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Insider: Virtually Infinite – Finding Value in Gateway Legacy Decks

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This is the third in a series of articles aimed at preparing the player, collector, and speculator for the arrival of Eternal Masters (EMA).

Last week we discussed why the future of Legacy on Magic Online is bright, even if it is dim in paper, but noted that there were not a lot of great buying opportunities at the moment. We refined our “watch list” of cards you should not be holding, and discussed how Eternal Masters would create demand for whichever Legacy staples are not reprinted.

Today we are going to make some predictions about which cards are good bets to pick up in the coming weeks. The first set of cards we’ll be looking for are the gatekeeper cards to the format’s gateway decks.

Opal Lake Gatekeepers

Gateway Decks

A “gateway deck” is any cheap but competitive deck that allows players to try a new format. A classic gateway deck is Burn or Red Aggro---it is often a tier 1 or tier 1.5 deck at a fraction of the cost of the decks it beats.

Gateway decks tend to be very popular on MTGO. Compared to paper, there are fewer players with large standing digital collections. When these players want to try a new format they will often start by acquiring the format’s cheapest deck. This is especially true when a high-EV tournament is announced (like the Legacy Challenge).

When they do decide to acquire an MTGO deck, players are often surprised and excited to learn how cheap the staple commons and uncommons are on Magic Online. Most of the cards in a gateway deck cost pennies and it’s cheap and convenient to fire up a wishlist and get 95% of the deck for a bargain price.

But all gateway decks contain a few expensive cards. To play the tier 1 version of these decks you can’t avoid them. Ironically, these "gatekeeper" cards are in especially high demand because the rest of the deck is so cheap. It’s part of the deal: you pay the toll and purchase eight expensive cards to pass through the gate and unlock your 67 bargain cards.

One of the key principles to Magic finance is to target cards that are scarce and are “must haves” in cheap decks. This is especially true on Magic Online. The paper economy is much flatter---virtually every playable card is worth something, whereas the Magic Online economy is highly polarized. A half dozen gatekeeper cards can cost more than the rest of the deck combined.

Legacy’s Gatekeeper Cards

In Legacy, there are a handful of decks that can be acquired for under 300 tix. That’s a bargain compared to their paper counterparts---and even compared to Standard and Modern decks. Each gateway deck contains a couple key gatekeeper cards that we’ll examine.

Dredge

Dredge has proven an enduring strategy in Legacy. It has a stellar game one and can still put up top finishes despite all the sideboard hate. Playing the deck is an acquired taste that is not for everyone. But one of the main attractions is that it’s super cheap.

Dredge, 6-1 finish at the MTGO Legacy Challenge: (316 tix)

Click to Enlarge

As you can see, almost all the value in Dredge is locked up in four cards: Lion's Eye Diamond, Cabal Therapy, Gemstone Mine, and Golgari Grave-Troll. These four cards account for $220 of the $314 price.

These four cards constitute the gatekeepers to Legacy Dredge. You might find a substitute for Gemstone Mine but all the others are essential.

The price is still attractive, and the arrival of EMA should make this deck even more accessible. I expect to see reprints of several key cards, especially if there is a black archetype focused on the graveyard. Golgari Grave-Troll seems a likely inclusion. Cabal Therapy and Gemstone Mine also seem possible.

All else equal, the inclusion of several cards should drop the cost of a Dredge deck to under 250 tix. As people start to pick up the deck, value will start accruing in the other cards in the deck that weren’t reprinted.

Is there a play for the savvy speculator? Two cards we can be sure will not be in EMA are Lion’s Eye Diamond and Firestorm (which is used in many Dredge sideboards), since both are on the Reserved List. They are relatively scarce on MTGO. Firestorm has a single printing and sits at 16 tix despite little play. LED was printed in a light set but there are more copies since it has a promo and was printed in Vintage Masters (VMA), but at mythic.


These are our targets for this deck. LED has the additional benefit of having a home in several other Legacy decks. It sits right now at 21-24 tix, but I could see it hitting double or even triple that this summer. I don't see another promo of LED as likely, so the only new supply would have to come from VMA or Mirage (MIR) block flashbacks.

There is no particular rush in picking up LED and Firestorm. Sealed Leagues continue to suck tix out of the MTGO economy and put downward pressure on singles. Shadows over Innistrad (SOI) release events should provide a particularly good window for cheap purchase of these cards (and of others below). Note that the VMA version of LED is significantly cheaper than the MIR version.

Burn

Burn has been leveling the playing field since the mid-90's, when players dialed in by modem to read tournament reports on The Dojo.

The Magic Dojo

Burn is easy to learn but difficult to master, and in the hands of a skilled pilot it is a force to be reckoned with.

Burn is not only cheap (under 200 tix) but has the added benefit that most cards do double service in Modern. This makes it an ideal candidate for players making the shift to Legacy.

The main gatekeeper cards are the fetchlands, Ensnaring Bridge and Eidolon of the Great Revel. Some versions play Blood Moon as well, which adds 100 tix in cost for a playset.

Burn deck that recently won an SCG IQ (192 tix)

Burn deck that recently won an SCG IQ
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What’s the play? I think Eidolon makes a good pickup here. It’s played across multiple formats and is relatively cheap compared to its potential peak. It’s from a recent set so a reprinting in EMA seems highly unlikely. It's a strong pickup regardless of the future of Legacy.

Some versions also include Ensnaring Bridge. This can be an attractive target since its inclusion in EMA seems unlikely---it is a miserable card in Limited formats and is Modern-legal. It is on fire right now because it’s a pillar in the Lantern of Insight deck and other anti-Eldrazi strategies.

That said, I don’t feel comfortable recommending a card at its all-time high. I would wait until the Eldrazi bannings are announced for the price to fall and then snag a playset or two.

The Zendikar fetchlands are tricky. They were named by the EMA source and these rumors have brought them down to an attractive price. The contrarian play is to pick them up, but I don't plan to touch them even at current prices. Fortunately you can play most Burn decks using mostly allied fetchlands.

Ad Nauseam Tendrils Storm

This one is a rung up the price ladder (553 tix), and constitutes 5% of the format.

Storm deck played to a money finish at SCG Philadelphia (553 tix)

As played to a money finish at SCG Philadelphia. 553 tix
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While this is just a guess, I expect Storm to be a Limited archetype within EMA. If so, Lotus Petal, Cabal Therapy, Gitaxian Probe, and Infernal Tutor could all be included. If the deck drops in price, Lion’s Eye Diamond could be the last gatekeeper standing, so to speak. The fact that it figures in other decks as well makes it an attractive target.

Infernal Tutor at 43 tix is a classic gatekeeper card. The problem with this as a spec target is that there is significant reprint risk. If the set list comes out and this is missing, jump on it immediately.

Elves

Elves is a hybrid aggro/combo deck that is challenging to learn. There are a couple different versions. Like any infinite or near-infinite combo deck, it can be a pain to go through the motions on MTGO, which may limit its growth. On the other hand, it is a creature deck with interactivity, which has appeal. It’s the first Legacy deck I built on MTGO years ago, and others may take a similar path.

Version of Elves that took 4th place in an SCG IQ in Lexington (555 tix)

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Click to Enlarge

Right now, 30% of the deck’s value is centered in the playset of Gaea's Cradle. These gained in price as soon as EMA was announced, and have room for more gains as the format grows. I expect Elves to be one of the Limited archetypes playable in EMA, which could make the deck even cheaper.


That said, I would wait for SOI release events to pick up my Cradles. Note that if you are looking for playsets the promo versions are 5 tix cheaper than the Urza's Saga versions.

Bayou (5 tix) and Savannah (3 tix) can also make an appearance in Elves decks, and have not moved much compared to the blue dual lands. They will see additional growth if green decks, including Elves, make a comeback in Legacy. They are super cheap and should safely experience double-digit growth, but don't expect them to break 10 tix in the next six months.

Summary of Targets

The best time to target these should be during Shadows over Innistrad release. As always, these specs must be weighed against other opportunities in the market. They will be a 3-6 month spec, and there may be better short-run plays. But keep an eye on these and pick them up when you can, since the drivers for mid- to long-term growth are there:

  • Lion's Eye Diamond
  • Firestorm
  • Gaea's Cradle
  • Bayou
  • Savannah
  • Eidolon of the Great Revel
  • Ensnaring Bridge (after Eldrazi bannings)

Finally, if you want to bet against a reprint or make a quick flip this is a good week to pick up Golgari Grave-Troll, which is down to 8 tix because of Ravnica flashback drafts.

Make sure to enjoy Legacy leagues and the year of Modern flashbacks! One great resource at our disposal is the Limited Resources draft primer---they've been compiling one for each set, and it gives you a huge headstart if you're unfamiliar with the format!

-Alexander Carl
@thoughtlaced and Thoughtlaced on MTGO

2 thoughts on “Insider: Virtually Infinite – Finding Value in Gateway Legacy Decks

    1. Thanks nanoripe, glad to have you back in the QS community. It’s good to hear that the article was helpful. If there are specific questions you’d like us to take on in future articles, let me know.

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