Ask any player who is reasonably invested into Legacy, and you'll hear a similar tune. The StarCity Games Open series is the reason for the widespread popularity of Legacy as a format. Before SCG began buying up Legacy staples like they were going out of style, and hosting weekly major Legacy events in cities around the United States, the format was largely a wild-west format with a few isolated and insular pockets of die-hard fans scattered around the globe. For the most part, the only time the greater Magic community paid any heed to the format at all was the one-to-two times per calendar year when Wizards threw a bone to the Legacy crowd and hosted a Legacy Grand Prix.
Once SCG came on board with their format support, the wider audience got a bit more exposure to what Legacy had to offer. There was a major spike in the value of all the Legacy cards required to play competitively. Dual lands like Underground Sea went from a meager $30-50 a piece to an astonishing $200+ each, a price escalation very few stocks could rival. For those of us who were invested in Legacy prior to the bubble, this was about the craziest explosion of growth we could have imagined. A long time ago, in another era of Magic entirely, I was writing one article per month for StarCity – in a four writer cycle of Legacy articles, one published per week. That was, for all intents and purposes, the only Legacy-related content being published on the web. No one cared about the format at all. With the rise of the Open Series we saw a surge of popularity with article writing as well and a multitude of sites began hosting regular Legacy content by multiple writers. There were still only one or two Grand Prix per year, but those events were supplemented by the fact that nearly every Sunday you could tune in for a live stream of the Legacy Open, and get your fix.
The past five or six years have been fantastic for Legacy, and for those of us who enjoy the format. We've enjoyed dedicated players trying their best to break a powerful format, and have seen great Magic minds take Legacy for a spin. We've watched on baited breath to see what the next brew Gerry Thompson will come up with, and seen players like Caleb Durward, Joe Lossett, Chris Andersen, etc. make a name for themselves through their Legacy play. Even as Modern arrived and threatened the space that Legacy occupies, the format held strong in the knowledge that as cool as Modern can be, there's an allure to playing with Force of Will, Dark Ritual, Wasteland, Brainstorm, and the rest, and as long as there are events for people to play in and watch, Legacy will be a format with draw for the Magic populous.
This year, in an effort to better handle rising numbers of entrants to their events, StarCity Games decided to change the structure of their Open Series weekends. Rather than being single-day events - Standard on Saturday and Legacy on Sunday - they now run similar to Grand Prix structure. This subtle change is devastating to Legacy in a way that very few events have been before. In a nutshell, this means that we'll no longer have a guaranteed Legacy event to watch each weekend. It means that Sunday will be a livecast of Day 2 of whichever format the SCG Open happens to be this weekend, which will more often than not be Standard, and will very rarely be Legacy. Rest assured, there will still be a Legacy event at each Open weekend, and there will still be coverage of the top decks of that event, but the cameras have gone dark, and the coverage team is looking in the other direction.
As someone who cut his teeth playing in DIY Legacy tournaments all over the East Coast – playing in a VFW hall for dual lands one weekend, and in an Elks lodge for Force of Wills the next – this is a potential return to the norm. I spent much of my early 20s sleeping on couches and floors, driving across state lines for the only Legacy events bigger than an FNM you could find. The same 30-40 guys would be at every event, bringing their newest technology with them as they slowly - glacially - evolved the metagame from month to month. The largest Legacy event of all time was once held near Syracuse, NY – with a whopping 120 players. The cards given out for the Top 8 of that event are now worth 10 times more than they were that day.
I don't expect the future of Legacy to closely resemble its past. It's true that we won't have StarCity events each weekend to flock to, but the point I'm making above is that we didn't always have that, and we survived. There's a vacuum where those Opens once were, and there's nothing stopping another store or site from filling that void with their own events and coverage. The road has been paved, and all we need now is for someone to decide to drive us down it. I expect a savvy businessman to recognize this opportunity and take advantage. Legacy has a bright, if perhaps uncertain, future ahead.
This weekend was the last Legacy Open we'll see until May. As the first event following the ban of Treasure Cruise, expectations were running high for the triumphant return of all the strategies that were rendered invalid by the Delver-Cruise menace. There were a number of cards on the radar, each having left the prior iteration of Legacy.
Deathrite Shaman – A card that thrives on incremental value, and becomes better the more turns it stays in play. With Cruise doing double duty in speeding up the format and rendering graveyards difficult to utilize, not much room was left for the one-drop.
Dark Confidant – Much like Deathrite Shaman, Dark Confidant is a slow draw engine built on staying in play over a number of turns. Combined with the significant increase in average mana cost warranted by adding four eight-drops to your deck, you begin to have difficulty justifying the risk.
Shardless Agent – When the best Ancestral Recall in the format goes from being a "no-mana-cost" spell to a "one mana eight-drop" spell, the extra value from a Shardless Agent begins to seem negligible. In a format focused on creatures that plow over a 2/2 ( Monastery Swiftspear) or simply go around it ( Young Pyromancer), the body you leave behind is also of minimal value.
Nettle Sentinel – Elves had a difficult time competing in a format where four Lightning Bolts weren't enough, and players were main-decking Forked Bolt. With the reduction in the number of UR Delver decks, Elves was poised for a return.
Wasteland – The best deck in Legacy for the past few months was basic land-heavy enough that Blood Moon was a reasonable sideboard consideration for it. In that metagame, you're better off making sure your color requirements are easily met rather than trying to disrupt the opponent's. Wasteland was at an all-time low in play, and with UR Delver off the market, it had potential for a return.
Each of these cards showed up in droves, and the Top 16 of the event was rife with Sultai-based midrange decks, elves, combo decks, and incremental value.
Along with these old staples, a few newer cards were expected to see some increase in play.
Dig Through Time – The power of Treasure Cruise is well known, but could its kid brother pick up the slack where it left off? Is the difference between one blue mana and two enough to keep the Delve engine down? What kind of new decks would we see playing Dig?
The answer came in the form of a unique Thoper Foundry control deck, largely designed by Gerry Thompson and piloted to a 13th place finish by Chris Andersen:
I love this deck. I have a long and sordid history with artifact-based Esper control decks, and this hit me right in the feels. Dig Through Time is a fantastic addition to a deck that's trying to assemble a two-card combo, or anything that's chock full of situational one-ofs. I find the choice to include a singleton Sensei's Divining Top in the maindeck, with another two in the sideboard to be somewhat strange, I'd imagine that if you want one in the main, three is probably worth including, but it's just as possible that you don't really need one in the maindeck and only prefer it in the matchups where you'd want Counterbalance as well. In a way it's somewhat akin to a Ponder that you can sacrifice to Thopter Foundry, though paired with fetchlands and an abundance of Mental Note effects I can see it being an overall improvement on that cantrip.
The sideboard is an extension of the maindeck's methodology, containing a multitude of powerful but narrow effects that are easily found through the combination of Dig and Enlightened Tutor. I've personally never met an Enlightened Tutor board I didn't like, so I admittedly hold some bias, but spells like Humility and Ethersworn Canonist have such a crippling effect against the decks they're intended for that I can't help but think they should see more play. Putting Counterbalance in the sideboard rather than the maindeck means you have access to it where it counts, but it won't clutter your hand when you're facing down aggressive or midrange strategies.
The other major new player in the format is Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Appearing in a number of the Sultai Delver and Shardless Sultai lists, Tasigur was already lauded as one of the best cards in Fate Reforged for Standard and Modern Constructed play, but was a bit of a surprise in Legacy.
Rudy Briksza placed 5th at the open with the following list:
On one hand, you get a 4/5 body for a paltry single black mana, a Bargain by all definitions. Of course, the four mana activated ability of Tasigur does seem a bit ambitious in Legacy, where your mana constraints are much more narrow, and paying four mana for an effect should likely win you the game, rather than buying you a conditional Regrowth. A deck like Rudy's, that has some control over the yard with Dig Through Time and Tasigur's Delve costs, has a better shot at getting back a relevant spell than others may, but there are still some blanks that would be awkward to get back for four mana – Ancestral Visions being the greatest offender. I see the "new Tarmogoyf" similarly to how I saw the "old Necropolis Fiend," or Tombstalker, when it first came out – brewers were anxious to play with a new toy, but ultimately it didn't have the same impact that they expected. Without the use of Tasigur's activated ability, you'd be better served running Gurmag Angler or Hooting Mandrils, and no one is scrambling to fit those creatures into their deck. Ultimately it will come down to how impactful that activated ability is – I don't have the experience with the card in Legacy to know for sure, but I'd be interested in hearing if any of you have put time into testing Tasigur, and if the ability has been more relevant than the "one mana 4/5" part of the card.
Depending on how you slice it, Treasure Cruise either shook up or broke the metagame. Very few cards have that kind of impact in Legacy – the last one of note being Delver of Secrets itself – and when the extra-broken ones come about it seems to hit the pause button on the format in a way. Treasure Cruise will Join the Ranks alongside Mental Misstep, Survival of the Fittest, and Flash – the cards that turned Legacy into an entirely different format for a brief but exciting period of time, before finding their way to the Banned list and returning to the business as usual.
Of course, just as with each of those cards before Cruise, the impact of the banned card remained after the spells themselves were gone. We'll still see UR Delver lists running other draw engines in place of Cruise, just as we still see Stone-Blade decks with no Mental Misstep. We still see combo decks sideboarding Dark Confidant or Counterbalance despite Flash being a distant memory. What interests me the most in the wake of a ban is the slow but steady introduction of other cards from the banned card's set trickling into the format as players delve deeper beyond the obviously overpowered, and into the possibly strong. Though Fate Reforged may be the set newest to the shelves, there are 300 more cards in Khans of Tarkir that may not have been given a fair shake with their flashy and popular cousin stealing the show. The next few months will be interesting as we effectively get two whole sets' worth of brew fodder to work with. Over there - where the cameras aren't looking.