Legacy Analysis: Two Rings to Rule Them All

Comments are available here.

Magic 2014 is bringing a rules update (which you can read about in full here) that includes a new iteration of the legend rule and an equivalent change to the planeswalker uniqueness rule. This update has left many Legacy players understandably apprehensive, given the power level and central importance some planeswalkers and legendary permanents have in the Legacy metagame. While it is true that this update has implications for Legacy, I believe its impact will be less serious than many players fear. In this article, I'll discuss what the implications of the new legend & planeswalker rules are for legacy, with an in-depth analysis of each of the main affected cards.

The short version of the new legend & planeswalker rules is that:
  • Your legendary permanents and planeswalkers no longer care about your opponents' permanents with the same name/type – so yes, two copies of the same legendary permanent or planeswalker can be on the table at the same time as long as they are on different sides.
  • If you play a second copy/version of a legendary permanent or planeswalker you already have on the battlefield (or otherwise come to control a second copy/version), you choose one copy/version to keep and sacrifice the other one.
In terms of gameplay, the general impact of the new rules is pretty clear:
  1. Planeswalkers go up in power level, because you can now use your planeswalker, cast a second planeswalker with the same type, sacrifice the first, and use the second.
  2. Legendary permanents with limited uses (e.g., legendary creature with enters the battlefield effects or legendary land with tap abilities) also go up in power level for the same reason.
  3. You can no longer use your planeswalker/legendary permanent to kill your opponent's.
  4. Clone and his siblings go down in power level as they no longer murder legendary creatures; however they will now be able to actually copy busted creatures like Emrakul, which will have its benefits.
  5. Hard-to-deal-with legendary creatures such as Geist of Saint Traft go up in power level slightly.
So, how do these changes affect the Legacy format in particular?
Jace the Mind Sculptor
I'll start with the main metagame player affected by the rules change, and I'll start by stating that the fact that both players can now have Jace the Mind Sculptor on the battlefield is a good thing and a pleasant improvement for the format. Up to now, in the Jace mirror, if you resolved Jace first you had a huge advantage, as your opponent's Jace was preemptively nullified – sure it would kill your Jace, but it would take his/her whole turn to do it, and you would be at least one Jacestorm up (and God forbid you had a second Jace to cast afterwards). With the new rules, the advantage you get from resolving Jace first is smaller, and will be reduced to essentially a tempo advantage if your opponent can resolve his/her Jace right after yours. Of course, if you can counter your opponent's Jace after resolving yours, you're in the driver's seat, but that scenario isn't affected by the rules change.

I've heard some players express fears that Jace mirrors will now turn into races to reach the Jace ultimate, but those fears are unfounded. First and foremost, Jace seldom wins games with the ultimate and it is seldom correct to use the +2 ability except for keeping him out of harm's reach (e.g., to survive a Lightning Bolt or a Nimble Mongoose attack). There are obviously exceptions, such as when your deck has very few other win conditions and/or few ways of dealing with the opponent's game plan, but overall Jace will mostly win games by burying the opponent in card advantage from the Jacestorms. Second, if both players have a Jace out, ramping up Jace towards the ultimate seems highly subpar – you will likely get crushed by your opponent Jacestorming into a bunch of Tarmogoyfs or a Stoneforge Mystic and a Batterskull and just killing your Jace (and then you) while you are powerless to prevent it because you've been ramping up Jace instead of drawing cards. In essence, Jace mirrors will more often be decided by which deck can exploit Jace better and/or deal better with the opposing Jace, and they will less often be decided by who can resolve Jace first. I for one am happy with that change.

Beyond Jace mirrors, it is also worth mentioning that, like all planeswalkers, Jace goes up in power level slightly due to the double-use possibility, which isn't inconsequential. It is true that Jace was the one planeswalker where getting stuck with multiples wasn't an actual concern (as even when you couldn't Jacestorm additional copies away, you could always pitch them to Force of Will). It is also true that a 4 mana Unsummon/Brainstorm split card (which is what you'll get out of spare Jace copies) doesn't sound like a big deal. Nevertheless, the double-Jace use will occasionally allow a player to get back into a game that was otherwise unreachable, and frankly that was uncalled for – Jace was already strong enough as he was. Still, I don't think that will happen often enough to be a real reason for concern.

Liliana of the Veil
Like Jace, the fact that both players can have Liliana of the Veil on the battlefield is essentially a good thing, as it will often make games more interesting. Plus, being able to use your Liliana will often be better than destroying your opponent's Liliana, even if the latter wasn't as bad as using a Jace to destroy a Jace.

It is true that Liliana's ultimate is an actual thing if the board is otherwise empty, but this will be uncommon in mirrors, and there are typically plenty of ways to get rid of Liliana (starting with Abrupt Decay). Besides, even the unlikely event of a Liliana showdown is nothing remarkable – you're probably trading a Liliana for a Liliana and maybe a land (unless one Liliana is two turns ahead of the other one). Thus, the Liliana mirror changes very little with the new rules, and is still likely to be decided by who has the better deck for the mirror and/or draws better (given that unlike Jace, Liliana doesn't handle that part for you).

Regarding the double-use possibility, Liliana gains considerably in power level, as additional Liliana copies become a quite decent 3 mana Mind Peel/Cruel Edict split card. By itself, this may not seem that impressive, but keep in mind that you're getting two such effects on the same turn, and both double-discard and double-edict can be quite devastating. However, it is also true that multiple Lilianas bring diminishing returns, so additional copies beyond the second will seldom be useful. Furthermore, Liliana is less capable of winning games singlehandedly than Jace, and critically, is vulnerable to Abrupt Decay, so there is likely no reason for concern about her increased power level.

Other Planeswalkers
The other four planeswalkers that see regular Legacy play (Elspeth, Knight Errant; Garruk Relentless; Sorin, Lord of Innistrad; Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas) are uncommon enough that you never really expect to be able to use one copy to kill another. Furthermore, the double-use of any of them is less impactful than Jace's or Liliana's. Thus, the impact of the rules update on these planeswalkers will be essentially null.

To clarify an interaction that players often get wrong, let me start by saying that when you put a Clone onto the battlefield with your opponent's Show and Tell, you can't copy what he/she puts onto the battlefield (you have to copy something that is already on the battlefield, and both creatures are entering the battlefield at the same time). This means that Clones never worked against Show and Tell unless you were planning on actually casting or Aether Vialing in the Clone, as was the case of Merfolks with Phantasmal Image. Thus, Merfolks is essentially the only deck affected by the loss of functionality of the Clones, although the effect is probably neutral overall – you will now be able to get your own copy of whatever outrageous creature your opponent gets into play, which is better than killing it in some scenarios, equivalent in other scenarios, and worse in others still. For instance:
  • Cloning a Progenitus is generally better than killing it, as you are favored to win most races
  • Cloning an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is essentially the same as killing it
  • Cloning a Griselbrand may be better or worse than killing it, depending on their life total and whether it was put into play with Sneak Attack or Show and Tell
  • Cloning an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn may also be better or worse, depending on whether it was Sneaked or Showed and on whether you have 6 other permanents to sacrifice (which in Merfolks is plausible after turn 3).
In any case, Vialing in a Phantasmal Image on your opponent's end step after he/she Showed Emrakul will be worth some laughs.

Also, not that it's likely to be relevant in Legacy, but Evil Twin becomes significantly better than a regular Clone under the new rules (and significantly cooler as well).

Umezawa's Jitte
Umezawa's Jitte is probably the card most negatively affected by the rules update in terms of gameplay and metagame impact.

In terms of gameplay, Jitte will singlehandedly win a lot more games than it did previously since you can no longer destroy it with another Jitte – for instance, you can no longer get back into a Stoneforge Mystic mirror by Stoneforging into Jitte to destroy your opponent's loaded Jitte (and if his Jitte is loaded, yours is unlikely to be anytime soon). But the worst of all is that, in the few occasions where both players manage to connect with and load their Jittes, the gamestate becomes a reenactment of the Cold War – a silent arms race with both sides reluctant to use their nukes for fear of retribution – and about as fun as stapling your toes.

In terms of metagame impact, decks like Merfolks or Affinity will now be softer to Jitte, and may eschew their Jittes for anti-Jitte solutions like Pithing Needle. In Stoneforge Mystic decks, I expect Manriki Gusari to make a comeback to the sideboard.

Mox Opal
Mox Opal is another card that gets a boost in power level, as additional Mox copies become essentially Lotus Petals (if you have metalcraft) - you can now play and use one copy, play a second copy sacrificing the first, then use the second copy and so on. This means that Affinity will occasionally get a faster start, and maybe other artifact-centered decks (e.g. MUD, Painters) will consider playing (more) Mox Opals, but the impact on the metagame will likely be negligible. After all, the metalcraft requirement is not insignificant for less focused decks, and probably not something that Storm decks can achieve consistently enough to take advantage of Mox Opal (although in Vintage the scenario is different, and Mox may very well have to be restricted).

Gaea's Cradle & Serra's Sanctum
Gaea's Cradle and Serra's Sanctum get better for the same reason as Mox Opal, as you will now be able to use multiple copies on the same turn (without having to resort to Crop Rotation).

Regarding Gaea's Cradle, the impact of the rules update will be that Elves decks will play the full 4 copies and eschew their Crop Rotations, and thus have a few more explosive starts. However, I very much doubt that this is a cause for concern, as producing stupid amounts of mana was seldom an issue with the deck in the first place. So, it will be slightly better at doing the thing it already did very well, but still soft to the same cheap mass-removal spells (e.g. Perish, Zealous Persecution, Golgari Charm, Rough/Tumble, Engineered Plague) and still an underdog against faster combo decks.

For the sake of completeness, I'll mention that some decks (such as Maverick) occasionally played a single copy of Gaea's Cradle. However, this is unlikely to change with the rules update, as outside of Elves, no deck can really exploit this land or afford to run it in multiples.

Regarding Serra's Sanctum, it pretty much only affects Enchantress, which will get slightly better now and probably play the full 4 Serra's Sanctums. However, this is unlikely to make Enchantress even a tier 1 deck, much less a metagame problem.

Dark Depths
With the rules update, Dark Depths gains a new pal in the form of Thespian's Stage – you can now use the Stage to copy the Depths, then sacrifice the original Depths to the new legend rule, then sacrifice the Stage-Depths copy because it has no counters on it and put Marit Lage onto the battlefield. While this costs 1 more mana than the Dark Depths + Vampire Hexmage combo (it costs a total 4 mana, or 3 if you have Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth) it has two important advantages: 1. it is colorless, whereas Vampire Hexmage requires a heavy black commitment, and 2. it involves only lands and therefore is uncounterable.

There are a number of Life from the Loam decks in Legacy that will likely be looking into trying out this combo, and there is even the potential for a turn 2 kill off of Manabond – and who doesn't like an attacking indestructible 20/20 on turn 2? That said, the combo is soft to Wasteland and Stifle, and even a resolved Marit Lage is far from an auto-win in Legacy (it dies to Swords to Plowshares & Path to Exile, Terminus, Liliana & edict effects, Jace & bounce effects, etc.) so this combo isn't likely to be a risk for the health of the format. On the other hand, it may give a new impetus to Loam decks, which were struggling under the oppressive presence of Deathrite Shaman, and that is a good thing.

Yes, the rules update means that Sneak-Show (and I guess Doomsday) decks can no longer side in Karakas to destroy Karakas. I am overjoyed, as this was one of the better examples of a tactical possibility enabled by the previous Legend rule that was undesirable in terms of gameplay. I mean, seriously? You're playing an Izzet deck and you're siding in a White land you have absolutely no interest in playing just to preemptively destroy your opponent's land? Lovely! As much as Jitte makes me wish this rules update wouldn't come to pass, Karakas makes me look forward to it.

In any case, there is no reason to pithy Sneak-Show, as Pithing Needle is perfectly serviceable as a preemptive answer to Karakas, and is more versatile to boot.

Vendilion Clique
Vendilion Clique gets a slight boost in power level, as now your additional Clique copies can be used as 3 mana "discard" spells without any drawbacks (under the old rules, you still got the extra discard effect, but would lose both copies of Clique). However, it's not like you often got stuck with multiple Cliques in hand (in matchups other than combo) given its propensity to eat removal spells and the easiness with which you can trade it off. Thus, this impact of the rules update will be small.

The possibility of having Cliques on both sides of the table is likely also not very relevant, as the outcome of that will typically be the same as under the old rules – both players get their Clique triggers and both players lose their Cliques (albeit in combat, rather than due to the Legend rule). The exception will be one player's Clique is equipped with a loaded Jitte, in which case the opponent is in a far worst spot than under the previous rules – but no worse than if he had drawn any other creature, so this is perfectly fine.

Geist of Saint Traft & Thrun the Last Troll
Geist of Saint Traft also gets a boost in power level, as it now costs you an additional 4 life to trade your copy of Geist or your Clone with your opponent's Geist (i.e., you can block his Geist with yours, but you'll take the angel token damage unless you have a blocker/removal for it). Furthermore, if his Geist somehow beats yours in combat, such as when it's equipped with a Sword or a loaded Jitte, then you're in big trouble whereas previously you'd be safe. That said, Geist was not exactly dominating the metagame previously, and this small boost in power level is unlikely to be a reason for concern.

Thrun, the Last Troll is essentially the same as Geist, except that instead of trading in combat, two Thruns will just stare at each other ad infinitum as long as their controllers keep regeneration mana up. Again, if one Thrun can find a way to get by the other one (e.g., Sword of Feast and Famine) then the player on the receiving end is in a far worst spot than under the old rules, but realistically, that will happen once every blue moon.

Other Legendary Creatures
Like Clique, Venser, Shaper Savant also gets a power boost, as you can now get multiple uses without blowing yourself out. This may even prove relevant considering that Venser is becoming a popular sideboard card as a generic answer to all Show and Tell variants.

A few other legendary creatures get better for the same reason, but are unlikely to have any impact in the format:
Apart from these, it is worth mentioning that now there can be a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben on each side of the table, so spell timing will be even more critical in Thalia mirrors. It is also worth mentioning that the fact that Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Griselbrand can be present on both sides of the table means that the Sneak-Show mirror will be even more ridiculous than before, and casting Show and Tell will be even more risky.

Control-changing effects
One cute side-effect of the new rules is that you can now use a control-changing effect to destroy your opponent's legendary permanent or planeswalker, if you have a copy of that permanent on your side of the table. For the most part, this won't be particularly relevant – if you can steal one of your opponent's creatures permanently (e.g., with Threads of Disloyalty) you're probably better served stealing something that subtracts from his side and adds to your side, rather than something that just subtracts from his side. However, it may be relevant when you're stealing something with Sower of Temptation and you know your opponent has removal for it, or when you have a reusable stealing machine (a.k.a. Vedalken Shackles) – even if all the stars have to be aligned for you to have both one of these cards and the same legendary creature as your opponent.

One card that I think becomes interesting under the new rules is Catch/Release, as the Catch side can get rid of any legendary permanent or planeswalker that is present on both sides of the table. The ability to get rid of Jace in the mirror is certainly worth consideration, and the card might just have enough extra value to see some sideboard play – plus occasionally you may be able to cast Release to kill your opponent's Jace when you don't have one of your own.

Global impact
Overall, I think the impact of the new legend & planeswalker rules will be mostly positive, as the fact that the same legendary creature or planeswalker can be on both sides of the table adds strategic depth to the game. Besides, I agree with the motivation behind the change – legendary creatures and planeswalkers are the most iconic cards in the game, and it is frustrating for players not to be able to use their iconic card because their opponent happens to be playing the same card. So, a change that (mostly) improves both gameplay and player enjoyment is a good change in my books.

The increase in power level of the affected cards is, for the most part, minor, and I very much doubt that any of these cards poses a risk for the health of the Legacy metagame. Nevertheless, I have to add that the prospect of seeing Umezawa's Jitte on both sides of the table is not something I look forward to – I guess you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs...


Posts Quoted:
Clear All Quotes