New is Always Better – Getting Tricksy with Death and Taxes

Death and Taxes has been a real force in Legacy for quite a while now. The deck may not be particularly powerful in itself, but it’s built in such a way as to position itself very well versus the format. Utilizing several different hatebears, Death and Taxes will make life hard for many opponents. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben laughs in the face of decks filled with Brainstorms and Ponders. Phyrexian Revoker can stifle many strategies if you know what to name with it. “Nice Sensei’s Divining Top/Sneak Attack/Lion’s Eye Diamond you got there”. While lists have varied over time the core concept of the deck has remained intact; a mono white deck filled with disruptive creatures and mana denial. The deck made a name for itself when Thomas Enevoldsen and Michael Bonde both took it to the top 8 of GP Strasbourg in 2013, with Enevoldsen eventually winning the whole thing. If you were paying attention back then however, you will know that the deck was already doing well in the hands of Thomas Enevoldsen. He had taken down the Danish Legacy Masters with it months earlier, and even took it to a twelfth place finish at GP Ghent in 2012. Still, GP Strasbourg was when the deck really had its big break. For reference, here’s the list he used to take it down.

This list is still relatively similar to many of the Death and Taxes lists we see today. People will shave a card here and there, tweak the numbers according to their preferences, or choose to go with more recent inclusions such as Spirit of the Labyrinth, Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Containment Priest. The core concept however has remained the same for a long time. Until now. If you follow news in Legacy you likely won’t have missed this new take on Death and Taxes that popular MTGO streamer Bahra has been playing recently. To be fair, people have been splashing different colors in Death and Taxes before, but this is the first time I’ve seen the red splash get this much attention. Let’s take a look.

[Deck title=R/W Taxes by Bahra]
[Creatures]
*3 Phyrexian Revoker
*4 Flickerwisp
*2 Imperial Recruiter
*3 Magus of the Moon
*1 Mirran Crusader
*4 Mother of Runes
*1 Serra Avenger
*4 Stoneforge Mystic
*4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
[/Creatures]
[Noncreature Spells]
*4 Aether Vial
*4 Swords to Plowshares
*1 Umezawa’s Jitte
*1 Batterskull
*1 Sword of Fire and Ice
[/Noncreature Spells]
[Lands]
*4 Wasteland
*4 Rishadan Port
*2 Karakas
*2 Plateau
*3 Plains
*3 Flooded Strand
*4 Windswept Heath
*1 Cavern of Souls
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
*1 Pithing Needle
*1 Ratchet Bomb
*3 Ethersworn Canonist
*2 Kor Firewalker
*3 Rest in Peace
*2 Council’s Judgment
*3 Sudden Demise
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Magus of the Moon can singlehandedly win games versus decks heavy with nonbasic lands, such as Shardless BUG and Lands. Imperial Painter posted really strong results last time Shardless BUG and Esper Deathblade decks were everywhere, and that was largely due to the strength of Blood Moon effects. Imperial Recruiter can recruit your hatebear of choice, and gets even better after sideboard, essentially giving you two more copies of whatever hoser creatures you choose to include. Sudden Demise provides some much needed assistance in the Elves matchup, giving you a way to clear their board. Those things all seem great, but they come at the cost of a weaker mana base and a deck that feels a lot clunkier. Whether the red splash is worth it or not will depend on the expected metagame, but whether you’re planning to play this deck or not you should know what to expect when your Death and Taxes opponent shows you a Plateau.

One twist on Death and Taxes that there hasn’t been as much fuss about is the blue splash. Death and Taxes is an incredibly tricky deck, full of intricate interactions, and this version takes it one step further! Check out this innovative take on the deck that a friend of mine piloted at a local 54-people tournament recently.

[Deck title=Tricks and Taxes]
[Creatures]
*4 Mother of Runes
*2 Gilded Drake
*2 Phyrexian Revoker
*3 Spirit of the Labyrinth
*4 Stoneforge Mystic
*4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
*4 Flickerwisp
*3 Vendilion Clique
*2 Venser, Shaper Savant
[/creatures]
[Noncreature Spells]
*4 Aether Vial
*4 Swords to Plowshares
*1 Umezawa’s Jitte
*1 Batterskull
[/noncreature spells]
[Lands]
*4 Flooded Strand
*2 Island
*3 Karakas
*2 Plains
*3 Polluted Delta
*4 Tundra
*4 Wasteland
[/lands]
[Sideboard]
*3 Ethersworn Canonist
*3 Meddling Mage
*2 Phyrexian Revoker
*4 Rest in Peace
*2 True-Name Nemesis
*1 Venser, Shaper Savant
[/sideboard]
[/deck]

This deck is sweet! If you thought Venser, Shaper Savant was good alongside Karakas, wait until you get to do it with an Aether Vial in play. How would you like casting Vendilion Clique in your opponent’s draw step when you have a Spirit of the Labyrinth? What about using Flickerwisp on your own Gilded Drake to effectively steal another creature? Sure, there are things I dislike about this iteration of the deck (such as the mana base and the absence of Containment Priest), but this deck is so full of neat tricks and powerful ways to abuse its cards that I can’t help but fantasize about all the potential interactions it presents. It’s a Death and Taxes list, but it also reminds me of this deck:

[Deck title=U/W Vial by Travis Gibson]
[Creatures]
*4 Mother of Runes
*2 Weathered Wayfarer
*4 Stoneforge Mystic
*4 Serra Avenger
*3 True-Name Nemesis
*1 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
*1 Vendilion Clique
[/creatures]
[Noncreature Spells]
*4 Aether Vial
*1 Umezawa’s Jitte
*1 Sword of War and Peace
*1 Batterskull
*4 Swords to Plowshares
*4 Brainstorm
*1 Ponder
*4 Daze
*2 Force of Will
*2 Spell pierce
[/noncreature spells]
[Lands]
*2 Island
*2 Plains
*1 Cephalid Coliseum
*1 Karakas
*4 Tundra
*1 Wasteland
*1 Mishra’s Factory
*2 Windswept Heath
*4 Flooded Strand
[/lands]
[/deck]

This deck lacks the traditional disruptive elements of a Death and Taxes deck. Instead you have an aggro control deck with a fairly strong tempo plan. You lose out on a lot of what makes Death and Taxes a deck, but on the other hand you get to play with Brainstorm. I like how it’s built like an aggressive, threat heavier Stoneblade deck, but the Weathered Wayfarer package seems like it’s a bit too cute and not something I would be happy about drawing in the late game. The mana base is also stronger. The deck is more evenly split between its colors, and has already moved away from the mana disruption package. I think this deck has merit, though it may need further tuning.

As I mentioned earlier my main dislike about the Tricks and Taxes list was the mana base. Neither Venser, Shaper Savant nor Vendilion Clique is especially splash friendly, with both requiring double blue to cast. Thankfully though, the decks you want them against aren’t ones that typically play Wasteland, so it’s not as much of a drawback as one might think. I put together a first draft of what I would like the deck to look like. Losing out on Rishadan Port sucks and Venser just might be too cute for maindeck inclusion, but other than that I’m fairly happy about how it looks. Moving some Meddling Mages to the maindeck gives the deck more room for high impact sideboard cards, which should lead to better game two and three matchups versus a lot of the field. At first I wanted to fit some copies of Containment Priest in there as well, as the deck already wants to be playing the full four Flickerwisps, but the blue splash is enough more reliant on Aether Vial that I deemed it not worth it.

[Deck title=Tricks and Taxes by Sandro Rajalin]
[Creatures]
*4 Mother of Runes
*4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
*4 Stoneforge Mystic
*2 Phyrexian Revoker
*2 Gilded Drake
*2 Meddling Mage
*2 Spirit of the Labyrinth
*4 Flickerwisp
*2 Vendilion Clique
*1 Venser, Shaper Savant
[/creatures]
[Noncreature Spells]
*4 Aether Vial
*4 Swords to Plowshares
*1 Umezawa’s Jitte
*1 Batterskull
[/noncreature spells]
[Lands]
*4 Tundra
*1 Hallowed Fountain
*1 Cavern of Souls
*4 Flooded Strand
*3 Arid Mesa
*3 Plains
*4 Wasteland
*3 Karakas
[/lands]
[/deck]

The addition of both Meddling Mage and Vendilion Clique should give the deck some much needed tools to fight the Miracles menace. I don’t know how good Gilded Drake actually is, but it seems super sweet in this deck and should be able to swing games on its own. I’m inclined to believe that Venser, Shaper Savant is too clunky and might not end up making the cut, but I would rather have it from the start to see if it has merit and then cut if it does not. In that case we could probably afford to shave a land, or fit some Rishadan Ports in there. Hallowed Fountain is there as insurance versus decks that are capable of wastelanding us multiple times. Cavern of Souls is a nod to Miracles. An uncounterable Vendilion Clique to stop their Terminus should buy you enough time to finish them off, and if you have a Karakas you get to do it over and over again. I don’t imagine this deck will be tearing up the legacy metagame anytime soon, but I always enjoy an innovative twist on an established archetype. The legacy format is so diverse that a skilled pilot can always do well in any given tournament if they’re up to date on the current metagame and can tune their deck to beat it. Decks that go under the radar gain a lot of percentages because people simply don’t know how to play against them properly. This is especially true if those decks are also packing tricks that players aren’t used to seeing; tricky interactions with a high blowout potential. We saw this phenomenon years ago with the original Death and Taxes, and we’ve seen it with Infect in the hands of Tom ‘the boss’ Ross.

 

My name is Sandro Rajalin. I’m a Magic player, writer, and Legacy aficionado from Stockholm, Sweden. You can follow me on Twitter for all my magic related content at @SandroRajalin or email me at RajalinSandroMTG@gmail.com

5 comments on New is Always Better – Getting Tricksy with Death and Taxes

  1. Jason Alt says:

    This was a great read!

    1. Sandro Rajalin says:

      Thanks!

  2. David Rowell says:

    Overall, do you think that the builds with additional colors or just plain death and taxes is really better?

    1. Sandro Rajalin says:

      Probably plain Death and Taxes, but it depends on what metagame you’re expecting.

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