Delving into Legacy

Written with the sagely input of Thomas Koch, Damien Berry, and Jan De Wet. May your Rituals be ever Dark, may your Glimpses of Nature be ever fruitful, and may your Batterskulls never fail to hit home.

Tired of Magic cards rotating out of Standard every year?

Frustrated with your favourite cards getting banned (and your disliked cards getting unbanned)?

Want to sharpen your Magic skills in an environment with a larger card pool and more tactical possibilities?

Come and play Legacy!

WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT LEGACY?

Legacy is known as an “eternal” format, as you have access to almost every Magic card ever printed (i.e. you can choose from all card sets that are legal for Constructed play). Cards don’t rotate out of Legacy, no matter how long they’ve been in circulation. You don’t have to worry about your favourite cards becoming outdated.

While Legacy does have a small ban list (available at https://magic.wizards.com/en/game-info/gameplay/rules-and-formats/banned-restricted), bans only happen when a particular card is unbalanced enough to warp or disrupt the format. Due to Legacy’s larger card pool and overall availability of powerful cards, such bans are rare; whereas in Standard, for a card to be banned, it only needs to be slightly above the power curve. (Attune with Aether or Reflector Mage, anyone?)

The majority of bans do not affect the playability of Legacy decks, because of the wider variety of alternative cards. For example, when Sensei’s Divining Top was banned, it was still possible to have a top-tier U/W Control deck in Legacy without it. In contrast, when Felidar Guardian was banned in Standard, the decks that relied on the Felidar Guardian + Saheeli Rai combo became unplayable– and we’ve recently seen this repeated, with Felidar Guardian being banned anew in Pioneer.

Having access to a larger selection of cards makes for more intense, heated matches across a variety of play styles. If you’re a Control player, for example, counterspells like Force of Will and Daze allow you to shut down your opponents without spending mana! If you play Burn, you can hit your opponent’s life total even harder with Price of Progress, Pyrostatic Pillar (my favourite enchantment!), and Fireblast. Whatever your style, you’ll find that in Legacy, battles are more fast- paced and less predictable.

To put it simply: It’s great fun. The enormous variety of available cards means countless possibilities for deck-building, more room for creative tactics, and more interesting match-ups.

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT LEGACY

Many Magic players shy away from Legacy due to misconceptions about the price and gameplay.

Price

While it is true that there are top-tier Legacy decks which contain extremely expensive cards (I’m looking at you, Lands players), there’s no requirement to use such decks. Playing Legacy means you can build whatever deck you please, with the option– not obligation– of using cards that aren’t available in Modern, Pioneer or Standard. In fact, there are competitive Modern decks that carry quite well into Legacy, such as Mill, Merfolk, U/W Control, Burn, and Dredge, to name a few. In particular, Legacy provides a new home for Modern players who miss playing their Arclight Phoenix and Hogaak decks, since the recently Modern-banned Faithless Looting, Bridge from Below, and Hogaak are perfectly Legacy-legal.

Once you’ve gotten a feel for how your existing deck interacts with the playing field, you can look into adding some Legacy staples if you wish. For instance, Ponder in U/W Control gives you deck sequencing and card draw, for just one blue mana. Or if you run an Eldrazi deck, you can bring out your big threats more quickly with Ancient Tomb and/or Eye of Ugin in your land base.

Here’s an eye-opener: The long-term cost of playing Legacy is lower than that of Standard. This is because your cards don’t rotate out of the format– there’s no need to keep replacing obsolete cards. Keeping up with the Legacy meta doesn’t have to involve building a whole new deck; it usually means incorporating a few newly released cards into your existing favourite deck. Standard may have a lower cost of entry, but once you’ve been playing it for two or more years, you’ll find that the upkeep cost is is higher due to replacing your deck with every rotation. And if your deck becomes unplayable due to a Standard card being banned, that could potentially mean hundreds of dollars down the drain. (Aetherworks Marvel players, give me a “Hey, yo!”)

Unfair/Overpowered Decks

While turn 1 and 2 kills are possible in Legacy, they don’t happen as frequently as non-Legacy players may think. Fast combo decks certainly draw the most attention, but the reality is that they represent only a small slice of Legacy’s expansive playing field. It’s also worth noting that no deck has a 100% combo success rate. And when combos do go off, the other player isn’t exactly defenceless. That’s because for every turn 1 combo, there’s a turn 0 or turn 1 answer.

A Leyline of the Void, Leyline of Sanctity, or Chancellor of the Annex in your opening hand gives you a fighting chance before anyone’s turn even begins. Some other combo-killers are Grafdigger’s Cage, Pithing Needle, Sorcerous Spyglass, and the full suite of counterspells across Magic’s entire history. Surgical Extraction and Faerie Macabre are great for removing graveyard combo pieces at instant speed. And if you’re a Chalice of the Void user in Modern, you’ll find that it works just as splendidly in Legacy. Observe a typical Legacy gathering and you’ll find players with mid-range decks, and even slow & grindy decks, standing toe-to-toe against hyper-fast combo players. When a turn 1 or 2 kill does happen, it’s usually because the combo player managed to draw or mulligan to an ideal opening hand and/or their opponent didn’t manage to draw any answers.

As with any format, there are some matchups where one deck is naturally more favoured to win than the other– for example, Red Prison vs. a colourless deck like Mud or Eldrazi. But in the wider scheme of things, when you’re equipped with the right tools and strategy, your ability to have fun isn’t restricted by other people’s play styles.

FURTHER BENEFITS

With such a huge card pool and highly varied playing field, Legacy is an excellent way to grow as a Magic player. Being familiar with rules and interactions from the past 20+ years of Magic, makes it easier to formulate strategies when new cards are released.

Since Legacy doesn’t suffer from rotation and the meta fluctuates more slowly than  other formats, you gain more time to build proficiency with the deck(s) that you have. There’s much less urgency to buy more cards or build new decks, so you can study the playing field and refine your skills at a more methodical, relaxed pace.

When it comes to camaraderie and community building, you’ll find that many Legacy players  embrace newcomers with open arms. Nearly every regular in my circle carries at least one spare deck to loan out, so newcomers can have fun trying out different deck styles. They’re also perfectly happy for people to bring their non-Legacy decks, if that’s what they’re most comfortable with. Unless you happen to stumble upon a toxic, elitist Legacy playgroup, which is extremely rare, there’s no pressure to replace your cards with their Legacy equivalents, or use a loaned deck that you’re unfamiliar with. The bulk of the Legacy community is rooted in openness and easing people into the format, or teaching them to adapt to the format using whatever cards they have.

SO, WHERE DO I BEGIN?

As with all Magic formats, the simplest way to step into Legacy is to check for events at your local game stores(s). If there aren’t any events or playgroups near you, you can connect with other players through online forums, Discord chat servers, and Facebook groups. Alternatively, if you play MTGO (Magic: The Gathering Online), you can join the Legacy events there.

When building your first Legacy deck, don’t feel obligated to imitate the expensive  popular decks listed on Magic resource websites. A deck’s popularity and cost don’t automatically translate to victory— I’ve seen mono-red Legacy Burn players, using decks that cost less than $200, decimate U/B Control and Delver players using decks worth over $2,000. (It’s hilarious to see a Burn player get a Pyrostatic Pillar onto the field, and witness the other person pinging themselves to a slow death with their own card draw spells.)

As mentioned earlier in the article, many competitive Modern decks translate well to Legacy, so you have quite a good head start if you use any of these:

  • Hogaak Bridgevine
  • U/W Control
  • Burn
  • Izzet or Mono-Red Phoenix
  • Eldrazi
  • Mono-Blue Merfolk
  • Dredge
  • Infect
  • U/B Mill

My Legacy Eldrazi deck, for instance, is actually my Modern Eldrazi deck with a Legacy-legal mana base (hello, Ancient Tomb, Eye of Ugin, and Locus lands!). To convert my Modern Burn deck to a Legacy one, I simply updated my mana base to mono-red and substituted the two-colour spells with mono-red Legacy-legal ones: out with Boros Charm, Lightning Helix, Atarka’s Command, Destructive Revelry, and Deflecting Palm, and in with Fireblast, Pyrostatic Pillar, Price of Progress, Sulfuric Vortex, and Chain Lightning.

Your playgroup will be your most helpful resource in converting any existing deck to a Legacy viable one.  If there are decks available for loan, don’t hesitate to try them out– you might just find a new favourite play style.

Converting your existing deck, or building one from scratch, can be a pricey exercise. Rather than buying all the cards at once, it’s totally fine to replace or build your deck gradually, and either borrow the missing pieces or use affordable alternatives. Let’s say you have a Modern Merfolk deck that you want to convert. You can afford the Legacy creatures, but you don’t have the budget for the priciest cards: 4 copies of Force of Will. Don’t sweat it! Just keep using the more affordable Force of Negation if that’s what you have. You could also use other counterspells, or use proxy cards (if your group allows them), or borrow some Force of Will’s from a groupmate. You don’t have to wait until your deck is “100% Legacy” to use it in your Legacy games– just use whatever workarounds are available to you, until you’re able to round up everything you need.

Whether you jump into Legacy headfirst, or ease yourself into it gradually, you’re in for a new journey of fun, learning, and community. Do whatever is most enjoyable and convenient for you– you’ll soon find yourself with a host of new friends, lots of deck-brewing shenanigans, and a hearty dose of shared laughs when the next card gets banned in Modern, Pioneer or Standard. :p

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