Category: Legacy Format

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

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

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