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This Week in Legacy: The Legacy Round Table

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 joined by a bevy of Legacy players to talk about the veritable elephants in the room (and not actual elephants, although that would be pretty cool) in a few topics concerning Banned/Restricted list philosophy for Legacy and a few hot button cards that have been at the forefront of such discussion.

In addition to this, we've got coverage of two Challenges this past weekend, one of which was the MTGO Legacy Showcase Challenge. As always we have our Spice Corner.

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

The Room Where It Happens

This past week gave us a Banned/Restricted Announcement, however it was not one that was set to change anything in Legacy (the only formats being touched were Historic, Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper). However, the idea that the BnR would not be for Legacy gave cause to the community to again rise up to discuss the Legacy Banned list and a few cards that have been on the minds of people. To that end, I enlisted the help of the community and rounded up several Legacy content creators and community members to help discuss these issues.

Before we get into this, I would like to mention that Legacy was mentioned in the BnR announcement, in the section talking about the banning of Arcum's Astrolabe in Modern, that can give a good precursor to the discussion ahead and how Wizards is approaching the philosophy of Legacy BnR.

We’re keeping an eye on Arcum’s Astrolabe in Legacy for similar reasons, although at present the play rates and win rates of Arcum's Astrolabe decks don’t warrant action. We’re aware of concerns among the Legacy community on this point but want to be consistent with our philosophy of only resorting to bans when a card or deck reaches problematic win rates that can’t be solved by natural metagame forces.

Now, let's introduce our commentators who offered their thoughts on Legacy and these cards. I'd like to thank these people for giving their extensive thoughts on the format.

  • Chase Hansen (Stryfo) - Originator of the deck Stryfo Pile and master of Dack Fayden decks
  • Matthew Vook (Ozymandias17) - Aggro-Loam master and Mox Diamond aficionado
  • Marcus Ewaldh (Iwouldliketorespond) - Control and High Tide master
  • Nathan Golia - Co-Host of Eternal Durdles podcast
  • Robert Wilson - Tournament Organizer of Buffalo Chicken Dip Legacy

Now that we know our players, let's dive right into the topics at hand.

Topic #1 - Should Arcum’s Astrolabe be banned in Legacy currently? Explain your reasoning.

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Chase Hansen: I used to think Astrolabe should be banned, but after the various adaptations that have come into the meta since the breach ban and the companion nerf, astrolabe just doesn’t seem to be doing much in the meta. One might say that Astrolabe pushed out decks that it’s good against so people only play decks good against “Astrolabe decks” but that’s a self-defeating argument, because we’ve just identified that there exist a large category of decks that Astrolabe doesn’t beat, and looking at the meta, they appear to span the macro-archetypes.

Matthew Vook: I also previously thought that Astrolabe should be banned because 4C Snow was oppressive on the overall metagame and blue control was homogenized to 4C or 5C Snow piles after the Breach ban and before Ikoria. However, 4C Snow has barely put up results in recent months. If the meta was entirely fair decks then 4C Snow would be the deck to beat. However, the meta is varied and it seems that people play decks that attack on axes that Snow struggles to answer. Additionally, 4C Snow lacks fast mana or proactive elements that would allow it to win in unfavorable matchups. Overall I don’t think Astrolabe decks are winning enough or warping the meta enough to warrant an astrolabe ban. 

Marcus Ewaldh: I don't think Arcum's Astrolabe is powerful enough to warrant a ban, but it is a design mistake and Legacy as a format pays a somewhat high price. The idea to make Legacy more accessible and not rely as much on duals for mana fixing is great. However, much like how Wrenn and Six and Deathrite Shaman were supposed to be an alternative to the blue decks, Arcum's Astrolabe just gets absorbed the same way making the blue strategies even better, greedier and more consistent. Instead of increasing diversity in the format Arcum’s Astrolabe narrowed it down to this blue "soup." Arcum's Astrolabe just completely removes the deckbuilding constraints that makes Legacy what it is. There is a delicate balance between power and consistency and by adding more colors to your deck your mana base should suffer in my opinion. Wasteland and Blood Moon type effects are welcome pillars of the format setting the bar for your creative deckbuilding. In my opinion there should be a sliding scale between the consistency of the slow and greedy midrange deck and the powerful, fast all-in Force of Will check decks. The "cost" of playing with Arcum's Astrolabe is just too small. If it had Scry 2 instead of draw a card or came into play tapped it would be perfectly reasonable. It is just laughable when the 4-5 Color decks gets to hose the mono-white mana denial deck with both Blood Moon and Back to Basics. Maybe the 'labe is more reasonable with some bans/unbans but as soon as Wizards releases a design mistake again it will just be put into these "snow-piles" at no cost.

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Another point against Arcum's Astrolabe is how it also removes a big part of the mana base build-up in-game. Should I fetch a basic here to play around Wasteland and make sure to hit 4 by turn 4 or is it better to fetch tropical island here so I can cast Oko if I draw it? Should I wait and see what my opponent does or play around Stifle and fetch right now when they are tapped out? My opponent led with Misty Rainforest for Underground Sea and then played a basic Mountain, can we assume they are not on a Daze-strategy? Instead, Fetch basic land - Arcum's Astrolabe - pass. Call me old fashioned but I like this type of unfolding in a game of Legacy.

Nathan Golia: This card reminds me of Aether Vial: It’s particularly good on the play, on turn 1, but loses strength as the game goes on. I can think of more than one time when my opponent has had all four Astrolabes in play and I’ve won the game. I’m trying to separate that feeling from the valid feeling that it tends to put deck construction “on rails;” in that once you start playing snow basics, Astrolabe, and good blue cards the deck sort of builds itself. This card strikes me as an enabler, and while Wizards has, in the past, banned enablers over raw-power cards -- the changes in design philosophy might mean that it’s time to re-examine that strategy, and take out some of the “blue soup” cards first before hoping against hope that banning Astrolabe will naturally suppress those decks. I don’t think Legacy is ever all that far away from “perfect” mana.

Robert Wilson: Yes, I’m of the mindset that cards become an issue when; (1) they break fundamental rules of the game, (2) warp the metagame in an unhealthy manner to the point where other decks cannot respond, (3) are exponentially above rate for their CMC, or (4) the “answer” cards no longer become viable answers. Wrenn and Six and Deathrite Shaman satisfied multiple areas of this criteria and so does Arcum’s Astrolabe. Wrenn and Six and Deathrite Shaman, while more powerful than Arcum’s Astrolabe, both warped the metagame in an unhealthy manner by homogenizing deckbuilding, broke the fundamental rules of the color pie by allowing essentially any card to be played with no deckbuilding cost, provided resiliency to the point where Wasteland was meaningless for opponents, and were far above their CMC rate for the effect. Even interacting with Wrenn and Six and Deathrite Shaman was a losing proposition once they hit the battlefield due to the value generated if left alone for a turn or two.

Arcum’s Astrolabe has all of these characteristics to a lesser degree. It provides a resilient mana base that is difficult to interact with by relying on basic lands rending “answers” to greedy mana bases such as Back to Basics, Blood Moon, and Wasteland obsolete while many of these decks use those tools in sideboards. Additionally, the card breaks the color pie by removing any deckbuilding cost and gives the user access to nearly any card without little to no disadvantage turning the fundamental downside of a basic land (that it only produces one color) into an advantage because it can’t be interacted it and now produces any color as needed. The common play pattern with Arcum’s Astrolabe tends to be turning any non-Island basic land into a Tropical Island, Tundra, Underground Sea, or Volcanic Island that cannot be interacted with.

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Even using a ubiquitous answer card such as Abrade or Null Rod is a losing proposition because this results in a “2-for-1’ing yourself” situation putting you down on card advantage by spending a card to interact with Arcum’s Astrolabe which doesn’t proactively advance the opponent’s game-winning strategy. In reality Arcum’s Astrolabe is a color-fixing cantrip that provides mana base resiliency, but very rarely will destroying or countering it mean the difference in the game. It also skirts traditional cards meant to punish greedy mana bases by taking advantage of basic lands.

Matthew Vook made a very good and well thought out argument on Twitter about Arcum’s Astrolabe being a card that, and I’m paraphrasing, allows fair decks more tools to fight unfair strategies. I think in premise that sounds good and isn’t incorrect, but the actuality in play patterns is the “Four Color Control/Good Stuff” decks pushing out and homogenizing fair strategies rather than having this effect on the unfair strategies. The “police cards” that fight unfair strategies are the same as they’ve always been with Force of Will, Surgical Extraction, now Force of Negation, Wasteland, Chalice of the Void, Null Rod, etc. Very few decks are utilizing new, different, or additional “police cards” or “answer cards” as a result of Arcum’s Astrolabe.

When examining Arcum’s Astrolabe under the same criteria as Wrenn and Six and Deathrite Shaman, I believe Arcum’s Astrolabe should be banned as it fundamentally breaks the color pie, renders answers and interacting with it moot, and is above rate due to its cost and draw replacement effect.

Topic #2 - Should Oko, Thief of Crowns be banned in Legacy currently? Explain your reasoning.

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Chase Hansen: I just don’t think Oko is close to strong enough in power to warrant a ban; it’s versatile, sure, and it’s somewhat resilient, but it’s not hard to identify strategies that ignore or answer Oko across the macro-archetypes. I also think that the idea that the existence of Oko necessitates playing Oko to compete with Oko is a little bit lazy. From an actual gameplay perspective, I think people overreact to Oko too frequently in game, and not enough in deckbuilding, and that makes the card better, not because Oko is insane, but people are approaching combating him incorrectly in both deckbuilding and gameplay.

Matthew Vook: Oko is clearly the best Planeswalker in the format by a large margin. However, there are many countermeasures to Oko that exist in the format. In addition to the usual discard, countermagic, and effects like Abrupt Decay and Pyroblast, M21 included new tools such as Barrin and Eliminate. These cards help decks to answer Oko without relying on GB or R spells. Decks such as Merfolk and Esper Vial have already incorporated these cards into their main deck or sideboards. Additionally, there are many decks that mostly ignore Oko. Decks such as Hogaak, Dredge, and Elves can go wide and overpower Oko. Decks such as Dryad/Titan can go over the top of Oko with Valakut or Field of the Dead. Overall, Oko is a strong card in a format filled with strong cards and powerful answers that help to keep those cards in check. I don’t think Oko is prevalent or format warping enough to warrant a ban right now.

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Marcus Ewaldh: I have to admit, I don't play decks with many permanents of which preferably very few or none are creatures. That being said I know what the card does and I think it is alright for Legacy. Pyroblast, Abrupt Decay, the legendary "red zone" all see reasonable amount of play and answer it pretty well. The real problem is when you have to fight it on the board from behind or rely on artifacts to survive.  While powerful I don't think Oko is _that_ format warping. Imagine if your opponent resolved a 3-mana spell like Show and Tell instead. I am sure once Wizards figure out how to make a good Planeswalker removal spell or pithing needle type effect (let’s say for 2 mana that also draws a card). Oko will be just fine, even outside the Spiral Tide community.

Nathan Golia: Oko is where I would start in getting rid of “top end” cards. While the card seems manageable in a vacuum, games aren’t played in a vacuum. A smart player knows how to manage an Oko to put it into play in a favorable situation. A three-mana play that is so difficult to kill while playing offense and defense is going to soak up all the space on the curve in fair decks. Removing Oko will kill zero decks but will invite different takes on fair strategies. 

Robert Wilson: No, based on the criteria I used for Arcum’s Astrolabe I don’t believe Oko, Thief of Crowns satisfies that criteria. While Oko, Thief of Crowns is currently the most powerful Planeswalker, there are playable answers in multiple forms such as “red blast” style effects, Abrupt Decay, Assassin’s Trophy, and direct damage style effects like Lightning Bolt. Additionally, Wizards appears to be trending in a manner of printing playable answers to Planeswalkers. Eliminate is a recent addition from M21 and I expect white and green to get reasonable Planeswalker answers in the future. While Eliminate is not widely played now, I think it remains a reasonable card and could become the “black Abrade” over time.

Arena may aid in this manner as modal answers (similar to Eliminate and Abrade) are a good fit for the best-of-one model. Additionally, Oko isn’t an alarming portion of the metagame, but I think deckbuilders should be cognizant of answers to Planeswalkers in general and not just Oko, Thief of Crowns. Oko, Thief of Crowns itself is also another answer for fair decks to degenerate strategies (for example turning a Show and Tell'ed Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into an Elk). I’m generally for fair tools that help fight degenerate combo decks to keep the format from devolving into a “two ships passing in the night” format like Modern.

Several people will point to the “unfun” aspect of Oko, especially if you’re a Death & Taxes player, as a justification to ban Oko. I adamantly disagree that cards should be banned because they’re “unfun” due to the subjective and slippery slope nature of what is and isn’t “fun”. I think Brian Coval, of The Eternal Glory podcast, summarized Oko best when he said, “Oko is a boring, but skill testing card.” It accomplishes this primarily by removing relevant card text, gaining life, and essentially reverting to a game state similar to what you’d find in limited and puts the focus on board presence and combat math.

To me, what separates Oko, Thief of Crowns from Arcum’s Astrolabe is the deckbuilding cost and fundamentally breaking the rules of the color pie by rending them meaningless. If Arcum’s Astrolabe were not in the format, it would provide a deckbuilding cost to playing Oko, Thief of Crowns and restricting the amount of colors a mana base could use. What Arcum’s Astrolabe currently enables is essentially no restriction on mana base at no cost and gives decks more answers to the tools opposing decks use to fight them. I also believe removing Arcum’s Astrolabe would reduce the meta share of Oko, Thief of Crowns. As of now I don’t believe Oko, Thief of Crowns to be a problem, but it remains a card on the “watch list” should it ever become oppressive and warp the meta game.

Topic #3 - Should Veil of Summer be banned in Legacy currently? Explain your reasoning.

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Chase Hansen: I really can’t stand this card, it’s probably my least favorite card printed in the last two years, and I used to think it should be banned, but realistically, the better this card is, the less people will play cards that it is good against, and the worse veil gets. It’s cyclic in this way, which I don’t think is problematic. If veil combo decks become too powerful, I would look here first, since the gameplay it promotes for those archetypes is abysmal.

Matthew Vook: I think Veil of Summer is a horribly designed card. Cards such as Force of Will and Thoughtseize already have inherent costs, so I don’t think they should be actively punished. There already are effects such as Overmaster, Flusterstorm, Vines of Vastwood, etc that usually do similar things to Veil. These cards have timing restrictions or trade evenly with the opponents resources. Veil can have all of these effects in certain situations while also drawing a card. Despite the power level of the card, in the past months we have seen that it isn’t enough to warp the metagame. There are several decks playing discard that have been putting up results despite the presence of Veil. These include ANT, TES, BR Reanimator, Hogaak, Ninjas and even a small resurgence of GB depths. Even if Veil is a powerful card, I don’t think it has warped the format enough to warrant a ban. 

Marcus Ewaldh: Veil of Summer is just absurd. There is no reason to why Cryptic Command should ever cost 1 mana or be green, for that matter. It's not a reasonable card and push a lot of other cards, almost a whole color (black), out of the metagame. It's not just a tool to fight the "blue decks" it is a mirror breaker in the blue matchups where the one player resolving Veil of Summer is just so far ahead. Matchups are already volatile battles of overpowered card vs FoW/FoN (and postboard Pyroblast) so adding this to make sure your insane card resolve puts you firmly into the driver seat, with no reasonable way for your opponent to fight back.

Nathan Golia: It is patently ridiculous to ban a card that has zero text against approximately two thirds of the game. This card is a blue hoser that cannot stop Show and Tell; it’s a black hoser that does nothing against Entomb and Reanimate. Its interaction with Pyroblast is unfortunate, but ultimately a symptom of a larger problem: The format is too blue-dependent. If players aren’t going to price in the chance of getting blown out by a Veil when making deck selections, then perhaps Veil needs to stick around until they do.

Robert Wilson: Yes, I think Veil of Summer should be banned. Proponents of Veil of Summer point that it allows colors other than blue to fight on the stack, but Veil of Summer does so at a rate far beyond those cards while replacing itself. It also uses its exceptional rate and replacement draw text to invalidate “police cards” in the format. Additionally, it can be used as a “sword” for combo decks to brute force their way through interactive cards rather than a “shield” to protect yourself from cards like Thoughtseize or Duress. This goes beyond traditional stack interactive cards giving it a level of versatility unavailable anywhere else due to its low cost. Proponents of keeping Veil of Summer in the format may point to Autumn’s Veil  being unplayable and that Veil of Summer needs to the replacement draw text to be playable, but I think you could change Veil of Summer and keep it playable by adding the Modern Horizons “Force” cycle clause to it so that Veil of Summer can only be cast on your opponent’s turn. I wouldn’t include the ability to pitch an on-color card to play it for free however. Another potential fix is leaving Veil of Summer’s text as is but increasing the CMC by 1 generic mana, but as it reads now I would ban Veil of Summer.

Topic #4 - Should Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath be banned in Legacy currently? Explain your reasoning.

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Chase Hansen: I don’t think Uro is bannable right now, but I do think it’s the most powerful fair card in the format. Most colors and archetypes have ways of dealing with Uro, even though it doesn’t always feel great. A lot of the same cards people already play to combat graveyard strategies are extremely effective against Uro, but you have more time to find and deploy them than you do against the combo decks, and most Uro decks are leaning as hard on Uro as Reanimator is on Griselbrand, for example, even though this may not be immediately obvious.

Matthew Vook: I think that in fair matchups Uro is actually a more oppressive card than Oko. Uro helps decks to play around mana denial and taxing effects such as Wasteland, Port, and Thalia in the early game. It also buys controlling decks time to get to the late game, and then can be a recursive and hard to answer win condition. While Oko can be traded with while maintaining resource parity, interacting with Uro is almost always card disadvantage for the opponent. Despite all of this, the card isn’t seeing that much representation in the Legacy metagame right now. Uro sees the most play in decks like Dryad/Titan, 4C Loam, and Lands while before it saw the most play in 4C Snow. As discussed earlier with Oko, Uro is a powerful card in fair matchups but there is such variety in Legacy right now that I don’t think a Uro ban is warranted. 

Marcus Ewaldh: Uro is clearly very powerful. And again, I am not all that concerned about this 6/6 on the battlefield but I do think a card like this should come with a downside or something exploitable. Uro just does it all and hoses aggro strategies all by itself. Being graveyard dependant is sort of a downside but it's not enough and the escape mechanic not exiling the card when cast is just too good. The cost of adding graveyard hate to a deck, in particular an aggressive deck,  is quite high in this case. Cling to Dust is a very good card and the cost of adding to your deck is relatively low but stuff like rest in peace or grafdigger's cage does nothing vs the rest of the Uro deck and doesn’t help with your aggressive strategy. 

Nathan Golia: My brain says that Uro is OK power level wise, but such a snoozer for gameplay that my heart says who needs it. Do we need this card in the format? Probably not. I’d get rid of it for that reason alone: It doesn’t add any new complexity or depth to Legacy, it’s simply a jack-of-all-trades that pushes other things to the side. 

Robert Wilson: No, I don’t believe Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath should be banned in Legacy. While it is an efficient and resilient creature it is well costed to its effects and requires a large resource investment and usually multiple turns. Legacy also has tools to fight such strategies and these answer cards (such as Grafdigger’s Cage, Surgical Extraction, Swords to Plowshares, etc.) are commonplace in sideboards. While Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is a card advantage engine and game winning threat, I don’t think it’s a problem due to the resource investment required. Additionally, if Arcum’s Astrolabe is removed from the format the mana required for Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath’s escape cost isn’t a nominal thing and it restricts the card’s ubiquity.

Topic #5 - Are there any other cards that should be considered for banning or put on a “watch list” for banning? Explain your reasoning.

Chase Hansen: There are a lot of cards in the format that are not very fun to play with or against, but most of them are just not great on average, so they really don’t warrant a ban in my opinion.

Matthew Vook: I think Astrolabe, Veil, Uro, and Oko all have the potential to be ban worthy sometime in the future. Dreadhorde Arcanist is also secretly one of the best cards in the format that often gets overlooked in ban discussions. However, each set we have seen new countermeasures to potentially oppressive cards. These include Assassin’s Trophy, Drown in the Loch, Blast Zone, Sorcerous Spyglass, Barrin, and Eliminate. I think with enough answers available and the overall variety that exists in the format, these cards should be kept in check.

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Marcus Ewaldh: I would ban Arcum's Astrolabe and Veil of Summer and leave Uro/Oko alone for now. Keep an eye on Griselbrand too. It’s just too much of a default target for any Reanimator or Show and Tell strategy.

Nathan Golia: I think it’s time for Delver of Secrets to be banned. The “Delver shell” tends to exploit the most broken printings in every set absent insane combo enablers like Underworld Breach. However, if we consider the other cards in the shell (Daze, Force of Will, Brainstorm, and Ponder) three of the four are old-bordered Legacy stalwarts that the format exists to give a home to. Banning Ponder would be intriguing, but I don’t think there’s enough of a step down to Preordain to make that a meaningful move. Delver is considered a “police deck,” yet there are plenty of fast uninteractive wins in Legacy. All it polices is decks that want to explore the breadth of the format by making land drops and playing spells that cost 3 CMC or more. Tempo is a fine strategy, but Delver warps its strength too much. Let it go.

Additionally, since I’ve already voted for Oko and Uro to get the axe, I would get rid of Teferi, Time Raveler. Removing 90% of the phases of the game for one player on such a difficult to interact with card type is ridiculous. It’s time to open up that 3-mana slot to cards that are less one-sided.

Griselbrand and True-Name Nemesis should also be banned, but as the Dead Kennedys say, “we’ve got a bigger problem now.”

Robert Wilson: Teferi, Time Raveler is another card I could see on the “watch list”. Anytime you completely shut off entire phases of the game it can be problematic. It’s also an “unfun card” and while I don’t think that alone warrants a banning, WOTC has shown they’re willing to listen to the community on these types of issues. I wouldn’t ban Teferi, Time Raveler or Oko, Thief of Crowns now, but I think they are cards worth watching as the community may eventually become sick of them.

Topic #6 - Are there any cards that could be considered for unbanning? Explain your reasoning.

Chase Hansen: Yes, there are several cards on the ban list that could be considered for unbanning, particularly when you look at the Legacy metagame today, but I think many of the cards that could potentially be unbanned are reserved list, which brings up a number of problems independent of card power level. The really disappointing part of this discussion is that cards like DRS and top were very fun to play for me, but the archetypes that broke them were a little too strong, so they probably should stay banned, even though I’d like to see them back in the format, particularly DRS. It’s also possible that Lurrus and Zirda are safe with the new companion rule change, but I never played with them, so it’s hard for me to say whether they’d be safe in the format.

Matthew Vook: At the time that DRS and Gitaxian Probe were banned I would have preferred to see the format develop only Probe being banned. I think that DRS promoted interactive games that were generally enjoyable even if the card was highly represented. However, since the banning of DRS there have been so many powerful 3 drops printed. I think that with DRS in the format cards such as Oko and Plague Engineer would be incredibly oppressive. With the companion change I also think that Lurrus and Zirda can be unbanned. 3 mana is a large cost in Legacy, and being put into the hand means that they can be more easily answered. While I don’t expect them to be unbanned, I think with the new change they would be fine powerlevel for the format and wouldn’t be nearly as oppressive as they were before. 

Marcus Ewaldh: There are a few things that could come off, the only (realistic one) I care about is Frantic Search. Give it to me!

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Nathan Golia: Frantic Search seems like a safe and somewhat interesting unban. Mind Twist fails the power level test at this point in Legacy (Narset and Echo of Eons do the same thing as any fast Twist would at about the same consistency). Earthcraft is laughable, but is reserved so I can see why they avoid noticing that. I’m going to avoid making my Necropotence argument but I don’t think Necro would be any more warping to the format than, say, Karn, the Great Creator is. Oh, I think Lurrus of the Dream-Den is safe in both Legacy and Vintage now that the Companion rule has changed.

Robert Wilson: I’m of the mindset that any card that shouldn’t be on the banned list should not be there and the banned list is a constantly evolving tool as formats and metagames change in which nothing is written in stone. However, if any of these cards came off the banned list I would continue to put them on the “watch list” in the event they become a problem and add them back to the banned list as needed.

First, I would consider Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Zirda, the Dawnwaker as potential removals from the banned list due to the change in the Companion mechanic. I would monitor Lurrus of the Dream-Den due to its game warping ability, which we experienced during its brief legality and Zirda, the Dawnwaker because of the ease in which fast artifact mana can be abused. I do think Lurrus of the Dream-Den would be an interesting value card to add main deck that provides fair midrange strategies another grindy element. It may also give combo decks a way to refuel after going “all-in” and adding more gameplay and a “rebuild” option to those decks.

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Second, I’d consider Survival of the Fittest, Mind Twist, Earthcraft, Frantic Search, and Mind’s Desire all for different reasons. Mind Twist may be the easiest of these to remove because Hymn to Tourach may be a better card in a vacuum. I can see Mind Twist seeing play in control style decks or as an option to fight combo decks, but I’m not sure it’s a better option than Hymn to Tourach. Survival of the Fittest seems to be a decent toolbox style card in fair green decks and more tools exist now to fight enchantments than ever before. Frantic Search may be the most degenerate card of this group as it pitches to Force of Will and Force of Negation, can dig for combo pieces, get cards into the graveyard, and generate extra mana by using “Sol lands”. However, it could give combo decks an extra tool and doesn’t appear to be a card that would push combo decks to a format warping place. Earthcraft appears to be a relic of a far gone meta and while any ability to generate extra mana should be approached with caution there appears to be a significant enough cost as it requires board presence and the use of basic lands. This is another card that seems more reasonable if Arcum’s Astrolabe is removed from the format.

On its face Mind’s Desire appears to be degenerate, but has a very difficult converted mana cost and I’m skeptical you’d play it over Tendrils of Agony or Grapeshot as outright killing the opponent is the goal. Additionally, Mind’s Desire sees little to no play in Vintage as a restricted card in a format where storm chaining and mana production is significantly easier with Moxen, so I’m skeptical it would be a problem in Legacy.

Topic #7 - Is the overall metagame healthy right now? Has 2019-2020 MTG made the format worse?

Chase Hansen: I think that there have been periods of time in 2019-2020 where the format was much worse, The one-sided walkers and the decks they revitalized were not interesting, then W6 shook all of that up and spawned another uninteresting best deck. Then there was a time when Snowko decks dominated up until breach was broken, and then companions broke the format again, a few times. During these epochs, I would say the format was not very good. However, right now, there isn’t a dominant strategy, the closest thing would be RUG delver, and calling that deck dominant is, I think, quite the stretch. I have seen a wide variety of decks do well spanning the macro-archetypes, and that is one common metric of format health.

A second metric of format health is gameplay experience, and here we need to be a little bit careful to avoid being hypocritical. There are some games in legacy that are just not interesting for one or both players. I think a canonical example would be BR reanimator. There is some play to the deck, don’t get me wrong, but there are hands-on both sides of this matchup that just make it so one player or the other can’t win, which is just not a very interesting way to play the game, in my opinion.

I know that some people like to lump Astrolabe, Oko, and Uro in this group of cards and decks that cause non-games, however, I don’t think this is a fair assessment. Astrolabe, objectively speaking, does basically the opposite, it makes it easier for one player to play magic, I think this, by itself, is actually good and healthy gameplay, there are other issues I have with the card, but by itself, it does not promote non-games, and the counter-claim frequently made that it causes everything to just be 4c/5c “soup” just doesn’t hold water given recent results. If this were to change, and 4c/5c started to dominate, we may need to take another look at astrolabe, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

Oko and Uro are both cards that a lot of people don’t like playing against, and I’ll admit that I don’t really understand that frustration because decks I play tend to match up very well against both of these cards. That said, neither of these cards promote non-games really, but they are quite powerful against some strategies, and I imagine it feels like those strategies are being pushed out by these powerful cards, but I’ll be blunt here for everyone’s sake and say that not all decks need to be good all the time, and there are things you can do to make life easier for yourself if you can’t afford to switch decks. I know it’s hard to innovate, but I truly believe that many who are frustrated by Oko and Uro are either not trying hard enough to beat them, or taking the position that they’d rather dodge than warp their deck, which is a fine position to take, but it suggests that the complaints don’t hold as much water as one might like.

With all of that said, I think the gameplay experience is mostly pretty good right now, with the outliers being largely unrelated to the cards that many are complaining about. Snowballing can be a bit of an issue, but that’s been true for at least 10 years, I don’t think it’s much worse than any other time I can remember in my time playing legacy.

Matthew Vook: I think Legacy is in a pretty good spot right now. RUG Delver is the best deck, but there are probably 10-15 decks you could choose for a tournament and expect to do reasonably well if you have a tuned list and put in the reps. I think there is also a lot of room to brew with various combinations of powerful cards and card packages. Even amongst certain archetypes you still see variation in lists. There are RUG Delver versions opting for different threat packages (Hooting Mandrills, Tarmogoyf, and Arcanist) and different permission choices (Spell Snare, Spell Pierce, Stifle). There are several different ways to build Dryad/Titan decks (Elvish Reclaimer vs Chalice builds and various creature and land choices). Even amongst more fringe decks like Merfolk there are classical lists and lists playing Paradigm Shift and Thassa’s Oracle. Overall I think the format is pretty wide open right now and rewards deck knowledge more than just copying the best deck. 

There have been several cards in 2019 and 2020 that I think made Legacy worse overall. Wrenn and Six, Underworld Breach, Lurrus, Zirda, and Gyruda all significantly limited what decks were viable when they were legal. I liked playing with Lurrus and Wrenn and Six, but I think the others led to unenjoyable games unless you played blue countermagic and dedicated hate. While these cards are now either banned or nerfed, I think they have had a lasting negative impact on the format. I know a lot of players play Legacy because it is the slowest moving format and they can have a fun weekend playing a monthly local 1K with the same deck they have had for the past 2, 5, or sometimes 10 years. Most Legacy players are older and have work and life commitments so they can’t be constantly grinding an Arena ladder or reading articles everyday. A lot of these new and overpowered cards have effectively caused the format to rotate while it was previously stable. I think WOTC needs to realize the expectations and player vision for the format. I think they need to understand that players don’t want format warping cards every set and that most players enjoy a slow trickling of new cards. 

I wouldn’t use the word better or worse, but Legacy is definitely different than it was 2 years ago. Cards like Dreadhorde Arcanist, Oko, and Uro mean that fair blue decks can start generating advantage earlier and play to the board rather than sitting with cards in their hand. Cards like Elvish Reclaimer, Stitcher’s Supplier, and Hogaak have also created new and powerful archetypes that attack from new and different angles than before. Overall, I think the biggest change to the format is that to be competitive you have to make impactful plays and have disruption earlier. While cards like Rishadan Port, Thalia, Sanctum Prelate, Hymn to Tourach, and Phyrexian Revoker were usually previously effective disruption, I think they are now often too slow to be impactful. To remain competitive you often have to have disruption from turn 1 which means playing blue countermagic or acceleration to power out disruptive permanents. Similarly, proactive cards have to generate forward momentum or you will likely fall behind your opponent. Cards like Mother of Runes just aren’t good in 2020 Legacy because your opponent can generate value through them or go over the top of them. I think these effects are the reason that you see Esper Vial and to a lesser extent Merfolk, Slivers, and Goblins replace Death and Taxes as the Aether Vial deck in the format. Similarly, I think it is the reason that Dryad/Titan has replaced Maverick and Lands as the green midrange deck of the format. 

Marcus Ewaldh: As a control player at heart it pains me that every time I build a deck from scratch they end up the same. There is no reason to play control right now in the classic sense of passing with mana up and develop your gameplan depending on what your opponent is up to, gaining some incremental advantage here and there, maybe draw some cards. But I think that the missed opportunity cost is just too high in Legacy right now when you pass turn with no play. When you instead of leaving the guard up to answer a threat fairly (trading 1-for-1) you could have played an Uro, for example, which answered still leave you at an advantage. The same is true for Narset, Teferi, Karn, Oko, Dreadhorde Arcanist etc. Cards that while left unanswered either snowball with advantage or lock you out completely. I am totally biased here of course but tapping out for Astrolabe, Uro and all these busted planeswalkers is no fun. But instead of just complaining about the powerful sorcery speed things we could be doing, I look forward to new printings. Maybe print a card that punishes this type of strategy? A fixed mana drain of sorts? Make the stack come back! Is Sharkstill our last hope?

Nathan Golia: I wholeheartedly agree with Marcus’s point: Deckbuilding, if the goal is to have a +50% winrate, is less interesting than ever and a big reason to start lopping off some of the haymakers of the format. The focus on 2019-20 is interesting: I think a lot of recent cards have been left on the cutting room floor that would be cool additions to the format, if they werent in the same sets as some of the most egregious haymakers that the game has ever produced. Put another way, a card like Elvish Reclaimer or Brazen Borrower would’ve been the best card in Ixalan for Legacy, but they are second-tier introductions to the format as long as cards like Oko, Uro, Force of Negation and Teferi come out around the same time. There’s a fear that banning a lot of cards will reduce playable archetypes, but it is much more likely that playable archetypes will increase and diversify as meaningful choices have to be made in deckbuilding. That will translate to more rewarding gameplay that’s less about a race to a bomb and more about exploring the depth of this great game.

Robert Wilson: Hallmarks I use to judge whether a format is healthy is typically the diversity of decks and macroarchetypes (control, aggro, midrange, combo, tempo, etc.) that are competitively viable without pushing rogue and new strategies out. While I’d make the tweaks to the format by removing Arcum’s Astrolabe and Veil of Summer, I think overall the meta is in that healthy spot. In the past 5 Legacy Challenges there have been 23 different decks and multiple macroarchetype styles among the 40 decks in the Top 8 of those Challenges as summarized below:

Typically, when Delver is the “best deck” the format is in a healthy spot so long as Delver does not become oppressive and format warping, as was the case with Wrenn and Six and Deathrite Shaman. Overall, Delver is a beatable deck and most strategies are equipped to handle Delver variants in some form or fashion. The Legacy format overall appears to be in a healthy spot due to a diverse metagame and appearance of multiple rogue strategies in Top 8 finishes. Removing Arcum’s Astrolabe may increase the health of the metagame by punishing greedy mana bases allowing decks like Mono Red Prison back into the meta and lessening the ubiquity of Oko, Thief of Crowns which could allow decks like Death and Taxes and Stoneblade to gain more metashare.

The Takeaway

The biggest takeaway from the helpful commentary by my Round Table is that currently, Legacy is in a healthy place, and it was great to hear their commentary on cards that everyone has been talking about for some time now. One of the biggest things to note is the current status of the card Arcum's Astrolabe in the format. It is noted even by Wizards that the win rate and metagame share of Astrolabe-based Snow Control decks does not currently meet the status of being a bannable card currently. What this does mean is that people shouldn't expect to try to game the system to make Wizards ban this card, but instead allow the natural metagame forces move the metagame in a natural way. Currently, that metagame suggests that Astrolabe does not require a ban.

I created a chart to sort of track the status of these cards going forward, which will be updated as we go on, and I even broke down this chart by the types of decks two of the cards (Oko/Veil) go into.

It is interesting to note the trajectory of Oko in Delver vs non-Delver decks, and I suspect that banning Astrolabe in the format would do nothing to prevent the trajectory of Oko's playability, in fact it could even increase it by the nature of seeing play in Delver.

Legacy Challenge 7/11

Our first Challenge was a normal Challenge and was also the early morning Saturday Challenge. With that being said, let's dive right into the Top 32 breakdown.

As has been the norm as of late, RUG Delver established itself over the Top 32. Outside of RUG Delver there was some interesting decks like Ninjas and Yorion Snowblade showing up. RUG Delver converted exceptionally well to the Top 8, which we'll look at now.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
U/R Painter 1st Draco_Fyrwing
RUG Delver 2nd _Batutinha_
Maverick 3rd SaitoSan
Goblins 4th Samus_SSP
RUG Delver 5th Matyo804
RUG Delver 6th JPA93
Death and Taxes 7th 3Erpz
Elves 8th KanonenFutter

This is certainly an interesting Top 8, despite all the Delver. It does have one of my current favorite decks in the form of Goblins in it however. At the end of the event however, it was none other than U/R Painter that took it down.

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This list is pretty cool, and I especially dig the usage of the singleton Bolas's Citadel as a Goblin Engineer target which can allow the deck to push through the deck. There is so much powerful redundancy in effects in this type of deck between Engineer, Welder, and Emry, Lurker of the Loch.

In Second Place we have RUG Delver.

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This is pretty common now for RUG Delver's stock list, give or take a few cards. Essentially it's fairly correct to note that builds with maxed out Dreadhorde Arcanist generally have no copies of Stifle, while builds w/ fewer than three copies tend to have some number of the card. In addition, we often see both Hooting Mandrills and Tarmogoyf as threats, occasionally both.

In Third Place we have Maverick.

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It's incredibly interesting to see two main deck copies of Kunoros, Hound of Athreos, but the card does seem pretty great in these kinds of strategies for combat'ing various graveyard related decks while being able to attack. The Vraska, Golgari Queen in the sideboard is also really cool.

In Fourth Place we have Goblins!

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Goblins is such a cool deck, and it's great to see it doing well. Muxus is exceptionally powerful, and does a great job of overpowering the board state. Goblins is a fantastic deck and definitely worth keeping an eye out for.

Fifth and Sixth Place both had RUG Delver (and relatively similar lists), so let's move down to Seventh Place with Death and Taxes.

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This is pretty decent for D&T lists. I like the pair of Gut Shot in the sideboard.

Rounding out the Top 8 we have Elves.

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Allosaurus Shepherd is a severely powerful card, if you happen to be someone who has one of the twelve copies available on Magic Online thanks to the relatively low availability of JumpStart mythics and rares in Treasure Chests. However, it has proven itself in the Elves lists to be very very strong.

Outside of the Top 8, there was a super sweet deck in the form of RUG Midrange featuring Radha, Heart of Keld.

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Also down the Top 32 is a Bant Yorion Snowblade deck.

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Now let's take a look at the 2019-2020 cards in this event. As always we are looking for cards with 8 copies or more. This is excluding Companions due to how special those cards are.

Card Name Number of Copies
Oko, Thief of Crowns 35
Dreadhorde Arcanist 28
Force of Negation 28
Veil of Summer 24
Elvish Reclaimer 20
Force of Vigor 16
Once Upon a Time 14
Plague Engineer 14
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis 9
Yorion, Sky Nomad 1

It should be relatively obvious by now the 2019-2020 cards with the most impact overall. There was very few Uro in this event (less than the 8 copy cutoff) and also few Astrolabes. There was at least one copy of Yorion, Sky Nomad, which seems to be relatively accurate for Yorion decks as of late.

Legacy Showcase 7/12

This weekend was also the Legacy Showcase Challenge, which boasted a stunning 204 players. This is a big event, with the Top 8 getting qualifications for the Showcase Qualifier event. Let's dive right into the Top 32 Metagame breakdown.

Holy RUG Delver, Batman! Delver absolutely dominated the event's Top 32 Metagame in this event, and converted excessively well to the Top 8 of the event as well. However, there were some cool decks showing up in this event like Stiflenought and Cephalid Breakfast.

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

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
RUG Delver 1st Manuel_Danninger
RUG Delver 2nd TheStyle
RUG Delver 3rd Triosk
Doomsday 4th RomarioVidal
Omni-Tell 5th Kaziku
Stiflenought 6th TheScuba96
Snowko 7th SebastianStueckl
RUG Delver 8th Rob85TX

Half of this Top 8 was RUG Delver, and that included a majority of the Top 4 (3/4 of the decks). At the end of the event it was Manuel_Danninger who took down the event. Since First - Third is all RUG Delver, we're only going to look at his list.

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This variant plays both Goyf and Mandrills, along with a Klothys in the sideboard. This continues to prove to be one of the best decks in the format. Whether we are at a tipping point will remain to be seen going forward.

Moving down to Fourth Place we have our good friend Romario Neto on Doomsday.

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Romario is very well practiced with Doomsday, having done very well in premier events with the deck before. This deck continues to be one of the better spell based combo decks in the format, thanks to the ease of wins that Thassa's Oracle provides.

In Fifth Place we have Omni-Tell.

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There is a lot of power behind this kind of deck, but it hasn't done exceptionally well as of late, so it is great to see this kind of shell still able to keep up with the format.

In Sixth Place we have STIFLENOUGHT.

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This deck is super cool, bledning aspects of Sharkstill w/ Phyrexian Dreadnought + Stifle decks. The sideboard for this deck is also super wild, with a new card in Sparkhunter Masticore appearing.

In Seventh Place we have Snowko.

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This deck has had its ups and downs over the past month or so, so it will be interesting to see how the deck continues to do going forward.

Outside of the Top 8, I want to give a shout out to our good friend Eli Goings (GoblinLackey1) for placing in 11th with Goblins!

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Also outside the Top 8 is a sweet Mono Red Painter list with Tangle Wire!

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

Card Name Number of Copies
Oko, Thief of Crowns 42
Dreadhorde Arcanist 38
Force of Negation 36
Veil of Summer 21
Plague Engineer 18
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath 12
Arcum's Astrolabe 9

Oko was at the forefront of the 2019 cards in this event, mainly because of all the RUG Delver in this event. There was also a ton of Dreadhorde Arcanist floating around because of the Delver.

Around the Web

  • Green Sun's Zenith put out another Maverick Monthly, which you can check out over here.
  • 90sMTG had Bant Food Chain and BR Reanimator on their channel, with commentary by Anuraag Das and Phil Blechman. Check that out here.
  • Our good friends at ELO Punters posted a new episode of their cast. Check that out here.

The Spice Corner

Reanimator Delver featuring Thieves' Guild Enforcer!

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Wild take on AppleJacks for sure right here.

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Stormwing Entity + Pteramander = GO GO GO!

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What I'm Playing This Week

Weirdly enough, I'm actually looking for some suggestions on things to play for a bit. If you have a deck you think I should check out and play, feel free to reach out to me about it!

Wrapping Up

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

As always you can reach me on 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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