Enevoldsen's Definitive Guide to Death & Taxes (3)

by Thomas Enevoldsen on 21 February 2019, Thursday

Legacy 
Thomas Enevoldsen

Welcome back to part 3 of "My Death & Taxes". If you didn’t read part 1 or part 2 yet, I encourage you to do so. In this final instalment, I will go over the different matchups you can expect to face, what to look out for in the games against each of them and where your focus should normally be as well as what role to play. The sideboarding numbers obviously change based on your own sideboard configuration, and it can also change dramatically based on what the opponent has. If you are able to, it is quite helpful to bring a list to your tournament with the most played decks in the metagame and include your own sideboarding notes, which is perfectly legal. That way you can check their stock list after game 1 and see what a typical sideboard looks like from their side. This way you get a feel for what you can expect out of game 2 and remember what your plan should be against them.

I have found that there is something especially interesting about sideboarding with a midrange deck like Death & Taxes. After board is where you really get to solidify and complement your role(s) in the matchup. This is different from other strategies like combo decks, where your goal usually is to deal with your opponent’s hate cards while maintaining the same basic combo strategy. For control decks, your role usually doesn’t change, so the sideboard strategy is typically to adjust your answers to the relevant threats.

Changing the Game: Death and Taxes can transform significantly postboard

With Death & Taxes, you can make big overhauls to the deck’s core strategy with just a few card changes. The first basic question is: “Is this a spell matchup or a creature matchup”. One of your pivotal cards, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben usually excels against the spells (that phrase even rhymes for ease of memory!), whereas she is weaker against creatures. At the same time, something like Stoneforge Mystic does not carry as much weight in the combo matchups, where the equipment route is typically too slow. Obviously Swords to Plowshares can be irrelevant (or at least very bad) in some matchups as well. However there are more subtle interactions. For example if you rip up your curve in sideboarded games, perhaps Aether Vial is not as strong. If you expect sweepers, perhaps Flickerwisp loses some of its potency. In matchups that you expect to go longer, I like to shave a land (at least on the draw) to increase the threat density. You can do that against most non-combo matchups, and/or when your mana is not “under attack” from opposing Wasteland and Daze. Applying these general principles gives you a good starting point for sideboarding, so keep them in mind, even if you intend to follow my sideboard configurations to a tee.

How They Will Fight You

A common sideboard strategy against Death & Taxes is -1/-1 effects of some sort. Examples are Dread of Night, Marsh Casualties, Darkblast or Sulfur Elemental. Thanks to the wide open Legacy format, decks can usually not afford to play, for example, four copies of Dread of Night, because there are too many other strategies out there and it is too narrow. But you should always keep in mind and play around these kinds of effects until you know what your opponent does in sideboarded games. This can mean hedging against the effects by boarding out your x/1’s (Mother of Runes and Flickerwisp, I’m looking at you). You should always be open to modify your role and sideboarding based on what you see in the actual games, what your opponent seems to emphasize and what they board out. Avoid being too susceptible to the -1/-1 hate by making sure you have back-up plans if they are pack it and make sure you don’t overextend if you can afford that.

As with any format, sideboarding can change based on whether you are on the play (“OTP” below) or on the draw (“OTD” below). Cards like Daze and Spell Pierce can be really effective on the play and much less so on the draw. Planeswalkers care a lot about this too, and whether you can land a Thalia on your turn 2 (their turn 1) or not can be hugely impactful in certain matchups. Same with Sanctum Prelate, which also benefits greatly from being on the play. In many ways Palace Jailer acts like a planeswalker in that you would prefer to play it onto an empty board or a board of one creature to ensure that you keep the monarchy around for as long as possible. Being on the play obviously helps to make Jailer much better and the same is true for Karn, Scion of Urza or whichever other 4-drop planeswalker you have in your board. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Elspeth, Knight-Errant come to mind.

The Sideboard Guide

For the purpose of this sideboard guide, I’ll use a very stock list that I also employed for examples in the two previous articles. This also makes it easier for you to change out cards that may have a similar effect or play a similar role in your particular configuration. For example you can have an additional Ethersworn Canonist instead of a Sanctum Prelate in the board, so just switch those around for the appropriate matchup. The list, for reference, is this:

The matchup guide will cover the following fifteen matchups:

  • Grixis Delver
  • UR Delver
  • UB Death’s Shadow
  • Eldrazi Aggro
  • Death & Taxes
  • Storm (ANT/TES)
  • BG Depth
  • BR Reanimator
  • Sneak & Show
  • Elves
  • UW Miracles
  • Grixis Control
  • Esper Stoneblade
  • Lands
  • Mono-Red Stompy / Blood Moon decks

I have also included my recommendations for cards to name with Phyrexian Revoker and Pithing Needle as well as numbers for Sanctum Prelate in all matchups. Please keep in mind that with Death & Taxes everything is wonderfully contextual, so you should always use your better own judgment in the current game situation and ask yourself the evergreen question: “How do I lose?” before you proceed with your name-calling.

I will add one final note; Even though Legacy is a relatively stable format without too many new cards each set, I find that it is still somewhat in flux all the time. So I constantly develop and refine my sideboard plans, and you should too! This guide reflects my current approach to some of the most popular decks in Legacy. But I always look for ways to improve or adapt based on what I see out of the opponent’s board as well as what experience through repetition teaches me about roles in certain matchups and key cards. Examples for this are my current dabble with maindeck Restoration Angel or my interest in sideboard experiments with Chalice of the Void. So like the saying of the Caribbean pirates in their namesake movie, “the Code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules”. Act accordingly and welcome aboard the White Pearl!

Sideboard Against Grixis Delver

Out: 3 Phyrexian Revoker, 1 Recruiter of the Guard, 1 Palace Jailer
In: 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Dismember, 1 Path to Exile, 1 Walking Ballista

While I consider the original RUG Delver matchup as a good matchup, the addition of True-Name Nemesis and Gurmag Angler makes this a bit harder. I still think you are favored, but you have to play tightly!

This match is mostly about tempo. If you can survive the early game without being on a clock, you usually win due to your more powerful late game. Their back-up plans of tokens from Young Pyromancer or True-Name Nemesis can be a pain, but can be ignored via equipment and/or Flickerwisp. As they are not that threat-dense, removal is extremely important here. It is usually tough to try and race them, so your role is generally to be as defensive as possible. You still have to make calculated risks and attack, because a True-Name alone can turn the game around if you have not found a Council's Judgment. I try to play around Daze – at least with my removal spells – as much as possible. But otherwise your mana is usually under attack as well from Wasteland, so I am okay with trading most of my creatures for their Daze in the early game. However, I will usually save Stoneforge Mystic if possible. But if, for instance, I am holding a Council's Judgment as well, I would rather run into the Daze with the Stoneforge so I can (hopefully) resolve the removal spell next turn.

I wouldn’t gear my sideboard too heavily for this matchup, as you are generally in a fine spot here. They usually have stuff like Liliana, the Last HopeGrim Lavamancer or Engineered Explosives coming out of the board, so you can keep one Revoker and it won’t be completely dead. If you see different sideboard cards and the Revoker is just a 2/1 body, I would stick to the normal plan regardless. Sanctum Prelate can be a tough card to play, because setting it to “1” means that your best removal can no longer be cast, so keep this in mind when playing.

Revoker: Liliana, the Last Hope, Grim Lavamancer, Engineered Explosives, Izzet Staticaster

Sanctum Prelate: 1 or 2 (but very dependent on the game state)

Sideboard Against UR Delver

Out: 3 Phyrexian Revoker, 1 Palace Jailer, 1 Sword of Fire and Ice
In: 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Path to Exile, 1 Ethersworn Canonist, 1 Sanctum Prelate

I think this matchup is better than the matchup against Grixis Delver, as their gameplan is in some way narrower. UR Delver is a more burn-focused version than Grixis Delver with a weaker lategame. That is why tempo is even more important in this matchup.

Your goal is to kill all their creatures and gain life off of equipment or shut down a portion of their deck with Sanctum Prelate. They usually have sweepers and artifact destruction after board, so sometimes it can be correct to not play out an equipment until they are tapped out or after you put down a Sanctum Prelate. Prelate usually goes on 1, but it can be necessary to set it on 2 to play around Rough // Tumble, Abrade or Smash to Smithereens. Some versions also play True-Name Nemesis, so plan your removal accordingly. I don’t board in the Dismember here, as the life loss is a bigger disadvantage. If I knew I only played against Delver decks, I would just play 2 Path to Exile, but Path is worse against the mirror, Maverick, Aggro Loam and Elves so I don’t feel I have that luxury.

The Canonist is a way to slow down the game somewhat, as they cannot cantrip and play a threat or sorcery on their own turn. It’s another target for Smash to Smithereens, however, so I am still not sure about this strategy, it could also be the Leonin Relic-Warder if you see Sulfuric Vortex (they usually play one or two). Also, while I don’t think it is correct for them to have Price of Progress after board, remember to keep it in mind if possible and leave open Wasteland to potentially target your own lands (even itself!) if necessary.

Revoker: Grim Lavamancer

Sanctum Prelate: 1 or 2 (usually not worth it to name 3 against Risk Factor, just let them draw the cards that are hopefully blanks).

Sideboard Against UB Death’s Shadow

Out on the play: 3 Flickerwisp, 1 Umezawa's Jitte, 1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, 1 Mother of Runes, 1 Aether Vial

In on the play: 1 Path to Exile, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Dismember, 1 Karn, Scion of Urza, 1 Walking Ballista, 1 Pithing Needle

Out on the draw: 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, 1 Umezawa's Jitte, 1 Mother of Runes, 1 Aether Vial

In on the draw: 1 Path to Exile, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Dismember, 1 Walking Ballista, 1 Pithing Needle, 1 Karn, Scion of Urza

This matchup is pretty good in game 1, but can be vastly different after board based on what their sideboard looks like. In the stock list, they have Liliana, the Last Hope, Dread of NightRatchet Bomb and Engineered Explosives, so nothing is safe.

I try to hedge against Dread of Night and Liliana, which are very common nowadays, by taking out some number of X/1’s, and you can go even harder down this route in game 3 based on what you see game 2. The sideboard can change quite drastically based on this. Hymn to Tourach and Thoughtseize make it so you are quickly living off the top of your deck after sideboard, which means you have to make your topdecks as impactful as possible. This is why I keep a lot of expensive cards in the deck, even if it could look like a tempo matchup on the surface, like the other Delver decks. But since they have no reach, you are not in as much of a hurry to kill their creatures, and you can safely spend turns building up by trading your life total here. They will usually have to go to a low life total for their namesake card, so look out for racing opportunities with Mother of Runes and/or Flickerwisp to remove blockers for a surprise kill. One of the ways for them to trade more than 1-for-1 is Liliana, which is why Pithing Needle comes in. It can name Street Wraith in a pinch too, or even Polluted Delta.

Overall the goal is to get a Palace Jailer, planeswalker or creature with equipment into play, so you can take over the game. Their mana base is quite fragile, so it can usually make sense to Wasteland them early to try and screw them or slow them down. Prelate is a tough card in this matchup, as both 1 and 3 (Liliana, Dismember) hits your own premium removal as well. You may need that in the later stages of the game too, as your creatures are usually too small to profitably block. I still like it on the play, as you can follow up a Thalia with this on 1 to try and run away with the game.

Revoker/Needle: Liliana, the Last Hope, Ratchet Bomb, Engineered Explosives, Street Wraith

Sanctum Prelate: 1 or 3 (takes care of Dismember too!)

Sideboard Against Eldrazi Aggro

Out: 1 Sanctum Prelate, 4 Mother of Runes, 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
In: 1 Path to Exile, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Dismember, 1 Containment Priest, 1 Leonin Relic-Warder, 1 Karn, Scion of Urza

This is a compelling matchup due to its very swingy nature. Some of their draws can completely overrun you and make it look like you are playing different formats. I use three lands for a 1/1 creature tutor, you use three lands for a 5/8 land stealer. And other times, you lock down their fragile mana or use a Flickerwisp on their Endless One and life is simple. Overall, I would say this is one of Death & Taxes’s better matchups.

The game plan is of course to survive their early onslaught of fatties, which is why we once again board in all the removal. They have a powerful lategame with Oblivion SowerEye of Ugin and of course Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, so it is important to either attack their mana base before they get there or shut the door on their life total beforehand. Your removal lines up pretty well against their threats, and don’t be afraid to double block in a trade. They have very little instant speed interaction, so it should be quite safe to do.

Containment Priest is just a replacement for Thalia that has a favorable interaction with Flickerwisp, and Relic-Warder is a good answer to Chalice of the Void, which can be annoying. Thalia can brick-wall multiple Matter Reshapers and you have the potential for a double-block using Karakas to save the Thalia after first strike, so I still keep in a few.

Revoker: Endbringer, Umezawa's Jitte (you usually get Batterskull anyway), Grim Monolith, Ratchet Bomb

Sanctum Prelate: 2 (unless you need to hardcast Jitte).

Sideboard Against Death & Taxes (The Mirror)

Out on the play: 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, 1 Sanctum Prelate, 1 Sword of Fire and Ice, 1 Aether Vial

In on the play: 1 Path to Exile, 1 Dismember, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Leonin Relic-Warder, 1 Walking Ballista, 1 Karn, Scion of Urza

Out on the draw: 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, 1 Sanctum Prelate, 1 Sword of Fire and Ice, 1 Karakas

In on the draw: 1 Path to Exile, 1 Dismember, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Leonin Relic-Warder, 1 Walking Ballista, 1 Pithing Needle

The Death & Taxes mirror has always been a fun and skill-intensive match. There are a lot of different scenarios and subgames that require careful thought and your role and game plan can change basically every turn (especially since the introduction of Palace Jailer and the Monarch subgame). Because Death & Taxes operates on such a wide range of resources, knowing which to attack and defend at what point is crucial. As with everything, experience is your best friend, but I will try to give some general pointers.

The first and most important subgame revolves around Umezawa's Jitte. An active Jitte can end the game on the spot, but there are many ways to fight it, most importantly Mother of Runes. Barring that, playing and equipping Jitte is usually quite a tempo loss, so this can be taken advantage of by a timely removal spell or Aether Vial activation. If the other side has a Mother of Runes, suddenly it becomes important to have fliers to ensure that you get counters.

Aether Vial and Mother of Runes advantage can also tip the scales heavily in your favor, but it can all be broken up by a Phyrexian Revoker, so the games can be very back and forth.

Finally, the subgame involving the Monarch token will usually decide the game once the Jitte subgame has been handled (either by a board stall with no way to push damage through or a “revoked” Jitte). Card advantage then becomes the last avenue to victory, which again can be broken up by an all-out attack to steal the Monarchy and maybe even get a creature back.

It is very rare that a game is won via the damage race in the mirror, so mulligan accordingly. Don’t be afraid to fall behind on life total if it means you set up a better defensive later on. Death & Taxes is very capable of completely locking the opponent out once certain metrics are in place, so plan for the long game!

Some key interactions to look out for in the mirror especially: Flickerwisp is worth a study in and of itself due to its interactions with any permanent on the battlefield. Using it to reset a Stoneforge, Recruiter or Palace Jailer is very potent, since the removal is so taxed in the mirror that even getting your opponent to “waste” a Swords on one of these threats in response is good value. Also remember that you can buy a turn (and sometimes that is all you need!) with a Vial on 3 and Flickerwisp in hand to remove their equipment for a turn. This even plays around a Mother of Runes from their side and can be a huge tempo play. Another thing to keep in mind is that Phyrexian Revoker is colorless, so you are usually guaranteed to get Jitte counters even if they have Mother out, since she cannot give protection from artifacts or colorless.

Mana denial is another subgame to be aware of. Since you both obviously have access to the same lands, it is very contextual whether you or your opponent needs the mana the most and whether you should use Wasteland or Rishadan Port instead of advancing your own board. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t need the mana, it is likely correct to deny them the mana as well. But keep in mind spots where you can topdeck something like an equipment or even Stoneforge into equipment, where you want to be able to deploy everything in the same turn. Think about what your best draws are before you throw away your Wastelands. Also, as the games tend to go long, I would be hesitant to use Wasteland on a Karakas, as it is likely they will draw two copies across a game.

Revoker/Needle: Aether Vial, Mother of Runes, Umezwa’s Jitte are main threats, but even Walking Ballista or a planeswalker can be necessary.

Sanctum Prelate: 1 or 4 (depending on your hand)

Sideboard Against Storm (ANT/TES)

Out: 4 Swords to Plowshares, 1 Sword of Fire and Ice, 2 Palace Jailer, 1 Flickerwisp

In: 1 Sanctum Prelate, 1 Council's Judgment, 1 Ethersworn Canonist, 2 Rest in Peace, 1 Surgical Extraction, 1 Leonin Relic-Warder, 1 Pithing Needle

Rather than a 15-card sideboard, I would prefer to bring a loaded die to this particular matchup, as going first is the most important route to victory against Storm combo. On average they combo off turn 2 undisrupted, with some turn 3 kills adjusted by some (fewer) turn 1 kills. However, if you manage to land a disruption piece before they can go off, you have a great shot at winning, which is why going first in 2 out of 3 games is so important. It somehow almost always goes to 3 games. I consider this matchup basically 50/50, and there is not much play to it after the dieroll. You have to mulligan any hand that doesn’t have a turn 2 disruption piece, clean and simple. This matchup is not about card advantage, just stopping them long enough for you to kill them.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is obviously your number 1 threat, and a clear way to victory is a Karakas, an Aether Vial on 2 and Thalia, so you are protected from removal. Phyrexian Revoker on Lion's Eye Diamond is very effective as well, as they need it both for mana and to discard their hand to turn on Infernal Tutor. Finally, Rest in Peace takes care of any Past in Flames shenanigans, which is their safest route to comboing off. And I guess I don’t have to explain why Ethersworn Canonist is good.

Their usual answer to your hate pieces involves Massacre and/or Chain of Vapor. Massacre in particular can be annoying for an otherwise safe board setup of Mother of Runes + disruption creature, so if your hand allows it, sometimes not playing out your Plains can be a winning strategy to ensure they can’t cast their mass removal for free. On the other hand, if their only out is Massacre then Sanctum Prelate on 4 should be good enough to take the game, as they are then drawing to perhaps a couple of bounce spells, and that is asking a lot.

From my point of view, the main relevant difference between ANT and TES is that TES plays Rite of Flame and Chrome Mox and is more prone to going off with Empty the Warrens. If you have managed to stall them a bit, a Stoneforge Mystic + Batterskull is a very effective answer to this, so that is why I don’t board them out in this matchup. ANT also has Empty the Warrens and they can sometimes be forced to go off without Tendrils of Agony. For that reason, I always want to maximize my chances of defending against this kill by having the full 4 Stoneforge available, but if you have a sideboard with more cards against Storm, at least against ANT variations then Stoneforge would probably be my next card to cut.

Revoker/Needle: Lion's Eye Diamond (Revoker only), Lotus Petal (Revoker only), Polluted Delta (Needle only)

Sanctum Prelate: 4 (game 1 they usually don’t have outs), 0 or 1

Sideboard Against BG Depths

Out: 2 Stoneforge Mystic, 1 Palace Jailer, 1 Sword of Fire and Ice, 1 Sanctum Prelate, 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

In: 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Path to Exile, 1 Pithing Needle, 1 Dismember, 1 Walking Ballista, 1 Surgical Extraction

You are pretty well set up to beat this matchup. The number of ways to answer their combo in your maindeck alone is 16 cards: 3 Karakas, 4 Swords to Plowshares, 4 Wasteland, 4 Flickerwisp and 1 Palace Jailer. That list doesn’t even include Phyrexian Revoker, which stops Vampire Hexmage, and 2 Recruiter of the Guard to get the answers. Even a Rishadan Port on their Thespian's Stage can make sure they can only go off on their own turn.

Since Death & Taxes has so many answers to their combo, you will eventually overpower them if you can just keep things under control and make the game go long, so the goal is to do just that. This means you have to always consider how they can make an instant speed 20/20 and kill you in one swing, for example through the use of a removal on your blocker or Sejiri Steppe for protection. Since your clock is not very fast, they will usually have time to set up pretty well and keep a Sylvan Safekeeper around to protect the token from removal and bounce. That is why it can be a good idea to think about playing out your Flickerwispas a potential blocker, because it will usually be enough if you get a full turn cycle to answer the 20/20 token. It is for the same reason that I don’t cut Batterskulland Brightling, as just a couple of life points above 20 can be enough to buy you the time needed to answer their combo. Keep in mind that this could also mean using Swords to Plowshares on your own creature (if they have Sylvan Safekeeper out) to make sure you survive to untap and hopefully deal with the Marit Lage token. Since their combo does not require spells to be played, per se, I tend to refrain from using Rishadan Port in lieu of casting creatures that pressure their life total.

After board, they will usually go a bit into control mode, which means they will have enough resources to try to combo off twice. A timely Surgical Extraction can take out the Dark Depths to stop it altogether, but even just getting intel on their hand can be valuable, as you should be very far ahead in the matchup in general, so you can afford the card disadvantage. Pithing Needle’s main targets are Thespian's StageVampire Hexmage and Liliana, the Last Hope. As Phyrexian Revoker is also an answer for the latter two, don’t be afraid to play out an early Needle on Thespian's Stage. Keep in mind that if they get to activate the Stage once to copy a different land, the Needle will no longer stop the combo, as the Stage now has a different name (but keeps the copying ability).

If your general approach is to take each turn cycle and go through the ways you can lose to an instant speed 20/20 and play to avoid that, the deck should have enough tools to make sure you almost never lose this matchup in a best of 3 series.

Revoker/Needle: Sylvan Safekeeper, Vampire Hexmage, Mox Diamond (only Revoker), Thespian’s Stage (only Needle, pre-copy)

Sanctum Prelate: 2 or 1 (shuts off their Crop Rotation but also your Swords, so be careful!)

Sideboard Against BR Reanimator

Out: 3 Stoneforge Mystic, 1 Umezawa's Jitte, 1 Sword of Fire and Ice, 1 Mother of Runes, 2 Aether Vial, 1 Flickerwisp, 1 Brightling, 1 Recruiter of the Guard

In: 1 Ethersworn Canonist, 1 Containment Priest, 1 Surgical Extraction, 2 Rest in Peace, 1 Pithing Needle, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Leonin Relic-Warder, 1 Sanctum Prelate, 1 Path to Exile 

Despite its combo nature, the matchup against BR Reanimator actually has a lot of play to it, as long as you avoid the fast "Griselbrand, draw-14-cards" opening. Besides the obvious reanimation hate which they have a hard time dealing with, your goal is to just answer all their threats. Getting a Revoker or Needle on Griselbrand is huge, as you are then able to trade evenly with the rest of their creatures. It is also not uncommon to have a standoff involving Mother against them. You have so much removal after board that you are pretty likely to “out-threat” them, so the goal is to survive the initial onslaught and avoid Griselbrand activations and you should be fine. Karakas is also great here, so your first priority is looking for a hand that has it or one of your many removals. At least on the draw, this is more important than finding graveyard hate, as they will typically be able to reanimate a fatty at least by turn 2.

I keep 1 Stoneforge and the Batterskull as tutor targets, since the game can go long and you need a way to close it out. Relic-Warder is specifically for Animate Dead, and a clean answer to an Animated Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, as the state-based effects of the -2/-2 ability means that both triggers of the Relic-Warder goes on the stack at the same time, so you can choose to exile the Animate Dead forever. Also remember that Flickerwisp works with Animate Dead if you have managed to resolve a Rest in Peace in the meantime.

Revoker/Needle: Griselbrand, Lotus Petal (only Revoker), Bloodstained Mire/Delta (only Needle)

Sanctum Prelate: 0 or 1

Sideboard Against Sneak & Show

Out: 4 Swords to Plowshares, 2 Stoneforge Mystic, 1 Umezawa's Jitte, 1 Brightling, 1 Mother of Runes

In: 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Pithing Needle, 1 Containment Priest, 1 Ethersworn Canonist, 1 Leonin Relic-Warder, 1 Cataclysm, 1 Sanctum Prelate, 1 Path to Exile

Before Omniscience was added to the deck, this used to be a dream pairing for Death & Taxes. Revoker + Karakas was usually game over, and you didn’t even necessarily care about Griselbrand activations, since the extra cards just made more of Griselbrand or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, so there was not that much to worry about as long as you could keep Sneak Attack off the table (or unactivatable). Revoker, Thalia, Ports and Wasteland did the trick for this, which is still a Viable route to victory (get it?).

The issue now is that because of your rather slow clock, your opponent can usually set up for a Show and Tell into Omniscience into Emrakul or Cunning Wish, which is game over. So now you have to be more considerate of trying to race while still disrupting your opponent and especially their mana. The new lock is Sanctum Prelate on 3 and Revoker on Sneak Attack, which should be enough game 1, but is of course vulnerable to their sideboarded Pyroclasm and other removal. Adding Mother of Runes to the mix can obviously help, but always be aware that without Prelate, they can Cunning Wish for Kozilek's Return, and since the damage source is colorless you can’t protect any of your hatebears.

When you decide on opening hands against this deck, the most important thing is to have a way to deal with a Show and Tell into a Griselbrand or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Karakas and Palace Jailer are your best bets here, but even something like Mother of Runes plus a flier can do the trick, or Phyrexian Revoker to buy turns against Griselbrand. It is rare that they Show an Emrakul into play, since they are usually better off if they wait for Omniscience. This gives you time to set up, and after dealing with an initial fatty, your next concern is Prelate on 3 followed by Revoker or Needle on Sneak Attack. Your mana disruption can also help stall against Sneak Attack, and sometimes it can even be correct to name Lotus Petal with Revoker to try and bottleneck them on mana. Even keeping them to a single Red mana can be crucial if you have Karakas out as well. Sometimes their hand lines up in a way where they just have to go for it with a fatty off Show and Tell and cross their fingers, don’t be caught in these spots without an answer!

If you have more options when they play Show and Tell, it is crucial what you choose to put into play. I would say that their threats off Show in descending order of scariness are: Omniscience, Griselbrand, Sneak Attack, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. So think about your path to victory against each of these spells and plan accordingly. Sometimes you need to put in Flickerwisp or Ethersworn Canonist to buy a turn against Omniscience, sometimes it is Revoker to stop Griselbrand before activation and sometimes it is even a Recruiter of the Guard. Depending on the development of the game prior to Show and Tell and how many resources they have spent, sometimes it is correct to assume they don’t have a “kill” yet but are simply preparing for when they draw it by putting in Omniscience or Sneak Attack.

I recently toyed with the idea of bringing in Surgical Extraction both as a way to “counter” an Intuition (though the Sneak & Show versions usually only play 1-2 copies whereas Mono-Blue usually plays 3-4) but also to see their hand prior to choosing a card when they play their namesake spell.

Beware of Sudden Shock after board (or from Cunning Wish) and remember that some lists run Arcane Artisan, at which point you can probably board back in a couple of Swords to Plowshares.

Revoker/Needle: Sneak Attack, Griselbrand, Lotus Petal – the good lists usually play 2 of each fetchland so it is harder to get lucky with Needle here!

Sanctum Prelate: 3

Sideboard Against Elves

Out on the play: 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, 1 Recruiter of the Guard, 1 Sword of Fire and Ice, 1 Palace Jailer, 1 Brightling, 1 Karakas, 1 Aether Vial

In on the play: 1 Dismember, 1 Path to Exile, 1 Containment Priest, 1 Ethersworn Canonist, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Pithing Needle, 1 Cataclysm, 1 Walking Ballista

Out on the draw: 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, 1 Sword of Fire and Ice, 1 Palace Jailer, 1 Brightling, 1 Karakas, 1 Aether Vial

In on the draw: 1 Dismember, 1 Path to Exile, 1 Containment Priest, 1 Ethersworn Canonist, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Pithing Needle, 1 Cataclysm, 1 Walking Ballista

Aaaaand we come to Elves. The bane of Death & Taxes’s existence since, well, forever. Outside of something like Goblin Charbelcher combo, this is probably your worst matchup. All game plans of Elves just line up incredibly well against Death & Taxes. Their combo kill with Glimpse of Nature isn’t taxed by Thalia, we have no discard or countermagic for Natural Order and the rest of our mana denial plan is largely irrelevant because everything in their deck produces mana. And finally, even when they don’t find their Glimpse or Natural Order, they can play a grind game just fine with Wirewood Symbiote, which, incidentally, also prevents our main route to victory, Umezawa's Jitte, from getting counters. And they do all of this consistently through Green Sun's Zenith, the glue that holds the deck together.

So instead of focusing on all the way too powerful things they can do, let’s focus on what Death & Taxes can do! Your goal is to get counters on Umezawa's Jitte to handle the first onslaught of Elves from the opposing side and then try to slow them down with land disruption. Without their creatures (mana dorks or otherwise), they have a very fragile mana base of 20 lands including 2 Dryad Arbor and 4 Gaea’s Cradle. Adding a card like Damping Sphere to the board would also be a great help against Elves, as it shuts down both the big Glimpse turns and the explosiveness of Cradle. Even if they deal with your Jitte, you will usually have bought enough time that your more expensive creatures and spells can take over the game.The issue is getting the counters on the Jitte, both from a timing perspective – the earliest you can do it is turn 3 and requires a Mother of Runes and a naturally drawn Jitte unless you got the Ancient Tomb – and avoiding having your attack negated by a Wirewood Symbiote. A potentially winning curve (on the play) could be turn 1 removal spell, turn 2 Stoneforge for Jitte, turn 3 Flickerwisp, turn 4 equip. On the draw this is likely too slow, and if they have an explosive Cradle draw it is even too slow on the play. So there is a lot of finger crossing in this matchup and – at least from a philosophical standpoint – that is just something you have to accept as a Death & Taxes pilot.

Other than getting counters on Jitte, the other way to win is to limit their explosiveness by killing everything in sight. Removal spells through turn 1-3 (Revoker and even Wasteland counts here) may also be enough for you to land something like a Jailer or a Cataclysm to reset the game. One of the great things about cards like Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile/Dismemberis that you usually trade “up” in mana against the threats you kill, but that is not the case with Elves, which is why Death & Taxes is prone to fall behind in this matchup.

Craterhoof Behemoth usually requires a few creatures to be a worthy tutor target, so watch out for sideboard Progenitus, which is the main reason the pair of Council's Judgment comes in. Don’t be afraid to use them immediately on a puny little elf however, as keeping them off creatures in general is necessary to keep their explosive potential in check.

Finally, I will say that even though this matchup is quite abysmal and there are some potent albeit narrow sideboard cards you can add like Holy Light or Peacekeeper, you just have to realize that playing Death & Taxes means that sometimes things are just outside your control. A linear creature-combo deck like Elves suffers from its own weaknesses (including its inherent deck difficulty), so I would never be too concerned with this deck taking over the metagame and making Death & Taxes obsolete. Sometimes the correct play is to simply cross your fingers and hope to dodge!

Revoker/Needle: Heritage Druid (Revoker only), Wirewood Symbiote, Quirion Ranger, Birchlore Ranger (Revoker only)

Sanctum Prelate: 4 or 1 (be aware that 4 doesn’t stop Zenith for Reclamation Sage, as they can just pay 5 or more).

Sideboard Against UW Miracles

Out: 4 Swords to Plowshares, 1 Umezawa's Jitte, 1 Phyrexian Revoker, 1 Mother of Runes, 1 Karakas

In: 1 Pithing Needle, 1 Karn, Scion of Urza, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Cataclysm, 1 Walking Ballista, 1 Sanctum Prelate, 1 Surgical Extraction

A wonderfully interesting matchup that is guaranteed to go long and therefore have plenty of room for your far superior play skills to determine the outcome of the match!

UW Miracles is your classic control deck, and it wins because it has answers for everything important you do and then gets ahead with card advantage through Jace, the Mind Sculptor and (recently) Accumulated Knowledge. There are many different configurations of this deck, and your sideboard changes based on what you see, so pay attention. For instance, if they play Accumulated Knowledge, which most lists do these days, I think it is fine to board in 1 Rest in Peace as a sort of counter to the card advantage in addition to its main purpose. That would be stopping them from replaying Swords to Plowshares throughout the matchup via Snapcaster Mage. It also cuts Mission Briefing in half, as they cannot flashback anything, so if you see all of the above, I would err towards siding in a Rest in Peace, since the graveyard then becomes enough of a resource that I want to attack it.

On top of Jace, their threats can vary from Monastery Mentor to Entreat the Angels or Brightling, so sometimes it can be correct to leave 1 or 2 Swords to Plowshares in the deck to combat the Mentor, as it can quickly get out of hand. The Pithing Needle comes in to stop Jace, which is their usual way to win the game against Death & Taxes. It can seem strange since we cut a Phyrexian Revoker, but in this matchup the 2/1 body is quite a liability due to the prevalence of removal in their deck.

The way to approach the matchup is that you are typically the beatdown from the start, but as you can easily generate massive card advantage of your own through Palace Jailer (which they have a hard time stopping) and a reset button in Cataclysm, usually you are not in too much of a hurry to kill them, so it is important not to overextend. Think about giving them as little value as possible out of their card advantage, removal and mana. This can mean you have to pass the turn when they have mana up for Snapcaster + Swords or you wait until Aether Vial is on 3 before you deploy a threat, so Flickerwisp can save it. Thalia is very important here, as it is a fine clock on its own and lets you stall them out with land disruption while you generate a mana advantage for yourself, so you can land Palace Jailer or Karn, Scion of Urza in a reasonably safe spot. Sanctum Prelate plus Mother of Runes is another way to slow the game (remember not to attack into potential Snapcasters!). Even a single Stoneforge Mystic can be enough to force their hand and always make sure they get as little advantage out of their spells as possible. As long as you can keep them from setting up a Jace and get multiple activations, you should generally be fine. I usually get a Sword of Fire and Ice first with Stoneforge, as it is a way to make every threat something they can’t ignore for long.

Revoker/Needle: Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Engineered Explosives

Sanctum Prelate: 1 or 6 (if you have Mother of Runes, usually 6 will be correct but keep in mind that they play Council's Judgment too, so it is not a “hard” lock. Also they can always just double Swords your Mother of Runes.)

Sideboard Against Grixis Control

Out: 3 Swords to Plowshares, 1 Aether Vial, 1 Karakas, 1 Flickerwisp

In: 1 Karn, Scion of Urza, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Rest in Peace, 1 Walking Ballista, 1 Cataclysm

This matchup is similar to UW Miracles, yet different because they don’t have the same (amount of) mass removal. Instead they have powerful hand disruption, which means that your cards are safer on the battlefield than in your hand. This makes it hard to sandbag threats and come up with a more well thought out game plan based on the context in your hand. Additionally, your equipment and Vials are under more pressure due to Kolaghan's Command, which is a very powerful card against you. On the plus side, their fewer mass removals means that it is easier to establish soft locks with Mother and Thalia and to just generally play out whatever you draw, if for no other than reason than to blank any additional discard they might topdeck. They usually only play 1-2 Toxic Deluges or Marsh Casualties, so sometimes it is correct to just play it all out and hope they don’t have it.

The easiest avenue to victory is to try and manascrew them with Wasteland and Rishadan Port while your creatures beat down. They have a quite fragile manabase with a lot of duals, so a timely Wasteland or Port activation can really mess with their plans. Once they get up to 4 or 5 mana, it can be very hard to deal with their more powerful spells, even through a Thalia, so keeping them on fewer lands is usually A Good Thing.

If the mana denial plan doesn’t work out, then the goal is to again try to give them as little (card) advantage as possible from their spells. This can be harder due to the prevalence of removal combined with the Snapcaster Mages as well as Baleful Strix providing it up front. Your biggest trump is Palace Jailer, and if you can get it into play without immediately losing the Monarch to a surprise Snapcaster or a Strix flying over, you are in a good spot. That is also why I keep 1 Swords to Plowshares in the deck after board, which generally makes for unfavorable trades against their creatures if not for protecting the precious Monarch. You win this matchup by getting one of your powerful 4-drops to stick without letting any of their planeswalkers (Liliana or Jace) run away with the game

A part of this strategy is to get to 4 mana in the first place, and due to their discard-heavy approach, I am more keen to keep hands with a lot of mana in them than against UW Miracles, if there is also some utility to them like Port or Karakas. The threats will have to come off the top anyhow, so I just want to be able to cast them when I draw them. Kolaghan's Command is a huge beating and there is not much to do to mitigate its effect, especially once they replay it off Snapcaster. As a general rule, I try not to expose equipment until they are either tapped low (so I at least get one hit in) or when I have Flickerwisp ready under Aether Vial. This is a tough proposition when you are already trying to play around discard, but I still keep in all the equipment so Stoneforge gives back some of the lost card advantage, even if landing a Jitte isn’t the most powerful play in the machup. I tend to keep cards in hand just to protect a Jailer or Karn against Hymn to Tourach, as Inquisition of Kozilek can’t take it.

Generally a difficult matchup, but as the games typically go long here as well, there are plenty of opportunities to leverage play skill. The decklist can also be geared more heavily towards beating Grixis Control, such as playing more resilient threats like Hallowed Peacekeeper, Mirran Crusader or even more creative (read: narrow) options like Paladin en-Vec or Devout Lightcaster. I think the issue with a lot of these cards is that they are not necessarily very potent against the rest of the field, which is an issue when playing a deck like Death & Taxes without the access to the kind of card selection one might wish for otherwise.

Revoker: Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Liliana, the Last Hope

Sanctum Prelate: 3 or 1 (Toxic Deluge and Kolaghan’s Command are their best cards, but Prelate dies to all the one mana removal too)

Sideboard Against Esper Stoneblade

Out, 4 Swords to Plowshares, 1 Palace Jailer, 1 Karakas

In: 1 Pithing Needle, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Karn, Scion of Urza, 1 Leonin Relic-Warder, 1 Sanctum Prelate

This is a tough matchup because their plan is so well set up against you. Umezawa's JitteTrue-Name Nemesis and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in combination all make your life very difficult, and it is hard to find a good angle of attack when they also have card selection, card advantage and removal to back it up. Racing them is usually not an option either, so I have found that the best thing to do is attack their mana, as they quite susceptible to being screwed out of executing their game plan if they don’t have ample mana (and of the right colors) available. An opening of Wasteland and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can halt them for quite a while, but an issue with this is, that they can defend themselves quite well on 3 or even 2 mana (for example with Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull), so inevitably they will find more lands and take over the game if you don’t press your advantage. This is also why I add the Sanctum Prelate to simply get more starts where you can shut them out of playing their Brainstorm and Ponder to aid in the mana denial plan by keeping them off their cantrips.

Council's Judgment should be saved for their True-Name Nemesis if at all possible, whereas Phyrexian Revoker and Pithing Needle should mitigate Jace and Jitte. Removal is not terribly potent against them, but due to their equipments, a timely Swords to Plowshares can buy you a lot of tempo. I bring in Karn, Scion of Urza here, as often you will find yourself in a staring contest with them where the extra card advantage obviously shines. It can also survive 2 hits from True-Name, so it gives you more ways to find a Judgment. This is also the reason I take out 1 Palace Jailer, as its double-edged nature becomes more apparent in this matchup because of True-Name (and even Vendilion Clique or Baleful Strix, if they play it).

Be aware of Zealous Persecution and Supreme Verdict out of their sideboard, but at the same time put on enough pressure so they cannot resolve and defend a Jace early on. Setting up a strong board and then putting a Prelate on 4 can be a winning play as well (also stops Jace very nicely). I considered boarding in Cataclysm, but a lot of the time they will just be left with a True-Name and you won’t have gotten much advantage out of it, even if it does take care of Jace.

Overall a very tough matchup, where Death & Taxes is the aggressor, and unlike most other matchups, sometimes it is correct against Stoneblade to just close your eyes and pray they don’t have [instert any number of their backbreaking spells against you].

Revoker/Needle: Umezawa's Jitte, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Stoneforge Mystic, Batterskull

Sanctum Prelate: 1 or 4 (for Supreme Verdict after board)

Sideboard Against Lands

Out on the play: 2 Swords to Plowshares, 2 Phyrexian Revoker, 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, 1 Umezawa's Jitte, 1 Stoneforge Mystic

In on the play: 2 Rest in Peace, 1 Surgical Extraction, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Pithing Needle, 1 Karn, Scion of Urza, 1 Cataclysm, 1 Sanctum Prelate

Out on the draw:1 Swords to Plowshares, 2 Phyrexian Revoker, 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, 1 Umezawa's Jitte, 1 Stoneforge Mystic

In on the draw: 2 Rest in Peace, 1 Surgical Extraction, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Pithing Needle, 1 Karn, Scion of Urza, 1 Cataclysm, 1 Sanctum Prelate

Notwithstanding the deck’s many avenues of attack, Lands is in essence a very linear strategy. Get lands in the graveyard, get them back, use Punishing Fire to survive, prosper. This puts a lot of emphasis on the graveyard, which is why Rest in Peace and Surgical Extraction are your best cards along with Sanctum Prelate. That part is easy enough, but then they add the Marit Lage combo as well as card advantage engines like Sylvan Library and Tireless Tracker, and the matchup becomes very complex because Lands can do so many different things. Your first order of business is taking care of Punishing Fire, as it is almost impossible to win if they have it alongside Grove of the Burnwillows. This can be achieved either by graveyard removal or Prelate, which is your no. 1 way to win the game. A Prelate on 2 generally means they have to find Barbarian Ring or Molten Vortex, both 1-ofs in their deck. Mind you, they can dig for them with Gamble and Crop Rotation. Therefore it is only a soft-lock, but add something like Sword of Fire and Ice, or take away their threshold and include a Mother of Runes, and it should be elementary from there (oh, as long as you also dodge the Marit Lage kill).

Pithing Needle names anything from Thespian's Stage and Molten Vortex to Rishadan PortMaze of Ith and even Wasteland to avoid being locked out of mana. Plains are some of your best cards in this matchup, as Death & Taxes is quite well set up to beat Lands, but requires the mana to cast your spells. This is also why Thalia comes out, as the spell tax can be more devastating to you than your opponent. Cataclysm is actually not that great against Lands alone, because they can quickly rebuild with the Life from the Loam engine, but it is your only reset button if they have had it going for a while already. Always be aware of what they can find with Crop Rotation, as they will usually sandbag it until the most opportune moment, so stay alert! Flickerwisp is a very important card in the matchup too, as taking out a Glacial ChasmThe Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale or even just resetting a Mox Diamond can be very powerful, so try to save them for the most opportune moments.

Revoker/Needle: Mox Diamond (Revoker only), Molten Vortex, Thespian’s Stage (Needle only), Rishadan Port (Needle only), Wasteland (Needle only)

Sanctum Prelate: 2, two, too, deux, dos, zwei and tú. Yes, it definitely should be 2.

Sideboard Against Mono-Red Blood Moon/Ensnaring Bridge

Out: 1 Palace Jailer, 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, 2 Mother of Runes, 1 Sword of Fire and Ice, 1 Brightling

In: 1 Cataclysm, 2 Council's Judgment, 1 Dismember, 1 Path to Exile, 1 Leonin Relic-Warder, 1 Pithing Needle, 1 Sanctum Prelate, 1 Walking Ballista

Welcome to your best matchup! 10 basic Plains + Vial, plenty of removal and reasonably costed threats means that nothing the Mono-Red Blood Moon deck does against you is particularly strong. You are well set up to beat Blood Moon, Ensnaring Bridge, Trinisphere, Chalice of the Void and even Goblin tokens! The ways to lose this game is typically mana screw because of Blood MoonMagus of the Moon or a timely Fiery Confluence, which alongside Chandra, Torch of Defiance are their two biggest threats. Thankfully, a Sanctum Prelate on 4 takes care of both of these.

Beware of Sulfur Elemental and Kozilek’s Return or Pyroclasm after sideboard (the reason we board out a lot of the smaller critters), and generally keep hands with enough mana to cast your spells (even through Trinisphere). You are usually not well off using Wasteland on them, as you need the mana more, butRishadan Port can still be disruptive (and essentially a 2-for-1) by targeting an Ancient Tomb or (better yet) a City of Traitors.

As long as you can avoid dying to Goblin beats and don’t run into Fiery Confluence, you should be fine. Cataclysm comes in because they are prone to playing out all cards they draw (because of Ensnaring Bridge), so you can plan around a reset button, usually involving multiple artifacts on their side, and it also takes care of a Chandra threatening to ultimate (or mitigate the damage post-emblem). Revoker can go on anything from Chrome Mox to Simian Spirit Guide but more commonly Chandra or even Hazoret, the Fervent. Ensnaring Bridge is no problem for this deck, as you can just wait for your big turn and then play Flickerwisp. Remember that if you have Jitte counters, you can shrink a Stoneforge Mystic once and then pump after declare attackers to net 2 Jitte counters and to do the same thing all over again next turn.

Revoker/Needle: Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Hazoret the Fervent

Sanctum Prelate: 4

This article was written by Thomas Enevoldsen in a media collaboration with Snapcardster.com.




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