A Brave New World: The Changing Face of Legacy
Anyone who has played Legacy for a long time knows the format can be slow to change, barring truly exceptional sets. For most of 2017 and 2018, the largest Legacy changes came from Wizards of the Coast banning cards, first Sensei's Divining Top, and later Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe. 2019, however, is set to be one of the most turbulent years since 2011, which saw the introduction of Batterskull, Gitaxian Probe, Mental Misstep, the bulk of Infect, Snapcaster Mage, Delver of Secrets, Lingering Souls, and others. War of the Spark and Modern Horizons are both particularly strong sets, and the impact they've had on Legacy has been both immediate and significant. Even Core 2020 has had its contributions.
Six primary WAR and MH1 cards have reshaped the Legacy metagame: Narset, Parter of Veils, Teferi, Time Raveler, Karn, The Great Creator, Dreadhorde Arcanist, Wrenn and Six, and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. These cards have changed every major deck besides Death and Taxes, Reanimator, Storm, and Show and Tell, and several archetypes have even sprung up with the new additions. After breaking these cards down, we'll look at some sample decklists, as well as other new cards supporting these decks.
Narset, Parter of Veils is the first WAR card making a splash in Legacy. Like Leovold, Emissary of Trest before her, she blocks the opponent from drawing extra cards, which is a powerful tool against blue decks, greatly weakening the power of Legacy's ubiquitous cantrips like Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain. But being a planeswalker and only requiring blue mana, she's much harder to remove than Leovold and fits in more places than the Elf ever did. While Leovold functioned as a threat, Narset instead digs a la Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, providing card advantage and quality in one package.
Narset slots perfectly into Miracles, the dominant blue control list. After Top's ban made Counterbalance a less effective option, Miracles struggled to find a replacement that could generate card advantage to compete in the long game. It experimented with Search for Azcanta, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Predict, and Accumulated Knowledge. Narset has proven to be the far and away best option for this slot, providing card advantage as well as disruption to opposing draw. In addition to Miracles, Grixis Control, Czech Pile, and Stoneblade have all been including Narset, turning the blue control matchup into an arms race of who can Narset-block the opposing draw first.
Teferi, Time Raveler has also been a major player in Miracles. Like Narset, he packs a passive ability that really tilts the control matchup in its controller's favor, shutting off all instant-speed casting. This prevents the opponent from countering any spells and effectively makes Teferi's controller's spells uncounterable. He also stops a number of incidental effects like cascade triggers, Dreadhorde Arcanist triggers, suspended spells, and more.
On top of that, Teferi brings two loyalty abilities to the table. His +1 fits perfectly into Miracles, allowing them to miracle Terminus during the opponent's turn with an instant-speed Ponder or Preordain, as well as dropping other sorceries like Supreme Verdict and Council's Judgment at the best possible times. Teferi's -3 is also very powerful, letting its controller remove most problematic permanents, at least temporarily, while drawing a card in the process. Alternately, Teferi's -3 can reset a Snapcaster Mage or other enters-the-battlefield trigger. Stoneblade can't take as great advantage of Teferi's +1, but it still loves the ability to turn off opposing countermagic, remove threats, draw cards, and replay its Snapcasters and other enters-the-battlefield triggers. Infect has also benefited from Teferi, which gives deck freedom to pump its creatures without fearing intervention from the opponent. Setting up an infectious attacker, dropping Teferi to deny opposing interaction, plus removing a blocker often means an Infect win right then and there.
Karn, the Great Creator rounds out the trio of WAR planeswalkers making Legacy waves. Karn's passive ability is the least impactful of the three, acting as a one-sided Null Rod, but it can still stymie Aether Vial and Umezawa's Jitte out of Death and Taxes, turn off Moxes and other mana artifacts, etc. It goes from useful to game-ending when combined with Mycosynth Lattice. When every permanent is an artifact, the opponent's lands can't tap for mana, locking them out of casting spells. Although most decks don't want to play maindeck Mycosynth Lattice, Karn's -2 ability lets his controller grab an artifact from outside of the game or exile; Karn can fetch that single sideboarded Lattice as soon as he hits the board. His -2 is also extremely flexible, grabbing any number of answers or threats from the sideboard. Karn's +1 is the least impressive of his abilities, animating an artifact for the turn, but it still has uses in closing out the game once Lattice has resolved or destroying zero-cost artifacts (e.g. Chalice of the Void, Lion's Eye Diamond, etc.).
Because Karn is so powerful, effectively every deck running Sol Lands has included him. He has also elevated several of these decks to new levels of viability. Eldrazi Stompy is the best existing top-tier shell for Karn, but he also shows up in Red Prison, Painted Stone, Bomberman, Sneak Stompy, and 12post decks. Karn serves as a powerful card that threatens to end the game if not dealt with immediately, but he can also help assemble combos, grabbing Lion's Eye Diamond, Walking Ballista, Grindstone, Painter's Servant, and others, in addition to answer cards like Tormod's Crypt, Relic of Progenitus, Sorcerous Spyglass, Engineered Explosives, and Ensnaring Bridge.
Perhaps the strongest card out of WAR isn't a planeswalker at all. Dreadhorde Arcanist seems a little unassuming, but it's actually a staggeringly powerful card, unseating Young Pyromancer as the broken red two-drop of choice to compete with Snapcaster Mage, Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and Stoneforge Mystic. Arcanist gives its controller a free flashback of a one-mana spell every time it attacks. If it swings once, it grants as much benefit as Snapcaster - and without requiring a three mana investment in a single turn, which can be hard for Delver decks to manage. If it manages to swing multiple times, it quickly takes over the game, overwhelming the opponent with card advantage. Most frequently, Arcanist is paired with cheap cantrips (Brainstorm, Ponder and Preordain), removal (Lightning Bolt, Chain Lightning, Pyroblast, Hydroblast, and Fatal Push), and discard (Thoughtseize, Cabal Therapy, Duress, and Inquisition of Kozilek). Occasionally, Arcanist decks dip into other spells like Unearth to grant card advantage in additional ways.
It's worth noting if Arcanist gets its power buffed, it can flashback more expensive spells. This doesn't come up often, but it does open up some unique possibilities. A black and red deck running Claim // Fame can reanimate Arcanist, grant it haste, and grant it +2 power all in one go. This lets it immediately attack to flashback a pricier spell like Hymn to Tourach or Kolaghan's Command. Because of its strength and flexibility, Arcanist has become a go-to for Delver of Secrets builds. Blue-Red Delver has become both the dominant build of Delver as well as the most-played deck in the format, using Arcanist to play bolts and cantrips repeatedly, often triggering Young Pyromancer in the process. Grixis Delver takes a very similar shell and adds discard to the mix, making Arcanist a potent disruption engine as well. In addition, some Four-Color Delver lists have also been running Arcanist.
Delver variants are far from the only builds packing the Zombie Wizard. Some Grixis Control lists have been including it as another way to grind out card advantage and out-attrition opponents. Even more exciting than that, however, is the Red-Blue-Green Cascade list. It utilizes zero-mana suspend cards like Crashing Footfalls and Ancestral Vision, which Shardless Agent can cascade into and Arcanist can recast later.
War of the Spark is not the only set making waves in Legacy. Modern Horizons has made its share of contributions too, the greatest of which is probably Wrenn and Six. The card is pushed, perhaps absurdly so. It's likely it would have been playable at three mana. At two mana, it's hard to overstate how powerful the planeswalker is. Its +1 returns a land from your graveyard to your hand, providing repeated card advantage. Most notably, this can set up an early Wasteland lock, quickly shutting many decks out of the game entirely. It can additionally just keep returning fetchlands, thinning the deck, fixing mana, and propelling into the lategame. Recurred lands can also be returned to the library in exchange for real cards with Brainstorm or Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or discarded to Liliana of the Veil, Mox Diamond, Faithless Looting, and similar effects.
That recursion effect alone would be enough to be highly-playable, but Wrenn and Six goes further: a -1 dealing a point of damage to any target. This is powerful against a wide array of decks, able to pick off creatures like unflipped Delver, Young Pyromancer, Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique, Mother of Runes, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Flickerwisp, Baleful Strix, all of Infect's creatures, and many more. It can also snipe low-loyalty planeswalkers. On top of all that, Wrenn and Six's ultimate grants all instants and sorceries retrace. It doesn't come up often, but when it does, it turns excess lands into meaningful spells and completely takes over a game.
Wrenn and Six is powerful enough that effectively every deck running red and green has been running it, and several decks have splashed into one of those colors to be able to run it. Red-Blue-Green Delver has been experiencing renewed success on the back of the planeswalker, combining Stifle with recurring Wastelands to completely deny the opponent access to mana. Four-Color Delver splashes green for Wrenn and Six and Abrupt Decay. Czech Pile similarly is running green only for this card, Leovold, Emissary of Trest, and Decay. Lands, Jund, and Aggro Loam all run it as well, often using Mox Diamond to power out the planeswalker on the first turn, and then using its +1 to negate the Diamond's drawback.
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis has been tearing up Modern, but it's also made a bit of a splash in Legacy. While it hasn't been as ubiquitous as in Modern, Dredge decks have adopted Hogaak as an additional play-from-graveyard threat that both the Manaless and Lion's Eye Diamond builds can incorporate. Additionally, there is a popular new hybrid build for Turbo Depths that incorporates a number of small black and green creatures like Elvish Reclaimer, Stitcher's Supplier, and Satyr Wayfinder to both help find Thespian's Stage/Depths as well as stocking the graveyard for a fast Hogaak.
Hogaak and Marit Lage operate along slightly different axes, largely requiring different answers for each. White removal like Swords to Plowshares, Terminus, and Karakas can still do a number on both, but if decks are boarding in land destruction and Pithing Needle effects to deal with Marit Lage, they're still vulnerable to Hogaak. If they bring in graveyard answers to halt Hogaak, it does nothing to stop Turbo Depths from just making a turn two or three Marit Lage and crashing in.
Note: All decklists from this section were taken from MTG Top 8's Legacy section, with the exception of the Waterfalls list, which was taken from a Thraben University Twitch stream. See this Reddit thread for more information.
As discussed earlier, Blue-Red Delver is one of the best shells for Arcanist. Packing six bolts and nine or ten cantrips, a full quarter or more of the deck functions as Arcanist targets. This list also shows off another MH1 addition, Fiery Islet, which minimizes mana-flood in longer games. In the sideboard, there are two other new inclusions. Magmatic Sinkhole is a flexible removal spell, functioning as a red Murderous Cut that also hits planeswalkers. Of the six new keystone cards, Sinkhole kills every one except Hogaak. Force of Negation also makes an appearance, allowing the deck to board into more than four Force of Will effects for matchups where Force is most important, like Sol Land-Chalice decks and combo decks.
1Back to Basics
4Swords to Plowshares
1Force of Negation
4Force of Will
Here's a sample Miracles list packing both Narset and Teferi, but it also incorporates other new cards such as Dovin's Veto. This uncounterable Negate is especially powerful against decks like Show and Tell or Blue-Black Reanimator, where it can counter a game-winning spell through any countermagic the opponent might have available. It also works nicely in the control mirror, where it can keep an opposing Narset or Teferi off of the board through opposing permission spells. Combined with Teferi, this really puts the hurt on any deck hoping to force through non-creature spells. Force of Negation also gives the deck another free counter, making it easier to tap out for Narset or Teferi without letting shields down.
Prismatic Vista is another valuable new inclusion, allowing the deck to run eight fetchlands that can grab either basic Island or basic Plains. This lets the deck run without having to include a single dual land. Vista makes the list not only cheaper, but also more resilient to Wasteland and Blood Moon, while also making its own Back to Basics more powerful. Ashiok, Dream Render shows up in the sideboard, providing a powerful hate card that both stymies search cards like fetchlands as well as graveyard strategies.
2Inquisition of Kozilek
4Hymn to Tourach
This is one of the new takes on Grixis Control. While it isn't packing Arcanist, it does include Narset alongside several other new cards. Liliana's Triumph and Angrath's Rampage provide two powerful new removal spells for the deck. Triumph is a strict upgrade over the previous staple Diabolic Edict, bypassing the need to target, avoiding Misdirection effects, and occasionally forcing a discard with a Liliana out. Angrath's Rampage provides an alternative edict effect that can nab an opposing planeswalker or artifact instead. Combined with Kolaghan's Command, it gives the deck a huge array of flexible removal options.
Plague Engineer also represents a powerful removal option. Naming "Wizard" against opposing Delver decks keeps Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer off the board while reducing Arcanist to an ineffectual 0 power. Against Miracles, Engineer can keep Monastery Mentor from making tokens. It's devastating against Elves, can wipe out any one of Infect's threats, and can eliminate a True-Name Nemesis against any deck packing them.
4Karn, the Great Creator
4Chalice of the Void
3Lion's Eye Diamond
Old-school Bomberman gained new legs with WAR's Karn. The Great Creator can help assemble missing combo pieces, acting as Lion's Eye Diamonds and Walking Ballistas #4-7. He can even grab both with two consecutive activations. Ballista and Monastery Mentor let the deck win without having to play cards like Pyrite Spellbomb, enabling Bomberman to finally embrace Chalice of the Void. Mystic Forge, a Core 2020 addition, gives the deck additional digging power. Sideboard Lion's Eyes, in addition to being Karn-wishable combo pieces, can also power out a fast Mycosynth Lattice. Once the Bomberman pilot casts Karn, they can wish for Diamond on one turn and then Lattice on the next, cracking the LED in response. This guarantees a Lattice in hand and the mana to cast the gamestopping combo ahead of curve.
1Life from the Loam
Though the deck is still called "Aggro Loam," it's dropped down to a single Life from the Loam, favoring Wrenn as its primary engine to recur lands. The planeswalker's recursion pairs perfectly with cards like Liliana of the Veil and Mox Diamond. Aggro Loam also makes good use of Plague Engineer from the sideboard to deal with all those threats discussed in the Grixis Control section above.
2Wrenn and Six
Lands also incorporates Wrenn and Six as a powerful recursion engine, though it supplements Life from the Loam rather than replacing it. Wrenn's pinging can also team up with Punishing Fire to pick off three-toughness targets like Arcanist that might otherwise be tricky to remove. Blast Zone is the other new addition, providing a powerful Engineered Explosives-type effect findable with Crop Rotation and reusable with Wrenn or Loam. This particular list doesn't run it, but some builds have been experimenting with Field of the Dead as a way to win the long game against decks like Miracles.
4Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
Hogaak Depths has quickly become the dominant variant of Turbo Depths. Cards like Satyr Wayfinder and Elvish Reclaimer allow the deck to dig for Dark Depths and Thespian's Stage while also filling the graveyard and providing bodies to convoke Hogaak. Stitcher's Supplier, Khalni Garden, and Dryad Arbor also help power out Hogaak quickly. The deck's hybrid approach fights many common answers to Depths, like Pithing Needle and Wasteland, while requiring a completely new set of answers like graveyard hate. Force of Vigor and Veil of Summer in the sideboard also give the deck a fresh set of answers to common cards that can give it problems.
Though it has yet to put up significant results, this list combines several powerful new cards with a strong shell that had fallen off in the past. The end result is an exciting up and coming deck. Previously, Shardless Black-Blue-Green was a powerful strategy, using Shardless Agent to cascade into Baleful Strix and Ancestral Vision. But with the printing of Leovold, Emissary of Trest, Shardless BUG Fell out of favor for Leovold decks and Czech Pile. But with the printing of Ice-Fang Coatl, the deck can now run a strong, Baleful Strix-type effect without having to run black. This opens the deck up to run red, which allows it to run Dreadhorde Arcanist.
In addition to Arcanist's normal synergies with bolts and cantrips, it can also flashback Vision to really pile on the card advantage. On top of that, red opens the deck up to running Wrenn and Six. The card that really pins it all together is Crashing Footfalls. Footfalls allows the Shardless and Arcanist shenanigans with Vision to also apply to a direct, game-winning threat. The massive card advantage that Vision provides the deck also allows Waterfall pilots to run maindeck Force of Negation, giving more counterspell interaction Agent cascades won't stumble into. Prismatic Vista also allows the deck to hit its snow basics more easily, turning on Coatl's deathtouch.
These decks and others are shaping an exciting new metagame in Legacy. Which lists are you most excited to play? Head on over to our Legacy Forums to discuss!