Skip to main content Download External Link Facebook Facebook Twitter Instagram Twitch Youtube Youtube Discord Left Arrow Right Arrow Search Lock Wreath icon-no-eye caret-down Add to Calendar download Arena copyText Info Close

Metagame Mentor: Vintage and Legacy with Mind's Desire

August 24, 2023
Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, your weekly guide to the top decks and latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. This month, I'm taking you on a grand tour of Constructed formats. I previously covered Pioneer and Modern and will discuss Standard next week, but today it's the time to dive into Legacy and Vintage. Both formats will be prominently featured at the Eternal Weekend events this fall, and they proudly showcase 30 years of Magic card history.

Legacy Metagame Snapshot

Legacy is a nonrotating format that allows tournament-legal cards from all Magic sets throughout the game's entire history, except for cards on the banned list. Legacy remains a popular tournament format, and it's the Constructed format for this weekend's Magic Online Champions Showcase—a prestigious event with a $70,000 prize pool and live streaming coverage. It will be exciting to see the deck choices of the competitors, especially after the recent unbanning of Mind's Desire gave new deck building opportunities.

To provide first glimpse of what to expect in Legacy right now, I analyzed all Magic Online decklists from scheduled Legacy events held since the unbanning of Mind's Desire on August 7, and I added all decklists with non-negative net wins from the Legacy $5K event at The Gathering Place Games and the Legacy $5K event at MXP Tacoma. For each deck, I assigned an archetype label and awarded a number of points equal to the deck's net wins (i.e., its number of match wins minus losses). This metric combines popularity and performance, and each archetype's share of total net wins can be interpreted as its share of the winner's metagame at the top tables. The breakdown is provided in the table below, where each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing, representative decklist.

Archetype Winner's Metagame Percentage
1. Dimir Shadow 12.0%
2. Grixis Delver 8.6%
3. Dimir Murktide 7.1%
4. Lands 6.2%
5. Mono-Black Helm 5.7%
6. Doomsday 5.1%
7. Jeskai Control 3.7%
8. Mono-Red Prison 3.5%
9. Reanimator 3.5%
10. Painter 3.4%
11. Rhinos 3.4%
12. Death & Taxes 3.4%
13. Abzan Depths 3.3%
14. Four-Color Control 3.2%
15. Boros Initiative 1.8%
16. Natural Order 1.6%
17. Cephalid Breakfast 1.3%
Other 23.8%

The last time I poured over Legacy decklists was one year ago. Back then, Izzet Delver decks were dominant. The time-honored strategy of pressuring opponents with Delver of Secrets while disrupting them with Daze and Wasteland was Legacy's gatekeeper for years. Yet the recent release of Orcish Bowmasters in The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth™ has shifted the landscape, making black a more prominent color for disruptive creature decks. To put this into perspective, let's take a look at the most-played cards overall.

598924 Brainstorm Ponder 497190 616933 Swords to Plowshares Thoughtseize

In my data set, the Legacy cards with the most copies across all main decks and sideboards were, unsurprisingly, Force of Will and Brainstorm. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. Hyper-efficient interaction and amazing card draw spells, along with the pristine mana bases enabled by the original dual lands, are features that have always characterized Legacy. Yet newcomer Orcish Bowmasters has claimed the fifth spot on the list, with Thoughtseize as a partner in crime. These black cards pushed down Pyroblast and Volcanic Island, which is a big change compared to one year ago.

Orcish Bowmasters is not the only The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth™ card that has made waves. Troll of Khazad-dûm, Lórien Revealed, The One Ring, and Forth Eorlingas! have seen widespread adoption as well. But Orcish Bowmasters is the most important addition by far. It's phenomenal against Brainstorm, pressures Delver of Secrets, and has shaken up the Legacy metagame. Decks that are weak to Orcish Bowmasters (such as Izzet Delver, Five-Color Zenith, and Elves) have largely disappeared, while decks that could adopt or splash Orcish Bowmasters have benefited greatly. For example, Izzet Delver shifted into Grixis Delver, while Dimir Shadow and Dimir Murktide have seen a meteoric rise.

As Delver of Secrets is too easily pinged by Orcish Bowmasters, disruptive creature decks have turned to Death's Shadow or Murktide Regent as their win conditions instead. Dimir Shadow has become the most prominent build, and AndySCWilson won last weekend's Legacy Showcase Challenge with the list shown above.

Another change compared to last year's Dimir Shadow decks is the addition of Reanimate and Troll of Khazad-dûm, cutting Street Wraith and Snuff Out. Reanimate can rebuy an evoked Grief, steal creatures from opposing graveyards, and return a cycled Troll of Khazad-dûm from the graveyard to the battlefield. This combination deploys an unblockable 6/5 as early as turn two. Moreover, you're dropping your life total by six in the process, which is a good thing for Death's Shadow. Previously, you'd have to use Street Wraith and Snuff Out to drop your life total by six, but Reanimate provides a stronger battlefield presence for a single card.

Helm of Obedience Dark Depths

There are also non-blue decks that have adopted Orcish Bowmasters. For example, Mono-Black Helm and Abzan Depths have risen in popularity. Mono-Black Helm exploits the combination of Helm of Obedience with Dauthi Voidwalker or Leyline of the Void to instantly deplete the opponent's library. Abzan Depths uses multiple land tutors to find Thespian's Stage, which immediately turns into a 20/20 Marit Lage token after copying Dark Depths. However, these decks can also play a fair midrange game, and Orcish Bowmasters is an excellent fit for that plan.

The Impact of Unbanning Mind's Desire


Mind's Desire is one of the most iconic combo cards in the history of the game, featuring one of the most broken mechanics ever—storm. Yet the card never had an opportunity to shine in Legacy, as it was the fastest-banned card in Magic's history. Originally released in Scourge on May 26, 2003, Mind's Desire was banned in Legacy (then called Type 1.5) several days later. The ban announcement on June 1, 2003 provided the following explanation.

Although we prefer for a new card to be "proven" in a format before we ban or restrict it, testing has shown that multiple copies of this Scourge card can quickly lead to degenerate game states. With four copies of Mind's Desire, a player would be able to play every card in his or her deck on the same turn without too much difficulty.

Mind's Desire remained legal in Standard and Extended, a now-defunct rotating format, and I remember it enabled formidable combo decks in those formats. After a bunch of cheap mana-generating spells, a Mind's Desire for 5+ would herald a crescendo of possibilities, and hitting another Mind's Desire would usually win the game on the spot. With the fast mana available in Legacy, it appeared far too powerful for the format back then. But times change. The unban announcement on August 7, 2023 offered the following justification.

Two decades have passed since Mind's Desire was banned, and in that time, creatures have become more powerful, new planeswalker cards have been introduced, and there are multiple cycles of free spells that have made it much harder to be a lover of the storm mechanic. In the interest of making sure that combo players also get the same level of new content and strength that other archetypes incidentally gain through our tentpole offerings, we've decided to unban Mind's Desire in Legacy.

Now that Legacy players can finally make use of Mind's Desire, how has the card impacted the competitive metagame?

So far, its adoption has been slow. Out of the 310 Legacy decklists I analyzed, only 6 players (1.9% of the field) included at least one copy of Mind's Desire in their main deck or sideboard, although it found a home in a wide diversity of strategies. Specifically, Mind's Desire slotted into three High Tide decks, two Storm decks, and one Creative Trickery deck. Each of these lists used the full four copies of Mind's Desire between their main deck and sideboard wish targets. Let's take a closer look.

In High Tide, a combo deck that leverages its namesake card in conjunction with land-untap spells for a big combo turn, Mind's Desire is an effective top-end payoff. Hall of Famer Reid Duke promptly piloted the list above to a 4-0 record at a Magic Online Preliminary. Several days later, TheManLand posted a positive record at a Magic Online Preliminary with a Sapphire Medallion build, and more recently Doc_B made Top 8 at a Magic Online Challenge with a more traditional version including Lórien Revealed. The landcycler not only fetches Mystic Sanctuary but also pitches to Force of Will and makes for a good card to hit off Mind's Desire, so it seems like a good addition to me.

In High Tide, every additional land drop makes the big combo turn more powerful, and Mind's Desire also becomes better the more time you have for setup, which is a good match. Indeed, with Ponder to find key cards consistently, an all-Island mana base to dodge Wasteland, and Force of Will to slow down the game, the strategy is built more for resiliency than speed. The main role of Mind's Desire is as Time Spiral number five through eight. While Time Spiral's untap effect still makes it the superior option most of the time, the redundancy helps a lot, and there are even some situations where Mind's Desire is better, such as when you're facing Orcish Bowmasters or Force of Will. Overall, the unbanning of Mind's Desire has been a huge boon for the archetype.

Another viable home for Mind's Desire is Storm, an archetype named after the powerful mechanic. Traditionally, Storm would use various rituals before casting Infernal Tutor, sacrificing Lion's Eye Diamond in response, and grabbing Ad Nauseam. Ad Nauseam would then yield more cards, increase the storm count further, and set you up for a game-winning Tendrils of Agony. In the new build, piloted by James Johnson to a Top 8 finish at the Legacy $5K event at MXP Tacoma, Ad Nauseam has been replaced by Mind's Desire.

Due to its ability to play cards for free, a big Mind's Desire is often even more likely to win the game than Ad Nauseam. Moreover, it doesn't require you to stick to low-cost spells, enabling the inclusion of more high-impact spells like Dark Petition. I don't know what the best version of this deck is going to look like in the future—for example, MeTheKaptain went 4-0 at a Magic Online Preliminary with a different Mind's Desire Storm deck featuring Burning Wish and Echo of Eons—but the list above looks like a good starting point.

The notion of casting Mind's Desire and hitting Apex Devastator is an exciting prospect, especially when Apex Devastator might cascade into Maelstrom Wanderer, setting up a lethal attack right away. AnnndWhammy used this strategy to go 3-1 in a Magic Online Preliminary. Unlike High Tide or Storm, this strategy use rituals or mana accelerants to achieve a high storm count. There's no need for that—with enough heavy-hitters in the deck, a Mind's Desire for two or three will often be sufficient to win the game.

Although this glass cannon-style combo deck is sometimes known as Mississippi River, I've called it Creative Trickery—a portmanteau of Creative Technique and Tibalt's Trickery. Indeed, paying six mana to cast Mind's Desire is not the deck's primary plan. The main strategy is to use Shardless Agent or Violent Outburst to cascade into Tibalt's Trickery, which will hit a free game-winning spell most of the time. Alternatively, you can use Sulfur Vent or Geothermal Crevice to ramp into Creative Technique, a Commander 2021 card that was recently added to Magic Online which acts like a double Tibalt's Trickery. It costs five mana, but it's more resilient to countermagic. The deck is hilariously high variance, but Mind's Desire is a sweet card to hit with either of the red cards, upping the density of game-winning follow-up spells.

In conclusion, there appear to be multiple different combo decks that benefit from the addition of Mind's Desire, and I'm excited to see if the card will have an impact on this weekend's Magic Online Champions Showcase. Even though Mind's Desire has not immediately taken a big share of the competitive metagame, many players will surely try to make the card work.

Vintage Metagame Snapshot

Vintage is a nonrotating format that allows almost every card in the history of the game. In addition to a banned list, which includes cards that feature ante or manual dexterity, Vintage also has a restricted list. Cards on the restricted list are limited to a single copy per deck. The restricted list includes some of the most powerful cards from Magic's history, including the iconic Power Nine.

To provide a metagame snapshot, I analyzed all Magic Online decklists from scheduled Vintage events held from August 4 through August 21. Using the same methodology as for Legacy, I arrived at the following breakdown.

Archetype Winner's Metagame Percentage
1. Mono-White Initiative 22.8%
2. Tinker Saga 14.5%
3. HollowVine 11.2%
4. Doomsday 8.3%
5. Sultai Midrange 8.3%
6. Jeskai Control 7.9%
7. Tinker Breach 6.3%
8. Esper Control 4.3%
9. Dredge 3.6%
10. Prison Shops 3.0%
11. Coveted Jewel 2.6%
12. Paradoxical Outcome 2.3%
13. Oath of Druids 1.7%
14. Oops! All Spells! 1.0%
Other 2.3%

Magic doesn't get more high-powered than Vintage. Games can end quickly, and turn-2 or turn-3 kills are common. Even turn-1 kills are possible, and there's a long list of fast combos.

  • You can use Tinker to fetch Time Vault, use Urza's Saga to grab Manifold Key, and combine the artifacts to take infinite turns.
  • You can play Doomsday to craft a combination of card draw, free mana, permission, and Thassa's Oracle, put them on top, and win on the next turn.
  • You can use Underworld Breach plus Brain Freeze to recast Black Lotus and Brain Freeze multiple times, eventually milling your opponent after your storm count gets high enough.
  • You can ritual out Balustrade Spy on turn one, say "Oops, All Spells," mill your entire deck, and finally sacrifice three Narcomoeba to flash back Dread Return on Thassa's Oracle.

This brief list doesn't even feature a Paradoxical Outcome that returns five Moxen and Mana Vault, effectively turning into a double Ancestral Recall plus a Black Lotus. Or how about the ability of Bazaar of Baghdad to discard three Vengevine, follow up with two copies of Hollow One, and pass the turn with 20 power on the battlefield? The capability of Mishra's Workshop to power out powerful artifacts like Coveted Jewel is unmatched as well. Clearly, Vintage is not a fair format.

598924 497190 466861 571383 497181 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale Underground Sea

The seven most-played cards in Vintage feature several ways to interact with the powerful combo cards, lands, and graveyard engines. Force of Will in main decks and Leyline of the Void in sideboards do a lot of work to keep the fast combo strategies in check. Note that this list of most-played cards is based on sheer quantities, so it doesn't include restricted cards like Black Lotus or Ancestral Recall, nor does it feature deck-defining yet narrow lands like Mishra's Workshop or Bazaar of Baghdad. But make no mistake: These cards are all pillars of the format as well.

Despite the importance of Force of Will, the most-played Vintage archetype in August 2023 is a relatively new one that didn't even exist on Magic Online a year ago: Mono-White Initiative. Without a doubt, the adoption of the initiative mechanic has been the biggest Vintage metagame shift over the past year.

With a 22.8% of the winner's metagame, Mono-White Initiative is dominating the Vintage metagame right now. Using a bunch of fast mana, the deck can consistently cast disruptive creatures like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Archon of Emeria as early as turn one, preventing opponents from pulling off fast combo wins.

Soon after, White Plume Adventurer or Seasoned Dungeoneer come down, taking The Initiative and venturing into the Undercity. As the deck runs more creatures than normal, opponents often have a hard time damaging you in combat to take back the initiative. As you keep venturing into the Undercity every turn, a fast clock arises—it's two +1/+1 counters on the next upkeep, followed by 5 life loss on the turn after. So, Mono-White Initiative combines disruption and aggression, demands creature removal, and has changed the way Vintage is played.

Looking Ahead

Vintage and Legacy tournaments are available every week on Magic Online, but it's even more exciting to shuffle up the most powerful spells in Magic's history at tabletop tournaments. The biggest Vintage and Legacy events of the year are the Eternal Weekends. Each of these multi-day destination events host a Vintage Championship and Legacy Championship, which award original paintings of iconic cards, embedded in oversized card frames, as unique first-place prizes. In 2023, Eternal Weekends take place on November 17–19 in Prague, Czech Republic, on November 25–26 in Aichi, Japan, and on December 8–10 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In addition, Legacy is one of the formats for this weekend's Magic Online Champions Showcase—the pinnacle of competition on Magic Online. The event leads off with a Vintage Cube Draft followed by three rounds of Legacy Constructed. It will be streamed live beginning at 10 a.m. PT on Saturday August 26 at More information is provided in the viewer's guide and the Magic Online premier play infographic below.

Join me again next week as I return to Standard for the first time after the ban of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. I'll detail the rise of Dimir Midrange to the top of the Standard metagame, including a dominant performance at the VML Championships, where Heathe Butler and Owa Hughes earned Pro Tour invites. I'll also highlight the Wilds of Eldraine cards that have excited me the most for Standard thus far. If you're into Standard, then mark your calendars for September 22–24, as Magic World Championship XXIX will take place at MagicCon: Las Vegas on those days. It's the most prestigious Magic tournament of the year, with live streaming Standard coverage every day!

Share Article