Hey everyone! This is my article series on Legacy Death and Taxes. D&T has a relatively long history in Legacy and as such there are of course plenty of resources out there already for beginners and professionals alike to peruse in order to understand the deck better. That includes content from such professional luminaries as Craig Wescoe, Allen Wu, Ari Lax and Márcio Carvalho. Additionally, D&T has a huge following on various online forums (e.g. The Source, MTGSalvation, Reddit and Facebook) where new cards, strategies and ideas get discussed daily. It even has its own university. And now you get to read my thoughts, too: My Death & Taxes.
The article series will be in three parts. The first one right here covers general thoughts on the deck and the build. The second part will cover tips for playing the deck and the art of the Mulligan. The third part will be a guide to matchups and sideboarding.
I hope you enjoy it!
How I came to Death and Taxes
I picked D&T up sometime in early 2012 after the printing of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in Dark Ascension. In my opinion, the deck’s competitive inception came at that time. And I played it more or less exclusively ever since. I did have a short detour with “Czech Pile”, during early 2018, just to see how the other side of Legacy lives. And I did get a 2nd place finish with the deck at Grand Prix Madrid with my teammates Michael Bonde and Andreas Petersen. But since the banning of Deathrite Shaman (and Gitaxian Probe) in July of 2018, I have returned to my trusty Plains.
It is my favorite deck to play in all of Magic and I consider it a solid choice for most metagames. Throughout the years, the deck has undergone a lot of changes with the printing of new, powerful white spells. The deck usually gets a couple of new tools each set, but the philosophy of the deck has remained mostly the same, as you will see in the next section.
I will only focus on the mono white version of the deck. However, I do note that the deck also exists in amalgamated versions that splash red or black for cards like Orzhov Pontiff or Magus of the Moon. These versions have their own strengths and weaknesses, but I am most familiar with the straight-up white archetype so that is what I will cover here.
While I don’t care much for the deck name “Death and Taxes” (or “D&T” for short), I care even less about renaming it, so let’s just go with the commonly accepted D&T and get on with it!
Decklist and Philosophy
Build the deck, understand the deck, be the deck!
Let’s start with the Death and Taxes decklist! This is one of my current builds and very close to what I would consider “stock” D&T. In my opinion you can never go too wrong if you sleeve up these 75 for any given metagame.
Stock Death and Taxes by Thomas Enevoldsen
Before we move on to specific card choices, a few words on the philosophy of the deck. First of all, there is seemingly a common misconception that D&T plays with “bad” cards, that it are “gimmicky” in some way. The deck is said to only work when you draw perfectly. And also, because it doesn’t play cards like Brainstorm, Force of Will or Terminus, you are somehow restricting yourself because of the vast card availability in Legacy. Why would any level-headed, competitive individual play with small white creatures that attack when they could be doing so many other things?
A Look at the Individual Cards
Why Death and Taxes is not a pile of “bad” cards
I won’t go too deep into the importance of synergy and 2+2=5 argumentation – Death and Taxes is a deck that does rely on synergy after all. However, just a look at the individual cards in Death and Taxes should suffice to dispel the myth that you play “bad” cards. For instance, I would argue that Stoneforge Mystic is the best 2-drop in Legacy. And you could argue that Thalia, Guardian of Thraben edges out cards like Tarmogoyf, Baleful Strix, Dark Confidant and Young Pyromancer on that list as well. Swords to Plowshares is without a doubt the best removal spell in Legacy. It is hard to rate Aether Vial as a single card because it requires a deck built around it, but it is obviously a powerful and unique effect, especially combined with Recruiter of the Guard or Flickerwisp. And outside of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, I struggle to come up with a more powerful 4-drop than Palace Jailer.
I could go on – heck, I will go on! Delver of Secrets is the ubiquitous 1-drop of Legacy in terms of pressure, but Mother of Runes certainly puts pressure on your opponent to answer it as well. To think that you get to play all these powerful cards and a stable mana base with room for disruption like Rishadan Port and Wasteland! And don’t even get me started on the sideboard, where white traditionally has had some of the most powerful hosers. Rest in Peace, Ethersworn Canonist and Containment Priest are prime examples of this. The myth that D&T plays underpowered cards in a format of bombs is not corroborated by anything other than repetition, so let’s all just agree that it is on adequate power level as any other deck in Legacy and move on to the deck’s plan.
Mono White Control
The game plan of Death and Taxes
Your goal at the start of any matchup is to control what your opponent can do. This might seem like an odd goal for a deck with no obvious control tools like mass removal, countermagic, card advantage spells or big finishers. But the nature of the Legacy format means that efficiency (i.e. getting the biggest effect with the smallest investment) is priority number one for everyone. With so many available cards, you have all the big and splashy effects that you could want. There are all the tutors you need to find them and all the discard, removal and counterspells to protect you. In Legacy, efficiency is prioritized over card advantage and synergy a lot of the time, which makes decks function like well-oiled machines with quick execution, if left to themselves. The goal of the Death and Taxes player is to find the weak spots in the opponent’s game plan. Then you want to disrupt them long enough for your small creatures to reduce your opponent’s life total to 0.
Because of the lack of card manipulation in the deck and forces you to live off the top of the deck, Death and Taxes needs all its cards to be as efficient and broadly applicable as possible to attack the many different strategies in Legacy. It’s a control deck with creatures, and therefore you don’t play control as you might normally know it. You do not trade cards and gain card advantage through more powerful spells. Your creatures in play do the trading, but most of the time it is not obvious that a trade happened, because the creature stays in play. If a Brainstorm costs 2 mana instead of 1 because of Thalia, that means that the spells drawn off the Brainstorm will in a way be even more expensive. After all, the opponent has less mana at their disposal that turn due to the increased cost for the Brainstorm. This can translate into a virtual Time Walk for the deck, because cards in your opponent’s hand don’t matter if they cannot be cast. Stoneforge Mystic that fetches Batterskull can render opposing creatures useless since they cannot race it. So even if Batterskull does not outright destroy a creature, it is equivalent to a removal spell in this sense. Another example is Mother of Runes, a kind of one-mana planeswalker. Mother can act as a counterspell to your opponent’s removal, a blocker for their creature or even a removal, since it can stop a creature from blocking as well. Versatility at its best!
The Deckbuilding Goal
Efficiency and broad application
The goal when you build (and play) D&T is thus to ensure that you have the most efficient and broadly applicable cards to combat the many different strategies of Legacy. And that is why cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Stoneforge Mystic and Flickerwisp are usually 4-ofs due to their broad applications. At the same time, more focused or narrow cards like the “beaters” Brightling, Serra Avenger or Mirran Crusader are less played, and in smaller numbers.
Before we move on the build, some words on the choice to play Death and Taxes in the first place. The last time I switched away from D&T was when Deathrite Shaman dominated the format. The card itself is of course very powerful, but especially so against D&T. Simply because the best mana dork ever printed heavily mitigated the mana denial strategy. At the same time, some of the most popular decks around that time, such as the previously mentioned “Czech Pile” and Grixis Delver, had very strong game against D&T. Especially once they started to include True-Name Nemesis.
In metagames densely populated with removal-heavy control decks or glass-cannon combo decks like Charbelcher combo, Tin Fins or Black-Red Reanimator, I would not recommend Death and Taxes to the average player. Personally, I like to play against all the control decks of the current meta, since the long games means that I can better utilize my experience edge with the deck like UW Miracles and Grixis Control. However, if the meta switched to become more combo-oriented or with more people playing True-Name decks like Merfolk or Esper Stoneblade, that could be a reason for me to switch to something else. In that case I’d probably choose Grixis Control or UW Miracles, as they fit my playstyle. For the time being, however, I think D&T is in a decent position in the metagame and would recommend it to anyone with the patience and time to learn the ins and outs of the deck. Or at least enough patience to read this article series!
Building Death and Taxes
What the fixed maindeck slots look like
Now, let’s discuss the build itself. In my opinion, and following the logic above, the deck has around 8 maindeck flex slots and 7 sideboard flex slots. The rest should basically never change for larger tournaments. Unless of course you try out something radically different or you want to beat certain decks at the cost of matchup percentages elsewhere. An example of this is Márcio Carvalho at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, where he played additional graveyard hate to combat the BR Reanimator strategies instead of more generally applicable sideboard cards like Pithing Needle.
When I set up my 75 for a tournament, what I recommend anyone to do is go over recent results from high-profile live tournaments as well as regular Magic Online leagues and Challenges to see what is currently popular and performing well. Even if this is not always an accurate picture of the expected metagame, it gives me an idea of what to expect. I then take into account that card availability, fun factor and “pet deck syndrome” are perhaps more prevalent in the Legacy community.
With that said, here are my fixed maindeck slots:
Fixed Death and Taxes Maindeck slots by Thomas Enevoldsen
4 Rishadan Port
4 Aether Vial
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Umezawa's Jitte
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
4 Mother of Runes
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Stoneforge Mystic
2 Phyrexian Revoker
1 Sanctum Prelate
1 Palace Jailer
1 Recruiter of the Guard
This list adds up to 52 cards (with 20 lands). That leaves room for 8 other cards, of which 3 or 4 should be lands.
Landing the Right Choices
Options for filling your land slots
- Plains: If you expect more mana denial strategies such as Delver of Secrets decks or Lands where there is a risk that you’re not able to cast your spells. You can also do a Snow-Covered Split if you want to optimize by 0.05 % against Predict from UW Miracles, but they usually play Accumulated Knowledge nowadays anyway, and I get so much joy from my Unhinged Plains, so if you have some nice basics you like, just go with those!
- (more) Karakas: For metagames that are heavy on Reanimator and Sneak & Show.
- Flagstone of Trokair: If you play a Cataclysm or Armageddon in the sideboard, these can be quite handy. They are, however, weak to Blood Moon and Back to Basics.
- Horizon Canopy: If you expect fewer aggro decks so the life loss and susceptibility to Wasteland won’t matter as much.
- Cavern of Souls: If you expect more decks with counterspells as an integral part of their strategy, such as UW Miracles or URx Delver decks. It does however come with other deck building restrictions.
- Mishra’s Factory: Great if you want to pressure planeswalkers, so it’s a good choice for control-heavy environments.
- Ancient Tomb: A high-variance card which works best in metagames without too much aggro. It has a huge upside in certain matchups, especially in combination with equipment.
- Dust Bowl: This card can cause a lot of headaches for control decks like Grixis Delver and even Stoneblade decks. I would run more Flagstones if I played this.
When I decide on the lands, my first concern is the ability to cast my spells. I found that this usually outweighs getting them to resolve, which is why it is rare that I play Cavern of Souls or Horizon Canopy these days. Plains is a very underrated card in this deck, so I try to maximize my unconditional white sources as much as possible. Ancient Tomb is a very volatile card, but sometimes the deck needs a little volatility to compete, and I think the life loss is generally not a concern. My sample size of perhaps 100-150 games with the deck says that it is about the same as a normal land 45 %, worse than a land 10 % of the time and in 5 % of the games it is a major factor in why you won that game.
If I play 24 lands, I also like to include at least one “spell-land” like Mishra’s Factory, Horizon Canopy or Dust Bowl. In a deck that utilizes equipment as well as D&T does, the Factory worker is a surprisingly efficient and resilient threat.
Cards that Spell Victory
Options for your nonland flex slots
The usual spell options are:
- (more) Phyrexian Revoker shines against most combo and planeswalker strategies, but it’s not so hot against aggro.
- (more) Sanctum Prelate is a specific answer to certain decks, such as Sneak & Show, Lands, Infect, UR Delver and Burn but it’s unimpressive in combat.
- (more) Palace Jailer is good against most control and creature strategies but not so great against combo. Against evasive threats like True-Name Nemesis, tokens from Young Pyromancer and even Baleful Strix or a surprise Snapcaster Mage it’s a double-edged sword since you risk losing the monarchy.
- (more) Recruiter of the Guard is best against slower, grindier metagames that lack a lot of fast combo and aggro. Recruiter gives you a toolbox angle to the deck since two Recruiters and a target mean you can reasonably expect to see one of them in most games. Therefore, this opens up more room for silver bullets.
- Mirran Crusader is the most efficient beater in combat, works especially well against Maverick, control and the Sultai or Grixis varieties of Delver. The Crusader adds a “combo finisher” to the decks if you combine it with equipment. However, it lacks disruptive capabilities.
- Brightling is a great and resilient beater against Delver strategies and heavy control, especially with Vial out. A little tough on the manabase so amend accordingly.
- Serra Avenger is the best evasive beater in the deck. It blocks Delvers and excels in the race against other midrange decks such as Stoneblade, Maverick and the mirror.
- Restoration Angel necessitates a 24-land build because of the mana cost. And while it can be quite slow, the surprise factor and utility can be extremely powerful against anything other than combo matchups.
- Hallowed Spiritkeeper has weak combat-stats overall and is somewhat narrow in its application. But can be a pain for Grixis Delver and Grixis Control. After sideboard one of the many -1/-1 effects they bring in can deal with the tokens, so overall I’m not impressed.
- Remorseful Cleric … you can probably guess which strategies this is good against. But in in my opinion the card is not strong enough overall to warrant maindeck inclusion. The body is too weak and the fact that you have to sacrifice it means that more marginal use such as removing a Life from the Loam or threshold from a Storm player may not be worth the sacrifice cost. It does block Delver though, which counts for something, so you could play it without remorse in very specific metagames.
- Mangara of Corondor is generally too slow for Legacy, except in very specific circumstances. Those would involve metagames without removal, [Wasteland and aggro strategies. Think and environment of 90 % EldraziPost.
- Spirit of the Labyrinth, like Remorseful Cleric, has an ability, that is not powerful enough on its own because of the fragile body it’s on. For most combo decks the important draw spells have already been cast when it comes down, and the surprise “got em” situation against Brainstorm happens too rarely. It does however provide a decent clock and blocks well against Eldrazi aggro.
How to Explore The Options
A guide on how to choose your creatures
There are of course many other options to explore. Both in the hatebear department with cards like Ethersworn Canonist, Containment Priest or Aven Mindcensor, and in the beater department with Knight of the Holy Nimbus, Brimaz, King of Oreskos or Paladin en-Vec. But these are some of the more popular maindeck choices.
When I decide on those last 4-5 slots for the creatures, I will usually look at how disruptive I need to be. I’m never worried about killing my opponent if the game is under control, since equipment especially but also sheer card advantage or lockdown will be enough. That means that I like to hedge more against decks which are harder to get under control. For example combo decks, other lock-type decks such as Lands, or fast aggro strategies like Blue-Red Delver decks. That is why you will typically see my lists include more defense against these types of decks, such as second Sanctum Prelate, a third (or even fourth) Phyrexian Revoker or even something like a Vryn Wingmare. The same reason is why I generally eschew the ground beaters like Mirran Crusader, Hallowed Spiritkeeper and Brimaz. At least Serra Avenger blocks Delver of Secrets! I am more inclined to include resilient threats like Mirran Crusader, Brightling or Brimaz which come with some form of protection, under some circumstances. For example if the metagame is more tilted towards combat-centric matchups where equipment is especially important like Stoneblade, Aggro Loam, and the mirror. Or if I expect mostly matchups where each individual creature must provide pressure to play around sweepers from decks like UW Miracles or Grixis Control. While these few spots of the deck may not seem like much, they all add up to the general philosophy of the deck, and whether you emphasize aggro or control elements. This, of course, also relates somewhat to the type of player you are, and I guess I like a more defensive strategy. With Death and Taxes I believe the longer the games go in general, the bigger my advantage will be in any given matchup.
Adapting with Death and Taxes
What the fixed sideboard slots look like
Let’s over to the sideboard. Here are the slots I consider to be fixed in almost any metagame:
Fixed Death and Taxes sideboard slots by Thomas Enevoldsen
|One of these additional spot removals (2)|
1 Path to Exile
One of these anti-control cards (4)
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Karn, Scion of Urza
1 Palace Jailer
1 Walking Ballista
1 Containment Priest
1 Pithing Needle
2 Council's Judgment
1 Rest in Peace
That leaves 7 additional spots, which can be tailored to your local meta. Below I have listed some of the more popular options and my comments to each.
Sideboard Slots against Combo
How Death and Taxes fights Storm, Reanimator and the like
- Ethersworn Canonist, the classic Storm and Elves hoser, also has applications against Snapcaster Mage and can buy a turn against Omniscience combo. Clean and efficient, but irrelevant against a lot of the field.
- Mindbreak Trap: I have boarded this in the past to combat a larger Storm presence in the meta. Overall, I think it is too narrow to include and there are other, admittedly less efficient, but more broadly applicable, ways to fight Storm.
- Chalice of the Void is a very strong and broadly applicable card against most combo decks. If we set it on 1, it’s usually problematic for them or at least disrupts them in some capacity, since it hits all their cantrips. It also works on 0 against Storm. This is a rather new addition to D&T sideboards which I think is very interesting. I used to play it in a 3 Ancient Tomb version back when Elves was all the hype in the summer of 2017, but I think it also works in a less “ambitious” mana environment. An overall interesting card for D&T sideboards.
- Damping Sphere: This is also a newcomer to sideboard options, which works somewhat similarly to Canonist against storm decks. Although, Elves has a better chance to play around the Storm hosing part. At the same time, it can prevent the “sol” lands of Eldrazi Aggro and Sneak & Show it also slows down the Omniscience kill. Of course it has applications against Gaea’s Cradle which is a huge part of the Elves strategy against Death and Taxes. And finally it stops niche decks that use Cloudpost. Recruiter can’t fetch it, but I think that 1 or 2 in your sideboard could be viable going forward. An interesting option for sure.
- Faerie Macabre: Graveyard removal that dodges counterspells and the mana trigger on Chancellor of the Annex. Otherwise it is genuinely narrow and underwhelming compared to other graveyard hosers.
- Surgical Extraction: Similar to Faerie Macabre, but it’s more potent against cards like Life from the Loam or Punishing Fire. It can also take out a key piece of a Storm player as they go off. Surgical can also eliminate the Dark Depths combo out of BG Depths if you can Wasteland the Depths or you could deal with the first Marit Lage, which happens quite often. Finally, it can come in against UW Miracles to stop their card drawing engine or remove their Swords to weaken future Snapcasters.
Sideboard Slots against Control
How Death and Taxes fights Miracles, Grixis and the like
- Cataclysm performs especially well against planeswalkers and land-heavy control decks, but can also act as a good reset button and even pseudo-sweeper. You can usually tailor it to a situation that favors you if you hold lands, keep a Vial or use Flickerwisp to protect a planeswalker. After sideboard some combo decks also become a little slower, which means that you can reset the board once you hit land number 4 and just use it as a double (or triple) Stone Rain.
- Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, the usual go-to planeswalker provides a steady stream of bodies and pressures other planeswalkers, like Jace, the Mind Sculptor due to its indestructability and 5 power. The “ultimate” is also a great hedge when you don’t know if your opponent boards in Dread of Night. In some matchups, like against UW Miracles, the steady stream of tokens can be somewhat ignored, which can be an issue.
- Karn, Scion of Urza is a new addition to the list, which functions similarly to Gideon. My issue with Gideon was, that in a lot of spots I couldn’t activate his animation ability because they could have removal like Swords to Plowshares, so I would just activate the token ability. Karn has a similar ability, but on top of that he creates real card advantage. In all matchups where you board it in, you don’t mind the extra lands that his +1 ability sometimes provides. And since you get your preferred 60 cards after board, there are very few dead draws left, so it becomes even more impactful. Overall, I found it quite useful and applicable in more match-ups than Gideon. Karn even protects itself better since it ticks up every turn.
Sideboard Slots against Aggro and General Utility
How Death and Taxes improves across the board
Generally increasing the amount of removal out of the board is your best bet against aggro, whether it is Council’s Judgment, Path to Exile, Dismember or other options. I have played Gut Shot and Sunlance in the past.
- Relic of Progenitus used to be my preferred graveyard hoser, since it was excellent against decks with Tarmogoyf, Deathrite Shaman or Nimble Mongoose. But I have found that since the meta has shifted away from these decks, more “hard” graveyard hosing is necessary.
- Leonin Relic-Warder / War Priest of Thune / Act of Authority / Disenchant: I never really was a fan of these types of effect in D&T, since there are very few enchantments or artifacts that Phyrexian Revoker cannot deal with. But the popularity of Omniscience out of Sneak & Show and the good players’ emphasis on this part of the combo against us means that it may be time to include one of these again. They obviously have broad applications against cards like Umezawa’s Jitte, Sylvan Library, Lion’s Eye Diamond or Ensnaring Bridge.
- Ratchet Bomb: What primarily started as an answer to Dread of Night has turned out to be an efficient enough answer to a lot of things to warrant inclusion in the sideboard. I emphasized this before, but cheap, efficient answers with broad applications are the bread and butter of Death and Taxes, and Ratchet Bomb falls squarely in this category. It is always possible to find a more efficient answer to any threat, but it’s the Bomb’s versatility that makes it so good. Against UW Miracles alone, it can deal with Monastery Mentor (and friends), Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Entreat the Angels tokens, which allows you to board out more “narrow” answers like Swords to Plowshares. What can I say, I like it!
- Devout Lightcaster is a great answer to Dread of Night, Liliana, the Last Hope and Baleful Strix, but not a lot else. Would require a very large proportion of the field to play with those cards for me to consider this card in the sideboard.
- Sword of War and Peace is a seemingly strong option against the mirror, UW Miracles and Burn. While it can provide a combo-ish kill if you get to connect early enough when the opponent still has a fistful of cards, it is in my opinion simply too low impact in most circumstances. The alternatives in Sword of Fire and Ice or Batterskull provide similar advantages but have huge upsides in different situations. The protection against white can be huge in the mirror, but most of the time you go for Umezawa’s Jitte anyway, and against Burn, the lifegain is obviously huge and more safe than a Stoneforge Mystic that fetches Batterskull, but compare that to the utility of Sword of Fire and Ice against True-Name Nemesis, for instance, or Batterskull against a Delver deck. A lot would have to change for me to include Sword of War and Peace in my sideboard, mainly a huge uptick in Burn.
- Manriki-Gusari: I think that this is just a trap card. The only matchup where I want this instead of Jitte is against Stoneblade, where True-Name plus Jitte is unbeatable. The issue is that they can just wait to deploy their Jitte until your guard is down, and you have to keep passing with an equipped creature that could have been attacking. And once they are ready to go for it, since you give them all the time in the world with your +1/+2 blocker, they can just end of turn kill the creature and leave you defenseless. Don’t play this card.
- Holy Light: Giving -1/-1 can be a huge effect, but outside of D&T, there are not a lot of decks that are weak to this type of spell. Elves comes to mind, but it is rare that they deploy a host of little green men without killing you the same turn or obtaining some advantages through Wirewood Symbiote at the same time. It does deal with True-Name, so if Stoneblade becomes a big player, this would be something to look for, since it conveniently also handles Baleful Strix and Snapcaster Mage.
The Ultimate White Weenie List
The best cheap white creatures of all time
Besides all the cards I have listed above, I also keep an ongoing list of all cheap, white creatures ever printed. Sometimes I go back and check if the metagame has evolved to somehow fit one of these more niche options. You can find the list below, and fair warning, I have been very liberal in adding cards to it!
The Ultimate White Weenie List by Thomas Enevoldsen
I will see you in part 2 for general tips on playing the deck as well as a comprehensive section on the art of the mulligan!
Editor’s Note: Yes. The Deck is insane. Have a look at Thomas surviving two Emrakul attacks back at GP Lille 2013