It's been awhile since Legacy has been on my radar, but with a couple more team events and SCG Syracuse coming up I've decided to dive back into the format.
The first thing I noticed is how unbelievably diverse the meta looks. While the top of MTGGoldfish is populated with Blue decks, it doesn't really tell the whole story. Brainstorm will always be popular, but the real note is that the Blue decks are only 30% of the meta.
Excuse me? That is an impressively low number for being "completely overrun and everywhere and blah blah blah Brainstorm is broken."
The combo decks have changed drastically and we've seen a big rise in Sneak and Show and ANT as the combo decks of choice. The fair decks have all seemed to calm down a bit too and the only Prison deck we're seeing is the Mono-Red Prison variant (currently the FOURTH most played deck on Goldfish at the moment). Despite all these wild decks going on and Lightning Bolts flying around everywhere, I think the best deck is neither a combo deck OR a Brainstorm deck.
Yeah you heard me. Right now I think Death and Taxes is the best deck in Legacy. While the format doesn't have a ton of eyes on it at the moment due to the low amount of tournaments, I still think there's room to move around. It's easy to look at basic results and come to some conclusions but just like other formats in Magic paying attention to trends can help you get ahead. Based on what's happening in Legacy right now I really think Death and Taxes is well positioned.
But what makes Taxes a good choice right now?
For some time, Death and Taxes wasn't the best choice despite the devoted players to it still electing to register it every weekend. Sensei's Divining Top and then Deathrite Shaman pushed the format to different brinks where Taxes wasn't able to really compete properly. With a downshift in the power level of the fair decks, Death and Taxes has risen to take its rightful place as one of the premier fair strategies available in Legacy. The watered down Miracles decks can no longer bury the Taxes deck the way they used to. Taxes' worst matchup is Grixis Control which has seen less play recently. It might feel like combo decks are the worst thing for a Taxes player to battle against, but there are actually some good tools available to fight through those decks. I won't pretend combo matchups are anything but unfavored, but it is entirely possible to beat those decks with the tools available.
Breaking down the matchup against Miracles we can see the decks no longer have the same consistency they used to. It is now leaning more toward Accumulated Knowledge as a way to tear through the deck to try and control the board, find answers, and win the game with either Monastery Mentor or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. However the deck certainly spins its wheels much more. Trying to set up a Terminus is more costly now and much more mana intensive. Holding on to Brainstorms and AKs isn't the easiest when you're trying to survive. If players start moving to Anuraag's version with Mission Briefing over Snapcaster Mage I expect to see a swivel toward Entreat the Angels as the win condition. This may sound surprising, but I believe Entreat the Angels variants of Miracles to be better for Death and Taxes. With only one non-Jace win condition in the deck, utilizing Rishadan Port, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Recruiter of the Guard keeps Miracles off balance long enough to close the door. The inclusion of Palace Jailer has also changed how Taxes gets to play against the slow Blue fair decks. Since Taxes is so good at board control against the creature decks, Jailer is an incredible way to keep gas flowing. If Miracles continues this trend toward less creatures, keeping the Monarch will be trivial which helps bury your opponent in card advantage.
When it comes to the other fair decks, Taxes enjoys a favorable game against Delver. I can't imagine much has changed; and, with the loss of Deathrite, the deck has only become slower, clunkier, and significantly weaker to Rishadan Port and Wasteland. Grixis Control is certainly the tougher end of the fair decks, but with the rise of Golgari Depths and Storm the Grixis Control deck is getting pushed out of the format.
Taking a look at the premier combo decks we see Golgari Depths, ANT, and Omni Show taking up the mantle of the most played combo decks. Taxes holds a reasonably good game against the Depths deck between Wasteland, Swords to Plowshares, Karakas, and Flickerwisp. The ANT deck is certainly a tough one to beat but the creature based hate is great at keeping the slower variant of ANT off just enough to be able to close a game. There's been a lot of great sideboard cards as well but I'll go over that shortly. Omni Show is likely the worst of the three here. Normally the Taxes deck is going to line up fairly well against the normal Sneak and Show variants but trying to fight through Omniscience isn't as easy to beat. There are some good tools to try and beat Omniscience out of the board but Leonin Relic-Warder but overall I'm okay just hoping to dodge this kind of matchup. That aside, Reanimator is still likely to be floating around and has to be respected.
Certainly one of the downsides to playing a deck like Death and Taxes is it feels like your draws are out of your control. That's why we tend to see masters truly excel with it and those new to the deck struggle at first. I'm of the belief that knowing this deck and playing to outs turns in advance can change the outcome of any game.
Overall, with fair decks finding their footing and Death and Taxes having a reasonable matchup against the prevailing combo decks, the deck looks very well positioned for the coming meta. What could that deck look like? Let's look at what Scabs has been playing on MTGO.
Quietly one of the best Legacy players in the world, Thomas Enevoldsen has been Top 8ing the last four Legacy Challenges on MTGO in a row with Death and Taxes. That's an impressive stat. Let's take a look at what 'Scabs' has been doing lately:
Death and Taxes | Legacy | Scabs
- Creatures (25)
- 1 Palace Jailer
- 1 Restoration Angel
- 1 Sanctum Prelate
- 1 Walking Ballista
- 2 Recruiter of the Guard
- 3 Phyrexian Revoker
- 4 Flickerwisp
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- Instants (4)
- 4 Swords to Plowshares
- Lands (24)
- 10 Plains
- 1 Ancient Tomb
- 1 Mishra's Factory
- 4 Rishadan Port
- 4 Wasteland
- 1 Flagstones of Trokair
- 3 Karakas
There's quite a bit to unpack here in terms of card choices but this deck looks fantastic and if I was going to play a tournament tomorrow I'd likely register this. Perhaps the biggest brain addition to Taxes is the inclusion of an Ancient Tomb. While appearing out of place it allows for a lot of movement in Game 1s where mana can be tied up and you need to cast multiple spells in a turn. Post board it lets you use perhaps the biggest brain card available in Chalice of the Void. It's not much of a surprise that Chalice is a fantastic card in Legacy, and while it might not seem like it Chalice plays a vital role. Against decks like Miracles and Storm, Chalice of the Void is one of the most impactful sideboard cards. Being difficult to interact with and having so few cmcs of one in the deck (and especially post board) means you'll always be able to efficiently leverage the card in an impactful way.
The other card in here I'm quite interested in exploring is Restoration Angel. Vial on four has only had one option and Restoration Angel plays very well with it. Not only does it let you have a new protection spell, it also lets you reset Stoneforge, Revoker, or Recruiter and that is not to be underestimated. I am unsure if you could justify Restoration Angel in normal builds without Tomb, but it is likely that it is still fine.
I think Scabs has a great starting point but I wonder if the rise of Mono-Red Prison means we should revisit the Magus of the Moon variants of Taxes or possibly even look into Blue versions. Lavinia, Azorius Renegade can kill Terminus, Force of Will, Show and Tell before turn three, and stop ANT or TES from comboing you without enough lands. While I'm not sure it's good it does offer a lot of flexibility. As such I think Death and Taxes is the premier fair deck to be playing.