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Pursuit of Knowledge – Orzhov
A Ghostly Passage
Welcome back to Pursuit of Knowledge, the series where we analyze Magic cards based on gameplay data. In this installment, we will study the Orzhov guild. The EDHREC database contains 9,923 Orzhov decks at time of writing, slightly less than the guilds we have analyzed so far. However, this number will likely increase with the recent release of Ravnica Allegiance and the popularity of.
The extended Command Zone gameplay data covered forty-two games involving an Orzhov commander. Of the twenty-one Orzhov commanders, seventeen were featured in at least one game. Matt Morgan incidentally has presented Daxos in his Daxos’ Enchanted Edition piece of his Singleton Guild Wheel series. On EDHREC, is the most popular Orzhov commander with 1,356 decks, but more importantly, Athreos is present in 5,043 decks. Athreos has never been featured here on EDHREC, so I thought this would be a good excuse to use this God for our Orzhov analysis.was featured the most times with seven appearances. My colleague
Athreos brings us intrinsic graveyard recursion. However, this comes at a cost: Our adversaries can always bypass Athreos’s ability by paying life. For our commander to shine, we need to ensure we overwhelm our opponents with Athreos’s triggers, to a point where they have no say in choosing whether or not to pay the cost.
The first time I saw the effectiveness of this commander was in a Game Knight episode where Josh Lee Kwai demonstrated the strength of his Game Knight #18). I will stay away from , since they take up so many creature slots in a deck, and that would not be the best showcase for our gameplay analysis.‘s deck (see
However, we can still mimic the core strategy of adeck. All we need is a core aristocrat engine, a solid core reanimation package, and some way to fill our hand with the right cards. Our main goal will be to drain our opponents of their life with our engine. In addition, we will include some hatebear cards and leverage Orzhov’s lifegain support to buy us time to implement our game plan or find some alternate win conditions. Another aspect to take into consideration when building this deck is the fact that whenever one of our creature dies with Athreos in play, we decide which opponent must choose whether to pay 3 life to prevent the creature card from returning. We can use this selection as a political tool to our advantage. We will take such consideration into account while building our deck.
The average card type distribution of an Athreos deck on EDHREC can be seen on the chart below.
The average CMC for such deck is 3.98. However, JLK’s Shadowborn Apostle deck’s CMC is much lower. The 28cards with 1 CMC bring down the average CMC to 2.60. Ours will fall somewhere in between. We need to be lower than the average of 3.98 because we want to be able to cast lots of small creatures to drain our opponents the aristocratic way.
As with other articles of the series, I will present the cards selected in each categories, starting with the core categories (ramp, card advantage/filtering, disruption, mass removal, lands) and I will include three core synergy categories most relevant to Orzhov and specifically this commander: aristocrats, reanimation and tokens. I will then wrap up with standalone creature and noncreature spells. Card choices are based on gameplay card ranking and card synergy. We also take into consideration their impact on the mana curve. Our extended gameplay data allowed us to identify with some level of certainty the ranking of 639 spells and 146 lands compliant with the Orzhov color identity.
My goal is to present the best cards in each category to create templates for us to build future Orzhov decks, like your own version of! The cards selected for the deck will be highlighted with a background color and the card ranking specified in parenthesis beside the card name in the tables. Cards that are not rated, but deemed important for our deck, are usually found at end of table, with no ranking beside their name.
With no access to green, we deploy a variety of ramp cards to help us quickly get out the gates: mana rocks, lands, artifact and black spells.
|(16)||(0) – 41||(81)||(197)|
As it was with Izzet,and are fairly high on our list of ramp cards. Sad robot may also be recurred from the graveyard, either through Athreos or one of our reanimation spells.
and provide us some ramp, and are key components of our aristocrat package. Both altars are key to a winning combo that we will introduce in the Reanimation section.
Black provides a few nice sources of mana.doubles the mana that each of our Swamps produce and, as a bonus, brings to the table some life drain in the form of Extort. lowers the cost of each black spell we cast and also complements the life drain strategy.
I have selectedover . Both are a good fit for an artistocrat-style deck. may be more difficult to remove and could likely generate more mana each turn. However, we can hold on the mana that generates, and we can use it at any time, as opposed to only on our own turn. This flexibility may prove important in this deck; for instance, if we want to cast a large X spell.
We cannot rely on the fact that the cards destined to our the graveyard will find their way back to our hand from our commander’s ability. With aristocrats as our core strategy, we will often let our creatures die for value. To keep the cycle going, we need tools to get card advantage to get constant traffic on our board. We also need good tutors to pull the important pieces of our combos, or the pieces of our aristocrat engine.
As far as tutors go, we include, , , , and . Most of our tech creatures have power of 2 or less, so can help us dig what we need. can help us search for either , one of our combo enabler, or , which is arguably the best draw spell in the format. Three of our tutors are creature-based and can be brought back from graveyard, allowing us to assemble multiple pieces of our combos.
nets us additional cards and also contributes to our life drain strategy. plays well in an aristocrat deck. This creature card lets us turn our creatures, including our tokens into cards. provides us card draw in a way that fits with our aristocrat and lifegain approach.
In this category, we list the spells that disrupt our opponents from progressing their game plan.
and are some of the best removal spell in the format. For the rest of our removal spells, we use creature spells to leverage the aristocrat and reanimation aspect of our deck. is cheap to cast if the Evoke cost is used, and it gives us another source of sacrifice. and are on a stick and they both fit nicely in an aristocrat deck by providing extra sacrifice outlets.
We can useto permanently exile our opponents’ best artifacts and enchantments. When enters and immediately leaves the battlefield – such as by sacrificing it – two triggered ability go on the stack. If we can get the ‘exile’ ability on the stack and the ‘return’ ability above it, the ‘return’ ability resolves with nothing to return at all. Then the exile ability resolves, and the targeted artifact or enchantment will permanently stay in exile. The same applies to . We can play the political game with some of our opponents to get any of these two cards back to our hand with Athreos to ensure we can repeat the exile action. For instance, an opponent that has few creatures and/or artifacts/enchantments may very well be open to let us get our Leonin or back if we pledge to get rid of a common opponents’ problematic resources.
may not be the ultimate win condition, because you can only dispose of one opponent at a time, but we expect to gain enough life to activate this at least once. This may be a good insurance policy. Speaking of which, if we can recur , we can prevent lots of combat damage.
All of our mass removal spells align with our aristocrat, reanimation, and drain life strategies.
|(46)||(176)||(253)||// Dawn (418)|
clears the board and pumps our life up at the same time. clears the board from the biggest threats, with minimal impact to our board state because most of our creatures are power 2 or less. As a bonus it sets the table for a reanimation effect, giving us access to , the Aftermath half of this split spell.
can help us stall the board and give us some room to breath. We will likely want to sacrifice all of our creatures before triggering .
Core Synergy: Aristocrats
The aristocrat package’s main purpose is to drain the life from our opponents and sacrifice our creatures for value.
For instance, with, or , any time a creature dies, we can drain one or all of our opponents. A board wipe with can be problematic for our opponents. If we can find a way to repeatedly bring back some of our creatures with any of these aristocrats on the battlefield, our aristocrat engine starts running and the clock starts ticking for our opponents.
For the aristocrats to trigger, we need sacrifice outlets. The best ones are the outlets that can let us sacrifice at no cost. Cards like, (reprinted in Ultimate Masters), and are especially effective to support the aristocrat strategy and are key to some of the combos in this deck.
interacts very well with many cards in our deck, doubling the impact of abilities that trigger when our creatures die, including Athreos’s. With Teysa in play, our opponents have to pay 6 life when our creatures die if they do not want them to get back to our hand. draws us 4 cards with Teysa when a creature wearing it dies. With Teysa, when dies, our opponents lose 10 life and we gain 10 life.
is a sacrifice outlet that touches all the core synergies of this deck. It can be used to gain life, to generate tokens, to reanimate artifacts or to draw cards. Finally, is very good at containing our opponents’ creature base.
Core Synergy: Reanimation
We may be able to get some of our dying permanents back to our hand with Athreos, but it is likely that our opponents will prevent us from getting the most important ones, to disrupt our strategy. To ensure we have open access to our graveyard, we need some recursion.
One of the best cards to accomplish this goal is. ensures we can always bring back to our hand the creatures that are important to us.
Two sorcery spells enable us to make some big plays that may lead us to victory:and . Before casting these spells, we can sacrifice all of our creatures for value. These spells will bring them all back, which may allow us to sacrifice again for value. If a or is in play, we may be able to draw enough cards to find a win condition.
can reanimate not only our creatures, but also our some of our most important artifacts and enchantments ( , , etc.).
doubles the number of LTB triggers that we can get from creatures dying. Mikaeus’s interaction with Athreos is a bit awkward, but one could say it makes our opponents’ choices predictable. When one of our creature dies, two abilities go on the stack: Athreos’s ability and Mikaeus’s Undying ability. If we stack Mikaeus on top so it resolves first and the creature has no +1/+1 counter, the creature will come back to play with a +1/+1 counter. Athreos’s ability then kicks in. Target opponent can decide to pay 3 life, but this would be pointless because the trigger has no effect because the creature is nowhere to be found in the graveyard. If, on the other hand, Athreos’s ability resolves first, target opponent can pay 3 life to let the creature die, at which point it would come back to play with a +1/+1 counter, or they can decide not to pay the life so the creature goes back to our hand, which seems to be the logical choice.
We have three combos in our deck that, with an aristocrat in play, allow us to drain all life from our opponents.
Our first drain life combo involves. Although, this requires four pieces to run away with victory, three pieces of the combo may provide enough value to close the game (creating infinite mana and infinite tokens). With or , one of our aristocrat friends (for instance, ), and a creature that creates tokens when coming into play (such as ), we can set up an infinite life drain loop. With , we sacrifice two creatures, one token and a creature that generates two or more creature tokens on ETB. This nets us 4 colorless mana, which is enough mana to pay for the cost of ‘s triggered ability. This allows us to attach to the last nontoken creature that just died, creating tokens as it re-enters the battlefield. We can then repeat this process at will, draining all of our opponents’ life.
Combo Corner: Reveillark and Karmic Guide. , and a sacrifice outlet creature like sacrificed in the proper order can come back over and over, gradually draining life if one of the aristocrat creatures is in play.and are key to our second drain life combo. For a complete description of this combo, refer to
Our last drain life combo is built aroundand . We can target Leonin in our graveyard with to bring Leonin back to play. When Leonin enters the battlefield, we target Animate Dead with Leonin. Animate Dead leaves play, which forces us to sacrifice Leonin. When Leonin leaves play, Animate Dead then returns to the battlefield and can then target Leonin to repeat the cycle. If an aristocrat is in play, we can drain life from all of our opponents.
Note that part of these last three combos could allow us to draw as many cards as we want from our library ifor are in play.
Core Synergy: Life Gain/Life Drain
Our main plan is to drain life from our opponent. We also want to bring our life up to perform some actions, like exiling creatures, drawing cards, and dealing damage to our opponents.
Our aristocrat friends, , and are expected to do the bulk of the life drain work, one point at a time. For bigger life swings, we’ve got cards such as , , and . can double the life drain effect of Kokusho and . With in play, and Vizkopa’s life drain activated, Kokusho could drain 20 life from each opponents.
is one of our win conditions. This deck is not built to have access to a large mana pool, so for this card to be effective, we will probably want to have a number of Treasures in play for X to be large enough. As described in the Disruption section, is an alternate win condition.
, present in 6208 decks, is a very popular card on EDHREC, and for good reasons. It is also one of the top-rated Orzhov creatures in our gameplay data. This creature punishes our opponents for playing noncreature spells, disrupting spellslinger decks and decks that rely on chaining a number of noncreature spells for the win.
contributes to the life gain that should mostly help us bring our life total to a more comfortable level, but could prove quite troublesome for our opponents with Vizkopa in play.
Core Synergy: Tokens
Several Orzhov decks have a strong focus on tokens. Our deck is different in that respect. We keep only a few slots for spells that create tokens.
As acombo enabler, we include , , and . can tutor for and .
doubles up the amount of life drain that our black creatures can accomplish from dying. Teysa can also be used to exile creatures.
Standalone creatures are creatures that do not fit any of the above categories and work well on their own or in concert with the commander.
We have introduced three core synergy categories to build our deck and we have filled in all of our creature slots. We will not pick any cards from this category, but this table can be used for other Orzhov brews.
Standalone spells are noncreature spells that do not fit any of the above categories and work well on their own or in concert with the commander. All of our noncreature spells have been selected and there is no room for noncreature spells that do not fall in one of the above categories. Regrdless, I listed the standalone spells in the table below to give an idea of spells that could be included if we slashed one of our core categories or if we were building an Orzhov deck with a different theme.
Our land base has a mixture of ramp, sacrifice outlet, mana fixing and some recursion.
For recursion, we includeand .
Putting It All Together
Althoughis not directly part of any of our win conditions, when push come to shove, we can use this God’s political upside to progress our game plan. Athreos gives us access to cards that fit well together to implement an aristocrat-style strategy. While building our deck, we have come up with a list of cards in several categories, ranked based on gameplay data. These lists could be reused to build many more Orzhov decks.
I have really enjoyed your feedback in the last few articles. I am always amazed at the ideas and cards our readers present. I am curious to know which cards work best in your Athreos deck and which Orzhov commander has been the most consistent.
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