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By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Jul 08 2016 12:00pm
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In Show and Tell: Introduction to Legacy I introduced the format and talked a bit about common deck archetypes. In the following article - Show and Tell: Choosing a deck - I wrote about what a player should consider when choosing a Legacy deck. In this article I'd like to talk more specifically about certain cards that define Legacy and thus can be found in many of those decks. These cards are usually very powerful and create a certain balance between deck archetypes. Force of Will stops combo decks from being dominant, Wasteland stops very greedy decks from flooding the format. Apart from creating a balance these cards also set the power level a deck needs to reach in order to be competitive.

Legacy has a vast card pool - same as Vintage - with the exception of a rather long banlist. In Vintage players need to build their decks so they can overcome restricted cards. Usually it means playing the restricted cards as well or go against them (usually playing Null Rod and trying to make the decks play a fair game - something Vintage decks are not really good at). In Legacy it is pretty much the same with the exception that the single cards are not that powerful and many other cards or strategies can fight those cards. For example heavy creature decks run Aether Vial to get past counterspells or mana requirement the creatures have. The banlist makes the format balanced and fair while allowing us to play with very powerful cards.

If we would create a list of the most played cards from tournament winning decks we would get something like this (I omitted lands with the exception of Wasteland).

Most played cards in Legacy
1 Brainstorm
2 Force of Will
3 Ponder
4 Wasteland
5 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
6 Swords to Plowshares
7 Deathrite Shaman
8 Sensei's Divining Top
9 Abrupt Decay
10 Snapcaster Mage
11 Gitaxian Probe
12 Daze
13 Umezawa's Jitte
14 Counterspell
15 Terminus
16 Counterbalance
17 Lotus Petal
18 Lightning Bolt
19 Spell Pierce
20 Tarmogoyf
21 Delver of Secrets
22 Cabal Therapy
23 Chalice of the Void
24 Sylvan Library
25 Vendilion Clique
26 Dismember
27 Liliana of the Veil
28 Entreat the Angels
29 Hymn to Tourach
30 Baleful Strix

Lists from different sources (or rather samples) might not be the same but the very first two cards will always be Brainstorm and Force of Will. Brainstorm is the number 1 defining card of Legacy while Force of Will is the most iconic card of the format. Both of these cards are played in over 60% of Legacy decks (usually in four copies).


Brainstorm is the most powerful card in Legacy but also the most difficult card to play and many players do not even realize this. This card virtually draws three cards and this is the reason why the card is so powerful, it gives instant access to three new cards.

When playing this card the player casting it should have a reason to do so and certainly they should think about it. This card should not be played 'blankly' especially on turn 1 which is deemed to be the worst mistake in Legacy. The card should achieve what you need. Be it either drawing a certain combination of cards in one turn, finding the only card that can win the game or getting more actual value out of it (casting Ancestral Vision via Shardless Agent and getting rid of unwanted cards in the process).

At big tournaments I see people play the card badly, losing a game because of it without even realizing it. Many beginning players play Brainstorm in the early stages of game to make their hand better even though their hand already has cards that allow the player to proceed in the game without immediately losing it. This is not how one gets the most of a Brainstorm. This card requires patience. A player should dig as deep as possible and this requires waiting. The timing is very important. One turn difference can be the difference between winning and losing the game.

Here are some examples that might help players understand the importance of Brainstorm. Sooner or later a Legacy player will figure out how to play Brainstorm on their own. The rule of thumb is to keep Brainstorm in hand for as long as possible.

  • Brainstorm is best known to filter cards. A player draws 3 cards, puts 2 that they do not need back and shuffles them away with a fetchland. Sometimes we have dead cards against certain matchups and Brainstorm allows us to get rid of them while getting access to new cards. For example Swords to Plowshares (g1) against Storm is of no use. Similarly Daze against an opponent with 4+ lands is not good either.
  • Brainstorm can save important cards from being discarded. A player usually hides only one card and shuffles the other card to the library but there are scenarios in which a player needs to keep both cards. Their order is very important as well and thus should be well thought-out beforehand (unless the player controls Sensei's Divining Top/Sylvan Library or Jace, the Mind Sculptor - cards that give access to the second card from top in the following turn). Note that playing Brainstorm like this does not necessarily need to mean playing it in reaction to the discard spell. If you happen to play Brainstorm against deck running discard don't keep the best cards in your hand if you really need them because Hymn to Tourach, Thoughtseize, Duress etc. can follow.
  • Brainstorm can find the answer one needs. This alone is pretty straightforward. The best card to allow us to find a certain card is Ponder. This cantrip will allow us to see three different cards, put them back in any order and draw the card we need. If we don't find what we need instead of being stuck with blank draws for the two following turns we can shuffle our library to draw a different card. Brainstorm is a different card totally. It should not be considered to be a cantrip. This card can do way more. In order to look for a card with Brainstorm we should be patient and wait for the right moment to play it. Playing Brainstorm the turn one draws it is often wrong, it can be dangerous at least. If our life is not threatened we can wait till the latest safe possible moment and then play the Brainstorm. This way we will see more cards thus having higher chance to hit the card we need.
  • Brainstorm is a blue card. This alone is obvious, we play blue to have access to this card. What sometimes people overlook is the fact that this card can be pitched to Force of Will. Even how unlikely this sounds it happens. I also pitch Ancestral Recall to my FoW in Vintage and Brainstorm in Legacy is not an exception. There are other cards one needs more, be it Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Counterbalance (depends on the matchup) for example. If Brainstorm is the only blue card in your hand and you have FoW in hand don't even try to play Brainstorm to find a blue card! Just pitch Brainstorm.
  • For some strange reason many people do not realize that Brainstorm can be used to trigger a Miracle spell (any spell with 'Draw a card' in its text can do that). If the first card drawn is a Miracle spell, a player may reveal the card, then draw the remaining two cards and put 2 cards back on the top of the library. If the Miracle spell is in the players hand at the end of Brainstorm's resolution, the player can cast the Miracle for its Miracle cost (the card stays revealed during Brainstorm's resolution). This way when the Miracles player does not have Sensei's Divining Top available they can trigger a Miracle spell instantly with Brainstorm on opponent's turn.
  • Brainstorm can be used to put back a card you need in your library so you can later put it in play via Natural Order for example. This shouldn't be done too early though because there is always the possibility that you draw the card again before you find the card that puts it in play. I happen to draw the very same card I just shuffled away relatively often to my liking and this is something you don't want to happen if you want to Tinker into Colossus for example (that's a Vintage example obviously.).

Force of Will

In a format where fast turn 1 or turn 2 combo decks exist there is a need for a way to stop them from flooding the field.  In Vintage and Legacy one will see Force of Will packed in all the decks that can support enough blue cards to use the Force of Will's alternative cost, no matter if the deck is a tempo deck, combo deck or control deck. The number of blue cards usually ranges from 15 to 22 including Force of Wills. Not all decks need to cast Force of Will on the same turn though and can play less blue cards. Some decks can actually hardcast Force of Will which can also lower the count. Decks that require you to have Force of Will active on turn 1 are Belcher or All Spells but since they are not common the number of blue cards in a deck does not need to be that high.

From time to time people ask me if they should try to combo off on turn 1 if they have no means to get rid of Force of Will. I usually answer with "You have a 60% chance that your combo won't be stopped facing a blue deck running Force of Will. The decision is yours to make." There are actually many players that do not try to combo off then which used to surprise me. But nowadays it does not surprise me anymore. Many people use instinct while they play Magic and they do not look at the game in terms of probabilities, this is something that sometimes makes people play Force of Will when they shouldn't.

When playing FoW for its alternative cost one should always evaluate the impact of the card that will end up pitched. If the card has bigger value than the card you consider countering then that is an indicator that something is wrong. Also one should remember that Force of Will can also be countered.

In Legacy (unlike in Vintage) fair decks running Force of Will often don't need the Force of Will post-board. It is not uncommon to sideboard the card out in order to gain card advantage against other fair (and aggressive) decks. Combo decks though keep their Force of Wills because they really need their key cards to resolve.


The most played land in Legacy is Wasteland (actually some blue fetches and duals see more play - Scalding Tarn, Volcanic Island, Polluted Delta and Underground Sea). I wrote in the previous article that in Legacy mana base is one of the things that define the format the same way fast mana defines Vintage. The ten original dual lands are the Power Nine (Ten) of Legacy. Legacy decks do not run fast mana usually because unlike in Vintage fast mana (Chrome Mox, Mox Diamond) comes with a disadvantage and only decks that can lose a card like this, play them (combo decks, decks running Life from the Loam or Crucible of Worlds). Legacy players use primarily lands to produce mana. In order to play all the powerful spells we need a stable and efficient mana base. For that Legacy decks usually run dual lands that can be fetched at the cost of one life. Some decks run some basics to be able to keep some lands when facing Wasteland and its recursion or to be still able to produce non-red mana when facing Blood Moon effect or Back to Basics. Playing basic lands in a more colored deck makes it less consistent and requires one to play more lands in general. Just imagine what Legacy would look like without dual lands. Even fetchlands wouldn't be able to allow us to play the spells we want at the time we want. We would need to have more lands in play to be able to play the spells contemporary decks play (the decks would be slower and less efficient). For example if you want to play Hymn to Tourach and still be able to play Shardless Agent. You need Swamp, Swamp, Island, Forest or just any combination of Bayou, Underground Sea (3 lands in total).

Wasteland becomes a powerful card that can be used to attack such manabases. But the omnipresence of Wasteland won't stop us from playing dual lands. Wasteland can also be used to deal with utility lands (usually creaturelands and Grove of the Burnwillows) or lands producing more mana (Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, Eldrazi Temple). Wasteland can also destroy opposing Wastelands to protect a dual land we need to fetch later. Note that fetchlands are good workaround against Wasteland since a player does not need to miss a land drop. The fetchlands though also have a downside. They add a trigger to the stack letting an opponent react to it. Knowing when to fetch is as important as knowing what to fetch (both will cost you games if done wrong).

Since decks are so colored-mana hungry you probably divined that running Wasteland comes with a cost. Often Wasteland is played as an additional land which makes the land count higher. This can sometimes in late game lead to mana flooding. From time to time Wasteland in a opening hand results in a mulligan if there is one or less dual lands/fetches since cards played in legacy are usually cost low and usually do not need generic mana Wasteland could produce but rather 2 different kinds of colored mana.

Decks running Wasteland as mana denial usually run more mana denial cards be it Rishadan Port or Stifle. Wasteland alone though can sometimes win a game if an opponent mulligans and keeps a one dual land hand for example.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a card that totally warped the field in Standard. Everyone was playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Jace Beleren to deal with the 4 mana Jace. UW control was the deck of that time and everyone who played during the period remembers the endless mirror matches we had to play during every single tournament. The card had to be banned to stop this UW madness, but it took a long time for Wizards to do so and we all had to get four copies of Jace for Nationals paying over 400USD. The card was even too powerful for Modern, and was soon banned with the second colossal mistake from Worldwake - Stoneforge Mystic. Jace became the epitome of overpower, so how good the card could be in Legacy or Vintage? The card saw a lot of play in Legacy and it was difficult not to win without Jace in one's deck. When Innistrad came out and people figured that Delver of Secrets is an insane card, Jace was finally dethroned (due to a big resurgence of Threshold-like decks and the printing of Liliana of the Veil) and started to see less play. That still does not change the fact that this card is certainly an overpowered one. Jace simply does everything. It can Fateseal, Brainstorm, Unsummon a guy a win the game with its ultimate ability. We couldn't ask for more.

4 mana is still accessible in Legacy and thus some decks can still play the card and keep it in play. Using the card to most of its potential is not easy though. The first ability of Jace allows us to either Fateseal (look at the top card of our opponent...) or Scry (look at the top card of our library...). This is a strong ability even though it does not need to look like it. When we play against a deck that most likely runs a Lightning Bolt it is better to Fateseal/Scry first before using other abilities. This ability allows us to control our opponent's draws in certain scenarios and win the game - unless our opponent has Sensei's Divining Top or Jace, the Mind Sculptor/Sylvan Library in play. In that case we gain way more if we Scry. Reaching the ultimate ability sounds sweet and it happens but in reality this does not happen often. Most of the time it is better to Brainstorm and win with the normal strategy our deck has.

The Brainstorm ability is practically a cantrip each turn but can also be used to hide our cards, put Miracle back on top of our library, put a card we need to counter something via Counterbalance, put a card we can search for on top so we end up with shuffled library and a card advantage etc (for example putting back an equipment we can look for with Stoneforge Mystic).

The bounce ability is viable against some decks (non-red ones usually), its use is rather rare though. Sometimes one use of the bounce ability helps - for example bouncing Gurmag Angler, when opponent does not have cards in his graveyard. Often if we really need to find an answer to something and do not want to risk losing Jace without being able to Brainstorm, it is better to play the card and use the 0 ability immediately. The creature that hits Jace means that the card still prevented some damage and virtually drew 3 cards.

The ultimate ability means that you just won the game 99% of the time. Most players will concede even if under very rare circumstances the game is not lost for them. This is due to the fact that many players forgot what the ultimate ability actually does (it removes target player's library from the game, that player shuffles his or her hand into his/her library). Here's one example of a game won by the player facing Jace.

Deathrite Shaman

The most played creature is Deathrite Shaman, a relatively new card that found its home in Legacy after it was banned in Modern. This card is often called the best Elven Planeswalker and the players saying that are not far from truth. This creature has three abilities. One produces mana, one makes opponents lose 2 life and the last ability gains the controller 2 life. Those of you who played with the card in other formats already know its power. In Legacy though this card shines. It can fix your mana (since fetchlands, Wastelands are almost unlimited source of lands in graveyards), accelerate into Liliana of the Veil/Shardless Agent/Jace, the Mind Sculptor, it can kill your opponent (since instants and sorceries end up in graveyard in abundant numbers and soon) and sometimes it can also save your life (against burn or tempo deck that tries to race). Deathrite Shaman can control opponent's graveyard which can keep in check cards like Knight of the Reliquary, or it can keep in check a whole deck - Reanimator. It can eat Life from the Loam or stop Wasteland from recurring. It can help your deck fight ANT which often needs to use graveyard to kill. Without using the graveyard the deck needs more time and more cards to win the game. The card is a threat many decks need to deal with and thus often ends up bolted or plowed.

The downside of this card (except that it dies to Lightning Bolt) is that when your opponent runs Deathrite Shaman in their deck you need to have more Deathrite Shamans in play than them. Otherwise the game becomes a very long staring contest. Note that Deathrite Shaman's first ability is not a mana ability. It is an ability that targets a card, thus not being a mana ability. A player can react to this ability and remove the land from the game, this way the Deathrite Shaman won't be able to produce mana off that land.


Another creature a player needs to be prepared for is Tarmogoyf. This creature usually comes at a fourth place of the most played creatures after Snapcaster Mage and Delver of Secrets. Even though Delver of Secrets was a format breaking card it isn't that format breaking as Tarmogoyf. This Lhurgoyf is the most efficient creature ever printed and many decks just splash green so they can play this card. This fact alone shows how powerful the card is. It took a while till people realized that this card is bonkers in all formats (hence its price tag).

Since Legacy decks run many cheap spells, graveyards fill very easily and thus Tarmogoyf can be 4/5-6/7 for 2 mana very soon. This is also the best creature one can have access to against Burn decks. This may not be too relevant for some but for me - someone who doesn't like Tarmogoyf much - this is very important because it showed me that Tarmogoyf is irreplaceable. There are scenarios in which one can play other creature than Tarmogoyf but against Burn decks or more aggressive decks this card is simply the best (decks running Tarmogoyf don't usually have good matchup with Burn).

Tarmogoyf can close the games fast and against some decks needs to hit the board as soon as possible. Against other decks this card has to wait for its right time. Decks running Tarmogoyf usually also run Deathrite Shaman and some decks board in Rest in Peace or similar effects to render these creatures useless.

If you are not used to playing with Tarmogoyf note this. Let's say that you face 2/3 Tarmogoyf because there is a land and sorcery in a graveyard. If you'd like to Lightning Bolt the creature, Tarmogoyf will become 3/4 before the Bolt deals damage to it and will thus survive. Even though it is very unlikely similar scenario can happen with Toxic Deluge or Dismember. Deathrite Shaman can also change P/T of the creature. Always check if -X/-X spell or burn spell will deal lethal damage.

Swords to Plowshares, Abrupt Decay, Lightning Bolt

After I wrote a bit about Tarmogoyf I need to write about the best removal in Legacy there is. Because there needs to be a card that can stop Tarmogoyf, otherwise we would see Tarmogoyf everywhere. The premier removal in Legacy is Swords to Plowshares. STP is closely followed by Abrupt Decay and Lightning Bolt (which can deal with the aforementioned Tarmogoyf sometimes). Swords to Plowshares for mere 1 white mana can remove almost any creature from the game gaining the creature's controller some life. That is a very small price for such an effect. This spell can be easily splashed unlike Abrupt Decay and can be easily recast via Snapcaster Mage. Remember the lifegain effect can also save your own life!

Abrupt Decay is a good universal removal for nonland permanents with CMC 3 or less. This means that it does not hit cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Batterskull (it kills the token though which can sometimes be relevant) or Inkmoth Nexus but otherwise it deals with anything from Delver of Secrets, Counterbalance to Liliana of the Veil. Dedicated BGx decks don't have problems running the card and can profit from it but we can see this card in many 3-4 colored decks. Some of these decks can't even play the card against certain decks. Often Tropical Island is the land that is being destroyed because many players fear that the 4c color deck's pilot runs Tarmogoyf. Even though this might not be true it often means that the player cannot consistently cast Abrupt Decay.

Lightning Bolt not only plays a role of a removal but can also deal the remaining few points of damage. Everyone knows what this card does and you should always keep in mind that Lightning Bolt becomes a threat at certain point. I think this is easy to grasp for anyone who plays Magic for a while. This card can hit utility creatures that we need to deal with but also can kill Jace, the Mind Sculptor that just Brainstormed or Liliana of the Veil that let a player sacrifice a creature.

Daze, Spell Pierce

In Legacy there can be a lot going on during round 2 and 3. Against tempo decks and certain combo decks (including Infect) it is crucial to know when to play around Daze. Daze is a double-edged sword though. Sometimes the Daze player needs to evaluate if playing Daze won't slow him down too much. Playing Daze for its alternative cost is usually cool and very powerful but sometimes the loss of one mana source next turn is too big price to pay since it's practically Time Walk for the opponent. Playing against Daze means that sometimes we can force our opponent into playing the Daze thus gaining this 'Time Walk' advantage. Playing around Daze all the time is not correct either. Sometimes we just have to try in order not lose tempo. Waiting for a long time so we can land something is not a good thing. It is better to lure the Daze out of the opponent and then play the card we need more.

The alternative cost is what makes the card be so good as it is. Paying one mana for Spell Pierce can be too much for decks like Canadian Threshold. Such decks want to play Nimble Mongoose or Delver of Secrets on turn 1 and then have the possibility to Daze. These decks play Daze in 4 copies and often pack other cheap counterspells, notably Spell Pierce. Combo decks playing Daze play lesser number of Dazes. Tempo decks playing against each other usually side out Dazes on the draw.

Fast decks needing more counterspells post-board often side in Spell Pierce (and/or Flusterstorm).

So these are the most common cards that you will encounter while playing Legacy and little bit of commentary that I hope showed you that there is more to each card than it might seem. This is the reason to stick with one deck and explore it. It will teach you more about the cards in your deck. Their use may not be limited to what is written on the card. They can do way more!

Each card also has its role, in different decks the role can differ. Some decks play their counterspells aggressively because they need to keep their tempo, some decks keep counterspells so they can make sure their key card will resolve. Some decks would rather not play counterspells but need to in the meta, those can counter 1 to 2 per game.

I hope that this list and my comments will help you explore Legacy's complexity and its beauty and that we will face each other in a Legacy match on Magic Online soon.