Many people (myself included) have said over the past few years at one point or another that the Legacy format is dead. The Reserved List has created a situation where the cards needed to play the game have become inaccessible to the majority of the player base, and numbers are dwindling as format growth – at least in paper – has stagnated. Legacy as a concept, however, doesn’t particularly deserve such a brutal demise. The format is very rich, the card pool extremely deep and the gameplay is generally quite rewarding. Fortunately, the format has remained alive and well on MTGO over the years, as decks and cards are much more available than their physical counterparts. While we may someday cover Legacy online play on a budget, today I’m looking to tackle a different beast in an effort to give those who’ve stuck it out during our time away from paper play a chance to play against an actual opponent who isn’t on Burn. Today, we’re taking a look at Death and Taxes on a budget.
Before we begin, as always, my rules:
- These decks are meant as an entry point into the format. While each strategy is playtested before being presented, you should not expect this list to perform at or near the same level as a non-budget alternative. Especially in the Legacy format, that’s just not a reasonable expectation when the majority of cards will grossly outclass anything that a shoestring budget can afford.
- For Legacy play, because competition is so cutthroat and in general it is much easier to be punished for stumbling over a clunky mana base, the decks I show will be priced at or around $250 at the time of posting. While budget decks are meant to be affordable to those that would be buying them, there is also a reasonable expectation of “keeping pace” with the rest of the format. If an $80 version of a deck were possible, I would showcase that instead.
- The decks that I feature have been personally tested and are being shown off for a reason, whether that be a meaningful record in a set amount of games or that the deck is capable of being a premium teaching tool to someone who is new to the format.
Budget Legacy Death and Taxes by Darren Magnotti
Before I begin here, I understand that I am currently under the careful watch of the DnT Cabal and any potential slip up will result in my banning from several elite social clubs that I may have otherwise had access to. I acknowledge that I am one of the last people that should be talking about the delicate intricacies of this archetype, and I urge anyone sincerely interested in the deck to take your own trip down the rabbit hole to learn more from some people who are a lot smarter than me.
Now, Death and Taxes is one of the format’s most beloved archetypes, combining an aggressive beatdown strategy with controlling prison elements in an effort to throw an opponent off their game plan for just long enough to sneak a win via chip damage from its myriad creatures. The deck is essentially a collection of sideboard cards, all held together by the powerful mana advantage machine that is Aether Vial. The main game plan of the deck, contrary to popular opinion, is not to control an opponent by dictating their pace of play or answer the threats that they present. Rather, it is to present a toolkit that can be used to examine and methodically disassemble any opposing force the way a hook pin and tension rod work their way through an intricate lock, effectively invalidating whatever an opponent chose to sleeve up that day.
One of the core elements of a Death and Taxes deck is the ability to disrupt mana flow. Mana is the one thing that the vast majority of Legacy decks have in common, so being able to disrupt an opposing mana base is going to earn points in almost every matchup.
To facilitate the mana disruption plan, the deck takes advantage of a mix of taxing effects and straight land destruction. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Leonin Arbiter are the core of the mana denial package. I feel like anyone looking to get into Legacy should already know how powerful Thalia can be, but in a format dominated by one-mana cantrip effects and removal spells, doubling a deck’s mana requirements is a tremendous ask in and of itself.
As for the Cat, it turns out that there are very few decks well equipped to handle an early Leonin Arbiter. While it’s core duty is to punish fetchlands, it also turns the budget Wasteland in the deck, Ghost Quarter, into a legitimate Strip Mine when played correctly. Mangara of Corondor, in combination with Karakas, can also act as a repeatable Vindicate-on-a-stick to remove any opposing permanent including any pesky lands that the Arbiter wasn’t able to clear out.
Death and Taxes cannot rely strictly on mana denial as a primary disruption element, as some decks in the format are equipped to withstand it. The deck also has access to a deep toolbox of creatures with which it can inflict further misery on its opponents.
To ensure equal distribution of misery, the deck also leans heavily into a removal package by way of Brutal Cathar, Skyclave Apparition and the real load-bearer of the deck, Flickerwisp. These creatures can temporarily steal, remove or disrupt any permanent that may be causing headaches, and in conjunction with Containment Priest, act as legitimate removal spells. Palace Jailer similarly can clear the way of a defensive force while enabling some later game card advantage, and as previously mentioned the Mangara–Karakas combo can clean up anything left behind. The important thing to note about all of these creatures is that they are decent attacking bodies on top of acting as removal. The plan isn’t to merely annoy an opponent to death, it’s to annoy them to death as you kill them to death by stealing damage whenever and wherever possible.
To round out the creature suite, Death and Taxes can choose to load up on some creatures with more static hate abilities. These are more typically used against decks that play to the stack rather than to the board, such as storm combo and control decks.
Phyrexian Revoker and Mother of Runes can both shut down individual cards, either by name or by flat out blanking them in the case of a removal spell. Meanwhile, Spirit of the Labyrinth is shutting down all of the Brainstorm decks in the format as well as anyone else who is looking to refill their hand regularly. Archon of Emeria is more of a utility tool, helping to slow down the plethora of nonbasic lands in the format as well as anyone trying to gain advantage by making multiple plays at once.
All of these creatures are of course backed up by the awesome mana-cheating power of Aether Vial. The Vial allows the deck to take advantage of its own mana base as a tool for disruption, fight through countermagic and get ahead on anyone looking to play on curve by effectively doubling the amount of mana that can be used in a turn. On top that, its ability to put creatures into play at instant speed makes Vial a tremendously powerful tool in any creature deck’s arsenal.
I will begin this section by saying that Legacy as a format overall tends to reward player skill over deck selection. The more practice you have with a deck and the more you are able to anticipate what your opponent might do next while being able to answer those possibilities, the more likely you are to succeed in the format.
With that said, the deck gave a surprisingly solid performance. I have been out of the Legacy scene for a couple of years, and there were a handful of strategies that were generally foreign to me that I was completely under prepared for. There were also several matchups against decks that I’ve either played before personally or have been around the format for long enough that I have had substantial exposure to them and I knew how they worked and what to expect. The games that I saw the most success in were the latter.
While there are a decent number of strategies that inherently underperform against Death and Taxes, there are far more knowledgeable pilots who know how to cover those weaknesses, from what I’ve seen. I was surprised at the number of decks that were completely unprepared for a Leonin Arbiter to hit the table, so I feel as though a good portion of my success came from my rogue element in playing cards that others weren’t ready for.
On the whole though. Legacy is a format of old masters duking it out and testing their knowledge against each other. It can be very daunting to try to get in the middle of that as a newcomer, but I believe that this deck is capable enough to provide a fun experience while also catching enough people off guard to be worthwhile. Death and Taxes is also one of the best teaching tools in terms of learning those microinteractions, and gaining a deep understanding of some of the game’s most fundamental concepts. This list is able to hold its own in capable hands, as well as to teach those hands to become capable.
Legacy Death and Taxes by JUJUBEAN__2004
Death and Taxes is fortunately one of those decks that upgrades very easily over time. The more full lists incorporate several packages that can be picked up in batches and only ever add to the deck’s overall game plan. From the “real” mana denial lands in Wasteland and Rishadan Port to the more resilient threat package offered by Stoneforge Mystic, there aren’t too many additions to this deck that don’t just slot right in alongside what’s already here.
That’s all for this one! I had a great time jumping back into the Legacy format. Player counts may not be super high, but at no fault of the gameplay. Every match I played was very fun and an interesting puzzle that made me think about interactions in ways that I haven’t in quite a while. If you guys are interested in more Legacy content, feel free to let me know! I always appreciate your feedback. But until next time, stay safe, play smart and thanks for reading!