An Introduction to Legacy (Or How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love Brainstorm)

Hi there, it’s Sean here again, and I’ll be talking about, once again, Legacy! I’ve gone through recently two different things in my articles: firstly, I began by outlining my favorite Legacy deck, Death & Taxes, and finished its primer with last week’s article. I also outlined trends in the Legacy metagame in March 2015. However, there was one problem with these – these assumed prior knowledge of Legacy!

One thing I haven’t gotten around to is familiarizing those of you who are only familiar with Modern and/or Standard with what Legacy is really about, what the staples of the format are and what the metagame is like in general. So that’s what we’ll be doing today. A nice, general introduction into what Legacy is all about.


The Legacy format was created in 1997 to make a format where all the broken cards that were restricted in Type 1 (now known as Vintage) were instead banned, creating a format known as Type 1.5. It was the first real ‘unpowered’ (ie. no Power 9 legal) Eternal format Magic had experienced, a precursor to Extended and now Modern. It was renamed Legacy in 2004 by poll and had its own ban list which was distinct from that of Vintage. Because of the restriction of the Power 9 and other oppressive cards, Legacy has a much more diverse metagame than that of any format, due to the wide breadth of the card pool, meaning that although there are usually a few ‘Tier 1’ decks, these are constantly shifting and many of the ‘Tier 1.5’ and ‘Tier 2’ decks are just as competitive if piloted correctly. Fledgling Legacy players are often introduced to the format by this hilarious flowchart, which, although a bit dated, really outlines the diversity in the format and is fun to see where you end up.

"Why do you want to play Legacy?" flowchart, version 2.0 - now with more Nourishing Lich!

There is some centralizing staple cards in Legacy that really gives it a distinct identity from the other formats, however.

Card Selection

The most important – Brainstorm.


Legacy is often called ‘The Brainstorm Format’ because it’s the only format where the card can be played unrestricted, and as such blue is considered the de facto ‘best’ color in Legacy. But why is Brainstorm so good? Although looking innocuous on its surface, Brainstorm is the most powerful card selection in all of Magic, because in combination with fetchlands and other shuffle effects, it allows one to essentially shuffle two useless cards in your hand away for very little cost, making it sometimes feel like the banned Ancestral Recall. However, Brainstorm requires very careful usage by its caster, and becomes much more powerful as the game progresses. Many articles have been written, such as those by AJ Sacher, on how to achieve the best utility from ones Brainstorm, and are good reads for those looking to play blue.

Nonetheless, highly competitive players in Legacy typically prefer blue decks because Brainstorm allows a player to essentially overcome one of the hindrances of Magic, variance, to some degree. Other cantrips such as Preordain and Ponder are also legal in Legacy, providing more ways for blue to smooth out their draws. Sensei’s Divining Top is also a useful card outside of blue, but is often partnered with the colour for the powerful Counterbalance lock. All these add together to create a format where many decks are able to usually enact their gameplan, rather than lose to things such as flooding and mana screw.


Legacy’s huge card pools allows for a lot of interesting interactions too… Some which could end the game on the first turn. Chaining Dark Rituals into a lethal Tendrils of Agony, casting Show and Tell via fast mana to put Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play on turn one, casting Reanimate for Griselbrand… There’s a lot of crazy and powerful stuff that is possible for the so-called ‘unfair’ decks in the format. Luckily the sheriff’s got your back.


Force of Will keeps all the combo decks in check, providing interaction before you’ve even played a land. It provides a really nice dynamic within the format, where combo decks have to respect Force of Will and have evolved to slow down their explosiveness to be able to play through it via their own interaction, and this gives room for non-blue decks to flourish, who normally wouldn’t be able to exist when one can lose on turn one. It truly is the glue that prevents the format from becoming broken and degenerate. Although newer Legacy players will be in awe of a ‘free’ counterspell, Force of Will does have a cost, essentially forcing you to two-for-one yourself. Although this is fine when countering their crucial combo spell, it can become a real liability against ‘fair’ decks where the games can become attrition-based.

Force of Will’s little brother Daze is also often played, particularly by the premier tempo strategies, which can counter a spell, but forces a land back into the casters hand, which is fine for strategies that run on few resources and is another counter to keep aware of when your opponent is tapped out.


So thanks to Force of Will, ‘fair’ decks can exist, which essentially play via normal rules of Magic. Winning with creatures and casting removal spells is something every Magic player should be familiar with… But in the words of Patrick Sullivan, playing fair decks in Legacy is essentially like playing a “souped up version” of Magic: the Gathering. The removal spells are incredibly powerful and efficient, with Lightning Bolt excellent against the primarily small and efficient creatures the format is full of, Swords to Plowshares is the best unconditional creature removal available and Abrupt Decay is highly valued for its flexibility and uncounterability.

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The creatures played in Legacy are the pinnacles of efficiency as well.

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Delver of Secrets is the premier cheap threat, which thanks to the density of instants and sorceries in most decks, is almost always a one-mana 3/2 flier, and can easily be set up via Brainstorming or Pondering. So prevalent is Delver of Secrets is that there are whole deck archetypes with his namesake, such as RUG Delver, BUG Delver and UWR Delver. Other efficient creatures commonly seen in Modern such as Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique and Young Pyromancer are also just as prevalent in Legacy.


However, a lot of creatures banned in Modern are legal in Legacy. Stoneforge Mystic can fetch Batterskull and can put a 4/4 Vigilance Lifelinker into play as early as turn three if unanswered, but is usually seen as one of the best finishers in control or midrange strategies. It can also fetch up Umezawa’s Jitte to suppress creature-based strategies, or one of the powerful swords printed in Mirrodin and Scars of Mirrodin blocks, such as Sword of Fire and Ice. The card advantage and ability to cheat mana that Stoneforge Mystic provides makes it often the premier reason to play white in Legacy, next to Swords to Plowshares, and the Stoneblade family of decks obtained their name thanks to the overpowered Squire.


Legacy is also one of the few places where Deathrite Shaman is still legal after his banning in Modern. The card is a mana dork, thanks to the prevalence of fetchlands, an uninteractive clock, a source of lifegain and graveyard hate all for one mana, sometimes dubbed the ‘one-mana planeswalker’, and is generally utilized by black and green decks for his powerful utility. Deathrite Shaman, although initially slow to be utilized, was introduced, along with Abrupt Decay, to make black-blue-green strategies incredibly powerful and among the top tier strategies of the format.


Legacy is also unique in that cards from special sets, such as those from the Commander sets, are legal in the format. This allows Wizards to print potentially game-breaking cards in these sets, as they won’t influence Modern or Standard. The most recent of these is everyone’s favorite fishy friend, True-Name Nemesis. When released True-Name was declared to of entirely ruined Legacy, and although it did cause decks to include narrow answers such as -1/-1 and Diabolic Edict effects, it has generally settled into its place as the best fair threat one can obtain at three mana, but can be raced if its not holding equipment.

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Non-creature threats, primarily planeswalkers, are also used by primarily midrange or control strategies, with Liliana of the Veil seeing a lot of play in black midrange strategies similar to her usage in Modern. But the premier planeswalker in Legacy is Jace, the Mind Sculptor, who acts as the perfect finisher for midrange and control decks, allowing them to sculpt their hand to close out the game, bounce a crucial creature when behind on board or slowly tick up to his game-ending ultimate while ‘fatesealing’ the opponent from doing anything.

Fast Mana and Cheating Mana

Despite all these ’fair’ cards existing, combo decks are a mainstay of the format and are incredibly powerful thanks to all the tools in Legacy’s card pool.

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Fast mana, either through ritual effects or artifact mana, appears in the format. The classic ritual, Dark Ritual, makes appearances in primarily storm combo decks, with other rituals such as Cabal Ritual and Seething Song sometimes seeing play as well. Artifact mana in the form of Lotus Petal, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Mox Diamond and Chrome Mox can also assist in accelerating out a deck’s plays. Not only does this enable storm-based combo decks to build up mana for a fast kill in combination with tutors, but these also allows for devastating plays to be accelerated out a turn or two early. Casting Blood Moon or Trinipshere on turn one to lock out the opponent is something that can occur in Legacy, as is casting a turn one Show and Tell putting Emrakul into play.

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Reanimating huge creatures is also a common strategy in Legacy, with the hallmark card, Reanimate, being used to cheat Griselbrand, Iona, Shield of Emeria or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite into play, which is especially potent with Entomb that can bin these straight from the library. Natural Order is a signature card for certain green decks to ramp into, allowing them to quickly summon a Craterhoof Behemoth or Progenitus as early as turn two or three.

Despite all these strategies seeming overpowered, one must understand that each of these have checks in the form of counterspells or other avenues of disruption. The aforementioned Force of Will is the broadest of these, but non-blue decks can use hand disruption spells such as Thoughtseize and permanents such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Thorn of Amethyst to protect themselves from combo. There is a lot of counterplay between fair and unfair strategies, creating a lot of interaction between the two, despite many seeing combo typically as ‘uninteractive’.

And a Lot of Other Stuff…

Although I’ve mentioned a lot of the popular strategies in Legacy, this list is by no means exhaustive. With most of Magic’s grand history to work with, new innovations and interactions are continually being found, especially in conjunction with new printings. A deck with no lands, a deck with forty lands, a deck with one land, these and a variety of other oddities throughout Legacy make the format incredibly exciting and diverse, and you’ll never know what deck the person across the table is piloting. This incredible diversity means that knowledge of the format is particularly rewarding; hopefully you’ve been able to obtain some of that knowledge within this article, and expect some more info to come in subsequent articles!

I’ll outline here some supplemental reading to help you further understand the Legacy format.

Carsten Kotter’s two-part article series “What Is Legacy?” reiterates a lot of what I’ve explained here, but from one of Europe’s greatest Legacy masterminds, and also goes through what Legacy is in terms of general play experience, rather than in terms of what cards and strategies you’ll generally see within the format, as I have done.

What Is Legacy? Part 1
What Is Legacy? Part 2

As aforementioned, Brainstorm is the pillar of the Legacy format, and utilising it to its best can be a challenge for any new player. So I’ve outlined AJ Sacher’s great article on how to utilize Brainstorm, as well as videos outlining the card’s history and usage.

Fishing Lessons: Pondering Brainstorm
AJTV #2: Basic Brainstorming
MTG Legacy: Brainstorm – Inside the Deck #55

The hub of Legacy information, The Source, is the place for all discussion on the format, with each individual deck having its own individual thread that can go for many, many pages. Join if you want to contribute, or even just lurk around.

And, as a quirky little link, here’s the article where Aaron Forscythe put up the poll deciding what Type 1.5’s new name would be. Although Legacy won, it’s interesting to think what Legacy would be like if we called it ‘Comprehensive’.

Hopefully all this information has been helpful in giving you a deeper understanding of what the Legacy format entails, next week I’ll be going even deeper into the macroarchetypes that the format is full of!

‘Til next time,


  • cam

    Nice article! For a guy just getting into legacy it was the intro I was looking for. I particularly liked the flowchart, haha. I don’t think of myself as a manly man, but my experience so far playing MUD has been pretty fun! Good luck with the rest!

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