Last time, I started lightly with some guidlines on deckbuilding in Commander. In today's installment, I expect to ruffle some feathers by coming out in favor of an always controversial strategy: Taxes. I'll be discussing why are they good for the game and good for your kitchen table.
I decided to write this article after listening to The Mana Pool episode 499. The lads were covering Masters 25, discussing
Armageddon in particular, a card very near and dear to my heart. There was a comment along the lines of "
Armageddon is for jerks“. As many of you know, I am a Taxes player by heart, so I found the notion to be quite wrong. After some discussion on Twitter, mostly with @realCardsphere, I decided to write a piece to defend my favorite archetype in Magic.
What is 'Taxes'?
Simply put, the Taxes archetype is a control strategy that relies on slowing opponent(s) with multiple taxing effects (
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben,
Root Maze), rules setting effects (
Rule of Law,
Aven Mindcensor) and mana denial cards (
Magus of the Moon,
Hokori, Dust Drinker,
Armageddon) and finishing opponents with small efficient beaters (or combos, in multiplayer).
In 60 card formats, this would be Vintage Ravager Shops (Stock List Link ),and Legacy or Modern Death and Taxes (Stock List Link ). As you can see, features these decks share are disruptivness and speed – this isn't full Stax, we just need to be a turn of two faster than our opponents. While we borrow these concepts and translate them as much as possible to Commander, we can't rely simply to be a turn or two ahead because of the nature of the format – more opponents means we need to do so much more to get that win. This means taxing more and harder, and often killing lands. Not just one or two, all of them.
But before we go into how to tax people, we need to discuss one more important question, why tax people?
Reason #1 – Decks of a Different Color
When you ask your typical Commander player to name the best colors in EDH, what's the usual response? Blue, Black and Green. The order varies depending on the individual, but these are the usual suspects. And for good reason! Blue gives us access to counterspells and card draw, Black provides tutors, removal and card draw, Green handles the always important ramp, and the huge creatures we ramp into.
What are we left with? White and Red, the red-headed stepchildren of the color pie, pun intended. White's forte is removal and tons of taxing effects - and is often a popular choice for a support color, but you rarely put a focus on it in your deck.
Red has loads of burn and fast creatures,but these translate badly into Commander with its higher life totals – but would you look at this? Taxing effects are still here:
Price of Progress,
War's Toll (also there is the
However, there is a function both colors share: Land Destruction, and it's with Land Destruction that Red and White get a leg to stand on against the other colors. For example, against Green we can finally answer ramping strategies.
Now, before you all prepare your pitchforks and torches, please try and remember all those times people ramped into their late game threats on turns 4-5 just because of their ramp and/or mana dorks?
So decks with taxing effects offer a means to play a control deck outside of Blue stack control, with cards like
Rule of Law,
War's Toll ... Unlike Blue control, we don't stop spells resolve – we just slow them up, or shut down resources to be cast downright.
Reason #2 - Dealing with Combo
Most people hate facing infinite combos (even though it is a legitimate part of the game, in my humble opinion) and are often looking for ways to stop them, if the playgroup allows them at all. And honestly, heavy taxation is the way to go. If infinite combos are ravaging your games, Taxes allow us to stop certain combos, while letting the rest of the table play the game normally.
For example, while
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a bane to Storm and Turbo-Xerox decks, your mate playing
Gishath, Sun's Avatar will only grumble a bit for his
Rampant Growth costing an extra mana. Same goes for flashing in a
Hushwing Gryff in response to a Kiki-Jiki.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not pretending that this makes the Taxes player everyone's friend at the table. Or even that the Taxes player's role is to ensure that everybody only plays fair Magic just like Richard Garfield intended it (even though he DID put
Armageddon in Alpha ...), but the archetype has its merits.
Tips for Playing Taxes
Now that we have some solid reasoning to play the deck, I shall give you some of my tips on how to make playing a taxing deck a good experience for everybody on the table – or at least way less miserable.
Knowledge of the meta is where we live or die – if we don't know what are we fighting our taxing cards will block the wrong things. With proper metagame knowledge, however, our games will go smoother and more importantly faster – and we all want to cram in as many of games of Commander as possible on game night, right?
This doesn't only mean we need to pay attention to way people build their decks and how they win games or threaten our position. Metagame knowledge also includes reading your playgroups tells, which tell you how do they feel about their game at the moment. Tells can include slamming cards on the field with more force than usual, cracking knuckles and other subconscious signals.
Accept Your Role as Archenemy
We are playing a Taxes deck. Let's not lie to ourselves and think people will be delighted to play against us while we shut down their strategies – not at first at least. People will gang up on you, people will see the Taxes player as the biggest threat (or source of biggest annoyance).
We can do one of two things – be upset about it, or build the deck and our mindset with it in mind ( Video related ).
While playing with your friends, you might fall into the trap of wanting to play more of your taxing cards than warranted, mostly because you enjoy slowing the game to a crawl. Don't.
First of all, you become that guy – the guy that YOLOGeddons even though he has no board presence, or the guy who plays
Scrambleverse just to see what happens. People hate playing that guy.
Second of all, don't disrespect your opponents and start thinking they can't break through your vice grip – unless you are comboing off while everybody is locked down, or you are swinging for lethal, consider them a threat. Always give your opponent the mercy of a quick and clean kill if possible, for your sake and theirs.
Be Hard on Yourself
While piloting decks like these, you will make small errors which might cost you the game. Don't just shrug it off as variance, or being tired, or whatever excuse you'd use, but think on it. What cost you the game? What caused you to lose the lead, and how can you improve?
That is not to say that you won't have bad draws, or that your opponents won't have great draws – this is simply how game of Magic: The Gathering goes. But I am talking of those little games where you didn't attack the combo player for one turn and that gave them enough life to
Ad Nauseam off, or when you felt cocky enough and let that Lord live so Krenko player managed to kill the table.
And now that I've given you some of my thoughts, I'll give you one of my lists to demonstrate my thoughts and principles woven into this article. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my 75% BloodPod List.
Feel free to comment, call me wrong or whatever your lil' taxing hearts might desire!