Legacy Primer Series: Death & Taxes – Part I

Hello there! I’m Sean, and in my articles I will be delving primarily into eternal formats.

Although Standard can be an excellent format, with its continually morphing nature and (usually) diversity in deck choice, there is one format that I love above all.

That format is Legacy.

Legacy has incredible diversity, and at any given tournament it’s likely you’ll play against a different deck in each round. Another result of this diversity is that there is generally no ‘best’ deck from week-to-week (unless the metagame becomes slightly broken *cough* Treasure Cruise *cough*), and therefore specializing with one deck is particularly rewarding.

For me, the deck that defines me as a Legacy player has been Death & Taxes. The appeal of such a deck is strange; it does not play blue for the all-powerful variance reducers Brainstorm and Ponder, and appears, at its surface, to be unable to fight against combo due to not having access to Force of Will. The deck looks like a crappy pile of white weenies that even a Standard deck could defeat. The truth is quite the contrary, however, with Death & Taxes being a powerful, consistent and punishing deck within the context of the Legacy metagame.

MTGSalvation user Finn initially championed the deck to show the possible abusive interactions of Aether Vial, mana denial elements (Rishadan Port and later Wasteland) and the original poster child of D&T, Mangara of Corondor. However, the available creatures at the time were incredibly underpowered, and the deck could not really compete in the Legacy metagame.

As Magic history progressed, Wizards began to make creatures more powerful in terms of disruption, and with the printing of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, the power of Death & Taxes was finally realized as a prison-based control deck that could beat down while doing so. D&T in its current form is the modern incarnation of the historical Magic archetype of white-based prison decks, but rather than aim to lock out the opponent completely, D&T aims to soft-lock the opponent with its disruptive creatures, protect these pieces, and then close out the game with said creatures, and a few haymakers.

In analyzing Death & Taxes strategy I’ll be referencing my current deck list; so get familiar with it! This list has a very anti-BUG flavor, due to Shardless BUG and BUG Delver being incredibly popular in the current Legacy metagame.

Death & Taxes

Creatures (26)
Mother of Runes
Stoneforge Mystic
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Phyrexian Revoker
Serra Avenger
Mirran Crusader
Mangara of Corondor

Spells (11)
Swords to Plowshares
AEther Vial
Umezawa’s Jitte
Sword of Fire and Ice
Lands (23)
Rishadan Port
Cavern of Souls
Horizon Canopy

Sideboard (15)
Council's Judgment
Ethersworn Canonist
Rest in Peace
Wilt-Leaf Liege
Containment Priest
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Enlightened Tutor
Grafdigger's Cage
Pithing Needle
Ratchet Bomb
Sword of Light and Shadow

The core of the deck begins with a few cards:

4 AEther Vial
4 Rishadan Port
4 Wasteland

Aether Vial is the backbone of the deck. Just like how Delver and Miracles have their best turn one play in a Delver of Secrets or Sensei’s Divining Top respectively, D&T’s best turn 1 play is Aether Vial. The deck functions in an entirely different manner when it has an active Aether Vial, being able to deploy threats at instant speed and through countermagic. The sets of Wastelands and Ports, in conjunction with Aether Vial, give the D&T player the ability to wreck the opponent’s manabase, while still being able to advance their boardstate.

4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
3 Karakas
4 Phyrexian Revoker

Thalia and Phyrexian Revoker supply the deck’s broadest disruption elements. Thalia furthers the mana denial aspect of the deck, and is backbreaking against both combo decks and tempo decks. Efficient cards like Brainstorm become incredibly clunky and difficult to utilize when Thalia is around, while the D&T player is not incredibly hampered. So backbreaking is she, that despite being legendary, she is still run as a four-of and the legendary land, Karakas, is run primarily as a pseudo-protection effect for her. Phyrexian Revoker supplies important disruption against the variety of common Legacy activated abilities and its synergy with Aether Vial in shutting down planeswalkers and other important cards at instant speed is incredibly powerful. Phyrexian Revoker is also the card in the deck that benefits the greatest from having an in-depth knowledge of the Legacy metagame; fledgling D&Ters often have a hard time with blind call Revokers.

4 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Batterskull
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Umezawa’s Jitte

Stoneforge Mystic is, next to Aether Vial, the most ‘broken’ card in the deck, thanks to its ability to be the best control finisher in Legacy. Its role is not very different in Death & Taxes, except for the fact that getting Batterskull is generally not correct in Death & Taxes. Unless Stoneforge can be perfectly protected, getting a Sword or Jitte is often more backbreaking, as the deck always has a creature ready to be equipped. D&T is also one of the few decks that can access an instant-speed Stoneforge, which can lead to a variety of devastating plays.

4 Mother of Runes

Mother of Runes is the glue that holds the deck together, ensuring that the fragile creatures of D&T are protected and continue the soft-lock. Although she is often killed on sight, this typically means that your opponent will need to find a second removal spell for your follow-up creature. Also note that one should treat Mom as more of an enchantment – only in very unique circumstances will she get in the red zone. When in doubt, remember: “Never aggro Mom.”

4 Flickerwisp

Flickerwisp is debatable on whether it is part of the core of the deck, primarily due to the variability in the number played. Some lists go as low as two, but generally I think that at least three is a safe number. Flickerwisp is an incredibly flexible tool, especially in conjunction with Aether Vial. Being able to save your creatures at instant speed, ‘Porting’ your opponent’s land by Flickering it on their upkeep, resetting Revoker, retriggering Stoneforge… The list goes on and on with what Flickerwisp can do. The only thing against it is its susceptibility to -1/-1 effects.

4 Swords to Plowshares

Swords to Plowshares rounds out the deck as, per usual, the best pure removal spell in the format.

The rest of the deck is filled with a variety of flexible creatures and utility lands.

2 Serra Avenger
3 Mirran Crusader

Serra Avenger and Mirran Crusader aren’t disruptive at all – they are purely beatsticks whose only goal is to get the opponent dead. Avenger shines in Delver heavy metagames, being able to trade efficiently with a Delver of Secrets and race a True-Name Nemesis, while Mirran Crusader shines in metagames filled with decks such as Shardless BUG or BUG Delver, who have very few answers to him. Other creatures that can potentially fill this role are Brimaz, King of Oreskos, who truly is king when Lightning Bolt is the most played removal spell.

1 Mangara of Corondor

As aforementioned, Mangara of Corondor begun as the poster-child of D&T and, given enough time, has the ability to provide inevitability for the Death & Taxes player. This is due to the interaction between Mangara and Karakas – you can activate Mangara’s ability, hold priority and activate Karakas, and since Mangara exiles himself on resolution, the end result is a Mangara in your hand and an exiled permanent. In conjunction with Vial on three this creates the ‘Mangara-lock’ where your opponent’s permanents are slowly eaten away, one-by-one, each turn. His relevance in the maindeck has waned, because in faster metagames he is much too slow and susceptible to removal, but in slower metagames filled with Miracles, Shardless BUG and the Death & Taxes mirror, Mangara shines.

1 Cavern of Souls
1 Mutavault
1 Horizon Canopy

The three lands listed are some of the choices one can use, with Cavern being similar to a fifth Aether Vial, allowing the deck to push through countermagic, and Canopy providing an extra card if the D&T player begins to flood out. Mutavault provides a resilient threat against decks aiming to Terminus or Toxic Deluge your team away. Notice that, with the manabase mainly consisting of basic Plains, opposing Wastelands are less important and the deck doesn’t get severely hampered by cards such as Stifle and Blood Moon.

Well, that’s more than enough words about the maindeck. Next time we’ll discuss other flex slot creatures not seen in my list, the deck’s sideboard and a few significant matchups that the deck struggles or shines against. Until next time!


  • Molly Rowe

    Awesome article! I learn-ed things!

    but for real, actually learnt stuff about legacy that didn’t make me hate the format unreservedly,

    great job!

  • Sam Karopoulos

    Really interesting read, I always thought of Death and Taxes as a beatdown deck with disruption, didn’t realise that the prison element was primary.

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