Dice Tower Con 2019
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How Does Orzhov Win the Game?


I don’t know if this is going to turn into a 5-part (or 10-part) series or not, but I did have a reader request that I talk a bit about Orzhov in the light of both a few goodies in Ultimate Masters that are about to get a lot more affordable and the upcoming Ravnica Allegiance set (I’ve called the set Ravnica “Allegiant” for like 3 weeks and no one corrected me. I have also seen it called “Allegiances.” I’ll accept any variation as long as there are good Simic cards) and I think it’s a good idea. Let’s get hyped about Ravnica Allies and Lieges and look at how Orzhov typically gets things done and how we can potentially be ahead of the curve when Ravnica Allegations cards come out because we thought about how to win and everyone else is still looking at the cards.

I decided to look at the most popular Orzhov commanders (per EDHREC, anyway) and try to distill a formula for victory. When Orzhov isn’t trying to gain all the life in the world and kill someone with either Sanguine Bond (or, if they’re even less inspired, Sanguine Bond plus Exquisite Blood) or blast them with Aetherflux Reservoir (simultaneously boring and super, super fun. I can’t explain it) Orzhov also loves to grind advantage, making tokens just to sac them, dealing death by 1,000 cuts with Extort and generally keeping the board clear of creatures. Orzhov wins the war of Attrition as literally as possible, by using the card called Attrition. In addition to cards like Plaguecrafter and Midnight Reaper coming out to give Orzhov some goodies when they have access to cards from Ravnica Alleghany.

On that Grind

I like Athreos, God of Passage as an exemplar of Orzhov building because I think the deck is flexible enough to go in any direction Orzhov decks might want to go; and, I also think, since we don’t know what Ravnica Allegro will give us, it pairs the best with the Orzhov goodies we got from Ultimate Masters. Phyrexian Tower, Phyrexian Altar, Angel of Despair, Reveillark, Wall of Reverance, Songs of the Damned, Unburial Rites, and Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker can all fit in various Athreos builds. We can focus on lifegain, reanimator, attrition or any combination of those strategies because they all pull in relatively the same direction if you build correctly. You can build Athreos as a Shadowborn Apostle deck, which is very attractive as well and gives you plenty of fodder for the graveyard which can give you mana with Phyrexian Altar and Carnival Of Souls, Grave Pact triggers and a demon army to do your bidding. The extra mana you generate is well spent in cards like Debt to the Deathless and Exsanguinate (and Torment of Hailfire) which makes Phyrexian Altar particularly good with cards like Teysa, Orzhov Scion, especially if you have Darkest Hour to go infinite.

Life after Death

It’s not just Athreos that is concerned with bringing your creatures back from the dead, however. One of the most powerful partner commanders is Ravos, Soultender and with good reason. Ravos not only boosts your creatures on the board but also returns a fallen creature from the graveyard to your hand every upkeep ensuring you have a steady stream of creatures to make their lives miserable with and set up potential loops with creatures like Plaguecrafter or really annoying blockers like High Priest of Penance. Ravos isn’t pure Orzhov as you get access to other colors depending on how you work partners, but the decks get built very similarly even with access to cards from other colors, usually Green. Ravos keeps the deck solidly Orzhov in spirit, though, unlike Tymna the Weaver which is just a good card that gives a Thrasios deck access to better cards and some extra card drawing. Since Ultimate Masters was originally slated to be a graveyard-themed set (citation needed) it makes sense that a ton of cards from Ultimate Masters work well in this deck. I would grab as many Phyrexian Altars as you think you’re going to need while they’re cheap, personally. Having a good sac outlet is useful and everyone has Ashnod’s but a lot of people were priced out of Phyrexian, so make sure you get yours while you can.

Life After Life

After life afterlife. Orzhov can gain life in small increments with Extort or let off a huge Exsanguinate to really get life totals swapping. Ayli, Karlov, Kambal, Obzedat - it seems like all of the really popular Orzhov commanders deal with lifegain and it would be irresponsible to ignore this. In fact, this may be the single, most “Orzhov” way to win the game. If they do bring back a mechanic from an older Ravnica set, I doubt Orzhov will get one considering how weak Haunt is and how annoying Extort is in Limited. I don’t have more information than you do, but I feel like Orzhov is going to get a new mechanic and it’s likely that it will at least pair well with lifegain, although probably indirectly so it’s not worthless in Limited where lifegain is really annoying. Even if we don’t get anything that works with lifegain, there is one more thing that Orzhov is very good at that I bet we see represented in the next Ravnica set.

Clear Board, Clear Conscience

Orzhov is spectacular at removal. Cards like Utter End, Vindicate, Mortify, Anguished Unmaking, and Merciless Eviction give Orzhov the most powerful removal suite in the format, especially given the access to cards like Swords to Plowshares, Go For The Throat (Although I think more people should play Curtains' Call) and Wrath of God/Damnation. Even some of the better creatures Orzhov has access to like Massacre Wurm keep the enemy from getting a significant board presence. This isn’t a way to win, but destroying their creatures can clear a path for you and cards that trigger when creatures die can help you further gain advantage.

Is there a way to combine the elements of lifegain, removal, reanimation and small, incremental advantage into one deck? I think it couldn’t hurt to take a second look at my Ayli list from way back when and give it a bit of a facelift to make sure it’s up-to-date and competitive and not, you know, tribal. Some tribal decks are cool, like Slivers, but other tribal decks are not cool, like tribal tattoos.

Here’s the old list, for reference:

Ayli’s WWE Crackdown Smackdown featuring Lin Sivvi | Commander | Jason Alt

Luckily, I knew better than to make the deck a clerical tribal deck back in the day and I had the hilarious interaction between creatures with 0-mana abilities, Crackdown Construct and Ayli so you could gain infinite life. I think that’s super and I’m sort of impressed with past me and my ingenuity. With an eye toward making a deck that’s peak Orzhov, though, some changes will need to be made.

New Ayli | Commander | Jason Alt

Is this good? Maybe! But does it preserve the original intent of the deck, which was to use the combo with En-Kor abilities and creatures that get arbitrarily-large but still finite toughness, our obsession with Crackdown Construct and the surprising synergy between the different approaches to wins with an Orzhov deck and we added some more good removal and graveyard recursion. I’d like a lot more of all of those things, but until we know how the Legendary Orzhov creatures from Ravnica Allegra will be built, we’re going to carry forward with a deck that can go in any direction while somehow capable of going in all directions at once. There’s a lot of synergy in Orzhov and when you’re built to optimize incremental advantage, anything you do at all can help you win.

What do we think? Is this a good base for a generic Orzhov deck or is there a particular direction you want to take this list in? Can you wait for the next set? Is there a guild you’d like me to tackle next? Leave it in the comments section for me. Until next time!