Jeff Hoogland – A Brief Overview of the Legacy Format

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Legacy is my favorite format in Magic (followed closely by Modern). The deep card pool, complex interactions, powerful card selection, and aggressively-costed staples make the format highly skill intensive. I feel more in control of the outcome of a match of Legacy than I do in any other format. I can count on one hand the number of Standard games I’ve won with less than five cards in my starting hand. In Legacy, I’ve won off of just four cards dozens of times.

One of the results of Legacy’s massive card pool is that a large variety of archetypes can be successful in the format. Based on some data collection I’ve done, in the last month-and-a-half there have been 32 different decks that have finished in the top 16 of large Legacy events.

While it is true that some archetypes are more represented than others, no single deck represents more than 12% of the top finishes:

Legacy Top Finishes Breakdown

As you can see, our five most-represented archetypes are:

  1. RUG Delver

  2. Sneak and Show

  3. UWR Delver

  4. Shardless BUG

  5. Reanimator

All of these together only represent 46% of the top finishes! That means if you spend all of your time preparing against these five “best” decks, they may only account for half of the matches you will end up playing at a large event.

Today I am going to provide some sample deck lists for each of the archetypes on my pie-chart above as well as a few decks from the “other” slice of the pie. I’ll give a short overview on how each deck functions and what you should be conscious of while playing with/against a given archetype.

Also sometimes called “Canadian Thresh,” RUG Delver is easily the most popular fair deck in legacy. It plays efficient threats and resource denial to hinder its opponent’s game plan while it chips away at their life total.

When playing against RUG Delver it is important to remember to play around Stifile/Daze/Wasteland unless you absolutely cannot. These cards are exceptionally good at punishing bad players, but are often fairly useless against folks that know they are there.

Sneak and Show is arguably the most powerful combo deck in legacy at the moment. Only needing to assemble two cards for its combo makes it fast and difficult to disrupt. Some versions of Sneak and Show maindeck Blood Moon and the rest of them sideboard some copies – fetch around it if you can. If you get the chance to disrupt their mana with Wastelands, always prioritize killing their Volcanic Islands over the soul lands. They often need double (or even triple) red to kill you outright with a Sneak Attack.

UWR Delver plays a game plan similar to RUG Delver, only its white splash allows it to answer resolved threats via Swords to Plowshares. There is still some debate to if True-Name Nemesis is better than Geist of Saint Traft in this deck. True-Name is undoubtedly better against opposing fair magic decks, but Geist provides a much faster clock.

BUG decks became extremely popular in legacy with the printing of Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay. Similar to the BGx decks in Modern, Shardless BUG is simply a “good stuff” deck. It just plays a pile of inherently powerful cards and hopes to overwhelm its opponent with pure card quality. It is important to remember when playing Shardless BUG that your two Wastelands are not for denying your opponent mana for a turn – they are there to deal with utility lands that cause you grief.

Reanimator is the better deck for cheating large things into play when graveyard hate is less prevalent. Lotus Petal and/or Dark Ritual enable the deck to call forth a large threat as early as the first turn. Entomb acts as a Demonic Tutor for whatever threat works best for a given situation.

When you expect a pile of graveyard hate out of your opponent’s sideboard you simply board in a couple of extra lands and up to the full set of Show and Tells.

Legacy Elves is very similar to Kiki-Pod in modern. By this I mean it can combo in a couple of different fashions (Glimpse of Nature or Natural Order) and when it isn’t comboing it is still a midrange creature deck that can kill you by attacking with little green men. When playing against this deck it is important to remember a couple of things:

First is that they can kill you out of nowhere with a few creatures and a Natural Order.

Second is that Wirewood Symbiote + Elvish Visonary is a powerful draw engine.

Lastly, if they lead with Dryad Arbor as their first land, nine times out of ten this is their only mana source. Kill it.


There are two types of storm decks that see play in Legacy: ANT and TES.

TES is a five-color, fast storm deck. The deck is capable of killing on turn one more often than ANT due to the extra fast mana it plays in the form of Chrome Mox and Rite of Flame. Another big difference between TES and ANT is that TES plays Burning Wish while ANT generally does not.

ANT trades off some speed for stronger disruption and a more stable mana base by playing a few basic lands. In the past year ANT has put up more top finishes than TES, but I’m not sure it is the strictly-better combo deck.

Stoneblade decks got a huge boost with the printing of True-Name Nemesis. Stoneblade decks are either Esper or pure UW. The Esper mana base is weaker against Wasteland decks, but having access to one-mana discard spells with Snapcaster Mage is very powerful against most decks in the format.

UWr miracles is a UW based Stoneforge Mystic + Counterbalance deck. If True-Name Nemesis continues getting popular then playing Terminus/Supreme Verdict is a good place to be in the meta game. The red in the deck is purely for sideboard cards, generally Red Elemental Blast and occasionally Blood Moon. Because Abrupt Decay is so good at killing Counterbalance, these decks generally play one to two copies of Misdirection – sometimes instead of the fourth copy of Force of Will.

There are only three things that are certain in life:

  1. Death

  2. Taxes

  3. Some form of White Weenie is a viable archetype

Death and Taxes is a hate-bear style deck that utilizes Aether Vial to get ahead on resources in conjunction with cards like Thalia, Wasteland, and Rishadan Port to put the other player behind. Don’t underestimate this pile of Squires, Jackal Pups, and Grizzly Bears – they mean business.

Legacy Jund is everything the Modern Jund deck wishes it could be. Punishing Fire, Bloodbraid Elf, Hymn to Tourach – it is the essence of a good-stuff deck. Jund tends to dominate opposing fair decks, but it often comes up short against combo decks. It is especially cold to a Leyline of Sanctity.

Sometimes also called “Mono Brown,” MUD is an artifact ramp deck that aims to lock its opponents out of the game with cards like Chalice of the Void, Trinisphere, and Blood Moon. It then uses the cards Metalworker and Grim Monolith to ramp into giant threats like Wurmcoil Engine and Blightsteel Colossus.

The mono-red Painter deck wins with the combination of Painter’s Servant + Grindstone to mill out its opponent. Its backup plan is Blood Moon’ing the more greedy mana bases out of the game. And its backup, backup plan is beating down with one and two power creatures while you Red Elemental Blast/Pyroblast all of their spells.

Force of Will is the Magic card that keeps the Legacy format from being completely overrun by decks like Belcher. Belcher is a volatile combo deck that generally wins the game on turn one, or it doesn’t win at all. Winning the die roll is especially important for this deck – you want them dead before they even play a land.

Goblins is one of the oldest legacy decks that still sees play today. People often mistakenly call Goblins an aggro deck, when in reality it is more of a control deck. Similar to Death and Taxes, it plays Aether Vial alongside Wasteland and Rishadan Port to get ahead on resources. It then plays cards like Goblin Ringleader and Goblin Matron to generate card advantage.


As I mentioned at the start of the article, Legacy is an immensely complex and diverse format. The descriptions and deck lists I’ve outlined here only scratch the surface of the archetypes that exist. If there is a desire for it I will write a follow-up piece that outlines some of the more fringe archetypes that see play in the Legacy format that are fun/powerful.

I’m heading to the GP in DC this weekend to play some Legacy myself. If you are there and see me feel free to say hello.


~Jeff Hoogland


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Jeff Hoogland

@JeffHoogland     -     Email     -     Articles
Jeff Hoogland plays as much constructed Magic as the midwest allows. SCG events and Grand Prix are his two favorite ways to spend a weekend. He enjoys attacking new and established formats from unexplored angles. His Magic resume currently includes numerous SCG Open top eights, an SCG Invitational top eight, and a GP top 16.
Jeff Hoogland


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    • Justin on November 14, 2013 at 8:33 am
    • Reply

    Great breakdown Jeff. I would really appreciate another primer on the fringe decks. Do you think Merfolk could make a come back with TNN?

    1. I’ll likely do a second part for next week covering a few more arch types that see play.

        • Corbin on November 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm
        • Reply


    • Jon on November 14, 2013 at 11:02 am
    • Reply

    No maverick :(

  1. It always seems like such a fun format, I wish the card availability issues didn’t exist.

    • Regan on December 19, 2013 at 10:03 am
    • Reply

    As a newer Legacy player I like reading examples about the interactions that are unique to Legacy- such as u mentioned playing around Daze / Stifle / Wasteland. When to fetch and what. What to counter. When to crack LED. What to Burning Wish for and when. I’m sure they are others that would make a basic primer without going to deep to a particular archetype.

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