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This Week in Legacy: The Cantrip Shuffle


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 doing a little history diving into some of the lessons of the Legacy format and how the format has shifted over time, mainly in regards to how Cantrips are treated in Legacy. In addition to that, we've got three events this week to talk about with two Challenges and the Season One Showcase Qualifier event. We've also got a Spice Corner and maybe a Hulk!.

Before we get into this week though, I want to give a proper shoutout to the one and only Nathan Golia of Eternal Durdles. This past week was Episode 195 and was Nate's last show with the crew of Zac Clark and Phil Blechman. Nate's not quitting Legacy or Magic by any means, but it will be weird to not hear his honest opinions of the Legacy format on the cast going forward. Go take a listen if you have the time to Nate's last episode, and consider supporting Eternal Durdles going forward. They're a fantastic group, and they have some of the best (if not the best) intros of any podcast on the internet. And of course, good luck to Nate in everything he does next, and I hope to see more of his wacky and wonderful brews to share with you all.

Without further ado, let's dive right into the thick of things.

The Cantrip Shuffle - The Tonal Shift of the Cantrip Cartel Over Time

This is a topic I've been meaning to poke at for some time after seeing this conversation crop up on the /r/MTGLegacy subreddit, as it is fairly interesting in regards to how our ideas of deck building have evolved over time, but in Legacy that's especially interesting in regards to what we affectionately refer to as the "Cantrip Cartel".

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Over the past decade, the Legacy format has been pretty well defined by the power level of the Cantrip Cartel, but there did use to be a time where there were fair blue decks that only played four copies of Brainstorm and nothing else. There has been however a bit of tonal shift in how people approach these cards in the past decade, and the biggest shift in that regards has been the notion that if you are playing a fair blue deck, most of your deck building starts with both Brainstorm and Ponder as four-ofs.

For example, going back in time a bit to old-school Legacy Stoneblade.

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Not only is this list playing only four Brainstorm, but it's only playing four Force of Will. Over time this thinking has shifted, resulting in something more like this:

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It's an interesting concept to consider that as our mental acuity of the format has evolved so has our ability to recognize incorrectness in deckbuilding in the past, but it is certainly commonly accepted at this point that maximizing the use of the Cantrip Cartel in fair blue decks is correct.

But how did we arrive here? What led to this tonal shift in thinking? There are a few solid places in history to point at, but there really isn't one defining event behind it.

The General Power Level of Cards

This is a really important piece of the overall puzzle I feel. Cantrip deckbuilding has been pushed largely by the fact that individual card quality has become incredibly important in Legacy. One of the first big spikes in this was the printing of the card Delver of Secrets. Tempo decks by the time Delver was released were already pushing on 4 Brainstorm/4 Ponder, but Delver really hammered home that fact, and it seemed likely that it was a function of the tempo shell.

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However, the next big reasoning to do so was the printings of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time.

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Both of these cards gave incentive to playing the full eight cantrips, primarily because of the Delve mechanic and being able to fill up the graveyard faster. Much of the concepts of playing four of each of the primary two cantrips came from this time period, as players adopted the deckbuilding to accommodate these cards, but once these cards were banned, they found that they didn't need to go back to just Brainstorm or some combination of Ponder, as the combination of 4/4 was simply just too good to go back from.

As time has gone on, the Legacy format has become increasingly about card quality, and the relative power level of cards in the format has gone up, making the individual impact of cards much more important, which has led to this shift in tone of deckbuilding.

Visionary Deckbuilders

Of course, the other major reasons for these shifts is the fact that there are players with powerful vision and understanding of the format. My good friend Minhajul Hoq was pretty instrumental in helping me find some of these resources in regards to the Uxx control shells of the format (primarily the Miracles) shells, and one name stuck out throughout it all and that is Philipp Schönegger. Around the 2012-2014 era, Phillip was one of the more outspoken proponents of playing four copies of Ponder in Miracles, to the point where he wrote a solid article primer on that era of Miracle. I'm linking these here for posterity reasons because they are a great glimpse into the history of the format.

Phillip's contributions to the format were immense, as his consensus at the time was that Ponder was actually being underplayed by others in the format at the time, and playing four copies of the card allowed the deck to trim on lands. It also allowed the deck to operate on an axis where it didn't always need (at that time unbanned) Sensei's Divining Top in the early game as a compensating factor. Phillip even took his weapon of choice to GP NJ, where he placed in the Top 4 of the event on four Ponder Miracles.

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I feel that one of the major reasons for this level of thinking is the fact that we have had plenty of players such as Phillip who have pushed the envelope of what was commonly accepted, and that level of deck building has resulted from those contributions.

What About Preordain?

All this talk has been about Brainstorm and Ponder primarily, but not so much about Preordain. Preordain is often the weird kid left out of the game, because its primary effect is not nearly as powerful as the first two Cantrip Cartel members, but Preordain has been relatively well pushed in the past decade as well in primarily decks that want the additional card selection and speed (or simply need to cast a lot of spells for an effect). Primarily this is rooted in combo/control decks that have some form of A+B game plan because they need the additional selection in order to locate the A+B in their deck. For example, Omni-Tell or Sneak and Show are great examples of 4 Brainstorm / 4 Ponder decks that often play two or more copies of Preordain.

What Does This All Mean for the Format Ahead?

As our knowledge of the format evolves, so does our ability to build properly within the context of the format. Looking back on the history of the format and how that has evolved over time is interesting, but we can apply that knowledge to the format ahead of us in understanding the appropriate context of what the Cantrip Cartel means to the format. The past two years alone have really pushed the power of these cards, and as card quality continues to go up so too does the value of these cards.

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At what point does it become too much is really the best question to really be asking. This tonal shift in the usage and deck building of cantrips has gotten to a point where it does sort of homogenize blue-based deckbuilding for fair decks. A lot of players definitely enjoy this kind of gameplay and the choices involved in these cards however, so I do expect to see them sticking throughout the history of the format ahead of us.

Paper Event Update

This particular change happened last week after the article had already been written and gone live, but The Legacy Pit Open in September has now had clearance to be expanded to a 400 player event with a 20K prize pool! This also includes a guaranteed prize payout to any player who has an X-3 or better record in the event! This is all based on guidelines in Maryland where the event is being held, but it seems like things are trending in a much better direction if they are able to open up the event more like this.

I won't be able to make it to this event sadly, but be on the lookout for more information about it as it gets closer. You can check out the fact sheet for the event here.

Legacy Challenge 5/1

We had two Challenges this past weekend, the first of which was the early morning Saturday event. Thanks to the efforts of the Legacy Data Collection Project we know this event had 74 players in it.

You can find the Top 32 decklists for this event here and the data sheet for this event here. Let's take a look at the breakdown.

Delver strategies continue to maintain an exceptional amount of popularity, with 20 decks being a URx variant of some form (UR, RUG, Grixis). Not only that, UR Delver had an exceptional win rate performance in this specific event with 42 wins overall and 23 losses (a most likely 64.62% win rate). A few other decks ended up doing pretty good as well, primarily Elves, which definitely seems to be one of the decks that is continually able to keep up with Delver with the power level of Allosaurus Shepherd.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
UR Delver 1st UnderwaterBimbo
Omni-Tell 2nd 2plus2isfive
UR Delver 3rd excel0679
Elves 4th Prima-Plum
RUG Delver 5th spk0103
RUG Delver 6th duke12
Nic Fit 7th Overhaul
GW Depths 8th lynnchalice

Plenty of Delver here, but overall an interesting Top 8. At the end of the event however, it was four copies of Expressive Iteration UR Delver build that took it all down!

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This is certainly very interesting, leaning on the power level of the prowess creatures and Sprite Dragon. Iteration seems like a really neat proactive card here, so I'm really curious to see how it played out.

In Second Place we have Omni-Tell!

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The more UG based variant of the deck here, what is really wildly interesting is the Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite in the sideboard, a nod to what can only be small decks like Elves and D&T. Wildly interesting for sure.

Down at the bottom end of the Top 8 we have Rector Nic Fit!

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Overhaul has been playing this deck for quite some time, and one of the new cards in the list is Vanishing Verse, which is very interesting for sure. Yorion seems to be a rather perfect Companion for this style of deck, and it's really cool to see it doing well.

Also in the bottom of the Top 8 we have our good friend Lynnchalice on GW Depths.

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This deck is really powerful, beyond just having the 20/20 combo having really strong cards like Elvish Reclaimer and Knight of the Reliquary as an alternate plan of attack is really sweet.

Outside of the Top 8, we had a showing by a straight BUG control variant, but what made it interesting was playing Witherbloom Command!

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Very curious with how that card played out in this shell. Seems very interesting for sure.

Also down the Top 32 we had a showing by Infect, featuring... Mavinda, Students' Advocate!

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Mavinda is so strangely interesting that I really kind of dig it. Basically giving you an additional pump spell is really wildly interesting if you need to push the game through to its conclusion. Super interested in how that card plays out in this deck for sure.

Legacy Challenge 5/2

Our second Challenge of the weekend was the Sunday event, which had 109 players in it!

You can find the Top 32 decklists for this event here and the data sheet for this event here. Let's take a look at the breakdown.

Again we have a fair amount of Delver in this metagame. I don't think that comes as any surprise to anyone really, but we have continued to see the deck's popularity and its sustained win rate. Still, for what it's worth RUG Delver had a pretty fair to middling win rate performance in this event, with UR Delver really pushing over the top as a better deck here.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Doomsday 1st wonderPreaux
GW Depths 2nd luinil
Mono Green Cloudpost 3rd Angers
UR Delver 4th Paradise_lost
UR Delver 5th slow_brz
Ruby Storm 6th MartinMedMitten
4C Control 7th AnziD
Death and Taxes 8th CaptainFarbosa

Not nearly as much Delver here in this Top 8, which is just fine. But there is a solid performance of a literal 10-0 by Doomsday!

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Lot of power in the DD lists, for sure. Super interesting to see this player with this kind of record. Really stellar in general however, so congrats!

In Second Place we have our good friend luinil on GW Depths!

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Again, this deck is super strong and really interesting to play. Having Swords to Plowshares is truly very big for this deck for sure.

Also in the Top 8 we have Mono Green Cloudpost!

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Boompile. That will be all folks (we won the flip).

Further down the Top 8 we have The EPIC Ruby Storm!

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This deck has gotten so many good cards in the past two years, but most especially is Birgi, God of Storytelling. Also, check out the Chandras in the sideboard as well as Rip Apart!

Outside of the Top 8 we had a showing by UW Humans!

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Elite Spellbinder! That card is really super sweet and very interesting. This list looks really fun and powerful for sure.

Legacy Showcase Qualifier 5/2

This past weekend was also the final culmination of the Season One Showcase events, with the 26 player Showcase Qualifier event. This was invitation-only via the Showcase Challenge events, and there were a lot of great players here. The prize on the line at the end of the event is a qualification for one of the Arena Championship events.

Unfortunately, there never seem to be any published lists for these events, but you can find the data sheet for this event here.

Since this event is rather small, you will run into players that are both general Legacy specialists as well as deck archetype specialists. That being said, there was a lot of Delver out of the general specialists of the format. So much so that it was quite heavily part of the Top 8.

Because this event is fairly small though, and because of the effort required to get here I did feel it was prudent to list out the full standings in the event. Everyone here really put in the work to get here, and they all deserve recognition.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Elves 1st patxi
Red Prison 2nd SlayItWithRoses
UR Delver 3rd Kentaro_Hokori
UR Delver 4th MM_17
RUG Delver 5th duke12
UR Delver 6th StormGuyisme
RUG Delver 7th Samwise_GeeGee
Hogaak 8th Nammersquats
Hogaak 9th __BMJ__
UR Delver 10th GobFTW
RUG Delver 11th XWhale
Mystic Forge Combo 12th killersuv
Bant Control 13th kogamo
Lands 14th mechint
Sneak and Show 15th Phill_Hellmuth
Bant Control 16th Omegauo
Painter 17th utley26
Food Chain 18th stevemlp
Omni-Tell 19th ziofrancone
Dredge 20th THE_DADDY
Death and Taxes 21st EronRelentless
RUG Delver 22nd Baku_91
Bant Control 23rd bcs8995
RUG Delver 24th VCF
UR Delver 25th silviawataru
Elves 26th fluffy21

At the end of the event however, one of these players walked away with an Arena Championship Qualification. And that player was patxi on Elves!

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I really like this list a lot. It seems really powerful and leans hard on the power of the combo aspect of Elves. Elves in general is just doing so very well right now and it is really great to see such an interesting and deep deck do well. Congrats to patxi on their qualification!

Around the Web

  • Our good friend Peter van der Ham is testing Expressive Iteration in Delver. Check it out here.
  • Tony Scapone and the EPIC Ruby Storm! Check out the most recent episode of Leaving a Legacy!
  • PleasantKenobi plays Jeweled Lotus. That just happened.
  • Everyday Eternal hit 100 episodes! Check out their newest one here!
  • Maverick player AlexInTheInk posts their Top 4 Legacy Challenge event on GreenSunsZenith.com!
  • IN RESPONSE is back with another episode, talking about Sedgemoor Witch in Legacy. Check it out here.

The Spice Corner

DOOM SMOG.

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Super interesting Goblins list with Priest of Forgotten Gods in it.

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Phoenix... with Smog... with Sedgemoor Witch... with KROXA. This list is hot.

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Rector Fit featuring Withersmog combo, but also Professor Onyx!

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What I'm Playing This Week

I really need to get back to playing Karn Echo, but I've been trying out some different things here or there lately. This week it's GRUUL SMASH!

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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.



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