Living in a Shamanless World
The Banned and Restricted announcement from last week has taken full effect, and this is an exciting time to play. No longer do players have to deal with the dreaded Underground Sea into Deathrite that has been such a mainstay in Legacy for years. In many ways, this makes deckbuilding feel much more meaningful, with players having to make more choices and sacrifices in how they build their decks. Before, Deathrite Shaman removed the need to worry about manabase concerns, and greatly mitigated the effect of playing higher CMC cards of just about any color. Now, card choices are much less of a freeroll, and this makes both choosing a deck, and individual card choices in the deck, much more interesting. Now if you want to play a 3-drop creature ahead of schedule, the inclusion of green is almost mandatory (ignoring Ancient Tomb decks for the sake of this point), and playing more than 3 colors becomes an incredible challenge.
In some ways, this Legacy metagame has reverted to an older version of itself, with many of the beloved decks of yesteryear re-entering the metagame. Graveyard-focused decks get to emphasize their incredibly game 1 win percentage again without Deathrite around, and once again play the ol’ song and dance of facing down devastating sideboard cards. Goblins can more reliably connect with Goblin Lackey, and have to face down less devastating removal than when Deathrite Shaman was ramping into Kolaghan’s Command. Even less conventional decks, like Pox and Enchantress, have seen a marked increase in play at the very least to see if it was Deathrite alone keeping these decks from succeeding. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg, as well, as the metagame continues to be relatively open.
However, these fan-favorite decks aren’t the only ones that have seen a boon with the banning. The Deathrite ban has left its good friend Delver of Secrets without a home, but only for about 10 seconds. To the surprise of no one, the old boogeyman of Legacy, RUG Delver, seems to be back in full force with 2012 technology at its side. With the leaving of Deathrite, a lot of shifts happened which are all beneficial for the way RUG Delver likes to play. Stifle and Wasteland greatly increase in value. The need for removal on turn 1 is greatly reduced, opening the door to play more Blue disruption. Players have less spare mana lying around, making soft permission much better. The list goes on and on, honestly, and all of these points lead to the resurgence of RUG.
While this might be the least interesting, and most predictable, course for Legacy to take, I also think this is the most meaningful. In fact, I think RUG Delver could be the most impactful in Legacy, not only in terms of what decks people choose, but how they build them. RUG Delver is a powerhouse of efficiency and mana denial. Without Deathrite and Probe in the format, it is one of the very few decks that can devastate opponents by playing 2 or 3 spells in a single turn as early as turn 2. Counting Wasteland as a spell, 2 or 3 of those spells could all be used to destroy lands, and the ones that aren’t are usually taxing counters, further burying more clunky decks into the hole.
This means that when people build their decks, they have to know that they can’t rely on 3 mana spells to claw them back into a game. In addition, they can even less rely on their dual lands and fetch lands surviving long enough to get to that point. This incentivizes players to have more basic lands, less multi-color spells, and a lower CMC overall. While the loss of Deathrite hurts the potential 4 color decks, the presence of RUG is what makes them sound ridiculous.
The alternative to this is having a game plan that is actively good against RUG, which is one of the major ways RUG is different than Grixis. By nature of being a Deathrite deck, Grixis Delver had a much more diverse plan of attack. This made the deck very hard to successfully metagame against. Even the decks that had an edge over Grixis weren’t that favored, and Grixis could adapt the tools to combat those decks. RUG, on the other hand, is far more exploitable. It doesn’t do a great job switching roles. Almost all of its cards are extremely good while ahead, and take a fair amount of work to be reasonable while behind. Outside if Delver, all if its best threats rely on the graveyard, making graveyard hate tough to deal with sometimes (except for True-Name, but that card is pretty clunky). Even its spells are only situationally good. Stifle and Spell Pierce are not universally good in every matchup. This means decks like Death and Taxes and 4 Color Loam, which can circumvent mana denial and play threats too powerful to deal with, are excellent choices in the face of RUG Delver
Taking this one step further, RUG Delver is entirely reliant on its counter magic to deal with combo decks, and almost all of the countermagic is situational. This means that decks like Sneak and Show which play Ancient Tombs and Lotus Petals, as well as Defense Grids out of the sideboard, can look really good against RUG.
In fact, RUGs exploitability can be clearly demonstrated in the most recent Legacy Challenge. The top 8 is as follows:
Sneak and Show
Sneak and Show
Death and Taxes
4 Color Loam
Death and Taxes
0 Blue fair decks in the top 8. That is something that is generally rarely seen in Legacy. Considering that this is the first challenge, and RUG is likely a level 1 deck for many old Grixis Delver players, this top 8 makes a lot of sense. Every one of these decks can present horrible situations for RUG very quickly and boast favorable overall matchups against RUG. Of course, I still think RUG is an excellent choice, in general, but I think things might be a bit rocky for it at the moment. The fact that RUG Delver was expected to be so popular demonstrates that it can have a reasonable effect on the metagame. This time around, people chose to pick decks that have a good matchup against it, but in the future, we might see more individual card choices slanted towards hating RUG. After all, a top 8 like this is just as exploitable as RUG Delver (Hello, Charbelcher!). All of this is to say that make sure you strongly consider RUG Delver when building your decks. If you think its close as to whether you should play another cantrip or another land, play the land. RUG is an amazing deck at its core, so make sure you don’t spew the value before the game even starts.
At the end of this, I am incredibly excited to be playing Legacy at this time. There are so many options to grind through to find out what is actually good, and i’ll be very excited to see where it goes from here! Please sound off in the comments if there are any decks that excite you in this new metagame!
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