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This Week in Legacy: A Format Divided

Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of This Week in Legacy! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're going to be continuing a topic of approach on the current Legacy Metagame and the issues that people have been discussing in regards to the health of the metagame. In addition to that I've got a follow-up on our topic of Unbans last week due to some feedback in regards to specific cards. We also have one Challenge to talk about as the Saturday Challenge again did not fire. Of course, we always have a Spice Corner (until Spider-Man comes and wrecks the multiverse at least).

Without further ado, let's dive right in!

A Look At Current Legacy Metagame Health

There is a lot going on in Legacy right now, and while we'll be talking fully about Innistrad: Crimson Vow soon here, so far there isn't enough from that set that seems really poised to move the needle in Legacy, so we can discuss a lot of this from the standpoint of where things will likely stand going into Eternal Weekend 2021 Online.

Much of the ongoing issues with the current Legacy format are stemming still from the fallout of Modern Horizons 2 and the impact that set has had on Legacy overall. We have approached a situation where there are Challenge events not firing (Saturday Challenge for seven weeks in a row now) and events firing with the minimum number of players (Sunday Challenge) and even declining numbers of active players in League play on Magic Online.

The issue at hand is that there is no clear way to address the problems and everyone has a different take on how best to correct them. We're going to look at the issues here and talk about them more in-depth.

MH2 and the Power of the Tempo Shell

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This is the biggest long term issue that players often find themselves discussing right now, is the impact that Modern Horizons 2 had specifically on the Blue/Red Delver style Tempo shells in the format, with the introduction of Ragavan, Dragon's Rage Channeler, and Murktide Regent all at the same time. This has definitely led to an exacerbation of the overall Blue/Red based Tempo shells and the development of this has firmly placed a lot of the community into various camps of how we might deal with this and effectively try to depower the current shell.

There's two big camps of thought in this regards. One is the idea that we should consider cards with tenure and simply ban the offending F.I.R.E. design cards until things are fine. In this case, we're looking at cards like Ragavan and likely Murktide Regent as prime offenders of this. A lot of players dislike how high variance Ragavan is in terms of gameplay and they dislike Regent as a fast clock that the deck didn't really have before. The downside of this approach comes from the fact that Wizards may in fact (and more than likely will) print something that is just as pushed or broken in the future that breaks inside the existing Tempo shell. This is also heavily exacerbated by the fact that many of these newer cards being printed cost a lot of money in order to upgrade to the defacto best version of the Tempo shell. In this case, Ragavan is extremely expensive especially on Magic Online, and sinking that cost into a card that more than likely will just be banned does not feel like a good thing. While there is a sunk cost associated with Magic in general, a pattern of this occurring (see cards like Wrenn and Six which had its own set of issues) is not going to be well-liked by much of the community. This also furthers a scenario where we continue to have cards printed that empower strictly the Tempo shell and break it every time something new comes around.

The other camp is to consider banning cards like Daze or even Ponder and take an approach at trying to depower the actual Tempo shell itself by attacking it from a systemic aspect. There are a number of arguments for and against this approach, the primary of which is by actively depowering the Tempo shell it allows much more agency from other decks to be able to deal with the threats more effectively. The number one card often discussed in this regards is Daze and that is mainly from the aspect of it being the safest card out of the shell to remove from it that only primarily affects the Tempo shell. Other cards that are older such as Force of Will / Wasteland are not really touchable in this scenario (Legacy without FoW would be... insane) and cards like Ponder while it would be interesting to see how it would impact the format, it also impacts far more shells across the format than just specifically the Tempo shell. The big argument here is that banning a card like Daze by itself may not have much of an effect on the existing F.I.R.E. cards and their power level, and even further has a potential to power up combo. The latter argument is interesting as there are a number of various combo decks that actively play Daze as well (Doomsday, Sneak and Show) and removing the card would likely be an interesting thing for those decks. I don't personally buy the idea that Daze is a combo police card as most of the combo decks that exist often cheat on mana in some fashion that hard counters like Force of Will and Force of Negation or specific countermagic (like Blasts) are often better than Daze. Daze exists primarily as a fair matchup card that actively eats into other fair matchups, and I don't think slightly depowering the shell overall would actually make combo that much better, especially given that decks like Doomsday play the card.

Daze as a card is also a product of how well the Tempo shell uses its mana to its advantage. While there is a mana cost to using the card, the ever present nature of the card in a matchup is extreme and the mana advantage loss is nowhere near as pronounced as is to be believed. One of the common arguments for the card is to simply play around it, but a big issue with that is that this style of gameplay is almost always going to be present in a match whether the opponent actually has a Daze or not. The sub game effect of the card has such a strong warping effect on the format in this fashion that if your opponent plays a Volcanic Island followed by one mana threat, you very nearly are going to assume that there is a Daze in their hand even if there isn't. In those scenarios, you are priced into either playing into the Daze or waiting a turn and potentially being even further behind. Furthermore, Daze promotes a very low to the ground deckbuilding with cards that all cost one-two mana, making the mana advantage loss trivial at best.

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I am of the mind of taking a more blended approach and looking at the parts of the shell from a systemic standpoint that are making the shell overpowered and that isn't just one card. I think a blended combination of getting rid of Daze, Murktide Regent, and Expressive Iteration is a good start to depowering the shell. Ragavan seems very swingy and players definitely dislike that aspect of the card, but I don't think it's actually that bannable in Legacy provided that you can assert answering it either with removal or a blocker. Furthermore, if you only banned just Daze the issue with Ragavan comes from removal overload by having to remove it but maybe not having removal for Murktide.

Murktide is a card that I feel is contentious from the standpoint that having such an evasive threat in the format that is hard to answer with very little amounts of removal (primarily Swords to Plowshares and blast effects) that I feel like the existing threats could be manageable if we didn't always have to worry about a really big threat like Murktide coming around the corner. And it's not just one Murktide, it's that the decks are playing four of them to continually grow the other on the battlefield.

Expressive Iteration is as a card right now, potentially one of the best pieces of CA that Delver has had since Arcanist, and it's power level is made even stronger with the presence of Ragavan by allowing the card to be cast on Turn Two with a Treasure token. If Ragavan does indeed end up getting banned I still might want to consider long term getting rid of this card because of how strongly it allows the Delver style decks to reload their hands. While it's possible that an engine like Predict with Dragon's Rage Channeler might replace it, that honestly feels fine because it hinges a lot on making it work, whereas Iteration has none of that extra stuff and is always a draw two effect. I am perfectly fine with having to require extra steps to make something good like Bauble/DRC with Predict.

Whatever happens here is hard to say, as again a lot of the community can't actually agree on the correct path to take. It isn't as clear cut as it was with Oko, and I suspect that alone will make it hard to determine what actually will happen with the format.

The Homogenization of Removal and Black as a Fair Color

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Another macro issue in terms of where the current format is the overall homogenization of Control and fair decks into White with the printing of Prismatic Ending. Ending flexibly answers so many various types of permanents in the current format that it has actively pushed out cards like Abrupt Decay and Assassin's Trophy and has made black feel pretty sub par as a fair color in the format. I don't know of the best way of handling this as long as Ending exists outside of printing more tools for black that allow it to function more as a fair color to give incentive to play it in decks that aren't combo focused. As such though, having such a flexible answer makes it hard to justify playing these other pieces of removal right now and that makes UWx a pretty forced default color pairing for Midrange/Control shells.

Wizards Handling of the Ban List in General

This is another big issue that always kind of crops up whenever we are in a situation where possible bans are needed and that's an overall criticism of how Wizards handles the Banned and Restricted List for Legacy. I am firmly on the side of believing that there are a number of better ways that the B&R can be handled not just for Legacy but in general by hybridizing the idea of the ad hoc ban announcements combined with quarterly style metagame updates that discuss ongoing things being watched in the metagame. Functionally, I'm asking for better transparency here on what is being discussed for a particular format. I believe that this would help keep players better informed and still allow Wizards the flexibility to ban cards ad hoc as they have been doing.

I would also not mind seeing something of a statement (a mission statement of sorts) on how Wizards believes Legacy gameplay is to occur and how they view the philosophy of the Banned and Restricted List for the format. I don't expect we will ever see anything like this especially for Legacy, but it would be interesting to actually see how Wizards views the format.

Of course, this issue does always bring forth discussion on the future of the Legacy format and also whether or not the format would be better suited if the community itself managed the ban list much like how the Commander Rules Committee does. I've been on record multiple times over this in saying that this would long term be a pretty terrible idea to even consider, due to many factors such as how the format is managed on Magic Online but also on who would be involved/chosen to handle the decision making process. We have seen thus far that the community at large can't easily agree with each other on what would be done that being able to agree on this to actually make a decision would be astronomically worse, especially since we don't have nearly enough actual data (even though we have a lot of Challenge data within the Legacy Data Collection Project).

Regardless, what we do know is that Legacy is being discussed as of late, thanks to a comment from Blake on a recent WeeklyMTG stream. What that means is unknown as of yet, but I am suspecting that we likely will see no real changes to the format until after Eternal Weekend, which will provide a large data point for Wizards to dig into.

Potential Unbans Followup

There was quite a bit of great feedback on last week's article on what potential unbans could look like in Legacy. I wanted to take a moment and do a followup on specific cards because it felt pretty interesting to dive into and address some of the interesting tidbits of feedback I got.

Hermit Druid

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This card came up in a bit of a topic of discussion, and a lot of the questions received on it revolved around whether this card would be too slow for current Legacy, especially when cards like Undercity Informer and Balustrade Spy exists, or for that matter the Witherbloom Apprentice / Chain of Smog combo. One of the biggest strengths of this card compared to Spy/Informer is that the skewing of deckbuilding is far less for Hermit Druid then it is for those cards. Both Spy and Informer heavily skew deckbuilding by having to rely solely on Modal DFC Lands and ritual effects to power them out. Druid does not quite have this distinction, since it can slot into a deck that is only running nonbasic lands and thus gain access to cards like Force of Will / Brainstorm makes me far more leary of this card. In addition, comparing the kill this card enables (Thassa's Oracle obviously) is not a fair comparison to the Chain of Smog combo as the latter combo requires a lot of different moving parts and is much harder to protect (as it requires both a creature and a spell that actively disables any way to protect the combo once you are hellbent) than Hermit Druid would be. A Mox Diamond shell for Druid would also probably be pretty good as well. It's very easy to build around this card and as such I don't really think it would be a good addition to the format, however I do think that it would be worth maybe trying to see if that were the case or not.

Mind Twist

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This drew some contentious feedback. A number of folks inferred that I was talking about how potentially unfun this card could be if unbanned in the format and that fun being a subjective thing should not be a reasoning for banning or unbanning. A lot of the pro-arguments for this card come from a standpoint of wanting to manage the banlist with as few cards as necessary, a metric that Wizards themselves has never really laid out for how the Legacy banlist should be managed, but many of the arguments never really seem to hit on a really reason as to otherwise why Mind Twist should be a legal card. Realistically, Wizards having a choice of allowing this card back into Legacy or keeping it on the ban list means that more than likely the status quo will be maintained and that they simply have no real incentive to actually unban this.

A good number of people mentioned cards like Black Vise, but I think it's important to note that Black Vise was unbanned during an era of which we had scheduled Banned and Restricted list announcements. Looking back at that announcement, part of the reasoning for unbanning Vise revolved around Legacy decks being powerful enough to handle such an effect in the metagame and the potential to increase metagame diversity. While one can make an argument potentially for Mind Twist falling under the same possible scenario, the card doesn't really increase any metagame diversity on its own, and while Legacy is powerful enough to probably handle the effect, the way that Wizards is doing B&R updates now makes me think that they have little reason to review the list for cards like these.

Realistically, this card is probably not getting unbanned any time soon.

Mana Drain

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This is another one that got fairly contentious feedback, mostly around how this card would play. In the long run, this is another card that will likely sit on the shelf with no real incentive to free it from the list due to how Wizards manages the B&R updates now. We don't really know exactly how this card really will play out as no one can truly predict how a large group of Legacy players will approach having a new card like this in the format. We can only point to the current heuristics of it not seeing play in Vintage and Counterspell seeing no play in the current Legacy format and that is really it. Those heuristics don't provide much of a real knowledge of how players would use the card in Legacy, as we've just simply never had this kind of effect available in the format before ever, especially in a format with access to four Brainstorm. It is more than likely this uncertainty coupled with the maintaining of the status quo that keeps Wizards from ever touching this card.

Arcum's Astrolabe

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The feedback on this had to do with where I lumped this card (showing up in a table alongside Strip Mine and friends) in the categorization. This was a fair bit of feedback, mainly because this card should have been placed in a section talking about homogenizing cards and the effects those cards have on the format. Especially now with the printing of Prismatic Ending I find it unlikely we ever see this little snow rock come off the ban list.

A Final Look

All the feedback on the unbanning article was great for sure, and I will likely revisit the topic in the future (especially if any of the cards we talked about in the past two weeks do get unbanned) to discuss how the changing heuristics of the format change how these cards are viewed, as well as a topic on the truly ultimately powerful cards and why those cards would definitely not be good for the format. Thanks to everyone who chimed in on this though, it was great!

Community Events

Not much going on here, but I did want to point out an event that our good friend Anuraag Das is putting together for this weekend (November 6th). He is running a free tournament event in which Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer will not be legal for the event. You can find out all the details of this event over on MTGMelee.

Legacy Challenge 10/31

We did have one Challenge event this past weekend, which was the Sunday afternoon event. This event had 64 players in it (the minimum needed to fire) thanks to the efforts of the Legacy Data Collection Project.

You can find all of the Top 32 decklists for this event here and the data sheet here.

Fairly typical metagame here in the most populous decks with a lot of UR Delver. Despite this, UR Delver had a target on its back and didn't perform all that well below the 50% mark. I'm attributing a lot of this to the fact that many of the normal UR Delver grinders simply not being around for these events as well as variance. UR Delver definitely has a learning curve associated with it, and with some of the better pilots just not here coupled with variance definitely impacts its win rate for this one event, and that's important to remember that it is just one event. It doesn't mean anything in regards to the overall metagame of whether or not the Tempo Shell is too good or not.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
4C Control 1st NooxTom
Black Stompy 2nd paragon249
Curses 3rd Reeplcheep
Blood Moon Aggro 4th Wesal
4C Control 5th grinderA
Reanimator 6th duke12
Reanimator 7th medvedev
Lands 8th Boucha

Definitely an interesting Top 8 for sure. Two very similar Stompy-like decks plus Blood Moon and some control shells. Very interesting for sure. At the end of the event it was a very unique 4C Control variant.

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This is primarily flexing the black around on cards like Strix and Hymn to Tourach, leaning the removal side on how good Prismatic Ending and Swords to Plowshares are currently. Definitely an interesting list overall here.

The Second Place deck is our good friend Colron Chambers (paragon249) on a super slick Stompy list.

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This list is really sweet. Mox Diamond and Dark Ritual with Karn, Leylines, Helms, and even a dash of Urza's Saga. Oh and if it weren't sweet enough... Serum Powder to abuse the heck out of the mulligan rule. Sick run with a sick list, Colron!

Down in Third Place we have another good friend of ours in Reeplcheep on his signature Stompy build - Curses.

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Curses is a really well designed and built deck. I love how reasonably interesting building around a deck that plays both Dark Ritual and Chalice of the Void is. It's great to see Reeplcheep doing well with it.

Further down the Top 8 we had two Reanimator showings. Let's look at the first one.

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I really like how much Serra's Emissary and Archon of Cruelty have added to this deck without feeling incredibly busted. It's a nice addition to the deck for sure.

Outside of the Top 8 we had a sweet showing by a bigger Yorion level build of Affinity/8-Cast.

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This deck just gets to do all the things that individual decks have but does them all together in one deck. Ingenious Smith is a sweet inclusion here in this kind of strategy and Stoneforge Mystic makes for a different angle of attack. Really fun and interesting list for sure.

Around the Web

  • Eternal Durdles has got a starting look at Crimson Vow. Take a peek at their newest episode here.
  • Our good friend Phil Gallagher is just drawing all the cards. Check out his video on 8-Cast here.

The Spice Corner

Lodestone Golem and Helm combo? Sauce.

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This deck is super sweet. Slogurk and friends.

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Demigod of Revenge is SWEET.

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Big Yorion Depths is pretty cool especially with Cosmic Intervention.

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Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Thanks for continuing to support the column and join us next week as we continue our journey into Legacy!

As always you can reach me at Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and Patreon! In addition I'm always around the MTGGoldfish Discord Server and the /r/MTGLegacy Discord Server and subreddit.

Until next time!

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