About a year ago, I wrote two articles about the Legacy Banned List, intended to be the first two in a three-part series. I started the third article, writing a little over 500 words before saving it, and then the Comboist Manifesto went on a big hiatus. By the time I got back, I had upgraded my desktop computer, and the file for my next article only existed on my laptop computer, a fact which I'd missed. I had some ideas for what my next article would be, and I still want to get to those eventually, but I've just found my unfinished article from a year ago. So for now, we're doing this. We're finishing what we started. You see, I've been listening to backlogs of Mark Rosewater's “drive to work” podcast. It takes him about twice as long to get to work as it takes me to get to work, so I can usually start an episode when I leave for work and finish it as I drive back home. I drive by one of the highways that he presumably takes on his route, so I like to imagine that sometimes, I'm cruising through as he's stuck in traffic, babbling about the color pie or something. Wait, where was I? Oh right, finishing what I started. Mark Rosewater has gone on at length about some claptrap from communications theory or whatever, in which comfort, surprise, and completion are some sort of trifecta of essential ingredients in something or other. I forget. Well, I can't imagine anyone finding my half-baked ramblings to be comforting, so that's out. But because my output has become so sporadic and also because Spiderman takes forever to actually publish an article that I submit, any appearance of one of my articles is probably at least a little bit surprising. Maybe? Also, I remember that there's a Meat Loaf song called “Two Out of Three Ain't Bad.” I don't know whether Meat Loaf drives to work, but if he does, it couldn't be anywhere near where I do. Anyway, if I wrap this article up, we'll have completion on top of my dubiously asserted contention of surprise. No comfort, but hey, two out of three ain't bad?
I do believe that was the worst paragraph that I've ever written. Just going to bask in that for a minute. Join me if you like...
Now then, since this article has been delayed so long, Legacy has changed somewhat from the time that I wrote the previous articles. New sets have been released and such. While most of what I wrote is probably still applicable and I certainly can't be bothered to go back and check on that, I do know that there have been some changes to the Legacy Banned List: in September of 2015, Dig Through Time was banned and Black Vise was unbanned. This is yet another prisoner exchange, in the vein of the previous announcement and several of the older adjustments to the list. Prisoner exchanges are dumb. I forget if I made that point in my other two articles. Black Vise has been a safe unban from the beginning, and waiting until a card is being banned in order to remove a safe card from the list is needless and annoying.
As with Treasure Cruise before it, I disliked what Dig Through Time did to Legacy, but I didn't necessarily think that meant it should be banned. I'm glad that the card is gone, but I do wish that more cards had been unbanned (some of which might make for good decks that wouldn't synergize with Dig Through Time) before taking the step of removing Dig Through Time from Legacy. Interestingly, the performance of Dig Through Time in Legacy was mirrored in Vintage, although the specific decks were different. In both cases, Treasure Cruise flooded the environment, but decks fueled by Treasure Cruise didn't really dominate. Once Treasure Cruise was banned (restricted in the case of Vintage), decks fueled by Dig Through Time flooded the environment and proved to be more powerful than the banned decks based around Treasure Cruise, then Dig Through Time was banned/restricted. For both the players and Wizards of the Coast, this should be at least a little bit humbling. While some people did opine that Dig Through Time was the more powerful of the two cards, it took the departure of Treasure Cruise to reveal the power of Dig Through Time, and this happened in two distinct formats. What else might nearly everyone be missing?
Well, that catches us up on the Legacy Banned List. In the two previous articles, I analyzed the original establishment of the Legacy banned list in 2004 and every change that has been made since, commenting along the way with my thoughts as they were at the time and as they are today. It would seem that there's not much more to say on the subject. Originally, I strongly considered writing this whole thing as two article instead of three. But then I didn't do that, because three is better than two. Also, there's another reason. I already showed what happened, what I thought should have been done at the time, and what I think of the changes in retrospect, but that leaves out the philosophy of the banned list as a whole. What is the role of Legacy in Magic? What should its role be?
Legacy as a replacement for the old Extended
Legacy originally replaced the old Type 1.5, while Extended continued to exist as a format. However, results from Extended helped shape the original Legacy banned list, something I touched on in my first part of this article series. Specifically, Aaron Forsythe said the following...
In the past, we felt that the format would never be popular enough to necessitate burdening players with another list of banned cards to memorize, so we were content to essentially manage both Vintage and “Type 1.5” with one list. But with the impending rotation of the Extended format next year, we felt the need to make sure there was a reasonable format available where players could use their old cards (everything from dual lands to Ice Age cards to Rebels) that was not just a toned-down version of Vintage. We tried to strike the fine balance between accessibility and, well, balance of play.
At the time that Legacy was created, Extended had only rotated twice. For a large portion of the player base, Extended had been a format in which they could practically use all of their cards. But with Extended rotating, this was shifting.
For the first few years of its existence, Legacy was strongly derivative of Extended. Attempted ports of Extended decks flooded the Legacy metagame, some of them evolving into successful archetypes while others couldn't stay competitive. As the Legacy playerbase grew and innovation had time to brew, the format established its own identity, influenced by Extended but no longer living in its shadow. In 2010, Wizards of the Coast crippled Extended as a format by shrinking its card pool and accelerating rotation, but by then, Legacy had outgrown Extended anyway.
Legacy as a home for Revised dual lands
Most players wouldn't remember, but the original dual lands were once considered so integral to gameplay that they were exempt from the first Extended rotation. Back in the early 00's, dual lands weren't particularly difficult to obtain, and while most casual players used basics or pain lands, many of us who'd been around for a while had some duals.
They're only ten cards, but these lands are vital in shaping manabases in Legacy, and their presence colors the nature of the format. Simply by existing as an option, duals make fetch lands better, which makes Brainstorm better. They make Land Grant better. They make Sundering Titan more dangerous. They make Wasteland and Price of Progress more powerful. And of course they make color-splashing more readily available and make multicolored decks easier to work with.
Legacy as Vintage-Lite
Although gameplay in Legacy initially had more in common with old Extended than with the old Type 1.5 or with Vintage, it shifted away from the resemblance to Extended. In the early days, the players who were attracted to Legacy were the ones who wanted to use their old cards, but couldn't get into Vintage because the low availability and high price-tags for extremely old, extremely rare cards that were prevalent in the format was too great a barrier to entry. Legacy and Vintage were categorized by Wizards of the Coast as the “Eternal” formats, with Legacy being the accessible option and Vintage being a sort of luxurious dream, out of reach for all but the wealthy. CPA member Shabbaman put it...
Basically all eternal players would like to play Vintage, but that (non proxy!) format is unplayable because of the entry cost.
While Legacy was never dirt-cheap, Magic hasn't really been a cheap game to be involved with at any point in its history. It's an expensive habit. The cardboard crack. But Vintage was on another level. The whole game was warped around powerful cards like the Power 9. Budget options could compete and even when they could, they had to be built around exploiting the prevalence of broken cards, like the decks that used Gorilla Shaman or Null Rod to shut down moxen and other mana-producing artifacts. In Legacy, part of the cost was virtually offset due to experienced players already owning many of the cards they might want to use in their decks, and some of the most expensive cards in early Legacy were extravagant options for niche decks, rather than necessary tournament staples.
The dream of Legacy as a budget-friendly format for cards spanning Magic's entire history didn't die right away. The process was gradual. Prices of tournament staples rose, pricing out some of the players and prospective players. Then manabases became too expensive for anyone not already enfranchised or willing to spend exorbitant quantities of money. Legacy is now generally perceived to be just as inaccessible as Vintage was in the early days of Legacy. The days of Vintage-Lite are gone. Now Legacy is the new Vintage, while Vintage is a thing of myth.
Legacy as a Casual Player's Haven
It probably seems naive now, but for a while, this didn't seem like such a far-fetched concept. Standard, Extended, and Limited formats were popular and financially successful, but casual players (especially back then) prefer to keep their decks, gradually making adjustments or sometimes just leaving them as they are for years. Rotating formats conflict with this approach. Disregarding the financial inaccessibility of Vintage, that format had its own quirks that distinguished it from the style of gameplay familiar to casual players. While Legacy tournament decks weren't going to look anything like unrefined “kitchen table” casual decks, there was still a lot of overlap, and the difference in power wasn't necessarily as profound as it might seem at first glance: tournament decks are fine-tuned to beat other tournament decks.
I've already touched on card prices, but I really want to emphasize that the financial obstacles are relatively new in the format's history, only going really crazy for the most recent one third of Legacy's existence, and possibly for less time than that. In 2004, the Legacy cards that seemed out of reach were mostly components only in exotic decks, Nether Void for instance. I remember talking to a friend from high school who'd spent $400 on full playsets of all dual lands, which was huge, but also not necessary for ordinary deck construction. During the entirety of the late 00's, I was dirt-poor, but still had enough cards to build multiple Legacy decks. Not only were card prices not yet out of control, but Wizards of the Coast had shown some interest in the format, running more sanctioned Legacy tournaments and doing more to promote Legacy. I remember a lot of rumors about how the Reserved List would probably be rescinded or modified, and with Legacy staples reprinted in some product line down the road, it seemed plausible that the format would remain affordable, even as its popularity grew.
Legacy has always been a tournament format, but it used to seem like it could be the tournament format most compatible with casual gameplay, having a relatively short banned list (which I always thought could have been made even shorter, and which was, for a time, gradually becoming shorter) and no restricted list to muddle things. There was no worrying about which sets were legal. The tournamet metagame was diverse enough that interested casual players could find something they liked and participate if they chose, and rather than a sharp divide between competitive archetypes and casual decks, there was (and probably still is, if one looks in the right places) a continuum from first tier competitive decks to viable, less prominent tournament decks to powerful casual decks to gimicky fun decks to total scrub decks.
Legacy as Wizards of the Coast's Redheaded Stepchild
It's tough to pin down the attitude Wizards of the Coast now takes with Legacy, but “aloof” is a good first approximation. Even though they invented the format, I see little indication that anyone currently working at Wizards of the Coast understands Legacy as a format. They don't appear to play it, they don't appear to follow the metagame, and when they bring it up, they tend to mischaracterize aspects of it. I've responded to surveys from Wizards of the Coast that included check boxes for which formats I play, and even though Vintage is in there alongside more popular formats, even though non-sanctioned formats are included, Legacy is omitted. When official sources bring up constructed Magic outside the scope of Standard, it's almost always Modern. Sometimes it's Commander. Even though players clamored for it, Wizards of the Coast insisted on not violating the “promise” implied in the Reserved List (for those not versed in the nuances of this bit of Magic history, they already removed cards from the Reserved List, but somehow that isn't supposed to count). They've also avoided reprinting Legacy staples that aren't even on the Reserved List. And officially supported Legacy events are now a thing of the past.
I've seen a lot of speculation as to why these are the circumstances, but that's a subject for another time. What's more interesting than the neglect of the format is that there are glimmers of interest, of change. The Legacy Banned List had gone untouched for years, but the advent of the delve-powered draw spells saw the addition of two new cards to the list along with the removal of two pieces of Banned List chaff. Prisoner exchanges suck, but at least they're something. And now Eternal Masters has been announced, which will include at least two reprints of non-Reserved Legacy staples. Sometimes, it almost seems like they care. Sometimes. Almost.
Legacy as ???
Extended is dead and gone. Vintage is obscure and now just about the only thing it has in common with Legacy is that both formats are prohibitively expensive and largely neglected. The rise of FNM and the emergence of so many new players makes Legacy increasingly obscure, so it has no real plausible tie to casual Magic anymore. The format as it now exists is the format that has evolved under the attention of the players who still invest their time and attention into it. Realistically, this means more of the same for the Legacy Banned List, and most of the players seem to prefer it that way, seeing what the higher level of attention Wizards of the Coast gives Modern does to the Banned List in that format. But my analyses have always focused more on what I think should or could happen, hypothetically, rather than on trying to make predictions. So, with that outlook, what about the Legacy Banned List as it stands currently? Where could we go from here?
Well, the elephant in the room is Brainstorm. The prevalence of Brainstorm has fluctuated over time, but it has almost always been the most played card in the format or close to it. I could devote an entire series of articles to the controversy of Brainstorm in Legacy, and one's thoughts on whether it should be banned are inextricably tied to one's philosophy on the Legacy Banned List as a whole. This isn't the place to summarize the opinions of others, but I will provide my assessment, which is similar to what others have been saying. Some problems with Brainstorm...
1. It allows blue-heavy two-colored and three-colored decks, which are naturally versatile, to be more consistent, with very little drawback. It seems as though these decks are powerful even without Brainstorm, and they don't need the extra help.
2. It weakens black discard spells. Cards like Duress and Hymn to Tourach are some of the most powerful control elements that are available in black. Brainstorm is one of the most powerful countermeasures against discard spells, hiding key cards on top of one's library in response to the spells that might take them away. This muddles the power level of black-heavy control in Legacy, as blue decks get protection from discard in the same card that they'd already be using anyway, while nonblue decks are both more vulnerable to this form of disruption and lacking the boosted consistency that Brainstorm offers.
3. It empowers cards that use the Miracle mechanic from Avacyn Restored. In competitive Legacy, this generally means Terminus and Entreat the Angels, but I personally suspect that some of the other Miracle cards are underplayed or at least have considerable inherent power while not fitting into the competitive Legacy metagame at this time. Miracle cards are incredibly powerful, but this is balanced by the difficulty of properly setting them up. One of the most successful decks in Legacy is a blue/white control deck called “Miracles.” While Brainstorm isn't the only card used to set up Miracle spells, it is by far the most practical and versatile method of doing so.
4. It makes fetchlands far more powerful, but only for blue-heavy decks. Fetchlands and dual lands already make it easy for Legacy decks to tend toward the polychromatic. Even disregarding Brainstorm, blue is probably the color with the most utility. The power of the Brainstorm + fetchland combination is sufficient to elevate the deck construction space of blue alongside a secondary color or two. While it's impossible to predict how such a complicated system would change, it does seem probable that some of the other options, less synergistic with Brainstorm would flourish in a Legacy that didn't have the card, resulting in a more diverse environment.
5. Brainstorm, especially with fetchlands, favors Pattern A Combo over other combination strategies. This is only intelligible to someone who's read my “ABC's of Combo” article, which I'd link to if I were a responsible article-writer. Since I'm not, I won't. But to summarize, there are different types of combo, and while many decks blend them, I still find it helpful to distinguish between three major categories. Pattern A involves a specific configuration of cards, usually two in order to be compact enough to be reliable, but they may enable a deck to find other cards in order to complete the interaction. Pattern B uses a single card, often with caveats in deck construction or board state, that can enable game-winning interactions. Pattern C involves non-specific configurations that lead to multiple possible sequences of cards being played. In Legacy, the most prevalent example is with Show and Tell decks. These decks attempt to get Show and Tell in hand alongside a card to cheat onto the battlefield. Brainstorm not only allows these decks to draw into a missing combo component, but in conjunction with fetchlands, can trade redundant combo components for other cards from the top of the library, then shuffle them away.
6. Too many new cards have been printed that are greatly empowered by cheap card-drawing spells. The aforementioned Miracle spells benefit from Brainstorm specifically, but that has really only led to one archetype, albeit a very strong one. In Legacy, Brainstorm has become first in a suite of blue spells including Ponder, Preordain, Gitaxian Probe, and formerly Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. While Brainstorm was once a safe card, we now have Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, Young Pyromancer, and Monastery Mentor. These powerful cards represent new things that Brainstorm can find as well as something to which Brainstorm can add value just by being played. Because no deck uses all of these cards, and Brainstorm is a good fit in some decks that don't use any, there are no “Brainstorm decks.” This is used as an argument against banning Brainstorm, but it's also a testament to how powerful the card is.
For those reasons, I do think there's a legitimate case opposing the presence of Brainstorm in Legacy. The card has never been ubiquitous, but it's come closer than anything else ever has, and while it doesn't lead to a single, dominant archetype, it does seem to warp the format around itself. Right now, if there's a case to ban any card in Legacy, it'd have to be Brainstorm. While people have proposed banning many other cards in the past, none of those proposals have really gained traction, and many of the cards in question are no longer so impressive. So really, when it comes to whether anything should be added to the Banned List, it's either Brainstorm or it's nothing. While I've just presented a case for banning Brainstorm, given the choice, I'd actually go with nothing. Years of experience with Legacy, despite very little actual firsthand tournament play, have convinced me that while anti-Brainstorm arguments do have some appeal on the surface, the reality is more complicated, and I worry that a Legacy without Brainstorm would turn out to be less fun than the format as it is now. I'm actually reasonably happy with how Legacy is balanced now. I just wish that it were more accessible. Some other time, I might make a pro-Brainstom case, but really, leaving the Banned List untouched is not my stance anyway. I want cards to be unbanned. And as it happens, most of the cards that would appear safest to unban are cards that don't really synergize with Brainstorm.
The first two articles in this series covered my thoughts on the initial banned list and on the changes over the years. Here, I'll analyze the current banned list and how unbannable I think the cards on it are. First though, I want to note that I have a very different philosophy on making changes to lists like this than what Wizards of the Coast has used. They often go a long time without making any changes, and then when they do ban or uban cards, they do it in groups. Sometimes it's just a single prisoner exchange, as mentioned earlier (one card is taken off the list and another card is added to it). But they've also made changes in which multiple cards were banned or unbanned simultaneously. In a format like Standard, where multiple problematic cards might show up around the same time, and with a constrained, scheduled tournament season, there might be some merit to this. But Legacy and Vintage aren't like that. In the “eternal” formats, we can afford to wait. We can allow some time to see the full effect that one change has before making another change. I can't remember where I first heard this, but I think that I got it from Kevin Cron. So, although it's contrary to the way in which Wizards of the Coast handles things, my stance is that, in Legacy, a single card should be added to or removed from the list, then once some time has passed and the players have adapted to the change, another alteration can be made. In unbanning cards, this might sometimes mean that an unbanned card is too powerful and would need to be banned again, but I'd bet, if this was done properly, that wouldn't happen very often. In odd cases, such as with Flash, immediate action might need to be taken, but those events are rare, and Legacy is robust enough to handle a little bit of unexpected brokenness. So keep in mind, while I do advocate unbanning multiple cards, I don't advocate banning multiple cards simultaneously. These are tentative groupings...
Cards that are safe to unban
Survival of the Fittest
I'd unban them in roughly that order. Memory Jar and Mind Twist are probably the safer than Recruiter, Earthcraft, or Survival, but they're also less interesting as potential additions to the format. Nothing is certain, and new card releases or other developments could change the format, but these six cards are perfectly safe, in the context of Legacy. There are people who would disagree with any of my choices for this, but they're dead wrong. The only card among these with a real degree of risk that it would need to be rebanned is Survival of the Fittest, and that's entirely contingent on new card releases breaking it. Vengevival was good in its day, but wouldn't be such a big threat anymore. I've seen two different arguments against Shahrazad, one being a logistical consideration based on “cards that create subgames” taking up too much time and space. This reasoning was never applied to Karn Liberated, a card with an ability that restarts the game, nor to the myriad other cards that could potentially interfere with tournament constraints, such as Chaos Moon, Deadbridge Chant, Goblin Game, and the recently unbanned Worldgorger Dragon. The other argument is that Shahrazad could be exploited as a sideboard card to draw out matches after winning one game. This never actually happened. It was merely something that people talked about. Being that Shahrazad clearly has no reasonable expectation of being a legitimate Legacy tournament card, there's a good case to be made for leaving it banned just in case. My problem with that approach is that it only applies to Shahrazad because the card has already been banned, and the initial choice to ban it wasn't motivated by any real tournament occurrences. To be consistent, we'd have to ban all other bad cards that could hypothetically be used to draw out the clock (and there are a lot of them). I maintain that we should take a grownup approach to this whole issue, Shahrazad being a grownup card (it's 22 years old). If there's a problem, a real problem and not one that someone made up in his head, then we can cross that bridge when we come to it.
Cards that might be safe to unban
Library of Alexandria
I strongly suspect that these four cards are safe to unban, but I'd be careful about unbanning them. Imperial Seal is very clunky, and was likely only banned because it's so rare. Vampiric Tutor is the better version, and while I'd think that it could be a strong card in Legacy, I haven't yet found an interaction that truly breaks it. This doesn't mean that such an interaction doesn't exist, but it isn't obvious. Notably, Vampiric Tutor synergizes with Brainstorm. Library of Alexandria, like Imperial Seal, is an extremely rare card, financially over the top. However, since Legacy is now clearly beyond the point of reasonable secondary market prices, that shouldn't matter, and the card should be evaluated strictly based on what it does in-game. Many players would consider Necropotence to be among the most broken cards on the list. As I mentioned in my first article of this series, there are many misconceptions about the card, and I do see it as potentially safe. Necropotence could get its own article. Maybe it should...
Cards that could be safe depending on the circumstances
Dig Through Time
Given the current prominence of cheap, blue card-drawing spells, adding more options to that suite would be asking for trouble. While I'd hesitate to unban these cards, the reasons are entirely circumstantial. Several years ago, Brainstorm and Ponder were both restricted in Vintage. If they'd also been banned in Legacy, it's likely that a couple of these cards would be perfectly safe. The problem with blue in Legacy is more about a critical mass of efficient card selection than it is any one, overpowered card. Hermit Druid is an odd card for Legacy, easily fueling a powerful combo deck, but requiring chaff cards in the library to do so. It's similar to the “All Spells” deck I've actually piloted, but slower and more reliable. Would it replace other graveyard-based combo decks? Right now, I would leave all five of these cards alone, but once other cards were unbanned, it would be worth looking into these.
Cards that probably aren't safe to unban
These five cards are scary, but not necessarily out of the question. Notably, I was against the banning of Mystical Tutor at the time, and I still maintain that it wasn't necessary then, but I wouldn't want it to be unbanned now, given how much the format has changed. If Show and Tell were banned, then maybe, just maybe Mystical Tutor would be safe. Channel was probably already too dangerous for Legacy, but if it hadn't been banned, I'd imagine that it would have gained some impressive options with the new eldrazi in Oath of the Gatewatch. Demonic Consultation and Demonic Tutor, while obviously very good, are arguably safe, depending on what the format has for them to find that is safe on its own, but unsafe with tutor spells to find it. Yawgmoth's Bargain is amazing and would make for amazing combo decks, but I can't help thinking that it might not be too crazy for Legacy, even though it probably is.
Cards that would be too problematic
In order from mostly innocuous to pretty much out of the question, these seven cards, all restricted in Vintage, would be prone to warping Legacy, probably in bad ways. Mental Misstep was already in Legacy before, and while I didn't particularly want it to be banned, it definitely warps the format. The others are so powerful that I do not believe they would be safe.
Nope, nope, nope
Oath of Druids
Wheel of Fortune
Bazaar of Baghdad
The banning of these cards is, in large part, what separates Legacy from Vintage. These are the true powerhouses.
Cards that don't actually do anything
Secrets of Paradise
These cards were added to the banned list with the release of the Conspiracy set. They are designed with drafting in mind, not actually going into decks, but instead acting from outside the game to have some effect. If one were to use them in a deck for constructed gameplay, they wouldn't actually do anything at all, so banning them is a formality. I'd just remove them from the banned list to trim the list for the sake of making it shorter. If necessary, some note that cards with the “conspiracy” type can't be used in constructed decks could be added to the rules. Taking the step of adding them to banned lists is awkward.
Cards that have to stay banned for logistical reasons
Amulet of Quoz
Contract from Below
Two of these are unfeasible “manual dexterity” or throwing cards, relics from a time when Magic tried some sillier stuff. The others are ante cards, which specify that they are to be removed from one's deck at the beginning of a game if the game isn't for ante. Theoretically, someone could make a deck with a bunch of these, then remove them before starting each game, as stated on the cards, effectively having a 24-card deck or something. Since this is stupid, these cards must remain banned, barring some major rules change that would invalidate possible any such exploitation.
And that's it. So, to summarize, I'd unban a bunch of cards if I could.