What the June 2010 BR List Update Means for Legacy

It’s that time of the year again, when Magic players and pundits alike have been waiting by their computers for the clock to strike midnight, in eager anticipation of news on the Banned/Restricted List. Extended got a rude awakening when their format was turned upside down, shrinking the card pool from about seven years worth of sets down to four years, and then also banning Sword of the Meek and Hypergenesis for good measure.

But Eternal Central is about Magic for the big boys, and we focus on Vintage and Legacy. While there’s been a handful of calls to shake up Vintage a little bit, nothing happened on that front. I would definitely like to see a handful of cards (Ponder, Burning Wish, Frantic Search, and Thirst For Knowledge for starters) come off the Restricted list for Vintage, but that’s another article for another day.

The focus of today’s article is on Legacy, as we were hit with the following big news:
Mystical Tutor is banned
Illusionary Mask is no longer banned
Grim Monolith is no longer banned

On Mystical Tutor

Mystical Tutor BannedWith the pending banning of Mystical Tutor, Wizards has actually told us something about what they think of both Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT) decks and Reanimator decks. They’re too fast and too consistent for the rest of the format. They’re not too broken that Lion’s Eye Diamond or Entomb need to be banned, but they’re both more consistent than WotC thinks the rest of the format can deal with.

But ANT and Reanimator decks are not the only two decks that the banning of Mystical changes. Brandon Adams’ (aka emidlin) Rev614 and a host of other emerging Doomsday-centric decks will also be affected by the departure of Mystical Tutor, as will the Show and Tell/Eureka deck unveiled by Parker Bowab and Andrew Shugart at SCG Atlanta Legacy Open in May.

Based on very recent large-tournament results like SCG Seattle Legacy Open (1 Reanimator and 0 ANT in Top 8), SCG Philadelphia Legacy Open (0 Reanimator and 1 ANT in Top 8), Bazaar of Moxen IV (0 Reanimator and 1 ANT in Top 8), it appears that the metagame has caught up to ANT and Reanimator decks and are adequately hating them out. Once again, this appears to be more heavy-handed regulation by Wizards’ when it is not necessary. Are ANT and Reanimator decks both extremely efficient and very good? Absolutely. Are they dominating to a point where action is necessary or other well constructed and metagamed decks have hard time competing? Absolutely not. When you give a motivated player base time to adapt they will adapt.

So what direction do these decks head in now that Mystical Tutor is no longer available? The most obvious replacement for both existing Reanimator and ANT decks will be Lim-Dul’s Vault. While adding more cantrips or manipulation in the form of additional copies of Ponder and Sensei’s Divining Top is possible, the raw power and speed of Lim-Dul’s Vault is undeniable and will probably win out. While a turn slower than Mystical Tutor, Lim-Dul’s Vault is much, much more powerful, as it can find anything you need for your combo, and does not discriminate against creatures, lands, or artifacts like Mystical Tutor. When coupled with another spell like Brainstorm, Sensei’s Divining Top, or Careful Study, the lines of play with Lim-Dul’s Vault can be really broken. Need both a creature and Show and Tell to dump it into play? Lim-Dul’s Vault can do that. Need an Exhume and Duress or Force of Will to protect it? Lim-Dul’s Vault can do that. Need an accelerant or protection piece to go along with your Ad Nauseam or Doomsday? Lim-Dul’s Vault can do that too. It is on-color for these decks, pitches to Force of Will like Mystical Tutor, and is instant speed. The additional mana cost when compared to Mystical Tutor is certainly a drawback, but the increased power of Vault should help assure its spot in these decks and will help them retain their status as some of the top decks of Legacy (albeit slightly slower).

Another direction I expect to see Storm combo decks turn towards is Burning Wish, especially the Doomsday-focused decks. We’ll be focusing on Doomsday decks in another article or two on Eternal Central coming out very soon, so I don’t want to spoil this article with a ton of decklists right now, but I’ll just say these decks are incredibly powerful, flexible, and resilient. A tutoring package of Burning Wish, Infernal Tutor, and Lim-Dul’s Vault is very strong, so I expect these to start showing up in the next few months as people figure out how powerful Doomsday can be. Don’t be surprised if Doomsday lands on the Legacy Banned list in 2011 or 2012 as people gravitate towards it and figure out out to break it. Those are big words for a card that hasn’t shown much yet, but I think the potential for brokenness is definitely present and possibly imminent.

On Illusionary Mask

As WotC has been going through and updating errata and wording for old cards, they came to Illusionary Mask a while ago and decided to revamp it for the tenth time, and in doing so made it a pretty bad card. The current Oracle wording now reads:
Card Text: X: You may choose a creature card in your hand whose mana cost could be paid by some amount of, or all of, the mana you spent on . If you do, you may cast that card face down as a 2/2 creature spell without paying its mana cost. If the creature that spell becomes as it resolves has not been turned face up and would assign or deal damage, be dealt damage, or become tapped, instead it’s turned face up and assigns or deals damage, is dealt damage, or becomes tapped. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

This allows you to use the ability to simply cast any creature as a morphed creature, and no longer activate it to slip creatures under counterspells with an uncounterable ability. The current wording doesn’t do much to justify its inclusion in any serious deck that I can think of, so WotC is correct in unbanning this. Any deck that would seek to abuse an interaction with Phyrexian Dreadnought would be much better off using Stifle and/or Trickbind, as those are better off on their own than the now useless Mask.

On Grim Monolith

Grim Monolith was a proven accelerant in any format it was legal in as a 4-of back in the day, and I think it will prove to be a nice accelerant once again. While not on par with something as fast and broken as Mana Vault, Grim Monolith was originally designed as a more fair version, and I think as it applies to Legacy that’s exactly what it will pan out to be. It will raise the power level and competitiveness of a few decks in Legacy without really breaking anything wide open, and that’s the best thing that you can hope for when you take a card off of the Banned list in any format.

So how can we best abuse Grim Monolith in Legacy in 2010? Without knowing what the coming new sets will bring, I think there are three main avenues for deckbuilders to attack immediately. Stax, Charbelcher, and Dragonstorm and/or Sneak Attack can all greatly benefit from the acceleration and consistency that Grim Monolith provides. If you were hoping for some dech technology from this article this will be it, but keep in mind that these are just untested ideas the day after an unbanning. If you’ve got your own bright ideas or designs on breaking open the metagame I’d invite you to share them in the comments section below or in the Legacy forums where our articles are posted.

MUD or Stax variants haven’t proven to be Tier 1 status in Legacy since Mishra’s Workshop was banned, but with the recent unbannings of both Metalworker and Grim Monolith coupled with the printing of Lodestone Golem, that is now three extremely powerful spells added to the deckbuilders’ repertoires. That also doesn’t even take into account the fact that Voltaic Key has been unbanned in Legacy since 2004. All of these options provide the mad scientist deckbuilders with plenty of fuel, so I’ll start the discussion off here with a mono-brown MUD style variant:

Metalworker-Staff MUD 20103Q 1.0, by Jaco 06-19-2010

Business (30)
Chalice of the Void
Sphere of Resistance
Crucible of Worlds
Lodestone Golem
Karn, Silver Golem
Staff of Domination
Voltaic Key

Mana Sources (30)
Grim Monolith
Ancient Tomb
City of Traitors
Crystal Vein
Rishadan Port
Mishra’s Factory
Darksteel Citadel

Other Options:
Tangle Wire
Grafted Skullcap/Bottle Cloister
Ensnaring Bridge
Painter’s Servant + Grindstone
Defense Grid
Pithing Needle
Thorn of Amethyst
Sensei’s Divining Top
Powder Keg
Silent Arbiter
All is Dust

I’ve included a few Voltaic Keys in this first draft of the deck, but testing may bear that the interactions with Key and either Metalworker or Grim Monolith could be awesome and make it an auto-include, or could render it unnecessary junk. The manabase is in the exploratory stages, but I think you want as many lands that produce 2 mana as reasonably possible. Darksteel Citadel actually has value here in that it’s Wasteland proof and counts as an artifact when revealing cards from hand for Metalworker, so it could become a 3-of or 4-of if it proves itself.

This deck as is can provide you with numerous strong early game plays. With a Chalice of the Void in your opening grip you can shut down about a quarter of the format’s spells, including the most widely played removal that an opponent would have (Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, or Lightning Bolt) for your Metalworkers or Lodestone Golems. With Grim Monolith in your opener you can easily land a first turn Trinisphere or Metalworker, which are both very strong. Trinisphere can provide you a buffer to slow down the game so you can drop a few more permanents on the following turns, or a first turn Metalworker can effectively end the game if you get to untap with it active. With both Grim Monolith and Voltaic Key in your opener things can get really nutty, and you can cast almost anything in the deck on turn one.

Other synergies that should be obvious with this deck are Metalworker coupled with Staff of Domination (infinite mana, infinite life gain, you can draw as much of your deck as you want), and Smokestack coupled with Crucible of Worlds (slowly wipe your opponent’s board while netting you permanents every turn). The Metalwoker + Staff combo in particular can give this deck a lot of free wins out of nowhere, and having a quick win condition to go with your lock components is a pretty good plan when grinding it out over 30 turns isn’t always a possibility (especially with the 50 to 60 minute time limit of matches).

All is Dust from Rise of Eldrazi provides a one-sided board sweeper, and might be worth dropping into the sideboard. Blue brings options like Academy Ruins, Master of Etherium, Thirst for Knowledge, Fabricate, Power Artifact, and even Tezzeret the Seeker. Red brings options like Goblin Welder and Firespout, and the Welder makes Tangle Wire‘s inclusion much stronger and also provides a great response to opposing counterspells. With all of these options and some potentially broken synergies this should make for an archetype very worth of exploring the rest of this year.

Goblin Charbelcher is another archetype that is worthy of further exploration now that Grim Monolith is available. With the added nuttiness of Monolith + Voltaic Key openers to provide more coloreless mana I think this allows for more consistent opening hands (reducing mulligans), especially since you can drop Dark Ritual and the accompanying Manamorphose and just focus on Red, Green, and colorless spells. Here’s my starting point for where Charbelcher headed into this quarter:

Monolith-Key Charbelcher (MKC) 20103Q 1.0, by Jaco 06-19-2010

Business (19)
Goblin Charbelcher
Empty the Warrens
Burning Wish
Goblin Welder
Voltaic Key

Mana Sources (41)
Land Grant
Chrome Mox
Lotus Petal
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Elvish Spirit Guide
Simian Spirit Guide
Tinder Wall
Rite of Flame
Desperate Ritual
Grim Monolith
Sideboard (4)
Empty the Warrens
Trash for Treasure
Hull Breach

A couple copies of Seething Song may be in order, but as it stands right now this looks like a fast and powerful combo deck that’s more consistent than the three color versions prior. The inclusion of Monolith and Key allow your board state to have staying power after you’ve blown your load (and possibly gotten your threats countered in the first couple of turns), and allows you to recover faster to drop your next threat. Goblin Welder makes your graveyard lethal in many instances, and its interaction with the permanent mana sources like Grim Monolith, Chrome Mox, and Voltaic Key really give you some mid-game recovery, so it is actually very strong here, and forces your opponent to keep spot removal spells in after sideboarding. But Charbelcher is not the only combo deck that can benefit from Grim Monolith.

While popular in Standard and Extended, Dragonstorm variants never really took off in Legacy. Now that Grim Monolith (and Voltaic Key) are availalable to help generate on-color fast mana more reliably, I think both Dragonstorm and Sneak Attack variants will gain steam. I won’t venture to clog this article up with too many decklists, so I’ll leave this variant up to your imaginations. But keep in mind that both Sneak Attack and Dragonstorm use almost the exact same accelerants, and both rely on creatures as part of their combos. Dragonstrm can utilize Bogardan Hellkite + Kokusho or Hunted Dragon, Dragon Tryant + Karthus, Tyrant of Jund as kill mechanisms, while Sneak Attack can use pretty much anything, but is at its best when using Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. In addition to sharing accelerants both Dragonstorm and Sneak Attack could benefit from Infernal Tutor, Burning Wish, and possibly Through the Breach.

Adding Black to this style deck opens up a lot of possibilities, including Dark Ritual/Cabal Ritual, Duress/Thoughtseize, Tendrils of Agony out of the sideboard, and most importantly Infernal Tutor. Adding Blue would provide access to Brainstorm/Ponder as well as Show and Tell. All of this may not be necessary now that we have tons of mana from Grim Monolith, but I think there’s a lot of design space here that should be explored.

Other archetypes like Wildfire, Power Artifact/Grim Monolith (aka infinite mana), and Painter-Grindstone variants will probably get a bump from the inclusion of Grim Monolith, but I don’t know if that bump will be marginal or if it will be enough to make them more than an exploratory afterthought.

While we’re on the subject of Grim Monolith, let’s talk about the ongoing price of this card. This was sitting around $4-5 for a while after it was unrestricted in Vintage recently, and then after news hit that it was going to be unbanned in Legacy the price jumped to $15-20+ each on some of the online retailers’ websites. Now I’m all for free market economics, but I encourage you to think about this logically and be an educated and fiscally responsible consumer. Grim Monolith has the potential to be a nice accelerant for a small handful of decks, but there is a huge supply of them floating around, and realistically this should be an $8-12 card over the long haul if it does anything. Anything more than that is just temporary price gouging and the hype machine rolling along. Be patient and don’t reward price gougers if you want Legacy prices to stay relatively sane.

Banned List Fallout and the Near Future of Legacy

So what do the recent actions of Wizards mean for the rest of Legacy? The Extended format shakeup that coincided with this Banned/Restricted list update was meant to revitalize interest in Extended, according to DCI Program Manager Scott Larabee.

But will this shakeup actually Extended and drive players away from Legacy and back towards Extended? Per Larabee, what he would “like to see is this format become more widely played than Legacy,” mainly by providing an environment that recently departed Standard players can play more easily. But what this doesn’t take into account is just how quickly cards rotate (2, or even 4 years is a lot quicker than it seems the older you get), and by telling people they can play with fewer of their cards I don’t think this will accomplish their goals. I think there is a good chance the move could backfire and Extended attendance and interest will decline even more. Who wants to keep playing Jund mirrors after it rotates out of Standard and into a more powerful Extended format? Probably very few people, as by the time certain decks leave Standard a lot of people are sick of them anyway (cue all of the complaining about Jund for the past year, or all the complaining about Ravager-Affinity during its Standard legality, or all of the complaining about Fires when it was Standard legal and relatively dominant).

Aside from the many different strategies and deck archetypes that are present in Legacy, part of the huge allure of the format is the fact that you CAN play with most of your older cards that have rotated out of other formats, and you don’t necessarily have to keep buying new cards every 3-6 months when new sets are released. You can have your collection of format staples and slowly augment that as you wish to play a new deck or make metagame changes, but it doesn’t require a wholesale reinvestment. This is something that is very attractive to the older player base, who probably has more disposable income, but doesn’t necessarily have the time or interest to keep buying new cards, selling rotating cards at a loss every year, and constantly paying attention to Magic when they have the rest of the burdens of life to keep up with (work, school, relationships, travel, other hobbies, etc.).

So despite Wizards’ best guess of how to temper the interest in Legacy and promote Extended more, I think Legacy is here to stay as king, and I’m guessing that the upcoming Legacy GP in Columbus will continue to bear this.

Now that Legacy is a bit shaken up by the loss of Mystical Tutor, what decks stand to gain the most in the anticipated next few months? Well for one, Lands.dec variations were already strong, and now that their foremost enemy in ANT has been weakened, I think you can see these decks really blossom in the coming months, as should Enchantress and (gasp!) Death and Taxes decks. All of these decks are at their best when they have time to set up, clog the board with permanents, and then overwhelm the opponent when their engine is going. Aside from combo decks, Legacy is a relatively creature-centric format, and Lands.dec, Enchantress, and Death and Taxes all prey upon decks that seek to win by attacking, so I see them both profiting the most from the banning of Mystical Tutor. Beyond these, I think the rest of Legacy will be relatively normal, and I think the consistent decks like Naya Zoo, Merfolk (with Coralhelm Commander), and CounterTop NOPro (Natural Order Progenitus) will continue to excel. Even though weakened, Reanimator and ANT will continue to show up because their strategies are so inherently powerful, and people will find a way to make slightly watered-down decks work. I expect Grim Monolith to appear in Top 8’s here and there, and with another artifact-based block on the horizon (Scars of Mirrodin), I think we’ll see more buzzworthy activity as the year rolls on. The loss of Mystical Tutor is a big one, but combo players will recover and Legacy will continue to roll smoothly.