Top 5 Tax Effects – Riley Ranks

Already we’re seeing some of the new cards from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms making an impact on various Constructed formats. Given the power level of Standard and how entrenched the top decks in the format are, it’s incredible that a relatively low-powered set like Forgotten Realms is changing anything at all – but there are a few cards that are making their presence felt.  One such card is Paladin Class, the perfect option for a small, creature-based strategy such as White Weenie. The anthem effect it offers is obviously the headline act in such a deck, but its level one mode, an ability reminiscent of a myriad of tax effects, is a nice way to disrupt instant-speed interaction and force a slower opponent to play off-kilter.

There are plenty of other tax effects that have been printed throughout Magic’s history, and while Paladin Class probably isn’t up there with the all-timers, it nonetheless made me wonder which tax cards are the best ever printed. Let’s find out!



Header - 5. Elite Spellbinder

Elite Spellbinder


I’m not sure that we even file this one under “tax” cards, but as a truly iconic addition to Magic’s history, until Paulo’s effect gets given its own name, I think it’s safe enough to call it a tax effect. This card opened up a whole new direction for white hand disruption, and given the fact that white kinda needs all the help it can get at the moment, I think it’s a good move. 

Elite Spellbinder is a critical card in decks that are looking to beat down, often sniping the wrath or removal spell that would otherwise slow down the clock long enough for an opponent to stabilize. Two extra mana might as well be a million when you’re taking enough damage – and that’s exactly the point of tax effects, to inhibit your opponent’s game plan while accruing your own advantage (usually through bringing the beats). 

Is Elite Spellbinder a tax card? I think it is, and again until this effect appears on more cards and is given its own name (I mean, people may just call it “the PV effect” for the rest of time, which is entirely appropriate), I think it’s fine to categorize this sweet new white hand disruption ability as a tax effect. 


Header - 4. Damping Sphere

Damping Sphere


It slices, it dices, it does it all. Damping Sphere is an all-purpose post-board hate piece in Modern, sniping everything from Storm to Tron with one simple colorless two-drop. Its tax effect isn’t very broad, but it hits extremely hard against decks filled with cheap instants and sorceries such as anything with Arclight Phoenix and, of course, Storm decks, against which an unanswered Damping Sphere is lights out. 

Building a 15-card sideboard that can tangle with all the decks present in a format is very difficult, but Damping Sphere does a great job. It’s often played by “fair” decks that aren’t looking to chain a bunch of spells (and might otherwise struggle against decks like Tron), and these days is typically found in the sideboards of decks like Heliod Company. It even sees some play in Legacy too, in various “fair” snow lists. Again, its tax effect is pretty narrow, but what it does, it does very well. 


Header - 3. Lodestone Golem/Sphere

Lodestone GolemSphere of Resistance


Vintage is a ridiculous format at the best of times, with people doing the most disgustingly broken stuff as a matter of course thanks to things like the Moxen, Ancestral Recall and of course Black Lotus. It turns out, however, these cards aren’t quite as busted if you have to pay extra mana for them, and that’s what all the Mishra’s Workshops decks try to do. 

Mishra’s Workshop is a broken card in and of itself, providing an absolutely absurd mana advantage to the decks that play it, and is usually leveraged to further widen the gap in mana production by playing a bunch of tax effects, most famously Lodestone Golem and Sphere of Resistance. Lodestone Golem was even hit with a restriction a couple of years ago to try to nerf Shops decks down a little bit. 

In a format with so many free spells, so much fast mana and so much degenerate nonsense, something as unassuming as a Sphere of Resistance actually does a huge amount of work. I wouldn’t call Lodestone Golem unassuming, however, as it does more or less the same thing as Sphere of Resistance while also smacking you for five a turn. Ouch.


Header - 2. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV

Grand Arbiter Augustin IV


When playing Commander, sometimes you know it’s going to be one of those games before you’ve even started shuffling. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV decks are miserable to play against, as they’re almost always prison or lockout decks, filled with hate spells, permission and the very best interaction in both blue and white. 

Not only does this card tax your mana, it also allows its controller to evade their taxes and not pay full price for their spells! “What’s the big deal?” asks everyone who has never played against Grand Arbiter Augustin IV. “It just dies to Doom Blade!” Sure, mate – good luck paying for a Doom Blade against this deck, let alone getting it to resolve. 

The pilots of decks like this will tell you they’re doing it “to keep the table honest.” It’s a good bit of spin, and like any effective lie, it contains a grain of truth. The real fact of the matter, however, is that Grand Arbiter Augustin IV pilots believe that fun is zero-sum, and if any other player at the table is having any fun whatsoever, that’s fun that they themselves could be having instead. 


Header - 1. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben


An absolute classic tax effect, the face of the Death and Taxes archetype, and multi-format staple, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is the quintessential tax card. Innocuous enough to look at, this card is absolutely incredible and shines in any matchup where a player would be looking to contest the board with removal spells or sweepers. Good luck surviving until turn five or six to cast your board wipe with Thalia and her mates out!

Delaying all your opponent’s interaction by a turn is often enough to make the difference between a swift victory and them stabilizing behind removal, but the 2/1 first strike body is also surprisingly useful. She can’t be chump-blocked by 1/1s, she can attack into many boards with impunity, and she’s even excellent as a blocker in a pinch as she can hold off other small creatures endlessly. 

There’s a reason she’s become the figurehead for an entire archetype, and is usually included as a four-of in most Death and Taxes lists. Thalia is probably the most popular and most-played tax effect the game has ever seen, and rightfully deserves her top spot on this list. 



Tax effects aren’t for everyone – they can feel oppressive and almost unfair at times, and no-one likes being locked out of a game of Magic. Nonetheless, they’ve played a big part in competitive Magic for a long time, and in older formats continue to wage war against degenerate combo decks and other silly nonsense – marching ever onwards, of course,  in service of their queen, Thalia herself.


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