Death and Taxes looks a lot like white weenie to the casual observer. In reality, D&T is a creature-based control deck that focuses on invalidating the opposing deck. The goal is to aggressively land creatures while creating a difficult time for the opponent to execute their game plan. It's been about 2 and a half years since I reviewed Death and Taxes, and a lot has changed in that time frame. We've had Gitaxian Probe banned, and that has caused us to play fewer copies of Cabal Therapy. Gitaxian Probe was great in this matchup giving us the speed and consistency to combo off in the first turns of the game, and giving us the information we needed on how fast we had to go, as well as which hate bears we had to try to beat and if they had any land disruption, like Wasteland and Rishadan Port. We win or lose games based on how we fetch or the order we play our lands and that information was crucial. Death and Taxes also received a few toys over the past couple of years. With the upcoming set, there has been some hype around new cards that could go into the deck. How will these potential changes affect the matchup if they see play? And how has the matchup changed since the banning of Gitaxian Probe? There is a lot to delve into here. With the new set, we can't just consider what cards we could play, but also what could be played against us.
How does Death & Taxes matchup against TES?
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Ethersworn Canonist - These are the cards that make turn two the critical turn. These cards will require an answer as it is very unlikely to win with one of these in play. Thankfully we have Thoughtseize and plenty of answers if they were to resolve, but once resolved it will more than likely slow us down by a turn or two as we try and answer them.
Wasteland, Rishadan Port - Beating these type of cards is going to be more about your skill in legacy, and not so much about the matchup in particular. Some hints to beating these cards are fetching the basic lands if you can afford to. That is why it is there, but not all hands allow you to do this, so making this evaluation of when you can afford to will be key in beating Wasteland in all matchups that have it. Rishadan Port is less good and easier to beat because if the opponent is porting us then they aren’t playing any hate creatures and that is good for us. We can also afford to leave fetch lands untapped until the time we are going off to nullify Rishadan Port It can still be an effective form of disruption if we keep a land light hand or when combining it with Wasteland.
Stoneforge Mystic, Umezawa's Jitte, Batterskull - This combination of cards allow Death and Taxes to win through an Empty the Warrens. They don't have to go wide with several creatures. They can just use these pieces of equipment to gain enough life to avoid dying. This is another reason that turn 2 is crucial. If we haven't cast Empty the Warrens before turn 3 then it gets much worse.
Karn, the Great Creator, Teyo, the Shieldmage, Tomik, Distinguished Advokist - These are all the new cards that will be coming out in War of the Spark. I'm not sure if any or all will see play. It's very hard to tell and evaluating cards for eternal formats. The bar is extremely high for a new card to make it into Legacy, but the first-week people enjoy trying out new cards and seeing what happens. I expect Death and Taxes to at least try out Tomik, Distinguished Advokist. Thankfully it's not that relevant against us, but it definitely impacts other major legacy decks, like Lands. The other cards can be effective against Storm, but the problem is their mana cost. They are too high converted mana cost to be cast or good enough for Legacy, in my opinion, unless they are playing something like Ancient Tomb to help cast them sooner. If they do get played then at least we are already bringing in bounce spells against them. This is what makes bounce spells so good. No matter what hate permanents the opponent could have we always have access to a catch-all, so even if we get surprised by a card there's still an answer in our deck. It's always good to evaluate other cards and how they may impact us. I think this set the chances are low of Death and Taxes getting better hate permanent than what they already have, but the first week don't be too surprised if you play against any of these random cards. People will be playtesting new cards.
- 4 Burning Wish
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Thoughtseize
- 2 Duress
- 2 Cabal Therapy
- 1 Empty the Warrens
- 1 Ad Nauseam
Ways to win this matchup
Killing Them and Our Game Plan
TES is a very fast deck and that is one of the strengths and reasons for playing this deck, and we are consistent at it. We can easily win games on the first or second turn without any opponent interaction. Thankfully, against Death and Taxes, there isn't much interaction they can have on the first turn. If we are on the play that gives us two turns of freedom before they start playing cards that matter. I always try to go under them and winning on these crucial turns, because then it doesn't matter how scary or how many hate cards the opponent has in hand if they can't cast them. Now, we don't always get these great hands, and we aren't on the play every game, so the average critical turns in this matchup are two and three for both players. As important as it is for us to win early it is equally important to make sure they have cards that they can play that interact with us early. What we do during these early turns of the game will dictate the outcome. If we play or fetch the wrong land, if we keep a slow hand, or if we choose not to go for an early Empty the Warrens and wait for a Tendrils of Agony kill, all of these little decisions can cause us to lose by the opponent punishing us. They can do this with cards like Wasteland or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or using Rishadan Port in combination with another taxing effect to lock us out of the game. Our key to winning here is to be fast and prioritize playing basics out first. In the post-board games these rules are amplified because there will be more hatebears coming in for the opponent, and the chance of one coming down on turn 2or 3 is almost guaranteed. We need to be able to combo under that or have some type of answer for their creature. We need to be mulliganing aggressively to try and assemble a hand that fits that description. A bunch of mana paired with a tutor is good enough!
On the draw:
On the draw Ponder is the exact opposite of what we want to be doing. This is a matchup all about speed and sitting casting cantrips does not accomplish that goal. We should be trying to combo off or play a Thoughtseize on the first turn of the game to discard a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Duress is the worst card in our deck by far. They have so few spells for us to be concerned about. I also bring in the whole bounce spell suite because there are some games where we get a slower draw and are not able to win right away. We may need to use a bounce spell on a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Ethersworn Canonist before trying to combo off.
On the play:
On the play, Ponder is a little bit better than on the draw. It still isn't great, but since we get the first two turns of the game to try to win before a hate bear comes down it gives us a perfect window to cast a Ponder on turn one to set up for a turn two kill. I'd much rather lead with a turn one Ponder to set up a win than a turn one discard spell and trying to be reactive. Again the bounce spells still come in because we may be slower, and because they are better than Duress.
I lose the die roll and am put on the draw. I have a decent hand where I just need a little more mana spells to be able to cast an early Empty the Warrens and I have fetches to be able to search out my basic lands. My opponent plays a Stoneforge Mystic on their second turn of the game searching for a Sword of Fire and Ice. On my third turn I can cast Empty the Warrens for 12 goblins, but unfortunately, because of an earlier discard spell, I know my opponent has a second copy of Stoneforge Mystic in hand. There is also an AEther Vial in play which would allow them to put it in play and retrieve a Batterskull. With the Stoneforge Mystic that isn't summoning sick, they can put it into play at instant speed. There's no way 12 goblins is beating this. I need to wait.
My opponent does exactly what I predicted above. On their main phase, they use a Stoneforge Mystic to put it and then equip the Sword of Fire and Ice and attack me with both remaining creatures. This takes me down to 7 life...looking rough. On my draw step, I draw the Empty the Warrens. I think for a couple of minutes and then eventually concede.
I just needed a little more help. Another discard spell, a Lion's Eye Diamond or something. Just wasn't quite enough. This was one of those games where the opponent had to do very little to win, but Empty the Warrens isn't always great here.
I sideboard exactly how listed above and take the play. I lead off with a turn one Ponder looking to set up a turn two kill before some type of hate bear comes down on my opponent's second turn. They play an AEther Vial and it's back to me. Thanks to the Ponder doing its job I am able to stack two artifacts on top of my library and have drawn them both, and am now able to Infernal Tutor for Ad Nauseam.
Onto the third game. This time on the draw and I keep my opening 7. I have some mana and a Burning Wish, but I am just a little short of being able to search and cast Empty the Warrens. I need some luck really fast in case my opponent has a turn two Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. I cross my fingers and take my draw step. It's Lion's Eye Diamond!!!! Wow, sometimes you're just the smarter player.
Obviously, the perfect draw. I am now able to Burning Wish for Empty the Warrens. I go for that line and make 16 goblins. My opponent had a pretty good counter to that by playing a second turn Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull, but unfortunately, I had too many goblins and they came a little too early to stop.
This match and game turned out exactly how I drew it up. I had a game plan and the example match was a perfect execution of it. There was definitely a lot of luck involved, but it panned out. In games two and three the opponent could have easily had 4 hate bears in their hand, but it just didn't matter. We were able to win before they were castable. Game two was also a great example of why we keep Ponder in on the play. Sometimes I still do on the draw as well. I want to be able to set up on turn one and then combo off on turn two before they can get two lands in play. That was the game plan and that's exactly what happened. This is the reason why we have a strategy and a game plan and understand what the critical turns of a matchup are because it dictates how we mentally play a game, and also how we sideboard to reflect that strategy. Hopefully, I demonstrated that throughout this article, and until next time, I wish you the best of luck in your own testing!