I always enjoy playing or watching Legacy, but as it's rarely a format featured on coverage it receives a tragically low percentage of my attention when preparing for events. This week's split-format Pro Tour, however, has given me cause to slam and/or jam in the Legacy leagues, which has been terrific fun. I've done a lot of losing, but when you're losing and still coming back for more with a smile on your face, you know you're onto something special.
Obviously Legacy is in something of a state of flux right now thanks to the banning of both Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe. I was a fan of both these cards being banned, and while it's a shame nothing was taken off the list (#FreeYawgmothsBargain), Legacy has rallied, and we currently have an interesting and dynamic format on our hands.
One of the principal reasons for this is the introduction of some Legacy-playable options in Battlebond and Core Set 2019. These new cards – in conjunction with exciting new angles Delver players are exploring instead of DRS/Probe – mean that Legacy is in a rare period of experimentation and innovation. I'm here to bring you up to speed on some of the latest technology the format is in the process of adopting.
First and foremost, Brightling has been putting in work in Legacy since it joined the format with Battlebond. There are plenty of -ling creatures – Morphling, Torchling, Thornling – but it's only Brightling that has proven its worth in a format as powerful as Legacy. It's a strange card to be seeing play alongside some of the best cards in the game's history, so what's going on here?
Firstly, cost. Brightling costing three still means it is expensive for Legacy, but at a point where it can still be played and have an impact. Secondly, its ability to protect itself with its third ability is huge, as it cheaply blanks opposing removal. Thirdly, the vigilance/lifelink combination make racing a nightmare for even the most aggressive Legacy decks. Lastly, its capacity to come down in a drawn-out game and act as a mana sink will end games very quickly indeed.
Brightling's most obvious home is in Death and Taxes, where it has been adopted readily and gratefully.
In Death and Taxes, Brightling is a useful threat that also plays terrific defensive Magic against the more aggressive decks. Being able to play both sides of the court is the key draw here, as it can punish slower decks while keeping you alive against an early Delver onslaught.
Most significantly, however, is Brightling's interaction with Aether Vial. The ability to deploy a Brightling for zero mana and protect it with its third ability makes combat nightmarish for opposing players. Being able to bounce a Brightling between your hand and the battlefield at instant speed and for next to no mana is going to tax opposing resources very strongly.
At the end of the day, it's not doing anything hugely broken – it's just a tough, resilient creature that is good in more or less any game where both players are playing to the board. As a result, Death and Taxes isn't the only "fair" deck looking to make the most of Brightling – it's seeing play in Miracles, and sometimes even in Stoneblade.
Typically we see Miracles Opt for Monastery Mentor when playing a cheaper threat, but recent lists have begun to play Brightling instead. This makes a lot of sense - Miracles lists have a relatively high land count, and benefit from a card that ends games quickly once things are under control. Dumping mana into a Brightling every turn seems a great way to avoid the dreaded x-x-1 bracket when playing Miracles in Legacy.
Core Set 2019 had some nice constructed plants, one of which has immediately seen play in both Standard and Modern: Remorseful Cleric. As it turns out, it's getting some attention in Legacy, too. The Death and Taxes list above includes several copies of Remorseful Cleric, going so far as to include them in the starting 60. Given the huge number of graveyard shenanigans in the format – everything from Reanimator and Dredge to delve creatures and Snapcaster Mage – it's a great call.
Typically, top-of-the-line graveyard hate comes at the cost of a card. Rest in Peace gets the job done like no other, but does absolutely nothing else and can cause you to fall behind when playing to the board. The excellent thing about Remorseful Cleric is how it plays as a 2/1 flier – it cracks in for two every turn while your opponent umms and ahhs about exactly how to get value from their 'yard.
Think of it this way. When facing a Tormod's Crypt, an opponent who relies on their graveyard isn't on the clock to play around the Crypt. They can wait, choose their moment and force the issue at the opportune moment for them. Remorseful Cleric removes that option, by and large. Getting in for evasive damage every turn will put opponents in a position where they must act, and when they do, you're in much better position to respond as it's being done on your terms.
Additionally, a 2/1 flier blocks a flipped Delver real nice – this isn't the optimal use for the card, sure, but it's nice to have an option like that and sets up Remorseful Cleric for further success in the Legacy format. Remorseful Cleric is a narrow card, but it's terrific to see relatively innocuous sets like Core Set 2019 impacting older formats like this.
Sneak and Show has spent some time on the bench, but with the recent bannings it's back and better than ever. It even has a new toy to play with - Battlebond brought Arcane Artisan, and now Sneak and Show players have another way - and an extraordinarily resilient way to, to boot - to slam massive beaters into play.
Legacy specialist Bob Huang included three copies of Arcane Artisan in his sideboard at a recent SCG event, and for good reason. Post-board, with most opponents trimming down on removal against this all-in combo deck, Arcane Artisan is the perfect counterplay. While opponents replace Swords to Plowshares with Containment Priest and Lightning Bolt with Spell Pierce, Arcane Artisan comes in to make them look very silly indeed.
What's so great about this card? Essentially, it plays around all the typical cards used to hate on Sneak and Show. Its immunity to cards like Spell Pierce and the fact that its ability isn't shut off by Containment Priest is emblematic of the way it contests the post-board gameplan of most decks against Sneak and Show. On top of that, it even keeps the cards flowing in the grindier post-board games.
The only drawback is, rather obviously, the costs involved. Six mana is a lot, even when split across two turns, and it does slow down what can otherwise be an absurdly explosive deck. Giving an opponent a turn to deal with the 0/3 isn't trivial, and canny players will keep in some amount of relevant removal as this technology becomes better known. Still, it's a clear upgrade to an already powerful deck!
Poor Grixis Delver players around the world are lamenting the loss of eight cards that were critical to the deck's success - both Shaman and Probe were centerpieces of Grixis Delver, and the deck isn't the same without them. I was very surprised, however, to see one of the cards slated as a replacement – the scourge of Standard, Bomat Courier, is stepping up!
It's not the quickest clock – certainly nothing on a flipped Delver – but the ability to reload an empty or near-empty hand as the game stretches out is huge. Given how cheap every card in Grixis Delver usually is, it's not too difficult for Grixis pilots to get hellbent and refuel with the little 1/1 that could.
We've seen this play pattern in Standard: aggressive decks that empty out their hands quickly usually pay the price by lacking real card advantage engines. Bomat Courier changes all that, and Grixis Delver is like Mono-Red in Standard in that it won't often see the "discard your hand" part as a particularly devastating cost.
One of the exciting new dimensions Bomat Courier opens is, of course, with Force of Will. Not only does Force of Will empty your hand very quickly, if you control a Courier with a bunch of cards underneath it, there's a good shot you'll have Force plus blue card hiding out underneath it. If you're unsure, you can even check to see if any Forces are missing while fetching (although do it quickly, as you won't have time to determine the exact cards under the Courier). This means you can have a Force of Will at the ready for just a single red mana, and no amount of Cabal Therapies can do anything about it.
There are other cards threatening to become movers and shakers in Legacy – Arena Rector in "Planeswalker-Fit," or perhaps Stitcher's Supplier in Zombie Bombardment. These decks are a little more fringe, it's true, but the lesson remains the same – quite a few new cards are making an impact in one of Magic's oldest formats. Given the stakes involved with the upcoming Pro Tour, it's worth sitting up and taking notice of how Legacy is currently evolving!
- Riley Knight