After his highly succesful Commander guest post, “The Red Zone: Why the “Worst Color in EDH” is Anything But,” J.C. Wilbur has returned for a new series called Enlightened Tutor, which will be our first-ever articles about the Legacy Format. He is an avid EDH and Legacy player who also has a brand new blog:

Today, J.C. looks at how he built his Death & Taxes Legacy Deck and explains his reasons for using certain cards over other popular options in the format. Enjoy!

“Enlightened Tutor: Assembling a Team” by JC Wilbur

Greetings and welcome to Enlightened Tutor. This is a weekly series in which I will discuss the format’s premier mono-White deck, Death and Taxes—we’ll be examining the decision process behind certain card configurations, understanding proper mulligans, sideboarding guides and probably a lot of other things related to the archetype and Legacy in general. Since the deck is incredibly difficult to play efficiently—and since many times the forums are filled with questions like “how well is X positioned in this deck right now?” or “should I play X or Y?”—it is my intent that these articles serve as a quick-start guide for the uninitiated and as a means of generating topical discussion.

We’ll start at the beginning: what is Death and Taxes? In the simplest sense, D&T—as it is commonly abbreviated—is a White-centric, creature-based  Prison deck.  Prison archetypes are not a huge part of the Legacy format currently but have dominated in the past; each feature some number of cards referred to as “locks.” Each one typically attacks a certain strategy, popular card or is just generally good at slowing—or halting—the game. Shops, a Vintage deck, is a great example of a  Prison archetype taken to its absolute limits: cards like Chalice of the Void and Sphere of Resistance completely hose the speed of the format, while Shops lays bomby threats in Wurmcoil Engine and Steel Hellkite.

Of course, things are a bit different in Legacy; the format is nowhere near Vintage’s speed and cards like Brainstorm and Ponder are not restricted. Whereas Vintage is a format of laying explosive win conditions off the mana provided from your Black Lotus and Moxen, Legacy is a bit more drawn out, allowing for “fairer” strategies—such as D&T. But before we dig deeper, let’s start with a list:

This is a very basic Death and Taxes list, complete with a sideboard tuned for a typical Star City Games Open. A common assumption is that the deck is White Weenie. In practice it isn’t at all; most games you win with the deck you won’t be attacking much, aside from a Serra Avenger + equipment.

So what are we planning on doing with this deck? Like Shops we are trying to create an environment in which our deck thrives and our opponent’s deck perishes. This is the “Taxes” portion of its namesake—either single cards or certain synergies which result in creating a board state that your opponents cannot play anything meaningful or make an impact. This is how a Prison deck functions: not necessarily by controlling an opponent in the same fashion a deck like Miracles does but rather by preventing anything from happening in the first place. The nice thing about D&T, though, is that its lockpieces get to attack, giving you a means of winning besides running out the clock.

Let’s break down the cards in the list I posted above; if you are familiar with Legacy, some of them may seem unconventional.


The Main


Aether Vial

The backbone of the deck—and of most decks that feature it. The creator of the deck, Daniel Payne (know by his handle Finn) wrote an article [] in which he asserted how broken the card is, especially with the then-popular Goblins archetype; after a skeptical response from the community, he went on to create D&T in an attempt to prove his theory. Though Legacy has come far from Aether Vial being the scariest card in the format, the idea is still the same: Death and Taxes abuses Aether Vial more than any other deck in the format.

What does Vial do for us? Well, it’s a “mana engine” for one, allowing us to generate free virtual mana via adding charge counters. We expend this mana once we activate our Vial. Vial also has the nice upside that the creatures come in at instant-speed and are uncounterable by conventional means; it’s also nice that an opponent will have no idea which creature will be coming in; only that its CMC is equal to the charge counters.

Instant-speed also gives us some abusable interactions in the deck. Keeping your Vial and two counters with a Karakas untapped allows you to save your Thalia, Guardian of Thraben from targeted removal, sweepers or to effectively nullify an attack from a Tarmogoyf or other large creature. With a Vial at three counters and a Karakas untapped, you can also use Mangara of Corondor as a repeating source of removal; since Mangara’s ability removes him upon resolution (as the only cost to activate is to tap him) you arrange the stack such that Karakas bounces him to your hand first, his ability resolves as much as it can (that is, removing the targeted permanent) and you put him back into play with the Vial. Who says D&T is a “fair” deck!



Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

A miracle card for the archetype. Until her printing the archetype was disorganized; no numbers were established, no build was “correct” and we were a complete dog to Combo decks. Thalia changed the game for us. She taxes your opponent in two ways; firstly, and most importantly, she makes Brainstorm, Dark Ritual and Daze cost one more mana. It doesn’t matter if they have an Omniscience out, if they can’t pay the tax they can’t cast a damn thing.

Secondly, she creates difficult combat for your opponent. Whether on the offensive or defensive, Thalia’s First Strike ability mean you have more control over how combat plays out. My personal favorite is equipping her with an Umezawa’s Jitte and killing Batterskull‘s 4/4 germ—without it ever touching her and gaining them the life!



Phyrexian Revoker

Another crucial element of D&T’s disruption package. Where Thalia attacks both the stack and combat, Revoker shuts off problematic permanents like planeswalkers, equipment and, unlike Pithing Needle, the mana abilities of permanents like Mox Diamond or Noble Hierarch. What is espcially nice is that Revoker’s ability is not triggered; therefore, your opponents cannot respond to it. Off a Show and Tell, for example, you can name a Griselbrand or Sneak Attack with your Revoker and there is nothing they can do to stop it. This is a card that I have written much about on forums in the past; though it is a difficult card to play sometimes, it can yield the highest results.



Wasteland/Rishadan Port

The heavy-lifters in this deck. Mana denial is the deck’s biggest advantage, and how you will be achieving most of your wins. Wasteland is the obvious choice; like Delver Tempo, we are hoping to color-screw (or even completely land-screw) our opponents with this card. Unlike most Delver Tempo decks, we can activate our Wastelands with near-impunity, as our basic-heavy land package makes us essentially impervious to opposing Wastelands. Rishadan Port is how you deal with the things Wasteland can’t—though, like most cards in this deck, it pulls double duty in giving you a means of dealing with animated lands like Inkmoth Nexus or utility lands like Maze of Ith.




The only other commonly played non-basic in D&T. The land has obvious interactions with our own legendary creatures and has the extra benefit of making large-creature Combo (Show and Tell, Reanimator, etc.) much easier since most of their fatties are legendary. I recommend four in any D&T list also featuring Mangara of Corondor.



Mangara of Corondor

Perhaps the most hotly debated card in the deck. “Old school” players see the card for what it is: a means of tying up games beyond the combat step. Newer players have been skeptical of the card, citing its slowness, lack of aggressive use and variance when trying to get the “Mangara engine” to work. I’ve found that Mangara’s late game value and sheer threat level have won me more games than other options, such as Spirit of the Labyrinth or Aven Mindcensor.


The Side

Since the entire point of Death and Taxes is to make life hell for your opponent, it’s very important to understand what it is that makes their life hell. This is a key skill to develop as a Death and Taxes pilot: an intimate understanding of Legacy’s metagame, what decks are trending and what cards they will fold to. This sideboard, in part, reflects this; there are few cards that are permanent parts of a sideboard and most of the time you’ll be adjusting it for your expected meta. If you know you’ll be playing a lot of Dredge and Tarmogoyf decks, you should play more copies of Rest in Peace; if you expect a lot of MUD and Affinity, pack a Serenity or Aura of Silence. The sideboard is truly where the deck shines and is, in my opinion, what most new players tend to skimp on.

However, I consider the following to be staples of any D&T sideboard.



Enlightened Tutor

Though a card that has no disruptive component itself, Enlightened Tutor allows you to run “silver bullets”—single copies of powerful, narrow hate cards for specific matchups or archetypes. Circle of Protection: Red is a perfect example of a silver bullet.



Rest in Peace

One of white’s most powerful cards in Legacy; against Tarmogoyf and Deathrite Shaman this card shuts down most of the relevant parts of their deck; against Dredge or Reanimator, the entirety of it. Though it is a silver bullet, we want at least two—not only in the hopes of seeing it more often, but also because the opponents we bring it in against will do anything to get rid of it.



Ethersworn Canonist

The “hatebear” that wishes it could be in the main. Canonist is an excellent piece of tech for any deck that is trying to cast multiple spells in a turn—i.e., Storm. However, I have found that Canonist is great at stymieing all kinds of decks, from slowing Burn down until you stabilize, to stretching out Miracles’ turns while beating them down. Note that she is also targetable by Enlightened Tutor.



Council’s Judgment

An improved Vindicate in mono-White. Judgment gives D&T an answer to the dreaded True-Name Nemesis found in blue Control decks and a nice catch-all for other matchups. Where cards like Manriki-Gusari and Leonin Relic-Warder were ran with some dispute in the past, Judgment now nicely fills out the sideboard.

Well, that’s enough for this installation! There’s still much to discuss, so I hope you’ll join me next week when we go over mulligans and using our locks to keep our opponents out of a game.

Until next time, keep taxing!

– J.C. Wilbur