Hey guys! I’m back with a follow-up to my 3-part series on Death and Taxes in Legacy, which was posted here back in January and February of 2019. One could argue that it is quite soon for an update since it is after all the very stale and slow-moving Legacy format we are dealing with. But one would be mistaken.
Since Winter, Wizards R&D decided that the Eternal formats needed a bit of a shake-up and went on to print War of the Spark and Modern Horizons, two of the highest-impacting sets in recent memory. With the static ability planeswalkers like Karn, the Great Creator and Narset, Parter of Veils as well as format all-stars like Wrenn and Six, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and, notably for D&T especially, Plague Engineer, these sets changed the Legacy metagame.
Of course, Plains-players were not left completely alone, as Giver of Runes, Tomik, Distinguished Advokist and even Force of Virtue have given D&T pilots some new and interesting options to choose from.
In this article I’ll be going over some of the issues that these new printings have brought to the Legacy metagame for D&T, and I will of course end it with my proposed decklist going forward.
The 1-toughness issue
Death and Taxes under attack
One of the immediate effects of all these new cards being brought into the mix is that X/1 creatures are suddenly under severe pressure. Both Wrenn and Six and Plague Engineer match up favorably against creatures with 1 toughness, and unfortunately, D&T lists usually pack more than a dozen of those, such as Mother of Runes, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Phyrexian Revoker, Flickerwisp and even Recruiter of the Guard – all mainstays in traditional Death & Taxes.
These cards are some of the traditional lock pieces and the backbone of D&T, especially combined with Mother of Runes to protect all families (Humans, horrors, elementals, she does not discriminate) from harm. Wrenn and Six and Plague Engineer are efficient, continuous answers to a lot of the winning board states that D&T can produce, and thus they do not only threaten the individual creatures in D&T but the decks game plan itself!
The immediate solution to these problems is of course to avoid playing 1-toughness creatures. One issue with that approach is that the other half of Wrenn and Six, which just sits on the board and creates card advantage in the form of recurring lands, is also a very potent answer to D&T’s traditional mana denial plan, as Wasteland and to a lesser extent Rishadan Port look quite silly in the face of a free, ever growing mana base on the opponent’s side. Plague Engineer with its deathtouch capabilities also plays double duty as a decent blocker against equipment beaters such as Stoneforge Mystic or Sanctum Prelate.
Due to these cards’ ubiquitous nature and easy fit into many strategies from 4 color control to Lands to RUG Delver, it is my opinion that solving the 1-toughness issue is essential for any D&T pilot to compete in the current Legacy metagame.
So, what can we do?
Don’t get blinded
One way to tackle some fundamental issue/card for a deck is to treat it like the sun and not look directly at it. Instead, we can ask ourselves what the prevalence of Plague Engineer and especially Wrenn and Six does to the Legacy metagame. Well first of all, the addition of Plague Engineer means that there are fewer other -1/-1 effects such as Marsh Casualties, Toxic Deluge, Liliana, the Last Hope and of course, very few Dread of Night. The decks it has spawned, which to some degree now must rely on green and red mana in the case of Wrenn and Six, means that other potentially damaging cards for D&T are seeing less play. Kolaghan’s Command has lately been more or less relegated to the sideboard, for instance, and the additional reliance on the graveyard for some of these decks (Tarmogoyf for RUG Delver and Punishing Fire for 4c Control) means that graveyard hate like Rest in Peace suddenly becomes more potent as well. Finally, another upside of the popularity of the decks that rely on Wrenn and Six (and to a lesser degree, Plague Engineer) is that decks with good matchups against them become more popular in turn. For instance, GB Depths (which also got a great new toy in Elvish Reclaimer from M20) and Monored Stompy, which have traditionally been good matchups for D&T, have seen a surge in popularity. The prevalence of Plague Engineer has also made life very difficult for Elves players everywhere, a notoriously bad matchup for D&T, so that is another upside to these printings.
All these factors mean that, if we are able to deal with the 1-toughness issue, D&T may become really well positioned in the Legacy metagame.
Giving some protection
As a starting point, I believe that Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is such a key card in the general game plan of Death and Taxes that we cannot cut any of them to handle this new threat. The card is simply too important in too many matchups. And even when facing the menacing planeswalker(s?), if D&T is on the play, Thalia will delay Wrenn and Six for one turn, which means that we can use turn 3 to hopefully apply enough pressure such that it just becomes a three-mana removal spell rather than a value engine for the opponent.
Instead, my first card to look to cut, or rather replace, would be Mother of Runes. Mother of Runes can in many spots effectively be replaced by the newly printed Giver of Runes. In all instances where the objective of the Rune Provider is to protect an important lock piece like Thalia, Revoker or Prelate, Mother and Giver fulfill the same task. It could even be argued that Giver of Runes does a better job, as it can provide protection from colorless as well, which means it can protect against a Walking Ballista ping or, for the first time ever, a land ability like Karakas or Barbarian Ring. The latter would traditionally be a hard-lock against the Lands deck if you had a Prelate on 2, however with the printing of Blast Zone, that might not be the case anymore.
What you lose by giving up the Mother is of course its ability to protect itself, which is especially crucial when using Aether Vial, as the opponent will have a very limited window to respond. The ability to protect itself makes Mother much better than Giver in the midrange and control matchups, so time will tell if the swap is worth it to protect against the 1-toughness issue, but for now I think it is worth exploring.
The golden age of the ‘wisp is over
Another card I would look to cut or at least trim would be Flickerwisp. The Wisp’s ability to reset any permanent on the board and the many applications that come with it both with and without Aether Vial can often be a huge swing, but that is mostly thanks to the fact that the reset effect comes with a powerful threat in the form of a 3/1 flier attached to it. If you take away the body (due to its 1-toughness issue), Flickerwisp suddenly becomes way less powerful and something that could be cut for other, more shall we say, “sustainable” fliers. For example Serra Avenger or the recent addition, Tomik, Distinguished Advokist, who incidentally can shut down the value engine of Wrenn and Six as well as disrupt the Lands and BG Depths matchups significantly. My issue with Tomik has been its lack of a relevant clock coupled with the graveyard application being too narrow for the wider Legacy metagame. With the addition of Wrenn and Six and the increased popularity of decks like BG Depths, Lands and other Loam strategies as well as 4-color control decks utilizing the new planeswalker, perhaps Tomik’s time has come. I for one would still probably lean more towards Serra Avenger, as it simply kills the opponent faster, and the vigilance ability is not irrelevant either.
At least against Wrenn and Six, Phyrexian Revoker can largely handle itself, as it can shut down the planeswalker entirely, at least until the opponent has dealt with it. It is always the case when using Revoker on planeswalkers that you have to make up your mind about whether you have effectively dealt with the threat and thus do not need to also remove it from the board, of if you want to treat Revoker as insurance enough and go straight for the opponent. In the Wrenn and Six world, if it came down on turn 2, I would generally lean towards attacking the planeswalker first since we cannot realistically count on our Revoker surviving the entire game, so better to get them off the table immediately.
Diversify your threats
Against Plague Engineer in particular, in addition to playing fewer 1-toughness creatures, another way to deal with it is to diversify your creature types to ensure that they do not always get great value out of it. This generally means cutting down on Humans, as that is the creature type with the most hits in the deck. Outside of Thalia and Mother, other notable Humans in stock D&T are Recruiter of the Guard, Mirran Crusader, Palace Jailer, Sanctum Prelate and, to a lesser extent, Tomik, Distinguished Advokist. Mirran Crusader has built in protection against the both Plague Engineer and Wrenn and Six, so that is less of a worry, but other options would be to look at some of the beefier 3-drops out there like Brightling, Hallowed Spiritkeeper, Brimaz, King of Oreskos. The latter incidentally plays well against Lightning Bolt that often goes hand in hand with Wrenn and Six decks like RUG Delver or 4c Control.
The Virtue Squad
Another way to tackle it is to use anthem effects like Force of Virtue, which some D&T lists have begun to play recently alongside Squadron Hawk to mitigate the card disadvantage of playing it at instant speed as well as improve the grindier match-ups by producing an everflowing stream of threats. The hawks are particularly attractive against Terminus out of Miracles, as you get to keep on recycling them. My issue with this approach to D&T is that you become more polarized in terms of your overall deck cohesiveness, and you become much more dependent on drawing the “right” half of your deck against any given matchup, which is especially dangerous given the lack of card filtering in white. Either of the cards, Hawk and Force, can look very underwhelming on their own, and if you make your deck more reliant on the pump effect, it may look silly against a Wrenn and Six draw if you don’t have the anthem to beef up the squad(ron hawks). I think it is an interesting and innovative approach to building D&T and if you expect a very grindy and W&6 heavy metagame, this may be something worth exploring. In more open fields, however, I believe the raw power of some of white’s best beaters throughout time will still prevail over the more synergy-driven Force of Virtue builds.
Finally, I would add that a build I tried a couple of years ago for Grand Prix Vegas 2017 featuring Ancient Tomb powering out Thalia, Heretic Cathar and Eldrazi Displacer might make a comeback, as especially the “big” Thalia could put a wrench in the Wrenn and Six plan of building up a (non-basic) manabase. Here is that old list, just for inspiration:
D&T Anno 2017 by Thomas Enevoldsen
Putting the Shades back on
Coming back to the approach of solving a problem by focusing on the factors and conditions it brings with it rather than the problem itself, the dominance of Wrenn and Six and to a lesser extent Plague Engineer means that the decks rising in popularity right now like to play a grindy game, something that D&T is already very capable of. With a lot of cards being traded back and forth in those matchups, a creature like Hallowed Spiritkeeper is the perfect trump card when the graveyard is filled with bodies and is something that can spell game over for these 1-for-1 attrition based decks if they are suddenly staring down a flock(?) of spirits.
Other changes could be a return to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar out of the sideboard as another way to mitigate the 1-toughness issue and eschewing a fancier mana base for involving more Basic Plains aka the best card in Legacy, as a way to be less susceptible to any Wasteland locks that opposing Wrenn and Six builds may present.
So with these considerations, I present to you my updated D&T list:
Updated Death and Taxes by Thomas Enevoldsen
Let’s go over some card choices.
The lands of the new build
13 Plains, 3 Karakas, 0 Horizon Canopy
One way to deny value from the Wrenn and Six and Life from the Loam engines is to play a mana base that is less susceptible to Wasteland. Combining this with a significant increase of Ws in the mana costs on things like Serra Avenger, Tomik, Mirran Crusader and Hallowed Spiritkeeper, I think a return to the best basic land in Legacy is the way to go, rather than more extravagant, but narrow options like Ancient Tomb, Cavern of Souls, Mishra’s Factory or similar.
As I have said before, while the mathematically optimal play is to split basics between Plains and Snow-Covered Plains to play around Predict, I simply do not believe it is worth the aesthetic sacrifice you would have to make, so I am continuing with my Unhinged Plains and standing by it!
Regarding the 3 Karakas, these are a nod to the increased Marit Lage presence as well as the new addition of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, which is neatly a legendary creature, so we can bounce it back to their hand. It can also save Tomik in a pinch, which is an added benefit and in my opinion worth the risk of drawing multiples over the course of a game.
Overall, I think the time has somewhat passed for Canopy-lands in D&T, at least in the monowhite versions, as having enough mana has become more and more of a pressure point for the deck, whereas mana flood rarely happens to me.
My Selection of (more or less) White Weenies
2 Phyrexian Revoker
I’m cutting down on Revokers to add more beefy creatures to the deck. This is part of an overall plan to make the deck a bit more aggressive than the lists I usually advocate, which focus more on utility. If the metagame truly sees a return to the grindy midrange/control decks, D&T may find itself in a weird spot where it has to play resilient threats that also kill the opponent faster in order to make sure their more powerful planeswalkers and other value engines catch up.
2 Flickerwisp, 2 Serra Avenger, 1 Tomik
Following the logic of a more aggressive plan with beefier creatures, I have cut down on Flickerwisp but kept my flier count with Avengers and Tomik. Tomik is a bit of a test subject, and I could easily see going with 3 Avengers, but my current (online) meta-game analysis shows that Tomik is a role player against a significant part of the top decks, i.e. Loam decks, W&6 decks and the surprisingly powerful and resilient Dark Depths variants (though mostly the BG version). I don’t like playing two copies of Tomik, however, as I do not believe D&T can afford to be stuck with one in hand because of its rather narrow effect compared to something like Thalia, which is almost always a must-answer threat for the opponent. It also trades with Delver of Secrets and flies over True-Name Nemesis, which is the D&T equivalent of “pitches to Force of Will” so always a good thing to keep in mind.
2 Mirran Crusader, 1 Hallowed Spiritkeeper, 0 Brimaz, King of Oreskos, 0 Brightling
It could be argued that if we wanted to do well against W&6 decks, we would play more threats that are resilient to Lightning Bolt, however Tarmogoyf has seen a Resurgence and with Plague Engineer also in the mix, I really like the protection that Crusader has right now compared to Brimaz, which is Bolt-proof but more easily road-blocked. Spiritkeeper is a nod to the grindier matchups and as a two-off (if you count Recruiter of the Guard) can be a game-ending effect, as the vigilance ability makes it so the opponent can hardly ignore it (except for TNN, which can of course ignore all rules of Magic because protection from players is “fun” …). Brightling is a bit slow and does not dodge Bolt (at least on turn 3). It does get around TNN, and since Miracles is less played these days, I don’t think the time is ripe for the brightest of the Lings.
1 Sanctum Prelate, 1 Palace Jailer, 0 Walking Ballista
I almost always want to have access to Jailer and Prelate in my maindeck, as they can be game-ending against certain matchups, and are almost never truly dead. Recruiter of the Guard really ties this game plan together by essentially doubling the amount of each game-changer, so that has been a most welcome addition to the D&T strategy ever since it was first printed. I am not running any copies of Walking Ballista as I do not believe the card has enough impact at the moment. It shines mostly against creature strategies like Elves, Maverick and of course the mirror, but the presence of W&6 and Plague Engineer has somewhat pushed these strategies a bit down, and so we must adjust as well. And if we assume it is correct to swap Giver of Runes for Mother, then Ballista’s main application in the mirror is also made a bit worse, especially if they also cut Flickerwisp.
The sideboard of Mono White (Aggro-)Control
3 Council’s Judgment, 2 Cataclysm
I have added one each of these cards compared to my normal lists. Again, this is a nod to the prevalence of grindy midrange strategies where it is important to have generic answers for problematic creatures (like TNN and Monastery Mentor and planeswalkers like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or the ubiquitous Wrenn and Six, if it starts to get out of hand. Of course, Rest in Peace remains an answer to the W&6 ultimate, so keep that in mind. Cataclysm helps as a reset button that can completely turn around a lot of the incremental advantages that these midrange decks can produce over the course of a game, so if the meta contains more of these kinds of strategies, Cataclysm is always a good card to include in your 75.
I still like Chalice as a generic combo hate piece that can come down on turn 1 if necessary as well as provide another way to stop the cantrip-heavy decks like RUG Delver and even Miracles or UW Stoneblade. When considering boarding Chalice in, keep in mind how much your strategy relies on spot removal like Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile and adjust your play accordingly. The most relevant threat is usually Delver of Secrets, but even a Tarmogoyf can get out of hand if you find yourself locked out of your own removal spells under Chalice. It is a tricky card to play with, but its effect is so strong that I still think it is warranted as an inclusion in the 75. Against combo decks utilizing Lotus Petal and/or Lion’s Eye Diamond, playing Chalice on 0 or 1 depends a lot on play/draw as well as on their path to comboing. Against ANT, I usually play it on 0 if I am on the draw, and also when I’m on the play, if I have a hatebear like Thalia or Revoker for turn 2. It is all about survival here! Against Sneak & Show, I usually wait until turn 2 so I can set it to 1 and stop their cantrips from setting up the combo, as their game plan usually involves comboing off multiple times due to the way our answers line up against them (e.g. using Karakas to bounce a Griselbrand and then set up another line of defense against their “next” combo. Against the Bomberman decks popping up, Chalice obviously goes on 0 to stop half their deck.
Even though Damping Sphere cannot be searched up with Recruiter (as opposed to Canonist), that is generally less of an issue since due to the speed of the matchups where you need Canonist, you rarely have time to find it (and usually you would rather want Thalia in those spots anyway, except against Elves, of course). Sphere helps out against the big mana decks as well as Bomberman, so I believe it to be superior to the Canonist right now. As an aside, I don’t think you can board this in against Sneak&Show, even if they do play the “Sol Lands”, since they don’t rely as much on them.
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 0 Karn, Scion of Urza
As I stated earlier, in order to combat the hate against X/1 creatures, Gideon’s emblem can help out in a pinch while also giving the option of an endless stream of 2/2 Knights. The issue with Karn in the midrange matchups is that some amount of cards in our deck may lose their relevance against the 1-toughness hate, and thus we may lose out on some value from activating its +1 ability. For this reason, I am back on Gideon.
And so, we come to the end of my update! I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into D&T today, and as I said in the beginning, while other decks have received significant boosts that can appear quite good against the general game plan of Death and Taxes, I don’t think our overall spot in the metagame has been hurt that much. There is still plenty of room to play against the resurgence of midrange value decks, and don’t forget the “answer” decks to such a meta, like Monored Stompy and BG Depths still remain among D&T’s better matchups. I should mention in the interest of full disclosure that I took the list for a spin in the Legacy Challenge on 1 September and promptly 0-2’ed against UW Stone-blade and Dredge, but to avoid any uncomfortable questions regarding the validity of the above advice, let’s just say that it was pure bad luck 🙂
The decklist posted is in my humble opinion a great starting point for the current meta, but there is of course plenty of room for tuning, and I would always advocate keeping in mind the vast array of maindeck and sideboard options that are available to D&T (see my last article for a comprehensive list!) and to always keep brewing and trying out new things to handle the many threats of the wonderful Legacy format.
For example, while I’ve never been a fan of the Wx D&T decks, Recruiter of the Guard + Plague Engineer in a Wb shell could be a clean and potent answer to the inevitable TNN decks that always seem to pop up, as well as great mirror tech and a way to turn that pesky Elves matchup on its head, should we see a resurgence of the little green critters (unlikely for the moment, given the hostile metagame to X/1-creatures). That is just one way to take the D&T shell and change it around to up those percentages if you are expecting a more defined metagame at your local game shop.
I wish you the best of luck at the tournament tables!