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This Week in Legacy: We're Back!

Welcome to a long time coming This Week in Legacy! We’re finally back in business after my rather long hiatus (the reason for this we shall explore later), and I’ll be coming today with a rather big update of all the tournaments we’ve seen in the interim and the current trajectory of the metagame. We will also, of course, feature spice as always.

I know many have been waiting for this return, so, well, don’t fear – we’re back!

Pro Tour 25, Eternal Weekend Asia, GP Richmond

The three big events that have gone by were the:

  • The Team Pro Tour, featuring Standard, Modern and, most importantly, Legacy.
  • Eternal Weekend Asia, featuring around 900 players in Yokohama, Japan.
  • The dual Grand Prix in Richmond, Virginia, featuring Legacy and Standard.

I’d like to firstly give a diagrammatic overview of the decks in these events, which should help us see the texture of the post-Deathrite and Gitaxian Probe metagame.

The best to start with would have to be the Pro Tour, which was the first breakout event of the new format. Nicely enough, Wizards gave us a giant information dump of all of the decks played, and so here is a pie chart displaying all the decks:

There are a few decks that are holdovers from the previous metagame getting further prominence now in the form of Show and Tell variants, Reanimator, Death & Taxes, Eldrazi and RUG Delver. Show and Tell's prominence at the Pro Tour is really quite self-explanatory – the sheer “I win” power of the deck, its accessibility to the Blue suite of staples and the simplicity in it’s A + B combo is certain to be attractive to Pros, especially relative newcomers to the Legacy format. Eldrazi has a similar appeal. Although it does not have the consistency of the cantrip cartel, it does have a very straightforward plan and power level which can nut draw opponents.

Death & Taxes has always been a solid contender for both a Legacy specialist and a Legacy newcomer. It has built a reputation as both a straightforward non-Blue deck that, due to new printings, has lock pieces that will demolish many opposing decks as well as a deck with a lot of finesse in its game plan. I am not surprised to see it take down this event, but the deck has some issues to face moving forward, which I will talk about later.

RUG Delver significantly underperformed in this event, and although after the banning many hailed its return, to many it has not delivered, especially in the face of Angler and friends. It has gone from prominence to back to being the underdog (and I would not want it any other way). Miracles also showed its continued strength after all the metagame changes and also put two copies in the Top 4.

Furthermore, there are of course two new decks in the post-Deathrite metagame that have come to true prominence – Death's Shadow and Grixis Control – that we’ll investigate in a moment!

Next, Eternal Weekend Asia. The Top 32 of this event broke down as follows:

This event showed a few things. Firstly, Japan, as always, has its fair share of amazing brews, from the exotic Omniscience builds of Show and Tell decks to Bomberman taking a Top 16! Secondly, with the Pro Tour proving Grixis Control and Death's Shadow as real decks, their popularity skyrocketed, and the success of these decks in Yokohama proved these were not decks simply reserved for the Pro Tour. This event also reminded everyone to never discount Storm. With innovative versions such as Kai Sawatari’s Daze-touting list making Top 16 and the stock version piloted by Takahashi Masataka taking down the event, the deck has proved that even without Probe the deck is a force to be reckoned with.

The last event we’ll look at is GP Richmond:

This event, won by Miracles, showed that even though it’s easy to be enamoured with new decks such as Grixis Control and Shadow, the old guard can still give these decks a run for their money. Grixis Delver too in particular showed that it is ready to recalibrate for the new metagame, with versions with varying threat suites finding their way to success. Stoneforge Mystic also found itself renewed success in the hands of Joe Lossett and Owen Turtenwald, piloting some brand-new brews.

Ok! That’s a cursory glance into where the metagame has moved forward, but let’s jump into the deep end now with some deck lists and exploration of archetypes of interest.

Death's Shadow

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I’ll start with this, because this to me is the biggest mover and shaker I am most happy about seeing. I have always been excited by the prospect of Shadow in Legacy and as many longtime readers may know, I have tinkered with many brews of the deck, in particular Grixis versions featuring main deck Lightning Bolt.

It turns out, building the deck this way was likely wrong. Josh Utter-Leyton of Team Channel Fireball and a few other players such as Ben Friedman both came to same conclusion – going straight Blue-Black complements the deck’s game plan of slamming efficient, one-mana plays down the opponent’s throat incredibly well. Without the struggles of a tri-coloured mana base, the Shadow deck, which requires Blue mana and Black mana early (due to Thoughtseize being integral to the deck), hums like a well-oiled machine. I think the core of the deck can really be distilled down now to a stock core:

  • 4 Force of Will, 4 Daze
    These are pretty standard for a Delver deck, though I can see Shadow without Daze as a possibility in some universe. As we’ll see, the deck is different from other Delver decks in that mana denial is not an integral part of the deck’s plan. Daze bouncing back shocks is a really nice interaction though.
  • 8-10 cantrips.
    These include four Brainstorm, but a mix of Ponder and  Preordain have been seen in recent lists.
  • 4 Thoughtseize.
    Probably the best enabler for Shadow now that Probe is gone. It disrupts, it loses life, it does… Most things.
  • 4-6 removal spells.
    Ranging from a mix of Fatal Push, Dismember and the turbo tempo-powered Snuff Out.
  • 0-3 Stubborn Denial.
    Some people may love this card, others may loathe it. Some like Spell Pierce over this as additional disruption (or maybe even more discard). Stubborn Denial has such a unique effect as an often one-mana Negate in the mid-game that I think it’s typically warranted.
  • 4 Delver of Secrets, 4 Death’s Shadow, 2-3 Gurmag Angler, 4 Street Wraith, 0-2 Reanimate.
    These are your threats, and I have seen more expensive threats like True-Name Nemesis somewhere in the Shadow shell before. Delver, as always, is just one of the best Legacy threats, though in Shadow he is a purely supplemental creature, often soaking up early removal. The Black creatures are truly the stars of the show. Death’s Shadow, the namesake, is the behemoth one mana play that outclasses so many board states in the mid-game. Gurmag Angler is also very easy to turbo out due to the deck’s Turbo Xerox nature (ala Grixis Delver pre-banning) thanks to Street Wraith. Wraith also doubles as a threat in conjunction with Reanimate (and hence why I’ve put Reanimate in this category) and can be frustrating to deal with – especially against any deck with Swamps relying on Bolt or Push as removal (Grixis Control I’m looking at you).
  • 14 mana producing lands. The mix of these is actually very interesting, and although 3-4 shocklands and two Underground Sea is looking standard, there is an argument for playing basics – making Shadow a top tier budget deck in the format, which is certainly a welcome addition. There is also room for splashes in the mana base too (which I’ll talk about in a moment).
  • 2-4 Wasteland.
    I mentioned how Shadow is not really a mana denial deck, right? Due to the deck’s supplementary disruption in Thoughtseize and Stubborn Denial not really caring about how much mana the opponent has available, Wasteland only really helps out Daze and destruction of utility lands. However, just like how Blue-Red Delver and Infect use Daze, the speed at which Shadow deploys its threats can force the opponent to play into Daze anyway! Hence in Shadow Wasteland is not the sacred 4-of like it is in most Delver decks.

Let’s take a look at Josh and Ben’s lists side-by-side.

Not much varies, though Ben’s list deviates from the seeming norm by trimming Wasteland. He also doesn’t include Reanimate (which he later admits is likely a mistake).

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I think the sideboard is where the limits of Blue-Black really come to the fore though. Although bombs like Liliana, the Last Hope and the hate against Death & Taxes are great additions, having to use clunky cards like Ratchet Bomb or Throne of Geth (for Chalice specifically) I’m not a fan of. I’m a bit more on board with Noah Walker’s Pro Tour list, even though he deviated from it in GP Richmond to straight Blue-Black.

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With the power of Red, the sideboard gets a huge boon thanks to access to Pyroblast and Abrade, addressing difficult cards like Counterbalance and Chalice of the Void respectively, while still being excellent flexible answers. Moving forward, I will be playing this Death’s Shadow list:

Note that the main deck is almost complete stock, lifted directly from Josh Utter-Leyton (except the Ponder / Preordain split). The only difference is the mana base, incorporating two Red lands – Steam Vents and Blood Crypt. I lifted this from Noah Walker but I can’t speak enough on how important the Crypt is – being able to cast Abrade/Blast, Hymn to Tourach and Liliana, the Last Hope is integral to the game plan against Death & Taxes and Miracles. Nonetheless, the sideboard is where things are a little exciting. I think if you are lightly splashing Red, similar to Miracles’ mentality, you should be really playing at least three Blasts, making the most of your splash available. Abrade is also a great pickup, particularly against D&T and Chalice decks. The rest of the sideboard is pretty stock, but I think splitting your graveyard hate with a “bomb” like Spellbomb (no pun intended) is a good idea – many people are expecting only Surgical from Shadow these days.

I really am looking forward to where this goes, because there’s a lot of possible innovation to be had. BUG colors certainly have potential to fight against Swords to Plowshares with Sylvan Library and Berserk and Temur Battle Rage are also still options. Some exciting spice I came across in Japan was the addition of Tarnished Citadel, which remedies the issues of splash colors while still pinging the Shadow player for damage.

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There is also a huge amount of resources I’d like to guide new Shadow players to: Ben Friedman’s guide on Star City, LSV’s guide on Channel Fireball and the completely updated The Source primer.

Grixis Control

Turns out, Czech Pile isn’t really dead. Well, Baleful Strix, Kolaghan's Command and Leovold is, but the former are still alive and well. Grixis Control was tinkered with considerably after Deathrite’s banning for all the previous Czech Pile players to gravitate towards, but only during the Pro Tour did list seems perfectly honed.

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Unlike previous versions of Grixis Control that have varied in their approach (do I want Pyromancer, Strix?), stock Grixis Control lists are, at their core, hinging upon the interaction between enters-the-battlefield creatures like Snapcaster Mage and Baleful Strix along with the almighty two-for-one of Kolaghan's Command to grind the opponent out of the game. The rest of the deck consists of a varied suite of removal, hand disruption, card advantage engines (Jace, etc.) and some cantrips to tie it all together.

If anything, the deck doesn’t look particularly special. It looks, like Pile in the past, a pile of good cards that are flexible enough to take down varied opponents. I think game one, this deck really is a 50-50 kind of deck, and can really fall prey to just drawing the wrong half. However, post-sideboard these decks get such a powerful suite of varied answers that I certainly see the power of playing this kind of deck. I think we have found the new benchmark “Jund”-style deck of the format (well, for now), a midrange deck with close matchups across the board and enough flexibility to take down most problems.

To fight this new premier control deck of the format there is one thing I would highly recommend – enchantments.

Old Czech Pile had some Abrupt Decays to deal with problem permanents but that’s certainly not the case with Grixis Control. Game one the deck is incredibly soft to cards like Counterbalance or Search for Azcanta if they slip through discard, and although post-board Blasts can clean those up, non-Blue enchantments like Sylva Library can be an issue. Other problem cards include Black planeswalkers like Liliana, the Last Hope, though many Grixis Control (and Shadow players) have adopting a very interesting color hoser:

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Liliana's Defeat deals with two cards that are often very problematic – Liliana, the Last Hope and Gurmag Angler. It’s also a great Snapcaster target.

You can find some great Grixis Control resources from two of the best players on the deck – Mr. Brian Bran-Duin at TCGPlayer and Mr. Reid Duke playing the deck through a Challenge at Channel Fireball. Essential reading for you midrange aficionados. Also make sure to check the coverage of GP Richmond featuring Reid playing Grixis Control all through the day.

Grixis Delver

With Grixis Control showing the strength of the color combination, it’s little brother Grixis Delver has also risen once more, from lists that were a bit all over the place to lists looking a little more honed after GP Richmond. Many initial lists post-Deathrite banning involved card choices somewhat awkward (such as Bomat Courier) or questioned the utility of Young Pyromancer without Gitaxian Probe in the format. Although the shell of cantrips (now reaching up to around ten, with some Preordains often added to fill Probe’s slot), Force and Daze will always be relatively stable, the threats and additional disruption have varied. In terms of threats we have seen:

  • Delver of Secrets. Well, this is a given.
  • Grim Lavamancer. Unfortunately falling out of favor due to his poor synergy with Gurmag Angler, one of the prime reasons to be in a Black-based Delver deck.
  • Bomat Courier. Falling out of favor these days, but was another one-mana play to replace Deathrite.
  • Young Pyromancer. The original Grixis bad boy, looking a little lackluster these days without Probe. However, if untapped with he can still wreak a lot of havoc.
  • Bitterblossom. Probably one of the newer additions to the main deck Grixis shell, Blossom leads to an endless stream of Faeries similar to the role Pyromancer played. Being an enchantment though, it can be incredibly difficult for decks like Grixis Control or even Miracles to deal with, unlike the somewhat fragile Pyromancer.
  • True-Name Nemesis. The classic top-end threat.
  • Gurmag Angler. One of the primary reasons to be in a Black-based Delver deck these days, this fat boy is king of the battlefield in most fair Legacy board states.

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I think also interesting is a new gravitation to Black-based disruption instead of Blue cards like Spell Pierce. Lists touting Bitterblossom in the main and Inquisition of Kozilek as supplemental disruption (because Thoughtseize and Bitterblossom is somewhat overkill…) have actually been some of the most successful. These can be credited to the Pro Tour lists of Jonathan Sukenik:

I think there is still a big question mark on what the “optimal” Grixis Delver lists look like and there’s currently so many ways to approach building the deck with all the options the Grixis color combination provides. Nonetheless, Grixis Delver is very far from dead and is an incredibly viable option in the current metagame. Read some post such as LewisCBR’s on reddit along with Andrea Mengucci’s recent experience with the deck on Channel Fireball.

Eldrazi Stompy

Eldrazi has come back after the death of Czech Pile. With no more Baleful Strix to be concerned about, and only Delver and Blue-White control decks to slay, the Pro Tour made Eldrazi look like a great choice. Moving forward though, with Grixis Control reappearing and Kolaghan's Command and Baleful Strix in full force, perhaps the low-to-the-ground Eldrazi lists such as the one that found itself in the Pro Tour Top 4 are not the only way forward.

Many lists that appeared at the Pro Tour, and appeared in events afterwards, included the Post mana base to give the deck a bit of “over-the-top” ability. If the opponent has stalled the board with Strix, then it’s time to ramp into Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and win the game that way. An excellent piece of the puzzle in these builds is the somewhat lame-looking Matter Reshaper.

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His ability to flip a Post land directly into play (that would typically be a bit of a tempo loss to deploy from hand) can surely lead to some explosive mana development in the mid-game.

Another exciting way to approach the deck, which found its way to 19th place at Eternal Weekend Asia, was Eldrazi & Taxes, or White Eldrazi for those who like to adopt its Vintage. The Stompy hybrid of Death & Taxes and Eldrazi has some incredibly punishing plays and can break through board stalls that Grixis Control creates via the power of Thalia, Heretic Cathar. One turn of Angler or Baleful Strix tapped down can often be enough for some Reality Smashing to get done.

I think there is some exciting printings that will be coming in the next set for Dragon Stompy style lists… So perhaps we will see Blood Moons take the nod in the metagame moving forward, and Eldrazi will take a bit of a backseat? Nonetheless, Eldrazi’s ability to just “nut draw” many decks is always going to be incredibly appealing and although it’s time in the Stompy sunlight may be waning, it will always be a staple of the Legacy moving forward.

Stoneforge Mystic

The last type of deck I’d like to look at are the Blue-White decks, particularly those utilizing Stoneforge Mystic. Miracles has had an extraordinary time in the past few tournaments, finding two copies in the GP Richmond Top 8 (and Andrew Cuneo on Miracles taking down the trophy!) and two copies finding their way into the Eternal Weekend Asia Top 16. A lot of these lists prominently featured Back to Basics as one of their finishers, alongside other troublesome enchantments like Counterbalance and Search for Azcanta.

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I was mentioning how Grixis Control had incredible problems with these type of cards, and I’m sure part of Miracles’ recent success is capitalizing on this metagame hole. Particularly Back to Basics, which has gravitated many players to purely Blue-White lists. I have more to talk on Miracles, in particular concerning new card advantage engine technology… But I will save that for next.

This week, I’d actually like to highlight Joe Lossett’s and Owen Turtenwald’s oddball Stoneforge Mystic decks.

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I actually surprisingly like the look of Joe’s list, which features quite a slim main deck non-creature spell suite to Snapcaster back. A highlight of this rather brewy list is, however, the “Legends” package that Joe found so much success with in his old Sensei’s Divining Top Miracles lists. Here Venser, Clique, Karakas and “Cavern on Wizard” aim to lock out the opponent in the endgame, giving this list true inevitability, which I’m sure is useful when Batterskull gets blown up by a timely Kolaghan’s Command. Also note Joe’s sideboard: two Back to Basics prominently featured alongside something I think is a little underutilized – sideboard Spell Snare!

Owen has been well-known for his success with Stoneforge and Delver, going all the way back to his Legacy GP win in 2013 with Jeskai Delver, but this time he took something even more radical, cutting Red entirely for a rock-solid mana base and (again) Back to Basics prominently featured in the sideboard.

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Adding more midrange cards in the form of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Snapcaster Mage really show that although this list can fight against combo and Stompy decks quite effectively with its low-to-the-ground Delver draws (especially with the Spell Pierces assisting the “protect the queen” strategy), the deck is also ready to grind and can capitalize on the fact it plays one of the greatest unconditional removal spells in the format.

Swords to Plowshares has always been great, but with Shadow and Angler some of the most fearsome creatures in today’s metagame, I can see how Owen came to select this Delver deck to combat the current metagame. Although I think the lack of cohesion in this list is something to be concerned about, I can appreciate this deck as a White Delver deck created to capitalise on recent metagame trends. Read about Owen’s reasoning here at Star City Games.

What I’m Playing This Week

I’m sure long-time readers will need a little bit of an update on how my life has been going and the reasoning for such a long hiatus.

I’ve moved to Japan! For the rest of 2018 (and a little bit of 2019) I will be living in the land of the rising sun. I’ll certainly be finding a way to jam a lot of Legacy and get my hands on all those spicy Japanese lists moving forward!

Being in Japan, I also participated in Eternal Weekend Yokohama to a finish I can be incredibly proud of: 8-2 with my usual Canadian Threshold for a 33rd finish (I just missed out on having my list published!). You can find that story in my tournament report on The Salt Mine site.

Moving forward though, I have some more extreme ideas on RUG Delver. With a few new printings come up in the new Ravnica, it’s time to really put the pedal to the floor on full shrouding the opponent out of the game:

I’ll talk a bit more on the new Guilds of Ravnica cards next week!


That’s all from me for now! Join me next week when I look at some results from Europe and new cards from Guilds of Ravnica that’ll certainly be having a big impact on Legacy.

Some links as always and…

Til next time!

Sean Brown

Reddit: ChemicalBurns156
Twitter: @Sean_Brown156

The Spice Corner

This Spice Corner is a very special one:

Not just because it is a rather crazy Bomberman list featuring Unburial Rites, five colours, The Antiquities War and other things, but because the crew who developed this deck really are an incredible group of individuals.

As I wrapped up my third match against Grixis Control, someone approached me. “You’re Sean Brown?!” He exclaimed. I’d never seen someone so happy to meet me.

Turned out, this fellow was Katayose Takahito, one of the guys I whose Bomberman lists I had prominently featured in TWiL. He soon brought me over to meet Tanaka Mikito, the person who put Legacy Bomberman on the map with his appearance with it at KMC 75th. As we saw Tamura Hajime win moving into his 10th round we all rejoiced – Auriok Salvagers had a shot at the Top 8! We all took a photo to celebrate our meeting and I was soon added to the LINE group for brewing more lists featuring Auriok Salvagers.

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This interaction reminded me of how incredibly important writing this column is to me. It has crossed language barriers and allowed me to connect with so many people across the world. Without this column I never would’ve been able to create an instantaneous bond with people hundreds of kilometres away from me over Auriok Salvagers.

I am so incredibly thankful for everyone’s support for This Week in Legacy so far.

Thank you for waiting, I look forward to keeping up the writing as always!

It’s good to be back!

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