No Shame

Ari Lax tells you about how he won the Legacy Champs this past weekend with Death and Taxes. Find out if you should try playing the deck yourself this weekend at #SCGDAL!

October 31st

It’s come to this.

I’m not playing Storm. I’m sick of getting Stifled out if I play the consistent deck and bricking off if I play the inconsistent one. Plus, if Storm is right for the Grand Prix, I’m not gaining much by testing it. I know how literally every card I’m considering works in all the matchups, and it’s not like the new cards make decks I have to care about.

Oh, look, a 3/1 for three. How quaint.

I’m not playing BUG. That deck is the antithesis of what I want to do in most formats. It does nothing. I want to do things. If my opponent plays some messed up deck I haven’t specifically prepared for, I will die with a ton of blank 1/1s and 2/2s in play.

I’m not playing Show and Tell. Omni-Tell is like Storm and Sneak and Show had an inbred combo baby with all of their problems magnified. Sneak and Show is ok, but the deck is the same list from a year and a half ago that everyone figured out how to beat. It’s not like the cards to fight it stopped existing when people stopped playing them. Reanimator is the closest thing to real, but most of the ways people fight Sneak are also good against it.

I’m not playing U/W/R Delver. I played two games against it with Storm, and I have no idea how the cards in it make a more cohesive deck than RUG Delver.

I’m not playing RUG Delver. I’m not sure why. I probably should. But I’m not.

I’m not playing Jund. I respect the deck, but the flavor of the week is Sneak and Show. Not happening. Lands falls into the same boat of “Punishing Fire is sick against creatures that it can target and aren’t 15/15.”

I’m not playing Belcher. I don’t think my liver could handle the necessary preparation.

I’m not playing Miracles. That deck is the maximum amount of do nothing. It’s not like Counterbalance is even very good against the combo deck of the week.

I’m not playing Elves. Most people don’t agree with me about U/W/R Delver, and I can’t fathom winning that matchup.

That’s literally every major deck.

Except one.

You know, I could go for some Rishadan Ports.

You know, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is pretty good against Sneak and Show.

Wait, how does Sneak and Show beat Phyrexian Revoker plus Karakas game 1?

It’s come to this.

The Maindeck

People have spent much more time than me on this list, specifically the entire continent of Europe. I just played it. The only change I made from Thomas Enevoldsen’s Grand Prix-winning list was adding a second Horizon Canopy to go with Enlightened Tutor. While it’s not quite Sensei’s Divining Top, against Show and Tell it lets you run the tutor up an Oblivion Ring and draw it in response to a Show and Tell attempt.

The Sideboard

In looking at lists to copy, I came across Travis Cowley’s Top 4 list from the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Baltimore a couple months back. He played an Enlightened Tutor sideboard, which seemed way better to me than trying to make actual decisions about what to play. Normally I would only get to play two or three copies of a few cards. With Tutor, as long as your board cards are artifacts or enchantments, you get to play three or four copies of a ton of things.

As for the specific cards:

Cursed Totem: Elves is a nightmare matchup. This is the best card against Elves. Turning off your Mother of Runes is ok if they can’t activate their Wirewood Symbiotes that you needed to force guys through (bouncing blockers infinite times), and turning off Stoneforge Mystic is fine as 1W is not a discount on Umezawa’s Jitte. Mangara is the only big loss.

Manriki-Gusari: This is more of Stoneforge Mystic target, but it wins you the mirror.

Sword of Fire and Ice: I wanted a card to fight through a blocking True-Name Nemesis, so a blue Sword was required. This is the generally better one, but I was really pushing for Sword of Body and Mind for a while. It pushes your guy through Tarmogoyf, Baleful Strix, and True-Name Nemesis even if it is a less powerful trigger.

Grafdigger’s Cage: This card is graveyard hate, but the primary goal was to shut down Natural Order and Green Sun’s Zenith out of Elves. If you can assemble enough mediocre lock pieces, they probably can’t win. But that’s still a loose probably.

Rest in Peace: The graveyard hate spell that also is good against RUG Delver and gives you a remote shot at beating Punishing Jund.

Ethersworn Canonist: One of these is clearly correct, as it is A) the cheapest Storm hate and B) the one you can protect with Mother of Runes. The question is whether a Thorn of Amethyst or Rule of Law is better than the second against Virtue’s Ruin or Toxic Deluge. I didn’t go too deep into this decision, but it’s likely that Rule of Law is too slow on the draw (and probably play) versus Storm and Thorn of Amethyst is too low impact if naturally draw versus Omni-Tell and High Tide. The kicker is also that as a Storm player I have no idea how I would resolve a three-drop sorcery sweeper against Death and Taxes. Pyroclasm might be able to get there in time, but that just gets kolded by Mother of Runes.

Sunlance: People have spent much more time than me on this list, and most of them play this. An extra removal spell that doesn’t cost a ton is definitely appreciated, and Path to Exile is not what the Rishadan Port / Wasteland deck wants.

Pithing Needle: This card seems fairly low impact when you can already tutor for Phyrexian Revoker. If I were worried about Thespian’s Stage or Maze of Ith, this might deserve a slot.

November 2nd

There were zero Wilt-Leaf Lieges in the building.

That’s a lie. There were two, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay fifteen dollars apiece for them. I think this means I have some shred of dignity remaining.

Instead I played some more spice one-ofs.

Serenity: I saw someone sleeving up Affinity. I added a Serenity. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you become a Gold Level Pro. Realistically, it’s a very high-impact tutor target that covers a decent spread of fringe decks.

Mindbreak Trap: I wanted more game against the fast combo decks. This is the only thing that really fights Belcher. It’s not much, but it’s what I had room for.

My final list:

Considering my purpose for this event was to learn about this deck, I’m going to frame my report as a round-by-round lessons learned. Hopefully this is a good introduction to the deck, as I had played zero games with it before round 1.

Round 1: Esper Deathblade

I learned that you can Port Karakas before activating Aether Vial to prevent them from bouncing your guy. Fortunately, my opponent also missed this.

The board state was his Umezawa’s Jitte, Vendilion Clique, and ground guys to my Aether Vial on two, ground guys, Mirran Crusader, and Mother of Runes. He equipped Umezawa’s Jitte to a Deathrite Shaman (mistake number one) and attacked. I activated Aether Vial and put in Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and he conceded. He had a Karakas open that could have bounced my Thalia (mistake number two). I had a Rishadan Port open that could have tapped it (mistake number three).

I also don’t remember him being dead on board.

I learned that True-Name Nemesis is a nightmare as well. He had it in play in game 2, and I was struggling to fight it even with Mangara of Corondor, Karakas, and Aether Vial on three. I raced him exactly, but I needed to rip out to get there.

Again, I had the Mangara lock going. I still almost died.

It’s specifically a problem when Meekstone isn’t good against the rest of their deck. For example, if their other creatures are Deathrite Shaman, Dark Confidant, and Stoneforge Mystic.

Round 2: RUG Delver

I learned that Wasteland is a powerful Magic card and people do actually lose to it from time to time. I had forgotten this since I mostly play decks that doesn’t happen to.

It turns out RUG Delver is one of those decks that can have this happen to them. It involves Ponder having to shuffle, but it can happen.

I also learned that Umezawa’s Jitte and Sword of Fire and Ice on a Mirran Crusader is sixteen damage on the first swing. That is a lot of damage.

Round 3: Esper Deathblade

I learned (some more) that Phyrexian Revoker is very stretched in this matchup. You want to name Deathrite Shaman and cut off their mana, but you also want to name Jace, the Mind Sculptor to cut off their card draw or name Stoneforge Mystic or Umezawa’s Jitte to not just die to it if they have it first. When in doubt, name the card they have in play over what they might have. The exception is if they are very far behind and you just have to lock up the game.

I also learned again that Wasteland is a hell of a card. Rishadan Port too. This likely explains how anyone wins a game with Goblins ever, though it’s not like this deck is much better. [Editor’s Note: Both of our decks are pathetic, yes.]

Round 4: Jund (Anthony Lowry)

I learned Toxic Deluge is also a very scary card from Commander 2013. Fortunately for me, Anthony cascaded into it when my board was Thalia equipped with Umezawa’s Jitte with two counters. I also had a Karakas and Aether Vial on two counters just in case he felt like paying a ton of life.

I (and Anthony) learned exactly how hard Punishing Fire is to play as well. He had it active in game 1 with multiple Grove of the Burnwillows, and through a series of incorrect timing and mana-expenditure decisions, he managed to lose to a Flickerwisp with a Jitte when I should have had to try to mise out with a Batterskull.

Round 5: High Tide

I relearned why High Tide is bad. While you have a lot of the mana and play flexibility of Storm, you lose the speed.

This means that every single time you play against a deck with hate bears they will get to cast one.

This means when your Death and Taxes opponent lands an Aether Vial or Cavern of Souls you will have to find a bounce spell for their Thalia. If it’s pre-board, they also get to land a Mother of Runes or leave up their Aether Vial to keep it in play. If it’s post-board, that means you have to then beat their Ethersworn Canonist. Then their Aven Mindcensor. Then their Phyrexian Revoker on Candelabra of Tawnos. It’s almost like how Vintage Stax works, where each lock effect buys you time to chain into the next and eventually Time Walk locks your opponent into oblivion.

The first time I learned this lesson involved Earwig Squad. I was too embarrassed to ever have to learn it again. I’m glad I was reminded.

Round 6: Sneak and Show (Chas Hinkle)

I learned I was right about the Sneak and Show matchup. Chas was quite demolished despite a fairly average hand from me in game 1. Game 2 was even worse.

One of the big issues that comes up for the Sneak and Show player is needing double red for Sneak Attack through Karakas. As trivial as this sounds, Wasteland makes it very complicated. They want to fetch basics to even get to the point where they can play spells, but getting the blue mana required to cantrip and the double red for Sneak is actually impossible.

Round 7: Merfolk

I learned Thalia is shockingly good against creatures and noncreatures this matchup. First strike is a powerful combat ability.

Round 8: RUG Delver

I learned that RUG is really, really, really good if you let them angle correctly. I was dismantled very easily by a flurry of Stifles, Dazes, Lightning Bolts, and Nimble Mongoose.

I learned Nimble Mongoose is a huge issue for a deck full of creatures that top out at 2/2. Tarmogoyf and Delver of Secrets can die, but the Mongoose keeps on coming. I really needed more Rest in Peaces to keep that card in check.

Round 9: Sneak and Show

I learned the “new” play-draw rule makes the last round of events interesting.

I was the second seed going into the last round. If I drew, I would be fourth or fifth seed. If I played and won, I would be second seed.

The matchup was a near bye. I was also fairly sure the Top 8 was very stacked against Sneak and Show, meaning I wouldn’t play against my opponent if I was on my way to a title. I wanted to win some die rolls, especially after I lost in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Kansas City in large part because I was on the draw. I wanted to block for Paul Lynch and Richard Nguyen, who had drawn a table below me knowing that there was a 25% chance one of them would miss.

So I crushed. Mother of Runes, Thalia, Phyrexian Revoker, Karakas when you Show and Tell. Game 2 ended with him having zero permanents in play that I didn’t have a Revoker on.

Quarterfinals: Miracles (Paul Lynch)

I learned that despite how bad it seems White Weenie is fairly solid against one-mana sweepers.

Yet again, Rishadan Port is a wonderful Magic card.

I also learned that Aether Vial on three is absolutely filthy. I end of turned a Mirran Crusader, Aven Mindcensored a fetch land, and Flickerwisped a Rest in Peace to stop a Helm kill over the span of four turns.

Semifinals: Death and Taxes (Micah Greenbaum)

I learned that Phyrexian Revoker is shockingly awesome in the mirror match. The most relevant cards all have activated abilities: Mother of Runes, Umezawa’s Jitte, Stoneforge Mystic, and sometimes Aether Vial. If there is ever a battle where you are losing parity on these cards, Phyrexian Revoker lets you make that not matter.

Finals: U/R Delver (Osyp Lebedowicz)

I learned Death and Taxes can race a naked True-Name Nemesis. If it has anything attached to it, you will likely lose. If it doesn’t, your opponent has either committed a card to racing when you have Stoneforge Mystics and Mother of Runes or committed a card to blocking when you have Stoneforge Mystics and Mother of Runes.

November 3rd

Overall, I learned Death and Taxes is both much worse against True-Name Nemesis than I thought and much better against it. The answers are not very good, and if they set it up properly, it should destroy you. However, as is the card is very mediocre.

I learned that Shahar Shenhar and Thomas Enevoldsen’s Ratchet Bomb from the Bazaar of Moxen should probably be in my sideboard. It’s an out to True-Name Nemesis and Elves.

I learned that RUG Delver is very, very good.

I learned that Enlightened Tutor is awesome and allows you to cheat a fundamental rule of the game. Between it and Stoneforge Mystic, your fifteen-card sideboard feels closer to 30.

I learned a lot of Legacy decks are still fundamentally bad. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t lose to Death and Taxes so easily.

I learned I might play eight basic Plains at Grand Prix Washington DC. Sorry Bryant. Sorry Brandon. Sorry Max. Sorry to everyone else I’m disappointing. All I have to say in response is: