Interview with Josh Willey

Josh Willey recently top 4’d the Team Open in Columbus playing D&T. He contacted me asking to do an article for Thraben University, and that resulted in today’s interview! The content that follows is his, though I’ve done some editing for clarity and such.

Why did you choose D&T for the Columbus Team Open? Was this a deck you’ve played for a long time or a deck you picked up specifically for this event?

I have been playing Death and Taxes for three years, and it is by far the deck I am most comfortable with in Legacy. In Legacy, the player with the strongest format knowledge and deck familiarity usually wins. Even though I was capable of playing “more powerful” strategies like Grixis, Miracles, or UB Shadow, I still chose D&T. My experience with the deck makes me less likely to make gameplay mistakes during a long, exhausting tournament like an Open.

What did your preparation for the event look like?
My playtesting primarily consisted of printing out proxy decks of the ten most popular decks in Legacy and playing against them with Death and Taxes every Thursday night with my playtest group. From the testing, I discovered that I needed sideboard Gideons to counteract Dread of Night from UB Shadow and multiple Mirran Crusaders in the maindeck to fight both Grixis and Assassin’s Trophy shells.

What sort of decks were you expecting to see at the Open, and how did you tune your list for those decks?
My playtest group predicted that Grixis, Miracles, UB Shadow, 4C Loam, Lands, BR Reanimator, and Delver variants would be widely played in Columbus. Most of these decks are attrition-based strategies which operate off synergistic engines, so I tuned my deck to dismantle whatever strategy my opponent was likely to implement. For example, Grixis relies heavily on Black-based removal and Baleful Strix to leverage its Planeswalkers, so tools such as Mother of Runes (hinders spot removal), Mirran Crusader (attacks through Strix), and Cataclysm (eats Planeswalkers) actively counteract Grixis’s gameplan.

I also expected many sideboard cards from my opponents that are the death knell for D&T, so I added sideboard tools like Gideon and Council’s Judgment to diversify my threats and not auto-lose to effects like Dread of Night or Liliana, the Last Hope.

Josh Wiley, SCG Columbus Top 4

Creatures (25)
Phyrexian Revoker
Flickerwisp
Mirran Crusader
Mother of Runes
Palace Jailer
Recruiter of the Guard
Sanctum Prelate
Stoneforge Mystic
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Lands (24)
Plains
Snow-Covered Plains
Cavern of Souls
Horizon Canopy
Rishadan Port
Wasteland
Karakas

Spells (11)
Aether Vial
Batterskull
Sword of Fire and Ice
Swords to Plowshares
Umezawa’s Jitte
Sideboard (15)
Cataclysm
Containment Priest
Council’s Judgment
Faerie Macabre
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Path to Exile
Rest in Peace
Sanctum Prelate
Surgical Extraction
Sword of War and Peace

As a follow up, many people are shying away from D&T right now due to the difficult Grixis Control matchup. Do you have any thoughts on the matchup? Is there a good way to approach it?

The Grixis matchup is 40:60, so Death and Taxes is unfavored, but can certainly win. A sequence of Mom, Thalia, and Crusader on the play will win most games against Grixis game 1, for example. Beating Grixis involves attacking on a card quality axis; your opponent has too many 2-for-1s for you to trade cards effectively, so you need to apply Delver-esque disruption and pressure to end the game quickly before the Grixis pilot can stabilize.

Thalia, Port, Wasteland, Mom, Prelate, and Cataclysm act as fantastic disruption, while Mirran Crusader, Gideon, and Sword of Fire and Ice are the best tools for pressuring your opponent. Mirran Crusader is by far your best card in the matchup, and it may be correct to play 4 of the swole boi in the 75.

Were you considering playing any other cards? If so, why didn’t they make the cut?

Manriki-Gusari would have been cool in the sideboard to hedge for the mirror, but Sword of War and Peace fills a similar role while helping in other matchups (Miracles, Grixis, Burn, most attrition-based matchups). I wanted an Ethersworn Canonist in the sideboard for combo matchups, but added a second Sanctum Prelate to the 75 instead to fight against Loam decks (where putting it on two disrupts a huge portion of their deck) as well as decks that rely on one mana cantrips and removal. The cards I actively wanted to draw in most matchups over the weekend were Council’s Judgment and Mirran Crusader, so I may add additional copies of those cards to my sideboard as well.

Death and Taxes has too many awesome tools to fit in a 15 card sideboard, Phil!

I’m currently playing only two pieces of graveyard hate in my D&T deck, opting to slot in Chalice of the Void instead of the normal additional graveyard hate. Did you find all of the graveyard hate cards useful? Am I crazy for going down so far on graveyard hate?

Yes, you are crazy, but that is a discussion for a different time.

In all seriousness, Surgical Extraction is fantastic and Rest in Peace has lost a lot of utility post-ban. Death and Taxes used to be able to bring in Rest in Peace against Deathrite Shaman decks as a powerful mana-denial effect, but with that silly Elf gone, the white enchantment is a tool that is not potent in enough matchups to warrant its sideboard slots.

Rest in Peace is too slow against BR Reanimator. It does not play toward the disruption-pressure gameplan against Grixis; Kolaghan’s Command will still get a 2 for 1 even without a graveyard, so Rest in Peace only hurts Snapcaster Mage and Gurmag Angler, which is not good enough. Its primary place is against Loam decks, ANT, and Dredge, though in many of those matchups, other tools can do a similar job.

Surgical Extraction, on the other hand, is a powerful tool against Reanimator, Loam, Dredge, Cloudpost (when paired with Wasteland), and ANT. For the foreseeable future, Death and Taxes should utilize at least 3 Surgical Extraction and maybe a Faerie Macabre as well since it works through a Chancellor of the Annext trigger and can be tutored for with Recruiter. I think the rest of the sideboard should be used for generic hatebears, removal, and other specific tools that swing matchups in your favor like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Sword of War and Peace, and Walking Ballista.

As for the event itself, what did you play against and what was your personal record for the weekend?

Round 1 – Grixis Control, 2-0 W
Round 2 – Dan Miller w/ Esper Miracles, 2-1 W
Round 3 – ANT, 2-0 W
Round 4 – Kent Ketter w/ Grixis Control, 1-2 L
Round 5 – Eldrazi Stompy, 2-0 W
Round 6 – Miracles, 0-2 L
Round 7 – Clay Spicklemeyer w/ Grixis Delver, 0-2 L
Round 8 – Joe Lossett w/ UW Legends, 2-1 W
Round 9 – Death and Taxes, 0-2 L

Round 10 – Jody Keith w/ Mono Green Cloudpost, 1-2 L
Round 11 – Lawrence Harmon w/ Miracles, 2-0 W
Round 12 – 4C Loam, Unfinished Match
Round 13 – Sultai Control, 0-2 L
Round 14 – Grixis Control, 2-1 W
Round 15 – ID w/ Victor Logan

Quarterfinals – Justin Gebing w/ Mono Red Prison, 2-0 W
Semifinals – Victor Logan w/ Grixis Control, 0-2 L
Final Record – 8 Wins, 7 Losses, 1 ID, 1 Unfinished

What were some of the most memorable or interesting moments from the event?
Every time I cast Cataclysm, my opponents asked me to explain what it did multiple times or asked for its Oracle text. I think most players were prepared for Gideon out of Death and Taxes sideboards, but were taken aback by Cataclysm. For example, most of my Grixis and Miracles opponents were uncomfortable with sandbagging lands to play around Cataclysm and often had to play into the card, otherwise I would tax them too harshly with Thalia and Rishadan Ports. If Dread of Night was not so popular right now, I would play more copies of Cataclysm to fight Grixis, Miracles, Lands, and Cloudpost.

What sort of advice do you have for aspiring D&T pilots or other serious players?
Firstly, I am a teacher and Death and Taxes is my favorite deck of all time. If anyone in the Legacy community wishes to speak with me about the deck, I offer an open invitation to message me on Facebook or e-mail me at joshwilley2012@hotmail.com and we can have an engaging conversation about what it takes to do well with Death and Taxes.

Aspiring D&T players, do not be discouraged from playing the deck if you keep losing. I constantly lost with the deck for the first year of playing it, but eventually reached a breakthrough moment and began recognizing key play patterns, such as which land to Port and when, as well as sequencing my creatures and not overextending into sweepers. Death and Taxes rewards tight and correct play better than any deck I know; if you want your decisions to matter in a game of Magic, keep practicing Death and Taxes.

Veteran D&T pilots, always look for innovation and keep experimenting with this beautiful Legacy deck. There will never be a set 75 for Death and Taxes because Legacy is always evolving and D&T has to adapt accordingly. Communicating with the Death and Taxes community about sideboarding, mulligan decisions and card choices is a great way to tune one’s 75 for a given metagame. If anyone needs help finding D&T players to speak with, I am a moderator for the MTG: Legacy Death and Taxes Facebook group, so feel free to contact me on Facebook or my e-mail and I will gladly add you!


I figured readers would want my post-Columbus 75 as a way to recap what I talked about, so here is my list as of now:

Post-Columbus D&T

Creatures (25)
Mother of Runes
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Stoneforge Mystic
Flickerwisp
Mirran Crusader
Phyrexian Revoker
Recruiter of the Guard
Sanctum Prelate
Palace Jailer

Spells (11)
Swords to Plowshares
Aether Vial
Umezawa's Jitte
Sword of Fire and Ice
Batterskull

Lands (24)
11 Plains
Cavern of Souls
Horizon Canopy
Karakas
Wasteland
Rishadan Port
Sideboard (15)
Mirran Crusader
Containment Priest
Sanctum Prelate
Surgical Extraction
Faerie Macabre
Path to Exile
Council's Judgment
Sword of War and Peace
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Cataclysm


Closing Thoughts from Phil

Hey folks,

To close this article, I wanted to compare one of my most recent decklists to Josh’s just to show the differences in approach.

Phil Gallagher, Experimental Taxes

Creatures (25)
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Phyrexian Revoker
Walking Ballista
Recruiter of the Guard
Mirran Crusader
Hallowed Spiritkeeper
Flickerwisp
Mother of Runes
Sanctum Prelate
Palace Jailer
Stoneforge Mystic

Spells (11)
Aether Vial
Swords to Plowshares
Batterskull
Sword of Fire and Ice
Umezawa’s Jitte

Lands (24)
Snow-Covered Plains
Plains
Karakas
Rishadan Port
Wasteland
Sideboard (15)
Walking Ballista
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Recruiter of the Guard
Rest in Peace
Chalice of the Void
Path to Exile
Leonin Relic-Warder
Council’s Judgment
Hallowed Spiritkeeper
Palace Jailer

My take on Legacy right now is that it is really fair. It’s much easier to play whatever you want compared to the Deathrite Shaman era, and I think many more decks are viable. That being said, life seems to be hard for combo players right now, and we still certainly have a few “best” decks. Miracles and Grixis Control are probably the two decks to beat of the moment, with D&T and Delver being slightly worse, but still quite strong. Death’s Shadow Delver seems to be bullying all the combo decks right out of the format, or at least that’s the impression I have from all my leagues. I’ve seen some really strange innovations from combo decks to try and combat the current metagame, such as Baleful Strix in Sneak and Show or Hope of Ghirapur in TES. As my decklist above shows, I’m taking some calculated risks as well.

Outside of BR Reanimator, I don’t particularly think graveyard hate is amazing at the moment. As BR Reanimator is only about 4% of the metagame right now, I think I’m fine with skimping on the graveyard hate a bit to board more cards for fair matchups. I’ve opted for Chalice of the Void over more traditional cards, as it can come in for the control matchups as well as the combo matchups. Doing so has noticeably improved my Grixis Control and Miracles matchup, both of which are are touch trickier than I’d like with traditional builds. Hallowed Spiritkeeper is a card that I’ve played a bit in the past, and I think it might be the time to take it out of the “box o’ bad white creatures.” It’s a beating against Grixis Control, where it might end up making 5 or 6 tokens in the end game.

I’ve embedded my most recent D&T league below so you can take a look and see this in action.


Alrighty folks, that’s everything for today! I hope you enjoyed today’s guest content and my thoughts on the metagame. In the next week or so, I’ll have some 5C Humans content for you, courtesy of Humans expert Eddie Zamora. Things are going great for the stream, and the donation decklists have been pretty awesome. I’ve really enjoyed expanded my range as a player over the past couple of months, and if you’re interested in bribing me supporting my content, I’d love to add some more sweet decklists or D&T variants to the queue.

About the Author

Phil Gallagher

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