Magic: The Gathering – Why I Play Standard vs. Legacy

Temple of Triumph enchanted by Evil Presense

Just over a year ago, I moved a few hundred miles away from my Magic playgroup. I’ve found a superior game store (Super Games in Alpharetta, GA), but it’s a bit of a drive for me, so I don’t get to attend Friday Night Magic or pre-release events more than every couple of months. As a result, nearly all of the games I play these days are with friends over the computer, mostly using Facebook Messenger (which I’ll cover in a future post). These are casual games that don’t stick to a particular format.

My toughest Magic opponent is consistently my fellow author on this blog, Jinx the Bard. Jinx likes to play Legacy. He’s a “kitchen table” player like myself, and doesn’t frequent Friday Night Magic or tournaments. The deck builds he dreams up, even the ones in development, are brutal and ruthlessly effective. I’ve found myself several times across the virtual table from a turn two Avacyn (courtesy of graveyard and reanimator shenanigans), been mana deprived by Sinkholes, have learned much respect and revile for Gigadrowse and Steel of the Godhead, and now dread the opening play, “Swamp, Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Phyrexian Obliterator, pass to you.” To state the obvious, the sheer power level of certain Legacy cards are simply unmatched in Modern and Standard.

I, on the other hand, prefer to play Standard and Modern. Despite having first learned to play Magic in 1996 with Revised and Fallen Empires, I have an aesthetic dislike for the pre-Eighth Edition frames and stubbornly refuse to play them.

Some folks think I’m crazy to play Standard vs. Legacy. “Why don’t you both play the same format?” or “Just get him to play Standard” are the typical responses. Well, from Jinx’s standpoint, if he’s got the cards, why should he have to limit himself to a certain subset? Also, it’s my conscious choice to stick to my formats and stay out of Legacy. I enjoy the puzzle mentality of putting together a reliable and efficient Standard deck that can not only hold its own at Friday Night Magic, but can prove a formidable opponent to what Jinx throws my way. It’s become a point of pride to be able to defend myself against those turn one Obliterators using a much smaller (and often, much weaker) pool of options.

Pitting my Standard decks vs. Jinx’s Legacy builds has also helped me tune the deck I’ve been playing at Friday Night Magic since the Return to Ravnica block (red-white Boros aggro). Sure, there are Constructed archetypes to deal with, and someone at the game store is always mimicking what the pros are playing at the tournament level. However, I’ve come to discover that, if my build is strong and versatile enough to handle Legacy, it’s much better suited to stand up to the current threats in Standard. For example, I was so surprised to learn how well a “kitchen sink” Orzhov build I was testing did vs. several types of Legacy builds that I’m strongly considering taking that to my next visit to Super Games.

Going up against Legacy’s more numerous and diverse threats also helps me better understand how newer mechanics, such as Heroic and Devotion, interact with a broader range of combat situations and interactions than what I might find in Limited or Constructed environments. My sharper understanding of the rules also benefits Jinx, who has come to rely upon my knowledge (and poring through the Gatherer database) to settle any questions or disputes.

Sure, these types of matchups are more challenging and can often be frustrating, but they’re quite a lot of fun as well.

Author’s note: Special thanks to Kirsin Koch for his review and editing of this essay.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.


  1. HikingStick says:

    I like your approach. While I get to play at LGS events, I still play around the kitchen table with many types of decks. In light of your post,however, I may become more deliberate about playing against legacy decks. My challenge, however, may be finding other players who have highly competitive legacy decks (or, a they are commonly called around these parts, “unfair” decks ;).

  2. I agree, it’s definitely a weird dynamic, playing legacy vs. modern or standard. Legacy in general is more powerful, but be that as it may, cards from the newer sets seem to be ramping back up in the power department. Standard cards like Boros Reckoner or all the indestructible god enchantment creatures they have coming out, along with the introduction of planeswalkers not long ago, makes for some very interesting match ups. I feel like the power gap between legacy and standard is slowly closing.

    When playing brightmatrix, he has the uncanny ability to plan for everything in his decks. Just when you think you’re going to pull a rare quick win, he crumples it with a nasty rebuke. He makes it very hard to get an enchantment or creature to stick for more than a round or two and no matter what format you’re playing, if you can’t keep the cards on the board (or working in your favor), then it’s all going to fall apart.

    I thoroughly enjoy the match ups with brightmatrix and have to say I’m lucky he doesn’t play legacy, as I’m sure his planning skills would overtake my strange thought up combo’s in an instant. (that pun was for you brightmatrix)

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