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This Week in Legacy: We Don't Need No Delver


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 talking about an ongoing closed format that has been picking up steam amongst the Legacy community. The format is known as Pre-Innistrad Legacy and it's a format that has been seeing a fair amount of support from league type events to even bigger tournaments. In addition, we'll be talking about the Legacy Showcase Challenge from over the weekend. Unfortunately, neither the Super Qualifier or the Saturday Challenge fired, so we only have that one event to look at. In addition to that, we always have our Spice Corner.

We'll be talking about Core Set 2021 a little later on when we have more of the set.

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

Who Needs Delver of Secrets? Honestly?

Our focus this week is on a closed format that has begun to see a measure of popularity amongst the Magic Online community. If you've ever imagined what Legacy was like during a time when the card Delver of Secrets did not exist, this might be a format for you. It's called Pre-Innistrad Legacy, the basis of the format is that it utilizes the sets that were legal in the format prior to the release of Innistrad block, along with the banlist at that time. One only major exception to the banlist is the enforcement of the Mental Misstep ban, which was 10 days before the release of Innistrad. The format utilizes all of the other modern rulings used today (Legendary rule, London Mulligan, etc.).

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In order to learn more about this format and how it came about, I went to the source of ideas for it and the primary organizers of events for the format, namely Callum Smith, Francis Cowper, and Karl Akbari. They had a bit to say about the format as well as about Legacy itself.

First things first, introduce yourselves and let the people at home know a little bit about yourselves!

Francis: Hello, I’m Francis, or FGC on Magic Online. I live in London, and have been playing Legacy for six years now. I have a penchant for bad interesting control decks, and often end up with a miracles variant in my hands.

Karl: Karl here, sporadically active on Magic Online under the username DinoBelcher_BogBoyz. Until recently I also lived in London, where I met my fellow format creators. Contrary to what my username would lead you to believe, I tend to play a variety of fair blue decks in my favorite formats, which at the moment are Old School and Pre-Inn.

Callum: Hey, I’m Callum otherwise known as WhiteFaces online and I also live in London. I used to play a lot of Extended before taking a long break coming back when Innistrad was released. 

Let’s talk about Pre-Innistrad Legacy. How did the idea for this format come about? What drove you to promote the format?

Francis: Sometime in January, Callum (WhiteFaces) made a post on the Legacy Facebook page for Southern England asking if players would be interested in a series of community-led events for alternative formats. The first of these was Pre-Innistrad Legacy. We decided to post the results of the tournament on r/MTGLegacy, and the response was so positive that we created a discord as a place to find matches and discuss the format.

Karl: I can’t really take any credit for the initial idea, but I was one of its earliest adopters. Pre Inn roughly coincides with my first period of playing Magic and in particular Legacy/Vintage in the late 2000s. As I took a long break after Zendikar came out, the format is a tad different from what I actually played back then, but it allows me to play most of the sweet cards I grew up to love. I personally take a lot of joy in helping others discover and play the format, which is why I decided to become more engaged through the discord. 

Callum: I can’t quite remember how or why I had the idea, it was inspired by Premodern and other alternate formats no doubt, but I really wanted to play some ‘old legacy’ and Pre Innistrad was the first thing that came to mind. I discussed it with some friends from London and we all agreed it’d be a blast, so why not give it a shot! We didn’t intend for it to go further than us playing it in a pub every month or so, but with Covid-19 we moved it online and have loved being able to play it with others from all around the world. 

Is there anything about the format that has surprised you thus far? Any decks that have come out of the format that are interesting or fun?

Francis: So far I’ve been pretty narrow in my personal exploration and have been taking the opportunity to play lots of Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top. The best shell I’ve found for this so far is a Splinter Twin list.

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I’m looking forward to trying out Helm of Awakening storm in the third MTGO league, inspired by an LSV video I remember watching years ago. (Here’s the link if you fancy putting up with the old MTGO interface) Here’s my decklist for League 3, though I’d make a few changes now that I’ve played with it!

Going through old decklists, it shocks me how little people played certain cards - especially Ponder, it’s hardly to be seen! Cantrips in general were severely underplayed. Gitaxian Probe barely appears at all. Another combination that I was surprised to see at a low was Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance; there appeared to be no agreed upon best shell, just a few Thopter Sword and Stoneblade lists. The Twin deck I put together was an entirely new creation - with no wraths or good non-artifact/enchantment wincons in Blue/White like Monastery Mentor or Entreat the Angels (you don’t want to over expose yourself to [Krosan Grip]], Grip costs a little too much to hold up every turn to kill Twin without you dying to Pestermite), I looked elsewhere for a way to stabilize and break the stalemate after resolving Countertop. The tempo/burn plan is a nice backup, and you have two combos to threaten whilst pressuring your opponent, and if they slip up, suddenly many Faeries appear.

My leaning to play blue decks is shining through here, a whole paragraph on cantrips and Top… The lack of Miracle spells really does make the format play very differently (especially for me!) - as there is no true playable unconditional wrath. Decks like Zoo and Maverick are very real threats, especially as they aren’t outcompeted by Delver of Secrets. The combo decks are also far more manageable by the non-blue decks, with no Griselbrand or Past in Flames to more easily enable an immediate game ending combo or board state. Reanimator has to choose from a set of silver bullet threats, though Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur does a lot of work, whilst storm once again looks to Ill-Gotten Gains. I’ve not seen an elves list yet if I remember correctly, but I do wonder how that would be best built without Craterhoof, maybe Progenitus is once again the best thing to be doing, with no Terminus in the format?

As I briefly mentioned above, the lack of Delver of Secrets is potentially the biggest difference. That card has present day Legacy in a chokehold, and has had that lock for almost a decade. The threat of turn one Delver, Daze your answer, flip Delver, Wasteland you, gives an almost combo feeling free win to the aggro-control deck that’s supposed to be about treading a fine line to victory - not demolishing your opponent on turns one and two (in my opinion). Without Delver in the format, Daze and Wasteland are nowhere near as punishing, as you have time to draw lands and spells to play and answer their threats. The two best standalone threats in the format are Tarmogoyf and Stoneforge Mystic, neither of which are blue, and both cost two whole mana! Two drops being the premier threats really slows games down, and of course Spell Snare becomes the MVP counterspell. Knight of the Reliquary dominates the three drop slot, and is a terrifying card if it resolves and you don’t have your Swords to Plowshares ready. The lack of Snapcaster Mage means you often don’t have that Swords!

Another archetype that was missing back in 2011 was Death’s Shadow, the pieces for which were all largely present, and some people have tried building something in that direction. It’s definitely high on my list of decks to try. I suspect it’s the best choice for a tempo build, potentially even in a BUG shell with mongoose, as opposed to a more standard UB shell with Hymn to Tourach and Tombstalker.

Most of the cards I’ve mentioned as being impactful are from Innistrad block; it’s easy to forget how pivotal that block was to how modern magic is played.

The finals of the second league had two particularly sweet decks, Aylett’s Blue Zoo and Zack_Fayden’s Aluren.

Karl: Although in retrospect, it’s not actually that surprising, the biggest thing we noticed at first is how relaxing it is to play Legacy without the fear of Delver or Thalia effectively ending the game in the first three turns. It’s been a lot of fun playing long, grindy matches of Magic!

Now obviously, a number of participants in the first three tournaments took notice and brought their combo decks to wreck the fair blue party. But I will admit, losing to Shortcake or Aluren feels much better than a turn 1 Griselbrand.

Callum: Francis and Karl have nicely covered pretty much everything I’d say here. The lack of Delver of Secrets was more telling than any of us imagined, so that’s what sticks out to me most. 

What events have you been involved with for this format, and do you have any upcoming events that are in the works?

Francis: In addition to the inaugural paper event, we’ve run two leagues on MTGO via Discord. The first league was won by Infect, the second by Aluren (decklist above). Congratulations again to ChiggyWig and Zack_Fayden respectively! The metagames have been diverse, with eight different decks in the second top 8, though Painter did eat up three slots of the first top 8 (perhaps the true reason for top’s banning…).

As I’m writing this, the third league is currently in progress, and I’m sure there will be a signup sheet open in the Discord ready for the next very soon.

The details can be found in the Discord https://discord.gg/E4gfzy.

Karl: In addition, I’ve been thinking of organizing a webcam tournament (with proxies) at some point in the future, similar to those played in the Old School community. Flavor is a very important part of the game for me, and nothing beats seeing the actual old cards.

Callum: We also fully intend to start IRL events back up when we can and it’s safe. While the format is a joy to play online too, there’s something about playing with old cards in your hands that you can’t replace. So for anyone in London, England or the will to fly in for a fun weekend, look out for when Covid has passed! 

Have your events mostly been on Magic Online or have you utilized other platforms such as webcam for them?

Francis: The events in recent months have all been run on MTGO, with the option if both players agree to use other methods of play, some people certainly have been playing over webcam. MTGO is the simplest way we’ve found to run events.

Karl: As I mentioned above, we will certainly organize a webcam event at some point. Given the player pool mostly originated from the existing Legacy universe, MTGO is certainly the more accepted method for playing at the moment. As the format evolves and paper magic (hopefully) makes a comeback, I’d imagine more people would be interested in playing via webcam.

If you are interested in playing in a webcam league or tournament, make sure to let us know on Discord. The more people express interest, the higher likelihood that we organize an event sooner rather than later.

Have you also tried out Pre-WAR Legacy? What did you think of it if you have?

Francis: For the moment I’m exploring Pre-Innistrad, as I know what I’d be doing in Pre-WAR for the most part, whereas Pre-Innistrad is wide open for exploration for me. I have good memories of that time in Legacy, so I’m sure Pre-WAR is a blast.

Karl: Personally I have not tried it out yet. I only returned to Magic about two years ago, so my attachment to the Pre-WAR era is certainly not as high as for other players. However, I did have a lot of fun playing that format, so I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to play if it arises.

Callum: Likewise I’ve not tried it yet, but do intend to at some point. Legacy at that point in time was fantastic!

What are your thoughts on the state of current Legacy format? Anything you’d like to see done?

Francis: I think I’d be happiest if they banned Oko/Uro, Veil of Summer and Arcum’s Astrolabe. I find the UGxx shell very boring to play against; the gameplay leads to one player snowballing to an insurmountable lead in life, cards, and board presence after a couple of unanswerable threats resolve. I like games that depend on players making lots of close choices, not ‘well I suppose I’ll jam Oko/Uro in this spot because why wouldn’t I’. 

Veil of Summer in proactive combo decks threatens to neuter the efficient interaction that keeps the format together. 

Astrolabe leads to deck homogeneity, especially amongst midrange and control. What were once several distinct archetypes in Miracles, Stoneblade, Grixis and BUG midrange/control, have now all been superseded by Snoko. If you’re going to play UWr Miracles, why not also play the best green and/or black cards when there’s no meaningful cost to do so?

Nothing new to say here really, what I’d really like is for Wizards to stop printing cards that are obviously cracked in half or that lead to boring play patterns, as that’s what really hurts my interest in the game. I can live with past mistakes so long as they aren’t continuously making new ones.

Playing formats with cards that probably should be banned, or that definitely will be banned, feels like a waste of my time and money.

Karl: There’s many things that could be said about modern-day Legacy, and I don’t want to divert the conversation away from the magical place that is Pre-Innistrad. I’ve mostly stopped playing the format for a few months now, so I can only give a high-level opinion rather than comment on specifics.

While it is certainly true that Wizards has a history of printing cards that are either overpowered, unfun, or encourage deck homogeneity, the pace and regularity at which we have witnessed it over the past year and half is unprecedented. I’m all for change and new things in Magic, but Legacy was always a place where the meta had time to develop itself and players could fine-tune their pet deck over time. Given the general tendency towards playing “haymaker Magic”, I highly doubt anything will respark my own personal interest in the format. But I certainly hope something can be done, at least for the sake of all my friends who really enjoy playing Legacy.

Given the price point of eternal format, the reality is that the player pool (at least outside of MTGO) mostly consists of people with a number of time-consuming real life obligations, whether it’s a job, studies, family, or a combination of any of these. Many of them don’t have the time and/or motivation to constantly adapt to a fast changing format. In my opinion, one reason why formats such as Old School have become so popular is because it allows players to show up to a few events a year and enjoy their favorite cards with like-minded people. But Wizards doesn’t have to cater to that player base, so I highly doubt anything will change in their strategy.

Callum: The format is fairly balanced in my opinion, but I’m struggling to be motivated to play which is a shame. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of complaining about the UGx brigade and that is the crux of what I don’t find fun. The control and midrange decks are all too similar and having less fair blue options sucks a lot of fun out of the format. 

Shoutout below your social media links and where people can find you as well as any info on Pre-ISD events that they can take part in!

Francis: The best place to contact me is on twitter at @FrancisCowper, or of course, in the Discord. I’m happy to chat about Pre-Innistrad, so shoot me a message.

https://discord.gg/E4gfzy3 is the invite link for the Discord

Karl: I’m not very active on social media, but you can find me in the Discord. Hit me up for some games or any discussion, whether it’s about Intuition piles in Togless or appropriate choices for card pimp in the format (hint: old border, original art is generally the right answer!).

Callum: My twitter is @Whitefacesmtg, but I’m also pretty active in the Discord should you want to chat about the format.

Thanks for joining us this week, never forget that you are awesome!

This is a format full of some interesting concepts and decks, as many of the Innistrad block staples don't simply exist. There are no Delvers, primarily, but that also means there's no Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and no cards such as Terminus or even Liliana of the Veil. As such, the format is interesting, providing somewhat of a grindy pace of gameplay between most decks in the format. Without Miracles cards in the format, the Countertop engine of Sensei's Divining Top + Counterbalance is a powerful option, but not as incredibly overpowering as Top Miracles was in its heyday. This in turn allows aggressive shells such as Zoo to exist and be good without the threat of a severely unconditional one mana Wrath effect.

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In addition to this, the lack of cards like Griselbrand as noted before makes decks like Show and Tell shells having to rely solely on cards like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, except that there are also no cards like Omniscience either in the format. This also makes Reanimator much more interesting as well because there is no single silver bullet card that ties everything together quite like how Griselbrand does in more conventional Legacy. This requires these decks to make concessions and are not also not nearly as fast or as powerful as their more modern counterparts. For example, this means that Reanimator has to be more Blue/Black in nature and has to have a much slower combo, but a combo that can be backed up by Force of Will without having to utterly worry about the sheer clock of Delver of Secrets.

The dynamic of this format allows fair blue decks to have options against combo decks, and for combo decks to be interesting to play against. The EPIC Storm exists well within the scope of this format, as does decks like Shortcake (R/W Painter's Servant combo) and even Aluren.

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Furthermore, decks that may not have existed at the time of these formats have come to light as noted by Francis in the interview, where the entirety of the Death's Shadow shell was fully playable during that time, but never was for some amount of reason. In addition, decks like Steel Stompy might have existed during this time as well but did not see play for some reason or another.

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In addition, the rules changes of things such as the Legendary rule impact deck construction a bit, as during this time the best way to beat a Jace was to cast your own Jace since the Legendary rule at the time would put both into the graveyard. However with the newer rules, more anti-Jace technology could see play in decks to be able to have to a way to fight the card.

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As noted in the interview however, the biggest defining trait of this format is the lack of Delver of Secrets, showing a mere hint of what could be if the Insectile Aberration never existed in the first place. It is an interesting conundrum as to whether Delver, which has so iconically worked its way into Legacy as a format since its printing, would better suit Legacy if it were removed from the format. Now, this is not an argument for banning the card, but it does bring up some very interesting concepts and a look at just how much Innistrad block changed Legacy overall, a strong parallel to the effect that 2019-2020 has had on Magic.

This format is excessively interesting, and one of the best ways to get a sense of it is to look at some decklists, and what better way than to show off the Top 8 lists from both Discord leagues. I want to thank Francis, Karl, and Callum for helping put this all together for me, as they really are doing a great job promoting the format. If you'd like to find out any further information on this format, join their Discord and check it out!

League 1

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League 2

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Community Legacy Update

I do have one Community related thing to point out this week, and that's the return of the Legacy Pit to its normal face to face games starting on June 13th. They are following some restrictions, of course, so you can find the update on Twitter over here.

Legacy Showcase Challenge 6/7

This weekend had our first Showcase Challenge event of Season 2 on Magic Online. This is a Premier level event, and required QPs to enter. As such this was a pretty stacked event. Let's start by taking a look at the Top 32 Metagame breakdown, now with new and improved charts!

Snowko rounded up a big portion of the metagame this week, with RUG Delver coming in close. However, out of the Top 32, there were quite a few decks and not a huge presence of Snow decks really. One important thing however is the sheer drop in Companion decks. Out of the Top 32, only two decks were Companion decks and those happened to be Yorion. It definitely appears as if the Companion change had the most nuclear of effects on Legacy overall, returning us to more of a Pre-Ikoria type metagame.

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

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Urza Echo 1st LeMasters
ANT 2nd WonderPreaux
White Eldrazi 3rd MindOfAKid
Death and Taxes 4th YoshiWata
Hogaak 5th SunOfNothing
Sneak and Show 6th DopeDafi
Snowko 7th AnziD
U/R Delver 8th Gul_Dukat

This is certainly an interesting Top 8, and despite how many Snowko decks were in the Top 8, it only converted one pilot to the Top 8. It is going to be interesting in the coming weeks whether Snow will actually truly dominate the metagame or if the newer tools gained in Theros: Beyond Death and Ikoria will grant decks ways to beat the Snow menace.

At the end of the event however, it was LeMasters on Urza Echo that took it all down.

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This deck is excessively strong, and somewhat underplayed in the overall metagame right now. The combination and power of Urza, Narset, Karn, and Echo of Eons is incredibly powerful when combined with the mana rocks like Lion's Eye Diamond and lock pieces like Chalice of the Void.

In Second Place we have ANT.

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Detection Tower is an incredibly cool way of dealing with Veil of Summer if you expect them to be playing it. Being able to beat a Veil is really strong.

In Third Place we have White Eldrazi.

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Kind of a Death and Taxes-esque deck, this has a lot of power in the overall shell between the lock pieces of Thalia and the power behind Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher.

In Fourth Place we have Death and Taxes.

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Death and Taxes is a deck that's never truly dead, and it will be interesting to see what might happen with this deck going forward. Typically cards like Plague Engineer and Dead of Winter have been excessively strong against DnT from Snow decks, but as long as Snow is kept down by other things, it is possible to see this deck do well in the hands of a capable pilot.

In Fifth Place we have Hogaak.

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Hogaak is another deck that has a lot of strength and is poised to steal matches if there isn't a lot of graveyard hate floating around. These lists are clean and powerful too, and generally pretty fun to play.

In Sixth Place we have Sneak and Show.

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The most intriguing thing about this list is that there is a single sideboard Oko, Thief of Crowns in it. Definitely interesting, and I can see a fair application of the card in being able to deal with problem permanents that make it hard to resolve the deck's major game plans.

In Seventh Place we have our good friend Anuraag Das on Snowko.

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The one thing that Snowko has in spades is options. Arcum's Astrolabe opens up an insane amount of options to these decks, giving them many ways of interacting on numerous axes, from having access to premium removal like Swords to Plowshares to having powerful sideboard options like Blood Moon and Back to Basics, which is often one of the crazier things that a deck playing Astrolabe can do, and is also often one of the heavier criticisms leavied at Astrolabe's existence in the format.

Rounding out the Top 8 we have Daniel Goetschel (Gul_Dukat) on U/R Delver.

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This is a super clean U/R Delver list, nothing cute or fancy, just sheer raw threats that Delver knows how to leverage in addition to the strength of Dreadhorde Arcanist. This list is powerful, very powerful.

Now let's take a look at the 2019-2020 cards in this event. In order for 2019 cards to have qualified for this, there needed to be at least 10 copies of the card.

Card Name Number of Copies
Veil of Summer 33
Oko, Thief of Crowns 31
Arcum's Astrolabe 30
Ice-Fang Coatl 28
Force of Negation 26
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath 20
Prismatic Vista 17
Karn, the Great Creator 12
Narset, Parter of Veils 12
Dreadhorde Arcanist 11
Cling to Dust 6
Klothys, God of Destiny 2
Wilt 2
Yorion, Sky Nomad 2

Because of the big presence of Snow in this event, there were a lot of Snow related cards at the top of play, but Veil of Summer and Force of Negation also both highly rated. There was also again, only two Companions total in the event, one of which was Yorion Snow/Stryfo Pile and the other Yorion DnT.

I am not sure how this will progress from week to week, but as I noted before the Companion change definitely had a huge effect on Legacy overall in reducing the number of Companions in general. As noted, this definitely effectively killed Gyruda, and Yorion existing as a niche and interesting thing is pretty much fine.

Around the Web

  • Our good friends over at Everyday Eternal posted an episode talking about the Companion changes. You can check that out here!
  • In addition, the Eternal Glory podcast posted a new episode as well. You can check that out here!
  • ALSO SPEAKING OF PODCASTS, the sick folks of the Eternal Durdles crew also posted a new episode. Check that out here!

The Spice Corner

Mono BLUE DELVER.

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A Jegantha sighting! It's in a Dryad/Lands shell, so it makes some sense.

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More Worldgorger Dragon by the Dragon God Fire10798.

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This deck has Domri, Anarch of Bolas AND Oath of Nissa in it. Well played Ozymandias17, well played.

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What I'm Playing This Week

This week I am technically on vacation, so I guess I'm not actually playing anything! However, there's been some rumblings of a Winota Stompy deck floating around (image linked below), so once I'm back I will be able to get back into the swing of things!

Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Thank you all for your continued support of the column, and join me next week as we continue our journey into the Legacy format!

As always you can reach me on Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and Patreon! You can also always reach me on the MTGGoldfish Discord Server as well as the /r/MTGLegacy Discord Server and subreddit!

Until next time, keep smashing into Chalices!


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