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Lore and Consequences: Teysa vs. Niv-Mizzet


A pantheon of legends is available to us.

Of course, it falls to us to make these legends come true.

Sarpadian Empires, Vol. VII by Doug Chaffee

That's where today's article comes in. Few formats so deftly blend flavor and function as Commander, where you literally recruit a historical figure to lead your army. But what's the connection between these legendary cards and their actual legends? It is possible to build decks in such a way that we can see these stories play out in the course of a game? Or, if we prefer to take a more active hand, meddle with the fate of our heroes and villains?

Today, we'll delve into the ancient lore of Magic: The Gathering and fuse it with our deck-building. The resulting Frankenstein's monster will be a pair of fully playable Commander decks, complete with themes and synergies, that also recount a story from Magic's fabled past. All card and deck-building choices will serve to tell the tale, allowing you to regale your playgroup (while you simultaneously crush them).

So, join me, brave brewer, on this quest to recreate the past. And win while doing so.

Last time, we were introduced to the plane of Ravnica, and the murder-mystery that laid the foundation for the entire block. Now, we'll continue the tale into Part 2 - "Guildpact".

Teysa, Orzhov Scion by Todd Lockwood

Surrounded by greed, hungry for power, and faced with the loathsome task of having to be heroic for once. How annoying.

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind by Todd Lockwood...again.

For most, Ravnica is home. For him, it's a grand science experiment / vanity project. With some explosions added in, for good measure.

No city can function without some form of organization. As such, ground rules are in order.

1. Function comes first:

Our mission is to design playable Commander decks that not only detail story arcs, but also seek to win the game. Thrulls (Mourning Thrull) and Weirds (Steamcore Weird) make up the rank of file of their respective guilds, but their power levels are usually more suited to Limited than Commander. Flavorful, but lacking impact.

Dutiful Thrull

We appreciate the all the blocking, little guy. But we need more oomph.

2. Flavor still dictates card selection:

A card's connection to Magic lore may disqualify it from this experiment. Cyclonic Rift is intrinsically linked to the Izzet Guild, with their logo literally stamped right onto it. Lucky us, Izzet's on the menu today! Just don't expect to see it run alongside Galazeth Prismari, even if the synergy is there. Cards can only reference planes/characters they're organically linked to. Story-based rules also apply. Today's Orzhov deck would love Ethereal Absolution, but the card represents a key event that chronologically takes place long after "Guildpact". Depending on how much 'narrative vs. competitive' matters to you personally, I leave it up to you to tinker with the builds as you see fit. Commander is all about creativity, after all.

Parhelion II
Heart of Kiran
These are all directly linked to their worlds. Okay, there's wiggle-room on Weatherlight, which leads us to...

3. That said, if a card could exist on another plane, it's totally up for grabs:

Today's tale may not involve Amonkhet, but I see no reason something like Scavenger Grounds is out of bounds. Such a land could feasibly appear in many worlds, and the graveyard hate it provides is an important tool for a Commander deck to have in its pocket. We're allowing wiggle-room when picking cards that could feasibly slide into any narrative. I'm sure Innistrad's not the only plane where Blasphemous Acts occur.

Blasphemous Act

Ugh, someone fetch the mop.

Now that we've scanned the Rule Book, let's continue the story!

"Ravnica: City of Guilds" concluded with Dimir Parun Szadek, Lord of Secrets getting foiled in his plans to topple the Guildpact, a magical contract protecting Ravnica. This contract includes law enforcement, allowing even a humble detective like Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran to successfully arrest the vampiric mastermind. Despite Szadek's manipulation of the Golgari via Savra, Golgari Queen and near murder of Parun Mat' Selesnya, the contract he signed centuries ago still binds him to planar penalties.

Szadek, Lord of Secrets
Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran
Seal of the Guildpact

You'd imagine things would return to normal after such an event, and for more than a decade, they do. Agrus is now retired from the Boros Legion and working as a tavern bouncer in Utvara. More than a century old, and he's still one tough dude. Being literal Gruul Stomping Grounds, the Utvara region is considered wasteland by the other guilds, especially due to the prevalence of an old plague known as the Kuga. It's the wild-West.

Utvara Hellkite

To give you an idea of the area, here's some of the local wildlife

Unfortunately for Kos, the Utvara region has been an epicenter of trouble - literally - long before he arrived. Before the events of "Ravnica: City of Guilds", the Church of Orzhov and the Izzet League partnered up in an attempt to annihilate a plague affecting the region. The Orzhov, bankers of Ravnica, provided the coinage. The Izzet, a guild of engineers and inventors, built the solution: a mana bomb. You'll find the Izzet are quite fond of things that go boom.

Risk Factor
Invoke the Firemind
Shattering Spree
"Ren and Stimpy" taught us that it's impossible not to press the shiny red button.

Once the area is clear of infected citizenry, the Orzhov plan to move in. High ranking, and currently alive, Karlov of the Ghost Council has gifted the area to his relative Teysa, Orzhov Scion, a lawyer with a deadly wit and dry sense of humor. Raised among the Orzhov, her outlook is one of ambition. This is a golden opportunity to become a baroness, but only if she can clear the land of Gruul raiders and any leftover nephilim, primordial beasts that predate even the Guildpact.

Yore-Tiller Nephilim by Jeremy Jarvis

They're not quite this big. Yet.

Plans, as they tend to do in the Magic universe, go awry. It's not long before we find Teysa dragging the dead body of Uncle Karlov into the very bar where Kos is working. She doesn't realize it yet, but she is his murderer. The mana bomb was about more than just 'curing' a plague. Teysa is a pawn in a grander game. A conspiracy is afoot, one that naturally involves trying to overthrow the Guildpact. Again. Only this time, the target is another Parun: Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind. Orzhov paruns Obzedat, Ghost Council intend a coup, employing a rogue Izzet scientist to hatch a trio of baby dragons and send them after Niv.

Agent of Masks
Syndic of Tithes
I'm starting to think these guys aren't trustworthy.

And so Teysa, Orzhov Scion, Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran, and a motley band of guild-affiliated buddies team up to prevent the subterfuge. Teysa wants power, so it's ironic she'd find herself fighting a traitorous member of the Izzet to save the uber-powerful Niv-Mizzet, who'd incinerate everyone involved if he had even the slightest inkling of treachery. Insanely brilliant, perhaps a bit brilliantly insane, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind usually keeps to himself, delegating the majority of day-to-day Izzet leadership. Ever the mad scientist, Niv lives in the laboratory (Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind), where he can concentrate on grander experiments to advance his Guild's power and influence.

Nivix Guildmage

They're also very fond of stripes.

The stage is set. Which guild will reign supreme? Will a slimy Orzhov scheme take hold before Teysa can stop it? Or would it never stand a chance against a dragon who fashions himself nigh-omnipotent?

Get ready for battle - Choose your character!

Teysa, Orzhov Scion

Godless Shrine by Cliff Childs

Teysa, Orzhov Scion | Commander | Matthew Lotti

Orzhov was initially designed as the bleeder-guild, the deck that controlled the game while slowing draining enemy life totals. Being White/Black, the color pair also happened to be quite adept at reanimation. What's more, as Orzhov loans extend into the afterlife, there are plenty of 1/1 spirit tokens at the guild's disposal. Put that all together, and you've got what's now known as 'Aristocrats': Sacrificing your own soldiers for grindy value. Whereas Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran built a token army to go on the attack, Teysa, Orzhov Scion uses tokens as ammunition for sacrifice engines.

Cruel Celebrant
Skeletal Vampire

Ghosts with the Most: Our creatures all serve to construct a blood-sucking machine. Troops like Cruel Celebrant, Vindictive Vampire, Corpse Knight, Pontiff of Blight, and Crypt Ghast all work to steadily drain life from your opponents. To keep this machine running, we include two additional varieties of soldier. First, recursive creatures like Tenacious Dead, Reassembling Skeleton, and Reveillark bring themselves or others back from the grave, fueling the blood flow while acting as great blockers. Next, token generators such as Belfry Spirit, Twilight Drover, Thalisse, Reverent Medium, Ministrant of Obligation, Ophiomancer, Skeletal Vampire, Seraph of the Scales, and Tithe Taker provide ample fodder for sacrifice. Most of our tokens are flyers, so remember to chip in for damage before sacrificing these ghosts. This also allows Palace Jailer to easily reclaim you the Monarch, as Spirits will be swarming.

Naturally, Teysa, Orzhov Scion happily serves all three of the above roles. A true triple threat. Note that any token that's White/Black (Ex. - Seraph of the Scales spirits) will immediately replace itself with a mono-White spirit off of Teysa's triggered ability.

Grave Pact
Culling Dais
Black Market

Terms of the Loan: Our spell suite follows a similar trend, aiming for the trio of sacrifice payoff, recursion, and token generation. Grave Pact, Bastion of Remembrance, Martyr's Bond, Hidden Stockpile, Black Market, Dark Prophecy, Culling Dias, Skullclamp, and Deathrender all help us recycle our troops, often hurting our opponents along the way. Resurrection comes in the form of Sigil of the New Dawn, Faith's Reward, Rally the Ancestors, and Debtor's Knell. And finally, token generation or enhancement is provided via March of Souls, Secure the Wastes, Hidden Stockpile, Anointed Procession, Divine Visitation, Intangible Virtue, Seize the Soul, and Vampiric Rites.

Merciless Eviction
Ghostly Prison
Enlightened Tutor

The Fine Print: Despite multiple avenues to start the engine, it'll still take some time to build. As such, we'll need supporting spells to stay alive. White/Black is wonderful at both the spot (Mortifty, Path to Exile, Consecrate // Consume) and mass (Merciless Eviction, Cleansing Nova, Austere Command) removal game. If something threatens you, simply shoot it. Very mafia. Very Orzhov. Enlightened Tutor and Grim Tutor help fetch up key engine pieces or protective elements. And once your opponents are worn down, a hefty Debt to the Deathless can close things out in fittingly-Orzhov fashion.

Culling the Weak
Jet Medallion
Pearl Medallion

Mana = Money: We're kings of removal, but peasants of ramp. So, we turn to the old rocky standbys: Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Talisman of Hierarchy, Jet Medallion, etc. One explosive and thematically fitting source of ramp comes in the form of Culling the Weak, which provides a substantial burst of Black mana for doing what our deck already wants to be doing anyway. Pretty good deal.

The Orzhov drive a hard bargain, but they're up against a savvy dragon who's not apt to get taken for a ride. Let's see what he has up his scaly sleeve.

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind

Izzet Boilerworks by John Avon

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind | Commander | Matthew Lotti

When Blue and Red get together, you're left with a chocolate-peanut butter situation. Card draw + direct damage: two great tastes that taste great together. Card advantage is king in Commander, and while the Orzhov seek to generate it via grindy value, Niv doesn't have time for all that nonsense. He goes straight for raw card draw and damage to the face. A simple, elegant, and efficient solution befitting a scientist. Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind seeks to increase his intellect and burn all who'd oppose him in that endeavor, and that is our deck in a nutshell. I suppose you could call it spell-slinger, but I prefer 'card-draw tribal'. And all those Orzhov 1/1 spirits make tasty targets, don't they?

Izzet Chemister
Body of Knowledge
Whirlpool Warrior

Research Assistants: In our quest to draw all the cards, we'll employ a top-notch team of spell-enhancing specialists. Izzet Chemister, Arjun, the Shifting Flame, Dualcaster Mage, Body of Knowledge, Diluvian Primordial, Nucklavee, Izzet Guildmage, and Nin, the Pain Artist generate card advantage by either copying/returning spells or straight-up drawing you cards. Large swaths will also ensure we're dealing maximum damage, so our deck runs Wheel-effects like Whirlpool Warrior and Magus of the Wheel. It's an effective staff, but a small one compared to our vast array of Instants, so Electrostatic Field is included to zap additional damage at opponents over time.

Expansion // Explosion

Collective Defiance
Echo of Eons

Promising Theories: Our team above may be potent, but it's the spellcraft that's the main event. Card advantage fuels our damage output while giving us continual answers to threats. Enter spells like Frantic Search, Faithless Looting, Concentrate, Thirst for Knowledge, Pull from Tomorrow, Brainstorm, Well of Ideas, Izzet Charm, Expansion // Explosion, and Deep Analysis. And because drawing not only equals resources, but damage, we up the Wheel-effects with Game Plan, Commit // Memory, Echo of Eons, Collective Defiance, Windfall, Molten Psyche, Winds of Change, and Incendiary Command.


This is gonna get mean.

Finally, if you're feeling well and truly evil, adding Curiosity onto Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind is a literal two-card combo. Insta-death to all opponents.

Fierce Guardianship
Cyclonic Rift

Supporting Data: Sadly, while few things feel better than drawing cards, we're gonna need to do something to effect the board every now and then. Our opponents will surely be out for blood as we pick up half our deck. Defensive tactics come in the form of Aetherize, Mizzium Mortars, Blasphemous Act, Fierce Guardianship, Deflecting Swat, and the ever-infamous Cyclonic Rift. Keep yourself safe from harm, and the recoil from Price of Progress shouldn't be anywhere near as bad for you as it will be your opponents. Lastly, in true kooky-chaotic Izzet nature (these are mad scientists, after all), I wanted to include some random fun in the form of Chaos Wand and Mizzium Transreliquat.

Empowered Autogenerator
Reliquary Tower
Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind

Lab Inventory: With our mana base, it's the usual Blue/Red contenders (Izzet Charm, Talisman of Creativity), only with an additional dash of card draw where we can get it (Commander's Sphere, Mindstone). Even some of our lands help with card draw, such as Mystic Sanctuary, Desolate Lighthouse, and the Niv's very own lab: Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind. Ideally, we'll keep our hand full, so Thought Vessel and Reliquary Tower are especially important to ensure we don't have to discard.

The Izzet League may enrich our minds, but hopefully it's enough to save our souls from the Chruch of Deals.

Debtor's Knell by Kev Walker

*Sigh* There's always a line at the bank.

And there we have it: Explosive intellect vs. otherworldly capitalism. Will the supreme intelligence of a reptilian visionary win the day, or does even he fold to the almighty dollar? Orzhov interest rates are a nightmare, I hear. And if that weren't enough trouble, guess who's scheming up something big for "Dissension"?

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary

"One day I'll have an entire format all to myself!"

Another day, another tale told. But what is to come of it? Will the story play out as written, or will you take up quill and ink to make some personal edits? If you've any recommendations or requests for future installments, feel free to let me know in the comments. What characters and stories would you like to see next?

Thanks for reading, and may your opening hand always contain a Sol Ring

-Matt Lotti-


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