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By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Jun 21 2016 9:15pm
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Eternal Masters is out on MTGO. Many players anticipated Eternal Masters so that they could finally buy the cards they need in order to start playing Legacy (for example, Daze used to be very expensive on Magic Online.  It will cost a fraction of what it currently costs when EMA is released). The players hope that Legacy staples will be finally affordable at least for a short time after EMA is released. I would like to use this occasion to write about the Legacy format because in June there is a high possibility that players will want to try out Legacy for the first time. New players will hopefully venture into the format, but without prior experience the beginning may be harsh. I'd like to introduce Legacy to new or less experienced players and talk a bit about some of the Legacy decks one might encounter at Legacy tournaments, be it online or in real life.

Legacy is a very skill intensive format and requires a different skill set than other formats. It offers a lot though, and it is very rewarding and fun! Since Legacy is so vast it is very difficult to talk about it in general or to shortly introduce someone to the format. Many decks are viable and players tend to gravitate to a deck they like to play sooner or later. This creates a highly diverse metagame since many of these decks are not the tier 1 decks that win big events or are commonly seen as winners of Legacy Leagues or Premier events. Do not be fooled though, these decks that might seem as someone's pet deck are powerful!

Legacy as we know it was created in 2004. It was preceded by Type 1.5 which was more or less Type 1 without Power Nine. Restricted cards from Type 1 were banned in Type 1.5. In 2004 the format was renamed to Legacy and it got its first dedicated banlist. It became a very different format (The same fate awaited Type 1/Vintage that also got a new Restricted list) and it took a while until Legacy as a format stabilized.

I've been pondering about what defines Legacy for a long time but couldn't come up with it. I should have asked a different question though 'Why do I play Legacy?'. I started playing Legacy because no other format allowed me to play the decks I wanted. Legacy is a vast format and thus speaks mainly to long time players. In order to cater to these players Legacy needs to be complex and needs to allow players to play deck archetypes from the whole of Magic history. There are decks that play a totally different game, be it Storm, Dredge, Death and Taxes or Reanimator. This makes Legacy relatively difficult for beginners to learn. A lot of experience is needed in order to be a good Legacy player. There are many viable decks and one needs to learn how to play against them all. Since Legacy decks try to be as powerful as they can be within the limits of the banlist. There are many plays or cards that can seem broken. A player starting to play Legacy needs to accept this fact and get used to it.

Legacy Banlist
Advantageous Proclamation
Amulet of Quoz
Ancestral Recall
Backup Plan
Bazaar of Baghdad
Black Lotus
Brago's Favor
Bronze Tablet
Chaos Orb
Contract from Below
Demonic Attorney
Demonic Consultation
Demonic Tutor
Dig Through Time
Double Stroke
Falling Star
Frantic Search
Goblin Recruiter
Hermit Druid
Immediate Action
Imperial Seal
Iterative Analysis
Jeweled Bird
Library of Alexandria
Mana Crypt
Mana Drain
Mana Vault
Memory Jar
Mental Misstep
Mind Twist
Mind's Desire
Mishra's Workshop
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Muzzio's Preparations
Mystical Tutor
Oath of Druids
Power Play
Secret Summoning
Secrets of Paradise
Sentinel Dispatch
Sol Ring
Strip Mine
Survival of the Fittest
Tempest Efreet
Time Vault
Time Walk
Timmerian Fiends
Tolarian Academy
Treasure Cruise
Unexpected Potential
Vampiric Tutor
Wheel of Fortune
Yawgmoth's Bargain
Yawgmoth's Will

Any card except those cards on the banlist can be played (there are cards banned due because they are too powerful, Conspiracy cards, cards requiring manual dexterity and Shahrazad). All the broken cards that can be played in Vintage are banned in Legacy which means that Legacy players need to find the second best card to do these broken things. If you can't play Oath of Druids there is still Show and Tell to cheat Griselbrand or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in play. If you don't have access to Yawgmoth's Will, to some Past in Flames will suffice. Bazaar of Baghdad is not legal in Legacy but graveyard strategies are potent, Dredge and Reanimator are certainly decks you can play because there are other cards that allow us to put cards in graveyard (Breakthrough, Lion's Eye Diamond, Entomb etc.)

Apart from being the most vast format, Legacy is also the most consistent format there is. This is mainly due to two different things - mana base and library manipulation/card selection spells. Having access to fetchlands and original dual lands makes 2-3 color decks very stable and efficient. Since library manipulating cards like Brainstorm or Ponder are not restricted or banned in this format a player has a lot of control over his library and thus it should not surprise anyone that Brainstorm is one of the defining cards of Legacy.

Since decks can be very consistent, they can become lethal very fast. Due to this many decks need to have an answer to such decks usually in the form of Force of Will - an iconic card that allows us to fight against turn 1 or turn 2 combo kills or helps us deal with cards we cannot deal with otherwise.

A Legacy deck is a mix of cards that are needed to fight against early combo kills or cards like Show and Tell and cards that help to execute a strategic plan to win the game. Legacy is not about a single card winning the game, usually more cards are needed in order to win it (for example Vintage is more about a single card winning the game). This format is more about synergy and game plan rather than about sheer power of individual cards. Many decks can be built and many strategies work. The deck does not need to be Tier 1 in order to win a Legacy event. Budget deck exist in Legacy but it is not like in other formats where the price of the deck can be very low. In the case of Legacy a budget deck can cost around 500USD (250 tix) or even more. That is a very small price compared to 3000USD (500-1000tix) price many decks have. Some decks are known to be played more in their budget version - Reanimator, Infect, Dredge (Manaless version), Death and Taxes (more like true White Weenie deck in this case), and Belcher. Non-blue decks are less expensive in general (for example Lands won't cost less, neither will Jund) but that usually shifts the price range to 1500USD-2000USD which can hardly be called 'budget' (doesn't really work on Magic Online, non-blue decks still cost 500-900tix).

Now I'd like to shortly introduce the most favorite decks that a player can encounter in Legacy.


The most played deck for quite some time is Miracles. It is a blue-white control deck but splashes red for sideboard cards like Red Elemental Blast or Blood Moon. The deck runs Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top which in some cases can lock some players but usually it just slows an opponent down. This alone is very important since Miracles need time. It is how Miracles creates card advantage. Against decks running Abrupt Decay this does not really work and Counterbalance is thus often sided out.  These decks are usually weak to Blood Moon.

Terminus and Entreat the Angels are Miracle spells that gave this deck its name. These cards can be played at 'instant' speed when Sensei's Divining Top is in play. Nowadays the deck usually also plays 1 or 2 Monastery Mentors that can close the game pretty quickly thanks to Sensei's Divining Top as a spell and many cantrips. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a powerful card and can win the game on its own. Miracles usually comes in two versions; one is more traditional, playing only Snapcaster Mage (and Mentor) as only creatures. The other one plays Karakas and several legendary creatures - Venser, Shaper Savant and Vendilion Clique. Lately Miracles players try Nahiri, the Harbinger and use Emrakul as one of the win conditions.


The second most played archetype is a tempo deck - Delver. Under this archetype though there are many different decks past and present. It is blue-red based deck that can play other colors in addition, no matter if it is white for Stoneforge Mystic, Swords to Plowshares, Meddling Mage, black for Cabal Therapy, Deathrite Shaman, Gurmag Angler or green for Tarmogoyf, Nimble Mongoose, Deathrite Shaman. The UR version is the most aggressive version and sometimes looks more like a burn deck than a tempo deck (playing usually Stormchaser Mage or Young Pyromancer as their 2 drop). RUG version has the most disruption and comes in as the second fastest version. BUG is more midrange but still plays mostly as the aggressor. The biggest disadvantage of this deck is that it does not have access to Lightning Bolt so most damage needs to be done by creatures (and Deathrite Shaman's pinging ability). Grixis and 4c builds are usually more midrange and can play a control role more often. In general these decks usually try to play a threat early (Delver of Secrets, Tarmogoyf/Young Pyromancer/Stormchaser Mage), keep that card in play and disrupt the opponent's play. These decks usually play Force of Will and Daze as their primary counterspells. Encountering Spell Pierce, Stifle, Pyroblast is not a rarity though.

Eldrazi Aggro

A new deck archetype arose when Oath of the Gatewatch was released - Eldrazi Stompy. This is an aggro deck that plays Wasteland, some lock pieces like Thorn of Amethyst, Chalice of the Void (Sphere of Resistance if needed) and Eldrazi creatures. The most powerful ones are 4CMC Thought-Knot Seer that exiles a card from an opponents' hand, and Reality Smasher which is a 5/5 body for 5 with Haste and Trample and one ability that can be a nightmare to some decks. When Reality Smasher is targeted with a spell, its controller has to discard a card, otherwise the spell is countered. In order to play these creatures fast the deck play sol lands (City of Traitors, Ancient Tomb), Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin that also 'produce' two mana for Eldrazi. To make life harder for blue mages the deck usually plays a higher number of Cavern of Souls.


The most played storm deck is ANT (Ad Nauseam Tendrils). It uses cards with the Storm mechanic as its win condition. Usually it is Tendrils of Agony as the primary win con and Empty the Warrens as the secondary one. A player needs to produce enough mana and play enough spells to be able to cast Tendrils of Agony for lethal damage. The deck plays rituals (Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual), tutors (Infernal Tutor, sometimes Burning Wish, Dark Petition), discard (Cabal Therapy, Duress), fast mana (Lotus Petal, Lion's Eye Diamond), card drawing/selection spells (Brainstorm, Ponder) and two very important cards in Ad Nauseam and Past in Flames. The deck usually wants to play discard to get rid of Force of Wills or other countermagic (Stifle, Flusterstorm) and then play some rituals, fast mana, tutor for Past in Flames, replay the spells and kill with Tendrils. ANT is not the only deck that uses storm mechanic as a win condition. There is also The Epic Storm (TES) that works similarly to ANT and Belcher that can create 12+ goblins on turn 1. Belcher plays a single land so that activating Goblin Charbelcher would be lethal. It uses Spirit Guides, Rituals and Moxen to generate the mana it needs.

Show and Tell

Show and Tell also comes in different varieties. The most common is Sneak and Show running Sneak Attack as another way to cheat Griselbrand or Emrakul into play. Other Show and Tell decks can use Omniscience to play spells without paying their mana cost. Omniscience actually lets the controller play Emrakul giving them an extra turn or the player can cast Cunning Wish for Release the Ants in the sideboard for the win (more common scenario). These decks sometimes intertwine. A deck playing Omniscience does not necessary need to kill via Release the Ants but can be a Sneak and Show variant. A deck playing black (Underground Sea and Thoughtseize) is Release the Ants combo 99% of the time.

BGx Midrange

There are two BGx midrange decks. The Blue version is more common and is known as Shardless BUG. The other one plays red and is simply called Jund. Both of these decks are card advantage decks. Shardless BUG is a slower version that gains card advantage in smaller increments than Jund, but has access to blue and is less fragile to combo (that does not change the fact that it is still weak to combo). It simply plays all the good cards there are - Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, Liliana of the Veil. Shardless BUG is built around Shardless Agent that can cascade into 2 and less CMC spells. With the help of Brainstorm or Jace, the Mind Sculptor the Cascade ability can sometimes be exploited. One of the notable spells one can cascade into is Ancestral Vision.

Jund does not play blue but red instead and that gives access to Lightning Bolt, Punishing Fire, Bloodbraid Elf (which is the anti-Jace anti-control card) and Red Elemental Blast.


Lands is a very special deck. It might not seem so but it is a prison deck. It plays Wasteland, Rishadan Port, (The Tabernacle at the Pendrell Vale), Maze of Ith, Glacial Chasm. Its win condition is Dark Depths and Thespian's Stage combo that creates Marit Lage for a mere two mana (and tapped Stage). If the plan does not go of because of something like Surgical Extraction (Extirpate or anything else) there is always Grove of the Burnwillows and Punishing Fire. It takes a long time to kill someone dealing net one damage per 3 mana but it works as well. The deck plays 30+ lands, tutors (Gamble, Crop Rotation), Life from the Loam to retrieve lands (or look for them) from graveyard, and Exploration to play two lands per turn.


Dredge is one of the easily affordable decks in Legacy. Dredge needs cards in graveyard so first it needs to get them there from hand via Breakthrough, Faithless Looting, Careful Study or Lion's Eye Diamond. Then the Dredge pilot can use the dredge mechanic every time they  would draw a card to get more cards in the graveyard. The deck usually kills with an army of Zombies created by Bridge from Below or thanks to Flayer of the Hatebound's ability,  after a reanimated Golgari Grave-Troll comes into play.


Infect is one of the decks that can also be played on budget. The deck tries to play a creature with Infect (Blighted Agent, Glistener Elf) and then kill the opponent in one single swing by playing pump spells like Invigorate and Berserk.


Almost in any format Burn is a cheap and usually viable deck. Beginners usually enter into the world of Legacy with a Burn deck and then slowly start getting blue cards so they can at least play UR Delver. The deck simply tries to deal the most damage as soon as possible. In Legacy many decks have greedy manabases (playing many nonbasic lands). Price of Progress is a very powerful card. Fireblast played for its alternative cost of sacrificing two mountains can deal the last 4 damage out of nowhere.


There is one more combo deck that is relatively common - Elves. This deck plays many elves that usually produce mana. With the use of Glimpse of Nature one can go through a large portion of the deck to find either Natural Order or Craterhoof Behemoth. This deck can win on turn 2. If it cannot win via Craterhoof Behemoth it can even ping an opponent to death with Deathrite Shaman since it can use the ability twice or even more times thanks to Quirion Ranger. In some scenarios in which the elves player cannot win on the spot they can just fallback to attacking with all the elves. That often works too.


Reanimator is also a deck played often on budget. A blue-black version is common but that is the non-budget version running Underground Seas, Force of Wills and Show and Tells. Players that do not have access to the more expensive cards can still play black version of the deck often splashing red for Faithless Looting and relying on discard as their only disruption.

Death and Taxes

Many call this deck White Weenie and think that this deck is simply an aggro deck. The truth is that this deck is a prison/control deck that just uses creatures as its control elements. The deck tries to hamper the opponents game plan with hatebears, mana taxing creatures, Wastelands and Rishadan Ports while putting some pressure on the player with the aforementioned hatebears or Stoneforge Mystic that can fetch Batterskull - a card that not so many decks can deal with game 1. This deck runs Aether Vial which allows it to start using its Rishadan Ports or Wastelands early in the game while putting creatures in play via the Vial. This can be a nightmare to blue decks and well that is the deck's function (to prey on blue decks).

I'm sure that this article convinced you that Legacy is indeed a very vast format providing a player with endless possibilities for deckbuilding. There are many decks still to be discovered featuring new or old cards. A player can also choose to play a deck to reminisce the old times. I can only hope that Eternal Masters will not only raise the awareness of older formats, but will also provide players with the opportunity to try Legacy out, and get hooked on the skill intensity required, unlimited deck building possibilities and great community both in real life and online.


Legacy by MichelleWong at Thu, 06/23/2016 - 04:16
MichelleWong's picture

Great article.

I have played more Legacy than every other format, and I agree that it is a great format to play. You can definitely experience the nostalgia of playing with cards like Swords to Plowshares, Force of Wills, etc, and the Revised dual lands.

The Legacy Gauntlet which finished last week was a really great idea to bring new people to Legacy. I hope WoTC do more of this in future.

Legacy Gauntlet by stsung at Thu, 06/23/2016 - 06:15
stsung's picture

Thank you for the comment. Legacy certainly has a lot to offer and I think that many players that play for years will sooner or later gravitate towards Legacy. It is also a good mix of competitive environment and environment when one can experiment or bring his/her own deck.

Legacy Gauntlet seemed as a nice step to show players how Legacy can look like but it felt completely different than playing Competitive League (Legacy in general). People were struggling a lot with their decks and for some reason I've been running into Reanimator decks all the time. But that also might be due to many people just dropping out of the league by round 1.

I hope WotC will support Eternal formats on modo. Yesterday I played against Canadian Treshhold build from Eternal Masters so maybe things will get better. (still there was like 200 people in the League which is not much).