Death & Taxes: A Legacy Boogeyman – by Gabe Dion



[…] But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

-Benjamin Franklin


A highly disruptive white weenie deck.

-Craig Wescoe

Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze Champion

Greetings spell slingers.

In my quest to stay Force of Will free, I moved from Elves! to another deck. The Legacy metagame is always evolving, and so should I as a player. I like to compare Legacy with nature (blame it on me being a green mage for so long…). Some decks predate on a certain types, while others aim to maul the dominant type. It’s survival of the fittest. (Pun intended)

Blue decks have proven themselves to be mostly superior since Legacy became a format in 2005. In response to this dominance, an apex predator arose from the vast plains to hunt those blue control-type decks.

It all started in 2007 when a list called Death & Taxes appeared. The methodology behind this deck was to apply constant pressure against your opponent with highly-efficient, low cost creatures (Death) while impeding his abilities to play spells and restrain his resource development (Taxes).

It is not surprisingly to find this archetype present in all three of the eternal format. Known in Vintage as White Trash and in Modern as Hate Bears, which recently won the Bazaar of Moxen Modern event.

I wouldn’t recommend playing this grindy deck in a 6+ round tournament without a good nights sleep before the tournament. Some lines of play require a lot of planning, concentration and a clear understanding of what you’re playing against.

In the past 3 years, some major changes transformed the deck into one of the major decks to beat in any given metagame. You can always bet on having Death & Taxes players at any given tournament. Let’s take a quick glance at my current list:

Death and Taxes

Lands // 23

4 x Wasteland

4 x Rishadan Port

3 x Karakas

2 x Cavern of Souls

2 x Horizon Canopy

8 x Plains


Creatures // 24

4 x Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

4 x Mother of Runes

4 x Stoneforge Mystic

2 x Spirit of the Labyrinth

2 x Aven Mindcensor

3 x Flickerwisp

1 x Brimaz, King of Oreskos

2 x Mirran Crusader

2 x Phyrexian Revoker


Non-Creature Spells // 13

1 x Batterskull

1 x Sword of Fire and Ice

1 x Umezawa’s Jitte

2 x Runed Halo

4 x Aether Vial

4 x Swords to Plowshares


Sideboard // 15

1 x Aegis of the Gods

2 x Enlightened Tutor

2 x Rest in Peace

1 x Cataclysm

1 x Manriki-Gusari

2 x Wilt-Leaf Liege

2 x Ethersworn Canonist

1 x Spirit of the Labyrinth

1 x Sunlance

1 x Meekstone

1 x Oblivion Ring


This deck, like 99% of the Legacy metagame, is highly synergetic. Every card has a specific task and aims to attack your opponent’s resources or creatures at a specific angle. The format is known for free counter magic, using life points as a resource or some insane mana-generating. Death & Taxes, as I stated before, aims to disrupt every one of those plans. Let’s look at what those cards do.


Lots of people refer to the deck as Hate Bears, since all of your creatures tend to disrupt your opponent’s battle plan. Some are amazing against specific decks, others are better at winning an attrition war.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben: Probably my favorite card in the list. A Thorn of Amethyst on a stick with First Strike, this card seems to have been developed for this deck in mind.

Easily cheated into play with Aether Vial, Thalia is vital in our taxing plan and can easily defend herself. With the support cards available in the deck, it’s easy for her to stick to the board and create a situation where you dominate the game.

A mistake I often see with this card when players are trying to rush her into play is to use Cavern of Souls, name human and slam her on the table. Well, first, be respectful. She’s a lady with a sword. Second, when using Cavern of Souls early, name Soldier as a creature type. You’ll understand later!

Mother of Runes

Mother of Runes: Affectionately called Mom by the majority of the Legacy community, this one drop white creature protects every one of our creature-based disruption and allows us to punch damage through a swarm of blockers. One of the best support cards in the deck. Even more prevalent now with the True-Name Nemesis decks running around everywhere.

She can also act as an amazing wall by blocking alone then targeting herself with the protection ability before damage. I would only do that as a last resort, but still a line of play that is important to be aware of.

Be aware that a Turn 1 Plains into Mother of Runes will telegraph to your opponent that you’re on Death & Taxes. Don’t be afraid to use her late game to bait counter spells.

Stoneforge Mystic

Stoneforge Mystic: What can I say about this card that hasn’t been said yet? One of the rare cards to ever get banned in Standard, the Kor is an equipment tutor on a body and cheats equipment into play without having to fight through counter magic or under the taxing effect of Thalia. At a converted mana cost of 2, it is also easily put into play via Aether Vial.

I noticed multiple times people mismanaging their resources and trying to jam equipment on the board as soon as possible. Death & Taxes is all about resources management.

Stoneforge Mystic is a pretty straight forward card to play, but even then, force your opponent to do something first before activating its ability.

Spirit of the Labyrinth: One of the latest additions to the main deck. The second I saw this card spoiled, I knew that I had to dedicate at least 2 slots in the main deck for it. An aggressive converted mana cost of 2, a body that can punch holes through walls (3/1) and the bonus ability to hose your opponent’s brainstorm, the spirit is one of the best cards to come from Born of the Gods.

Another fun interaction is the fact that you can tutor for it via Enlightened Tutor game 2/3 since it’s also an enchantment. I ran up to 4 at one point, but had to settle down for 2 in the main deck and 1 in the sideboard since I can’t justify that many slots being taken by this card.

Aven Mindcensor: Fetchlands play an important role in Legacy. Since we don’t run any, why don’t we bring some hate against search effects?

Great against Elves since they run up to 8 search effects (Natural Order/Green Sun’s Zenith) or any other deck with a greedy mana base that relies a lot on their tutor effects and fetch lands.

I tend to keep Aven Mindcensor as a reactive spell. They are a great addition to your disruption suite in conjunction with Rishadan Port and Wasteland and boost your mana denial plan. I’d rather use a vial to sneak them into play, but don’t be scared of flashing it into play.

Aven MindcensorFlickerwisp

Flickerwisp: Time for tricky shenanigans! Flickerwisp is probably the most misplayed card in the list. Optimally, you never want to cast him. You will get more value out of it by sneaking him into play via Aether Vial on 3.

The wording on him is what’s important: “When Flickerwisp comes into play, exile another target permanent. Return that card to the battlefield under its owner’s control at the beginning of the next end step”.

Let’s say your opponent is at 4 or 5. Staring down at you is our good old friend Griselbrand hanging out and acting as a wall and waiting for you to swing at him in order to gain 7 and be able to draw more cards. Your opponent passes priority at the end of his end step. You then activate vial to sneak in Flickerwisp, targeting Griselbrand. Griselbrand won’t return to the battlefield until the NEXT end step. Meaning that you have an open field to punch damage through and finish the job.

Flickerwisp is not a blinker like Restoration Angel or Cloudshift/Momentary Blink. It actually exile ANY permanent (assuming they don’t have protection from white) for a window of time. Use this to your advantage. The same trick is also used in builds using Mangara of Corondor in order to re-use Mangara.

Brimaz, King of Oreskos

Brimaz, King of Oreskos: Another addition to the deck since the release of Born of the Gods. Captain Kitty Kat (as I like to refer to him) is taking a slot originally held by a Mirran Crusader. The simple fact that he survives to Lightning Bolt (something that Mirran Crusader seems to attract a lot…) was a bonus.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see him becoming a staple in the future iterations of the list. His converted mana cost fits right into our Vial plan, and he can also create a massive board presence just by himself. Every time it blocks or attack, it generates a 1/1 Cat token with Vigilance. It’s far from being negligible.

Remember when I was mentioning about naming Soldier on Cavern of Souls? Brimaz is a Cat Soldier. Dodging counter magic never felt so great.

Mirran Crusader: There are some fine creatures that got printed over the years. But few are the creatures that can be as destructive as an equipped Mirran Crusader. Protection from Black and Green is nothing to be joked about, but Double Strike? If possible, I like to get them suited up with either an Umezawa’s Jitte or a Sword of Fire and Ice as soon as possible.

Mirran CrusaderPhyrexian Revoker

Phyrexian Revoker: Phyrexian Revoker used to be a 3 or 4 of in some lists. It slowly disappears to make room for more “techy” stuff, but I don’t think I would play a list with less than two. A pseudo Pithing Needle on a 2/1 body ; it can shut down opposing planeswalkers or other annoying non-land permanents.

Equipment, Tricks and Removal

Legacy provides us with cards from the complete history of Magic: The Gathering. Some of those cards complement our battle plan and increase the overall effectiveness of our creature suite.

Batterskull: Probably one of the best equipment ever printed, Batterskull and Stoneforge Mystic were meant to be best friend the minute they met.

The fact that it comes into play with a creature attached to it can put a lot of pressure on your opponent and provide an amazing upswing in tempo for your side of the table. Add Vigilance and Lifelink to the mix now. Yeah. This card is broken. But how can you not love it?

BatterskullUmezawa's Jitte

Umezawa’s Jitte: The equipment that makes any other equipment look bad. It doesn’t need to connect with your opponent to become active, only needs to deal combat damage. So blocking can become beneficial sometimes!

Then, it turns itself into removal, a life gain engine or a pump spell for the equipped creature. So good, it’s banned in Modern!

Jitte should be the first equipment you look for with Stoneforge Mystic against Elves or other Stoneforge Mystic decks.

Sword of Fire and Ice: Originally present in the sideboard to fight Delver of Secrets decks, it got promoted to the main deck since the printing of True-Name Nemesis. It allows us to punch damage through True-Name Nemesis and protects the creature wielding it from Lightning Bolts or bounce effects.

If that wasn’t enough, once it connects, it shocks a creature or the opponent and draws us a card.

If you ever get a chance to suit up a Mirran Crusader with this sword, you’ve created the decks ultimate voltron. 12 points of damage to your opponent from a creature with protection from 4 colours that draws you 2 extra cards can turn a game around in a matter of one combat phase.

Runed Halo

Runed Halo: One of my own personal innovations for an unknown or mixed metagame. My original plan was to use it against True-Name Nemesis, but with time and testing, it became clear to me that this card was way more of a catch all against a nice chunk of the metagame than I expected.

This is not an easy card to use, so since I’m feeling so generous lately, here’s a short list of valid targets for the vast majority of decks you can encounter in any metagame:

  • Jund: Hymn to Tourach / Lightning Bolt / Thoughtseize
  • BUG: Insectile Aberration / Hymn to Tourach
  • U/W/x decks: Insectile Aberration / True-Name Nemesis
  • Storm: Tendrils of Agony
  • RUG: Tarmogoyf / Nimble Mongoose / Insectile Aberration
  • Gift Decks : Gifts Ungiven
  • Reanimator : Griselbrand

This can be a dead card against specific deck (Sneak and Show/Mirror match/Elves/Dredge), so don’t be scared of boarding it out or even not include it if your meta game is filled with non-beneficial matchup for this specific card. More and more decks are taking this approach recently. Being proactive can be rewarding sometime!

Aether Vial: One of the main pieces of our plan. Death & Taxes aims at destroying and/or impeding our opponent’s mana base as much as possible. Sinking resources into casting creatures instead of taxing him to our best is counter-productive.

Aether Vial allows us to put creatures into play without investing any mana, makes our creatures unaffected by counter magic and also opens some tricky lines of play to us (remember Aven Mindcensor and Flickerwisp?).

Swords to Plowshares: The ultimate 1 mana removal spell. Legacy is a format where cards in the graveyard really matter. Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, Dredge decks,  Threshold cards, you name it. Having a card removed from the game can be quite beneficial. The life gain is most of the time irrelevant since you’re putting so much pressure on your opponent.

This concludes Part One of my Death & Taxes primer! In the next part, we will take a closer look at the land base of the deck; the sideboard and other card choices that have seen play in other variations of the deck.

Until then, take care and keep shuffling!



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