A cEDH Player Takes On Legacy

Michael LeVine • February 4, 2023

by (artist)

Why did I, Michael LeVine, a competitive EDH player known for bringing less-than-popular Stax and hatebears strategies to tables full of Oracles and Underworld Breaches, decide to register a deck in a 60-card format famous for their focus on cards like Brainstorm, Ponder, and Force of Will

Dark Ritual, Rebecca Guay

Because I got COVID. Sickness prevented me from attending Okotoberfest in November, so I elected to try out Legacy a few weeks later. But another part of me really wanted to get back into a 60-card format where I could cast Dark Ritual and slam powerful beaters like I did as a kid. I started playing in Portal, when my parents bought me a two-player starter pack and I played against myself, trying my hardest to pretend like I didn't know both decks' hands.

I started playing local weeklies and Junior Super Series events in Mercadian Masques block and Invasion block, so Rebecca Guay's Dark Ritual is cemented in my childhood memory. It's so cemented that I've even bought some of Rebecca's non-MTG original pieces for my home! 

Learning Legacy

Despite primarily playing EDH, I watch a lot of Legacy content. My favorite Legacy content creators are hate bear enthusiast Phil Gallagher and cEDH champion Brian Coval. Over the last year, Phil was experimenting a lot with black decks making use of the traditional Legacy Stompy shell: Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, and Chrome Mox

Stompy decks of all colors generally interest me. The decks abuse fast mana in order to accelerate out aggressive creatures, like Goblin Rabblemaster, which present a formidable clock, and powerful format hate, like Chalice of the Void and Trinisphere, which stop blue decks from stabilizing with their powerful card advantage and control spells. 

Does this play pattern sound familiar to you? It does to me, because it's exactly how I like to play my competitive EDH decks. In cEDH, fast mana allows stax players to deploy their hate before other players combo off, at which point that can use that time to find their own win condition which ideally attacks on a different axis.

Heliod, Sun-Crowned

In cEDH, I prefer my stax decks to have an "I win" button. I'm best known in the cEDH community for playing Heliod, Sun-Crowned, a deck I've championed since the card's initial release and with which I achieved multiple top 4 and top 16 finishes at major cEDH tournaments. While I like stax decks in general, I immediately fell in love with Heliod because of the Ballista combo. Stax decks need to dedicate a lot of their deck slots to hate pieces, since the format is so diverse, so it can often be difficult to fit an efficient win condition, and sometimes decks go all-in on their beatdown plan with cards like Craterhoof and Elesh Norn

To be honest, I've won plenty of games with combat damage! Heliod is an attractive Commander because he's able to grow your team and use lifelink to win the combat races that tend to evolve out of staxy board states, but to me it becomes competitively viable because it can both enter the red zone in long games and quickly combo out in short ones.

Unfortunately, Legacy Stompy decks usually lack combo win conditions, relying on their three-to-four-mana-value beaters and the broken fast mana of the format to quicken the clock, but there is one slightly uncommon archetype that does: Mono-Black Stompy.

Black Stax

While white is the primary hatebear and stax color in Commander, black actually has a fair number of hate pieces and can more than fill out a 60-card deck. cEDH favorites, like Dauthi Voidwalker and Opposition Agent, join 60-card favorites Plague Engineer and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse as a core set of combination hate pieces and beaters that can be accelerated off Ancient Tomb, Chrome Mox, and Dark Ritual

But Dauthi Voidwalker isn't just a near-unblockable Leyline of the Void that also casts spells for free. It's also one half of a combo with Helm of Obedience, which allows you to exile your opponent's library. This combo may be familiar: an old favorite of high-power EDH decks running Rest in Peace, it's fallen out of favor because it can only kill one player at a time. 

This isn't a problem in Legacy, and with main deck Leyline of the Void, a hate piece that's great against the broken graveyard strategies that run rampant in the format, it's a viable win condition that doesn't take up many slots. 

The deck is rounded out by Karn, the Great Creator, allowing you to toolbox some more hate pieces and have an extra Helm to wish for; as a Rocco player, you know I love toolboxes and tutoring for my win conditions. Ultimately, the Mono-Black Stompy deck has all the things I love about my favorite cEDH decks in a 60-card package: flexible format hate, big creatures to turn sideways, and an efficient I-win plan that can catch decks off guard. 

Seeing Phil play various forms of the black Stompy list on his channel, with and without the Helm combo, convinced me that I'd also enjoy playing this deck in Legacy. I looked at several lists, constructed a sort of consensus list to start with, made a few TCGPlayer orders, and started to get games in. 

A big shout-out to my two testing grounds: the mythical creature-named application that-shall-not-be-named and Gamestoria, an LGS in Queens, NY with a popular Legacy weekly. I practiced for a few weeks before going to Eternal Weekend North America, a yearly event that brought 468 players to compete in the Legacy Championship, and I didn't do too bad! 

Eternal Weekend North America

My 0-2 start led to a 5-0 run which left me in contention to possibly make top 8 but more likely prize. Unfortunately, I fell short and ended the weekend at 6-4. Despite the outcome, I was hooked! The deck really felt like my favorite cEDH decks, and I wanted more. 

I made some changes after Eternal Weekend, as a new menace haunts Legacy: the Initiative! This made-for-Commander mechanic is very powerful in 1v1, with decks aiming to take the Initiative turn 1 and then use the left side of the dungeon to quickly defeat their opponent. The popularity of the Initiative had led to a resurgence of an old favorite of cEDH players from the Flash Hulk era: Cephalid Breakfast combo. 

This deck aims to use the combo of Cephalid Illusionist and Nomads en-Kor to mill their library and then Dread Return a Thassa's Oracle. Oracle, the menace of cEDH! It's fairly popular in Legacy now, both in Breakfast decks and Doomsday decks which aim to combo win before Initiative decks can deal lethal damage. This dynamic feels so similar to the cEDH meta, where the speed of efficiency of Oracle + Demonic Consultation/Tainted Pact often ends the games before combat damage can become relevant. 

I realized my deck lacked good ways to interact with these decks while also having a less consistent and slower combo win condition. While I might have a decent match-up against Initiative, I didn't stand a chance if I ran into an Oracle. 

Torpor Orb

Coincidently, I made my name in cEDH playing Heliod during the Flash Hulk meta, where people cast Flash into Protean Hulk in order to assemble the Cephalid Breakfast combo. Much like I did back in 2020, I started to look for hate that could cover the Oracle decks without being too narrowly focused, and after lots of trial and error (mostly error), I landed on Torpor Orb

A constant debate in the Mono-White EDH discord, where I am a slightly absent moderator, is whether or not we should play Torpor Orb effects in Heliod. I am absolutely against it: it shuts off all our great ETB creatures, many of which tutor for Walking Ballista. However, Chief, one of my co-moderators and author of the cEDH Deck Database Heliod primer, is a huge proponent, as the effect is so efficient and covers the win conditions of so many decks. 

Coincidentally, for these two reasons it's incredibly strong in my Mono-Black Stompy deck. It shuts off Oracle in my Breakfast and Doomsday matchups, but it also shuts off the primarily white Initiative decks that rely on ETBs just like Heliod does. That same tension I've struggled with as I refined my Heliod cEDH deck directed me where to attack the current Legacy metagame. 

I made a few other tweaks, mostly to solidify my match-up against Urza's Saga decks and make room in my sideboard for the Torpor Orbs. Wastelands came in over Hymn to Tourach (putting me up to 23 lands and a shocking 31 mana sources), and I moved my Plague Engineers into the main deck to deal with all the X/1 Humans running around. This version of the deck really feels like my own, but I learned a lot from watching other players and reading over every Mono-Black list I could find.

SCG Con: Legacy $10k

In January I took this iteration of the deck to SCG Con's Legacy $10K, a 169-person tournament with a rather nice prize pool. I managed to make top 8 at SCG Con with a 6-1-1 record, intentionally drawing in round 8 to secure my spot at 5th place in Swiss and 6th place overall after losing my quarterfinals match, winning a nice $500 prize (I immediately converted into three sealed blue APAC basic land packs, which include my favorite Swamp by Ron Spears and favorite Mountain by Rebecca Guay).

Going 6-1-1, I defeated two Breakfast decks in part thanks to Torpor Orb! You can watch footage with commentary by 90s MTG, a great Legacy content creator based in NYC, here and here. My other wins were against a rather diverse cast of Legacy staples. I defeated 8-Cast, a blue Stompy-ish deck that aims to play artifacts and draw cards with spells like Thoughtcast and Thought Monitor, 2-0. I also defeated the the format monarch Delver, an Izzet deck that aims to win via maintaining a huge tempo advantage, combining efficient threats with efficient answers and cantrips, 2-0. After my opponent received a game loss for showing up to our round late, I defeated OmniTell, a deck that aims to Show and Tell into an Omniscience, 2-0.

In round 7, with a 5-1 record, I played in the feature match on Anuraag Das's stream (coincidently, Drake Sasser of Commander's Herald and Playing with Power was casting), and defeated Mono-White Painter, an uncommon take on Painter piloted by my friend Eddie that's reminiscent of the Oswald Fiddlebender cEDH deck and aims to combine artifact-based disruption with the efficient Painter's Servant/Grindstone combo. My only loss during Swiss was round 5, to a hybrid 8-Cast + Painter deck that attacked on too many axes for me to handle. That player made the top 8. 

As you can see, the format is fairly diverse! I didn't see a single Initiative deck, which seems to all get trapped fighting each other just outside of the top tables. I intentionally drew my 8th round to lock in top 8, and then lost to Delver in my quarterfinals match. While I believe my deck has the advantage against Delver, it's also the deck whose strategy differs the most from cEDH deck strategies, so I'm still learning how to play against it, and my opponent, David Kaplan, is a skilled pilot who 100% outplayed me. You can watch that match here and cringe along with me when you notice the fatal misplay I made two turns in a row in game two. 7 rounds of Legacy seems to have fried my brain! 

Since David and I play at the same LGS, I hope to avenge my loss in the near future!

Final Thoughts

So, just some concluding remarks. Legacy is a great format, and if you love cEDH, I think you might like Legacy as well. And for Legacy players, I think the opposite is also true! I've learned a lot from cEDH that has informed my play in Legacy, and think just as much about Legacy will inform my play in cEDH (spoiler: it already has - I slotted the Painter combo into my Heliod deck at Marchesa last year and it performed quite well). 

Over the last year, Rebell and I have been playing a lot of 60-card formats, and I think our mutual support of each other's 60-card interests has made us better Magic players overall. While I definitely think EDH's significantly higher variance make deck optimization quite different from Legacy (if you like math, read more here), the skills each format teaches are highly transferable, and I may even start playing rotatable formats again in hope to learn even more about Magic as a whole. Can you imagine: me, playing Standard?

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Michael V. LeVine is a competitive Eternal format player and member of the Mind Sculptors, where he typically makes content about stax and creature-based strategies.