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Through the Looking Glass: Death & Taxes with Phillip Gallagher

Special Guest

A few words on Phillip Gallagher (@MangaraLock):

Phil Gallagher is a Death & Taxes (D&T) specialist, though he’s expanded his range quite a bit since he started streaming last year. He’s had a number of good finishes with D&T, including 59th at GP:Richmond and 48th at GP: Louisville. He enjoys making Legacy content, and has been involved with many cooperative projects ranging from podcasts to the Legacy Premier League. He pays the bills by teaching Latin in Roanoke, VA, and fills most of the rest of his time with other nerdy hobbies.
In general, how do you feel about the Death & Taxes versus The EPIC Storm match-up?
Does it feel better or worse than Ad Nauseam Tendrils?
The EPIC Storm (TES) is certainly favored in the matchup. Historically, Death & Taxes (D&T) has always struggled with fast combo decks since it doesn’t have free or inexpensive interactive/disruptive spells. Our hate comes online starting on turn two. Unfortunately, this is often too slow against TES, especially when they are on the play. Even if TES doesn’t technically win the game on turn one or two, an early army of Goblins is often good enough to get the job done. Even when you keep a hand with a good hate bear, a single Thoughtseize often punches an insurmountable hole in your game-plan.

Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT) on the other hand, is more of an even matchup. They take a touch longer to set up and go off, giving you more opportunities to deploy relevant cards. One of the big advantages of playing TES is that you can go under many pieces of hate. While TES can often kill me before I deploy a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, ANT is often forced to try and win through it.
Everyone knows that Death & Taxes game-plan for game one is to mulligan for Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, can you tell us what a seven card hand without Thalia, Guardian of Thraben might look like if it were a keep?
Most of the time when I keep a 7 card, non-Thalia, Guardian of Thraben hand against TES, I do not know that I am playing against TES. When playing on MTGO, you have the luxury of doing a quick search to see what your opponent tends to play. When you sit down against Bryant Cook, you know what’s up. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case most of the time you play this matchup. D&T often gets caught with its metaphorical pants down, and the game ends. D&T has many hands that are great against slower, more fair decks; these hands just fold to TES. A major strength of playing TES is that you can take advantage of situations like this.

If you know you’re playing against TES in game one though, a redundant hand with three or more relevant cards is fine and probably not worth mulliganing. Consider a hand with three lands, two Phyrexian Revokers, a Stoneforge Mystic, and a Sanctum Prelate. Even though each one of these cards is not particularly amazing, together they can severely hamper your opponent’s ability to win. I’ll also often keep something like Recruiter of the Guard, AEther Vial, relevant two drop creature, three lands, and one other card. Hands like this let you play a speed bump on turn two, cast Recruiter of the Guard on turn three, and then AEther Vial in a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

You don’t want to keep a 7 card, non-Thalia, Guardian of Thraben hand with only one hate card in most cases. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is so much better than any other card in your deck that it’s really worth shipping mediocre hands to find one. You also don’t want to get your one piece of interaction Thoughtseized and be left with a hand of Mirran Crusaders and Flickerwisps.
If you can lead on Mother of Runes or AEther Vial, which do you lead on vs. The EPIC Storm? Why?
Like any situation, context is key. In game one, I tend to lead on AEther Vial. If you somehow don’t die, the upside is huge, and your opponent has to jump through some hoops to remove a creature. In post-sideboard games, I need to evaluate my hand before making that decision. You should expect your opponent to have some removal spell like Chain of Vapor, and sometimes you can play around this. If you play out the AEther Vial, you sometimes will give your opponent a one turn window to bounce an unprotected hate card and then go off; this is more of a concern when they are on the play. AEther Vial will usually be the higher upside play, but comes with some degree of risk.
Once you’ve landed a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, what are some ways you try to keep the storm pilot locked down?
Once you have the first lock piece in place, you try to slowly start eliminating your opponent’s outs. A follow up Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull can hamper your opponent’s ability to try to get there with a small, awkward Empty the Warrens. A follow up Sanctum Prelate on 2 can stop a Burning Wish for a removal spell. Rishadan Port and Wasteland can limit your opponent's ability to do, well, anything when coupled with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. A follow up disruptive play is going to be better than shortening your clock by playing a beater like Mirran Crusader.
How heavily do you weigh Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull in the match-up?
Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull is conceptually good, but often times it is not match-winning. This sweet website already has a great page on the math of Batterskull against Goblins, so I won’t reiterate all that here. » Check it out

When you go for the Stoneforge Mystic line, you can still easily just die to a Tendrils of Agony kill. You can also just get destroyed by a discard spell that takes your Batterskull. Accordingly, Stoneforge Mystic is sort of a “B” tier card in this matchup. It’s clearly better than your generic beaters, but it’s usually not taking a game down on its own.
How do you value non-Batterskull equipment in the match-up?
What are the best ways to gain advantage from them?
Umezawa's Jitte and Sword of Fire and Ice are very slow to connect and quite mana intensive. You usually have better things to be doing with your mana in the early-to-mid stages of the game. I tend to consider them dead cards unless I am already ahead quite a bit. In the late game, putting a Sword of Fire and Ice on Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can remove many of your opponent’s outs to an already bad situation; Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is effectively protected from Grapeshot, Massacre, Echoing Truth, and Chain of Vapor once that happens! Umezawa's Jitte is pretty weak, but occasionally you can put it on a creature with vigilance and race a bunch of Goblins.
What are your thoughts on Sanctum Prelate as well as other three mana hate-bears vs. The EPIC Storm?
Three mana cards are not initial hate pieces against TES. You cannot rely on these cards to win the game and should not keep an opening hand based on their power. They are a follow up punch once you’ve already disrupted your opponent once. Cards like Sanctum Prelate and Vryn Wingmare are great against TES...if you can get them in play. That’s a big if though.
How much do Wasteland and Rishadan Port influence your mulligan decisions?
These cards can change the texture of a hand, but they aren’t particularly important or relevant. TES can go off quickly and from limited resources, so you rarely cripple them for a prolonged period by attacking a single land. These cards are best when combined with a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or AEther Vial start. Of note, these cards don’t cast white spells; I know that’s stupid to say, but in a matchup where you cannot spend a single turn stumbling, you sometimes have to throw back hands with no initial white sources.
What are context clues you use to decipher what to name with Phyrexian Revoker?
Is there a default card you name?
I default to naming Lion's Eye Diamond. Disrupting the synergy with Infernal Tutor can make life much harder for your opponent, forcing them to take a Burning Wish line instead. If you suspect or know that your opponent doesn’t have an initial mana source available though, naming Chrome Mox or Lotus Petal can be huge upside plays. That being said, I don’t tend to pass up on guaranteed hits if my opponent has shown me a card. If my opponent leads on a Chrome Mox on turn 1, I’m very likely to "Revoke" that over Lion's Eye Diamond given the chance.
What’re your thoughts on Chalice of the Void of the Death & Taxes sideboard?
If you do play it, how do you use it?
I popularized Chalice of the Void in the sideboard of D&T. Sorry TES-lovers, that one is my fault! I started playing it around GP:Richmond as a card that can come in both for control and combo matchups. It is an awkward card in this shell, but a very powerful one that really swings a few matchups. Generally when you play Chalice of the Void in post-sideboard games, you’re cutting or trimming Swords to Plowshares and Mother of Runes. This leaves AEther Vial as really the only card that is impacted by your Chalice of the Voids. Given that you’d love to curve turn 1 Vial into turn 2 Chalice of the Void, this isn’t so bad.

In this matchup specifically, this card is a card with two uses. You can either play it on X=0 on turn one as a speed bump (shutting off artifact mana) or on X=1 on turn two as an impactful hate card (stopping cantrips, rituals, and discard). It is noticeably better to play this card on 1, but sometimes just having any piece of turn one interaction matters. This is one of the few cards that allows you to play an impactful card both on turn 1 and 2.
What does your overall sideboard plan entail?
Unfortunately, D&T doesn’t have too many great cards to bring in for this matchup, and we have a bunch of dead or weak main deck cards. This often results in bringing in some cards that are not ideal, but are probably better than the main deck options. I start by cutting Swords to Plowshares and Palace Jailer. I then usually trim my Umezawa's Jitte and a couple of the flex-slot creatures if I have more cards to bring in. Sorry, Mirran Crusader, this isn’t really your time to shine! Traditional D&T boards have Ethersworn Canonist or Chalice of the Void, not both, as they complete for the same slots. Sanctum Prelate is pretty common in the board as well. After that, there are just a couple of relevant, but weak cards to consider: Leonin Relic-Warder and Surgical Extraction. It’s rare that either of these cards really does want you want, but they occasionally steal a game. I don’t really advocate boarding in Rest in Peace; it’s slow and graveyard hate is not particularly impactful. Surgical Extraction is pretty sketchy, but it gets the pass for being a piece of turn 1 interaction. Yes, we really are that desperate.
How do you feel about “sweeper” effects in Death & Taxes such as Orzhov Pontiff or Sudden Demise out of the sideboard?
I’ve never been a huge fan of either of these cards. They end up being quite difficult to cast on curve. If you are playing these cards, you really want to cast them as soon as possible in many matchups. If you can’t cast one of these by turn 3, the Goblins will already have eaten you alive. I see some people trying to splash an Orzhov Pontiff off of two Cavern of Souls and I just shake my head at that degree of greed. Similarly, the red splash builds tend to lean heavily on Cavern of Souls for fixing, so there are very few true red sources in the deck that can cast Sudden Demise. I actually had someone write an article on the math behind splashing cards in D&T. It’s here if you are interested in the details.
If you are able to cast either Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Ethersworn Canonist on turn two, which do you choose? Why?
I lead on Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. I’m sure I’m beating a dead horse at this point, but it’s just the best card in the matchup. If your opponent has a bounce spell or other answer, Thalia taxes it and costs them an extra mana. Ethersworn Canonist also loses to a few more things. For example, your opponent can just spend one mana to Chain of Vapor it and then go off. It’s much harder for the TES player to answer Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in one turn and go off. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben has a greater chance of dragging the game on, and your win percentage goes up as the turn counter ticks up.
Are there any shout-outs, plugs, or other general miscellaneous things you would like to say or share?
If you are interested in more of what “The Dean” has to say about Death & Taxes (D&T), check out Thraben University. Fun fact: Much of the inspiration for my own website came from what Bryant Cook was doing for The EPIC Storm on this very website. If you’re looking for some sweet Legacy video content, you catch catch me live on Twitch.tv every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday; if that doesn’t work for you, the videos always end up on YouTube. The stream is a mix of everything Legacy has to offer, so even if you hate Thalia, you might still find it amusing. Really though, how can you hate Thalia? Praise be.

I would like to take a moment to thank “The Dean” aka Phillip Gallagher for joining Through the Looking Glass and providing some spectacular responses on the Death & Taxes versus The EPIC Storm match-up.

Until next time, keep storming!


Bryant Cook

Bryant Cook has one Grand Prix Top 8 as well as nine Star City Games Top 8s (two wins). You can often find him traveling the northeast in search for the next big event, he recently won a Legacy Challenge and is the Legacy Premier League Season 3 Champion! Bryant is also a host of The Eternal Glory Podcast, as well as a Web Designer, Mets Fan, and general nerd.