‘Nothing in life is certain, except for death and taxes…and white weenies” – Old Legacy Proverb
Since the format’s inception, combo has been one of the hallmarks of Legacy, with no other constructed format being able to boast such a diverse range of one-turn-win combos. Even at its peak, Modern was home to Birthing Pod, Storm and Splinter Twin, while Legacy offers Storm, Painter, Belcher, Oops All Spells and TinFins to name just a few. But in order for combo to co-exist with fair, unfair and control decks, those decks need to have a way to beat combos. Enter Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, the thorn (heh) in the side of spell based combo; easily accessible for White decks, holds her own in combat, and can occasionally result in an instant concession if they’re not ready for her. Her normal home is in the Death and Taxes deck, alongside Aven Mindcensor, Spirit of the Labyrinth, Ethersworn Canonist and Rishadan Port, all working together to squeeze the opponent out of resources, and out of the game.
Death and Taxes (DnT) is in a unique position in that it has received frequent, regular tools in both new releases and supplementary sets. Starting from Innistrad, when Thalia, Guardian of Thraben was printed, the deck had hit a new level of power, with the deck having received a new toy nearly every block, most of which have survived the test of time. From Return to Ravnica, Judge’s Familiar and Rest in Peace gave the deck some much needed sideboard cards against a number of decks. Spirit of the Labyrinth was printed in Born of the Gods, putting the stop to Ponder and Brainstorm. Conspiracy brought a major boon in Council’s Judgement. Commander 2014 gave the deck the eternally sideboarded Containment Priest, a blowout against Show and Tell, and finally Eldritch Moon brought Thalia, Heretic Cathar, who is yet to find a concrete number of slots, but is proving herself as capable as her younger self.
With the release of Conspiracy 2, no new cards have received quite the same attention as Recruiter of the Guard and Sanctum Prelate, and with good reason. The former is a slightly more relevant version of the obscenely expensive Imperial Recruiter (for those of you who follow my writing, I called both it and Berserk being printed) that also can be played in Aluren. What Death and Taxes player would pass up the opportunity to cast the Recruiter and Aether Vial in a Stoneforge Mystic to apply pressure, or a Thalia to shut out their opponent’s combo? It even makes the creatures from their sideboard like Phyrexian Revoker so much better. Sanctum Prelate may seem like it’s merely okay on its face value (after all it dies to Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay), is a mediocre beater and can’t stop creatures. What really puts this card in a league of its own, in my mind, is two simple words: “Miracle Trigger”. Vial this bad boy in response to someone revealing a Terminus and name six and your board is untouched or they have to remove it on the stack. This card is insanely good almost everywhere; call out 4 and Storm can no longer cast Tendrils of Agony, name one and delver players are forced to win without bolts, Stifles or cantrips. Choose two and that pesky Lands or Loam player can no longer cast their Life From the Loam or Punishing Fire.
This time, though, player outcry was significantly more immediate and vocal, with many players complaining that Death and Taxes gets all the fun new toys while their pet deck gets nothing, and has received nothing for some time. While this may be the case, there is always a very valid and rational explanation as to why, and it’s entirely covered in Wizards’ design philosophies.
The simple fact of the matter is that Death and Taxes has one of the lowest (if not the lowest) barriers to inclusion in the format. All it takes for a creature to be a possibility for the deck is for it to answer ‘yes’ to two questions: “Is it White and CMC three or less?” and “Does it have text that stops my opponent playing how they want?” with an exception being “Is it a tutor-creature?” like Stoneforge Mystic or Recruiter of the Guard.
To demonstrate a higher barrier to inclusion, we will use the example of Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT). The most recent addition to the deck was Dark Petition, which only earned its slot by being a better Grim Tutor when found off Ad Nauseam. Prior to this, there was a four year time frame in which the deck received no new toys except the ubiquitously used Abrupt Decay. The reason for this is that the deck is designed to do exactly three things: cast cantrips, cast mana accelerating spells and artifacts, and find and cast Tendrils of Agony (or Empty the Warrens out of the sideboard). For a new card to earn a place in the deck, it has to do one of those things significantly better than those already in the list. A Serum Visions won’t cut it, nor will a Dimir Keyrune.
There is another, less obvious reason that DnT sees so many new cards enter its pool: Wizards’ design strategy. The game has changed substantially since the days of Storm and cheap mana rocks. We have entered an age of creature combat and combat tricks, clearly aimed at more fun and fun-to-watch limited environments. For this reason, spells like Dark Ritual are no longer being printed as those who start with one in hand will easily overpower those who do not.
So for those Legacy players out there raising their pitchforks at the taxman, don’t be too concerned, it’s not their fault anyway. Just sideboard some more Pyroclasm, or play Miracles. That deck will never get banned right? … Right?