Or How I took Boros Hatebears to a 3-1 Record at a 35-person Modern event


I took a deck full of spectacularly underwhelming creatures to a Modern tournament a Win Condition Games, and I won.

3-1 on a random Monday night tournament isn’t exactly something the write home about. It’s not like I took down a Grand Prix. But if you’re looking for something fun to play in Modern, that gives you plenty of chances to interact with your opponent, and has a decent chance at winning you should check out the list below.

Boros Death & Taxes

Creatures (22)
Thraben Inspector
Grim Lavamancer
Leonin Arbiter
Harsh Mentor
Simian Spirit Guide
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Pia and Kiran Nalaar

Artifacts (6)
Aether Vial
Smuggler's Copter

Instants (8)
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile

Planeswalkers (2)
Ajani Vengeant

Lands (22)
Inspiring Vantage
Battlefield Forge
Arid Mesa
Needle Spires
Sacred Foundry
Ghost Quarter
Tectonic Edge
Slayer's Stronghold
Sideboard (15)
Wear // Tear
Rest in Peace
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Grim Lavamancer
Sword of Light and Shadow
Deflecting Palm
Ethersworn Cannonist

What you are looking at is a Boros (Red/White) take on the Death & Taxes/Hatebears archetype – but with some substantial deviations to the traditional D&T card lists. Modern Death & Taxes is a take on the Legacy deck of the same name. Traditionally, these decks use a light mana-denial element, backed by small taxing creatures, to keep your opponent off balance long enough for your 2/2s to get the job done.

On paper this deck looks super underpowered, but the whole is way more than the sum of its parts. Traditionally, decks like this have a bounce subtheme to gain incremental advantages over time.

Also, traditionally, these decks aren’t setting the world on fire.

Modern is a powerful format. Everyone knows this, right? That’s why it is so hard to be a Death and Taxes player. Not only do you have to have the correct hatebears to disrupt dozens of potential opponents, but you have to draw your deck in the correct order, or you’ll never get that initial lead. When your deck is full of inherently weak cards, you have to grab the advantage early. If you don’t you’ll be quickly overrun by Death’s Shadows, Tarmogofys, Fatal Pushes, and all of Modern’s other game-winning threats.

That’s why you don’t see Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in my deck. Thalia is a staple of Death & Taxes. But she’s just not good in the current Modern metagame, and she forces you to make bad deck building choices. A 2/1 first striker doesn’t do much against a Tarmogoyf. And even worse, her tax ability tricks you into playing even more mediocre creatures rather than powerful spells that can abuse your advantages.

Now that we know what we’re not playing let’s take a look at the cards that we are:


Leonin Arbiter + Ghost Quarter

The real reason to play this deck is the raw power of Leonin Arbiter. If Legacy is defined by Force of Will and Brainstorm, Modern is defined by Fetchlands. A Leonin Arbiter, on his own, can slow many Modern opponents to a crawl. Playing him turn two might just lock your opponent on one mana until turn four.

When you add in Ghost Quarter, you can decimate mana bases. Decks like Death’s Shadow tend to run land light anyway. With these two cards, you can completely lock them out of mana producing lands. You can make Tron matchups squirm, and three color midrange decks like Abzan unable to play any of the powerful cards in their hand.


Aether Vial

Aether Vial is the most important card in the deck. Full. Stop.

You can’t win matchups playing fair. If you use the same amount of mana as your opponent, you will lose. Their creatures are better than yours. Their spells can completely wreck you.

The answer is to use more mana than anyone else. Aether Vial let’s you cheat on paying for your creatures, but subtly it also let’s you gain long-term mana and land advantage. This deck runs land light. You’ll be sacrificing your Ghost Quarters to keep your opponent low on lands. Aether Vial makes sure you can still develop your board, even as you are setting their’s back. And it’s not just making sure you can play creatures. With the mana you save with Vial, you can sac a Clue Token, or equip a Sword.

The final benefit Aether Vial gives this deck is in creature protection. Our creatures are weak and fragile. Playing them at sorcery speed is just asking to get blown out by a removal spell. But with Vial, we can play on our opponent’s end step when they are tapped out. We can sneak in an Arbiter when they’ve tapped low and crack a fetchland. We can Flickerwisp a land on our opponent’s upkeep.

Aether Vial might not be the splashiest card, but it make out deck viable.



No one ever really thinks about Flickerwisp. A 3/1 Flier for three is alright, I guess. But it’s not among the most powerful things you can do. But when you combine Flickerwisp with Aether Vial, magic happens. You can get rid of a beefy creature in combat. You can keep an opponent land locked during their upkeep. You can reset a planeswalker before they can ultimate You can save one of your own creatures from removal And that’s just the tip of the spear. The more you play with Flickerwisp, the more interesting cases you’ll find.

Even at it’s base level, Flickerwisp is shockingly powerful. Combine it with Thraben Inspector for more clues – or Pia and Kiran Nalaar for even more flying beatsticks.

Lightning Bolt

We mentioned earlier than Thalia, Guardian of Thraben tricks you into playing bad cards. I really think you should just play good stuff like Lightning Bolt. Death & Taxes has the ability to deal about 10 damage with creatures. But at some point, you opponent is going to stabilize. Your wall of 2/2s looks pretty pathetic against a board of Tarmogofys, Tasigurs, and Snapcaster Mage + removal spell. Lightning Bolt lets you clear the way through smaller creatures, and deal the last points of damage to close the game.


Smuggler’s Copter

Here’s another non-creature that we get access to without Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. One of the biggest problems with Death & Taxes decks is that you have to run a ton of situationally powerful cards – but you end up with a ton of useless cards in many matchups. This means that given enough time, decks can break out of your soft lock and grind you out with superior card advantage.

Smuggler’s Copter keep us drawing gas – and provides a way to deal a few extra points of damage. It’s not hard to find yourself staring at a freshly drawn Aether Vial on turn eight, and your Leonin Arbiter unable to attack or block. Smuggler’s Copter helps you turn that Vial or extra land into action.



Thalia, Heretic Cathar + Ajani Vengeant

Just because we aren’t playing Guardian of Thraben doesn’t mean Thalia is completely absent. With her buddy Ajani Vengeant, Thalia Heretic Cathar makes sure you keep your mana and tempo advantages into the midgame. It’s tough to break out of an Arbiter lock when you lands come into play (and stay) tapped. Together, these two also extend the stabilization timeline.

You might end up taking a smash from an Eldrazi, but Ajani makes sure it only happens once – then let’s you crack back. Thalia keeps Lingering Souls tokens out of the way, and means you won’t see an emergency blocker at the last minute.


Simian Spirit Guide

You know what’s better than a turn two Leonin Arbiter? Yep. Turn one. Some decks will never get a chance to play.

Simian Spirit Guide isn’t an essential part of the deck, but he does provide for the most broken draws. It also helps fix your mana when you’ve been Ghost Quartering all game – or when you need that last push to get to Ajani or Thalia.


Harsh Mentor

I side Harsh Mentor out in almost every game. But I don’t think I’ll ever remove him from the main deck.

One of the running themes with Death & Taxes is understanding how many turns until your opponent break through your lock. Harsh Mentor, along with Lightning Bolt, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Ajani Vengeant, and Smuggler’s Copter all come together to shorten the game, and make sure there isn’t enough time for your opponent to break free.

Matchup Analysis

For the record, Modern is an incredibly wide open format. So instead of going deck-by-deck through two-dozen potential matchups and variations, we’re just going to look at the highs and lows. From there you should be able to extrapolate potential dangers and opportunities in other decks.

Or you could just get steam-rolled by something unexpected… because this is Modern and we’re playing with a bunch of underpowered two-drops.

What you really want to see with Boros Death & Taxes are decks that rely on fetchland manabases, and have a low density of game-ending threats. The other big potential winner are decks that rely on strong internal synergies, or that fold to a specific hatebear.

Tron: If you hate losing to turn three Karn, play this deck. If there was a deck I could sit across from all day, it would be Tron. Your mana denial plan plays right against their goal of getting a full Tron suite in play. Eldrazi Tron is a little worse because they can easily drop a Thought-Knot Seer before you can lock them out. Ajani Vengeant and Thalia, Heretic Cathar help keep your tempo advantages.

Potential Sideboard Cards: I’m not running Stoney Silence, but you could if you wanted. I actually prefer something like Phyrexian Revoker.

Affinity: Shockingly enough, Boros Death & Taxes has a perfectly solid matchup against Affinity. This isn’t necessarily true for the mono-white version of the deck. We’ve got 4 extra slots for removal, and Harsh Mentor keeps the robots from synergizing too well. You don’t need Leonin Arbiter to supercharge your Paths and Ghost Quarters, but you should still save the Ghost Quarters for Inkmoth Nexus.

Potential Sideboard Cards: Don’t play Stoney Silence in this version of the deck. You want to keep your Vials, Copters, and clues active. Instead I go with a single Kataki. Wear//Tear is a nice catch-all that you can use to get rid of some dead cards. We’re good enough in this matchup that you don’t need a huge lift from the board.

Burn: Game one against Burn is very close. We might even be slightly disadvantaged depending on our card sequencing. If you can land an Ajani Vengeant, then you’re probably fine, but a lot of the time, you’ll just die before you draw him. After sideboarding, however, you end up dominating.

Potential Sideboard Cards: We have two silver bullets for this matchup – but we’re actually playing them to shore up against other decks. Burrenton Forge-Tender is really here to shut down opposing Anger of the Gods. Here he just blocks all day and blanks that game-ending Bolt. The more interesting card is Sword of Light and Shadow. This underlooked gem comes in for our worst matchup – Abzan. Here, instead of helping us get through Lingering Souls tokens it just keeps our life total padded.

Where there are good matchups, there are also bad matchups. Mostly, Boros Death & Taxes can maneuver itself into a 50/50 matchup with most decks, but there are some that are just lost causes.

Abzan: You’d think our mana denial plan would help, but they have enough removal to keep us off balance. Tarmogoyf can come down early and blank our team. Eventually you will wear them down, but Siege Rhino is unbeatable. Unlike Jund midrange, Abzan has Lingering Souls which means we can’t even use our Flickerwisps to race through the air.

Potential Sideboard Cards: As mentioned above, Sword of Light and Shadow is there for an unexpected way to circumvent removal and attack through Souls tokens. Rest in Peace comes in too, but it isn’t as devastating as it would be against a deck like Grixis Control.

Tribal Aggro (Elves & Merfolk): By far, our worst matchup is Elves. We just don’t have any good answers for them. Not only do they not typically run any fetchlands, but their creatures invalidate our mana denial plan on their own. Additionally, our light removal suite isn’t enough to actually disrupt Elves redundancies. Merfolk is a slightly better matchup, but ultimately feels the same. Potential

Sideboard Cards: I’ve got nothing. Traditionally the way to beat these decks is mass removal like Anger of the Gods or Engineered Explosives. But those cards wreck us too much to play. If you’ve got any secret tech, please let us know in the comments.

Spell Combo: Traditional Death & Taxes builds actually have a pretty decent matchup against decks like Ad Nauseum and Gifts Storm. But not us. We made the decision to cut Thalia, Guardian of Thraben so we could run main deck Lightning Bolts and, Ajanis, and Smuggler’s Copters. These cards help us out against midrange decks and in racing aggro decks, but it leaves us wide open to spell combo. If you expect a bunch of spell combo, you should re-think this configuration.

Potential Sideboard Cards: There is a decent line of thought that you should put Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in the sideboard. Sometimes you can bring in Rest in Peace and get some free wins against decks like Living End and Gifts Storm. Ethersworn Cannonist can do a mean Thalia impression without completely shutting you down too.

Bring the Hate

Let’s be clear. I’m not claiming Boros Death & Taxes is going to take to Modern metagame by storm. In fact, I’m not sure the deck is all that good. But, man, it’s fun to play. In fact, until the metagame shifts to all Elves, Abzan, and Ad Nauseum, this is my weapon of choice.

While it might not dominate too many matchups, it can hold it’s own against Zoo, Burn, Death’s Shadow, Bant Eldrazi, Affinity, Tron, Ponza, Jeskai Nahiri, Grixis Control, R/W Prison, Lantern Control, and a host of other random decks you’ll see in Modern. Each match is a challenge to find new hidden synergies and angles of attack as you try to squeeze out incremental tempo advantages. And if all else fails, you still get to do ridiculous stuff with Flickerwisp.


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