Paper Magic tournaments being put on hold, combined with most of the player base being stuck at home, has made online Magic more important and more popular than ever before. The addition of new tournaments including Super Players Tour Qualifiers and a new MagicFest Online series has raised the stakes to a new level. It has been a recipe for driving metagames forward with innovation, and it can be felt in every format.
Last week I explored some of the surprising strategies that have emerged in Pioneer and Modern, but they hardly compare to what's going on in Legacy. The format is thriving in the digital world that brings together its disparate global player base, and without the card access issues of the reserved list.
Legacy's own Super Qualifier served as a perfect showcase for all of the new decks that have been developing since the ban of Underworld Breach. While it was just a few weeks ago, the banning completely destroyed the metagame's dominant strategy and created a vacuum that a variety of other decks have risen to fill.
Underworld Breach is gone, but combo decks are still thriving with the help of Doomsday and its new-and-improved win condition Thassa's Oracle.
Doomsday essentially functions as a one-card combo that requires no other pieces to win beyond a single Thassa's Oracle. That leaves a ton of room for disruption to protect it, so much that the deck rivals even the format's control strategies in its ability to interfere with the opponent's own plan. Playsets of both Force of Will and Thoughtseize, along with three Teferi, Time Raveler, allow the deck to deal with just about anything Legacy can present.
The deck can take things even farther down the fair road with the sideboard, which offers a transformational Miracles package. It includes Terminus and Swords to Plowshares for creature removal and Counterbalance to stop spells, topped off with Monastery Mentor for a non-Doomsday kill condition.
Aided by the card advantage of Predict in the maindeck, it's capable of playing a legitimate midrange game. The sideboard package provides the option of cutting Doomsday altogether to go completely fair, or to pick and choose the best cards in specific matchups, like Counterbalance against other combo decks. The maindeck is immune to creature removal, so Monastery Mentor in particular is a devastating juke that will beat opponents whether they are unprepared without creature removal, or prepared with cards that risk being dead against the Doomsday.
Reaching the finals of the Super Qualifier and earning a spot at the Players Tour is quite the performance and helps cement Doomsday as one of Legacy's top decks to beat. It's known for being complex to play, in part because Doomsday itself can be intricate to set up against opposing disruption, but the payoff is beyond comparison.
Thassa's Oracle also serves as the win condition in a deck built to abuse its combos with Paradigm Shift and Thought Lash, in what's essentially a Legacy port of the Dimir Inverter of Truth deck that defines Pioneer.
Much like the new Doomsday deck, this combo strategy appeared soon after the release of Theros Beyond Death, but it was completely overshadowed by Underworld Breach. It's not surprising this deck has broken out in its absence, and like Doomsday it could cement itself as one of the metagame's top combo decks. Compared to the Doomsday deck, which does run the risk of simply not drawing Doomsday, this deck's biggest strength is its consistency. It has eight enablers for six kill cards, and unlike a deck like Sneak and Show, every combo piece is pitchable to Force of Will.
Force of Will is aided in its combo protection duties by a full playset of Veil of Summer, which is a complete nightmare for the full variety of Blue decks that fill Legacy. Its help in stopping countermagic, discard, and removal means that the most reliable way to beat the deck will be to race it—which if done with creatures is a plan vulnerable to Though Lash's ability to soak up a large amount of damage.
In addition to a maindeck Sylvan Library, green also provides some spice in the sideboard. Carpet of Flowers is another powerful blue hoser, and it's a great support card for a deck that needs a good amount of mana to execute and protect its combo. Oko, Thief of the Crowns is simply one of the best cards in Legacy, and like Monastery Mentor in Doomsday it adds a valuable non-combo way to kill the opponent.
The trend of combo decks being able to play fair is one taken to the extreme by a Sultai version of the Dark Depths combo deck, played to a qualification near-miss third place finish by Legacy specialist Bob "Griselpuff" Huang.
Adding Brainstorm and a smattering of other blue cards like Stifle and Flusterstorm to the Golgari Depths deck is not a new idea, but it's made much more appealing with Oko, Thief of the Crowns. Capable of winning many games by itself, it's a perfect bridge towards a more fair Jund-style game plan supported by the disruption of Thoughtseize and Abrupt Decay and the card advantage of Dark Confidant.
Brainstorm excels in this shell as a way to hold everything together, whether it's assembling the combo or sculpting a fair game plan. Even Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath makes an appearance here, where its Explore ability is a valuable tool for the land-based combo, and its Escape ability adds a reliable win condition for its fair plan. Best of all, it can be dug into and fueled by Life from the Loam.
It's telling that this decklist includes only two copies of its namesake Dark Depths. Clearly the combo has taken a backseat to the fair elements of the deck, which presents a game plan that can nearly mimic decks like Sultai Delver or Four-Color Astrolabe Control. Yet opponents must always respect the threat of a Dark Depths combo kill, which can still be instantly assembled with Crop Rotation.
The strength of the multifaceted strategy is especially apparent in the sideboard, which includes a mix of flexible spells Flusterstorm and Veil of Summer that can be just as useful disrupting the opponent in a fair game as they are for protecting a 20/20.
It turns out that adding Brainstorm can also benefit the Death and Taxes strategy, which has been completely re-imagined as a blue-based deck centered around the blink ability of Soulherder and value creatures including Recruiter of the Guard and a ton of silver bullets to find.
With the addition of spells like Brainstorm and Swords to Plowshares, and with Force of Will to support, Meddling Mage replaces the symmetrical Thalia, Guardian of Thraben as the taxman of choice. Instead of Stoneforge Mystic, the Blink-able and FoW-able Baleful Strix provides value and stalls aggressive opponents. Venser, Shaper Savant and Palace Jailer provide some high-impact Soulherder targets, while a cast of other one-ofs including Plague Engineer and the very techy Peacekeeper can hose specific strategies.
Blue also features heavily in the sideboard. Three Force of Negation reveals one of the major differences between this deck and Death and Taxes, and one of the great reasons to play a blue-based variation, which is access to free countermagic that is so strong against combo opponents. Glen-Elendra Archmage offers this power on a tutorable and reusable creature.
This strategy hasn't come out of nowhere—the pilot that took the deck to its 5th place Super Qualifier finish has been playing it for months, back into last year. It does seem to be breaking out now in this new metagame, and a 5-0 run in the most recent Legacy Preliminary by another player reveals it's starting to catch on with a wider audience.
Modern strategies being tried in Legacy is a common practice that (unsurprisingly) tends to produce subpar results, so I was stunned when I saw a Primeval Titan/Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle deck Top 4 the Super Qualifier—a finish Kellen "KelMasterP" Pastore immediately followed up with a second-place run in the Legacy Challenge.
Much like Doomsday, Primeval Titan is essentially a one-card combo in its own right, and is fully capable of ending the game by finding Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Field of the Dead. It's supported by Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, the fusion of Exploration and Prismatic Omen that has immediately become a staple of the Modern Primeval Titan decks, both red-green Scapeshift-style and Amulet Titan combo.
In some sense this Legacy version is closer to the Amulet Titan deck than the Scapeshift-style red-green, complete with disruption spells and the ability to play a fair and grinding long game. Beyond Primeval Titan, a package of value-generating utility creatures (Tireless Tracker, Courser of Kruphix and Ramunap Excavator) can be found with the banned-in-Modern Green Sun's Zenith, which adds extra consistency to the Legacy adaptation. Adding even more is Once Upon a Time, another card banned in Modern, and it excels for its ability for setting up key lands like Ancient Tomb, Wasteland and Cavern of Souls.
The deck is a great home for Chalice of the Void, which along with Abrupt Decay creates a strong disruptive core that can be expanded by the sideboard and its package of silver bullets. This archetype has been quietly doing well for the past few weeks, earning multiple 4-1 Preliminary runs, but it has truly broken out now. Joining Kellen in the Challenge Top 8 was another copy of the deck, and I expect it will keep growing from here as more players catch on.
While the Underworld Breach ban has opened up the metagame to all sorts of unfair decks, overall they've lost share to a rise of typical Legacy fair decks like Colorless Eldrazi and Delver. The transition has been especially good to Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, which players were slow to adopt in an Underworld Breach world but has proven to be an incredible tool for the format's midrange decks.
It sits alongside Ice-Fang Coatl and Oko, Thief of Crowns, creating a foundation that players have built upon in all sorts of ways. All varieties added together, these Uro decks are now the most popular marco-archetype in Legacy.
Truly anything is possible in full-on Five-Color Control decks enabled by Arcum's Astrolabe, like the one that finished 14th place in the Super Qualifier.
A more measured approach to Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath was the 9th place finishing Sultai deck, which uses Green Sun's Zenith for greater access to it.
Green Sun's Zenith also sets up Uro nicely by finding a turn-one Dryad Arbor to ramp into it on turn two, setting up a big mana advantage heading into the midgame. Add its ability to support a toolbox of one-ofs, and you have what's become a real staple in this metagame.