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No Reserved List Legacy


I love Legacy. It's my favorite constructed format to watch and play. Unfortunately, I don't get to play the format nearly as much as I would like, and support for the format is dwindling year by year. The main problem is Wizards cannot make any real money from the format. A huge percentage of Legacy cards are already in circulation and the Reserved List bars format staples from being reprinted. As a result, when someone buys into Legacy, it's the secondary market that's profiting — not Wizards of the Coast

Before you get bent out of shape, remember, Wizards is a business. While we like to think of Wizards as Santa's Factory of Magic cards, their main goal is to be profitable for their shareholders. Cutting back support for an unprofitable format makes total business sense and is likely the correct financial decision. 

For a while I've supported abolishing the Reserved List as a way to support Legacy. This decision would allow Wizards to profit from the format by reprinting dual lands and other staples, and it would increase the supply of cards, allowing more players to enjoy the best format in the game. However this path is littered with problems. There is the possibility of lawsuits from collectors and players based on Wizards breaking their promise not to reprint specific cards. As such, it seems unlikely, if not impossible, that Wizards will abolish the Reserved List. 

Then this week it struck me. If we can't get the Reserved List out of Legacy, why not take Legacy out of the Reserved List? Richard and Chaz mentioned this idea on the MTGGoldfish podcast a couple weeks ago, and I immediately wrote it off as a bad idea. Then, while researching another article, I came across an in-depth list of Legacy staples which lead me to thinking that maybe No Reserved List Legacy wasn't as crazy as I assumed. 

The Problems

  • Wizards doesn't profit from Legacy, so they have little reason to support the format. Our solution needs to make Legacy profitable for Wizards
  • Because Wizards isn't supporting the format, tournament organizers have little motivation to continue their support. If we motivate Wizards to support Legacy, tournament organizers (TOs) will, by association, be motivated to support the format as well. 
  • The barrier of entry to enter the format is too high for many players. Since the Reserved List prevents the reprinting of cards, Wizards' hands are tied in fixing the matter. In Modern, if Tarmogoyf gets too expensive, Wizards will reprint the card. Not only do reprints help players (by decreasing the price), but it helps Wizards (by selling sealed product). 

The Solution

Wizards is unable or unwilling to remove the Reserved List. As a result Wizards cannot lower the barrier of entry to the format and make Legacy viable over the long term. Because of this Legacy is dying a slow, slow death. What Wizards could do to save Legacy would be to announce the mass banning of all Reserved List cards in the Legacy format. Now, when this idea was first suggested to me, I assumed this wouldn't work. After all, Legacy wouldn't be Legacy without Reserved List cards. Or would it? 

How Many Legacy Staples are on the Reserved List?

Metamox keeps a running list of commonly played Legacy cards. This list includes every card that has put at least four copies in any Legacy deck over 90 days. As a reference, Brainstorm is the number one card with 1,891 copies in decks over the past 90 days. At the bottom of the list we have things like Deprive, Tin Street Hooligan, and Ray of Revelation. Not exactly Legacy staples, but fringe cards with only a single play set appearing in the format. As such, this list is fairly exhaustive. We're not just talking Legacy staples, but fringe cards that could show up in the format on the rarest of occasions. How many of these cards are actually on the Reserved List? 

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Thirty-Three. That's right, a total of 33 of the 516 most played cards in Legacy are on the Reserved List — a whopping 6.39% of the format. Reserved List cards are an incredibly small percentage of Legacy. Now, numbers aren't the most important things. Where these cards rank in the format is a major concern. If you removed the 33 best cards from Standard, the format would be unrecognizable. The same would be true with Legacy. Where in the rankings do the Reserved List cards fall? 

While some of the Reserved List cards are staples, ranking in the Top 50 or Top 100, nearly 40% are in the "fringe" category. A full 72% rank outside the Top 100. Clearly we are not removing the 33 most played cards in the format. While we would remove a handful of important cards, most of the cards that would get the axe are fringe and probably would not be missed much.

Finally, we have one more way of measuring the the impact of Reserved List cards in Legacy by the total number of copies played. The metamox list shows the total number of copies of each card in each deck list from the past 90 days. If you add the total number of copies for all cards in the top 516, you'll find a weighted number of 48,467. Of the 48,467, a total of 3,913 are on the Reserved List (8.07%). While this percentage is slightly higher than 6.39%, it's still a small percentage of the format. 

What Would We Lose?

Admittedly, the individual cards that would be cut from the format are important. Let's break down the important Reserved List cards that would no longer be legal in No Reserved List Legacy and figure out how their absence would impact the format. 

The Dual Lands

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By far the biggest difference between No Reserved List Legacy and traditional Legacy would be the lack of the original dual lands. These ten cards account for 72% of the play seen by all Reserved List cards in Legacy. For every ten Reserved List cards that show up to a Legacy event, seven are dual lands. 

While this change looks huge, it would also be one of the least impactful changes to the format since all decks would be affected equally. Regardless of whether you choose to play Miracles, Reanimator, Shardless BUG, or Elves, the loss of the dual lands would have an impact. The most likely outcome is everyone would swap out dual lands for shock lands on a one-for-one basis. Your Tundras become Hallowed Fountains, your Badlands switch to Blood Crypts, your Tropical Islands morph into Breeding Pools. 

In theory, this swap wouldn't change the format very much. It's not like you'd be unable to splash or play five-color decks; you'd just do so less efficiently. If anything, decks that do not care much about their life totals (e.g. aggro, combo) would get slightly better since they don't mind paying the two life to further their game plan. Control decks like Miracles would get a bit worse because they will be starting at a lower life total. Whether or not this would change people's deck choices to a great extent is unclear, but it seems unlikely any specific deck would suddenly go from tier one to unplayable just because of the change to shock lands. If anything there might be some movement within tiers. For instance, maybe Burn moves from tier 2 to tier 1.5. 

One interesting possibility to make the manabases in No Reserved List Legacy feel more like traditional Legacy would be for Wizards to print the long rumored legendary dual lands. This cycle would allow every deck to replace one shock land of each color combination with a true dual land, which would allow players to fetch pain-free when necessary and save their shocks for end of turn fetching like in Modern. Plus these cards would sell a ton of product since they are probably safe to put in a Standard set as the premier land cycle. Let's hope that Standard format would not contain fetchlands as well, which would be a disaster along the lines of current standard.

While it might sound crazy, I think Legacy would survive just fine without dual lands. No dual lands would solve the biggest accessibility issue in the format since the cost of building tier one manabases would drop by hundreds of dollars. If the price of shock lands ever got out of hand, Wizards could just reprint them, sell a ton of product, and make players happy. 

Lion's Eye Diamond

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Amazingly, the most played non-land Reserved List card in Legacy is Lion's Eye Diamond. Primarily a card in Storm decks, losing access to Black Lotus would be a huge blow to the deck. I do expect the archetype would still be playable. The history of Modern has taught us no matter how many times Wizards bans a dark ritual, Storm still survive. Storm is one of the decks that would benefit from the change to shock lands. Since players would be starting off at a lower life total, the storm count wouldn't need to be as high for Tendrils of Agony or Grapeshot to be lethal.

One allure of Storm is that it's cheap. If you're looking for a tier one Legacy deck that costs less than $2,000, Storm is just about your only choice. Some percentage of people play Storm because it's inexpensive, not because it's their dream deck. In No Reserved List Legacy this issue would no longer be a concern. Other decks would be significantly less expensive. 

Losing Lion's Eye Diamond would also hurts Dredge. I think most of us would agree Legacy would survive just fine without the premier graveyard deck in the format. Everyone knows Dredge was a mistake; getting rid of Lion's Eye Diamond corrects it (at least the mana version).

All in all, losing Lion's Eye Diamond would be a significant change, but it would only impact two decks that make up a small percentage of the format. 

Mox Diamond

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Mox Diamond is the second most played non-land Reserved List card in Legacy. Again, it really only shows up in two decks. One is Aggro Loam, which floats somewhere in the second or third tier of Legacy. The other is Lands, which has recently emerged as one of the best decks in the format. Losing Mox Diamond would slow down these archetypes considerably. Mox Diamond is arguably better than the original moxen in a deck that can use its graveyard like a second hand. Still, I doubt Aggro Loam would suddenly become unplayable. Lands, however, is a different story. While I believe Lands could survive the loss of Mox Diamond, losing The Tabernacle of Pendrell Vale might be a death blow since it severely weakens the deck's favorable matchup against creature-based strategies. 

Other fringe decks that play Mox Diamond could potentially switch to Chrome Mox. Artifact based decks have Mox Opal as a substitute. As such, the loss of Mox Diamond primarily hurts Life from the Loam strategies, which isn't the end of the world. 

City of Traitors

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The loss of City of Traitors might have the biggest impact on the format. Sneak and Show is certainly weaker without access to eight Sol Ring lands and would lose to aggro / Burn more often since it would always have to pay two life for Ancient Tomb. In fact, the deck might not be able to compete at all since waiting an extra turn to combo off gives tempo decks like Delver more time to resolve a threat and leave up disruption. It would give Miracles an extra turn to find a Force of Will or get a Terminus to the top of their library. 

Even more troubling is how the loss of City of Traitors would hurt cool fringe strategies like Tezzerator, Painter's Stone, Stax, and Stompy. While none of these decks are particularly great, with eight Sol lands they are good enough to take to a tournament and find success. With City of Traitors banned it is unlikely we would see these strategies for a long, long time. 

There is a glimmer of hope. Unlike other cards on the Reserved List, it seems possible to print another Sol land in something like a Commander product. A land that tapped for two colorless but only to cast Artifact spells could keep Tezzeret, Painter's Stone, and Stax in the picture. There are a ton of different drawbacks that could be used, and as long as the land wasn't legal in Standard or Modern, power level wouldn't be much of a concern. 

The loss of City of Traitors would be bad for the format. While I don't mind seeing Sneak and Show suffer, it bothers me the loss would decrease the playability of some cool lower-tier decks. Thankfully, I think this problem could be fixed with a tactful printing in a supplemental product. 

Gaea's Cradle

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Initially I thought the loss of Gaea's Cradle would kill Elves. After consulting Legacy Elves expert Julian Knab on Twitter, I'm not completely sure. Julian said that while he would stop playing the deck if Gaea's Cradle was banned, he thought others would continue playing with the archetype. As such, the loss of this powerful land would knock Elves down a tier or two, but not make it unplayable. 

Null Rod

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Sideboard material. The good news is that we already have a replacement in Stony Silence. Null Rod is pretty much a one-of in the sideboard rather than a true Legacy staple. The loss of Lion's Eye Diamond and Mox Diamond means there would be less artifacts to shut down anyway. If artifacts ended up being more important, it's also possible to print a semi-functional reprint that is just different enough to avoid the Reserved List problem. Losing Null Rod probably wouldn't have a meaningful impact on the format. 

Other Losers

We're now getting far down on the list of Legacy playables. While the above cards are in the Top 150 of the format, the rest of the Reserved List cards show up in less than 14 deck Lists out of 600. To put this in perspective, the next two cards on the list, Metalworker and Grim Monolith, account for 0.1% of the cards played in Legacy. That said, we'll briefly run down other important Reserved List cards that would be missing from No Reserved List Legacy. 

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The banning of these two cards would mean MUD is no longer a deck. However, you could argue MUD really isn't a deck in Legacy. It is sad to see fringe decks get banned, since the wide-openness of the format is one of the things that define Legacy. 

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The banning of Intuition would impact Omni-Tell, which already gets nerfed by the loss of City of Traitors. Otherwise, its absence would not be felt to a great extent. 

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Firestorm is only played by Dredge, and not even all Dredge decks want it. Shallow Grave is part of a weird instant speed reanimator strategy, and a total of three decks played the card in the past 90 days. Aluren and Dream Halls are cards I hate to see go because of the off-the-wall decks they enable. In all honesty they just aren't good enough in Legacy, with only two decks each present in our 600+ deck sample. 

Other Losses in the Top 500: Candelabra of Tawnos (High Tide combo), Chains of Mephistopheles (no one knows what it does), Serra's Sanctum (Enchantress), Helm of Obedience (no great loss), The Abyss (not a real card in the format), Peacekeeper (also not a real card in the format), Eureka (so expensive no one plays it), and Humility (rules nightmare). 

Initial Summary

  • Wizards and TO's have no desire to support Legacy.
  • The best way to save Legacy would be to end the Reserved List. However, this option is not on the table for various reasons. 
  • If we can't reprint Reserved List cards in Legacy, our other option is to remove Reserved List cards from the format altogether. 
  • The biggest loss would be the original dual lands. However, we have an easy substitute in the Ravnica shock lands. 
  • Dredge, Storm, and Lands get worse. Lands would be completely unplayable. 
  • Elves likely drops a tier or two on the loss of Gaea's Cradle
  • Sneak and Show is nerfed by the loss of City of Traitors
  • We lose several cool, fringe decks like Aluren, Dream Halls, High Tide, Tezzerator, MUD, and Enchantress. These decks make up less than 1% of games played on Magic Online.

Impact on Prices

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Just so it's clear, the goal of No Reserved List Legacy is not to decrease prices. The goal is to make Legacy into a sustainable format, a format Wizards is willing to support, and a format tournament organizers will gladly run big events for. Of course, the very nature of the new format would mean prices would decreases over the long haul because Wizards will be motivated to reprint key cards. Let's take a look at what removing the Reserved List cards from Legacy would do to prices of the format right away. 

Deck Total Price Duals Price Other Reserved List Price Total Reserved List Price Non Reserved List Price
UWR Miracles $2,861 $611 $0 $611 $2,250
Shardless Bug $3,622 $1,473 $9 $1,482 $2,150
ANT $1,879 $946 $313 $1,259 $620
BURg Delver $2,743 $1,448 $9 $1,457 $1,285
Elves $1,808 $340 $662 $1,003 $804
Infect $2,200 $693 0 $693 $1,507
Lands $2,690 $124 $890 $1,014 $1,676
Sneak and Show $2,681 $753 $119 $872 $1,808
Reanimator  $2,215 $1,042 $40 $1.042 $1,172
Burn $866 $0 $0 $0 $866

Clearly the biggest impact on prices is the loss of the original dual lands. While this disparity suggests getting rid of dual lands is enough to fix the problem all by itself, our goal is to create a Legacy that is viable over the long term. That goal requires the ability to reprint everything, just like in Modern. 

Looking at the big picture, the average price of a Legacy deck without Reserved List cards falls to $1,413 — a 40% decrease in price. The dual lands would have to be replaced with shock lands, but assuming this change is a straight one-for-one swap, the value of the shocklands needed wouldn't be very much. 

Unrelated to prices, the other thing the chart shows is how little many of the top Legacy decks would change, apart from the loss of duals. Miracles, Burn, and Infect stay the same. Shardless Bug and Grixis Delver lose a sideboard copy of Null Rod. It's mainly combo that gets nerfed by the bannings. 

Wouldn't it Just Be Modern?

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The most common retort I've heard regarding No Reserved List Legacy is "wouldn't it just be Modern?" The answer is a resounding no. While manabases would look like Modern, the cards and decks would look much more like Legacy. We have Brainstorm, Wasteland, Force of Will, Daze, Cabal Therapy, Pyroblast, Flusterstorm, Lotus Petal, Rishadan Port, Counterspell, Crop Rotation, and many others. We would still be able to lock people out of the game with Sensei's Divining Top and Counterbalance, cascade into Ancestral Vision, Invigorate an Inkmoth Nexus, and Tendrils of Agony for 20 damage. These cards are what ensures No Reserved List Legacy looks much more like Legacy than Modern. 

What About Combo?

Combo would be the biggest loser in this new format with the loss of Lion's Eye Diamond and City of Traitors. However, I believe combo decks would adjust and thrive. Storm would be less powerful without Lion's Eye Diamond, but it would be far more powerful than the Modern version with access to Ponder, PreordainLotus Petal, Dark Ritual, and Cabal Ritual. Sneak and Show would be a bit slower, but might be playable in some form since turn two Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Griselbrand will always be good. Reanimator doesn't get hurt much at all. 

It's also possible we see some Modern combo decks break into the format. Splinter Twin saw success at the Legacy Champs this past year — with a fetch for shock manabase no less.

It's unlikely land-based combo decks like Bloom Titan or Tron would thrive in an atmosphere with Wasteland. Tron would also be overshadowed by 12 Post. 

While the combos themselves might change and some of the old standbys would get weaker, I imagine No Reserved List Legacy would adapt and fast combo decks would still be part of the format. The fast mana and library selection are there. 

Wrap Up

If I had my wish, Wizards would get rid of the Reserved List, and our current version of Legacy would thrive. However, this move isn't going to happen. The current direction of Wizards and tournament organizers is to get rid of Legacy altogether. The choice is either to help Legacy evolve or let it die. Given this choice, I'm in favor of evolution over the loss of Magic's greatest format. 

Basically, we have two options: diminish Legacy by getting rid of Reserved List cards, or lose it forever. Perhaps No Reserved List Legacy wouldn't be "true" Legacy, but it would be far better than having Modern and Standard as our only competitive constructed formats. Having a supported format very close to Legacy is better than having a non-supported format that is Legacy. 

Summary

  • Legacy is dying a slow, sad death. Once Wizards stops supporting a format, it's only a matter of time before it dies.
  • The reason Wizards cannot profit off the format is the Reserved List. 
  • We have two options to fix the problem: abolish the Reserved List or remove Reserved List cards from Legacy. Abolishing the Reserved List is not an option, so our only choice is to remove Reserved List cards from Legacy. 
  • No Reserved List Legacy would be a format much like Legacy, but with all Reserved List cards banned. 
  • Reserved List cards make up a small part of the format (7%).
  • 72% of the Reserved List cards that see play in Legacy are the original dual lands. 
  • Apart from the switch from dual lands to shock lands, which impacts all decks equally, it is combo decks that would be most impacted by the loss of Reserved List cards. ANT, Elves, Sneak and Show, and Dredge would be less powerful in the new format. I do believe most of the decks would survive in some way or another. 
  • Banning Reserved List cards would drop the barrier of entry into Legacy by about 40%. The format would get cheaper over the long term as Wizards would have the ability to aggressively reprint key cards in the new format. 
  • Wizards would want to reprint non-Reserved List cards because it would be hugely profitable. 
  • The format would still look very much like Legacy, except for a manabase which would resemble Modern. No tier one or tier two deck would be lost completely.
  • One possibility to make the manabase feel more "Legacy like" would be to print the long rumored legendary duals.
  • I would rather see traditional Legacy survive and thrive, but this isn't possible. Given the choice between no Legacy and No Reserved List Legacy, I'll take the latter every time. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. I'm really interested to hear everyone's feedback on this idea. As you formulate your responses keep in mind a couple things. First, abolishing the Reserved List is off the table. Feel free to voice your displeasure for the Reserved List, but I'd rather the conversation be realistic, focusing on how we can make Legacy thrive with the Reserved List in place.

When I say "legacy is dying," I'm not suggesting people do not play the format. I know there are various independent tournaments around the country, and I think that's great. However, without support from Wizards and big tournament organizers like StarCityGames, there is no doubt the format is headed in the wrong direction. We are looking for long-term solutions, which means making Legacy profitable for Wizards. If Wizards can make a ton of money from the format, they will support it. 

What do you think? Could No Reserved List Legacy be a solution? What other options make sense? What are the unintended consequences of removing Reserved List cards from the format? How close to traditional Legacy would the new format feel? What would the metagame look like? Would your pet deck work without Reserved List cards? Leave your thoughts, ideas, and opinions in the comments. You can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive.


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