In last week’s installment of Enlightened Tutor, J.C. Wilbur discussed how to go about things in the early game with Death & Taxes in the Legacy format. In his first article, he discussed the construction of his version of Death and Taxes and his card choices for the deck. This week, he will be discussing the mid-game and late-game. J.C. is an avid EDH and Legacy player who also has a brand new blog, Devastating Dreamer on WordPress. Enjoy!
“Enlightened Tutor: Finishing Them Off with Death and Taxes”
by J.C. Wilbur
Since we talked about the early game with D&T last week, this week I figured we should move on to the next logical step: the mid-game and the end-game. We’ll cover how we should be playing, when we should be attacking (the answer is definitely not every turn) and a few critical questions we should ask ourselves when playing D&T.
D&T’s power scales with the knowledge of its pilot; knowledge of the format is especially important. Keep in touch with the results from the SCG Opens and other Legacy events. Monitor the trending decks on sites like The Source or MTGTop8. Keep tabs on what other people are discussing, testing and cutting. The first step in creating this hostile environment is understanding what makes it hostile. Delver and Combo decks typically hate Thalia. Control decks with planeswalkers similarly dislike Phyrexian Revoker. Anything with removal in it despises Mother of Runes.
Knowledge is your greatest weapon. Legacy as a format is filled with ruthless predators, each deck designed such that every ounce of advantage is exploited to the maximum that it can be; your job is to understand how they do that and where to snare them in the process. Understanding how Delver players think versus Miracles players think, for example, will help you determine how best to lead them into a trap of your design.
To clarify what I am talking about: I was at the Seattle Open a year ago, playing against UWR Delver. He had a flipped Delver equipped with Umezawa’s Jitte which had two charge counters on it; honestly, it did not look good. Jitte is a card that can very much unravel everything you are trying to do, since it easily kills small creatures.
I had an AEther Vial with three counters and my own Jitte in play, but with nothing to equip it to. I drew a Flickerwisp and felt the impulse to Vial it in, resetting his Delver—but I didn’t. I passed. Predictably, he drew and skipped straight to attacking; again I felt the impulse and again I waited. I declared no blockers; he proceeded to use the first and second counters to buff the Delver, a 7/6 in total. I then activated Vial, flickered the Delver, and went to my turn, equipping my Jitte and seizing control of the game. In this instance, I understood how my opponent was going to behave—and not unreasonably so, given I had an empty board, a single card in hand and a pretty high life total—and chose to exploit the moment of weakness he gave me.
To finish this week’s installment off, I’ll include a few questions you should be asking yourself as you play the deck. While practice is necessary to become good with D&T, I hope that by asking yourself these questions as you play you’ll be able to get better at the deck much faster than I did.
Can I attack profitably? Will playing defensively hurt my game plan?
I bundle these two together because combat analysis is critical when your creatures also carry the burden keeping your deck a relevant element in the game and, generally speaking, understanding combat is a big part of playing “fair Legacy.” Much of understanding when to attack and when not to comes from understanding who is “the beatdown.” If are unfamiliar with the concept, you really should read Mike Flores’ somewhat aged (but still very much relevant) article of the same name.
Against Combo decks, such as Storm, the answer is pretty clear: you need to start beating them down, while laying the proper Locks. You are the control deck in this scenario, but your control is something they can answer eventually, so you must also control the amount of time they have to find their cards that will break them free—this means reducing their life total to zero. This means Thalia, Revoker and Ethersworn Canonist (from your sideboard) take priority over almost everything else—especially slower cards like Stoneforge Mystic or Mother of Runes.
The concept of time control I italicized above is a bit abstract at first, but time is something the D&T pilot should be aware of constantly. Your life points, and your opponent’s, aren’t actually that, you see—they’re units of time, a resource to be used, sacrificed and only protected if you think it is going to run out too quickly.
This becomes a bit harrier when you run into decks with creatures. Tempo decks, for example, are very much interested in making sure you have as little time as possible in the game. They achieve this by ensuring that their Delver of Secrets quickly turns into an Insectile Aberration and attacks with it, using cheap counterspells like Daze or Spell Pierce to protect it or other attackers like Tarmogoyf and using cards like Wasteland and Stifle to ensure that their opponent cannot pay the mana on the cheap counters, effectively making them akin to Counterspell for less mana. The earlier the game ends for Tempo, the better; this means their cheap spells stay powerful and cheap.
The solution for us is to be the control, then. The longer the game goes, the better it is for us and the worse it gets for Tempo. This means holding back on attacking early on, playing defensively and simply trying to find an out to a flipped Delver before you are finished off. Cards like Batterskull literally steal time for you from your opponent, while trading Serra Avenger for a Delver is considered a profitable combat move—you are never lacking for creatures while your garden variety Delver deck runs between ten and fourteen max. Thalia is also your best card against any Delver deck, as she makes their cheap spells over-priced and less effective as a result, as few spells are played in a turn. Once the initial onslaught has subsided, assume your dominate position with a Batterskull, an equipped creature with flying or named Mirran Crusader, and clean their clock.
Hairier still are the mid-range and control decks. Combat here is more about weighing the value of certain creatures. Are they willing to trade their Deathrite Shaman and Snapcaster Mage for your Thalia? Do you suspect they have removal, especially when you have an active Mother of Runes for combat profitability? Do you need to play the control or beatdown role more? The answer’s not something that can be summed up quickly; these will be the matches you’ll want the most practice against, since your roles will be changing rapidly, sometimes within the span of a single turn.
Aether Vial triggers on my upkeep; do I tick it up from two to three?
Missed Vial triggers were the bane of my early months with D&T. Put a die on top of your deck, make a note on your life total pad, whatever helps you the most. Missed triggers will lose you games.
“Ticking up” Aether Vial from one charge counter to two charge counters is something that should be done. However, ticking up to three counters is a difficult choice. D&T has a plethora of good creatures with a converted mana cost of two, most of which you really want to hit play through countermagic (especially killer cards like Thalia or Stoneforge Mystic). As a general rule of thumb, leave Vial at two counters unless:
1) You have a three-drop, like Flickerwisp or Mirran Crusader, in hand and it would be advantageous to have it in play. Note the advantageous part; there is no reason to glut up your board, especially against decks with Tundras in them, unless you have a definite reason to bring in a bigger threat.
2) You have another Vial that has, or will soon have, two counters on it.
3) It’s time to Shift.
That last statement was intentionally ambivalent. The “Shift,” as I call it, is akin to shifting from third to fourth gear in a car; you’ve reached highway speed with the deck and it is time to hit the finish line. To put it more conventionally, you are hitting your late-game when you commit the third counter. There is no predetermined turn on which you should Shift; it is different every game and is usually a gut feeling. I usually can look at a board and my hand and just know that it’s time, even if I don’t have a three-drop in my hand. In time, I’m sure you will, too.
Rishadan Port/Wasteland or a creature?
This is a question to be asking yourself early. If you have a Vial out, you always use Wasteland or Port (preferably Port) while using Vial to land your creatures. Without Vial it becomes a question of matchup. If you suspect Daze, play conservatively — wait until you have the extra mana and screw them off a color if you can.
I think I’m playing against X. How can I tell? If it is X, what can Revoker turn off? What’s my best card against them? How should I be playing?
Ask yourself these questions often. Scrutinize your plays, analyze your opponent’s. Remember, your knowledge is what makes D&T fearsome—so make sure you’re always a few steps ahead!
That’s it for this week; next week, we’ll delve into the sideboard (for real this time!) and explore some of the Silver Bullets you should be packing. Until then, keep taxing!
– J.C. Wilbur