Learning Legacy: An Introduction for Modern players

Learning Legacy: An Introduction for Modern players

by Zach “Manacymbal” Ryl

Greetings Modern enthusiasts and newcomers alike! Some may wonder why this article is worth reading. Why bother exploring a new format when the one you love is so perfect? Modern, after all, is known for being a perfect world of no complaints. Well, it’s my hope, dear reader, that you find something as exciting and fun in Legacy as I have.

As we roll into the mid point of this winter of Covid19, digital Magic is one of the most important tools for fun and sanity that some of us have. On that medium, Legacy is as affordable as Modern, reducing one of the major barriers to entry.

So, join me won’t you, on an overview of the format and try out something new.

What is Legacy, anyway?

The legacy format is the second most expansive format for competitive Magic. (Curse you Vintage for still being relevant.)

“Amateur.” – Some bad-ass pirate mage, I dunno.

Every magic set from Alpha to the upcoming Kaldheim release is legal. This includes supplemental sets such as Conspiracy and every Commander release. This has led to some wild inclusions and staples that can’t be seen anywhere else.

This is the first article of what I hope will be a series about my own learning of Legacy. I’m going to do the best job I can to create some useful building blocks of knowledge. As a long time Modern player myself, I want to make it easier for you to enter Legacy with me and explore this exciting format.

If you think that Legacy is all about turn 1 kills and non-stop degeneracy, you’re not alone. I once thought that’s what the format was but, that’s an exaggeration! There are some decks that can try to win on turn one or two, but they are held in check by the first category we’ll be addressing today!

Format Staples

Excuse me, I believe you had my format Staples”
-Milton Waddams… Probably

Blue Soup > Blue Milk

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things is not quite the same.

The Blue Soup secret formula of Force of Will, Brainstorm, and Ponder is a rock for jank and high level tournament decks alike. These three spells form the core of all kinds of decks, from combo to control to tempo. The core can also be expanded in different directions, such as adding Preordain for combo decks, or reduced by removing some number of Ponder.

The consistency that is added to your deck by playing Brainstorm + fetchlands cannot be understated. Each time you draw three cards with Brainstorm, put two back and choose to shuffle, there are a bevvy of decision points. There is a balance of game state priorities and format knowledge, a tightrope to walk with each decision. This is a great challenge for players of the format and presents a lifetime of opportunity for improvement.

Force of Will is also an important part here. My own understanding of the card is, yet, half formed. Being able to trade raw card quantity for tempo gain is powerful. This creates an interesting tension in the format between decks that can slam powerful haymakers at a cost in cards, and the blue soup decks.

The control decks that fall into the Blue Soup category are numerous. The decks are also customizable. The most popular is 5c Snowko, but Miracles, and of course, the Legendary Stryfo Pile exist in this group as well. There are many spell based combo decks that take advantage of the full blue soup suite including Omni-Show, Sneak and Show, and Doomsday. And then the big bad wolf itself: devourer of jank, policer of fun, Delver. Currently the most successful variant of which is Temur Delver. Even Infect gets to play some of the Blue Soup tools!


With the power of the Blue Soup engine comes a risk in the form of the devastating and brutal Chalice of the Void. While putting Chalice into play on 1 on turn 1 may be a little bit of a reach in Modern, in Legacy it’s fairly typical of a whole class of decks. Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors add a level of consistency to these decks for their turn 1 Chalice plan, and are the hallmarks of these “Stompy” decks. Goblins, soldiers, and other random decks have been built on this framework.

Mono Red Prison uses this core to expand their aggressive strategy of lock pieces and includes Blood Moon or Rabblemaster as turn 1 options. It can be a very effective all-in strategy that can have some midgame grind if they need to. 

My current favorite Legacy Deck, Mono Blue Karn Echoes, teams up the stompy strategy with Narset Parter of Veils/Hullbreacher, Lion’s Eye Diamond (LED),  and Echo of Eons. The result is a combo style play that can go off as early as turn 2 to put your opponent on no cards in hand or lock them out with a Mycosynth Lattice. 

The Sun Will Come Out, Tomorrow. And… it’ll be Green?

“I find my zenith doth depend upon A most auspicious star, whose influence If now I court not, but omit, my fortunes Will ever after droop.” – William Shakespeare

Green Sun’s Zenith (GSZ) is a card that’s been gone from the Modern card pool for a long time. Most Modern players don’t know what you can do with it or why it was banned. In Legacy there are many decks that take advantage of this powerful tutor and consistency tool.

Green Sun’s Zenith has the interesting property of shuffling itself back into the deck upon resolution. This means you are incentivized to cast the Zeniths in your hand to keep the chance of drawing a new one as high as possible. The side benefit is your deck will have some wonderful late game inevitability.

The suite of potential tutor targets is large. Usually included in these decks is Dryad Arbor. A turn 1 play of Zenith into Dryad makes GSZ into an ersatz Llanowar Elves. After that there tends to be very little overlap in tutor targets. Powerful hate creatures and flexible removal are usually the cards you’ll see. Loading up your chamber with silver bullets is as effective in Legacy as it is in Modern. Collector Ouphe and Reclamation Sage are some of the best of the bunch but there are many other options to be explored.

In Maverick (GW Hatebears), Knight of the Reliquary and long time non-bo Gaddock Teeg are common, though these decks have lost most of their meta share at the moment. Elvish Reclaimer, fresh from its debut in GW Titan in modern, is also tearing it up with Prime-Time in Legacy in Mono Green Cloudpost

Oh, and then there’s Elves. Turns out that this plucky tribal deck is not only one of the best decks for taking advantage of Green Sun’s Zenith in the format, but it also has jumped up into the top tier of legacy on the back of Allosaurus Shepard. Elves contains a powerful mana engine from Heritage Druid, Birchlore Rangers, Quirion Ranger, Wirewood Symbiote, and Nettle Sentinel. Utilizing this with Glimpse of Nature results in brutally fast combo kills. You can see some amazing intricate plays with this deck by checking out the fabulous Julian Knab on twitch here.

Mana Denial: Not just a divine river in Egypt

The stompy decks frequently have a second layer of interaction with the opponent’s mana: denial. 

These cards demand a care and delicacy in one’s general sequencing while playing legacy. You should always think about how you’re going to play your lands. If you play a nonbasic first you might lose it to your opponent’s Wasteland. That could be fine, or it could be devastating. It all depends on how you think you can play the rest of the game without that land against whatever it is your opponent has registered! Playing a fetchland first can be a good safety move, but then you have to be aware of how many decks are playing Stifle and what their opening turns look like. 

These tactical decisions are one of the most interesting things about Legacy as long as you are aware they exist. They can also be a source of high variance and frustration. If you’re looking to sidestep this game, there are a number of decks that effectively dodge it, Snowko being popular for its ability to do so.

While Delver is well known for playing four copies of Wasteland, the premier list featuring four of each of these cards has to be Death and Taxes. Anyone familiar with recent Modern will understand the dread that sometimes comes from your opponent’s first turn being Plains into Aether Vial, and the Legacy version is similar to the Modern one in both strategy and effectiveness.  

Quick Hits

While I’ve hit the major archetypes as I see them, I’d be remiss not to mention a few important decks that lean on part of these archetypes.

Dark Depths, the prison of Marit Lage, teams up with either Thespian’s Stage or Vampire Hexmage for a powerful combo deck that can put out a 20/20 on very early turns after disarming you with Thoughtseize or Duress.

Tom “Negator77” Hep, the current trophyboard leader with an unprecedented 60+ Trophies this season, has brought a newer build of this deck to the fore with the addition of temporary rainbow lands like Gemstone Mine, allowing him to splash any color for cheap interaction to devastating effect.

Miss me?

While the menace of Hogaak was removed from Modern, it’s a force to be reckoned with in Legacy, existing as almost a straight port of the Bridge from Below version of the deck.

All it takes is one bad hair day to turn the fairest player alive to combo.

While I mentioned it briefly in connection with the Urza deck, Lion’s Eye Diamond (LED), powers up legacy Dredge, and The Epic Storm version of storm.

Speaking of storm, both A.N.T. (Ad Nauseam Tendrils) and T.E.S. (The Epic Storm) are worthy of a few thousand words of their own. Both use the with staple finisher Tendrils of Agony, all the way from Scourge.

In terms of other spell based combo decks, Show and Tell exists in several versions, splashing red for Sneak Attacking, or running a more streamlined strategy which splashes either green for Legacy combo staple Veil of Summer, or white for Teferi, Combo Protector.

And the final spell based combo, Doomsday. Analogous to Ad Nauseam in Modern, Doomsday seeks to resolve the eponymous spell which creates a 5 card deck in the specific order you choose. While in days of old this archetype was only played by fevered mad scientists with endless spreadsheets full of five card “piles” for any scenario, the addition of Thassa’s Oracle to the format has streamlined most piles into containing Cavern of Souls, some draw cards like Street Wraith, and perhaps some interaction, if you REALLY think you must.

The Modal Double Faced Cards of Zendikar Rising are not absent from Legacy and Oops! All Spells! has been putting up some very strong results, with frequent top 8 challenge results. There is no escape!

“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

Oko, Thief of Crowns is the namesake of the 5c Snowko archetype, teaming up with Simic 3cmc mythic Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and modern exile Arcum’s Astrolabe to form a powerful midrange core around which various color’s removal and other elements can be hung.

War of the Spark printing Dreadhorde Arcanist, has never found a complete level of success in Modern or Pioneer, but in Legacy has found great success in flashing back Ponders and Brainstorms. Alongside Delver or Monastery Mentor or Uro, Dreadhorde has given Legacy decks more reason to splash red than just the powerful hate cards of Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast.

So much more…

Legacy has so much more than this with a long tail of competitive decks that easily rivals the diversity of Modern. Infect, “Two Card Monte,” Aluren, Reanimator (once a king among decks), Worldgorger Dragon combo, Merfolk, SLIVERS!?

I’ll try to dig more into some individual archetypes, but for this Legacy scrub that’s enough information for myself, and hopefully for you, for one day.

If you have a favorite Legacy deck you love that I didn’t mention, let me know here, on stream, or on a YouTube comment. If there’s a card you’ve always wanted to play in a competitive format but that damned Modern format legality held you back, let me know about those too!

Zach Ryl is a high energy, high output, endless creator. When he’s not literally cooking, mixing drinks, or studying them, he finds occasional time to stream or pen articles about magic. Follow him on Twitter @ManaCymbal, and hear about fresh brews he’s working on at the Serum Visions Podcast, available through most podcast providers.

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