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This Week in Legacy: Playing Semi-Unfair and the Tribes of Legacy

Hello, welcome to This Week in Legacy once more! After a big wrap-up of last month’s events in the last article, this week we turn once again to the variety of odd decks that have found their place within the format. Primarily, we’ll look at some of the semi-unfair strategies of the format that have both combo avenues of winning and the ability to win in a fair way via creature combat. We also segue to some of the tribal strategies of the format, and how they have fallen from powerhouses many years ago to niche contenders within the metagame.

Let's begin!

Comboing with Elves (And Beasts, and Rogues)

Interestingly, the two semi-unfair lists that are most prominent in the Legacy metagame both involve demolishing opponent’s with Elves, but in very different ways. They also harken to the way kitchen table green mages would love to defeat their opponents— via pump spells or ramping into giant green creatures! In Legacy though, the pumps spells are not Giant Growth, and we’re not accelerating into Craw WurmsBerserk and Craterhoof Behemoth are the most powerful, broken spells that these green Legacy decks take advantage of for incredibly quick kills.

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Infect in Legacy probably has a great-great-grandaddy in the Stompy decks of Legacy’s past. Those decks involved the most efficient green idiots in the format (Ghazban Ogre, Wild Dogs), a couple of pump spells, and Berserk to create a huge burst of trampling damage for a single green mana. The Infect mechanic from Scars of Mirrodin block, however, made Berserk even more potent, as now a creature only needed five power to be lethal. Invigorate combined incredibly well with Infect as a free spell that pumped a 1/1 conveniently into a 5/5. And so all these weird old cards created the backbone of a deck abusing a broken new mechanic. Turn one Glistener Elf into turn two Invigorate and Berserk led to a nice turn two kill.

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The first one to really place in a high-caliber tournament was Olle Rade, who Top 8'ed a Legacy side event at Grand Prix Madrid.

Olle's list was much more focused on fast kills, packing the full four Berserks, additional Infecters such as Ichorclaw Myr and Necropede, and Rancor plus Might of Old Krosa as additional pump spells compared to more modern lists. Olle did realize that Brainstorm, some light amount of permission, and Vines of Vastwood were all pivotal to the deck’s ability to protect threats and create consistency. Noble Hierarch, although not a four-of in this list, also proved its worth as mana acceleration and a pseudo-pump spell. 

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It wasn’t until Tom “The Boss” Ross started continually tinkering with the deck in SCG tournaments that the deck started to gravitate towards its current configuration and gain a lot of traction as a metagame contender. Previous lists had looked at the deck in a combo-orientated way, and although Force of Will had been included in some lists, few had navigated the deck to be more of a “false tempo” archetype. If you’re curious what I mean by this, check out Gerry Thompson’s article. Tom's lists started to eschew some number of Berserks and pump spells, adding additional tempo cards such as Forces, Spell Pierce, and Stifle. He also toyed with a Green Sun's Zenith package, as well as Crop Rotation to create further fear in opponents on an empty board. Crop Rotation into Inkmoth Nexus could spell doom in the blink of an eye.

I highly recommend checking out a bunch of Ross’ videos on StarCityGames. One of his more recent videos is his match against Shardless BUG. Ross leverages his deck incredibly and wins with a little luck.

If you enjoy the tempo feeling that many Delver variants provide, while also enjoying the ability to threaten a kill out of nowhere, Infect may be the deck for you. Look towards Tom Ross’s Ultimate Guide to Infect as well as his interview (and Clay Spicklemire’s!) on Legacy’s Allure if you’re interested in further insights on the deck.

But if instead of pump spells you are a green mage that likes mana dorks accelerating out fatties then Elves may be the deck for you. Using Llanowar Elves to accelerate into huge creatures has always been somewhat of a recipe for success within Magic’s history. It was not until Lorwyn and Shadowmoor that the Elves archetype found an absurd mana and card advantage engine. Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel combined with then bulk Rare Glimpse of Nature allowed one to continually draw Elf into Elf, all while generating plentiful amounts of mana thanks to Nettle Sentinel untapping after each new Elf cast.

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The Elf deck burst on to the scene in the Extended Pro Tour Berlin, where Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas won with his take on Elves.

The other variant of Elves that also found itself plentiful spots in the Top 8 of this tournament was a variant that utilized Predator Dragon as its kill. You can find those lists here.

Nonetheless, these lists soon found their way into Legacy. Indeed, the mana engine of Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel was quite important, but perhaps what proved more important was the power that Elvish Visionary and Wirewood Symbiote had, along with Glimpse, to simply generate a lot of value to grind out opponents.

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The deck also found in Legacy an absurd mana-engine in Gaea's Cradle and Quirion Ranger. The large creature that was generally used to finish the game in these lists was Regal Force or simply a hardcast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. The deck remained a reasonable tier two deck, despite the core being so powerful in Extended. 

The next revolution of the Elf deck came in 2013 during Grand Prix Denver. Matt Nass and Luis Scott-Vargas brought a new Elves list, with Matt Nass Top 8'ing the tournament. This list incorporated the newly-printed Deathrite Shaman, which was slowly taking over the format, and Abrupt Decay in the sideboard to deal with problem permanents such as Counterbalance. Probably most interesting was its incorporation of a much more elegant win condition that allowed the deck to win very quickly and from a low resource base: Craterhoof Behemoth. Natural Order finding Craterhoof Behemoth gave the deck a much less mana-intensive finisher and also gave the deck access to Progenitus in the sideboard.

The above list has remained the basis of many of the Elves lists recently. Although various flex slots within the deck have made their way in and out (Reclamation Sage, Scavenging Ooze, and the lovable Wren's Run Packmaster) the deck has not seen quite the same upheaval that occurred in 2013. However, Elves master Julian Knab innovated last year by cutting away what had been established as a Sacred Cow. There is no more Natural Order in his Elves list—there is only Chaos!

Julian’s Chaos Elves list looks like the next progression of the deck in order to fight against a world of Terminus and Force of Wills. Natural Order may give the deck a variety of free wins against some decks, but the cost of sacrificing a creature and tapping out can be very high. Instead, Julian has found room for more utility creatures, such as Gaddock Teeg, to have main deck ways to fight combo and Miracles. This list aims to obtain advantage via “false tempo.” It can flood the board and grind the game out with little green men, and force the opponent to fear a Natural Order (that’s not even in the list!), while also still having a combo avenue to victory thanks to the usual Glimpse of Nature and Green Sun's Zenith for Craterhoof.

Find Julian’s interview on Legacy’s Allure and Humans of Magic. You can also chart his progress through his win at Bazaar of Moxen 2013 (Part 1  and Part 2). Ross Merriam’s Ultimate Guide to Elves is also a great foray into the deck.

The Other Tribes of Legacy

It’s seems like we’re truly going through a Legacy history lesson in this edition! Elves may be the most popular tribal deck within Legacy at the moment, but that was not always the case. Merfolk and Goblins were once powerhouses within the format.

Merfolk, colloquially known as “Fish”, was once a premier tempo strategy within Legacy. Like Elves, its core of cards was found in Lorwyn and Shadowmoor, with Silvergill Adept, Merfolk Reejerey, and Cursecatcher making friends with a card unplayable since Alpha, Lord of Atlantis. These Fish combined with Aether Vial to churn out creatures at instant speed, while Force of Will and Daze disrupted the opponent. The deck also leveraged Aether Vial with Wasteland and Mutavault, and some lists even brought in Standstill. The deck was known to heavily punish other fair blue decks, as the islandwalkers ignored creature combat. While the deck initially had problems with creature quality, Coralhelm Commander and Merfolk Sovereign soon shored up those slots. Soon Merfolk was crushing giant tournaments, such as the Bazaar of Moxen in 2010:

The deck found difficulty as a contender once cards such as Stoneforge Mystic and Delver of Secrets rose to prominence. Why build a deck based on synergy when these cards can win the game single-handedly? However, the deck soon found some extra additions with Cavern of Souls, Master of the Pearl Trident, and True-Name Nemesis. Although the deck is certainly not a tier one contender anymore, if fair blue decks are in your metagame the deck can islandwalk itself into a Top 8. Harbinger of the Tides and Warping Wail have also found their way into the deck, showing that the Fish still have some room to further evolve.

dav5037’s list is interesting for a few reasons. Many Merfolk players have opted to include Chalice of the Void in the deck recently, thanks to Merfolk’s ability to circumvent Chalice via Vial or Cavern of Souls. His list also features a full four Wastelands that hasn’t been common and also main decks Harbinger of the Tides to really improve fair matchups.

The other tribe I’d like to look at is a favorite of many, was once the King of Legacy, but now languishes, save for a few dedicated individuals.

Goblins was once a tribe well-loved by Magic, starting from the days of Mon's Goblin Raiders and Goblin King in Alpha. The tribe only became a true powerhouse in Magic after Onslaught block, where the deck dominated both Standard and Extended in 2003. The Standard Goblin deck abused cards such as Goblin Warchief, accelerating out Siege-Gang Commander and hasty Goblin Piledrivers that could deal enormous amounts of damage. Meanwhile, the Extended version could grind out the long game thanks to Goblin Ringleader from Mercadian Masque. Goblin Matron also tied the deck together by tutoring for whatever Goblin was required. Although the deck found difficulties in Standard due to Affinity rearing its head, its Extended version also got access to the newly-printed Aether Vial, which allowed Goblins to leverage a mana advantage via Vial, Wasteland, and Rishadan Port.

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Once the first Legacy Grand Prix arrived, Goblins was already a well-known deck. But what differentiated the Legacy version from its Extended and Standard peers?

This little innocuous-looking guy…

Goblin Lackey was once the most threatening turn one play in Legacy. A Lackey unanswered typically meant an insurmountable mana advantage for the Goblins player. The first ever large Legacy event, Grand Prix Philadelphia in 2005, was won by Goblins in the hands of Jon Sonne, whose report you can find here.

The core of the deck featured:

This core gave the deck a variety of tools that looks somewhat terrible on paper, but actually led to the deck being able to disrupt the opponent with mana denial, grind out the opponent with card advantage, cheat the mana curve, and kill very quickly out of nowhere if required. This led to the deck being able to play both aggressive and controlling roles depending on the matchup, though the deck remained somewhat soft to combo if it could not race.

Soft to combo you say? Owen Turtenwald still brought the Goblins to Grand Prix Columbus in 2007, also known as Grand Prix Flash-Hulk. Being the excellent player he was, Owen brought the Goblins to another Top 8.


This list didn’t incorporate anything too new, only adding a light green splash for Tin Street Hooligan, which was definitely superior to the previously-used Goblin Tinkerer.

As Legacy changed, with new creatures such as Tarmogoyf, Stoneforge Mystic, Delver of Secrets, and Deathrite Shaman finding their way into the format, Goblins lists still remained quite static, with very little to the core I mentioned changing. Mogg Fanatic was soon dismissed after damage no longer stacked, and Goblin Chieftain found a place as a filler Goblin. Jim Davis touted those recruits in his Legacy Open Top 8 in 2010. Cavern of Souls was also a great addition for the deck, even though it did not remedy the new problematic creatures the deck faced. Max Tietze’s winning list from an SCG Open in 2013 is really the last bastion of Goblin success in recent years, with the deck finding it difficult to compete in the current metagame. Like Merfolk, tribal synergy has difficulty in beating the good stuff.

That’s not to say the deck is unviable. It can certainly give a Miracles player a thrashing thanks to chaining uncounterable Ringleaders. A lot of fair matchups against decks such as Delver and Stoneblade cannot compete with the number of cards Goblins draws. But combo decks give the deck fits, and the power creep of creatures causes Goblin players to need to get a bit creative in order to push their Lackey past Tarmogoyf these days. Nonetheless, if you enjoy playing a fair creature deck that looks to the casual observer like a typical Sligh deck but actually has an incredible amount of interaction, Goblins can be quite rewarding. I know there are many who still love the deck to this day. For more information about the Goblins archetype and the common misconceptions of the deck, Legacy’s Allure has you covered with Jim Davis’ episode on the topic. I’d also like to thank friend, fellow podcaster and Melbourne Goblins aficionado Steven Stamopoulis for the details of Goblins’ past.


That’s all we have time for today; hopefully this trip down memory lane was insightful for many of you. Feel free to give me some feedback in the comments and give me a tip-off on the next deck you’d like to have featured within This Week in Legacy!

‘Til then!

Sean Brown

Reddit: ChemicalBurns156
Twitter: @Sean_Brown156

What I’m Playing This Week

I’m back to basics, and that means I’m back to the love of my life, Death & Taxes!

I was able to reach first in a recent local tournament with this list. I defeated in the Swiss: Miracles twice, Goblins, and 4c Loam, while losing to ANT, and then defeated Goblins and Imperial Taxes to take home first. Thalia, Heretic Cathar was the card I tried in this tournament and although I never got to see her truly shine, she was never atrocious and her first striking 3/2 body certainly did some damage.

The Spice Corner

This week I’d like to highlight a deck brought by a redditer to the recent Grand Prix Sydney Legacy side event. Last week I had a look at the Turbo Depths lists, but being a land-based combo that doesn’t really need to cast spells makes including Standstill in a Dark Depths shell certainly appealing… Especially if the Standstill can be accelerating out on turn one thanks to Mox Diamond. Standstill also increases this list's blue count high enough so that now you can defend your Marit Lage with Force of Will!

Check out the reddit thread for further information on the deck! Personally, after seeing this deck’s abhorrent Death & Taxes matchup I may want to find room for some number of Abrupt Decays in the side (and a Bayou in the main). Or maybe just brute force with some clunky Dread of Nights. Nonetheless, I hope to see this list pop up more often; it looks very sweet, and kudos to its creator for bringing something new to Legacy.

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