Through the Looking Glass: Orzhov Death & Taxes with Roland Chang

Roland Chang

Special Guest

A few words from Roland Chang:

(Twitter: @RolandMTG)

Hi, I’m Roland – Eternal specialist, 2005 Vintage & 2006 Legacy World Champion. I’m deeply involved in community building for Eternal constructed formats in the NYC area, connecting with players from all over the world, while competing or vending at most major paper Magic events. The formats I’m focused on include Legacy, Vintage, and Pre-modern.

Roland’s Deck List – Orzhov Death & Taxes

Main Deck

  • 4 [[AEther Vial]]
  • 1 [[Batterskull]]
  • 1 [[Canoptek Scarab Swarm]]
  • 3 [[Flickerwisp]]
  • 1 [[Kaldra Compleat]]
  • 1 [[Lion Sash]]
  • 1 [[Loran of the Third Path]]
  • 3 [[Mother of Runes]]
  • 4 [[Orcish Bowmasters]]
  • 4 [[Recruiter of the Guard]]
  • 3 [[Skyclave Apparition]]
  • 4 [[Solitude]]
  • 4 [[Stoneforge Mystic]]
  • 4 [[Swords to Plowshares]]
  • 4 [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]]
  • 4 [[Thoughtseize]]
  • 1 [[Umezawa’s Jitte]]
  • 4 [[Arid Mesa]]
  • 2 [[Flooded Strand]]
  • 4 [[Karakas]]
  • 4 [[Marsh Flats]]
  • 5 [[Plains]]
  • 1 [[Plateau]]
  • 4 [[Prismatic Vista]]
  • 1 [[Plateau]]
  • 4 [[Scrubland]]
  • 1 [[Swamp]]
  • 4 [[Wasteland]]


  • 1 [[Cataclysm]]
  • 1 [[Council’s Judgment]]
  • 1 [[Deafening Silence]]
  • 1 [[Emrakul, the Aeons Torn]]
  • 3 [[Faerie Macabre]]
  • 1 [[Magus of the Moon]]
  • 1 [[Mindbreak Trap]]
  • 1 [[Opposition Agent]]
  • 2 [[Surgical Extraction]]
  • 2 [[The Battle of Bywater]]
  • 1 [[Yorion, Sky Nomad]]
How has the addition of black impacted the play patterns of the deck vs. a more traditional D&T shell? Losing some mana denial in [[Rishadan Port]] for [[Scrubland]], and some [[Recruiter of the Guard]] targets for the [[Orcish Bowmasters]] and [[Thoughtseize]] seems obvious – how else does the deck play differently? Do you feel like the shift has impacted your combo matchup, in particular against The EPIC Storm?

When I was playing mono-White D&T, it always felt kind of naked. You didn’t really have some of the extra protection that’s offered by [[Thoughtseize]]. Disruption early on is usually the biggest difference, and something that [[Thoughtseize]] also provides is a kind of [[Gitaxian Probe]] effect – you get to see what your opponent is up to and see which hatebear is most effective against them rather than just guessing.

You’re telling me that you’re considering playing something other than [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] when you’re sitting across the table from me?

[[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] is generally the right play, but it’s still nice to confirm!

I can’t knock your thought process there. How does the rest of the creature toolbox look in Orzhov vs. mono-White?

You lose part of your toolbox. From my D&T perspective, the deck is pretty tight, even with 80 cards – you get 1-2 flex spots total, which sounds surprising but there really isn’t more room. When you’re trying to fit in new tech like [[Canoptek Scarab Swarm]] or [[Loran of the Third Path]] along with the eight new black cards in [[Thoughtseize]] and [[Orcish Bowmasters]], you really start to push up against the core of the deck.

[[Spirit of the Labyrinth]] was an early cut for [[Orcish Bowmasters]] – it’s a fair trade, but it means your opponent does still get to draw the cards if they have enough life. We’ve also started trimming on cards like [[Mother of Runes]] and [[Flickerwisp]]. A lot of these cards often just die to [[Orcish Bowmasters]] (or eat it) without generating a ton of onboard impact.

I guess that begs the question – pre-board against a deck like The EPIC Storm, is it [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] or bust, or can you reasonably expect to win G1 with a different hatebear?

She’s really the only piece that matters game one. She slows the game down enough that until it’s out of play, your opponent is shut down. It gives me the time I need to win. Even with [[Orcish Bowmasters]], you can still just draw cards and eat the damage, or you may just have the cards you need already. Throw in [[Beseech the Mirror]] and it may not matter at all. Against an [[Echo of Eons]] line, maybe [[Orcish Bowmasters]] can sneak it in with some mana-based disruption from the likes of [[Wasteland]] and [[Loran of the Third Path]], but by that point you’re probably 3-plus turns in. I’m probably already dead game one.

Getting an early [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] down definitely seems like your only reasonable option then. Do you have a good way of identiying that your opponent is on spell combo game one?

I’m hoping to get this info off of [[Thoughtseize]], but in the blind it’s just normal for any non-[[Force of Will]] deck to not necessarily be able to react in real time to a strategy like this game one. In general, a lot of decks like TES can be tough to spot at first, and decks that are a little more telegraphed (like the various flavors of Painter) tend to be stronger against [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]]. Against The EPIC Storm in particular, your opportunities to interact tend to be minimal – think [[Solitude]] on your own creature in response to a [[Tendrils of Agony]] for exactsies.

Ultimately, what D&T provides is a baseline of disruption, and it’s my job to get creative and figure out how to win.

That’s an awesome perspective. Weirdly, most of my D&T opponents have turn two [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] every time (Source: Trust me bro). As a Storm player, it’s certainly hard to sit across the table from an opener of [[Plains]] into [[Mother of Runes]] and assume you don’t have the [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] to follow it up. Against an unknown opponent, what are you trying to keep?

Something I learned playing mono-White, 80-card D&T is that you couldn’t rely on a consistent turn one play. Black has opened this up, supporting our [[AEther Vial]] openers with [[Thoughtseize]] openers, and I’m a fan of this disruptive turn one paving the way for a more impactful turn two (for example, by stripping the [[Lightning Bolt]] that would take out your [[Stoneforge Mystic]]). There’s no one path you have to take, it depends on the texture of your hand.

OK, but here’s the million-dollar question: on turn two against an unclear opponent, given the choice, are you jamming [[Stoneforge Mystic]] or [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]]?

Always play [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] first. D&T wants to compound on its opponents. My mana taxation gets better with her, and you really want to wait for those moments when you have control over the board to start deploying cards like [[Stoneforge Mystic]]. You almost want to sandbag it. Jamming a [[Stoneforge Mystic]] in the dark, if all you see is a fetch, you don’t know if it’ll be successful or not.

Now that The EPIC Storm has begun utilizing [[Gaea’s Will]] as an engine, many of our winning lines can be more graveyard-reliant than is (recently) typical for TES. Would you ever consider going for [[Lion Sash]] off of your [[Stoneforge Mystic]] instead of [[Kaldra Compleat]]?

If we’re talking deploying a turn-three [[Lion Sash]], I’m only exiling one card. That said, [[Kaldra Compleat]] isn’t incredible in this matchup either, so I actually do think I’m going for the hate piece.

Does [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] being in play already impact this choice?

Give me [[Kaldra Compleat]] any day then. I’d much rather have the clock over the additional prison element.

How are you sideboarding against The EPIC Storm? Does this change on the play vs. on the draw?

Unlike many decks, D&T generally doesn’t have play / draw differences in sideboarding. I’ve found you just want card quality. I’d always take turn-one [[Deafening Silence]] on the draw over no hate piece whatsoever. Nothing on the draw is necessarily worse.

[[Swords to Plowshares]] comes out, probably some number of [[Solitude]] come out, even [[Flickerwisp]] isn’t at its best. Those come out for cards like [[Mindbreak Trap]]. I will even cut some equipment pieces sometimes. [[Umezawa’s Jitte]] can close out a game, but is mana intensive.

I love your red splash for [[Magus of the Moon]] – would you bring it in against me?

I don’t typically bring it in for Storm. There might be space, and it can give you a few free wins, but between your artifact mana, rituals, and the fact that you can use Red mana. It often doesn’t matter.

It’s also wild to see see that no other red cards (in particular any [[Pyroblast]] effects or [[Meltdown]]) make the cut in your sideboard. Why?

On the blasts, I think they were more useful when Izzet Delver was a very dominant force. You’ll recall it was common in the first iterations of Boros Taxes that were developed to try and fight those strategies. [[Murktide Regent]] can still be a house against us. Not all decks are on four, but one and especially two are a force to deal with. For a deck like D&T that runs on thin margins, the eight life from a [[Swords to Plowshares]] on a [[Murktide Regent]] can matter a lot, especially if they still have another one left onboard. Red blast was a great tool to deal with [[Murktide Regent]] in a way that didn’t gain your opponent any life.

I typically didn’t see the blasts as reactive tools to deal with cantrips or try to get cute and deal with an [[Echo of Eons]]. That can be a blowout, but the way these lists are setup now, I’d rather just have [[Mindbreak Trap]]

In terms of other Red cards, I’ve considered [[Meltdown]], as well as [[Alpine Moon]] for additional [[Urza’s Saga]] hate on top of the [[Magus of the Moon]] and [[Cast into the Fire]] for [[The One Ring]]. Ultimately, what I’m most interested in out of my sideboard cards is long-term impact over trading, so if I were to add one of these cards, it would probably be [[Alpine Moon]].

As I’m sure you can remember from some of our games, this matchup can feel a little like “mulligan simulator” post board. How deep are you willing to go to find a [[Deafening Silence]] or [[Mindbreak Trap]]? In particular on the draw, are you willing to keep seven with just [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] without any other interactive cards?

If I’m on the draw, I’d really like something I can cast for free – either [[Surgical Extraction]] or, ideally, [[Mindbreak Trap]]. That said, if I’m on five cards and it’s [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] and mana to cast my spells, so be it. Hopefully, I rip well off the top (not always easy for a deck without cantrips).

One other piece of advice for D&T players in this matchup – work on your poker face. Sometimes convincing your opponent you “have it” is as good as actually “having it”.

Hard mulliganing for free spells? D&T is a combo deck confirmed. Have you considered [[Chrome Mox]] to empower lines like turn-one [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]]?

[[Chrome Mox]] adds a lot of variance to the kinds of hands I can keep. The extra mana early is phenomenal for turn-one [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] or paying for a [[Daze]], but I’m typically not looking for velocity. I’m looking for stability and consistency, and [[Chrome Mox]] can be a game-losing top deck in the late game.

If I was playing something more in the Initiative family of decks, [[Chrome Mox]] would make more sense, but I still think of [[Yorion, Sky Nomad]] D&T as a control deck. You’re not trying to race out threats as quickly as possible.

Let’s get granular for a second. Seven card hand with just [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] – no other disruptive pieces. Is it enough?

Keep it on the play, send it back on the draw.

Ice cold. Love it. Let’s talk [[Thoughtseize]] and [[Surgical Extraction]]. They’ve got roles to play in the TES matchup, but they’re beatable in a way that a resolved [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] or [[Deafening Silence]] isn’t. Similarly, [[Opposition Agent]] can be game-winning in response to a [[Beseech the Mirror]], but you’re not casting it until turn three. Are you willing to play hands reliant on lock pieces like these vs. a faster / firmer lock piece, particularly on lower mulligans?

I’ll take the early disruption I can get. If there’s at least one piece of interaction I can cast early, I can roll with it. [[Opposition Agent]] is probably a beat too slow by itself, but as long as the hand includes enough early disruption and the mana to cast it, I’m probably in – hopefully whatever comes off the top is going to help (c’mon [[Wasteland]]).

Post-board against a spell combo deck like The EPIC Storm, do you generally find more success in landing a single piece of disruption then attempting as fast of a kill as possible (e.g., turn one [[Deafening Silence]] into turn two [[Stoneforge Mystic]] into turn three [[Kaldra Compleat]]), or is your preference to load up on as many lock pieces as possible? Especially on a lower mulligan, would you ever bin a second lock piece over a proactive threat?

I’d generally go for the second lock piece. You want to throw your Storm opponent as far behind as possible, and a second lock piece typically puts them further away from being able to respond with something like [[Abrupt Decay]]. Getting out of that lock will take more of your opponent’s resources and time, so yes, give me turn-two [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] after turn one [[Deafening Silence]] any day.

Yeah, but you can’t always have it all, right?

I’m not pitching a hand with [[Deafening Silence]] and the mana to cast it. If my follow up play has to be [[Stoneforge Mystic]], I’m going into beatdown mode ASAP to try and race you before you find an answer.

Speaking of being the beatdown: Post-board, let’s say I have the option to create 10-14 [[Goblin Token]]s via a line that doesn’t utilize the graveyard, or to attempt a kill immediately via a line that folds to [[Faerie Macabre]] or [[Surgical Extraction]]. Which would you take, and why? Does this calculus change past the first turn if you have yet to present a card like [[Deafening Silence]] or [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]]?

It’s close, but on turn one, the safest route is going to be the [[Goblin Token]]s. Relying on your graveyard is very risky here, and you can catch me before I have time to get set up

Past the first turn, [[Empty the Warrens]] gets way worse, because I’ll have time to get better answers (think [[Batterskull]], or maybe [[Plague Engineer]] from a different build of the deck) online. The longer you wait, the more creatures I can get online to eat, or at least trade with, yours.

How do you think WB Taxes’ matchup against The EPIC Storm compares to its matchup against other combo decks like Oops! All Spells, Sneak and Show, [[Doomsday]], Cephalid Breakfast, etc.?

I think of Storm as being a 55 for me. It’s a much more winnable matchup now that [[Thoughtseize]] gives us a much better chance of winning game 1.

In terms of comparing the matchup to other combo decks, now that I’m no longer on [[Cavern of Souls]]. It can definitely be more of a challenge to resolve cards like [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] against decks like [[Doomsday]] and Sneak & Show, so at this point, I’d typically rather see Storm than a blue combo deck.

What advice would you give to The EPIC Storm pilots to improve their Orzhov D&T matchup?

I have a lot of respect for Storm pilots that can “dance” around the hate and figure out how to deal with it on the fly. My advice is that D&T is a pretty slow deck, and you have to find the most efficient route to get across the finish line. Play your game, and remember that D&T is not actually the scariest deck to play against. You’re just going to have to jump through a lot of hoops to get your win. I’m sure you’ve experienced that in our games.

You know it. Any advice for D&T pilots facing down TES?

You’re not going to get blown out on turn one that often. Go for your [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]], but remember that she’s always at risk. Trust in the deck and find creative ways to disrupt their game plan and their mana ([[Recruiter of the Guard]] for a [[Skyclave Apparition]] taking out a key mana rock can be a fine play!). The more inefficient or non-functional their mana is, the better you’re generally going to do.

Any final plugs or shoutouts?

For us D&T pilots, we know it’s a constant uphill battle. It’s always an uphill battle, and it’s an extremely hard deck to pilot round after round. Stay focused, and keep your opponents honest on clock. Those are keys to victory.

I want to give an ENORMOUS shout out to Roland Chang for joining us here at Through the Looking Glass. Roland is a pillar of the NYC Magic scene, and I’m thrilled to be kicking off a more conversational format of TTLG with someone I’d consider a mentor and a friend.

Bang bang Tendrils gang. See you next month.