductive organs] to one another. The common response to a new deck idea is not, “Wow, Allan, that’s a neat idea. I like that a lot.” It’s, “Okay. Why does that not suck?”

I can’t stress this enough. In my opinion, a true friend will tell you your comb-over looks ridiculous, that your fly is unzipped, that you have no business in a Speedo and that 9-land Stompy isn’t good. Being more worried about hurting one another’s feelings than about actually improving your playskills or your deck design is a surefire way to cripple each other’s ability to perform. This isn’t saying there should be a caveat to just be rude for no reason, but it’s better to be too critical than too pandering. In an example; no matter how much I might like any given new deck that David Gearhart is working on, I’m always sure that the first thing I say is “Dave, this deck is awful. Go back to playing Solidarity.” If you can’t defend why your deck is good, if you don’t even know why anyone should play it, it probably isn’t any good.

Can we expect to see more Legacy designs from you in the future? Do you see yourself as a "lifer"?

In a word, yes. The good thing about Legacy is that she’s a low-maintenance format, so I’m not going to feel that by not keeping up with the metagame for three months I’ve been left stranded. I don’t see myself ever quitting the game in the forseeable future.

Maybe if there aren’t any Dwarves in Lorwyn. I might also get into Spoils anyway. It seems a lot like Magic minus some of the baggage and plus more bowler hats.

Thanks for speaking with me.

No problem, Boblem.
Jack Elgin and his legendary table-jumping abilities are currently in hiatus from sanctioned tournament play, but he can be found swimming through this and other online Magic forums and setting people straight as TheInfamousBearAssassin.


Posts Quoted:
Clear All Quotes