Metagame shifts tend to be slower in Legacy than in other formats and therefore aren’t talked about as much. Still, if we want to gain an edge in our tournament preparation and deck selection process it is imperative that we stay on top of the metagame. It is not enough to merely play a good deck. If one wants to give themselves the best chance of winning one needs to pay attention to trends in the metagame and adapt accordingly. The best players see continued success not only because of their superior play skill, but also because they are constantly adapting to the latest metagame shifts and trying out new ideas. For them, innovation isn’t a process that ends.
Staying ahead of the curve and adapting to the metagame comes down to both deck selection and deck tuning. While I do believe it’s important to understand both, advice along the lines of “buy a new deck” isn’t always helpful or even realistic, so today I will focus on the latter.
Constant Vigilance—spotting trends and shifts in the metagame and adapting quickly
In order to stay on top of the metagame the first thing we need to do is make sure we’re up to date on everything that’s going on. You can’t afford to be taken off guard by the fact that your opponent’s Canadian Threshold list eschews Tarmogoyf for True-Name Nemesis, or to be surprised when the Food Chain player across from you plays a Walking Ballista.
This means looking at recent tournament results. It means scouring the Legacy forums to see when new technology pops up. How much time and energy you put into this is up to you, but don’t expect to get there without at least some level of dedicated effort on your part. Do the homework. You will reap the rewards in the form of improved tournament finishes.
Recent shifts in the Legacy metagame—adapting to Leovold and Fatal Push
The most recent set releases have blessed us with an extraordinary number of Legacy playables. Conspiracy: Take the Crown brought us a whopping four new Legacy staples in the form of Recruiter of the Guard, Sanctum Prelate, Palace Jailer, and Leovold, Emissary of Trest. With Aether Revolt we saw the printing of both Fatal Push and Walking Ballista. In addition to this, it seems people have finally caught onto the four color control deck commonly known as Czech Pile, as it has seen a surge in popularity as of late. Suffice to say, things have been shaken up in Legacy.
Leovold, Emissary of Trest
Let’s start with the card that has gotten the most hype. The addition of Leovold has caused a rise in three and four color midrange and control decks in the format. The powerful new legendary three drop does two very relevant things, making it a very potent card. The first ability stops Legacy’s signature cantrips, Brainstorm and Ponder, as well as Griselbrand, Baleful Strix, Glimpse of Nature, and any other card-drawing shenanigans your opponent is up to. Not only is this kind of library manipulation very common in Legacy, but by negating your opponent’s ability to draw more cards you also make it far more difficult for them to actually find an answer to your Leovold, further increasing the chances that they will end up with a bunch of dead cards stranded in their hand.
The second ability weakens the usefulness of any spell or ability from the opponent that would target you or a permanent you control. This helps protect you from a wide variety of things your opponents could be doing—from Tendrils of Agony to Rishadan Port. But more importantly it helps shore up a key weakness. Traditionally in Legacy you would have to think twice before adding a creature that costs three or more mana to your deck. The answers are all so efficient and you could easily end up on the back foot due to the tempo loss that comes from trading your three-mana threat for their one-mana removal spell. Leovold alleviates this problem. The extra card more than makes up for the loss of tempo—especially now that Delver decks have slowed down to grind better in the late game.
There are a few different things we can do to combat the legendary Elf Advisor. Ponder and Brainstorm are still two of the best cards in Legacy, but try to make sure your deck can still function even when there’s a Leovold in play on the other side of the table. Red Elemental Blast is a fantastic card on its own and allows you to trade up on mana while interacting on the stack. Karakas is another efficient solution for the decks that can support it. Just make sure you’re able to capitalize on the the tempo advantage, as otherwise you risk losing to their extra cards.
Ironically enough, your own copy of Leovold also happens to be one of the better answers to Leovold, Emissary of Trest. With a Leovold of your own in play, your opponent won’t get to draw a card when you go to target theirs with a removal spell.
Finally, we can go after their mana bases. Leovold has an ambitious mana cost, and the decks playing it are often playing three or four colors. Wasteland might not be very effective one Leovold hits the battlefield, but it sure is strong against the rest of their deck. Especially so in conjunction with Rishadan Port. Jamming an early Blood Moon is sure to earn you a couple of free wins here and there.
Fatal Push has provided black decks in Legacy with an efficient removal spell, leading Delver decks in particular to substitute black for red. The card Lightning Bolt was always the biggest draw towards playing red in these deck, and now that Fatal Push is here Lightning Bolt is no longer as necessary. It also serves as a clean answer to an opposing Tarmogoyf, and this along with the rise in popularity of both Baleful Strix and Gurmag Angler has lead to the former Legacy all star being largely pushed out of the format (for now).
As a reaction to this, several players have been experimenting with various ‘Fatal Push proof’ threats, and many of these experiments have been successful. As a result of this we’ve seen a resurgence of Nimble Mongoose and True-Name Nemesis. Some lists have even included Hooting Mandrills, a card that in addition to being Fatal Push-proof also matches up very well against the aforementioned Merfolk Rogue.
It used to be that playing with converted mana cost four creatures was a fairly safe strategy against the various BUG decks of the format, as those creatures are immune to Abrupt Decay. With Fatal Push around however, that is no longer the case, and so we look to new ways of beating these decks. If people are eschewing bolts for black removal spells, this might just be the time to play Mirran Crusader. I have yet to learn how to play Death & Taxes, so take this with a grain of salt. But it does sound good in theory.
Black/Red Reanimator, Snapcaster Mage, & the rise of Surgical Extraction
Black Red Reanimator is a surprisingly powerful combo deck that focuses on speed, attempting to go under the opponent’s hate cards. This in combination with Tarmogoyf’s departure from the format has lead to a change in what graveyard hate people choose to play. Relic of Progenitus and Rest in Peace are now too slow to serve their intended purposes in many cases, and many players have opted for faster options. The most popular choice at the moment by far is Surgical Extraction, in no small part due to its synergy with Snapcaster Mage, another card that has seen a rise in popularity with the printing of Fatal Push.
So what does this mean for us? Well, for starters if you’re still playing with the same graveyard hate from before, ask yourself if this is really the correct choice for the current metagame, or if you’re simply sticking with what feels familiar. Jadine Klomparens wrote an excellent article on vestigial cards a while back that I can’t recommend highly enough. Seriously, you should go check it out right now if you haven’t already.
Second of all, this makes cards that are vulnerable to other forms of graveyard hate a little bit better positioned at the moment. Nimble Mongoose matches up quite poorly against Rest in Peace, but is essentially unbothered by a Surgical Extraction. Similarly, Natural Order gets a little better when you don’t have to worry as much about running into a Grafdigger’s Cage. It’s also a nice way to go over the top of the new three and four color decks. Leovold does a lot of things, but beating Progenitus is not one of them.
In a format as old as Legacy it can sometimes feel as if all the best strategies have been tried a million times already. But there’s still an edge to be gained from staying on top of the metagame. I have a feeling there’s more room for innovation in this format than most of us would have dared to imagine.
Sandro is a Magic player from Stockholm, Sweden. He’s been playing Goblins in Legacy for years. Follow him on Twitter @SandroRajalin