I follow along with Legacy all the time, but I don't really get a lot of opportunities to play it in tournaments. Now, that's all changed, thanks to the proliferation of the Team Trios Constructed format. I get to play Legacy a lot in upcoming events by virtue of being the Legacy player for whatever team I sign on with. In two weeks, there is also an individual Legacy Grand Prix in Seattle, which I can't wait to battle in, since individual Legacy GPs are like me winning consecutive matches of Magic – they are extremely rare and only happen about once a year.
There's a good chance I will just be giving into the hate and playing Czech Pile. I really do not like that deck very much, but I cannot deny its power level, and I think I would do much better piloting a midrange pile than trying to blindly feel my way around a Delver of Secrets.
At any rate, in anticipation for GP Seattle, I'm going to cover my picks for what the most overrated and underrated decks are in Legacy. Keep in mind, just because a deck is overrated doesn't mean it's a bad deck, I just consider it worse than its hype level. Same goes for the underrated. I'm not saying the three underrated decks are the three best decks in the format, they are just decks that get less respect than deserved.
I really want Miracles to still be great – I just don't think it is anymore. I even played the deck myself at GP Santa Clara and did reasonably well with it, but I think it is just lacking too many things to be the dominant force in Legacy that it once was.
Monastery Mentor is the reason why Sensei's Divining Top got banned. While the deck was great before Monastery Mentor, Mentor pushed it over the Top. Top may very well have gotten banned eventually, and I think it's reasonable to think that it would have, but Monastery Mentor accelerated the process very quickly. Mentor gave the deck a fast clock in matchups where that was needed and also served as a piece of board control that could completely dominate combat. It some situations Mentor was like having another Wrath effect that would also kill your opponent in two swings.
Without Sensei's Divining Top to set up Monastery Mentor and serve as fuel to power it, Monastery Mentor just isn't a good enough threat in Legacy right now. With Search for Azcanta taking the spot of Sensei's Divining Top in a lot of lists, that pushes decks toward playing win conditions that you can find off Azcanta, like Entreat the Angels or just simply Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The problem with those cards is that they can't take over a game or close a game out quickly the same way that Mentor could, which causes a huge loss in percentage points in matchups where speed matters.
Most Miracles decks these days are also playing a lot of cards that are weak or lack synergy, which doesn't inspire a lot of faith in the archetype. For example, I see a lot of lists playing Back to Basics, a card that I think is extremely underpowered in Legacy, because any deck with Abrupt Decay can get out from underneath it easily by just hitting land drops. I think Blood Moon is a way more powerful effect. Counterbalance also seems very weak without Sensei's Divining Top, and having to go deep to play Soothsaying to turn on Counterbalance is not a step I'm willing to take.
Not too long ago, I considered Lands to be the best deck in Legacy. I do not believe that to be the case anymore, and in fact I would go so far as to say that I don't think Lands is well positioned in Legacy right now. One of the major issues with Lands is that the deck hasn't really gained any upgrades in quite some time. While other decks are getting stronger and adapting, people are still playing same ol' boring lands deck that they were jamming two years ago.
The other major problem for Lands in Legacy right now is that players are getting more used to playing against it. They have sideboard hate and they are more accustomed to knowing what lines of play they need to take to win against Lands – players are learning to use Surgical Extraction on the Dark Depths rather than Life from the Loam if they are playing a strategy that doesn't easily handle Marit Lage.
Cards like Tireless Tracker used to be how Lands was able to crush people who boarded too heavily against Life from the Loam or the Thespian Stage/Dark Depths combo, but people know to expect Tireless Tracker now, so it has become far less effective at performing this role. Lands is just too predictable.
Using Life from the Loam to fuel Wastelands for mana denial and Thespian Stage plus Dark Depths for quick kills with a 20/20 is abstractly a very powerful strategy. I don't think Lands is a deck that will fall out of favor in Legacy, but I do think it is a deck that has grown stale and might need to look at changing things up to get some of that edge back.
It might seem a bit disingenuous to say that the best deck in Legacy is overrated, but here we are. I swear I am not just doing this to be edgy, I actually do think that Grixis Delver is quite overrated.
If you follow along with the SCG Tour, you will see that Grixis Delver is absolutely dominating their Legacy events. It is crushing both the SCG Opens and the SCG Classics. From there it would be easy to extrapolate that Grixis Delver is unbelievably good and that it would be a mistake to play anything else. I don't think that is true.
While Grixis Delver is good, it's not Miracles pre Top-ban. It's just another powerful deck in a format full of them. Grixis Delver wasn't present in the Top 4 of either GP Kyoto or GP Madrid, and only one copy made it into the Top 4 of GP Santa Clara, the last three team GPs with a Legacy component. While it is dominating SCG events, it is also the deck that nearly every top SCG player is piloting, which is going to skew results. In a wider field like a Grand Prix, Grixis isn't nearly as dominant.
Grixis Delver has a very bad mana base and is very reliant on Deathrite Shaman to smooth things over, which doesn't always work out. Volcanic Island doesn't cast Deathrite Shaman, and Underground Sea can't cast Lightning Bolt or Young Pyromancer. In a deck with 18 total lands, four of which are Wasteland, there are frequently games where you have to choose whether to get an Underground Sea or Volcanic Island and whichever you choose will cut you off from certain cards. Tropical Island is also an embarrassment in this deck. It's there to provide the ability to activate the third mode of Deathrite Shaman, but the great majority of games it is a non-basic Island that can't help casting many of the spells in the deck while being vulnerable to Wasteland, Price of Progress and Blood Moon.
Grixis Delver also has a lot of situational cards that aren't always very effective. For example, I think Spell Pierce is a pretty bad card in general that you can't always get value from. Daze and Cabal Therapy are more universally applicable cards, but still have a lot of moments where they are pretty low-impact, and it is easy to flood on cards like this, which is a classic Delver problem but exacerbated in Grixis. Lightning Bolt isn't great against everything, and cards like Forked Bolt are even more narrow.
Grixis has a lot of disgusting draws that are unbeatable and it has a lot of threats that require a wide-variety of specific answers to handle. Young Pyromancer goes wide, True-Name has protection, Gurmag dodges Bolt, Push and Decay and Deathrite Shaman is the best creature ever printed. Grixis Delver is the best deck in the format when it gets to untap with Deathrite Shaman on turn two. The deck is very good.
However, let's not just ignore the flaws in the deck. The mana is really bad, a lot of the spells are very situational and the deck loses a lot of games where it draws too many spells when it needs threats or too many creatures when it needs interaction. The deck is very beatable, and not this unstoppable juggernaut that it has been made out to be. It's not a mistake to play a deck that isn't Grixis Delver, and in some events I think it would be a mistake to play Grixis.
This deck has a major weakness in that every creature dies to Fatal Push and every creature is vulnerable to Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In fact, I think this one-dimensional nature of Sultai is the only real advantage Grixis Delver has over Sultai as far as Delver decks are concerned. Grixis has a near-perfect mix of creatures if the goal is to attack from a variety of angles against removal.
What I like about Sultai is that it has a much more consistent mana base. All your colored sources cast Deathrite Shaman, and I think Tarmogoyf is a more impressive creature than Young Pyromancer right now. Sultai plays more lands and doesn't have to splash for Tropical Island like Grixis does, providing it with far less awkward games where you must make tough choices on what land to fetch to be able to cast your spells on time.
Playing more lands also allows Sultai play powerful noncreature threats like Liliana, the Last Hope and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Sultai is a way more midrange version of Delver than Grixis. It sacrifices some of the speed and threat diversity that Grixis plays in order to have powerful two-for-one's like Hymn to Tourach and card engines like Liliana and Jace. While this slows it down some, I think it makes it a more resilient deck overall.
I think if there weren't so many Jaces running around in decks like Miracles and Czech Pile, this deck would be a much bigger part of the format. I think it would see almost as much play as Grixis Delver, whereas right now it's not even close in market share. Both Miracles and Czech Pile are overrepresented decks on Magic Online, but tend to see less play in paper events, meaning that "Salty" Sultai Delver could be a great choice for an upcoming event.
Back in 2013, Sneak and Show was all the rage in Legacy. Since that point, it has fallen off the map, relatively speaking. Sneak and Show is still played, and it is still a popular deck, but it is very much under the radar as far as decks are concerned in Legacy, despite quietly putting up great results recently. In two of the last three team constructed Grand Prix, Sneak and Show has been among the Top 4 decks, and Sneak and Show was also in the last individual Legacy GP Top 8 in Vegas last year.
I think Sneak and Show is the best combo deck in Legacy. It punishes decks without interaction almost as much as a deck like Storm does, but it isn't nearly as easy to beat as Storm and doesn't have as many problematic cards to deal with. I think it's reasonable to think that Sneak and Show might actually just be the only good combo deck in Legacy right now, with Reanimator strategies having to contend with Deathrite Shaman and the high number of sideboard Surgical Extractions and Storm having to contend with every other deck in the format being good against it.
People used to put cards into their sideboard purely to hate on Sneak and Show. Every time you cast Show and Tell, you had to run the risk that your opponent would drop in an Ensnaring Bridge, Humility or Ashen Rider. That's not the case anymore, which is a great place to be for a powerful, proactive combo deck.
If you want to play a combo deck in Legacy, this is my pick. Sneak and Show is also the deck I generally recommend to people trying to get into the Legacy format, because it is a relatively straightforward deck with an obscenely high power level. Even if you don't know all the intricacies of the format, you can still just cast Show and Tell on turn two with Force of Will backup and let Griselbrand do the talking.
In the past, I've considered decks like this to be pretty poor in Legacy. Without Brainstorm, Ponder and fetch lands, your deck lacks the same consistency that most other Legacy decks have, and cards like Blood Moon are very hit-or-miss cards that sometimes win the game by themselves and sometimes do absolutely nothing.
These red prison decks have historically been fringe players in Legacy, but right now I think this deck is legitimately one of Legacy's top choices. Deathrite Shaman has warped the format toward decks that Blood Moon is good against, and the recent addition of cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Fiery Confluence have greatly increased the power level of this deck. This deck plays a ton of cards from recent sets, enough to where it almost doesn't even resemble the Mono-Red Prison decks of old.
Most decks in Legacy have issues beating some combination of Chalice of the Void, Ensnaring Bridge, Trinisphere and Blood Moon. Previously, fair decks could win against decks like this by just letting some amount of annoying permanents resolve, like Chalice of the Void or Trinisphere, and focus interaction on the ones that were most problematic, like Blood Moon. This strategy is much harder to pull off now that the Red Prison deck actually has a really high power level. There are too many good cards that can't be ignored – Hazoret and Chandra put a lot of pressure on the opponent, and Fiery Confluence is very effective at playing catch up against early creatures. There are too many must-counter cards for decks to just pick off one or two threats and hope to win before they topdeck another.
I can't remember the last time I played a Legacy event without Brainstorm in my deck, and it will take a lot to get me off playing the powerful blue instant, but this is actually one non-Brainstorm deck I would consider playing at a Legacy event.
- Brian Braun-Duin