In all the years I've been playing Legacy, one complaint has loudly been at the forefront for all players interested in playing the format, but unable to do so.
Legacy is too expensive. The prices of singles create an insurmountable barrier to entry for the format, and even though it seems like a cool format to play, I'll never be able to afford it.
Coming in a close second to this complaint is "There's no one around me who can play," which I consider to be an extension of the first complaint – if the barrier from cost were lower, then I expect there would be more interest at the local level for players.
I come from a position of privilege when it comes to Legacy card access. In my town, Legacy roots run as deep as Magic roots, as it was one of the original hot-beds of the Type 1.5 format (the predecessor of Legacy), and when the format was changed in 2004 the community remained active. For me personally, returning to the game in the fall of 2003 after a few years' hiatus, it was naturally Legacy that caught my eye. I am one of the fortunate players who originally owned Dual lands when I pulled them from Starter Decks (RIP) of Revised, so I never felt the initial sting of buying into the expensive format in the way many others did. Combining that with the fact that buying dual lands 10 years ago was a fraction of the cost of the existing market value, I had it good.
That's no longer where I am. I liquidated my collection in 2012, as real-life and an advancing case of adulthood encroached on my ability to be a care-free 20-something, and now I am essentially in the same boat as many of you. I say essentially, because while I personally don't own many Legacy staples, my community still does, and I know that if push came to shove I could beg or borrow a 75 card Legacy deck if necessary.
Not everyone has this luxury, of course. So then, what is an aspiring Legacy player going to do in those times when there's an itch that simply must be scratched, but your collection or budget won't warrant it? The answer is to improvise.
Let's make one thing clear right out of the gate. If you are playing any format, and especially Legacy, on a budget, you are going to disadvantage yourself by doing so. It is simply not possible to be competitive on the top levels of Magic while minimizing the investment you're willing to make. Good cards are scarce, and they are expensive as a result of this scarcity. That's one of the facts of Magic, and as cards age and become even less available due to attrition, it will continue to be the case. The old cards are probably never going to be as cheap as they are today again, and will absolutely never be as cheap as they were in 2004, so you may as well start accumulating them if you're serious about competing.
If you're willing to take a hit on the competitive scale and slowly build your way toward having a real Legacy collection, then here are some things you can do.
First, and I cannot over state this enough: Find a store with reasonable prize support for local weekly events. They don't even need to be Legacy events, anything that pays out reasonable amounts of store credit for Magic tournaments will do. This will be key, because success breeds a more adaptable budget. If you can consistently pay a $5 entry fee and win 20-30 or more in store credit, then those $150 dual lands start to become much more attainable. If the store you're attending has mediocre payout or limited singles available, consider discussing this with the manager/owner – most of them are players themselves and are open to the concerns of their patrons. If they aren't, maybe consider finding another shop.
Second, be patient. In today's world, this is a virtue that fewer possess than ever, but it can be especially difficult when you're trying to build a new Magic deck. Here's a secret: in over a decade of playing Legacy competitively, almost nothing has really changed. All the expensive cards were expensive back then too, but the price of nearly everything has gone up. Standard rares almost never hit $40 each 10 years ago, and now they do pretty consistently – at least out of the gate. $100 for a card was a lot, and even duals were never expected to break the triple digits for singles. Now, things are quite a bit different, and you really need to exercise patience in acquiring cards if you don't have the scratch to just buy everything outright.
When I first got back into Magic, I remember being fascinated by UW Landstill. I thought the deck looked great, but I lacked almost all the cards to play it. I owned one Force of Will that I had traded off a kid in the 90's, and I admittedly did own a set of Tundras that I had literally cracked in packs. However, I owned next to nothing else, because my casual tournament attendance as a young kid had not prepared me for the way Magic was played at a competitive level. So, I did what I could. I took the Tundras and tried to find a deck that I could build on a much smaller budget (I was a broke college student at the time, with a weekly budget largely comprised of beer money and trying to buy bus tickets to see my girlfriend on occasion). This led me to build a weird Enlightened Tutor based control deck that combined an Isochron Scepter / Orim's Chant soft-lock with Mana Severance and Goblin Charbelcher for the win condition. It was seriously bad, but it did allow me to get my foot in the door, to slowly build to a better collection by trading, winnings, and savvy purchases where I could afford them. Slowly but surely I managed to accumulate enough of a collection that I could build basically any deck, and enjoyed the format much more for having done so.
This kind of flexibility is not easy to come by in this day and age, but I still stand by the basic principles – not everyone has the ability to just buy whatever deck they want to play, but that doesn't mean you can't play.
The cards in Legacy can be extremely pricey, but there are some that stand out from the crowd. These uber-expensive cards are the major barriers to high-level Legacy play as I would define it, and though they can be impediments for newer players or veterans new to Legacy, there is some room to work around many of them.Spells
Force of Will – The big daddy of the blue cards, Force of Will is expensive because it is unique in effect and unparalleled in efficiency. It's a tough one to outright replace, though there are options. Daze, Spell Pierce, and Swan Song are all efficient Counterspells that can replicate the effect of Force of Will. Pact of Negation can help support a control strategy in the late game but is difficult to utilize in the early. Disrupting Shoal is a narrower version of Force that can sometimes be used as a Spell Blast. None of these are exact duplicates of Force, but they all can help to bridge the gap while you work on building your collection.
Flusterstorm – Much like Force of Will, Flusterstorm has a unique impact on the game, in that it both protects you from small-scale effects (often acting as a Spell Pierce) and can counter Storm spells on its own. Also like Force, you can use some other counters as replicants – Spell Pierce and Swan Song both act similarly against many spells; Mindbreak Trap and Stifle could be an inclusion in your arsenal if Storm is a worry.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor – For a long time, Jace saw waning play in Legacy. The original broken Planeswalker is still a great card, but there are far more strategies building away from him than toward. Planeswalkers in general are difficult cards to replace due to their unique nature and lasting impact on the board state, so modifying the strategy you're trying to play is probably worth more effort than trying to replicate the functionality of Jace.
Liliana of the Veil –Most of what I said about Jace applies here, though the situation is somewhat dissimilar. While Lili is still quite expensive, two things are worth factoring. First, the Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers are giving out promo Lilianas this season, and those are yet to be factored into the price. Second, because the PPTQ system no longer goes by a seasonal rotation, there will be less draw for Modern staples and the price will go down almost assuredly.Creatures
Tarmogoyf – The poster child of "Legacy prices are out of control," the two-mana vanilla creature that rocked the world has now seen two distinct printings. This past weekend, it was announced at the PAXEast Magic panel that Modern Masters 2015, to be released this summer, will contain Tarmogoyf once again. The first run of MMA had a negligible impact on the price tag of Goyf, but perhaps this second go around may do better. Meanwhile, there are in fact some alternatives to Goyf for the discerning player. Werebear was once as much a staple in the format as Goyf is today, and at the time of Future Sight's release there was some question which would prove the better threat. Since then, it's been proven well enough, but Werebear continues to be a formidable alternative. Scavenging Ooze has also found its way into the heart of Legacy, and often outclasses Goyf in a head-to-head battle for board dominance.
Dark Confidant – Pain Seer was essentially designed to be a budget version of Dark Confidant, but the effectiveness of it pales in comparison to Confidant. There are a few other alternatives, but keep in mind that Confidant too has ebbed in popularity over the course of the past few years, and likely whatever deck you're playing, you'd be able to find a list that doesn't include Bob.
Stoneforge Mystic – it's amazing to me that a card that was included as a two-of in an event deck has climbed as high in price as Stoneforge Mystic has. While admittedly there's no one-to-one replacement for this effect out there, you can build-a-bear via Steelshaper's Gift or Enlightened Tutor, and can supplement the body with cards like Squadron Hawk. While this won't help you vial a Batterskull into play, it will allow you access to some card advantage via Hawks and Swords, which can be threatening in its own right.
Snapcaster Mage – Snapcaster can be replicated to some extent by Eternal Witness, or alternatively it can be worked around or ignored. The good news is that unlike Modern, there's no deck in Legacy that is focused distinctly on Snapcaster, instead it's an avenue for decks to Recoup card advantage from their spent spells like Swords to Plowshares or cantrips. If that value is what you're looking for, I'd imagine taking advantage of the legality of Dig Through Time would be a great place to start. You maintain your graveyard as a resource, and can get the same +1 card as you would from SCM.
Vendilion Clique – Depends on the effect you're trying for. If the primary mode is informational, I recommend a Peek or Gitaxian Probe. If the primary mode is hand disruption, there are a plethora of alternatives in black. If the mode is an instant-speed threat to pressure planeswalkers, there are a multitude of blue flying threats to consider. Of course, the fact that you get all three in one package is why Clique is great, but that doesn't mean you can't get many of the effects for a Bargain price.
Noble Hierarch – Birds of Paradise is the best you'll get here. You lose some of the punch, but maintain the ramp. Plus, it blocks fliers!Lands
Duals – As it turns out, with access to 10 different Fetchlands the need for duals has gone down quite a bit. For many decks, you'll see a manabase comprised of basics, a few key "ability" lands, a slew of fetches, and a small number of duals (three to five) rounding out the colors. So, though the cost has increased quite a bit per dual, the number of duals you need may be less than you think. To that end, I believe you should focus on getting the right Fetchlands before you worry about dual lands. In the meantime, the Ravnica Shock Lands can make a reasonable facsimile of duals, as long as you're willing to work within their specific constraints. I've done a great amount of work online with Shocklands, especially in combo decks that can often race aggressive strategies.
Wasteland – Ghost Quarter is a reasonable parallel for Waste, especially against decks like Shardless Sultai or the like that don't run very many (or any) basic lands. I wouldn't recommend Tectonic Edge, as the added mana to activate and the requirements for four lands are detrimental to its use. The thing to keep in mind is that in many circumstances, keeping the opponent off the activation of a land like Maze of Ith, Karakas, or Academy Ruins can be more important than cutting off a color of mana. Even when colored mana is the key, you can sometimes catch them off guard if their basic count is low. I think this card is underplayed as-is, and if the price of Wasteland is scary, this is your best bet.
Rishadan Port – Tough to compare Port to much else, but the good news is very few decks play it – and those that do are either budget unfriendly anyway due to Karakas and the like, or can play without it fairly simply.
Karakas – Ask yourself: Can you get by without? While the utility of this land can't be denied, it isn't always necessary, and many of the decks that run it don't have a way to find it other than a natural draw. Is the presence of or lack of a singleton Karakas going to keep you from playing the Jeskai Delver deck you wanted to play? You could run Eiganjo Castle and protect your legends similarly until you get your hands on Karakas. Or you could run Plains, for that matter!
Fetchlands – At one time, this was a real prohibition on the format. Now that Khans of Tarkir has brought a reprint of the Onslaught Fetches, the price on this cycle has become much more reasonable. I bring these up then, because another announcement from this weekend's PAX panel has me thinking – the Fall set for 2015 will be a return to Zendikar, and along with that we will probably see something akin to the enemy colored Fetches we saw in the original set. If that's the case, we'll have all 10 Fetches in current Standard for the first time ever, and as such we'd see the prices drop significantly as we can crack them in packs that are still in print. So, the floor has never been lower on Fetchlands than it could be in a few months' time, so if you're in the market keep your eyes open for the fall.
The point I want to drive home here is that yes, Legacy is an expensive format – but that shouldn't be an insurmountable obstacle in the way of you enjoying the format. Your deck may not be optimized at first – and in a world where copying a winning list is more convenient than ever before, that can be a painful experience for many. The important part of this is not winning at the onset. Bring your un-tuned, random collection of rares and mythics to your LGS. Meet the players that have been around for years. Talk to them, and see what they can offer you in terms of experience and workarounds. We've all been through those growing pains and have plenty of suggestions – and you may be surprised to learn just how deep the card-pool knowledge of your average Legacy enthusiast goes. Slowly work toward building both the collection needed to play a deck you want, and the connections required to succeed as a Legacy player. A massive part of card access is networking, and building relationships is almost as important to your long-term growth as a Legacy player as building sideboards is. When you put the time and effort in, and demonstrate a willingness to invest into the format despite your disadvantages, you'll be noticed for that effort, and those who are already invested in the format's success will appreciate it. It's a long road – much longer than most of us are used to – but it's worth it. Good luck, I'm rooting for you.