Through the Looking Glass: Death & Taxes II with Phil Gallagher

Special Guest

A few words on Phillip Gallagher (@ThrabenU):

Phil Gallagher is a Death & Taxes (D&T) specialist, though he’s expanded his range quite a bit since he started streaming last year. He’s had a number of good finishes with D&T, including 59th at Grand Prix Richmond and 48th at Grand Prix Louisville. He enjoys making Legacy content, and has been involved with many cooperative projects ranging from podcasts to the Legacy Premier League. He pays the bills by teaching Latin in Roanoke, Virginia, and fills most of the rest of his time with other nerdy hobbies.
In general, how do you feel about the Death & Taxes versus The EPIC Storm matchup? Does it feel better or worse than other combos?

I feel like the matchup is just decisively “fine”. Not good, not horrible, just fine. I would imagine TES is still slightly favored, but the gap has closed a bit. Notably, this is an improvement from a few years ago. I used to consider the matchup to be very difficult.

Death & Taxes has tools to fight against this deck. That’s not always the case against all combo decks. Against [[Doomsday]], for example, most of the stock “combo hate” cards don’t really have much of an impact. Against TES though, when you stick a hate card (or have [[Mindbreak Trap]] in your hand”) , it has a very strong impact on the game.

What are your thoughts on [[Yorion, Sky Nomad]] version of Death & Taxes? Is it better or worse against combo decks?

Against combo, you often have a very small subset of cards that actually matter. Consider a game against TES where you are on the draw. What cards matter? Probably only [[Mindbreak Trap]] and [[Deafening Silence]]. I want to find those cards every game. The difference between a 60-card and 80-card decks matter so much here when you care very specifically about a particular card. Unless you are just absolutely stuffing your sideboard full of combo hate, I really don’t like how the 80-card decks feel against combo. There are some people who claim that Yorion Taxes is better against combo, since you can mulligan to hands that contain hate, but do not necessarily have to have a win condition as well. I don’t really buy that argument, but it’s been tossed around a ton.

In full disclosure here though, I have not played a Yorion Taxes list in the post-ban world. These thoughts are based on the deck pre-bannings. Generally speaking, I am not a fan of companion decks in Legacy. I feel like the positive impact of a companion is relatively low currently relative to the deck-building costs. Many of the donation decklists I’ve played have jumped through hoops to try and make various companions work; the companion has always been underwhelming. That doesn’t make me excited to be using my time testing [[Yorion, Sky Nomad]] builds of Death & Taxes.

How does the inclusion of [[Skyclave Apparition]] impact The EPIC Storm matchup?

Minimally. While [[Skyclave Apparition]] can occasionally steal a game by grabbing a [[Wishclaw Talisman]] or a [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]] that was played out, this card costs three mana. Usually, something else had to go right in order for this card to even be castable. If you already have a [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] or [[Deafening Silence]] out, this card can do some work. In those cases though, it’s the same old cards that are really doing the heavy lifting. If you don’t have one of those cards, your opponent is likely to dump most or all of their cards in one turn, meaning your [[Skyclave Apparition]] doesn’t get to do its thing. Notably here though, if you have an [[AEther Vial]] on three and your opponent sequences poorly, you can really punish bad lines with [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]].

Is [[Empty the Warrens]] a card you even consider in this matchup anymore?

Consider? Yes. Is it the first thing on my mind? No. I find that I’m just dying to [[Tendrils of Agony]] more often than not when I lose.

Recently, The EPIC Storm has started playing [[Massacre]] again. In what ways can Death & Taxes make it less effective?

The greedier you are with your mana base, the better you can play around [[Massacre]]. Every white-producing flex land you play that isn’t a [[Plains]] increases your chances of avoiding a free [[Massacre]]. That said, every flex land you play also increases the chances that you just “get got” by a [[Wasteland]] or [[Blood Moon]] in some other matchup. I am known for playing a very conservative mana base, so I rarely get the luxury of playing around [[Massacre]] via my land drops.

If you bought enough time to get an [[AEther Vial]] to two, consider keeping one hatebear in hand. Using [[AEther Vial]] to put in a hatebear post-[[Massacre]] can be one way to keep your opponent from immediately going off.

How do you value hands with multiple copies of either [[Wasteland]] or [[Rishadan Port]], but no [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] in pre-board games?

[[Wasteland]] does not usually win the game. [[Rishadan Port]] does not usually win the game. Your opponent can draw more lands or go off via ritual/artifact mana. [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] usually wins the game. [[Sanctum Prelate]] usually wins the game. [[Phyrexian Revoker]] or [[Spirit of the Labyrinth]] give you meaningful plays that at least have a shot at grabbing a win. Copies of [[Wasteland]] and [[Rishadan Port]] are speed bumps. They may buy you a turn or two, but your opponent will eventually go off through them. I am trying to secure a lights-out card asap. There are some double Wasteland hands that can be good, especially on the play; most of those hands also have [[AEther Vial]] though.

Is there any single card in The EPIC Storm that you are afraid to see in game one? Does this answer change for post-board games?

Honestly, it’s probably [[Thoughtseize]] regardless of what game we are playing. It’s pretty easy to find a hand with one powerful hate card. It’s much harder to find a hand with two. The best Death & Taxes hands in this matchup have two critical cards, while many keepable hands only have one. [[Thoughtseize]] wrecks the hands that only have one piece of hate.

What does your overall sideboard plan entail?

Generally speaking, I remove [[Swords to Plowshares]] followed by [[Umezawa’s Jitte]] and some number of generic beaters. Equipment isn’t really great here, but the [[Stoneforge Mystic]] package still has some value. [[Sword of Fire and Ice]] can protect a creature, and [[Batterskull]] gives you some insurance against [[Empty the Warrens]]. Accordingly, I don’t usually board down on copies of [[Stoneforge Mystic]]. Beaters like [[Mirran Crusader]] and [[Serra Avenger]] usually get cut quickly. If it doesn’t restrict your opponent in some way, it’s a bit suboptimal here.

I bring in [[Deafening Silence]], [[Mindbreak Trap]], and however many bonus hatebears I have in a given week. Expect to see [[Ethersworn Canonist]], [[Sanctum Prelate]], and [[Spirit of the Labyrinth]] as common sideboard options. There are other things you can see here as well, such as [[Leonin Relic-Warder]] and even artifact-based hate like [[Chalice of the Void]] or [[Damping Sphere]]. [[Pithing Needle]] isn’t particularly popular right now, but that’s something to keep in mind as well. I’ve stolen plenty of games by throwing a [[Pithing Needle]] on a fetch land or [[Wishclaw Talisman]].

What sideboard plan are you expecting from The EPIC Storm?

Generally speaking, I expect them to bring in four-ish ways of answering my permanents in any given week; these usually replace the Veil of Summers that were dead cards in game one. I usually expect two [[Chain of Vapor]] and two [[Abrupt Decay]]. This varies a bit as the metagame ebbs and flows. Notably, I’ve been seeing [[Defense Grid]] in post sideboard games now, as sideboarding out [[Veil of Summer]] first is the priority, and there just aren’t enough cards to bring in. This means [[Mindbreak Trap]] sometimes can get shut off.

Over the last few months, Death & Taxes has incorporated [[Deafening Silence]] and [[Mindbreak Trap]] into the sideboard for unfair decks. How likely are you going to keep a hand without these cards in post-board games? Does play versus draw matter?

On the play, I will usually accept keeping a good [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]]-based hand, especially if it has a redundant two drop for if [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] gets taken with discard. On the draw, I am scared. I am much more likely to mulligan aggressively on the draw. That said, once you get to about five cards, you get to be a bit less picky about the keeps. Remember that [[Thoughtseize]] I mentioned before? This is the problem. If you mull specifically to [[Mindbreak Trap]] or [[Deafening Silence]], [[Thoughtseize]] can just grab that and cripple your hand. If you mulligan too deep, you do just risk folding to discard immediately. The best Death & Taxes hands have redundant hate.

How do you value graveyard hate-cards such as [[Surgical Extraction]], [[Rest in Peace]] or even [[Grafdigger’s Cage]] against The EPIC Storm?

From the perspective of Death & Taxes, I don’t particularly like graveyard hate versus TES. The issue is how inconsistent it is. [[Rest in Peace]] is usually too slow, and competes with better two-drop options. [[Surgical Extraction]] often actually doesn’t get a chance to take an [[Echo of Eons]]. [[Past in Flames]]-based kills are also somewhat rare, and if the opponent has [[Burning Wish]], they can probably find another way to win anyway. [[Grafdigger’s Cage]] is probably the best of the available options, but that’s a card that can frequently be ignored or played around. I’ll usually board in a [[Grafdigger’s Cage]], but I tend to leave the other options in the sideboard. If you wouldn’t keep a hand based on the strength of a sideboard card, that’s probably an indication that you should just leave it in the sideboard. [[Grafdigger’s Cage]] gets a pass here since it is a one drop, and Death & Taxes is pretty light on early interaction.

Any thoughts on the upcoming card [[Witherbloom Command]]? How do you see it impacting the Death & Taxes versus The EPIC Storm matchup?

I am not a TES pilot, so take this all with a grain of salt. I’m not sure how TES plays with this card. What I mean by that is I’m not sure if this is primarily a [[Burning Wish]] target or a card that gets boarded in directly. Either way, it seems great for TES. It’s a card that [[Burning Wish]] can grab, and it can answer certain hatebears and a [[Deafening Silence]] simultaneously. This is a desirable effect. That said, casting a [[Burning Wish]] plus [[Witherbloom Command]] and then trying to go off in the same turn seems difficult. Additionally, what does [[Witherbloom Command]] take the place of? Is it one of the fair cards like [[Chain of Vapor]] or [[Abrupt Decay]]? [[Witherbloom Command]] is a sorcery. You lose out on the option to use it end of turn, and then untap to do your thing. If you can’t go off the same turn you cast it, your opponent can just deploy a new hate piece.

While this is an upgrade for TES here, I’m not sure that this really changes the play patterns or matchups significantly. This is a new option, but I don’t know that this singular card just totally tips the scales back in favor of TES. It seems like this card also has some drawbacks that balance its strengths.

What is the biggest mistake you see The EPIC Storm players make against Death & Taxes? What is the biggest mistake you see Death & Taxes players make against The EPIC Storm?

Not mulliganing enough. This matchup is relatively linear in turns 1-3. Does the D&T player have a hate piece that they actually can deploy? Can the TES player stop/beat the hate piece? The fundamental turn of this matchup is turn two. You need to have an appropriate proactive or reactive plan during this time. If I’m the TES player, I want to go off now. If I am the D&T player, I want hate now. I don’t think this is a matchup where you get to just hope things work out well off the top of your deck. You need to have a plan with your opening hand.

The midgame only really happens when the D&T player is winning. There are a ton of interesting and intricate decisions during that time, but if you can avoid it as the TES player, I recommend it. Generally speaking, I think D&T becomes more and more favored as the turn counter ticks up. While something like [[Recruiter of the Guard]] is a dead card in the early stages of the game, it threatens to lock things up later in the game. [[Stoneforge Mystic]] isn’t great early on, but a [[Sword of Fire and Ice]] protecting a hatebear can take away a few of your outs (and significantly speed up the clock too!).

Any finals thoughts or comments you would like to make? Any plugs or shout-outs?

While I have the reputation as “the D&T guy” to many members of the Legacy community, the reality is that I’m really more of a variety streamer these days. My focus is more on playing donation decklists and helping people tune their brews while having some fun casing some of the, uh, less competitive things Legacy has to offer. That means that you shouldn’t necessarily treat my advice here as sacrosanct. This is my take on the matchup, but that doesn’t mean I’m right about everything. I’m not grinding five-plus leagues a week with D&T anymore.

If you’re interested in some sweet Legacy content, please check me out on Youtube or Twitch. My Youtube channel showcases some of the craziest things that Legacy has to offer, but I still treat the strategy seriously even when I’m piloting jank!

If you’re interested in D&T content specifically, I have some great videos where I do commentary on Eron Relentess’s recent Challenge win. You can find that in this playlist.

I’m really enjoying Legacy right now, and I encourage you all to fire up MTGO and do the same!

I would like to take a moment to thank Phil Gallagher for joining Through the Looking Glass and providing some spectacular responses on the Death & Taxes versus The EPIC Storm match-up.

Until next time, keep storming!