Last week, J.C. Wilbur penned the first ever Legacy format article on Win Target Game, the first installment of Enlightened Tutor, a series about the popular Legacy deck, Death and Taxes. In his first article, he discussed the construction of his version of Death and Taxes and his card choices for the deck. He is an avid EDH and Legacy player who also has a brand new blog, Devastating Dreamer on WordPress. Enjoy!
Welcome again to Enlightened Tutor. For those just joining us, this is a series focused on Legacy’s Death and Taxes. This week we’ll examine two critical elements of playing Death and Taxes: mulligans and how to execute your game plan. Both are difficult since so much of playing the deck requires an understanding of what you and your opponent is trying to achieve and how best to nullify them while imposing your dominance. This is true of most Legacy decks, especially control archetypes; however, with D&T it becomes a more complicated since you lack cards like Sensei’s Divining Top and Brainstorm to help you find the right locks to keep your opponent out of the game.
The hardest part of playing D&T will always be mulliganing. Since we lack card draw, an important element to consider is how many cards we start off with. Seven is obviously optimal, giving you plenty of mana and creatures to endure until the late game. Often, however, you will have to mulligan when you don’t find the proper hate card, the right configuration of mana or simply have an unusable hand.
Mulligans should be done aggressively with D&T. That’s not to say you should be finicky either; you can’t afford to keep mulling in the expectation of a better hand since the further down you go, the more you’ll be relying on the top of your deck. There are some criteria I use when evaluating a hand:
Does it have an Aether Vial?
Vial is the spine of the deck. It supports all the broken interactions and allows you to cheat on your mana, effectively using it as an alternative mana source while you happily sacrifice your Wastelands and devote your mana to Rishadan Port to tap down opposing lands. Aether Vial is not necessary for a hand, but its presence greatly increases the likelihood of me keeping it, since an unanswered Vial will run away with the game.
Does it have basic Plains?
Especially if a Vial is not present, basic mana sources are crucial to deciding whether or not to mulligan. Plains ensures we can cast our threats against Wasteland or Blood Moon, develop our board and cast our spells. Generally speaking, a D&T list really shouldn’t run fewer than ten Plains to begin with.
Does it have Thalia?
This is a big one. If Vial is the deck’s spine, Thalia is its heart—her static taxation adds to every other effect in the deck, whether it’s making a Phyrexian Revoker harder to kill or making a Rishadan Port activation doubly brutal. Thalia grants us a reasonable defense against combo, slowing the game down so that the rest of our locks can come down in time to be relevant. Hands without Thalia, especially against an unknown opponent, are very skeptical in my eyes since so many decks just wither in her presence. That’s not to say a hand without Thalia should be snap-mulliganed, but you have to weigh your other options in the hand.
What else do I have?
D&T is a complicated deck and only becomes more difficult when you add an opponent into the mix, especially when the opponent is unknown. Some cards are obviously better than others; Mirran Crusader, for example, is obviously good against decks with Tarmogoyf and Abrupt Decay. He’s not so great if they happen to be running True-Name Nemesis or Lightning Bolt, however, so you need to weigh this option with the rest of your hand should he be in it. Do you have a Stoneforge Mystic to find Sword of Fire and Ice? Or a Mother of Runes to keep your quarterback from becoming toast?
Do you have a Rishadan Port or a Wasteland? Generally speaking, these cards will find a use against any Legacy deck but, especially with Port, you need to decide how you will be using it and what role you’ll be playing. If you don’t have a Vial, for example, Ports become somewhat unappealing since you’ll be casting your cards.
This will be the most difficult part of mulliganing. Death and Taxes is all about planning your game; analyzing your resources, making judgments of what your opponent is trying to do and compensating to counter it. Generally speaking, however, these are some examples of good, okay and terrible hands:
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Aether Vial, Plains, Rishadan Port, Swords to Plowshares, Stoneforge Mystic, Mother of Runes
Congrats on winning the lottery! This is a stellar opener; you lead with Vial and, if it sticks, use your Port on the next turn, bringing in Mom, then Thalia, then Mystic. You have Swords to Plowshares, too, in case something scary comes into play on their side.
Plains, Karakas, Wasteland, Stoneforge Mystic, Phyrexian Revoker, Flickerwisp, Swords to Plowshares
This is a bit less than what we want, but not bad. Unless you know for certain that you are facing off against a fast deck like Storm, I’d say to keep this. You have removal and a good lock in Revoker, plus Wasteland and Stoneforge to tighten the screws on your opponent.
Karakas, Karakas, Flickerwisp, Wasteland, Mirran Crusader, Umezawa’s Jitte, Aether Vial
Even with a Vial I think I’d redraw this hand. No basics, no guaranteed plays off of said Vial until turn four and a complete lack of interaction with anything fast. Ship ones like this away.
Rishadan Port, Wasteland, Aether Vial, Mother of Runes, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Phyrexian Revoker
This is an example of a hand you may very well mulligan into. It has many good things: Aether Vial, Thalia and both Port and Wasteland. The lack of white sources—especially basics—makes it risky, however, as you rely on your Vial to cheat in your creatures (except Revoker) and whatever lands you may draw. Given that this is a mulligan, however, I am inclined to take the risk and play tight.
Execution in the Early Turns
Right from the very first turn, you should be thinking ahead. After you have a starting hand, you must be planning ahead: what cards play first, which you save for later, if you’ll be spending your game mostly turning off lands, if you’ll be committing to an aggressive strategy, et cetera.
Identifying your opponent from their early plays is crucial to playing this deck properly. The sooner you know what they are the sooner you’ll know what you should be deploying first, second and so on. While I cannot go into exhaustive detail of every possible matchup, I’ll cover some of the big ones you are to expect in the current meta. For a more developed resource, I highly recommend reading the opening post on the Death and Taxes thread, over at MTG Salvation.
Here are some common first turns to expect and how you should react if you are on the draw; all examples assume a hand that includes a Plains, a Port, a Vial, a Thalia and a Swords to Plowshares.
Verdant Catacombs > Underground Sea > Deathrite Shaman
Almost no doubt about it, you are playing against some kind of BUG deck. It could be BUG Delver, in which case you may have to play around Daze, or it could be a slower control deck like four-color Deathblade or Shardless BUG where you won’t. I think the proper turn one play here is to cast the Swords to Plowshares, targeting the Shaman—the utility and mana he provides ultimately nerfs our gameplan and sets them a turn ahead on mana when they untap. If they happen to counter the spell, you are open to play either Thalia or Vial next turn. Most BUG decks are an even-to-good matchup for you, so as long as you choke out their mana you should be fine (especially if you land a Crusader to beat face).
Volcanic Island > Delver of Secrets
We know we’re playing against some variety of Tempo here, a deck much like ours that is designed to suppress an opponent while attacking with creatures—though this archetypes starts swinging early, usually with Insectile Abomination, thanks to the multiple instants and sorceries in the deck. This start is fairly ambiguous; they could be RUG Delver, a classic Tempo deck that packs Stifle to counter the activation of fetchlands, which we fortunately do not run. We have plenty of other targets that Stifle can hit—both of Stoneforge‘s abilities, Vial activations and Mom’s protection ability to name a few. Fortunately, RUG is a deck we can quite handily crush—so long as we play tight and understand the opponent.
The other possible decks that could have this opener could be UWR Delver, a deck that runs Swords to Plowshares and Stoneforge over RUG’s Stifle and Tarmogoyf but is otherwise very similar, and UR Delver; basically a Burn deck with blue for Delver, Snapcaster Mage and Force of Will.
Against any of these, Plains > Vial is the first turn play. If they cast Daze, it does suck, but our priority is not to die when Delver flips next turn (and we should always assume he flips!), so we want to cast our Plowshares with the extra mana up from Port. It’s important to note that, unlike BUG Delver, UWR, UR and RUG have a much harder time fighting through Thalia’s static tax, so we want to slam her down early before they start casting their Ponders and Brainstorms to dig up more ways to sustain their tempo. If you are new to the deck, I very much suggest testing against RUG, especially if you have a friend who knows how to play the deck. It is an archetype that has been around for ages and can be very intimidating at first. Over time, you will learn how to dismantle their deck and find that it’s actually quite a good matchup!
Volcanic Island > Ponder
This is a tricky one to unpack. Could they be on a Delver deck with a slow start? Or is it UWR Miracles, a reactive control deck digging for a Counterbalance or Sensei’s Divining Top? Or could it be any number of combo decks, sculpting a killer hand?
You’ll find your answer on the next turn, probably. I think the proper opener is to play Vial and see if they respond; Miracles and Delver will try their damnedest to stop it, combo decks will shrug it off usually.
If they seem unperturbed, they are probably the latter, so it is important to drop Thalia next turn, especially if they seem to be some kind of Storm variant. If they don’t drop another land, however, Porting their Island is the safer call; the following turn you can Vial in Thalia and then the game really begins for you.
If they counter the Vial, however, you can be reasonably certain that they are on either a Delver deck or Miracles—the proof is even more evident depending on how they counter: Daze is definitely Delver, as is a Force of Will exiling a Stifle, Delver or Spell Snare; Force of Will exiling a Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Counterbalance or Counterspell is assuredly Miracles.
That’s about as much room as I can fill this week. If you want to join in a more current discussion, don’t be afraid to join us over at the Salvation; I use the handle Barbed Blightning. Next week we’ll be going over D&T’s mid-game, late-game and sideboarding—fun stuff!
Until then, keep taxing!
– JC Wilbur