Figured I’d try something a little different this week. I think I’ve done enough of these budget decks now on this site that my building thought process is clear, so now I’m going to open with the deck list so I can explain in detail how it plays and the interactions therein.
WHAT IS THIS DECK?
Simply put, this is an Orzhov deck. More specifically, an Orzhov lifegain deck.
We’re going to be draining life from our opponents to bolster our own life total and fuel our victory. This deck features every card in the format with Extort, so that we can keep a steady life-drain going through casting spells – including the ridiculous Pontiff of Blight that gives ALL our creatures Extort.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Well, like all lifegain decks, this deck wants to gain a whole bunch of life. Doing so allows us to stay in the game longer, and gives us a resource we can tap into in order to win the game. I will now break down each aspect of the deck by section.
Life-Drain: The life-drain cards in our deck serve a dual purpose – to increase our own life total while decreasing that of our opponents. The primary mechanism for accomplishing this is through Extort – found on twelve of our creatures and Blind Obedience. Besides Extort, we have several spells that just plain take life from at least one of our opponents and banks it in our own life total: Debt to the Deathless, Exsanguinate, Blood Tithe, Sorin’s Vengeance, and Chancellor of the Dross.
Finally, in true Orzhov style, we have several cards that make our opponents pay us life whenever something happens. Polluted Bonds makes our opponents pay us 2 life to play a land. Blood Artist and Falkenrath Noble claim 2 life points whenever a creature dies. Agent of Masks just plain steals 1 life during each of our opponent’s upkeep steps. Souls of the Faultless drain life whenever they’re dealt combat damage.
Life Gain: Not all of our life gain comes through a drain effect. Four of our creatures have lifelink: Divinity of Pride, Angelic Skirmisher, Chancellor of the Dross, and Vampire Nighthawk. Purity turns non-combat damage that would be dealt to us into life gain. Chant of Vitu-Ghazi turns combat damage dealt to us into life gain. Rhox Faithmender and Boon Reflection double our life gain. Soul Warden and Soul’s Attendant allow us to gain one life each time a creature enters the battlefield. Moonlit Wake gains us one life whenever a creature dies. Tainted Sigil gives us an amount of life equal to all life lost by all players during the turn it is sacrificed. Beacon of Immortality doubles our life total, and then shuffles itself into our library so we can do it again later.
Destruction Effects: We have several sweepers in the deck – Merciless Eviction, Black Sun’s Zenith, Planar Cleansing, and Sunblast Angel. (On that note, Planar Guide lets us dodge a sweeper once.) Archon of Justice exiles a permanent when he dies. Necrotic Sliver can be sacrificed to destroy a permanent. Mortify lets us destroy our choice of creature or enchantment.
Card Draw: We employ three tutor effects: Diabolic Tutor, Diabolic Revelation, and Dimir House Guard. Two spells in the deck allow us to turn our life gain into card draw: Greed, and Words of Worship. Phyrexian Reclamation lets us pay life to retrieve cards from our graveyard.
Mana: There’s not much in the way of ramp in this deck, but there is some play here. Crypt Ghast makes all our swamps produce a second black mana. Knight of the White Orchid lets us fetch a Plains and put it into play. Orzhov Keyrune produces white or black mana, and can turn into a 1/4 lifelink creature. Armillary Sphere and Wayfarer’s Bauble allow us to fetch basic lands.
Lands: Most of our lands are devoted to producing white or black mana, but there are a couple nice utility lands in there, and Vault of the Archangel is the heavy hitter. It gives all our creatures Deathtouch and Lifelink. Leechridden Swamp causes each opponent to lose one life. Bojuka Bog exiles a player’s graveyard. Reliquary Tower means we have no maximum hand size. Orzhova, the Church of Deals is a (somewhat expensive) life drain effect.
HOW DOES THE DECK WIN?
This deck really, really wants to cast either Vizkopa Guildmage, or more preferably, Sanguine Bond. An activated Guildmage or Sanguine Bond lets us damage our opponents whenever we gain life. Either of these probably turns Beacon of Immortality into a kill spell.
Cradle of Vitality is another means of turning our lifegain into a game-ending threat. Whenever we gain life, we can put that many counters on one of our creatures. This turns any of our creatures into serious threats, but take a closer look at our general, Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts. She has protection from creatures – meaning she is unblockable. If we can gain 17 life, we can make ourselves a 21/21 general who can’t be blocked. That sounds pretty scary.
Of course, don’t forget that while we are gaining all this life, most of the time we’re doing that by taking it from our opponents. Left to our own devices, eventually we’ll just bleed them all to death through Extort and drain effects.
If we get pretty late into the game, then we can cast Storm Herd, giving us a 1/1 Pegasus token for every point of life we have. Earlier in the game, Angelic Accord makes a 4/4 Angel for us during every turn which we gain at least 4 life.
Finally, if we just plain want to end the game, we can probably accomplish this simply by casting Test of Endurance.
WHERE DOES THE DECK GO FROM HERE?
Using our standard TCGPlayer optimizer settings, the deck comes to $50.61, which is technically over budget, but it’s not enough over budget that I’m going to have a problem with it.
This deck has a great deal of room to grow once your budget gets bigger. The one card this deck really, really wanted that I couldn’t squeeze into the budget this time was Necropotence. With the amount of life gain this deck is capable of, we could practically draw our entire deck. If you’ve got one (or about five bucks to acquire one), then you really should put one in this deck.
Obzedat, Ghost Council and Blood Baron of Vizkopa are two Orzhov heavy-hitters that would do well in this deck, but simply didn’t make the budget. Archangel of Thune also makes a lot of sense in the deck, however at her current price she would have represented 50% or more of the deck’s budget.
Kokusho, the Evening Star could have a place in the deck, especially if you can recur her through the use of Phyrexian Reclamation. I did not include her primarily because of budget concerns, but also because her power level is just a bit higher than I’d like for a more casual deck. Sun Titan was another card that I had included for his utility, but cut because of the budget. He may be worth testing out in the build later.
Tutor upgrades would not be a bad idea either. Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor are, as always, the gold standard of tutoring, but given the number of powerful enchantments this deck runs, it would certainly like an Idyllic Tutor and/or Enlightened Tutor as well.
Two cards off the top of my head that would give you better mana production are Land Tax and Black Market, both of which are strangely thematic for an Orzhov deck. I could not justify either in a deck with a $50 budget, but either would go in the deck nicely if you have them, or have a larger budget.
Also, on that note – the land base could definitely be upgraded. Sadly, Godless Shrine is one of the more expensive shock lands, so it just couldn’t be squeezed into the budget. Isolated Chapel and Fetid Heath would also have been nice. Of course, any black-white deck would love to have a Scrubland, but you’re looking at $50 (the entire deck’s budget) to acquire one – and at that price, it’s a Revised version that probably went through the washing machine at some point.
Finally, if you’re wanting to make the deck more competitive, then you need to consider Felidar Sovereign and Exquisite Blood. Felidar Sovereign is a second lifegain win condition, but unlike Test of Endurance, it only requires 40 life. Exquisite Blood combos with either Vizkopa Guildmage or Sanguine Bond to create an infinite loop of life-draining for the win. Also, Serra Ascendant would be a good inclusion – solid for a competitive deck but a bit too cheesy for a casual one.
Well, I hope you enjoyed a budget building of my favorite Ravnica guild! Stay tuned for more budget decks in the future, and a couple not-so-budget ones!