The Legacy Metagame After Sensei's Diving Top

Feature Article from Brian Braun-Duin
Brian Braun-Duin
5/25/2017 11:01:00 AM
submit to reddit » Print «

Miracles was without a doubt one of the most dominant decks in Legacy's history. Over a three-year span, it was consistently the top deck. Outside of minor blips like the Treasure Cruise era, Miracles was objectively the best deck in terms of results every single month, and the power of Miracles seemed to only grow stronger over time, as players figured out how to build the deck to adapt to the hate thrown at it.

Wizards of the Coast did the correct thing by dropping a ban on Sensei's Divining Top. Banning a card other than Sensei's Divining Top risks not doing enough to hurt the deck. Banning Terminus means the deck turns into a turbo-Mentor Countertop deck. Banning Counterbalance still leaves the Miracle-Mentor-Top shell active. For a period, I was behind a Counterbalance ban, but I think Top and Mentor is so strong that it may not have been enough.

Mid
Low
 Sensei's Divining Top
$13.99
$7.69
Store QTY Price  
Dakkon MTG 2 $9.50
Sunshine Games 2 $9.50
MTGDealz 1 $9.50
JohnnyBCardsComics 1 $9.50
Play More Games 1 $9.50
The Dice Depot 2 $9.50
OmnomaxTradersLLC 1 $9.94

>> View all Prices for Sensei's Divining Top <<

Store.TCGplayer.com allows you to buy cards from any of our vendors, all at the same time!
Shop, Compare & Save with TCGplayer.com! - [Store FAQ]
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Sensei's Divining Top Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card


Sensei's Divining Top also has the ignominy of being a card that can make tournaments worse by virtue of taking a long time to use over the course of a game. In a game where both players are activating Top at least once per turn, the game can slow down to a crawl. Top slows down tournaments greatly and contributes a lot to why Legacy events tend to progress slower than Modern or Standard. While experienced players can play Top quick enough to avoid draws, it's a feel-bad situation to tell players they cannot play the best deck because they lack experience to play quickly enough. It can also be bad to pick up a draw in a match where your opponent used the lion's share of the game clock, not even by virtue of playing slowly, but simply by having Sensei's Divining Top active.

At any rate, Top is gone now, and not everyone is pleased by this. I'm friends with a number of people who are...I'm not sure how to word this...uh...let's go with “Miracles aficionados.” These...umm…”lovers of the Miracles strategy”...were “moderately perturbed” by the removal of top.

Alright, fine. Enough beating around the bush. They are Miracles fanatics who were greatly displeased by Top's banning. They love the Miracles way more than I do, and I've had a lot of success with that deck. They religiously played and praised Miracles. They created Burnt Offerings to offer up to the Sensei's Divining Top gods. They demanded ritualistic sacrifice to Entreat the Angels to aid them and painted pictures of Amonkhet Invocation Counterbalance on their walls. They would blindfold themselves and do gymnastics just to practice their blind flips. They dreamed of Miracles as they slept. They ate Miracles-themed food. They drove cars with a license plate of “Top+Bal.” Ok, I'm making most of this up as I go, but these fine folk loved the Miracles a lot and it was a big part of their Magic lives.

How would they be able to move on, now that they can't play Miracles cards in Legacy? It was an interesting experiment to watch. How would these folks who have found themselves suddenly without a deck or purpose in Legacy be able to cope? I was excited to see the results of this experiment. Would they join the dark side and play Grixis Delver? Maybe they would adopt a combo deck like Storm or Sneak and Show. Where would they turn, and likewise, where would the Legacy format shift after this?

What does a new Topless Legacy format look like? Well, as it turns out, I know a thing or two about Topless Legacy. I've played a lot of Legacy on Magic Online in the comfort of my own home without wearing a shirt, so I like to think I'm a bit of an expert on this subject. No shirt, no shoes, yet full service. Because I don't stop pumping that gas.

I went to look at some of the new Legacy lists to see how the format had moved on and...then I saw this. You've GOTTA be kidding me!

It's just Miracles without Sensei's Divining Top! And it keeps putting up 5-0 results on Magic Online. I guess enough players were unwilling to move on from playing Miracles so they just got together as a group and decided “How about we just don't?”

This reminds me of when they banned Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic in Standard and then the best deck afterward was still the white-blue shell just without Jace and Stoneforge Mystic.

Now I'm not saying this is the best deck or anything, but it actually looks pretty good. This deck is based around the card Predict. Predict does a few things in this deck. After a Ponder or Brainstorm it allows you to effectively shuffle away one of those cards by naming it with Predict, thus putting that card into the graveyard and drawing two more. Generally speaking, Predict in old Miracles builds was used to reset the top of your deck with Sensei's Divining Top. In this deck it has a more aggressive dual purpose. If you thought playing against Lantern Control sucked because they got to control your draw steps, I've got some bad news for you.

Mid
Low
 Predict
$4.25
$0.49
Store QTY Price  
Gaming Till Dawn 1 $2.09
MTG Rares 9 $2.19
Card Monster Games 12 $2.20
Mirran Games 1 $2.25
jeffeniqua 1 $2.49
The Gypsies Den 3 $2.55
Infinite Consortium 4 $2.56

>> View all Prices for Predict <<

Store.TCGplayer.com allows you to buy cards from any of our vendors, all at the same time!
Shop, Compare & Save with TCGplayer.com! - [Store FAQ]
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Predict Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card


This deck can control the top of the opponent's deck in three ways. It can use Portent, which might look like just a bad Ponder, but it can actually target your opponent as well. It can use Unexpectedly Absent to put cards on top of your opponent's library, and it can use Jace, the Mind Sculptor to fateseal the opponent.

You can combine Predict with any of those effects to slough a card off the top of their deck that you don't want them to draw, and then draw two cards yourself in the process. In that way, you can do things like use Portent to make them draw two bricks in a row and then Predict off the real card once they finally get to it.

One area this deck could really improve in is the sideboard. The sideboard looks pretty hastily constructed, which is frequently symptomatic of new decks. You probably don't need four Ethersworn Canonist to beat Storm, and it's possibly better to diversify your answers to that deck by playing a mixture of effects, anyway.

I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty excited to give this deck a spin and see if maybe this is what I should still be playing in Legacy. It's hard to not want to slam some Stoneforge Mystics and Batterskulls into that sideboard, though. That's right. Batterskulls. Plural. Always play that second skull!

Another deck that might have some legs in the new Legacy is the Shaheen Soorani special. Esper Stoneblade circa 1888. No changes to the deck since the 1940's. I like to make fun of Shaheen because he's old and doesn't change his ways even in the face of overwhelming evidence, but it's all in good fun. And also completely true, because he is both old and he still plays this ancient, unchanging Legacy archetype that should have died out 60 years ago.

I've seen players like Ben Friedman also battling with the deck now, and I think it's possible that we could see a return to prominence of Esper Stoneblade now that Miracles doesn't exist to do literally everything this deck does but way better.

The main thing that bothers me about this deck is why isn't it just playing Deathrite Shaman? This deck is playing a low land count and Wastelands and is trying to play expensive cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor. This seems like the perfect fit for Deathrite Shaman to just go full-blown Deathblade up in this joint. Deathrite Shaman also happens to be one of the best cards in Legacy right now, so adding a good card to your deck full of mediums doesn't sound bad to me.

One of the biggest decks to gain from the banning of Sensei's Divining Top is actually Elves. Elves struggled hard against both Terminus and Sensei's Divining Top and Counterbalance. It was uniquely positioned as horrifically against Miracles as a deck could be, losing to the deck on all axis. Hell, even Monastery Mentor plus countermagic was usually good enough.

Mid
Low
 Deathrite Shaman
$4.31
$2.28
Store QTY Price  
Mom's Basement Games 1 $2.28
Clouds Haven 1 $2.63
TeamCards 1 $2.63
Qs CardsnComics 1 $2.75
PPK Gaming 1 $2.85
Armada Games 1 $2.99
Nebulous Gaming 1 $3.00

>> View all Prices for Deathrite Shaman <<

Store.TCGplayer.com allows you to buy cards from any of our vendors, all at the same time!
Shop, Compare & Save with TCGplayer.com! - [Store FAQ]
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Deathrite Shaman Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card


Elves, however, is very good against Delver strategies. Delver strategies are the natural place to look after the Top ban, because Delver was one of the few decks powerful enough to hang with Miracles, much like how Mardu was the easy first look after the Felidar Guardian ban. However, if Delver becomes too prominent, then it gives room for powerful strategies with good Delver matchups, like Elves, to come back to power.

This is the Elves list that won the Legacy Challenge on Magic Online last weekend. It's a pretty classic Natural Order list without anything crazy going on, and we could start to see a lot more of this deck moving forward.

Another deck that stands to gain a lot from the loss of Miracles is Death and Taxes. Miracles was favored against D&T, but the generally mono-white deck was usually quite good against most other decks in the field if you ignore its horrible Elves matchup.

This is a fairly non-traditional build of the deck, using Recruiter of the Guard to enable a red splash for cards like Magus of the Moon and Pia and Kiran Nalaar. The biggest surprise, however, is the playset of Chalice of the Void in the deck. Opting for Dismember instead of Swords to Plowshares, Aether Vial becomes the only card truly unplayable with a Chalice for one in play, as Mother of Runes can still be played via Cavern of Souls. Bahra is a well-known pilot of the deck, and he has been experimenting with weird versions of the deck to good success, including some lists that play Ancient Tomb to enable turn one Chalice.

Even if you opt for a more traditional approach, Death and Taxes might be a great choice right now. It's constantly been lingering around as one of the five best decks in Legacy, and often very underrated by top players who prefer to cast Brainstorm instead.

If we want to talk about “boring, but still good” there is this Sultai Delver list played by Malimujo, who has been playing this deck for a long time and who has earned an astronomical amount of Magic Online trophies for going 5-0 in leagues with it over the past year. This deck was one of the few decks that was actively good against Miracles, and as it turns out, it is still good even without Miracles in the format.

Slowest of all the Delver decks, this deck makes up for that in raw power. This deck is full of so many two-for-ones and tough to answer threats like Hymn to Tourach, Liliana of the Veil, and Tombstalker, and that's not even considering all of the brutally efficient threats in Tarmogoyf, Deathrite Shaman, and Delver of Secrets.

The Delver deck that seems to gain the most on paper is actually Grixis Delver. I feel like Grixis is doing the most efficient things when it comes to Delver decks, and efficiency is generally the mark of power in Legacy. The issue with Grixis previously is that it didn't have access to Abrupt Decay and thus could often just lose to cards like Counterbalance. With that out of the picture, it has full room to shine now.

Storm is another deck that stands to gain a lot now that it doesn't have to dedicate a ton of sideboard slots to beating Miracles, a deck it still had a bad matchup against, even with ample hate. With that said, both Grixis Delver and Storm are level one strategies that immediately gained a lot from not having to face Miracles anymore, and oftentimes those level one strategies aren't the right place to go. Players will Anticipate the increase in playability of these strategies and load up on hate for them, or alternatively, the loss of Miracles can also lead to other decks increasing in popularity that are even worse matchups.

As a result, I would be hesitant to immediately expect these decks to thrive. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if they did, since they are powerful strategies that no longer have to beat Miracles, but they are also very beatable and very targetable. If you want to beat Storm, you can. If you want to beat Grixis Delver, you can.

It's been interesting to follow along with the development of Legacy without Sensei's Top in the mix. There have been some things I expected, like Elves or Death and Taxes returning to prominence, but there have also been some surprises, like Miracles still existing, just without Sensei's Divining Top. There has also been one major disappointment, that I hope to personally rectify in the weeks to come. Where the heck is Deathblade?! It may be an extremely mediocre deck, but someone's gotta be playing it somewhere. I need me some Deathrite Shaman and Stoneforge Mystic in my life. It's my Legacy and I want it now!

- Brian Braun-Duin




submit to reddit » Print «