The Legacy Banlist

(Edit: I have written a short follow-up on this article, further addressing blue dominance: About Survival of the Fittest.)

For some reason or another, I end up talking about the Legacy Ban List a lot on twitter (which definitely has to do with @itsJulian23 & @TogoresTcg). I feel like I keep repeating myself without ever giving proper explanations. Further, the only things we discuss are things the others say that I disagree with; I have never really shared my own thoughts.

In part, this is because I do not feel as strongly about my opinions as other people feel about theirs. I also never thought anyone would care about what I would say. And if they did, they would disagree with my ideas and think I was being ridiculous. So, be warned. I am likely going to say things you disagree with. I might say things that make me come off as very arrogant. I am definitely going to step on some toes. I am not here to make friends.

(Enough with the cheese.)

Before we get to my proposed changes, I think I should outline my views on the format in general.

Overall, I think the format is fine. There are things that could be improved for sure, but no deck is too far ahead of the others; in fact, I think what the best deck is constantly changes. There is a very clear bias towards Miracles, but it’s exactly that: Bias.

For a while, I have felt that Miracles was both underplayed and overrated at the same time. Let me elaborate.

One problem that Legacy does in fact have is card accessibility. The format is unnecessarily expensive. Even on Magic Online, although it is much less of an issue there because you both get to play more and have to spend less. This means that many players are locked into decks they have committed to at some point. Buying another deck (especially one with minimal overlap to a player’s current collection) is not reasonable for many of those players.

This amplifies another effect that shapes the common perception of the format as a whole. Ever since I started playing Legacy in early 2010, players have been saying how great the format was by virtue of the sheer number of decks being able to do well. That is, and always has been, a myth. At least once you reach a certain threshold of how developed a metagame is.

The reason many decks can do well in Legacy is that many bad decks are being played. The problem here is that those decks are only ‘bad’. Many of them still do really powerful things; almost every deck in the format has access to absurdly strong individual cards. In Legacy, when a threat goes unanswered it usually wins the game in short order.

Combining these two things, you get a format where bad decks do not actually seem bad (because they’re still powerful and the competition is, in a way, handicapped) and where not many people get to try out a very wide range of decks.

This is an issue because many players base their view of the format around the decks they started out with. Out of the multitude of decks in Legacy, only a handful are actually good; there is a significant gap between the top five decks in the format and the next 20 or so decks. However, within those tiers, the decks are usually very close in terms of powerlevel and playability (please note that these numbers fluctuate, sometimes there are fewer decks in the top tier).

Because the top decks in Legacy are represented in significatly lower numbers than in other formats, it often seems like tier two decks only have a few bad matchups and plenty of even to favourable matchups (because matchups within tier two are so close).

Further, Legacy is indeed quite skill intensive, so a proficient player can easily have winning records against almost all tier two decks despite playing a tier two deck themselves. It is even possible for them to go toe-to-toe with less skilled players yielding tier one decks.

This means that a player can get really far in Legacy without ever playing a really powerful deck. They will think it is indeed their deck that is good, when in reality their choice of deck is holding them back. Deck selection in Legacy is incredibly hard and not many players randomly commit to the tier one decks early on in their careers.

Through no fault of their own, many Legacy players do not have the context of knowing what it feels like playing a really powerful deck. In fact, I think there are many more players held back by their decks than there are players who are carried by their decks.

What does all of this have to do with Miracles?

Miracles is underplayed when you consider the large amount of decks it is obviously good against. The deck is certainly tier one. However, it has almost never been the best deck in the format; it is overrated in that regard. As I mentioned before, all the tier one decks are very close as well. How they rank within the tier depends on metagame developments.

To sum this up, I do not think Sensei’s Divining Top should be banned.

The main reason Miracles has been the most popular and prolific deck in the format for such a long time is that it took too long for the other decks to adapt. Miracles was around ever since Avacyn Restored was printed, but it wasn’t very popular in the beginning. Because it wasn’t that common, there was no reason for other decks to adapt, but Miracles obviously adapted to the metagame around it.

When Miracles finally became really popular some time between 2013-14, it was built to beat most of the other decks in the format. From there, an information cascade started and it seemed like Miracles was ahead of the rest of the format when it really wasn’t more inherently powerful than other decks, just further developed.

Still, there is one main reason that Miracles could actually take off in the way that it did: Cantrips. I firmly believe that blue decks are ahead of other decks in Legacy. This is in large part owed to Brainstorm, but Ponder and Force of Will also play into this.

Brainstorm is, quite frankly, the best card in the format. The reason it is so good is that it’s the leanest late-game engine around. Where other decks have to run planeswalkers and Cascade creatures, blue decks get to run Brainstorm to beef up their mid-late game, which is way more flexible than CC3+ spells.

Many players say that this is a problem, I disagree. To me, it doesn’t matter if the top five decks are all blue as long as there are five different decks  worth playing that generate interesting games.

With my general thoughts on the workings of the format out of the way, we can finally get into my proposed changes.

Ban Monastery Mentor.

Overall, I do not think Mentor is too powerful, although I do think increasingly powerful creatures are a potential problem for Legacy in the future.

My issue with Mentor is that it gives Miracles a way to steal games in a way the deck should not be able to. There are many games that Miracles should not be able to win, but then they draw Monastery Mentor and there’s nothing the opponent can do because it snowballs too quickly. With Mentor, the deck can win too easily from essentially no board presence.

One might argue that it’s the same for Entreat the Angels. which can also end games on the spot, but Entreat requires more setup and is easier to interact with on the stack.

This is an issue in matchups that are otherwise close, but it’s also an issue in matchups that Miracles is not supposed to win. Without Mentor, it is fairly easy to combat Miracles, but Mentor is an angle of attack too different of the rest of the deck and it requires opponents to have too many situational answers.

I do not mind Miracles having a different angle of attack in general; I think creatures and silver-bullet enchantments like Blood Moon or Moat are fine, but Mentor is just too efficient and powerful.

Banning Monastery Mentor would certainly make matches with and against Miracles more interesting.

Ban Gitaxian Probe.

This card is very interesting in Storm. Timing it correctly is not trivial; you have to evaluate the information you get from Probe vs. the benefit of using it as an engine spell later on, which is already enough for me. But Gitaxian Probe also makes it reasonable to play Cabal Therapy, which is roughly the most interesting card in the format. It’s not very interesting when you consecutively resolve Probe into Therapy, but if anything happens inbetween or you do not have Probe in the first place, Cabal Therapy is very skill-testing in a way that no other cards in the format are.

In UR Delver, Probe is somewhat similar, although the information doesn’t contribute to any synergies. It is mostly timing for maximum Prowess-benefits, which can be interesting, but it is definitely something the format could do without.

Outside of those two decks, Gitaxian Probe does not make games interesting. Despite the fact that banning Probe would eliminate Cabal Therapy from Storm, there would be more mini-games involving hidden information, which would make for a larger number of enjoyable games in general.

These are the only two cards that I think should be banned in Legacy. However, there are more changes that I would like to see. One of those won’t happen because of how Magic works, one card I would personally like to get banned (it actually might be, but it’s unlikely) and another change is definitely not happening, but I most certainly would not mind.

Fix Deathrite Shaman.

Deathrite Shaman as a 1/2 is stupid. It should not have its current text box and the ability to kill creatures in combat and live. Ideally, they would ban Deathrite and reprint it as a 0/1, but I could live with an 0/2 or 1/1 as well. I think I would rather have Deathrite in its current form than no Deathrite at all, but having it downsized would by far be the best option.

A Deathrite that dies to Darkblast and half a Forked Bolt would be so interesting, why can’t we just get that? As I said before, I don’t think that’s how Magic works, but maybe it should be.

Ban Chalice of the Void.

What can I say? I don’t think the card is too good, so it shouldn’t be banned on those grounds, but I do not enjoy playing against it. Especially when it forces you to run cards that you otherwise wouldn’t (similar to Monastery Mentor in Miracles), as is the case in Eldrazi Stompy and Aggro Loam, which barely have relevant artifacts otherwise. Combine this with the fact that both of those decks can cast Chalice for one on their first turn, that is definitely not what I have in mind when I think of interesting games of Magic.

Still, I do admit there are players who enjoy playing this card and I am not more important than they are.

Remember how I said I was going to step on some toes today? Remember how I said there was another change I had in mind that wasn’t happening? Remember how I said that blue decks were already ahead of everything else in the format?

Well, I honestly did not think Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise were problems. If anything, they made things more obvious, but not in a way that would be relevant if people were only playing top tier decks.

But I also concede that there are cards that are interesting to play with and cards that are interesting to build decks with. Maybe the blue Delve spells are more in the second category (along with Storm as of late and Chalice of the Void), but I personally wouldn’t mind playing with them for another three months.

If you want to yell at me for this, feel free to write at me in all caps. I might not respond, but if you stuck with me, you have earned it. I also don’t mind discussing this for a bit, so if you disagree with something, let me know why. Otherwise, thanks for reading.

J

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9 thoughts on “The Legacy Banlist

  1. I like your thoughts. Git probe is certainly an interesting one to consider. Most of the time I am fine with it, but it is annoying when sneak and show gets perfect information.

    Just as an aside, you mention the tier 1 powerful 5 decks pretty often. I am probably currently one of the people you talk about playing an inferior choice, Maverick. I have had better results with his lately than I have in the past, even with decks like Shardless BUG, Grixis Delver, Miracles, and Sneak and Show. Of course it is bad to be results oriented, but don’t you think there is some fluidity between tier 1 and tier 2 with decks that are extremely powerful in some metagames (elves for example)? Also, what would you consider the “big 5”?

    Miracles
    Grixis/4c Delver (basically drs fueled wasteland versions of delver)
    Sneak and Show
    Shardless/BUG Control
    ???

    Curious to hear your thoughts!

    1. Probe is really annoying when you’re on combo as well; I actually think Storm’s expected win rate improves without Probe in the format.

      As for tier one, I think that’s currently made up of Miracles, Sneak & Show, Canadian and Storm. Maybe there’s a small tier then that has UR Delver and Team America, then comes everything else. You mentioned Elves and I do think that it was the best tier two deck right after the banning of Dig Through Time and maybe before KTK as well although I am honestly not too sure about that era given that I wasn’t really playing Magic at the time.

      Just because a player performs better with one deck doesn’t means it’s better than another. I’m sure there are countless players who would do worse with Storm than almost any other deck; it’s definitely better to play a less powerful deck well than the best deck horribly and it certainly does take time to learn some of the better decks.

      And yeah, of course metagames matter. Hypothetically, if nobody plays the best decks, it doesn’t matter as much if you don’t either. There was a long period of time where Storm was far and away the best deck in the format and many widely played decks were extremely soft to it, but nobody played Storm, so it didn’t matter. The same thing can happen again.

  2. I dont agree with “banning chalice of the void”.
    It certainly is powerful but if youd think about it, it is just powerful cause decks like 4c Loam and dragon stompy are built around it just like miracles is built around countertop.
    Chalice of the void affects both players so they sacrifice not using certain powerful spells (brainstorm, swords, etc.) too. If decks arent too greedy by using only 1 cmc spells in their deck (delver, miracles etc), i dont think they would complain about chalice. Just my opinion thanks

  3. Gotta say, up until the git probe part the article resonates a lot with me. Since those criticisms have been argued to death over on reddit I won’t mention them further.

    What I have to say is that I find that your point about decks being “bad” is not talked about nearly enough in the community. For months I have been wondering “W(hy)TF is Grixis Delver keeping its metagame share?” every time I lost to the deck I felt like I lost to a horrible Canadian/UR Delver draw. The same goes for Aggro Loam or Maverick. Every time I sleeve up Miracles or OmniSneak/Sneak and Show for a tournament I feel like I am getting away with something.

    Also kudos on the Mentor part. I hate that card with every fibre of my being and hate it even more that I am basically forced to play that POS in order to not gimp myself. I hope that WotC demoting of Legacy down close to the level of Vintage as far as support goes means that they will adopt the Vintage restricted list philosophy. Namely that of not banning a pillar of the format just because it is very strong. Taking out Miracles completely by banning Top, Balance or Terminus might shake up the format, but I don’t see Maverick faring all that well against Elves or Storm that now have their complete sideboard and their flexslots unlocked to prepare for the new metagame. For the same reason I would not like chalice to go away. I might also hate that card, but for better or worse it’s one of the pillars of the format.

    1. Agree on Grixis Delver. When Dig was legal I already thought it wasn’t great and the loss of Dig has hurt Grixis much more than most other decks. I just wish the Legacy community could get over their disdain for Magic Online; the programm, no matter how bad it is right now, is clearly the only way for Legacy to really flourish again, at least on a competitive level.

      Also agree on what you said about Miracles. Storm would be way too good with a 15 card sideboard (likely going back to a 58 card maindeck as well, opening up even more slots).

  4. hey! nice article, pretty polemical indeed :)
    the only part I agree with you is the banning of probe. simply because, as Jeff Hoogland once said, it takes away one of the most interest aspects of the game, which is hidden information – and at nearly no cost!
    aside from that, I strongly disagree with your thoughts, or maybe I don´t even understand them? so you think people should seek to play only tier 1 decks? and you´re ok with the entire legacy community casting brainstorms? well I think that´s just boring… much more boring than a chalice on turn 1.
    most of the time I´m happy to see non-brainstorm decks do well in legacy, not because I dislike blue but just because it´s so dominant. I enjoy rogue lists and bizarre cards to see play; that´s what´s so neat about a huge card pool and it´s a way for new decks to arise!
    I´m fine with both mentor and shaman as is. And as to chalice, I agree with what Jsn27 said: it´s a symmetrical effect that comes with its own restriction. Also, remember it can be cast for 0 on combo MU, and for 2 and 3 on some corner cases. Overall I believe it´s a good card to enable some decks that otherwise wouldn´t be viable and at the same time to mitigate some of the blue dominance in the format (cantrips I´m looking at you!). finally – hang on – you were ok with dig through and cruise?? perhaps in a world where everybody plays blue, but I´m not too fond of that.

    these are my thoughts :)
    cheers from Brazil!

    1. Well, I think if you’re entering a tournament and your goal is to do well, there is no reason to not play the best deck. Depending on how exactly a metagame shakes out, the best deck will almost always be one of a small group of decks, all of which are based around cantrips (and countermagic, except for Storm).
      And I actually think blue “mirrors” (decks are so vastly different, but hey) are, for the most part, more interesting than blue vs. non-blue matchups. It’s not as bad as it was when Dig was legal, but too many games have an interesting early stage but then mostly boil down to the order players draw their cards in (please do not take this to mean that I think non-blue decks are less skill-intensive than blue decks, I think those game states are not very interesting regardless of which side you’re on).

      I also really like to see innovation, but I don’t like it for its own sake. Almost all brews are incredibly handicapped by their lack of cantrips / consistent lategame engines. For example, I think Green Sun’s Zenith is underexplored and should be looked at more closely.

      There are two reasons I was okay with Dig and Cruise. The first is that I really enjoyed playing and building with either of them, I wouldn’t have minded to play another three months with them. The second is that I don’t think those cards were a problem in and on themselves. If the dominance of blue decks it is a problem, it exists with or without those two cards, they only amplify it.

  5. Man, i love me some RUG, but i have no idea how you can consider it one of the best decks in the format right now. It makes me question your feel of the pulse of this game in general. Grixis Delver might seem disjointed, but it is most certainly playing the more powerful cards. Canadian is a cohesive machine and an amazingly sleek built deck, but sometimes cards just get outclassed by raw power over time. When your un-threshholded Goose cant even get in chip damage against a DRS, there are problems. When nothing in your deck can get Goyf bigger than a vanilla 5/5 Angler, you again have problems.

    You mentioned you’ve only been playing since 2010, so then have you not witnessed the eb and flow of certain decks? There was a time when Goblins was THE deck! NO RUG, Stoneblade decks, even Flash Hulk were all top decks at one point, but no longer are, because thats how meta games work. When Return to Ravnica came out in 2012, the writing was on the wall for RUG. DRS single handedly counters 2/3’s of RUG’s threats. Its too stressful on a deck like RUG to use all of its resources to keep DRS off the table.

    Times change and you have to change with it. RUG had its time to shine and i’ll always be sad that it is now a lower tier deck, but let it go dude!

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