The following is part one of a two part series by Discord user Darkview. It is presented here with minimal editing. Part two will go live next Friday (4/24).
So you’re wondering if you should pick up Legacy Death and Taxes. Maybe someone recommended the deck to you. Maybe you watched it in action and were impressed. Maybe you’re just enamored by mono-white creature decks. Or maybe you are just starting into the format and it looked approachable and (relatively) cheap. Either way, you’re not sure about it just yet, and want to be sure you’re making the right call. This article will discuss the nature of Death and Taxes, its gameplay, advantages, and disadvantages. The goal is to guide you, providing factors to consider and weigh so you can come to an informed decision about your deck choice.
What is Death and Taxes?
Death and Taxes is an aggro-control deck. It focuses on playing fast creatures with disruptive abilities to keep the opponent off-balance until those creatures can close the game. This is supplemented by mana denial, an equipment package to dominate the battlefield, and a reasonable removal suite. The sideboard showcases many of the most powerful and targeted disruptive effects in the game’s history.
The result is a deck that looks like white-weenie, but actually plays a bit more like a prison deck. Games tend to be long, though not absurdly so (10 turns is not uncommon). In those games, there are many opportunities for making subtle decisions with far-reaching implications for the game. Familiarity with your own deck is highly rewarded, as there are many interesting interactions, and some cards have countless applications (most notably Flickerwisp). Format knowledge is also rewarded: many decisions depend on making accurate predictions of your opponent’s deck and the possible lines they can take. Death and Taxes is also a deck with a rich history, pedigree, and community. It has been through countless iterations and is among the top decks in the format’s history in terms of results. The community is vibrant and active, generating new content almost daily.
Death and Taxes as a deck has a lot going for it. It’s one of several perennially good decks in Legacy: it’s rarely worse than tier 2, and frequently tier 1. Death and Taxes is also very adaptable to different playstyles and metagames. Builds can be made more aggressive or controlling. There are lots of flex slots and interesting options for quirky gimmicks a pilot might fancy. Most importantly, there are a plethora of options to target specific decks types in the field. It’s also cheap as far as Legacy decks go, since nearly all of its cards have been reprinted relatively recently and it is monochromatic. The cost is a fraction of that for most other dominant decks.
Death and Taxes is also a deck with a high potential for gains in future printings, as its core cards (white creatures with disruptive abilities) are a regular feature of standard and supplemental sets. While new staples are infrequent, options for the bench are delivered frequently. Death and Taxes is also a deck which rewards player growth. The skill ceiling of the deck is quite high. The difference between a weak player and a strong player with the deck is quite pronounced. The upshot of this is that a pilot can expect to improve in both skill and results for many months or years. Finally, Death and Taxes has arguably the most robust content library of any deck type in Legacy: there are numerous guides and articles on the deck, it has devoted streamers with permanently-hosted videos, and a high-quality site dedicated specifically to the deck. This last advantage can really help a novice come up to speed on the deck, and the author credits this fact with his almost immediate success with the deck.
On the other hand, Death and Taxes has its liabilities. The first is that lacking Force of Will or other zero-mana countermagic puts it at increased risk for some immediate losses against fast combo decks. The second is that lacking Brainstorm and Ponder puts it at the mercy of its topdecks, and, despite its tutors, there is still a high chance of failing to find the right cards in a timely manner. These first two liabilities are shared by most nonblue decks. Though Death and Taxes can be built to compensate for these to some degree, they are a reality and should be noted.
Additionally, most Death and Taxes cards lack the raw power of the most impressive cards from other decks. While they are still strong in their own right, Death and Taxes is frequently a deck where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. If it is deprived of essential synergies, its strategy can collapse.
Partially as a result of this as well as some other factors, Death and Taxes does not have any “free” matchups. While there are some that are heavily in the deck’s favor (or against it), the vast majority hover close enough to 50-50 that the pilot is going to have to fight for most wins. Finally, Death and Taxes is a deck that requires a great deal of both practice and format knowledge to be piloted well. Small and almost imperceptible mistakes can be extremely costly, making it a hard deck to learn.
Some words on the metagame…
At the time of this writing, Death and Taxes is generally thought to be poorly positioned and considered to be tier 2 (which is about as low as the deck gets- even when it is bad, it is still pretty good). The past 12 months delivered a slew of powerful staples to many decks (Dreadhorde Arcanist, Oko, Uro, to name a few), but nothing nearly as potent to Death and Taxes. The result is that Death and Taxes is often a disadvantage in previously “fair” fights where it would have had an edge.
That said, don’t put too much stock in the current metagame. Whether any deck is performing well can change by the following week, let alone the following set. Unless you have the ability to switch decks easily and enough format knowledge to have immediate mastery, any deck you pick up is going to be a long term investment both in card equity and personal time. Picking up any of the perennially good decks with play patterns to your liking will be much more rewarding than trying to follow whatever is in vogue, and mastering it will pay more dividends than chasing the flavor of the moment. Don’t worry too much about where the deck you pick is right now. Worry about if you see yourself enjoying playing it in months or years to come.
This is an article about Death and Taxes, but I would be remiss not to point out that there are plenty of other choices out there. Legacy is full of perennially good decks, and choosing any of them will likely position you to have a competitive deck for many years to come. More importantly, choose a deck that seems fun to you; how much you enjoy a deck will impact how much you play it, and therefore how proficient you become with it. In a format as deep and varied as Legacy, that proficiency often matters far more than any other factor.
The following are perennially good decks I might contemplate: UR(x) Delver, UW(r) Miracles, 4-color Loam, Br Reanimator, Sneak and Show, and The Epic Storm. These are all decks that rarely fall below tier 2 and have consistently over the years managed to force their way back into contention. I have a high degree of confidence that choosing any of these decks is not a mistake in the long-run. That said, there are literally dozens of other decks with rich histories in Legacy, and you might stumble across one I have not listed that perfectly matches your style and needs. In any case, you should do your own research on any deck’s playstyle and pedigree before making your choice. After all, you’re going to be investing a lot both in value and time, and you want to make sure it’s well-spent.
Building towards other decks
One relevant consideration when building a deck is whether it lets you branch out into others. Many Legacy decks share certain “suites” of cards, and thus by owning one deck you can more easily add others to your arsenal without the burden of having to acquire literally everything from scratch. For instance, many blue decks share a suite of fetchlands, certain dual lands, Force of Will, Brainstorm, Ponder, and other cards. These are useful in almost any blue deck.
Death and Taxes has a few components that are widely used, and a few decks it specifically shares much with as a result. These are: Wastelands (shared with almost any aggro or tempo deck), Rishadan Ports (shared with Goblins and Lands), Aether Vial (many tribal decks), Stoneforge Mystic and equipment (shared with GW(x) Maverick, UW(x) Stoneblade variants, BW Deadguy Ale, and others), and a suite of disruptive white creatures (shared mostly with Maverick). Also, several of the sideboard cards are commonly shared with any white deck.
The upshot is that you have many possible pivots from Death and Taxes, but you still have a lot of ground to cover. By far, the closest two decks are Goblins (able to utilize many of the lands, Vials, and sometimes Thalia), and Maverick (able to use the Wastelands, many of the creatures, and the equipment). As your Legacy collection grows, more and more decks start to fall within reach. I, for example, acquired Miracles in addition to D&T, and then it was easy for me to start working towards various Stoneblade decks.
Legacy is a complex format, and choosing a deck can be daunting. Death and Taxes is an appealing choice due to its low acquisition cost, approachable play style, adaptability, has high promise for receiving future cards, has a high ceiling to reward the player for gaining experience, and has a lot of content and an active community to support a novice player. On the other hand, Death and Taxes has a steep learning curve; it is a very complex deck which will demand a lot of mental energy and time from a player to truly perform. It also lacks some of the advantages of blue decks, and is not presently well-positioned. Potential pilots should particularly consider whether the playstyle appeals to them, and whether they have the time to commit to a single deck to achieve results.
If the reader decides to play Death and Taxes, a world of opportunity and fun should await them. For those that do not, Legacy is a diverse format with many options. If a player has the resources and time to devote to it, they can find another deck that will suit them.
Author’s note, 22-April-2020: These articles were written prior to Ikoria’s release. Since then, developments have undermined the premises of these articles. Ikoria’s Companion mechanic is one of the most powerful mechanics in the game’s history. It is very likely that Death and Taxes will not be able to compete with the “better” Companion-based decks. Unless these are removed from the format and/or Death and Taxes receives a Companion of similar power, the deck may cease to be viable. Beyond this, it may be the case that new sets will continue to destabilize Legacy with every release. If that is the case, the idea of a perennially good deck ceases to be valid. Time will tell, but the reader should account for this uncertainty in their decision-making.