Until midnight last night this article was going to be about the SCG Invitational in Indy my thoughts on the Team SCG Blue Reanimator deck and the power of dropping your dogmatic deckbuilding restrictions. After all Sunday was the first time I sleeved up not-Brainstorm in sanctioned Legacy. There will be time for all of that next week though.
There's something much more pressing that I want to talk about and that you want to hear about.
You know what it is right?
That's right; it's how to make your opponent regret playing lands!
I have a few things to say about Land Tax on a format design level before getting to the brews.
Land Tax has been banned for the entirety of Legacy's existence.
It has doubtlessly been one of the "fairest" cards on the banned list in the sense that it will not kill an opponent on turn 2 or Mind Twist them or something stupid. It is fairly pedestrian to trigger it and Ancestral yourself but all of those cards are going to be lands.
For this reason people have argued for years that it should be unbanned.
"It wouldn't do any harm!" they say. "It's not even good! There are lots of things that roam free that are way more degenerate than Land Tax!"
Here's the thing though. Let's say Land Tax is really bad. Let's say 95% of the time it sucks and no one will play it just like Mind over Matter and Replenish. (Yes I see you High Tide and Enchantress players. Sit down.) If that's the case why not unban it? Banned lists are like Pro Tours—you only want the most deserving to make the cut so there's an intrinsic upside to making it smaller whenever you can.
It's probably more than 95% but you get my point.
What about the other 5% of the time? What happens if it's actually good? How do games play out?
Put it this way. Let's say I walk up to you and tell you that a deck with four Land Tax just won the SCG Legacy Open. What things do you believe are true about the format? Do you think it's a fun format for Legacy newcomers to play?
Do you think it's a format that you want to play?
Let's put it another way.
Patrick Sullivan to Zac Hill on Facebook:
"Hey man do you think I made any mistakes that cost me that game?"
"Yeah you shouldn't have played your first land."
That's not what I would want to be good in Legacy. I'm not talking dominant—I don't want that to be good.
Let's say Aspiring Legacy Hero Johnny walks into Friendly Local Gaming Store in Quiet Midwestern Town for a Legacy tournament with a Maverick deck that he built after seeing it online. He's heard it's complicated and doesn't really know how to play it yet but he's willing to learn.
He sits down for round 1 and loses game 1 because his opponent outdraws him with Land Tax and Scroll Rack. "Okay" you might say "Tax/Rack is sweet and that means games are going long enough for grindy decks to matter. What's wrong?"
He sideboards in his enchantment and artifact hate and shuffles up for game 2. Then he starts thinking.
"Should I be on the play?"
"Should I play my land?"
This is a skill that we want to test in Legacy? "Should I discard on turn 1 and not play a land?"
If a Land Tax deck won a tournament I would not think Legacy is a fun time. I would probably not want to play the format.
With that said a lot of you probably get your jollies from making your opponent agonize over whether or not to play their first land.
Okay so that's not really fair.
The reason why Land Tax's unbanning is a good thing is that RUG Delver (and other super low-curve tempo strategies) suppresses higher-curve control decks by being capable of operating off of two lands. As a result they get to play fewer mana sources making their cantrips better because they find more action in the late game. Every land past the second is essentially a mulligan against RUG and the one spell that the control deck needs to make up for its lost ground isn't going to resolve. As a result low-curve control decks with a ton of one- and two-mana spells are the only things that can thrive on that side of the archetypal circle.
The presence of Land Tax means that basic-heavy control and midrange strategies will be positively incentivized as opposed to basic-light strategies being disincentivized by the presence of Wasteland in the format. If a bunch of basic-heavy decks are actively good Wasteland's presence could drop off a bit letting higher-curve decks have their moment in the sun. I'm not saying that a deck with a ton of fours and fives is always going to be good in Legacy but they can definitely have its moments if Land Tax decks thrive.
Who knows maybe R&D and the DCI know how to do their jobs. Could be.
Anyway let's get down to breaking Land Tax shall we?
The first order of business is to figure out what shell we want to use with Land Tax. My initial thoughts were:
With a blue package adding:
And a green package adding:
And a red package adding:
And a black package adding:
The mana base of Tax/Rack/Mox decks is going to take some time to figure out. Land Tax is absolutely part of your mana base but I lack the experience to evaluate exactly how it will affect my capacity to get mana sources into play. My instinct is that Tax is there to ameliorate the negative impact of Mox Diamond essentially letting you freeroll the drawback. It obviously also color fixes you which can be anything from essential to unnecessary.
Let's get these into actual decklists:
"Grindy" will be the word of the day ladies and gentlemen. If you're outdrawing your opponent four to one you want ways for your cards to trade with their cards. This will generally work out well for you.
A few notes on card selections:
- There's no Ghostly Prison because you're winning with planeswalkers; Ghostly Prison's wording lets opponents attack planeswalkers for free which is why Norn's Annex isn't a complete joke.
- Ensnaring Bridge is great because it will typically win you games against attack-based combo decks (Reanimator Sneak and Show and so on) that you have no business winning.
- There are no creatures because you don't have four Chalice of the Void to shut off your opponent's Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exiles.
- You don't have four Chalice of the Void because Enlightened Tutor is nearly Vampiric Tutor in this deck.
- Trinisphere is in the deck so that they have to play more lands to cast their spells. More lands for them = more lands for you. For the first time ever Trinisphere may actually be actively good in Legacy.
- I'm not sure if there's a better win condition than Elspeth. I kind of just want her for the emblem since I'm not sure how people are going to win if they can't blow up an Ensnaring Bridge.
- Yes I would like to run Moat. No I don't think you own Moat. I don't own Moat either. Who owns Moat seriously?
- The sideboard for this deck is probably super sweet. You get to have stuff like Cursed Totem Leyline of Sanctity Aura of Silence Karmic Justice and whatever other sweet artifacts and enchantments you want to Tutor for.
What about a more traditional approach? If some Scroll Rack is good more is better right?
This one feels off. I'm fairly certain that trying to fit Force of Will in the deck is a mistake since you want a lot of white and artifact cards if you're Taxing and Racking. Furthermore your end game is Ensnaring Bridge which doesn't want you to start peeling Force of Wills.
With that said protecting yourself in early turns feels pretty dicey. You have Enlightened Tutor for Bridge Totem and Cage but those aren't really spectacular. You should have an insane Maverick matchup since you're just a board-control prison deck where all your cards are awesome against them. With that said almost all of your cards have huge diminishing returns so going super long isn't actually that great.
Scroll Rack can put cards back and Land Tax can shuffle them away but that doesn't mean you never draw them again. If you only have twelve cards in your deck that DO something eventually you'll have to draw the other 48. There's a deck here and I think this is a reasonable start but it's a long way from being good.
What happens if we take a lower-curve approach to the problem?
This feels closer. It has enough threes for Counterbalance to be good against all of the Show and Tell decks that exist. It has a million shuffle effects: Enlightened Tutor Land Tax Trinket Mage and Flooded Strand. It has things that you would actually want to Trinket Mage for.
Again I don't think I want Force of Will in my white-and-artifact-heavy control deck.
It doesn't have a way to close games out besides Entreat the Angels but presumably you have them Counterbalance-locked before you go for that. Since you're a very slow control deck you'll need a way to protect against Force of Will in the super late game which is why Future Sight is there. You miracle your late-game Entreat in their end step then respond to your Counterbalance trigger on their Force of Will by Enlightened Tutoring for your Future Sight.
This deck might need a better win condition. It's a possibility.
If you don't need the Future Sight for protection you can just play it and use Sensei's Divining Top to cast sorcery speed Stroke of Geniuses by flipping Sensei's Divining Top to draw a card casting it off the top of your library and repeating.
If blue isn't your style you could shoehorn Land Tax into an attrition deck that mostly sees play in Europe. Given that the last thing to come out of Europe was G/W Maverick and that's one of the top decks in Legacy right now I feel confident in asserting that Europeans have a better idea of what's going on in the format than we do.
Let's talk about Pox.
Since black doesn't really interact with artifacts or enchantments your Land Tax and Scroll Rack never get touched by your weapons of biological warfare. At the same time any redundant copies of Tax and Rack can be discarded to the slew of symmetrical discard effects in your deck.
Bloodghast is a strong candidate for "finisher" of choice given that you can hold lands back to trigger Tax again as well as to discard to Pox effects. Once you trigger Tax you can regrow Bloodghast and have five more "Bloodghasts" in your hand ready to go. Since your Pox effects also nug them your late-game Bloodghasts will have haste letting you Innocent Blood to clear their blocker and get to attack with your 2/1 anyway.
Cabal Therapy / Bloodghast is a nice interaction that Sam Black inspired me to adopt. Given his success against combo decks in the SCG Invitational with a Zombies-based disruption deck I'm more than happy stealing his disruption engine. Duress makes the cut over Thoughtseize and Hymn due to the life loss from Pox effects and the fact that you will occasionally want some idea of what their hand is before you Therapy them.
Reid Duke reinvented Spinning Darkness last December for Charlotte and I think the card is still just fine even if it can't kill a Griselbrand. You still have fourteen ways to kill the Demon so I wouldn't worry too much about getting hit for seven. Beyond Griselbrand Spinning Darkness is a sort of reverse Searing Blaze—it kills a Delver and un-Bolts your face. Since you can return Bloodghasts fairly regularly you shouldn't really find yourself in a spot where you have to remove one to a Spinning Darkness.
Maybe Pox doesn't appeal to you though. Let's say you want something more colorful. No worries—I have just the deck for you. Besides what kind of Legacy article would this be without a really bad unhelpful deck name?
LOLCATS or Loam Onslaught Lands Confinement Assault Tax Scroll is a classic prison control deck. It has two land-based draw engines in Life from the Loam and Land Tax as well as two ways to convert those cards into real advantage in Scroll Rack and Onslaught cycling lands like Tranquil Thicket.
You gain advantage by moving cards around from zone to zone which is really how Magic should be decided. You get lands from your deck with Land Tax put them back in your deck with Scroll Rack discard them to Solitary Confinement or Seismic Assault discard Tranquil Thicket to get back Life from the Loam put lands back in your hand with Life from the Loam and then win because you drew the most cards over the course of the game.
In all seriousness though the mana base for this deck probably needs a bit of tweaking but eight Moxes and a lot of white cards makes a turn 1 Tax without a land drop more likely than any other deck. Whether that translates to a win is another question entirely but the premise of this article is that there are ways to make your new cards matter.
This deck though is almost mono-do-nothings. Take that as you will. I'm sure a lot of people enjoy doing nothing for long stretches of time so this deck should suit them rather nicely. Well except for lacking Brainstorm but you do have eight Ancestrals to make up for the absence of Brainstorm.
No matter what Land Tax deck ends up performing well I'm confident that there will be something to do with three free basic lands at the start of turn 2. Since the unban date has been shifted due to the upcoming Legacy Grand Prix in Atlanta on June 29th we'll get to see who wins: real estate bureaucrats or demons from another plane!
I have no doubts that Griselbrand will present Land Tax archetypes with a lot of trouble but I don't believe that they're impossible matchups for the white decks. Quite the contrary actually—I think white has the most tools at its disposal when it comes to fighting Griselbrand.
But that's for next week.
Enjoy brewing with Land Tax!
@drewlevin on Twitter