A little death, a little taxes

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On my recent, and might I add successful, quest to qualify for the MTGO Legacy Championship I was cornered by a group of veiled Legacy specialists and forced to answer questions until they felt I could be accepted into their prestigious testing group. It was kind of like that scene from Lord of the Rings with the horses. 

The hardest of which was for me to cite the three cards that most defined legacy in 2019. And if I couldn’t answer it, who knows what they would have done to me. Some might call this question a fool’s errand, but I am no fool and take care of my grocery store errands ahead of time.

The speed in which I produced my answer astounded them. And my reward was the great honour of adding a card of my choice to the reserved list. Upon hearing this news, the only thing that could drown out the groans of Magic Twitter were the raw chants from #mtgfinance. Now, you might be asking yourself what kind of omnipotent answer would yield such a result, but I am here to enlighten you:

I believe each of these cards have redefined what kind of format Legacy is and how players and their decks are forced to interact in the new metagame over the past year. Wrenn may be gone now, but it created a massive power vacuum that is now filled with one-toughness creatures and nonbasic lands. Astrolabe has allowed control decks to play every colour while their manabases reflect the ghosts of Miracles past. Oko, Thief of Wallets is both the best way to close games and answer virtually any permanent your foe can muster against you.

Understanding that Magic is a game of constant progression leads me to believe that comparing the best decks of the pre-ban metagame to what has risen to the top now might show us a glimpse of where we’ll go next.

  • Pre-Ban: NBC RUG, Stifle RUG
  • Post Ban: UR Delver, Bant Snow, Grixis Delver, BUG Delver, BUG Midrange, Sneak and Show, Death and Taxes, BG Depth, Bant Miracles

With Wrenn gone and RUG Delver deleted from the metagame I believe that you could choose any of the decks I listed above and see success with proper tuning and tight play. Choosing the right deck for me usually means finding something I actively enjoy so that I can put the required time to become a master of the archetype. With a format like Legacy that has so few events in comparison to other formats, I feel that it’s most important to enjoy yourself. This is how I landed on Death & Taxes. It’s a deck I loved playing before Wrenn wrecked the format and it’s a deck I was excited to return to once Thalia was in prime position once again.

If you wanted to learn core fundamentals, how to approach matchups, and play patterns of Death & Taxes without playing a large number of games I would recommend the three part series by Thomas Enevoldson. Today I’m going to teach you the fundamental building blocks of current lists, what changes can be made and how each of these pieces is used to fight against the current metagame.


Incase it isn’t obvious, the percentage of deck slots used to prevent your opponent from enacting their game plan is more than half the deck. At first, it looks like a bit of a joke to have cards like Plains and Aether Vial listed among disruptive elements, but when such a large percentage of the metagame relies on Wasteland and counter-magic it seems fitting to realize their true role. In my opinion, understanding how important basic Plains is to this deck correlates strongly with a fundamental understanding of the deck.


Being able to leverage your disruption and come over-the-top with a robust threat is usually the job of equipment. Stoneforge and the three standard equipment are the starting point, but the addition of Palace Jailer and Recruiter of the Guard has allowed D&T to out-grind every deck in Legacy given requisite time.

Counting that all up totals 46 slots. There are a number of stock Death & Taxes cards left off of what I see as the core of the deck, but I believe that’s because the metagame is changing rapidly with the addition of Modern Horizons and Throne of Eldraine over the last six months. The remaining slots in my deck are as follows:

3 Flickerwisp 

This has been a pretty stock four-of in nearly every Taxes deck in the past, but I have found it has lost some of its power in recent years. With the increase in hate for one-toughness creatures and the transition of threats in Delver to Dreadhorde Arcanist and Young Pyromancer it doesn’t trade effectively. Getting caught by splash damage from Plague Engineer or staring down Dreadhorde Arcanist waiting to recast a Lightning Bolt isn’t my idea of a powerhouse.

2 Mirran Crusader

This is a metagame slot. It could easily be zero, but it’s effectiveness against Oko, Abrupt Decay and Gurmag Angler proves to be invaluable. Its synergy with equipment is pretty obvious, but can’t be understated. It’s commonly the difference between starting to win with a Jitte trigger and slamming the door shut.

3 Phyrexian Revoker

This could be two or it could be four. Revoker is very necessary to defeating combo decks with any consistency, which is where D&T cans struggle. It can be a strong tool against Planeswalkers, but frequently is underwhelming on the battlefield while getting swept up by Supreme Verdict or Terminus.

1 Factory & 1 Horizon Canopy

Stock lists often have 23 lands, but I think it’s foolish to have so few. Death & Taxes leverages it’s mana more than almost any deck I’ve ever played. 24 is the minimum I would play and if I could get away with it I would have played up to 26. Batterskull costs five mana to equip, and when many games are determined by some mopey creature taking the reins from the germ, missing your fifth mana source can be the difference between winning and losing on the spot. Having such a large quantity of lands without and type of manipulation can often be ill advised, but both Factory and Canopy are capable of recovering a full card worth of value to offset those costs.

4 Mother of Runes

I saved the most obvious exclusion from my disruption suite for last. Mother of Runes is a cornerstone of this deck, but Plague Engineer has changed all that. I believe different metagames could call for up to six total Mother / Giver of Runes, but currently I am happy with just four Mothers because it is the most powerful card and Plague Engineer is not highly represented.

In future decklists with a split I would recommend figuring out how many protection creatures you want to play, and then figuring out how many Mother of Runes you would want to cut against something like Grixis Control or Grixis Delver. Once you do that, make the rest Giver of Runes to survive Plague Engineer.

For example: 2 Mother of Runes, 3 Giver of Runes if your sideboard mapping wants to trim two copies in those matchups. It’s worth noting that if you use Giver of Runes to protect from colorless your equipment will fall off your creature.

Moving forward from my challenge list I believe I would register the following in an open metagame:


I think there are a number of things you could change depending on your local metagame or expected tournament metagame. The list I have above aggressively reflects the fact that Storm is such a popular archetype on MTGO as well as ways to combat the snow-based Oko decks. Before breaking down how I sideboard in each of the most popular matchups I think it’s important to define what I’m looking for from each sideboard card and how I arrived at choosing them for my final list.

Gut Shot

This card sticks out the most among all the lists I’ve ever played. People always tell me it’s narrow or doesn’t do enough compared to something like Path to Exile. My response to that is that I’m smart and they’re dumb. Gut Shot is great. It’s there for two specific matchups: Izzet Delver and Mother of Runes mirrors. Against Delver the two primary ways they beat you are an unanswered Delver early or flexing their mana advantage with free spells like Force of Will and Daze. Being able to remove a Delver or Pyromancer from the board without spending a mana means you aren’t threatened by Daze or Spell Pierce and can use your mana that turn to apply pressure and get on the board.

Where it truly shines is the mirror. Most games devolve to a dance of getting counters on Jitte. Most of the time it occurs when one player starts using their Flickerwisps, Mother of Runes and Swords to Plowshares to break a hole in the other’s defenses and snowball an advantage. Gut Shot is a card that is nearly impossible to play around and will prevent this while leaving your opponent vulnerable to your own Jitte. For a card that costs you nothing but two life that’s more than a bargain in my eyes.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

I hate Gideon. I always thought it was simply just worse than Cataclysm against control and worse than Palace Jailer as a threat that grinds. My tune has strongly changed recently with the influx of such cheap planeswalkers to the Magic landscape. Having something that’s very hard to interact with that can apply steady pressure against Oko and Teferi is key. Cataclysm can still remove them, but it is a more effective play on turn seven rather than turn four to catch you up. I have moved away from Palace Jailer in favour of more Gideon for this exact reason.

Council’s Judgement

This is a card people always played exactly two-of and I never understood it. I think you could easily play four, but it does clash with Thalia because they are often strong in the same matchups. It’s one of the best answers white has ever had so don’t skimp.

Rest in Peace

You could play three copies, but one of the problems with Death & Taxes is that all the cards in your deck cost two or three mana. For that reason I’ve split them with Surgical Extraction to have more cheap interaction in my 75.

Deafening Silence

Don’t sleep on this card. It’s real and it’s the biggest upgrade this deck has gotten since Recruiter of the Guard and Palace Jailer. The key to beating combo is presenting annoying permanents on every turn. Before a one mana Rule of Law this deck had a glut of twos and this card changes that.

Walking Ballista

No longer in the sideboard because it’s been upgraded to the maindeck. Allen Wu has long been a proponent of this card and that is reflected in the list that Collin Rountree registered for the SCG Player’s Championship. I found myself boarding it in frequently so why not just put it in my game one deck!? Between picking off Ice-Fang Coatl and completely wrecking the mirror I’ve been sold.

One thing I would suggest you take away from how I build my deck and sideboard is the importance of cheap cards and how they impact your match ups. Having something that costs one mana doesn’t necessarily mean having a card to play on turn one. A one-cost card can mean casting two spells on turn three alongside a two-drop that will swing tempo into your favour and that can define more games than you realize. Every game of Magic you play is about mana and how you leverage it, so I’d suggest everyone stop pretending like it isn’t. Build your deck with that in mind.

This will be my rough sideboard breakdown. I try and figure out how I’m going to sideboard with any deck I play before the tournament event starts so I can be sure that a single slot isn’t wasted. Obviously things will change as you get into games, but it’s a starting point I’d recommend for every player. This time it’s on the house.

Sideboard Guide

Izzet Delver

OUT: 3 Phyrexian Revoker, 2 Recruiter of the Guard, 1 Palace Jailer, 1 Mirran Crusader

IN: 1 Gut Shot, 1 Path to Exile, 2 Rest in Peace, 3 Council’s Judgment

This matchup is simply about your life total. I would advise against trading into their spells unless absolutely necessary and doing everything you can to keep their threats off the board.

Bant Miracles

OUT: 1 Mother of Runes, 2 Phyrexian Revoker, 1 Flickerwisp, 1 Karakas
2 Swords to Plowshares

IN: 1 Pithing Needle, 3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 3 Council’s Judgment

Note: If you’re sure they only have Coatl and Snapcaster you could bring in Gut Shot over a Swords to Plowshares.

This matchup is drastically different than Miracles of old. I find myself being the control deck often now that they have largely removed things like Entreat the Angels and Monastery Mentor from their deck.

Look to slowly pressure them and not overextend. Sequencing your equipment to ensure you’re protected from Oko can make or break a game. Flickerwisp can also be a key way an Elk back into a valuable equipment. It’s worth noting that although they look mediocre on the surface, both Jitte and Swords to Plowshares can be great to protect the Monarch. And this matchup is all about protecting the king.

Storm

OUT: 4 Swords to Plowshares, 1 Palace Jailer, 1 Umezawa’s Jitte

IN: 3 Deafening Silence, 1 Surgical Extraction, 2 Rest in Peace

Try not to die. Play your hate cards and play around Massacre when you can. One trick to remember is that you need a Plains for Massacre to work so there are times when you can use their Chain of Vapor against them by sacrificing all your Plains as they try to remove permanents of yours. You’ll have to bounce all your own permanents, but it won’t matter if you’re attacking for lethal next turn.

Stoneforge into Batterskull can often beat a pile of goblins if they’re desperate. Sword can also get past goblins and race in some situations.

Golgari Depths

OUT: 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, 1 Sword of Fire and ice, 1 Mishra’s Factory

IN: 1 Pithing Needle, 3 Council’s Judgment, 1 Gut Shot, 1 Path to Exile

Play the long game. The plan from their side is to have one more point of interaction than you do on the turn they’re ready to combo.

Prioritize an early Batterskull or Jitte when you can. Being over 20 life means two attacks instead of one and that means two consecutive turns where they have to be able to prevent you from removing their token. Often times removing the first Marit Lage gives you enough breathing room to snowball the game in your favour.

Mirror Match

OUT: 1 Karakas, 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, 1 Sanctum Prelate, 1 Mirran Crusader

IN: 1 Pithing Needle, 1 Gut Shot, 1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 3 Council’s Judgment, 1 Path to Exile

This matchup is all about Jitte, board-advantage and having a game plan that is looking turns into the future. Playing to the board on the turn you’re looking at isn’t good enough. The mirror is perhaps the hardest matchup when it comes to game knowledge and being well-practiced. Which is also why it’s one of the most fun matchups, so make it easy and win with some Gut Shots.

Damage that would be dealt to Gideon is prevented so you can attack into their Jitte or Batterskull without repercussions, but it’s legendary so watch out for Karakas.

Maybe the single best part about Death & Taxes is just how fun it is. That may sound simple, but it’s rare that you get to play such a unique archetype in Modern Magic formats. Playing a tricky white creature deck in such a high-powered format can be really rewarding.

So, if you’re looking to add something new to your Legacy arsenal try taxing your opponents a little bit.