(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.