It’s a question that’s often asked in Magic since there is a huge diversity in terms of top decks at different times. It’s also a question that I began to ask myself more intensely after this last weekend because I had a bad performance at a Legacy tournament.
There is a rule of thumb of sorts that I have gone by for years when it comes to deck choice. It goes along the lines of: “When you sit down across from someone to play Magic, each of you has 50% of the fun; your goal is not necessarily to win but to have 100% of the fun.” My way of determining what deck to play is by figuring out what will let me have the most fun compared to my opponent while still winning with consistency. This criteria is very easy to fill in legacy because of the huge amount of deck diversity. As I’ve discussed before, I play Intuition Lands, which is one of the grindiest decks in Legacy. It is able to suck all of your opponents fun away as you repeatedly cast Life From the Loam targeting Wasteland.
There is a different rule that comes in a much less fun saying that I tend to follow for deck choice and that is when playing an archetype, don’t hold back. What I mean here is that if you’re going to try to Wasteland your opponent into submission you should base your whole deck around doing that. The belief stems from the thinking that if you try to thread the needle between two good strategies you will almost always be punished by at least one of those two strategies. So when it comes to playing a land destruction deck I personally believe that there are two valid options: a deck built around Life from the Loam or a deck built to include Wasteland and Stifle.
Using these two rules for any strategy, you are able to eliminate decks that lose to their more conservative counterparts. The reason that the second rule can be very costly is that there are not just two major strategies and decks that vary between them. Especially in Legacy, which allows combo, tempo, and midrange to run wild. If you want to read about aggro in Legacy, click here. Trying to play the most conservative control deck can come around to bite you in the butt when facing a combo deck that is designed to beat it. The first one is equally flawed because it can rule out some of the best decks in any format. **Disclaimer** I do thoroughly believe that one should always play a deck that they find comfortable, but this article is talking about what the ideal deck is. This is why I am combatting my own issues with deck selection.
—Finding a Good Deck—
The best way to ideally assess a format is to look at the break down of the top decks and the top cards. In Legacy, both of these tasks are very easy. The top decks are more or less divided between Shardless BUG, Grixis Delver, Eldrazi, UW Miracles, Death and Taxes, Storm, Show and Tell, and Reanimator. There are many more decks that are about as popular or as popular as these decks, but this is the cream of the Legacy crop currently, so this is the easiest thing to work with.
After determining what are the best decks, you need to determine which decks beat which other decks. This step is important because fairly often a highly played or a less highly played deck can just beat all of the others. Currently the top decks possess a bit of a 8 way rock paper scissors, which is a sign of a healthy format. None of these decks clearly destroy all of the other decks, though Miracles does a favorable matchup against many of them, but given that none of them just destroy the format it is time to move onto what decks beat most of the top decks.
The next group of commonly played decks include: Lands/Loam variants, Blue based Stoneblade decks, Burn, Canadian Threshold, Elves and Dredge. This is another list that basically rock paper scissors itself. None of these decks beat all of the others, which allows for a healthy format on multiple levels. This, however, poses a slight problem for deck selection: if we want to choose the deck that is best for any given tournament and there is not a top deck to attack, what are our options? Well, simply put, you need to know your skill. If you are a very good player who knows a lot about the format, then you can afford to play a deck with multiple 50/50 matches and minimal unfavorable matchups. In Legacy, that deck would probably be Miracles or a combo deck that you are familiar with. If you are a good player, then you are probably going to play either a combo deck that you are familiar with or a Blue based deck like Delver or a Stoneblade deck (this includes Death and Taxes). If you are player that is unfamiliar with the format altogether and are not very good then you have two options. One is to learn a combo or aggro deck that is fairly linear but you know how to play it very well. This option will probably put you on track in a format like Legacy for a while because if you can pilot Legacy Storm, then you will have a deck for life.
There is a way to beat the format at any skill level, which involves finding the cards to beat in the format and finding a way to beat them. This is a fairly popular budget strategy in Legacy. The top card in the format by far is Brainstorm; many people attempt to counter this card with Chalice of the Void set to 1. This can be an effective strategy when paired with other taxing and hate effects such as Trinisphere. This strategy has a very apparent upper limit. If you are attacking the most popular/powerful card in the format, then you lose two things. First you lose the ability to play this powerful card. Second you tend to be disadvantaged against decks that do not run the card you are hating out. If you choose to attack Brainstorm, which is the only logical card to attack in Legacy, then all of the decks that do not run Brainstorm will gain an advantage over you because a lot of your deck is built to combat a card that they don’t have. There are work arounds to this problem. Eldrazi has one, which is to run its hate, Chalice of the Void, as an add on to its already impressive aggro package. I have bashed Eldrazi a lot in the past (see this article if you are curious as to why I was bashing it), but this is something that they do very effectively.
As I have said earlier in this article, combo decks also allow for a rather consistent deck choice. Certain combo decks come in and out of favor, for instance Show and Tell is just coming back into favor after a long hiatus. Elves is a deck that has waxed and waned in its success over the years; it seems to be in a bit of a dry spell yet again. Certain combo decks, however, do not feel the brunt of metagame shifts as much as others. Storm probably has the easiest time of any of the legacy combo decks at any given time. It at least equals all of the other combo decks in the format individually in power and is much harder to hate out than the other decks.
Here again, however, I fall into one of the traps that I discussed in the beginning of the article. I have found a deck that goes the hardest of any comparable strategy and have come to advocating for it. Combo decks also possess the inherent quality of the 100% of the fun rule. For me to truly break away from my deck judging perspective I would need to start playing midrange decks, which sounds like a tall order for me but will probably happen in formats besides Legacy. Until I can actually discard my skewed view of deck assessments, however, I will be unable to properly assess which decks are the best choice in a blank metagame. This is a weakness that I need to work on because I am going on the hunt for a new Legacy deck. If I were to just be looking for a deck that could be good in the next couple of weeks, I would choose Canadian Threshold, but I am looking for a deck that I can learn and play for longer. I want to discard my old thinking about deck selection that I have lade out above, so I will begin writing about extensive testing on certain decks and cards from here on out.