Rax Dillon had a great run at the SCG Team Open last weekend and offered to write up his experience. The content that follows is theirs, though I’ve done a bit of editing here and there. -Phil
Hi, everyone, my name is Rax Dillon and I’m a periodic grinder whose best format is Modern. I’ve cashed a couple of GPs, but but this my first big top 8. I love Legacy and have been playing for a few years, but haven’t been able to make weeknight events for a while because of having a young child. These days I mostly get my Legacy games in casually and at GP side events. I fell in love with Death and Taxes around six months ago, and have been learning the deck since then. This past weekend, I (with my teammates Kenny and Kevin, center and right below) made top 8 of the SCG Worcester Team Open playing Death & Taxes in Legacy. We went 11-3-1, locking the third seed with an ID in the final round, and then lost in the top 8. My personal record was 8-4-1 with two matches that didn’t conclude before the round was decided for our team.
I’m only going to talk about the Legacy portion of the event since the Standard and Modern decks we played, Grixis and Burn, weren’t anything like Death and Taxes, and I know almost nothing about current Standard.
To summarize my experience playing 15 rounds of competitive D&T:
- Brightling is the truth. Every one of its modes is relevant in the deck: vigilance for double-triggering Jitte, lifelink for winning races, bouncing for fizzling removal spells or preventing Jitte from triggering, and +1/-1 for finessing races and creature combat. That said, it’s still just one card; the supporting context of other cards in D&T like Aether Vial and Mother of Runes is what really makes it powerful for us and dangerous for our opponents.
- If any graveyard decks — Reanimator and Dredge being what I was afraid of in particular — showed up, they weren’t at the top tables day one, and they weren’t in Day 2 at all.
- The format is open, but it didn’t feel that open at this tournament, perhaps because the metagame hasn’t adjusted yet. I did see some blue decks making interesting card choices, but nothing that felt way out of left field.
- Don’t bother with Sword of Light and Shadow. I played it because I think it’s marginally better than Sword of War and Peace both against Miracles and in the mirror, and I don’t think it’s worth it overall.
- Remorseful Cleric is… fine? I’m not sure we need two in the main if the graveyard decks aren’t showing up in paper.
My list is very close to what Phil’s been playing online. Where my testing list and his diverged, I went with his unless I had a compelling reason not to, because I watched him play more post-ban matches than I played myself. This is what I played:
Most of this is pretty standard. A couple of notes:
- I cut my maindeck Sanctum Prelate for a 24th land when I added the second Brightling. I think that’s right, but I really miss the Prelate.
- I occasionally miss having Cavern of Souls, but with Brightling, I think I would miss guaranteed white mana more.
- Phyrexian Revokers is basically a 2/1 for 2 that grows Tarmogoyf against RUG Delver.
- I haven’t been impressed with Sword of War and Peace, and that’s why I’ve been trying Light and Shadow. I’m not really that impressed with SoLaS either.
- Some of the testing I did get in was against graveyard decks, and Faerie Macabre not being hit by Duress seemed very helpful against the specific Reanimator list I played against. I probably overrated this influence.
Round 1: 2-0 vs Charbelcher Storm w/ Land Grant
The die roll may well have determined this game — I led on Plains and Aether Vial on the play, and my opponent made twelve goblins on turn 1. Stoneforge fetched a Batterskull and the lifelink swung the race in my favor. Game two he tried to go the Charbelcher route and I was able to go get Leonin Relic-Warder before he could activate.
Editor’s Note: Bryant Cook has a great table of the number of Goblins required to beat Batterskull here Indeed, Rax likely would have lost game one if he lost the die roll, as only 10 Goblins are required on the play.
Round 2: 2-1 vs Miracles
My opponent was on a heavy Monastery Mentor list with Back to Basics. This is the only match where Sword of Light and Shadow did significant work for me; I recurred Flickerwisps over and over again and eventually played through four Terminus and three Swords to Plowshares in game 3. Remorseful Cleric blew out a Snapcaster Mage once, turning what would have been a Swords to Plowshares on my best creature into having Cleric in the yard instead.
Round 3: 2-0 vs. Miracles
Game one I rode an early Batterskull to victory because my opponent couldn’t find the right cards to interact with it. Game two, my opponent got stuck on white mana and I had the mana denial with Rishadan Port and Thalia to keep him from doing much of anything.
Round 4: 1-1-1 vs. RUG Delver
One game I got Delvered out. One game I Brightlinged him out. We started shuffling up for game three and the match was over. I might have been able to sequence the first game better in order to force the Delver that got through seven times to trade with a Remorseful Cleric; it ended up getting double-bolted to play through Mother of Runes. The flying is very valuable.
Round 5: 2-1 vs. Red Prison
Game one I did Thalia things, but games two and three were really interesting.
In game two my opponent had three Ensnaring Bridges in play. I used Brightling, Mother of Runes, and Umezawa’s Jitte to push damage though and avoid the sea of Goblin Rabblemaster tokens that couldn’t attack. He was using Chandra, Torch of Defiance to deal slow damage, but it looked like I would be able to race… then I decided to use my Jitte counters to kill Pia and Kieran Nalaar and their Thopters so he wouldn’t just throw a bunch of Chalices and Chrome Moxen at my face. I do think it was necessary to stop the Thopters from chumping and then being sacrificed, because then I couldn’t get more counters or gain life, but giving up all of my Jitte counters really hampered my plan here. My opponent slammed a Karn and started making constructs, which I had no way to stop from blocking my attackers, and they were big enough to protect Chandra through to an ultimate.
Game three he came out with a turn one Goblin Rabblemaster off of Ancient Tomb and Chrome Mox and immediately applied a lot of pressure to my life total; however, I had a turn 1 Aether Vial and a good set of creatures, including Brightling, to use with it. I had the read on my opponent having a Fiery Confluence, and so I ended up vialing in a Brightling to block and gain life even though it would leave me tapped out, and leave Brightling vulnerable, because doing so was the only way to stay at 7 life. Surprisingly, my opponent did not make the choice to wipe the board after this, despite having three goblin tokens to my Brightling and Stoneforge Mystic, and instead used his mana on an Ensnaring Bridge. I dropped Leonin Relic-Warder, targeted Bridge, held priority, and Flickerwisped it. This allowed me to permanently exile the Bridge and also take out a Chrome Mox when the Relic-Warder came back. This protected me from Fiery Confluence for the turn I needed to gain more life with Brightling to stabilize.
This matchup made me really appreciate Brightling, and really want a second Leonin Relic-Warder.
Round 6: 0-1-1 versus Goblins
I haven’t tested at all against Goblins. In game one I was reading cards and generally getting overrun by a combination of Goblins card advantage and avoidable mistakes. Turns out you can Karakas bounce Krenko while it has summoning sickness…which is not obvious when Krenko is in Japanese. I should have asked for Oracle text. While I was sideboarding, I discovered that my Modern teammate (who won quickly) had won an SCG Open with Goblins in 2012, and he started both excitedly geeking out about Goblins and helping me make the best choices in the matchup. Sword of Fire and Ice was very good in game two, and I was favored to win when the match ended, but I don’t think my odds of winning a game three were great.
Sword of War and Peace would have been good here, while Sword of Light and Shadow did not even merit consideration. I think it’s important to test this matchup moving forward.
Round 7: 2-1 versus Infect
This was our camera feature match, but unfortunately they didn’t show Legacy at all, which is too bad because there were some interesting plays here. I don’t know what number is best to put Sanctum Prelate on in this matchup, or how to determine on a case by case basis, but here’s one decision I made and how it went:
In game three, I had to make the choice between preventing double Invigorate and Dismember by choosing 3 OR cutting off Berserk, cantrips, and other spells by choosing 1 — but also cutting off my own Swords to Plowshares. I chose 1, with Flickerwisp in hand and a vial on 3 in case I wanted to reset, and my opponent cast a Blighted Agent and attacked with Noble Hierarch, turning into a 1/2 with exalted, into my 2/2 Sanctum Prelate. I blocked, my opponent invigorated the Hierarch, I vialed in Flickerwisp and exiled Sanctum Prelate, my opponent Brainstormed, I responded to Brainstorm by Plowing the Blighted Agent, and then I put the Prelate back on 1. That line won me this match, but I wonder if I should have been safe and just taken the Hierarch beats.
Round 8: 1-2 vs. Sneak and Show
I lost game one to Omniscience. I won game two on the back of two Rishadan Ports. I then lost game three to a Lotus Petal, Ancient Tomb, Sneak Attack line; to be fair, I left myself open to this by playing a beater instead of leaving up Rishadan Port against an Island and Scalding Tarn up.
This is another matchup where I missed Sword of War and Peace.
Round 9: 0-2 vs. Grixis Control
Hymn to Tourach did a tremendous amount of work here, but my opponent also outplayed me, especially navigating a complex boardstate where I had two Brightlings and he had two Gurmag Anglers (along with two Baleful Strix). I was hurting for mana to bounce and recast Brightlings every turn, so I decided to simplify by trading a Brightling for a Gurmag Angler, but my opponent accurately predicted when I would choose this line and walked me into a series of spells that took out the other Brightling. This was our first team loss, and we went into day two as top seeds at 8-1.
Round 10: 0-2 vs. TES (The Epic Storm)
This matchup is very bad, and I lost both games quickly. Game two I had a six-card hand with Rest in Peace and Ethersworn Canonist, but my opponent had the turn one Thoughtseize to take the Canonist, and Rest in Peace didn’t do much. My opponent helpfully pointed out that Rest in Peace is much weaker against Rite of Flame decks; it cuts off one angle, but the deck often wins without Past in Flames. It’s possible even weaker creatures are better if they reduce the number of cards that Ad Nauseam gets to look at.
Round 11: 1-2 vs. RUG Delver
I had to automatically mulligan my first hand in game one because I had sideboard cards in my deck, which I mention as a reminder to always check that, even when you think you’ve already checked that. (I had my sideboard laid out to discuss with my round 10 opponent, but put the wrong pile back into my maindeck.) This unforced error possibly cost me the match. Game two I won with Brightling (this is a theme of many of my games against RUG Delver). Game three I had a Brightling active and stayed alive for a long time, but drew three Aether Vials in a row and was unable to support the Brightling against a go-wide strategy.
Brightling is great, but it doesn’t actually win games completely alone; it needs the supporting cards in the deck to give it the context to use its flexibility.
Round 12: 2-0 vs. Jeskai … Delver Stoneblade Control?
My opponent’s deck was very interesting, playing Delver, a Stoneforge package, True-Name Nemesis, Snapcaster Mage, and… Dack Fayden? If this is a known archetype, it’s not one I’ve run into before. I don’t know if D&T is particularly favored, but when we ended up with dueling Jittes in game two, I had more creatures than my opponent and was able to prevent his Jitte from staying equipped long enough to deal damage.
Round 13: 2-0 vs. RUG Delver
This time Brightling got the support she needed from Mother of Runes and Thalia and I was able to win easily.
Round 14: 2-0 vs. Sultai Control (Shardless-less BUG?)
My opponent’s deck, which played Noble Hierarch, Tarmogoyf, Liliana the Last Hope, True-Name Nemesis, Leovold, Jace, and lots of Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay was quite scary because of its ability to power out cards that could answer many things in my deck at once. Remorseful Cleric was quite good here, and my opponent didn’t have Hymn to Tourach; this allowed me to gain advantage with equipment and close game one with Brightling and game two with Mirran Crusader. Liliana, the Last Hope remains very scary; it ticks up while killing a sizable portion of D&T’s creatures. This win allowed our team to draw into top 8.
Round 15: Intentional Draw
Top 8: 1-2 vs. RUG Delver (opponent from Round 13)
Game one I kept a hand with two Plains, three Mother of Runes, and a Thalia; my opponent had Force of Will for the second and third Moms, but that put him way behind on resources and I was able to get there with Recruiter of the Guard and Flickerwisp.
Game two my opening hand was Port, Vial, five creatures on the draw, and I decided to mulligan because getting the Vial countered would leave me unable to do anything. Unfortunately my six was literally six plains, and my five-card hand was Vial, Swords, Mom, Vial, Thalia. I scried a third Aether Vial to the bottom, kept, and still almost got there. I eventually couldn’t answer a Delver and died. It’s possible I should have gone to four, but having slept on it, I would keep this hand again.
I would probably mulligan my game three hand, though, of Recruiter of the Guard, Flickerwisp, and five lands. I had Port and Wasteland and was on the play, but my opponent went T1 Delver, T2 Delver, T3 Mongoose Mongoose, and had the Force of Will for my Flickerwisp. RUG Delver is probably a good matchup, but their T1 Delver hands are incredibly powerful, and I was too afraid of mulliganing based on the previous game and left myself open to getting run over.
What I Would Do If I Were Playing This Same Event Tomorrow
If I didn’t get to do any testing but got to have the experience of already having played in the event, I would make three sideboard changes:
- Sword of War and Peace in, Sword of Light and Shadow out. I’m higher on SoLaS and lower on SoWaP than most people. I know that in theory getting things back from the yard is bad against exiling removal, but in practice I find I often have things I want to Raise Dead. That being said, with the matchups I faced, I would still rather have SoWaP.
- Leonin Relic-Warder in, 1st Faerie Macabre out. There are a lot of targets for the Relic-Warder, including other Stoneforge Mystic decks, Mono-red Prison decks, and Sneak and Show. It’s also a 2/2, and seeing lots of effects that give -1 toughness to my creatures in my sideboard makes me want to find ways to play incidental creatures with 2 toughness.
- Surgical Extraction in, 2nd Faerie Macabre out. I never faced Dredge or Reanimator, but they were running around day 1, and Lands is also a concern (and Extraction is better against Loam decks). Leaving one piece of hate beyond Rest in Peace in the board seems wise.
Other than that, I’m quite happy with my list for the weekend. This is what I’d bring if I were playing in Philly.
Things To Try In The Future
Since I’m not playing in another major event for a while, I’m going to try a few things that are a bit further afield in the next few weeks.
I’m particularly interested in the 24th land. I know the white sources are important for Brightling, but I did flood out a bit more than I’m used to. Two Brightling in the main is not so many that I see them every game. Cavern of Souls would be nice to have on turn 1 or 2 to protect against Daze, but there are so many creature types in the deck at this point that it might only get to tap for white once. I don’t like the life loss from Horizon Canopy, but the cycling does help with flood. I am interested in Mishra’s Factory as a land that can attack, block, and (in a pinch) wear equipment after a Terminus. I might also try Ghost Quarter, since against RUG Delver it’s a fifth Wasteland. The issue is that all of these options are also bad against Blood Moon, so I’m not sure I’ll stick with any of these.
I miss Sanctum Prelate in the main, and miss having access to two post-board, but I’m not sure where to make a slot for it. If the graveyard decks stay away, maybe one Remorseful Cleric is enough, and it’s possible to grab a slot there? Cutting X/1s is appealing. I could also cut one of the beaters, maybe by moving the Mirran Crusader to the third Brightling slot in the board? That would leave me with only Flickerwisp as a searchable beater, which feels loose. Against the decks I happened to play I could honestly cut a Phyrexian Revoker and be happy, but I’m pretty sure that’s a bad idea unless I start seeing a very high percentage of RUG Delver.
I also want to play with some sideboard slots. I cut Containment Priest a couple of months ago and mostly haven’t missed it, but it’s a 2/2 that’s good against Sneak and Show while also offering permanent exile shenanigans when combined with Flickerwisp. If I want more exile shenanigans, Mangara of Corondor is an option. I’ve seen people playing Manriki-Gusari and though I’m not personally that worried about the equipment matchups right now, I would like to try it and see how much it swings those matchups.
Writing a report like this was an opportunity to share what I have learned and also a chance to learn more about my thoughts by organizing them. I’m always happy to talk about the deck on the Death & Taxes Discord (the invite code is EqTF7y5), on Twitter as @raxvulpine, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.