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This Week in Legacy: Sensei's Divining Top Is Banned

Welcome to… This Week in Legacy. This week we have perhaps the most interesting development in quite some time, perhaps even more interesting than when Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time were banned.

As Legacy players, we had begun to almost pay no heed to the Banned & Restricted Announcement. Maybe, we thought, there’d be moves to shake up the format from Wizards some stage in the future. An unbanning would be lovely, with cards like Earthcraft and Mind Twist looking absurd next to the Power 9 and the broken Delve spells. Maybe, maybe, Wizards would push Miracles down a peg. The deck has certainly been dominating the format for quite some time. But such was expected to be unlikely. What do Wizards care about Legacy anyway?

On the 25th of April, 2017 (note: I live in a different time zone to America!), I woke up to a Facebook stacked with notifications, the r/MTGLegacy subreddit blasted with new threads and many posts anew on The Source.

Sensei’s Divining Top had left the format.

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I’m not going to dig deep into opinions and rationale behind the banning, other than give a few short sentence about how I feel. I’ve mentioned this once before, but the splash damage of banning Top is incredibly widespread, with many non-blue decks really leaning on this artifact as the only consistency tool available to them in a world of Brainstorms and Ponders. Counterbalance or Terminus would’ve certainly been a bit more of a responsible ban to damage Miracles (and I don’t disagree that maybe Miracles needed to be pushed down a bit), leaving the shell of the deck intact and likely reasonable (but not oppressive). The Top ban leads to many decks now being completely neutered, and a host of Miracles players either looking to switch decks (at even more of a financial cost) or simply selling out and leaving the format. It’s a worrying scenario in terms of health of the format, especially when the cost of the format is already very high.

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That being said, there is a brand-new world ahead of us. This in itself is exciting, and hopefully this will keep current players engaged, and potentially bring in some new ones. Today, we’ll be primarily discussing what the format is likely to look like in the wake of the Top banning. Note that I am no perfect prophet though – many new and unexpected changes are likely to occur with the sudden void that has appeared.

Miracles, you’ll be missed. Although you were damn powerful, although you were the enemy of many, some of the best games of Legacy were fought against you. It’s going to be weird without you.

What Do I Do With These Tundras?

The first group of players I’d like to engage is the ex-Miracles players. Although the deck certainly lost a few pieces that were relatively valuable (Tops, Counterbalance), the value of Snapcaster Mage, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Tundras, and Volcanic Islands aren’t going anywhere. Finding a new shell for these cards is the issue. But there is one card that immediately comes to mind.

Stoneforge Mystic.

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Although recently Stoneblade decks have warped into more aggressively bent Green-based versions, featuring mana dorks, Leovold, and turboed out True-Names, a movement back to more controlling, traditional Stoneblade decks could be something to look out for. These decks were largely non-existent when Miracles was part of the format. Miracles went “bigger” than them, and the deck was simply not aggressive enough to get under Counterbalance. The only time they were able to stick around was when Dig Through Time was part of the format, allowing them to grind effectively.

Monastery Mentor is also a card to look out for.

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Mentor, although without the craziness of double Top anymore, is still a premier threat to cast off Tundra and can likely still be powerful enough with Ponder and Brainstorm.

Perhaps there’s a shell for these?

Honestly, there’s probably tons of variations on some kind of Jeskai good stuff deck that will end up being feasible in the format moving ahead. Jeskai Delver could even see a little bit of a resurgence. Esper Stoneblade could also be feasible. Bant Stoneblade could also be feasible, but would likely include the one-mana planeswalker we have much to talk about…

What Happens to BUG?

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There is no doubt that Deathrite Shaman is perhaps the most powerful creature in Legacy, and he will only be going from strength to strength in the months ahead. Although Deathrite Shaman was anemic as a standalone clock, his ability to accelerate other threats on to the board is excellent, and now multiple threats no longer need to fear a one-mana Wrath of God from Miracles. BUG decks are going to be strong, but what form they will take should be interesting. Shardless BUG I largely expect to be absent from the metagame moving ahead. One of its primary goals was to quash Miracles with card advantage and planeswalkers, but its prey is no longer around. Furthermore, Leovold shells have largely superseded Shardless Agent. Instead, Leovold shells, 4c Control, BUG Control, and True-Name BUG are likely to be top-tier contenders. It is questionable whether the Stoneblade shells I mentioned previously will have enough staying power compared to these BUG shells – maybe just incorporating Black into Stoneblade ala DeathBlade is a good idea, splashing Leovold and Decay too for good measure. Combo-midrange hybrids like Food Chain and Aluren should also still be out in force. Both of these decks had pretty reasonable Miracles matchups due to their ability to grind very, very well thanks to their engine cards, but now they may have more room to focus on their middling combo matchups, which are now a little more of a worry.

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Speaking of Abrupt Decay, how great is that card now anyway?

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Decay’s primary reason for printing was to break up the Counterbalance lock, but that lock is no longer existent. Without Counterbalance around, Decay is now simply a somewhat clunky but unstoppable removal spell for creatures, though Chalice of the Void and other lock pieces still can be issues that need solving. I wouldn’t be surprised to see numbers of Decays reduced, and instead Fatal Push or other hard creature removal being prioritized.

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What Happens to Combo?

No more Top means no more Counterbalance. For many combo decks this is a great thing. But one combo deck lost not only Counterbalance as an enemy, but also Terminus.

Elves. Elves. ELVES.

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Elves is likely to be the biggest gainer from the Top ban. Miracles was Elves largest predator, but other than faster combo decks Elves had solid plans against all of the Delver and control decks – simply grind them out with Visionary + Symbiote or Glimpse of Nature and play around (or through!) their sweepers. Even with Miracles, Elves had been on a dominating run of the format, taking three spots at European Eternal Weekend. I wholeheartedly expect Elves to rocket into Tier 1 in the weeks ahead, and everyone should be packing some sweepers in their sideboards in preparation. Sadly, this leaves decks like Death & Taxes in a troubling position. Not only is their worst matchup more prominent, but more sweepers are going to hit D&T for splash damage.

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Looking to other combo decks, Storm variants are now going to undergo a revolution. Counterbalance meant that Storm needed to splash Abrupt Decay, but that is necessary no more. Green may still be splashed for Xantid Swarm or Carpet of Flowers if needed (and maybe Decay is still just great), but I’m sure many Storm players are salivating at the chance to play a purely Grixis-colored mana base. TES may become a bit more popular than its ANT brethren. Going faster is now a much more reliable choice too, as slowing down for natural Tendrils or Abrupt Decay is unnecessary. Especially if Empty the Warrens is involved because there will be less Terminus floating around.

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Other combo decks that could see a bit of an uptick include Turbo Depths, which can now reliably make Marit Lage without fearing Terminus or Plow. Lands, although more of a control-combo hybrid, should also see a pretty nice uptick thanks to the uptick in many greedy mana bases to Wasteland into oblivion and, once again, more reliable Marit Lages.

What Happens to Delver?

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Delver of Secrets decks are likely to gravitate even harder towards Deathrite Shaman and further away from Stifle. Stifle was excellent at adding percentage points against Miracles (because Stifling Terminus is great), but utilizing favorites such as Hymn to Tourach or Cabal Therapy may be more potent until the metagame develops a little more. I fully expect typical Team America (Hymn BUG Delver) and Cabal Therapy Grixis Delver to be the new sheriffs keeping combo in check.

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RUG Delver will have to be remodeled entirely. The deck’s primary strength was its one-mana Shroud threat that punished Miracles players incredibly, along with its package of Winter Orbs for further punishment. Now RUG Delver has to contend with a surge in BUG decks too, which have always been somewhat troublesome because of Deathrite Shaman. Maybe a version featuring Mandrills and Tarmogoyf (who may actually be good again) is playable. Maybe becoming more Zoo-ish (I mean… There is no more Terminus to fear) and taking queues from Narnam Renegade and Kird Ape could be useful.

I also think Dark Thresh may need to call itself quits now too. Going through so many hoops to get Mongoose active only to have it meet a Baleful Strix or two is going to be some sad scenarios to experience ahead.

Honestly, I hope I’m wrong. I hope that Stifle’s power against greedy three- or four- color mana bases keeps the classic core that surrounded Mongoose alive. He is one of my favorite cards, after all.

What Happens to Chalice of the Void?

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Chalice of the Void is the new premier lock piece of the format with CounterTop gone. But Eldrazi’s primary prey in Miracles gone is likely to lead to a downswing in the deck. Eldrazi also has to contend with many BUG decks that can put Strixes in their way or destroy Chalice with Decay. Big Eldrazi lists who aimed to go over the top may still be feasible. Although they really preyed on Miracles, I’m sure that they too can beat up on the 4c Control deck as long as their mana is developed. Baleful Strix looks pretty idiotic in the face of Ulamog, the Ceasless Hunger, but Grim Monolith and other ramp rocks look pretty silly in the face of Kolaghan’s Command too.

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I think the best Chalice of the Void shell will truly be one featuring Blood Moon to damage the BUG mana bases of the world, however. Dragon Stompy has continued to show strength in previous months, and now with Miracles gone only Blood Moon-prone mana bases remain in the control decks. The deck still has to contend with problem matchups against Sneak & Show and Death & Taxes, though Death & Taxes may be less on an issue with Elves so prominent.

Who Are the Other Losers?

Other than Miracles, there are a variety of decks that have also been neutered by the Sensei’s Divining Top ban. Imperial Painter immediately comes to mind, and although recently mono-Red lists have seen a strong presence thanks to the grind plan of Chandra, Torch of Defiance being so reliable, without Top these decks have little to no card selection ability. Moving back into White-Red and adding even up to four Enlightened Tutor may be the plan, or maybe leaning harder on Goblin Welder and synergy with cards like Faithless Looting could be possible… Though I admit that is likely a bit too janky.

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12Post took a huge hit as well. Not only did many lists run Sensei’s Divining Top themselves (especially non-Blue versions), but 12Post prided itself on being the default “Miracles-crusher” of the format thanks to it having the greatest amount of inevitability, and now that matchup is gone. It may still be a reasonable choice, though it may need a fair bit of retooling for the metagame ahead.

Nic Fit, interestingly, although using Sensei’s Divining Top in many lists, still has access to Sylvan Library, and any Green deck that ran Top will now likely move on to the Legends enchantment. Note it does have poor synergy with Pernicious Deed, however.

Some Archetypes Live Again

This is perhaps the most interesting and unpredictable part of the format ahead. Many decks that were once pushed to the fringes of the format by Terminus and Counterbalance can now likely be relevant once more. The first few decks that come to mind are Maverick and Zoo. Maverick, as a strategy, was incredibly prone to Miracles due to it being all about dorking out some powerful bomb creatures – which were all swept away by a timely Terminus. That’s no longer the case. Zoo, on the other hand, is a typical aggro deck that folds to fast efficient sweepers. Zoo may be a bit of a stretch when Delver of Secrets is much better than Wild Nacatl, and Burn may simply be a better choice moving ahead (especially with all these greedy mana bases to Price of Progress to death!). But I do think Maverick could be a really solid contender in the weeks ahead though.

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I also wouldn’t be surprised to see something completely different blind side everyone and come to the forefront of the format.


All this is by no means exhaustive. There are many things that are simply impossible to predict, and it’s definitely an interesting time to be a player of Legacy. I’ll be here as always, keeping everyone up to speed with the changing format ahead.

Some links!

‘Til next time,

Sean Brown

Reddit: ChemicalBurns156
Twitter: @Sean_Brown156

What I’m Playing This Week

I’m honestly even more lost on what to play, especially with the large Australian Masters event coming up. For this week, I may play it a little safe:

A pretty stock Grixis Delver list, which should be able to pretty efficient attack whatever randomness new format brings our way. Jeez… It feels weird not having to play any sideboard cards like Orb or Vortex for Miracles, and honestly, I’m a little lost on what the sideboard should consist of – who knows what the primary decks to target will be. For now, I’ve got Forests in mind, with double Submerge and main deck Forked Bolt ready to slay some Elves.

In all honesty though, I’m probably just going to play something a little weird until the format shakes itself out.

I recently purchased some Goblin Lackeys because, honestly, I wasn’t sure why I didn’t own Goblins since I already have the mana base ready to go. This deck certainly lost a deck it preyed on too, but there may be some fresh technology ready to go once Commander 2017 rolls around. Wizards please be kind to Goblins and give them something actually useful. The sideboard also looks hilarious with its eight-pack of combo-hating permanents. But such is Goblin life.

The Spice Corner

JPA93 has brought a pretty stylish Eureka-Tell deck to a 5-0 appearance. He crushed me as I tried to Dredge on. Of course, losing Red sideboard cards is a bit of an issue, especially the utility of removal. But Carpet of Flowers and Elvish Spirit Guide are pretty neat!

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