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This Week in Legacy: The Nature of Legacy in 2020

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 taking a look at Legacy in 2020 from several points as we start to put a wrap on 2020. It's been a strange year for Legacy as a format, so this is a good time to look back and see what has changed. In addition to that we've always got our Challenges to talk about and of course, the Spice Corner.

Just as a side note, I am now currently prepping for my EOY Mailbag article, as well as the final Legacy Round Table of 2020! If you are a Legacy Content creator who wishes to be a part of the Round Table article, please feel free to reach out on Twitter. As far as the Mailbag article is concerned, I've set up a Google Form to fill out for that, which you can locate over here.

Now, without further ado, let's jump right into the thick of things.

The State of Legacy in 2020

We're fastly approaching the end of 2020, and what a wild year this has been for Legacy. Outside of the fact that there have been many impactful printings for the format this year, it's also important to recognize the jump in online play due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic cutting off paper Magic events. This year saw a lot going on in regards to the pandemic for Legacy, as many events were moved online to accomodate players, along with the introductions of All-Access Tokens on MTGO to allow players to play in these events such as GenCon, PAX Online, and of course Eternal Weekend.

Due to the lack of paper play, much focus has been placed on MTGO and the results coming from it. We're going to take a look at the big impacts of the format over this past year, as well as some thoughts on how we should be approaching the format as well.

Q1/Q2 2020 - The Fastest Bans in the West

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The beginning of 2020 was arguably one of the most tumultuous time periods for Legacy, as two sets (Theros: Beyond Death and Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths) greatly up-ended Legacy as a whole. Underworld Breach created a combo deck that was not only incredibly resilient, but adaptive and exceptionally powerful. The Breach ban came incredibly swiftly and caused a lot of consternation in the format at the time, as players were clamoring for the removal of the card before even any major paper events would occur while other players felt the card needed more time to be reacted to. In the end, Wizards made the right decision in banning Breach, as the combination of it and Lion's Eye Diamond was simply just too powerful for Legacy to handle.

Ikoria on the other hand, represented an even more massive upset in the balance of the format, as decks clamored to utilize Lurrus and Zirda to great effect. Lurrus decks dominated the format, the most popular of which became Lurrus Grixis Delver and Lurrus Miracles. On the opposite end of that spectrum, Zirda decks began to also rise in strength and popularity, and likely would have overtaken the format in Lurrus' wake if only the Cat Nightmare had been banned. In the end, both cards were banned, which then allowed companions like Gyruda, Doom of Depths and Yorion, Sky Nomad to run free until the Companion mechanic was officially changed. Unfortunately, due to the issues with shipping and product delays in the Ikoria product lines because of the ongoing pandemic, many players didn't get their hands on physical copies of these cards until either they were banned (Lurrus/Zirda) or the Companion mechanic had already been changed.

This period of time also would introduce two cards that would greatly affect the rest of the 2020 year in Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Thassa's Oracle.

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As players began to sink their teeth into Uro, they quickly began to realize just how absurdly powerful the three mana 6/6 was. Acting as a land drop, life gain, and draw engine all in one card was exceptionally strong, and Uro began to see play up until the Lurrus/Zirda era where it completely dropped off until those two cards were banned. Since then, Uro has become a defacto part of Legacy as a format in any of the Simic midrange decks in the format. At the end of this year, I do believe that the printing of Uro was a mistake, as the card presents a jump in the arms race between the blue decks of the format to need to have this card in order to compete, which further homogenizes the control/midrang decks towards it.

Thassa's Oracle on the other hand, completely and utterly simplified any combo deck prior to it that wanted to play cards like Laboratory Maniac or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, but the biggest boon was to the deck Doomsday. By simplifying Doomsday's game plan to "Resolve Oracle, win the game" the piles the deck would play to get there became more simplified as well, and the combo became much more compact, leading to an evolution of the archetype into the Xerox Control/Combo deck we know today. Oracle would also go on to define decks like Oops! All Spells and even would push Merfolk into a Combo/Tempo type of deck. Even still, I think it was potentially a bad thing that Thassa's Oracle exists, as it staples a win condition onto a card that can't even be answered with removal.

The first half of 2020 was fraught with bans, changes to mechanics, and the very beginnings of a pandemic that would shutter paper Magic for a while, leaving the rest of the year in doubt as to what would come next.

Q3/Q4 2020 - A Change in Thinking

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The second half of 2020 kicked off with little fanfare due to just how little Core Set 2021 impacted the format. Honestly though, after the first half of the year with Theros and Ikoria players were a little grateful that this set didn't hold anything exceptionally busted to yet again upset the balance of Legacy. During this time, we saw increases of Snow and RUG Delver, a trend that would continue through the end of the year.

However, early on in the latter half of the year, we received the product JumpStart, which added a boost to two of the format's most long standing tribal decks: Goblins and Elves. The printings of Muxus and Allosaurus Shepherd were\ incredibly impactful, but they were also the right kind of impactful as they boosted specific archetypes instead of being incredibly super powerful things that upset the format. The only major downside of a card like Allosaurus Shepherd is that its ability applied to all green spells you control, and not just green creature spells which would have been the norm for a card like this in the pre-FIRE design philosophy. Being able to make spells like Natural Order and Glimpse of Nature uncounterable is extremely powerful, but the card also breathed life into the Mono Green Cloudpost variants as well, since it made spells they wanted to cast like Crop Rotation uncounterable.

An even bigger impactful printing would come next in Zendikar Rising with the advent of Modal DFC cards.

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MDFCs represented an intriguing option to the Legacy format, vastly improving the consistency of the deck Oops! All Spells, a deck that functioned primarily on the basis of not having any actual Land cards in their library. Since MDFCs do not count as Lands in the library, having access to consistent upfront black mana was exceptionally important to a deck like Oops. This actually catapulted the deck from a former status of fringe play to seeing so much play that it even placed Second in one of the Eternal Weekend events (going 12-1 overall).

During this time, however, the format began to settle into a new normal, with decks like Snowko and RUG Delver both climbing in further popularity as the rest of the format has tried to center around the two strategies, and now Commander Legends has arrived to impact the format yet again.

The New Normal

As we head into 2021, we find ourselves in a world of Legacy that is far different than even just two years ago. Legacy is dominated these days by the concepts of committing to the board, of powerful haymakers, and linear combo that tries to go under everything else. Much of the counterplay involved in Legacy in card advantage and subtle sequencing of threats has simply gone by the wayside. Such is the nature of 2019-2020 design that has affected the format on a scale unlike any other set we've seen in Magic.

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One other such shift in Legacy's future was the original release of the Innistrad and Avacyn Restored sets in 2011-2012. The introduction of the card Delver of Secrets and the Miracle mechanic were massive in how Legacy has been shaped from that point on, and I believe we are at a similar precipice with 2019-2020 F.I.R.E. design. For better or for worse Legacy has evolved yet again, and there does not seem much of a way to return to the way it was before. Essentially you can't put the cat back into the box. It would take multiple multiple bannings of cards in the Legacy format to get things back to the point before War of the Spark and that is not quite a great idea, as the ban list should not be inflated as such. This does not mean that cards shouldn't be banned, as there are certainly some cards that people are upset about and could likely end up being banned. This does mean that it's simply not possible to ban multiple cards at this point and ever take Legacy back to the way it was. Things have changed, and we must adapt with it.

Despite this, there are still ways that we can approach the format with a greater understanding of how to think outside the box, and how to think constructively about things such as card evaluation and even deck evaluation.

Negative Feedback Loops

One important thing that quite often comes up in conversation about Legacy is the concept of negative feedback loops and how they apply to how we look at decks within the format. Negative feedback loops are constructs of conversation that often involve statements tied to a deck's playability in a format, or card evaluation within a format, and is also primarily tied to the idea of results.

A common loop of this kind is often centered around the idea that a deck is unplayable if it has no results, which then results in players refusing to put work into an archetype because that archetype has no results. One such deck that this often centers around as of late is the deck Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT). ANT as a deck has largely fallen out of favor in the overall metagame, and one of the big reasons of this is the claim that the deck falls apart to the card Veil of Summer.

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While it's certainly true that Veil is powerful against a deck wanting to play discard spells like Thoughtseize and Duress, in all reality, the amount of Veil of Summer in the format is actually incredibly low (often just a 1-2 of in sideboards of UGx decks). The argument that ANT auto-loses to Veil falls apart just a bit when you consider playing around around the card or being able to beat it in other ways. One such method was used by The EPIC Storm in its deck construction by using Veil itself as a proactive measure to start its combo turns. This similar kind of deck evolution hasn't occurred for ANT because of the notion that "ANT loses to Veil", which in turn creates a feedback loop of players being unwilling to play a deck which then results in the deck showing up less in events, which then feedbacks into players being unwilling to work on a deck because there's no results.

I find this whole concept intriguing, as it is interesting always when decks fall in and out of the format, and while it's natural for decks to eventually leave the format over time it is certainly interesting for decks/strategies to fall out due to such extreme circumstances. What this leads me to believe is that there is often more to Legacy and to decks within the format than people might even know. There is a possibility that there are decks in the format that we haven't even assembled the configurations for yet, but the feedback loops prevent them from being tested or worked on. It's worth noting that not every deck is like this, there are decks that have arisen in the past two years that beat this such as Curse Stompy and Ninjas, even things like Stryfo Pile where pilots have spent a great amount of work in time and effort to tune the decks and to make them work within the format.

This all ties back to a need we have as players for immediate gratification in results. We often seek out results that are immediate, and if those results do not present themselves then we move on. Magic Online by nature makes this incredibly easy as the ability to switch decks around reinforces the ideas behind instant gratification and the effect it has on us. If we slow down a tad and put the work in however, we may find that we can break out of a negative feedback loop and be able to think clearer and outside of the box.

I believe it's important to break out of a negative feedback loop, as it can often lead to results-oriented thinking that is not positive. There is a careful balance to results oriented thinking and understanding that balance is important. Too much results-oriented thinking can lead to overthinking in some occasions.

The Nature of Card Evaluation

Going further, 2019-2020 has utterly and completely devastated card evaluation as we continue to receive printings on the level of cards like Oko, Thief of Crowns and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. What this does is creates situations where evaluating cards becomes more difficult. Our minds are looking for the next card on the level of Oko, Uro, and other F.I.R.E. design mistakes that have influenced how we look at cards. Instead of looking at playable situations where a card might fit into an existing strategy, we're looking for the next card that breaks the format. While these cards are obviously immensely obvious, looking at the playable cards can often be more important, as these cards are often solid role players in existing decks or can even become a powerful build-around in a new strategy. If we aren't paying close enough attention we might not see these things.

One terminology I hate hearing is the word "unplayable" when it comes to cards (and I'm often guilty of having used it myself in the past) because it is often used to describe cards that are generally "sub optimal" or potentially build-around cards that people are unwilling to put enough work into figuring out (again, instant gratification). I think it's important to recognize these cards and call them what they are if they are sub optimal or if there is a possibility that they can see play.

Card evaluation is a hard thing to do, and even the best of us can still be wrong about a card here or there, especially in a format such as Legacy.

Moving Forward

Despite the fact that we have arrived at the precipice of yet another evolution of the Legacy format, Legacy still remains an interesting format, full of lots of powerful and interesting strategies, as long as we are willing to look for them and continually push ourselves to think outside of the box. While there are things about the format we can all find to dislike, we can still find fun in the format and enjoy it. We just have to keep on moving forward and adapt.

Legacy Challenge 11/28

We had two Challenges this past weekend, the first of which was the early morning Saturday Challenge. Let's take a look at the Top 32 metagame breakdown.

While both RUG Delver and Snowko continue to be the most popular decks, the two decks didn't actually convert all that well to the Top 8. All in all this metagame looks pretty solid. There's quite a bit of different decks here, and they're all fairly interesting and unique decks.

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

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Cloudpost 1st Into_Play
LED Dredge 2nd Ark4n
RUG Painter 3rd ElfKid
Eldrazi Taxes 4th Mei0024
Death's Shadow 5th TrueHero
Lands 6th Pische10
Hogaak 7th Laesssoe
Yorion DnT 8th MagicTurtle3478

This is a nice Top 8, plenty of diversity and interesting decks here. I'd also like to say this is a Top 8 without Delver, but Death's Shadow also plays Delver so that's right out, but it is a Top 8 without RUG Delver, which is very interesting. There's also not a ton of Oko in this Top 8, as the only copies show up in the Dredge sideboard and in RUG Painter.

At the end of the event however it was Cloudpost that took it down, on a Mono Green variant.

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Sort of interesting to see a build of this without Allosaurus Shepherd as most of these decks have been playing the card as a one-of in order to fetch up to make its impactful green spells uncounterable. This deck can still just slam an Ulamog or Emrakul though early and completely decimate an opponent and its green spells are so redundant that maybe it doesn't even really need Shepherd.

The Second Place list here is Ark4n on LED Dredge.

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It's certainly interesting here to see a main deck Dread Return, but Ashen Rider is such a great target for it that it makes quite a bit of sense. The big amusing thing is the sideboard copy of Oko, Thief of Crowns which has been a part of sideboards for Dredge for a while now, as it's very good in plenty of matchups and is also heavily unexpected during gameplay. It can catch an opponent off guard and that makes it really strong.

Outside of the Finals lists, I want to take a look at the Third Place list because it's a strategy that is not well seen too much as of late in Painter's Servant.

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This is basically inserting the Painter combo into a RUG Snowko type shell, with overloading on the effects such as Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast (as Blue is often the color named with Painter). Inserting combos into these kinds of shells is pretty potent since the Snow shell on its own can often carry a victory while still having the possibility of a combo kill.

Also in the Top 8 we have a showing by an Eldrazi Taxes variant.

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This is a super cool list, combining the tax effects of a D&T shell with the fast mana and raw power of the Eldrazi cards, along with Karn, the Great Creator which can often win games on its own. Looks like a really fun list to play overall.

Another fun list in the Top 8 is Lands featuring Valakut Exploration.

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It's really very cool to see just how good Valakut Exploration is in this shell. The card is an engine and a win condition wrapped up in one card, and is really powerful in decks like this that have cards like Exploration to abuse the effect. I also really dig the Primeval Titans in the sideboard here, as I'm a big fan of that card in general.

Outside of the Top 8 we have one list that really caught my eye and it's an Arclight Phoenix deck that sideboards into Doomsday.

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I dig this list a lot, seems really super cool. Opposition Agent seems like a natural fit in a deck like this that wants to play Dark Ritual, so it only makes sense for it to show up here. The transformational sideboard plan is pretty cool all around, as turning into Doomsday is pretty powerful.

Legacy Challenge 11/29

Our second Challenge event of the weekend was the afternoon Sunday Challenge, so let's dive right into the Top 32 breakdown!

Again we have a fair amount of RUG Delver and Snow but it seems these are just popularity numbers and the decks aren't exactly dominating here. One deck here that did exceptionally well however was the Karn Echo deck as we will note in the Top 8 here.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Karn Echo 1st John1111
Yorion Reclaimer 2nd LynnChalice
Ninjas 3rd AboutOmnsicient
Cloudpost 4th Into_Play
Snowko 5th Tuckbear
The EPIC Storm 6th Bryant_Cook
Oops! All Spells 7th Newhj
Karn Echo 8th WhiteFaces

There's certainly a lot to unpack here with this Top 8, as there is plenty of interesting decks here. As noted, Karn Echo was very good in this event, converting two out of three of the Top 32 pilots into the Top 8. Karn Echo would go on to win the entire event here, in a build without Hullbreacher.

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Even without Hullbreacher this deck is incredibly strong and is a deck I've talked about several times via this column. There is a lot of power here and it continues to show up more and more. It's worth noting that the other list in the Top 8 here did run Hullbreacher so it seems that both variants with or without are very powerful.

The Second Place list in the Finals here is pretty super cool. It's a G/W Reclaimer list, built with Yorion Power.

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This list is really cool and seems like a ton of fun. LynnChalice mentioned on Twitter that this was the first time they played the deck in a big event, so to do so well is a great testament to their skill and to the construction of the deck.

Outside of the Finals we have some fun in the Top 8 with Ninjas.

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I'm not sure how I feel about BUG variants of this deck with Oko, as most of my experience with the deck is with the straight U/B variants, but I can see the value of having catch-all spells like Abrupt Decay and Assassin's Trophy.

Also in the Top 8 we have Oops! All Spells.

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The main deck construction of this deck has pretty much solidified into the current incarnation we see above, with the major changes being to the deck's sideboard. I like the presence of Xantid Swarm here, as it can prevent the opponent from interacting if they have countermagic and things like Surgical Extraction. Oops is a great big puzzle and a lot of fun to figure out.

Outside of the Top 8, we have a cool showing by a U/R Delver variant with new card Krark, the Thumbless.

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Krark and Arcanist are two peas in a pod, as they work very well with each other. Even losing the flip off an Arcanist cast is no big deal because the spell will simply return to your hand, which is very strong. Even winning the flip is great because you get to copy the spell! Powerful list for sure.

Further down the Top 32 we have a showing by Goblins!

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In addition to the power house that is Muxus, this deck also has the Conspicuous Snoop combo with Boggart Harbinger and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. This particular list is interesting enough because of the Gaea's Cradle in the main deck. Outside of producing a bunch of mana for the deck, it's also great to beat The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale.

Ban Watch

Two more Challenges means that we have another entries in our Chart on the big cards of the format. Let's take a look, shall we?

Oko and Arcanist still remain exceptionally consistent in numbers, as do many of the other cards here. As I noted earlier, this just seems to be the new normal, but it will be interesting to hear the thoughts of the folks that we've got lined up for our next Round Table which will take place this month.

Around the Web

  • Our good friends over at Everday Eternal posted a great new episode featuring Marc Vogt. Check that out over here.
  • This is a great article on the overall history of the Delver archetypes. Check it out!
  • Our good buddy Phil Gallagher posted a video on Krark Mill. Check that out over here.
  • 90sMTG continues the hits with Tin Fins Reanimator vs Infect. Check that out over here.

The Spice Corner

This Jegantha Lands build with Scute Swarm is super sweet. Just hope that MTGO doesn't crash!

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A second Lands type build, this one with Court of Cunning and Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar.

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A followup to last week's video from Doishy's "The Perfect Doomsday", here is the list from the 5-0's in all its glory.

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What I'm Playing This Week

Still somewhat waiting to be able to rent Commander Legends cards (MTGO supply for this set is really rough) so I'm sort of in a holding pattern right now for testing Legacy at the moment. However, I'd probably be trying something like this deck by Pow22, because it seems so very cool.

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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 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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