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This Week in Legacy: A Vial By Any Other Name


Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of This Week in Legacy! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week I'm going to be diving into the topic of Aether Vial based decks in Legacy and the cool variations of those decks that exist, from the most popular to the niche. In addition we have two Challenges this weekend to discuss, as well as our Spice Corner. AND beyond those normal things, we've got yet another Player Spotlight Series!

Without further ado, let's dive right into this week!

Into the Aether (Vial)

Since its very existence from being printed in Darksteel, the card Aether Vial has remained an exceptionally popular card to build around in Legacy, as it has been around the format since Legacy became independent of Vintage in the fall of 2004. Aether Vial decks represented a way to build creature decks that could get around countermagic as well as operate on a surprise factor. To this day, the card is still one of the more fun ways to build creature based control decks. This is an ode... to Aether Vial.

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The number of Aether Vial strategies that exist within Legacy, as well as the ones that have the capacity to exist, is pretty wide open and not only that, they all provide a bit of a different game experience. We're going to talk about some of the most important ones for the format, but also some of the fringe exciting variations as well.

Goblins

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I would be remiss to talk about Vial-based decks and not talk about one of the format's oldest surviving strategies in Goblins. Goblins has and continues to be very popular with its hardcore fans, and very recently has received a lot of powerful upgrades in the realm of 2019-2020 Magic mainly in the form of Muxus, Goblin Grandee from JumpStart. How good Goblins are now however, there was a time when Goblins was one of the premier strategies of the format and it was genuinely very scary to be looking across the table at a Goblin Lackey (it still is!). One of the things that Goblins does best is act as a role player in most games. It can develop its game plan into either a control deck where it keeps the opponent from doing various things with the combination of Wasteland + Rishadan Port, or it can turn the corner very quickly into an aggressive play thanks to cards like Muxus.

The thing that really sets Goblins apart is the community behind it however, as the Goblins community is an exceptionally welcoming crowd and they really love their deck to death, even during the dark times when Goblin Lackey didn't feel so good to be playing. You have to respect that kind of dedication for sure.

Death and Taxes

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Speaking of dedicated pilots, I definitely have to talk about the other side of the coin in Legacy with Death and Taxes. D&T is another deck that has been around the format for a long time, and continually evolves its identity throughout the years as new printings impact the archetype. While there have been some rocky ups and downs for the deck in the past two years (between cards like Oko, Plague Engineer, and the now banned Wrenn and Six) but the pilots truly dedicated to making the deck work soldier on.

D&T as a deck generally looks like it doesn't do much on paper to the unrefined eye, and quite often the deck's strength comes mainly from the skill of the pilot and the deckbuilding skill involved in the deck. It's a deck where true dedication and hard work do make up for a lot, as the deck takes a lot of critical thinking and analysis of a matchup to play well.

Merfolk

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Another long time Vial based deck, Merfolk has existed in the format a very long time, still remaining very popular as well during hard times due to the fact that it was a Vial deck that could cast Force of Will. Traditionally an aggressive control strategy, Merfolk capitalized on one very important fact of the Legacy format and that is "Islandwalk" being exceptionally relevant. However, as time went on, Merfolk's relevance in the format greatly diminished, and True-Name Nemesis remained the deck's last great printing. Merfolk became a bit of a joke sadly, as players would often talk about how the deck was simply one printing away from being great again. If only they knew how actually true that was.

With the release of Theros: Beyond Death the deck received a new lease on life in the form of Thassa's Oracle with Paradigm Shift. Introducing a combo potential into Merfolk as a deck allowed it the ability to play a normal fair game of Magic with attacking creatures and surprise pumps from Merfolk Lords during combat with Vial tricks, but also the ability to simply win the game through Oracle's trigger, by using Paradigm Shift to exile the library. Even better is that the deck runs quite a bit of blue mana symbol creatures, so removing the Oracle in response to the trigger is even worse because it's definitely likely the Merfolk player will still be able to meet the devotion requirement to win the game if there are a few cards in the library post Shift.

Esper Vial

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Esper Vial is a relatively new addition to the Legacy scene within the past two years, pioneered by Jeff Lin (Jtl005). The deck leans heavily on the usage of Recruiter of the Guard to act as a tutor piece for other silver bullets within the deck, but also is capable of utilizing cantrips like Brainstorm and Force of Will. This, combined with the premium removal in Swords to Plowshares has allowed the deck to become a powerful toolbox deck, utilizing blink effects with cards like Soulherder as well as cards like Meddling Mage to disrupt the opponent's plays. The best thing about this is that Mage can very easily be blinked by the other effects in the deck if it becomes necessary to change the card named for Mage.

Combined with many cool silver bullet cards, many of which are Legendary and can be bounced with Karakas (such as Venser, Shaper Savant), Esper Vial has become one of the best Vial strategies in the format right now. It is incredibly strong, incredibly fun to play, and has a strong set of content behind it with folks like Jeff Lin having streamed or otherwise written content about the deck. It's a personal favorite of mine right now, and as we'll see later on when we talk about the Challenges from this past weekend, it is doing quite well competitively.

Slivers

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Slivers as a tribe is another set of cards that has remained incredibly popular for as long as it has existed. With the printings of newer Slivers in more Modern times, there was eventually a solid critical mass of them that would allow for a deck in Legacy. This works really well with Aether Vial because many of the best Sliver creatures max out at two CMC, making Vial triggers easier to manage. Furthermore, Slivers has some of the best ways of blanking the premium removal in the format, with the card Crystalline Sliver as well as Hibernation Sliver. The sheer fact that these cards are also blue means that the deck can easily find enough sources in order to play Force of Will.

The biggest boon to Slivers in recent times however was the advent of Modern Horizons and cards such as Unsettled Mariner and Cloudshredder Sliver. This deck sees play by one Daniel Nunes, who is consistently putting up positive results for it. It is a fringe deck, but it is highly explosive and aggressive with its game plan, making it one of the more aggro-slanted variants of Vial decks.

Humans

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Humans as a deck in Legacy often looks fairly different than the deck as it exists in Modern, as Legacy provides a few more interesting options to play around with like Mother of Runes and Palace Jailer, and doesn't have to rely on cards like Mantis Rider to win the game. This is another fringe strategy, but one that has been played heavily by Eddie Zamora, who is one of the deck's most outspoken proponents. Humans is a tribe that continually has a way of getting better and better over time, due to the fact that new Humans are printed exceptionally often in Magic sets.

The most recent printing to impact the deck was that of General Kudro of Drannith, which not only provides a pump effect to the tribe, but also a way of hating out graveyard centric strategies.

Elementals

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Another exceptionally fringe Vial deck, Elementals is a deck that was originally pioneered by MTGO user perseel in putting up a few 5-0 results with the deck. I myself have played and tampered with this engine from time to time, mainly because I absolutely enjoy the gameplay that the card Risen Reef provides to me. One of the cool things about this deck is the fact that it continues to receive new printings of the tribe that do new and interesting things. This is one of the tribes that I have on my short list of tribes that gets better over time, and one that I would definitely watch out for coming into Zendikar Rising in a few months, as Zendikar often means Elementals in some capacity.

The powerful thing about this deck that is often fun is its ability to tutor for various silver bullets with Flamekin Harbinger, and it has the ability to outramp decks with Risen Reef. Cards like Voice of Resurgence are exceptionally strong, and there are lots of cool Elementals that provide unique effects. The major downside of this deck right now is its manabase and constructing it in a way that works and enables the deck to exist, but as we move forward I expect this deck to continue to get better and better.

Community Legacy Update

Just a reminder that we have GenCon Online upcoming this weekend! Be sure to check out the schedule of MTGO based events on Pastimes website. Remember that any signups for Prelim events gets you access to every card on Magic Online both for practice and for the event! There has never been a better time to try out Legacy!

Community Player Spotlight Series - Colron Chambers

We have another Player Spotlight series this week, and this is another player that reached out to me when I was on the lookout for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) players in the Legacy format. As always, if you know a player who you think I should be talking to or would like to see share their story here, or if you would like to see your story told please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. I readily enjoy talking to the community members and helping people tell their story.

A consummate Brewer, Colron has played Magic since the mid-Nineties, returning to competitive play in 2015. Colron was one of the first to play and review Magic Arena. A fierce and deliberate competitor, he has been featured on the Mothership, with a #129 GP Vegas 2019 and #29 Nationals 2017 placement. He pioneered RB Vehicles a full evolution earlier, going undefeated with it in standard in the 2017 Nationals and taking it deep into Day 2 at the following GP Seattle before it became mainstream and dominated the following season. He has historically performed best with mid-range decks with aggressive starts but has a passion for alt wincons.

Now, I'll let Colron take it from here. You can reach him on Twitter here.

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Hi, I'm Colron Chambers

I played Legacy on Xmage for prep for GP Vegas (Triple GP) and ended up making Day 2 with a borrowed Burn deck, a favorite archtype of mine since back in the day. I ended up slanting slightly higher on the Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon plan, which ended up being very helpful. The early success there prompted me to pursue the format in paper, and having played standard with Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Karn, Scion of Urza, I figured they would be powerful together, so I adopted the Stompy shell, with a focus on Eidolon of the Great Revel and other red hatebears who had done well in that burn deck. Rampaging Ferocidon and Hazoret the Fervent were natural inclusions as they'd taken me quite far in standard. I played that deck until GP Niagara 2019, when it was stolen on the last day of competition. I was able to borrow a Faeries deck and finish up a PTQ, but it forced me to take a hiatus from Legacy while I rebuilt my collection.

In recent months I have been playing with a Torpor Orb/Hushbringer deck that I'd been trying to make work in Modern. I had one Phyrexian Dreadnought and one Swords to Plowshares, and always joked that I'd put it into Legacy if I could get the rest. Enter Heliod, Sun-Crowned combo. I immediately put the shell together for Pioneer, and it outperformed even my remade RB vehicles deck. We took it to SCG Philly and my teammates had a rough day, losing nearly every match. I was able to defeat several Inverter of Truth variants and lost only once before we called it a day. I sold my Wheel of Fortune and got Phyrexian Dreadnoughts, and we went back and made a Legacy version, which is my current Legacy deck. I've only played it in one league so far, being busy with the weekly championships and the ManaTraders Pioneer series, but I look forward to busting it out at my next paper event.

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It's a dream of mine to win a Pro Tour, hopefully with one of my trademark brews. I'd like to own a ESports team, and start a Magic players union, hopefully to bring accountability to the Judge program and to lower the cost of grinding. I currently run a popular discord as a haven for BIPOC players and allies (Money, Power, Respect). Last but not least I stream on Twitch whenever I can.

Legacy Challenge 7/25

Our first Legacy Challenge of the weekend was the early morning Saturday Challenge. Let's dive right into the Top 32!

While there was still certainly an amount of RUG Delver in this event, there was a ton of other interesting decks around, including things like Goblins, Hogaak, and Ninjas. It's super cool to see decks like this doing well in Legacy currently and it certainly feels like there is a measure of success to be had by unique decks.

Now let's take a look at the Top 8 of this event.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Ninjas 1st TheHamburglar
G/B Depths 2nd Terano
RUG Delver 3rd Wakarock
LED Dredge 4th Basuta
Cloudpost 5th Into_Play
U/R Delver 6th JPA93
Ninjas 7th Norumi
Curse Stompy 8th Reeplcheep

What a super cool Top 8 really, with a lot of really interesting strategies and several different archetypes represented here. Even cooler though is the presence of not one, but two Ninjas players. We might have to do a feature on the deck at some point because it really seems like it is picking up steam.

Speaking of Ninjas of course, the deck won the whole thing!

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Ninjas is a super sweet deck, with some really powerful card advantage engines. The one thing this deck does really well is draw cards, which helps it further its proactive game plan so very well.

In Second Place we have G/B Depths.

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This is more of a "Slow" to "Medium" Depths list, focusing more on card advantage with Dark Confidant as well as controlling the game with discard to make it certain that when Dark Depths is making Marit Lage, the game is over. In addition, Elvish Reclaimer makes for a great enabler plus win condition all on its own.

In Third Place we have RUG Delver.

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This is the most common list we've seen thus far, with a split on Goyf and Mandrills. Nothing much else can be said about the current RUG Delver lists, they're all pretty well locked in outside of a slight few flex spots.

In Fourth Place we have LED Dredge.

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The most obvious thing here is the lack of Ox of Agonas. While many have adopted the big red beastie, it is generally considered fairly optional. Instead Basuta chose for a more old school approach with Street Wraith and maxed out on Careful Study. Also, the two Insolent Neonate are pretty sweet.

In Fifth Place we have a Cloudpost shell.

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One of the biggest things here is the presence of Allosaurus Shepherd from JumpStart making an appearance in a non-Elves list, enabling cards like Crop Rotation, Green Sun's Zenith, and the like to be made uncounterable. The sideboard Mikokoro, Center of the Sea is also super intriguing as well here.

In Sixth Place we have U/R Delver by Legacy stalwart JPA93.

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This is a super clean U/R Delver list, leaning on the strength of cards like Arcanist and Young Pyromancer. Not so many new cards here that have seen play in the archetype like Stormwing Entity, but still a very powerful deck.

In Seventh Place we have another Ninjas list.

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This is fairly close to the First Place list, except for some differences in sideboard cards. It's still great to see this deck doing well.

Rounding out the Top 8, we have a sweet Curse Stompy list by Reeplcheep.

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This is a super cool deck, and a big showing of a deck that wants four main deck Eliminate. Muscling out Curses with Stompy manabase is pretty strong, but also having access to both Karn and Helm of Obedience + Leyline of the Void kill is pretty cool too.

Now let's take a look at the 2019-2020 cards in this event. Remember, we're only looking for cards that have had 8 copies or more, with special exceptions made for Companions (due to the unique nature of the cards).

Card Name Number of Copies
Force of Negation 30
Oko, Thief of Crowns 28
Once Upon a Time 22
Dreadhorde Arcanist 21
Force of Vigor 18
Plague Engineer 17
Prismatic Vista 14
Veil of Summer 11
Arcum's Astrolabe 8
Karn, the Great Creator 8
Yorion, Sky Nomad 1

All the usual suspects are present and accounted for, except for Uro who had a low showing this week (7 copies). The number of Astrolabes continues to fluctuate massively from week to week, so it's not surprising to see it down low here given some of the decks in the event.

Legacy Challenge 7/26

Our second Challenge event of the weekend is the normal Sunday Challenge, and it seemed like an interesting event as well! Let's dive right into the Top 32 breakdown.

This was certainly interesting, and there was certainly a large amount of RUG Delver as expected, but the deck does not seem to be utterly dominating to the point of insanity, instead, it merely seems to be just popular. This is important to remember when looking at these results, as they only represent what representation a deck has in the metagame, but that doesn't mean much on a power level standpoint. Delver in general falls into one of those categories where the deck itself is going to remain popular with people due to the very nature of the deck, and some players will play what they know in Legacy more than anything for big events. This often leads to an over-representation of the archetype. At these numbers between both Challenges, this doesn't feel too concerning really.

Now let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Esper Vial 1st Jtl005
RUG Delver 2nd Kentaro_Hokori
Esper Vial 3rd Koke_MTG
Sharkblade 4th WhiteFaces
TES 5th Bryant_Cook
Miracles 6th PunishingWaterfalls
Karn Echo 7th Yamakiller
Ninjas 8th MomsBasementStreams

There's some cool spice in this Top 8, and all around looks like a well-represented Top 8 in all honesty. There's even an honest to goodness old school Miracles deck in this Top 8.

At the end of it all however, it was our good friend Jeff Lin (Jtl005) who took it all down on his deck, Esper Vial. Jeff has been a stalwart developer of the deck for a very long time now, and has had multiple high-level finishes with it. Still, it's a well-deserved win, so massive congrats to Jeff.

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This deck is incredibly strong, and it's cool to see it adopting newer cards like Barrin, Tolarian Archmage in it. Barrin seems tailor made for the Esper Vial shell, especially now that the deck is also playing THREE Gilded Drake in the sideboard, which Barrin works really well with.

In Second Place we have RUG Delver.

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RUG had a great showing in this event as well, on a very similar list as the first Challenge Top 8. The only major difference here is sideboard flex spots.

In Third Place we have a second Esper Vial list.

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There's some differences here from Jeff's list, from the main deck Unearth to some sideboard slots for cards like Sevinne's Reclamation and Eliminate. It's great to see that there is plenty of customization space within this archetype.

In Fourth Place we have our good friend Callum Smith with what I can only refer to as.... SHARKBLADE.

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Sharks driving a Batterskull is all I have to say about this deck. Seriously though, this deck is insanely cool, and I love everything about it.

In Fifth Place we have Legacy stalwart Bryant Cook on his deck, The EPIC Storm.

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It seems that TES has finally had a chance to settle and solidify, and while I know that Bryant is always tweaking and tuning what he does with the deck, it's great to see it in a good spot, and even better to see Peer into the Abyss having found a good home in it.

In Sixth Place we have Miracles!

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Back to Basics, Counterbalance, Predict, and not an Astrolabe to be seen! This is as old school Miracles as it gets without Top.

In Seventh Place we have MTGO End Boss Yamakiller on Karn Echo.

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This deck remains a bit of a sleeper in Legacy I feel, as its raw power level can simply overwhelm a lot of things, but the deck doesn't nearly have as much representation. I suspect more people would complain about this deck if it saw more play because it does some pretty busted things.

Rounding out the Top 8 we have Ninjas!

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This is more of a BUG slanted variant of the deck, gaining access to cards like Decay and of course, Oko. I'm sure Oko gives the deck some powerful tools in the fair matchups while making some problematic matchups (like Chalice) better for sure.

Now let's take a look at the 2019-2020 cards in this event.

Card Name Number of Copies
Oko, Thief of Crowns 37
Force of Negation 34
Veil of Summer 19
Arcum's Astrolabe 18
Plague Engineer 18
Dreadhorde Arcanist 16
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath 15
Once Upon a Time 13
Force of Vigor 12
Teferi, Time Raveler 9
Yorion, Sky Nomad 2

Uro has returned a tad in this event up from the 7 copies in the first weekend Challenge. Likewise, all the usual 2019-2020 suspects are here as well as the fact that this event had two copies of Yorion decks overall.

Ban Watch

Now let's take a look at the current numbers on where certain cards are at in the metagame, as we have started doing in the past few weeks. This chart will be continued to be updated as things go along, at least until Zendikar Rising simply because things might change within that set.

The real shift in the past month has been the amount of Oko played in Delver vs Non-Delver strategies as well as the amount of Veil in Fair vs Combo decks. Veil dominated in Combo over fair in the past weeks before dipping this past weekend hard, while Oko shifted completely with Non-Delver strategies. This mainly has to do with a lot of the Delver strategies going back down in the past four weeks. This does show that Oko itself has definitely ingrained itself into several strategies on both sides of the fence, but whether this is cause for alarm is unknown. I expect that it currently isn't and will remain that way for a while, and would likely require a massive shift in both format dominance and even higher representation to do so.

Around the Web

  • 90sMTG continues to deliver some solid content and they didn't disappoint this week. Check out their newest video here.
  • Big shoutout to the one and only Anuraag Das for being picked up by ChannelFireball for Legacy Videos! Check out his content here!

The Spice Corner

A really sweet Applejacks list here, with the card Mazemind Tome!

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Yorion Esper Vial!

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Blood Sun Eldrazi featuring Hazoret the Fervent and Anje's Ravager!

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What I'm Playing This Week

I'm back on the Winota train for a bit, mainly because the deck is super fun!

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Wrapping Up

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

As always you can reach me on Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and Patreon! In addition you can always find me on the MTGGoldfish Discord Server and the /r/MTGLegacy Discord Server and subreddit.

Until next time!


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