Heart of the Cards – Queen Marchesa

(Queen Marchesa | Art by Kieran Yanner)

Slay the Runway

Hello, and welcome to another Heart of the Cards! If you haven’t read other installments of the series, here’s the rundown: we’re going to pick a commander, build a shell with all of the supporting, goodstuff, staple-type cards you just can’t do without, and then build a few different core packages that could each potentially act as the heart of the deck, defining its unique flavor and personality. Today I’ve chosen to look at the fabulous Queen Marchesa.

She’s fierce, she’s serving face, and she will absolutely cut you down. Queen Marchesa is not just here to play, she is here to slay, and she has no problem pulling out every shady trick in the book to protect her crown. Marchesa is nice and open-ended. Using the Monarch mechanic, she creates a mini-game of ‘combat hot potato’ as soon as she hits the battlefield, and if you’re ever not the Monarch at the start of your turn, she provides you with a hasty, deathtouching 1/1 Assassin to take that crown back again and again.

There are a few things every good Marchesa deck needs: ramp, to fuel the large hand of cards she tends to accrue; a dash of card advantage effects, in case someone else steals the Monarch and doesn’t let go; some answers for the problems your opponents will throw your way; and of course, a way to close out the game.


The Shell

Before we dive into different ways we can define the deck’s personality, we need to take a look at the cards we just can’t play without.


Category is: Rocks

Any deck worth the salt it generates is going to run a ramp package. While this package is always important, and will always show up in Heart of the Cards, Queen Marchesa works just a little bit differently than many other commanders. In many ways, the Monarch mechanic is your commander, and once Marchesa hits the field and starts the back-and-forth fight to draw extra cards, you don’t need to cast her again. You’ll still have plenty of things you want to cast, but it’s not a race to get her out and keep her out. We do need some ramp, though, and since this deck is inherently pretty aggressive, ramping with cards like Sword of the Animist and Legion’s Landing are the perfect sorts of inclusions for Marchesa.

Ordinarily, we can get some good ideas from the Ramp Theme Page, but most of the cards listed there are entirely or partly green. A few other options do present themselves, such as Wayfarer’s Bauble, Burnished Hart and Solemn Simulacrum. These are fine includes, though the latter two probably tie up a bit too much of your mana. If you want to expand the ramp package, mana rocks that can turn into cards later on – like the new Locket cycle from GRN and RNA – are where you want to start.


Crown It

Every deck needs ways to get a leg up on the competition. As we’ve already discussed, Queen Marchesa generates card advantage all on her own, so she can afford to play a lighter card draw package than most other decks. We have a few typical card draw effects (and a tutor!) that are pretty self-explanatory for a card advantage package. For atypical sources of advantage, we have Bishop of Rebirth and Sun Titan. These are different from traditional sources of card advantage, but they work to generate battlefield advantage whenever they attack, a major theme of the deck, and one that still puts you up on cards. Sun Titan in particular gets back almost any card from this deck, should our opponents have the gall to start blowing up our equipment, enchantments, or lands. If you’re looking for more recursion engines, Goblin Welder and Custodi Soulcaller are both great adds.

You’ll notice that apart from Archangel of Tithes in the main deck, and Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts in the tokens package, we’re not running lots of pillow fort cards. Ghostly Prison, Baird, Steward of Argive, No Mercy, or Koskun Falls all generate advantage by protecting the crown, but I didn’t want to heavily emphasize a defensive theme. These types of cards are popular for Queen Marchesa, but I like for Mardu to encourage combat with everyone, and there are a few nasty tricks this deck gets to pull off that are just more fun if someone is all-out attacking you. We’ll get to those in a moment.


The Library is Open

Having the answers to problems is valuable in any game, but, for some decks, a toolbox package can dilute their speed and power. Decks that are linear or rigid can explode quickly but tend to fold to hate. Fortunately, Marchesa is open-ended, allowing for a suite of answers that makes the deck more flexible without compromising the pace of her strategy. This suite of mostly instant-speed answers removes problem creatures, artifacts, and enchantments, protects you and your board, can answer volatile plays before the effects resolve, and a few of them, like Deflecting Palm, Rakdos Charm and Batwing Brume, can even win you the game.

The Wrath Theme Page is a fantastic starting point for a package like this. Marchesa supports many different Wrath-type effects, since she can play under and around a bunch of the conditional board wipes. Newer Wraths like Dusk // Dawn and Citywide Bust are the perfect sorts of inclusions to expand the broad sweepers in this package. As far as nontraditional answers go, it pays to run nonblue counterspells. I run Lapse of Certainty in every nonblue, white deck where I can make a slot for it. No one expects you to counter their Expropriate or Cyclonic Rift, and it can absolutely make or break the game. If you’re really into counters, Mana Tithe can get the job done as well.


Take It to the Runway

Lastly, we have a combat suite. Queen Marchesa is not a combo commander, and while she likes combat, she doesn’t have a large enough body to close out the game against two or three opponents. Whichever heart we load into her, combat is the most essential part of her strategy to close out the game, and this package helps to support both defensively and with offensive beats. Reconnaissance and Brave the Sands let us attack and block with some impunity. Sword of Vengeance, Forebear’s Blade, and Blackblade Reforged help us get significant digs in on our opponents, and the first two leave a blocker up thanks to vigilance. Archangel of Tithes helps control the flow of battle in our favor and flying means that she holds a sword really well.

If you wanted to expand this package, I’d take a look at anthem effects. Stuff like Intangible Virtue and Always Watching are great for the vigilance they provide, while the new Ethereal Absolution is a one-sided anthem/one-sided Night of Souls’ Betrayal that hates the graveyard while pumping out tokens. The card is a house, and it’s recently made its way into my paper build for testing.


The Heart of the Cards

With the underlying skeleton now built, let’s check out some different strategic directions we could take our deck. This is where the EDHREC’s Theme Pages really shine.


Serving Body-ody-odies

Do you like to make lots and lots of bodies? More bodies than your opponents could possibly block? More bodies than you really need? Well, Marchesa makes tokens, and she’s in colors that support tokens fairly well, so why not go all in? The nice thing about tokens is that they go wide quickly, they’re expendable, and they can hold Equipment, which turns a throw-away body into a tall threat.

Scrolling through the site’s Tokens Theme Page, I kept my eyes out for cards that mentioned combat. WotC has increasingly printed cards that create attacking tokens, and Marchesa love-love-loves the combat phase. Captain’s Claws and Sigiled Sword of Valeron are especially neat since they survive board wipes and keep pumping out tokens. One I didn’t include that would probably be insane is Divine Visitation. The thought of Tilonalli’s Summoner exploding into seven 4/4 vigilant Angels is just delicious.


Dress to Impress

Equipment is an important component of a well-built Queen Marchesa deck. Most strategies employed by Our Reigning Queen don’t make use of big finishers, so it helps to have some way to make small things big. Though some decks may just splash Equipment for a finisher, a deck built around Equipment is speedy and resilient. There are lots of cards here that give the deck access to some sneaky tricks. Leonin Shikari and Brass Squire let Equipment act like instants, responding to spells and abilities to do all sorts of interesting things. Stonehewer Giant can fetch and attach Equipment right in the middle of combat. Sunforger has fantastic synergy with the suite of answers we’re already running and it loops a few times each turn with Puresteel Paladin and Leonin Shikari.

If you wanted to expand Equipment further, you could add Kazuul’s Toll Collector, which would provide some redundancy for Sunforger loops, albeit at sorcery speed. Cranial Plating would let you pull some surprises when attacking or blocking. There are also plenty of legendaries that synergize well with Equipment and tokens. Akiri, Line-Slinger goes tall and defends well, while Kemba, Kha Regent, and Valduk, Keeper of the Flame go wide. Those latter two would be at home in either the Equipment or the token packages.


Heads Will Roll

Marchesa generates resources along two axes – tokens and card draw – and she tends to do this on a tight curve. This allows her to play stax and prison cards that slow the game down or otherwise deny resources to our opponents. The Stax Theme Page is a rogue’s gallery of your opponents’ worst nightmares. Tanglewire is a standout on the page since—while our opponents will be tapping down creatures, mana rocks, and lands—we don’t care if our Equipment or artifact stax pieces become tapped. Oh, and once it’s gone? Sun Titan can just bring it right back. As far as new stax cards are concerned, I’ve been super impressed with Priest of Forgotten Gods on MTG Arena, and I think it’ll do some work here, too.

The Stax Theme Page doesn’t cover everything, however. One of the best turn zero stax pieces, Chancellor of the Annex, doesn’t show up. And hand stax effects like Bottomless Pit, Necrogen Mists, and Cunning Lethemancer are also mostly absent. The only piece of hand stax I ended up including was Stronghold Rats since it follows our theme of effects that trigger on attack or damage.

DISCLAIMER: Stax/Prison is not for everyone, and certainly not for every playgroup. If you or your playgroup find stax too slow and annoying, I highly recommend swapping out the stax pieces for punisher cards instead. Cards like Immolation Shaman, Harsh Mentor, Rampaging Ferocidon, Kambal, Consul of Allocation, Marchesa’s Decree, and Campaign of Vengeance act kind of like stax, while still allowing you and your opponents do things. This has the added benefit of speeding games up and making them a bit more exciting since life totals are constantly dropping.


She Bring It to You Every Ball

So, what does it look like when we put a heart into the skeleton? I’ve put the stax package together by bringing the land count to 34. All that’s left to do is shuffle up and start swinging with a deck that curves out at 2.92. This is my ideal form of battlecruiser Magic: subterfuge, asymmetrical effects, answers, and resilience. I hope you enjoy!

Let me know what package you picked, or if you have a totally different take on the deck, by tweeting @GrubFellow, and be sure to tell me how your games go!

Queen Marchesa Category is: Death Becomes Her


 

Dean is a husband, father, writer, and long-time fan of Magic and gaming in general. He co-hosts the Commander Time! podcast with Nate Burgess and Patrick Sippola. Currently located in Rochester, NY; he loves playing with new people, so if you're ever in the area, shoot him a message. Follow him on Twitter @GrubFellow, where he tweets #dailyEDH microcontent.