Land Tax is finally legal in Legacy. Hallelujah!
Land Tax is a card that I have long argued is among the safest cards to unban from the Legacy banned list. In 2010, I asked my readers if they felt Land Tax was a safe unban, and an overwhelming 80% agreed at the time that it was.
It’s sometimes surprising how Wizards will unban or unrestrict a riskier card than cards that are obviously safer for Eternal play. A good example is unrestricting Gush before Fact or Fiction in Vintage. A good Legacy example is unbanning Entomb before practically every card they’ve unbanned since. Half of the cards argued for in my 2010 article are now legal, and Land Tax is arguably the safest of all.
The main reason for Land Tax’s long penance, as I understand it, is because of the concerns over repetitive tutoring and shuffling caused by Land Tax under timed games. This is a real concern, but unlike a Doomsday or Gifts Ungiven, your options for tutoring are usually quite limited, and the time it takes to find the relevant lands and shuffle is only marginally longer than for activating and resolving a fetchland like Polluted Delta.
The other argument against unbanning it is that it is unfun for another reason: players are reluctant to play land when Land Tax is in play, and it creates boring stalemates and stalled games. For competitive reasons, I also find this to be unpersuasive. Unwillingness to do anything doesn’t create a dominant or unfair deck.
Land Tax is a safe unbanning because it is unlikely that Land Tax would create a dominant deck over a long period of time. But the reason to unban Land Tax, aside from the fact that a card that isn’t likely to be dominant is undeserving of being there, is that it would create new deck building and strategic opportunities in Legacy.
It is precisely these opportunities that I wish to explore in this article.
The first place to begin examining your options with Land Tax is to envision colors you may wish to run. Naturally, any Land Tax deck will need to have White as either a primary or secondary color. Land Tax, if it is to be efficient and reliable, must be an early game play (turn 1 or turn 2). A mid or late game Land Tax will do little good as a game plan or engine. Thus, White must be either a primary or secondary color. You’ll need at least 9, and probably closer to 13, sources of White mana to guarantee a reliable way to play Land Tax on Turn 1.
The second constraint on any Land Tax deck is that it must have a critical mass of basic lands. To take advantage of the card advantage generated by Land Tax, you must have enough basic lands in your deck to activate Tax multiple times. That means you probably need at least 7 (and probably more) basic lands.
The basic land requirements likely reduce, if not eliminate, a heavy third or fourth color. That is not to say that running tertiary colors is impossible, but it is generally unreliable. Legacy decks typically run between 17-25 lands maindeck (with the occasional combo deck coming in lower than that, or heavy control deck with more than that), with the norm running around 18-23 for decks without Wasteland.
A Land Tax deck with at least 7-9 basic lands leaves little room for dual lands that are in tertiary colors. The second color will require space for some number of dual lands and supporting fetchlands. A true dual color deck will need to reliably have both white mana and secondary mana in hand for a turn one play. The heavy basic land requirements squeeze out room for non-primary or secondary color dual lands, especially since the heavy basic land requirement also minimizes the room you have for fetchlands.
It follows that there are at least five immediate possibilities as core options: mono-White, W/U, W/B, W/R, or W/G. Of course, other colors can be played, especially in sideboards, but they will be minor splashes rather than core colors.
The third constraint on a Land Tax deck is its strategic orientation. This is less obvious than the first two points, but Land Tax is best used in a control deck. Allow me to explain.
Land Tax is a source of card advantage. The more turns you can activate Land Tax, the greater it’s controller’s advantage. This means that the controller of Land Tax wants more turns to milk the advantage from which it hopes to turn that advantage into an eventual game victory. This cannot be done directly or immediately. Lands, while critical to the game of Magic, do not directly interact with the opponent or tactically disrupt or defend (with the exception of specialized lands, like Maze of Ith, etc).
Therefore, taking advantage of this resource requires translation: a way to siphon these additional lands into other forms of advantage. The card advantage of Land Tax must be a resource that enables other resources or is combined or channeled in other ways or over time to transform this form of card advantage into a meaningful tactical resource or strategic advantage. For the most part, this is the plan of a control deck. Both the necessity of time and the utilization of card advantage mean that any successful Land Tax deck is not a tempo deck by orientation. Instead, it is likely a control deck or a deck that resupplies its threats with card advantage.
A Land Tax deck is not likely to be a Delver deck. It’s more likely to be a real control deck, like Landstill or CounterTop, or an Aggro deck with a robust draw engine like Black Weenie with Necropotence.
Foundational Synergies: Scroll Rack
The previous three points: that Land Tax will require a primary or secondary commitment to White, a basic land heavy mana base, and a likely control orientation, all follow deductively and inductively from an analysis of the benefits offered by Land Tax. The next question is to what kinds of cards you might play with Land Tax.
Historically astute readers will note that Tax has not always been used strictly in Control decks. In fact, the decks that made Land Tax so abusive utilized Tax/Rack like a mini Necropotence every turn, but were Aggro decks. Here is a good example:
Extended Tax/Rack White Weenie, by Randy Buehler - 1st Place North American Extended Championship
4 Land Tax
3 Scroll Rack
4 Savannah Lions
2 Gorilla Shaman
4 Soltari Priest
4 White Knight
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Swords to Plowshares
Mana Sources (26)
4 Mox Diamond
1 Kjeldoran Outpost
2 Gaea’s Blessing
3 Aura of Silence
2 Suleiman’s Legacy
2 Honorable Passage
2 Sand Golem
As exemplified by the above list, the main partner in crime with Land Tax has been Scroll Rack. The combo was once so well known it was shortened colloquially to “Tax/Rack.”
Scroll has seen scant play in Eternal formats as of late, but that will now change. The main problem with Scroll Rack is that there are few sources of recurring card advantage useful enough to justify running this over the more efficient and stupendous Sensei’s Divining Top, for example.
Land Tax provides such a reason. Not only that, but Land Tax is a reliable and natural progression: turn 1 Land Tax, and then turn 2 Scroll Rack. The Scroll Rack activation the following turn can turn all of your tutored for land into brand new spells, and feed the Land Tax over and over again. You may only have 7-9 basic lands, but you can Tax indefinitely, turning each of your basic lands into more and more business spells with each passing turn.
I want to play Scroll Rack in probably just about every Land Tax deck you can design. It’s simply too darn good not to.
Foundational Synergies: Mox Diamond
Much has already been made of this point, but Mox Diamond is an obviously amazing card with Land Tax. Not only is Mox Diamond, Land Tax an incredible opening play – forcing the opponent to trigger the Land Tax in order to advance their game plan, but the additional lands fuel future Mox Diamonds, making them far less painful. Almost every Land Tax deck will likely play Mox Diamond. Mox Diamond will also help you accelerate out Scroll Rack or use it sooner. If an opponent stubbornly refuses to play land drops, this is yet another place where Mox Diamond will shine.
Mox Diamond and Scroll Rack likely make up the corpus of any serious attempt to utilize Land Tax in Legacy. It is possible to abuse Land Tax without them, but they are so synergistic (featuring multiple positive interactions) that it we must presume their conclusion at the outset until that presumption has been otherwise rebutted.
Our core Land Tax deck is probably going to start something like this:
3-4 Land Tax
2-4 Scroll Rack
3-4 Mox Diamonds
7-9 basic lands
That’s anywhere from 15-21 cards, or between 1/4th and 1/3rd of a Magic deck. From this core, it is not difficult to actually identify cards that we will likely include regardless of color configuration.
Swords to Plowshares/Path to Exile – Given that White is a primary or secondary color for any Land Tax deck, and that any Land Tax deck is likely to be a control deck by orientation, it would be silly not to run some sort of spot removal. Swords to Plowshares has long been considered the standard for creature removal in Legacy due to its efficiency, but Path to Exile will often be more synergistic with most Land Tax variants. The life gain ‘drawback’ with Swords is not much of an issue, but with the ‘drawback’ of Path giving your opponent another land turns out to be less of an issue. The opponent is given the choice of either doing nothing, or putting a basic land in play from their deck, thus potentially triggering your Land Tax engine again. You can choose which option you feel is best for your particular Land Tax strategy, but due to the efficiency of these they are highly effective tools in Tax/Rack decks.
These cards are probably as far as the auto-inclusions go. Almost everything past this point is far more debatable, and thus I will merely set out some options for your consideration.
Enlightened Tutor – Enlightened Tutor is legal in maximum quantities in Legacy. This tutor finds both parts of the Tax/Rack combo, and can find other things besides while shuffling away unneeded lands. This is a serious consideration for any Tax deck.
Terminus – Given the fact that almost any Land Tax deck is also going to run Scroll Rack, this will make Terminus a reliable and useful Miracle play. This will supplement Swords to Plowshares for spot removal.
Argivian Find – Argivian Find provides a way to recur countered or destroyed “silver bullets,” as well as parts of the Tax/Rack combo. It’s a serious consideration because of its efficiency. In some Tax/Rack control decks, it is essentially a 1 mana instant speed Regrowth.
Solitary Confinement – Confinement provides insane synergy with Land Tax and Scroll Rack, and is an obvious consideration.
Ethersworn Canonist/Tormod’s Crypt/Trinisphere – I’ve not grouped these cards together because they are tactically similar but because they are each Enlightened Tutor targets, and likely a sideboard silver bullet for different situations and matchups.
Zuran Orb – This once powerful card (was even banned in Ice Age block) deserves consideration for one simple reason: it is a way to manually trigger your own Land Tax. By sacrificing your own lands, you can get under the land trigger and activate Land Tax. It is also a nice bonus that the sacrifice gains you life: something that equates with additional turns for control decks.
Goblin Charbelcher – This is a non-trivial win condition/finisher option for mono-white Tax decks since they will empty their libraries of lands by Taxing.
Ivory Tower – Ivory Tower is another blast from the past that can be used to create a huge life shield.
Wasteland – Wasteland is a serious consideration. If you go turn one Land Tax, turn two Wasteland, you’ll have rewound the turn and gained an extra Land Tax activation.
Brainstorm – Brainstorm has natural synergy with Land Tax. The problem with Brainstorm is mana cost. You are going to be knee deep in Blue if you are relying on early Brainstorms. That means your manabase probably has some strange combinations of plains and islands, and perhaps a few fetchlands, and perhaps even a Tundra or two. The awkwardness stems from potentially needing to play both a first turn Land Tax and possibly Brainstorming early, yet having mostly basic lands. The longer the game goes the more value can be extracted from Brainstorm (shuffling away extra lands and digging deeper into an already thinned deck), so keep that in mind when analyzing opening hands and lines of play.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor – If Brainstorm has strong synergy with Land Tax, certainly Jace does as well. It has direct synergy with Land Tax, a pseudo Scroll Rack. Jace is a natural finisher for a control deck of this caliber, and also has the ability of controlling creatures on the battlefield.
Daze – As my teammate Kevin Cron pointed out, Daze is insane with Land Tax, since it works like Zuran Orb, to return the land you already played to hand to guarantee Land Tax triggers.
Blood Moon – Blood Moon is an excellent Tutor target, and highly synergistic in any Land Tax deck. Blood Moon neuters fetchlands, and can singlehandedly win matchups. It is a strong consideration for any W/R Land Tax deck.
Firestorm – Firestorm is an enormously attractive option, just as it was in the Extended decks of old. It’s a great outlet for Land Tax and will clear an opposing board. This is probably a staple for any W/R Aggro deck revival.
Seismic Assault – Fool’s gold, in my opinion. Not only is it too difficult to reliably cast, but it’s a poor use of your card advantage compared to putting back into your deck with Scroll Rack or Jace/Brainstorm.
Other Tactical Options
Of course there are many other options, but this isn’t a 30 pager primer; it’s an overview of key considerations. I think the two key ways to go are mono white or U/W in terms of control. If you want to try to build White Weenie, I think either mono White or W/R sound reasonable.
Here’s how I would start with a mono White Control build:
Legacy Parfait 2012, by Stephen Menendian
4 Land Tax
3 Scroll Rack
4 Enlightened Tutor
1 Zuran Orb
1 Solitary Confinement
3 Oblivion Ring
4 Path to Exile
4 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Goblin Charbelcher
3 Argivian Find
3 Orim's Chant
Mana Sources (23)
4 Mox Diamond
This deck is built around the Enlightened Tutor toolbox, and can have plenty more bullets in the sideboard. I’ve chosen Belcher as the finisher, although your mileage may vary. It seems like a natural way to end the game.
UW Land Tax decks have never succeeded in Vintage, but there are at least two reasons to think that they might in Legacy. First, Daze has immense synergy with both Land Tax and protecting you long enough to get your relevant cards online. Second, the power of Jace is undeniable. These two cards did not exist in Vintage Parfait decks of yesteryear.
My teammate Kevin Cron quickly identified the key synergy of both of these cards, and then figured out what I believe are the key elements of a successful UW Control deck in Legacy. Below I present his list, only slightly tweaked in terms of some card ratios:
UW Parfait, by Kevin Cron
4 Land Tax
3 Scroll Rack
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Stoneforge Mystic
3 Spell Pierce
4 Path to Exile/Swords to Plowshares
4 Force of Will
Mana Sources (22)
4 Mox Diamond
4 Flooded Strand
This is the core of what I believe will be a very successful deck. It trades the Enlightened Tutor package for a core set of unbelievably powerful cards, and has multiple paths to victory with Jace and Stoneforge.
I’m excited for the potential for Land Tax in Legacy, and hope you are as well.
Until next time,