W/B Death & Taxes, aka Dark & Taxes, aka Bob From Accounting
Thanks to MtG:Salvation user SwordstoTimeshares for providing the lion’s share of the content on this page. I’ve added my thoughts here and there, but this writeup is primarily his. I have edited his content for clarity and formatting. Some of the information below may now be outdated due to the printing of Sanctum Prelate and Recruiter of the Guard.
No matter which name you choose, there is no mistake that this deck is black splash variant of the classic D&T shell and gameplan. While many who glance at the deck call it Deadguy Ale, this is most certainly a Thalia deck following the traditional D&T approach of denying mana. As such, it still limits its use of non-creature spells, opting to primarily splash creature cards as well as a few pieces of hand disruption.
W/B Taxes aims to correct or mitigate three common problems classic D&T encounters: 1. lack of true card advantage; 2. limited “true interaction” with opposing gameplans; and 3. limited responses to extremely fast combo decks. Dark Confidant and Thoughtseize address all three of these problems. They come at the cost of some of the “flex” slots, usually occupied by niche singletons (e.g. Brimaz, King of Oreskos or Mangara of Corondor) or by additional copies of Serra Avenger, Mirran Crusader, and Phyrexian Revoker. The additional card advantage in B/W Taxes means that you will less frequently run out of gas and find yourself with an empty board; the additional interaction allows you to pave the way for your hate bears to have a huge impact on the game. In a nutshell, it makes both attrition-based control and fast-combo matchups significantly better.
BW Taxes is not for someone who is a novice at playing regular Death and Taxes or is new to Legacy more generally. On the contrary, I would only recommend BW Taxes to someone well-versed with the original deck; Mother of Runes, Flickerwisp, and the other pieces of the shell are just as good/important as the new black additions. Since the focus of this primer is to educate on the differences between builds, it assumes the reader is, at a minimum, D&T-proficient.
Why Splash Black?
- Your meta is heavy with combo: Storm, Show and Tell, Reanimator, Tin-Fins, Belcher, Elves, OmniTell, Painter, etc.
- Your meta is heavy with attrition-based control: Miracles, Shardless BUG, AggroLoam, Pox, Stoneblade
- Your meta has a lot of x/1 creatures: Grixis Delver, Elves, Goblins, Infect, Death and Taxes
- You want more turn 1 plays (Thoughtseize). A common problem with D&T is drawing an “acceptable” opening hand that ends up being slow since your turn 1 play is “Land, Pass”
- You just like Dark Confidant, one of the best creatures ever printed.
Why Not to Splash Black
- Your meta is very heavy with Burn (on second thought, let’s not play here, “t’is a silly place”)
- Your meta is heavy with Blood Moon (in this case, play mono-white or just tough it out anyway)
You’ll notice the benefits of splashing apply to many of the top decks in the format. I’m obviously biased, but I believe BW is strictly better than mono or other splashes in most cases. You gain more interaction for combo and control matches while also faring better against other critter decks as a result of Orzhov Pontiff out of the sideboard.
Cards to Consider
Dark Confidant – The main reason to splash black in my eyes. Bob fits well into our curve, and interestingly enough, BW Taxes comes in at a lower overall CMC curve than every other major Dark Confidant deck, which includes Junk Loam, Jund, Team America, and Deadguy Ale. Only the odd Lands list which use Confidant as a sideboard option lose less life on average from Confidant than BW Taxes. As a result, I make the argument that Death and Taxes is where Bob flourishes more than any other deck, not to mention Vial makes him uncounterable, and that there are naturally two lifegain equipments in the maindeck to keep from entering the danger zone. Extra cards just breed more opportunities, more options. Bob just makes the deck straight better.
Thoughtseize – This is the other big benefit of splashing black. My evolving assessment of how D&T stacks up against ANT/TES is initially why I started testing black in the first place, as I wanted to have more turn 1 answers to those types of decks. ANT in particular has gotten better at dealing with D&T over the years; you can’t just bank on Thalia for a guaranteed win, as Cabal Therapy is often cast before the D&T pilot reaches turn 2, not to mention the prevalence of Dread of Night and Massacre. In addition, there are other decks reliably faster than ANT/TES, and for those, D&T is usually just a sitting duck. At least with Thoughtseize, we up our chances of surviving until turn 2, which is something no other D&T splash color provides. Additionally, information is just king. Seeing what your opponent has in store – even “fair” deck opponents – allows you to make better play choices, and also allows roadmapping the next sequence of turns.
Orzhov Pontiff – Sometimes I think it belongs in the maindeck. There are so many one-toughness creatures in Legacy, that two of these in the sideboard should be the minimum. I’ve personally played many matches that became blowouts because of Orzhov Pontiff. Here’s a short list of things that Orzhov Pontiff kills: Young Pyromancer + Tokens, Delver of Secrets, Dark Confidant, Vendillion Clique, Snapcaster Mage, Goblin Lackey, Baleful Strix, True-Name Nemesis, Goblin tokens, Monastery Mentor tokens, the entire Infect deck, most of the creatures in the mirror, almost the entire Elves deck… it goes on. Also, Pontiff can save creatures off your own via Vial with the +1/+1 side of the coin or cause huge blowout mid-combat.
Bitterblossom – Biterblossom is an anti-attrition card, a huge problem for a lot of fair decks, and arguably one of the best token producers in Legacy. Sometimes, this is the only play of consequence in a game, and landing it early eventually just overwhelms your opponent with Fae tokens. Bitterblossom wrecks decks like Miracles, which aims to have a clear board; Liliana decks, which aim to get value out of her -2 ability; and especially the D&T “mirror”, where the person with the most flying damage is usually the victor. That it can be searched out with Enlightened Tutor is icing on the cake.
Vindicate – A personal favorite of mine from yesteryear, this card is still right in line with the D&T gameplan. Even though I have a soft spot in my heart for the Mangara-combo, Vindicate is just faster at taking out a land, and I use as a flex-spot singleton out of the side for all manner of general use. While many say that Council’s Judgment invalidated this card, the ability to blow up a land should not be underestimated.
Dismember – As this card was played in D&T at certain points in the past, it’s not a new inclusion per se, but with the black splash, suddenly the -4 life isn’t a foregone conclusion. With the rise of Eldrazi, having another spell that can remove a 5-toughness creature at instant speed is pretty solid.
Tidehollow Sculler – I’m including this just because I get questions about him. Personally, I don’t think any card with the “When this leaves the battlefield, return X to opponent’s Y” is good, but since it is a black and white card and a CMC2 creature, it at least warrants consideration. Probably better against combo than against fair decks, but still slower than Thoughtseize, so…
Obviously, this is a deck with duals instead of just basic Plains. I believe the correct move is to keep the same count of 23 lands with 15 white sources, just like regular D&T. There is a high Human count because of the additions of Dark Confidant and Orzhov Pontiff, so you may consider Cavern of Souls and be in the right. I prefer to make casting Thoughtseize as easy as possible, so I don’t include it, but more or less you should have something like this:
From my time with the deck, I think it’s most beneficial overall to just go with the full playset of Scrublands. If you’re jonesing for Cavern of Souls, I’d probably cut one of those before I cut a fetchland, since you still want to be able to grab basics at a healthy rate. Since the black cards in the deck don’t require any additional black mana investment once cast, and since the deck is still overwhelmingly white, I don’t think basic Swamp needs to make an appearance here.
Bob From Accounting, 7th place out of 61, Legacy for Staples @ Knight-Ware, 02/21/16
Overall, the deck is pretty tight with its spots and probably has less room for variation over other versions of D&T. If you need to make changes, the most flexible cards are Phrexian Revoker, Circle of Protection: Red, Vindicate, and the fourth Thoughtseize in the board. The “optimal” build is more open to interpretation with mono-white D&T, but this is really about where the black splash falls; you have already cut many of the core cards of traditional D&T, so you don’t have many more spots to shave.
Why is this above configuration close to “optimal”? Well, let’s examine:
- The flyer count is in the zone where mono-D&T lies, at 6 slots. Flickerwisp should still be a 3-of, minimum, as we aren’t going for tribal emphasis, and Serra Avenger, though sometimes overused as a 4-of in mono-D&T, is still a necessity to keep up with Delver. Likewise, Bitterblossom could conceivably count as a “7th+” flyer.
- The power of Dark Confidant does so much to correct problems with drawing variance and mechanics of attrition-control opponents. I’d not recommend running less than the full playset, and there are only sparse situations where I feel it’s proper to board out any amount of Bobs.
- If the aim is to gain advantage via information, as well as having an “emergency lever” against unfair decks, Thoughtseize is our Force of Will. It’s an insurance policy, but as it’s proactive, we don’t need to keep mana open for the sake of ‘permission’, especially as Thalia is often in play. I often find myself boarding out Thoughtseize for matchup-specific sideboard cards against the fair decks, but it is by no means a bad card to draw even late into a match. As a result, 3 seems to be the best number in the maindeck; if your matchup warrants the additional copy, the 4th can come in. Not including Thoughtseize at all might be more your style as a player, but trust me when I say that the upping of turn 1 plays and information gained is worth it.
- As far as how the classic shell of Death and Taxes plays, it’s in the overall a very well-oiled machine. The playsets the core D&T shell still make this build play like regular D&T a lot of the time. In that regard, it’s best to stick to the truly “optimal” parts of mono-D&T, and not the “meta-call” cards, even in a black splash.
Here we’ll delve into how matchups change, what is gained/lost from splashing black, and considerations that fall outside of the normal procedure of how mono-D&T takes on certain decks. All of these assume the black cards drawn at a normal rate when compared to drawing mono-D&T flex spots.
- Miracles – Better. Perhaps not as much gained here as you would via splashing green, but just getting Confidant alone is a huge plus. The main objective of Miracles, after all, is to gain advantage against D&T by 2-for-1 effects like Terminus and Snapcaster Mage. Often, D&T’s best strategy is to try to pair a single creature with a piece of equipment, forcing your Miracles opponent to cast Terminus as a 1-for-1. With the addition of Dark Confidant and Bitterblossom, you will have fuel left in reserve even after a Terminus. Terminus is supposed to give them breathing room, but the black splash aims to make the steady plow to victory more uninterrupted with the extra cards from Bob and tokens from Bitterblossom. A turn 1 Thoughtseize grabbing their Sensei’s Divining Top or Counterbalance isn’t too shabby, either.
- Grixis Delver – Same to Better. While Stifle-builds may catch your manabase in a vulnerable situation from time to time, I cannot stress how good Orzhov Pontiff is in this match. Usually for Delver decks that contain Lightning Bolt, I’ll side out 1-2 Dark Confidants, and the Thoughtseizes are usually replaced by Rest in Peace/Pontiff as to counter the aggressive nature of their deck. You don’t want to be taking too much of your own life against a Bolt+Delver deck.
- Infect – Much better. Lifeloss from Thoughtseize and Dark Confidant is basically a non-issue entirely, and Pontiff is a complete blowout card. As D&T can struggle against Infect due to its potential for superspeed wins, the turn 1 discard here can be a huge bonus.
- Shardless BUG – Better. They win via an attrition war, and this version of D&T is specifically designed to combat that sort of thing. Toxic Deluge can still wipe your board, but with the potential for constant Fae tokens and extra cards, you can breath a little easier.
- ANT/TES – Much better. Thoughtseize into a hate bear is nigh unbeatable. As such, I often make my opponents discard their anti-hate over their own combo pieces, and though this version of the deck cuts down on Revokers, the speed of Thoughtseize is more than enough to make up for it.
- Eldrazi – Slightly better. I think mono-D&T’s matchup here is already favorable, but Thoughtseize and Bob get a sizable amount of work done here, and additional removal like Vindicate and Dismember exceed the quality of anything mono-white can produce. If they run Revoker in their version, Orzhov Pontiff is worth siding in, as it will hit that card and Eldrazi Mimic.
- Death and Taxes “mirror” – Much better. D&T players already know that Dark Confidant is a problem to stare down, and Orzhov Pontiff often makes the matchup unfair. I side in Enlightened Tutor here to up my chances of getting Bitterblossom on the board, which is often just ‘game over’ in and of itself.
- Burn – Worse. Adding fetchlands + Bob + Thoughtseize can mean some serious lifeloss. As such, if you expect Burn in your meta, include a Circle of Protection: Red in your sideboard for the occasional free win. Fetch your basics and basically just cut your black cards for sideboard cards. Bring in Vindicate as an out to their weird cards like Ensnaring Bridge or Sulfuric Vortex. Basically, this is a different animal than every other deck in the format, and as such, when you gain things elsewhere, you lose them in other places. The Burn matchup is that place. So either come prepared with a silver-bullet, or perhaps you just luck out and Burn is not that popular on the given day.
- Lands – Same to Slightly Better. Most of this matchup is predicated on getting a body that survives against a single Punishing Fire/Molten Vortex equipped. Most of the best cards used here are the white ones. A surviving Confidant is huge blow to them either way, so while you might want to fetch a basic as your first land, your black cards still do some solid work. I love Vindicate here as it has so much versatility.
- Stoneblade – Much better. Again, here is another attrition control matchup where Bob and Bitterblossom rock. As you may know, Stoneblade usually runs True-Name Nemesis as well, so Orzhov Pontiff is a definite improvement over the options mono-white has. Sometimes I save Thoughtseize until they cast their first Stoneforge Mystic. That really dismantles the game for them.
- RUG Delver – Slightly worse. The matchup is already abysmal for them against mono-white D&T, so adding a color exposes your neck a little to Stifle and lifeloss. That said, the matchup is so overwhelmingly favorable from the outset that a little pushback in their favor is still no big deal. Take out 2 Bobs and your Thoughtseizes here in post-board games and you’ll play pretty much like normal.
- BUG Delver – Same to slightly better. They are not as aggressive in attacking your life total – and may or may not run Stifle – making BW less vulnerable here than against RUG. No black cards absolutely shine here at all times, but a living Confidant more often than not is a big net positive.
- UR Delver – Slightly better to better. More x/1s in these versions, and especially since one of those is likely True-Name Nemesis, having Pontiff is very nice. Typically, Thoughtseize is sided out, and perhaps a Bob or two. Stifle is usually not highly played in this version, nor is Wasteland. You may need to watch out for Price of Progress, however. Try to put only one Scrubland on the field as a result, since one is all you’ll likely need.
- Sneak and Show – Same to slightly better. As if this matchup couldn’t be any worse for them, Thoughtseize makes sure they don’t slip a fast one by you. Mostly the regular white cards are what you will use here beyond that, but it can’t possibly be worse. Mono-D&T runs more Revokers sure, but the offset is still a net positive with all the discard and extra cards.
- OmniTell – Much better. For this variant, since Revoker is near useless, Thoughtseize is only a positive.
- Merfolk – Better. This is a matchup I consider somewhat challenging with mono-white, and it’s still challenging with BW, but Orzhov Pontiff is fantastic here. As long as you save your Plowshares/Dismember/Vindicate for their lords, Pontiff can often wipe most or all of their board: True-Name Nemesis, Cursecatcher, Silvergill Adept…
- Elves! – Better. This matchup is still hard, don’t get any delusions that any splash is going to fix this one, but Orzhov Pontiff is a huge boost to your chances if you draw him. Since they are sort of combo-ish, Thoughtseize is pretty decent here for taking their Glimpse of Nature, Green Sun’s Zenith, Natural Order, or Abrupt Decay that would go for your Jitte.
- Reanimator – Better. Again, because of Thoughtseize. I suppose the only time the card could backfire is if your opponent’s hand is ALL fatty creatures when you cast, and then they topdeck Exhume or whatever directly afterwards. Such a situation is very unlikely to happen, though. For especially speedy variants like BR Burning Reanimator, Thoughtseize gets exponentially better since they need to use more of their own cards in their actual combo turn.
- Painter – Slightly worse. Blood Moon is a problem here so fetch your basics, but it is not as fast to the board on average as in fringier decks such as Mono-Red Stompy or Mono-Red Sneak. Thoughtseize might just save you from this problem anyway, but there is an elevated risk worth noting. Most of the other black cards don’t do too much, but again, Dark Confidant is almost never terrible. You’ll want to fetch basics here unless you are opening with a turn one play of Thoughtseize. Less Revokers overall in BW knocks this one down a few points even with the discard, but if you want to include more in your 75, it certainly wouldn’t be incorrect if planning to face Painter.
- Junk/Jund/Maverick/Aggro Loam – Better. I’m going to lump these archetypes together as they are fringe in play numbers, and are similar in a lot of respects to their mechanics. All the non-Thoughtseize black cards provide a huge boost in these matchups, especially Bitterblossom. After all, these decks play somewhat an attrition style against D&T. Opposing Wasteland is something to watch out for in these types of matchups, but it has just as much of a chance to backfire on your opponent if you get Confidant live.
- Dredge – Same. They do nothing to our manabase, but likewise, the black cards don’t add a helluva lot of advantage. Same drill here as mono-white: get Thalia and/or graveyard hate into play ASAP. Thoughtseize is a risk/reward here: sometimes great, often bad. Just stick to the regular plan here.
- Goblins – Slightly better. Though they can mess with your manabase, we can match them in card parity with Confidant and Pontiff. Still, the gameplan is mostly “get equipment into play ASAP”.
- Belcher/Tin-Fins/Oops All Spells/Turn 1 Barf Decks – Much better. Aforementioned above, often these decks get to make their move before we can even do anything, and if you lose the die roll, it hurts our chances no matter what. That said, these once horrible matchups likely become even to favorable if you win the die roll because of the discard. All we need to do is live until turn 2, and BW Taxes chances of that are higher. And sometimes these decks just lose to themselves when they mulligan for a better hand, so suffice to say, BW Taxes at least gives us more a fighting chance.
- Titan-Post – Much better. They don’t mess with our manabase and are slow, so suit up your Confidants and Fae tokens and enjoy the improved matchup. Additionally, you’ve got plenty of time to Thoughtseize that Primeval Titan before your opponent can cast it. The best Primeval Titan is one that never resolves at all.
- Pox – Better. Attrition that already loses to Vial. It loses harder to a Vial’ed in Confidant.
- Food Griffin – Same to slightly worse. Probably the only other combo matchup besides Painter that gets worse with Thoughtseize taking up some of Revoker’s slots. Although you may end up just making your opponent discard his only drawn Food Chain, having more Revokers would give you a better chance of shutting them all off. Then again, they run decent removal maindeck with Abrupt Decay, so… tough call.
- Enchantress – Much better. Discard their mana-ramp enchantment or Solitary Confinement, land Bob. They have nothing that reliably gets rid of him, so you’re just more likely to draw into your post-board hate.
Playing the Deck
Normal D&T play is still the main name of the game here, however, there are some considerations to keep in mind with the black splash.
- Playing with Dark Confidant. It depends on the matchup and game-state, but sometimes I will use Confidant as removal bait so I can land a Mystic-into-equipment immediately afterwards. Sometimes the situation is exactly reversed: bait removal with Mystic-into-Batterskull – all but forcing their hand – then Vial in/cast Confidant immediately after. .
- Playing with Thoughtseize. As this card is strongest on turn 1, it is when you will cast it most of the time. However, Vial is still a stronger turn 1 play against the “fair” field. With both of them in hand, going in blind, Vial is usually my choice. This can change once you know what you’re up against. Alternatively, you may take the argument that *not knowing* what you are up against makes Thoughtseize the stronger play. It’s a tough call, but is also determined by what your turn 2 play sequence projects to be. Thoughtseize gets boarded out or trimmed against a sizable portion of the metagame, but the more controlling your opponent’s decktype, the better Thoughtseize remains late into the game. This especially goes for equipment decks.
- As the BW Taxes is still a D&T shell, our playstyle is still largely “do not lose, and win little by little along the way.” You are afforded some flexibility from that credo with the advent of hand information and extra cards. An example is a turn 2 play against a likely combo deck. Say you’ve landed Vial on turn 1, and your opponent’s play is, Underground Sea into Ponder. You can guess some type of combo here is at least possible. Normally, just slam down Thalia on turn 2 because it’s your best bet to not die. However, having access to Thoughtseize enables better protection for Thalia, so really, the better play is to use discard. Either you snag a combo piece or removal that would be used on Thalia. Obviously, these situations will vary depending on game state, but there are now more lines of play to consider, instead of there being an obvious ONE.
While obviously not without some negative repercussions, black-splash is an improvement to classic Death and Taxes when your meta doesn’t have a high amount of Burn and Blood Moon effects. A predictable meta of Miracles, Grixis Delver, Shardless BUG, ANT, and Loam is probably an ideal one for Dark and Taxes, though it also handles more unpredictable fringe decks with greater ease than other colors due to the uptick in turn 1 plays. As a whole, I think BW Taxes is a bit more aggressive than mono-white Taxes since you are able to keep up or exceed your opponent’s own card advantage. Even swinging a Bob into a Deathrite Shaman is pretty decent sometimes, as you’ve still netted a card at a minimum. These and more considerations amount to the greatest deviation from the D&T shell, though it still plays remarkably similarly. As long as you are comfortable with the the slight risk of manabase issues, splash black has some major upsides.
On the whole, I don’t feel the manabase truly presents any problems; there are plenty of multicolor decks in Legacy that do well, even without Brainstorm. A multicolor deck with a “cheating agent” like Æther Vial does more than enough to assuage that risk, and the cards themselves are enough a payoff to merit this.
As comprehensive as I’d hoped to be, I’m sure there will be reader concerns and questions for things I haven’t addressed or just plain overlooked, including interactions as it pertains to the new cardboard, additional card considerations for inclusion in the deck, and other general play questions. I’ll be sure to answer a mailbag of sorts once Medea’s site is live for a healthy interval of time.