Taxes in the Modern Age – A Deck Tech

While I have previously written an article on Death and Taxes in Legacy, it may surprise readers to know that I’m a four-colour Delver guy. I have played Legacy DnT maybe a handful of times. I did, however, fall in love with an old Craig Wescoe list for Modern that was essentially an Aether Vial weenie beatdown list. The first time I put a Thalia into play and watched my opponent squirm as their entire turn plan went down the drain it was infectious. I was hooked.

Since that time I’ve been tinkering with and developing a list that ideally has a minimum 50/50 matchup against the non-hyper-aggro (Burn and Affinity) decks in the format in game one, and sideboards heavily against those games two and three. I’ve had varying degrees of success with the list, and I think I’ve finally gotten close to that lofty goal of mine. I piloted the deck at GP Brisbane this weekend and went 6-3 day one and 5-1 in day two to finish 11-4 and 63rd on standings. My losses were to Merfolk, The Rack, GR Tron (on a mull to 5 then 4), and Copycat with mainboard Sun Titan.

The loose gameplan with the deck in to establish or grow the board each turn while simultaneously cutting your opponent off resources and lines by denying them mana efficiency, producing sweet blocks off an Aether Vial, or denying them the ability to search their library.

Without further ado: Mono-White Death and Taxes

Mono-White Death and Taxes

Creatures (32)
3 Aven Mindcensor
3 Blade Splicer
2 Dryad Militant
3 Eldrazi Displacer
3 Flickerwisp
2 Judge’s Familiar
3 Kitchen Finks
4 Leonin Arbiter
1 Mangara of Corondor
2 Phyrexian Revoker
2 Selfess Spirit
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Artifacts (4)
4 Aether Vial

Instants (4)
4 Path to Exile
Lands (20)
2 Eiganjo Castle
1 Flagstones of Trokair
4 Ghost Quarter
2 Horizon Canopy
2 Mutavault
6 Plains
1 Sea Gate Wreckage
2 Tectonic Edge

Sideboard (15)
2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
2 Kataki, War’s Wage
2 Kor Firewalker
1 Sword of War and Peace
2 Mark of Asylum
2 Rest in Peace
2 Spellskite
2 Stony Silence

The best way to break down this deck is in terms of its individual packages, so lets do this.

Denial Package

Contains: Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Leonin Arbiter, Aven Mindcensor, Judge’s Familiar, Phyrexian Revoker, Dryad Militant (17)

Possibly the most integral part of the deck, the cards in this package are all about denying your opponent’s ability to maximise their actions per turn. By stopping your opponent from searching their library, you instantly gain an advantage over decks like Chord or Tron, and by forcing them to pay more for their spells, their decks can almost grind to a halt, or in the case of combo decks, may cease to function entirely.

Judge’s Familiar is a special but (I feel) necessary element in this deck. Many players consider the one mana tax a disincentive to play the card, but one of the more common lines of play is to hard cast a Leonin Arbiter or Thalia on turn two while having your Aether Vial on one counter. Most opponents will try to remove the creature as fast as possible due to the threat it causes, but with a quick Vial activation, the Familiar can be sacrificed to save your creature. Worst case scenario, it blocks Signal Pest and other annoyances conveniently.

Dryad Militant also single-handedly turns off Snapcaster Mage decks, Dredge’s Conflagrate, Lingering Souls, and a host of other sources of value.

Flicker Creatures

Contains: Flickerwisp, Eldrazi Displacer (6)

Alone, these creatures provide instant speed resets for an opponent’s attacking creatures, turning a Wurmcoil Engine from a game ending play to a waste of your opponent’s turn. When combined with the flicker targets these creatures provide a way to get out of a tight spot, or build a board wider than most of the format.

Flicker Targets

Contains: Mangara of Corondor, Blade Splicer, Kitchen Finks (7)

The most outright powerful of the packages, these creatures will often completely blow your opponent out of the water.bffs A vialed Blade Splicer golem will often profitably block on its own, or with a Thalia or Mutavault can take out some of the biggest threats in the game. The true power comes from flickering any of these targets, especially with Eldrazi Displacer. Blade Splicer turns into a three mana instant speed Golem Foundry activation, and Kitchen Finks becomes a potential four life per turn profit if it dies and persists in blocks, to be flickered in end step. My favourite interaction has to be Mangara though. Activate and hold priority before Vialing in the Flickerwisp or activating the Displacer and you can exile a new permanent every turn. Its an absolute must-answer for your opponent. Another interesting interaction is to activate Displacer targeting your Arbiter after your opponent has paid the two mana to search – it effectively creates a ‘new’ Arbiter and the tax must be paid again to search.

The Lands

With Eldrazi Displacer in the deck, it is essential to find the correct coloured/colourless land balance. After extensive testing I determined that nine colourless and 11 coloured sources was most reasonable.

Within the colourless sources, a commitment of four Ghost Quarters was a non-optional component, and I had decided that at least two each of Mutavault (for that Splicer interaction) and Tectonic Edge must also be played. The choice for the optional final land pained me for some time, whether to have a third Tectonic Edge or Mutavault. With the printing of Fatal Push, I assumed that control would be more prevalent and that it would be smart to have a plan in case of a topdeck war, thus Sea Gate Wreckage entered the deck.

The coloured sources slots were much easier to determine. Two Eiganjo Castle to save Thalia and the sideboard Kataki from burn and turn them into solid blockers. At least two Horizon Canopy because white has so little opportunity to draw cards. Then the Flagstones as insurance against “Flagstones, Ghost Quarter, Ghost Quarter” openers, as the deck currently hosts seven double-white cards. The rest simply became plains.

The Rest

Contains: Selfless Spirit, Path to Exile, Aether Vial


Just a pinch of value

So Path is necessary, no questions. Vial on the other hand, is a card I had an option to include early in design. I was tossing up whether to play Restoration Angel or not, and decided that leaving up mana to flash the Angel meant I couldn’t play Displacer, which means I couldn’t go huge on Splicer or Finks, both of which I determined I needed to win certain matches (Junk and Burn respectively). I could run all of the above, but then the curve would become a problem, which I found out trying to prevent the deck being bogged down with hands full of three mana creatures and nothing to do until then. So Angel was out, Vial was in (and maxes out at three counters) and the rest of the build fell into place neatly. Selfless Spirit is an interesting addition, again in preparation for UWx control, preventing a near-instant loss to Supreme Verdict or Anger of the Gods.


The Sideboard

As previously mentioned, the deck struggles against hyper aggressive decks, so the sideboard needed to counteract these decks effectively. Against Burn the board contains Kor Firewalker and Sword of War and Peace, against Affinity I sideboard into Kataki, War’s Wage and Stony Silence (removing Aether Vials of course) and the answers for both of these are Spellskite and Mark of Asylum.

Most of the sideboard slots are versatile cards, with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar coming in against BGx (Jund/Junk) and hard control, Rest in Peace against BGx, some control lists, Dredge and Living End. The Sword of War and Peace was the standout sideboard choice of the tournament, single-handedly winning my round against Chord, beating for five, triggering for 3+ and gaining 2+ every turn.

I won’t go to the extent of posting an exhaustive sideboard plan because, as we saw in Brisbane, the format is wide open right now. Also I never had one anyway.

When all is said and done, I firmly believe that deck proficiency is the number one factor in posting results in Modern. Sven Restel (UB Mill) and I both demonstrated this as we put up convincing scores with decks that had never been considered high tiered. So if you have a pet deck, stick with it, make some changes and you’re sure to see an improvement. As for myself, there’s work to yet be done, now to tackle the problem with go-wide decks like Merfolk.

Until next time, good topdecks, and good luck.

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