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The Orzhov Army

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Last week, our mission was to delve into the world of Xenagos, God of Revels. That card still seems as potent a card you could play in Standard but despite all my efforts working with him I found myself thinking of other topics.

Even though I love Xenagos and think he’s amazing, I discovered I was serving a different king. The one, the only, the overhyped…

From the moment he was spoiled, I had a sense that he would be my true inspiration for this format. Just like with Xenagos, I brewed up ideas of how to best utilize my new king. He was a threat worth protecting. Setting up a ‘protect the king’ strategy seemed like a viable way to win games in the expected upcoming format.

There were many iterations of White Weenie and the White-Black Humans deck I tried to fit him into, but none of them seemed quite right. The king didn’t take his rightful place like I was hoping he would.

One thought broke through the box and came full circle to reinvision a deck that nearly stood atop the last Pro Tour. Rather than trying to protect my king with Gods Willing or Brave the Elements, I could instead play a more powerful card overall that will disrupt every strategy: Thoughtseize.

Paul Rietzl gave me the shell to work with from back at Pro Tour Theros. Here was his list.

When thinking about how I could best utilize Brimaz’s strengths, this shell seemed like the best place for him. After seeing him in the sideboard of various blue-white control decks, I will admit that seems like a great place too. But for an aggressive shell this is the best place to start.

The reason I initially had so much respect for this deck is because it played the most powerful creatures at each spot on the mana curve. My goal was to replicate that deck-building process and update it for the current card pool. Obviously we want Brimaz in the deck, but there are a couple other creatures and spells that need to be changed so that the king can lead his army to victory.

Here’s what I ended up with after trying out a couple different things.

The Orzhov Army

Round 1 – Mono Blue Devotion with Fated Infatuation

The first round of the event started out with one of the great Magic frustrations: land screw. In game one, I kept a great hand with two lands and didn’t draw my third land until turn four. Obviously this happens, but with such a potent Standard format, once the game reaches that point it’s going to be quite hard to win the game. This fact is magnified against a devotion deck because they will have built up a larger devotion count.

Also, I felt that even though I was massively behind on the board, I should have saved my removal spell. If I had done so, I would have been able to kill the Master of Waves and buy myself much more time to draw out of my mana-deprived state.

After game one, I felt favored to win the match. Some of my two-power creatures were weak to his high-toughness dudes, but there were so many powerful things I could do and he did not have many ways to interact with my plans, so I was confidant I could win the match despite being down a game. After crushing him game two with a fast draw plus removal to clear the way, I was even more confidant.

Unfortunately, game three went down the same path as game one and I was on the hunt for lands to cast my spells. This time I did draw lands sooner, but his Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx draw into an overloaded Cyclonic Rift left me in an unwinnable position.

Fated Infatuation did seem interesting but ultimately did not have much impact on the game. A card like that is extremely vulnerable to spot removal so I would be wary about playing with it. He never cast it during a time when I could kill his creature in response though so maybe it's worth considering.

Record 0-1

Round 2 – Red-Green Monsters

Normally, I would say this is close matchup that usually ends in favor of my deck based on Thoughtseize stripping their hand. None of that was needed for round two of this event because my opponent had extremely slow hands, with his first play in both games being Fanatic of Xenagos.

Game one he put up more of a fight with Fanatic into Fanatic into Xenagos, God of Revels, but the Orzhov Army builds up its forces too quickly for a draw like that to defeat it. Game two was even quicker because on top of his second slow start, he was flooded.

Record 1-1

Round 3 – Mono-Red

As my opponent started playing the game, it was clear what deck he was playing. As more and more copies of Rakdos Cackler, Gore-House Chainwalker, and Ash Zealot were cast, I became nervous about the matchup. As the game progressed and my advantage grew, I noticed the true potency of my deck.

If the red opponent cannot answer Brimaz, they cannot possible keep up no matter how many creatures they cast. Desecration Demon stops their horde cold because they don’t have enough creatures that sacrificing to tap him will be profitable.

I don’t know whether or not my opponent had Mizzium Mortars, but he seemed doomed without it. Even though I didn’t draw Blood Baron of Vizkopa, I still won the match easily in two games.

Record 2-1

Round 4 – White Weenie Splash Blue

Despite playing twenty five lands in my reasonably low-curve deck, I found myself hurting for lands in many games throughout the event. The first game of this match continued the streak. Finally when I thought I was clawing my way back into the game, he topdecked Banisher Priest to seal the deal sooner than expected.

Game two my opponent could do nothing against my Blood Baron leading the army. The third game was an extremely tight game until I was able to draw a Blood Baron. As it turns out my opponent wasn’t cold to Blood Baron, he actually had Celestial Flare, but since I never attacked with it alone, he could never remove the protection-from-white menace.

Once I started gaining life, my low eight life quickly jumped back up. He was able to stall with Hands of Binding which was a tricky addition to the archetype. Daxos of Meletis was in the build as well, but he never saw the battlefield in our match.

Record 3-1

Round 5 – ID

Top 8: Quarters – B/W Midrange

In the first round of Top 8, I had to play a friend of mine. We both had basically the same deck idea. He built his deck closer to Mono-Black Devotion splashing white, whereas I based mine off of Paul Reitzl’s list from Pro Tour Theros.

After taking a look at his exact list, I knew my plan needed to be win fast. My curve was much lower than his was so I needed to go underneath and get in as much damage early as I could. For my aggro plan to be successful, I also needed Thoughtseize to make his hand unable to compete with mine.

In the first game I did this by removing his Blood Baron even though he had earlier plays. He did land his one of Elspeth, Sun's Champion to stall for quite a while, but I was able to fight through it with Brimaz, and then a second Brimaz after he had removal for the first. It was an intense, grindy game, but I pulled out the win by keeping the pressure up the whole game.

The second game was also won by Thoughtseize, but this time from the information it gained me. I was able to sculpt my plan according to the removal in his hand. I played my threats out so that he had to expend the most resources to deal with them and then I would be left with double Desecration Demon to fight against his topdecks.

Top 8: Semis – Mono-Blue Devotion with Fated Infatuation

After beating me in the first round, my Mono-Blue opponent went on to crush many other opponents. Despite my loss to him in round one, I was confident that the appropriate ratio of lands to spells would leave me the victor.

Game one cemented my belief that I'm favored. Although it was a close game, he was unable to keep up. After I stripped the Thassa, God of the Sea from his hand, I started deploying my Pack Rat army. He filtered through many cards with his Omenspeaker plus Fated Infatuation on the Omenspeaker, but he was unable to find any help to overcome the pack of rats.

Game two brought a surprising turn of events. I kept a strong proactive hand but one that outside of Thoughtseize did not have a way to interact with my opponent. Typically this is enough information and disruption to defeat any deck but Master of Waves is a true beating.

The first one was fine and I thought I would be able to fight my way through the tokens, but the second one generated too many tokens that were too large for me to even live through one attack. It was on my mind that maybe I was too aggressive with my attacks but at that point in the game either I attack and die to the second Master of Waves or I hold back and my chance of winning the game lessens as my opponent clogs the board even more.

Game three was a quick one. I started deploying threats quickly and the blue deck struggled to keep up. Eventually he had to start chump-blocking and the game was over quickly after that. My removal spells were able to keep his devotion count down and I made sure to save one just for the Master of Waves he hoped to stabilize with.

If you kill Master, most of their game plan crumbles so be conservative with your removal spells. Only Nightveil Specter and Master are must kills. Other than those two, you can take a bunch of damage and usually be okay.

After sideboarding, you have extra removal in Doom Blade which allows you to often be on the plan of kill every creature they play. This match is in favor of the Orzhov Army once you know how it plays out.

Top 8: Finals – B/W Devotion

Seeing my friend's exact deck list was extremely helpful because I would not have expected him to have eight five-drop creatures in his deck and definitely would not have played around Gray Merchant of Asphodel after he had cast Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Usually the Mono-Black Devotion decks that splash white cut Gray Merchant altogether.

Just like my quarterfinal match, I knew I should be the aggressor and try to actively win as quickly as possible. Eight five drops is a lot, but he had sufficient removal to back them up in the early game. As long as his life gain did not get out of control, I felt poised to defeat him.

In the maindeck I do not have many routes to victory once Blood Baron is on the table, so using my Thoughtseize to remove that potential threat seemed essential. Racing the Blood Baron is possible but unlikely considering how much removal his deck ran.

In game one, I was on plan and used Thoughtseize to remove the protection-from-my-deck creature and apply pressure to the board until he drew a second copy off of an active Underworld Connections. The combination of life gain and card draw is about as powerful as it gets in Standard especially when half your deck is removal spells.

Moving onto game two, I worried because I did not have Thoughtseize to disrupt him. Fortunately, I did have a second Brimaz to follow up the first and Lifebane Zombie to get rid of the Blood Baron.

Game three I faced my most important decision of the match. I looked at the following opening hand.

After taking a moment to consider my options, I spoke only one word: Keep.

Would you have kept this opening hand? I talked to my finals opponent as well as other players and unanimously every player agreed with my decision. Still, I do not know if this hand should have been thrown back. It features one of my best creatures plus ways to filter my draws and also Mutavault.

One thing this hand does not do though is interact with my opponent. I have eight ways to strip their hand as well as many removal spells to clear their creatures from my path. This hand possesses none of those aspects. This may be the tipping point to where I should have taken a mulligan.

Another fact is that if he has kept in Pack Rat for game three, I will most likely lose to that powerhouse unless the top card of my deck is a removal spell. If I had considered my opponent having Pack Rat for this game, I would have certainly taken a chance with my new six card hand.

Unfortunately, when you don't have removal Pack Rat wins games. That was certainly the case here. I did put up a fight, but in the end, I drew no removal spells the entire game and although it took him five rat tokens plus two Mutavaults to kill me, I did lose an epic finals match to an extremely competent opponent.

Modifications

After the event, I felt only a couple cards needed to be changed. The Orzhov Charm was decent for me all day, but the Bile Blight was amazing when I drew it so I want to make that swap for the second Bile Blight. After seeing firsthand what the metagame looks like, a second Spear of Heliod feels like the right direction for the deck.

The final alteration was to the numbers on each card in the sideboard. I’m still working on my sideboard plans, but those are my tentative numbers until I get in some more games.

After casting the leader of my army in many games, I have been pondering his power level. Brimaz plays out somewhat differently than expected. The constraining factor is that you are forced to attack and block in a predictable way that your opponent can identify and plan for.

When he attacks, you will always also be attacking with a 1/1 as long as you remember the trigger. Often that 1/1 acts more like a distraction to help you force through three damage. If there are any other creatures untapped on the battlefield, which there typically are, the 1/1 just dies. This happens often, but is still not a bad thing because it helps you damage your opponent with Brimaz. If the 1/1 lives through the first combat, then you can make decisions about how to attack with it in subsequent turns.

The same goes for blocking as well. You do not get to decide how to block with the 1/1 token. Yes you get an additional guy, but often the extra 1/1 just dies. The only time you are blocking with Brimaz is when their creature will die and yours will live, so your opponent will choose to kill the 1/1 instead of allowing you to grow your board presence.

The fact that you are able to get additional creatures just for attacking or blocking is definitely a bonus, but since your opponent gets to make most of the decisions regarding them Brimaz plays more like a tribute card than something like Precinct Captain.

The other drawback is that you cannot block a different creature with your 1/1. It must block the same creature Brimaz is blocking. Some opponents do not realize this yet so you may get some mistakes from opponents not familiar with playing against him.

At the end of the day, Brimaz is still great and does generate an advantage for you. He is not the best three-drop creature of all time though as some would have led you to believe. Rather, he is a powerful yet balanced creature that is worth playing in many decks in Standard.

Overall, the deck was extremely powerful and hard to disrupt. My opponents were not prepared to face the oppressive Pack Rat in addition to the aggressive white creatures backed up by hand disruption and removal spells. I’ll be bringing this updated version below to battle with at the PTQ this weekend, so I will have more information and sweet stories to share next week.

Until Next Time,

Unleash the Force of the Orzhov Army!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter
Jedicouncilman23@gmail.com

48 thoughts on “The Orzhov Army

  1. You really need to say more about why you kept than some other people agreed with you. That hand is pretty clearly terrible against black decks post board not only because you’ll lose to Pack Rat, but because you’ll lose to a removal spell/Thoughtseize. That hand is completely unkeepable.

    1. I’m glad to hear some opinions for throwing the hand back. I considered those things as well, but sometimes I think keeping hand that give you ways to set up your following turns are better because they cannot thoughtseize future cards.

      What did you think about the deck overall though?

      1. I wouldn’t be maining any Ultimate Price right now, and this deck doesn’t need a second Spear- I’d even question the first. Your creatures are mostly just way above the curve anyway, so it looks a lot like winmore. The fourth Demon and at least a third Blood Baron feel like no-brainers. You also most likely want some edict effects main and/or side as opposing Blood Barons are sooooo good against.

        As a good card deck I wonder if White is the better color than something like Tom Ross’s Jund deck, but the card’s power levels alone can easily win games. That said, your list is definitely rough.

        1. The ultimate prices have been quite good and I don’t think I would replace them in the main deck. The spears however, have not been nearly as good as I would have liked them to be. They are one of the cards I sideboard out frequently. I’m not certain what I want to replace them with though. The fourth demon has been in and out of the list and I’m not sure which I like better. Adding a third Bile Blight somewhere in the 75 will probably happen, but I’m not sure if it should go main because of how awful it is against rg monsters. The third blood baron isn’t likely either unless I change more slots in the deck to make it more controlling. I do like the white core of the deck though. You are correct that opposing blood barons are a weakness of this deck, but I don’t think I want to play card specifically for an extremely small subset of the metagame. What I have been doing is bringing in Lifebane Zombie. With that plus Thoughtseize, it has been an effective plan.

          What would this deck look like if you built it?

          1. I’d eschew the Captains and Soldiers for more removals and some Elspeths- they’re just way higher impact and you’re already a midrange deck. Captain and Soldier are fine sideboard cards, but it’s just not what we’re trying to do here. Then I’d play all the Barons, some Underworld Connections and/or Read the Bones, the fourth Demon, more Bile Blight, some Devour Flesh and replace some Plains with some Swamps.

            1. Yeah, Pack Rat with no Underworld Connections (or the 4th Mutavault) seems like blasphemy to me.

              The irony of these suggestions is that you pretty much arrive right back at a previously established B/W Midrange or mono-black splashing white list.

  2. I played the deck at a 28 person standard tonight. It’s a really competitive environment and I was expecting a lot of Gruul monsters. Only change I made from your suggested changes was a Lifebane main over the 4th Brimaz and a Doom Blade main over 1 Ultimate price then plus 1 Blood Baron in the side.

    I split for first in the tourney. I played a fun match against my opponent I was splitting with and got rolled by Meletis Astronomer, but he nut drew and I felt I drew pretty poorly.

    Anyway, really liked the deck…a lot!
    I felt that the spears were good. their defensive ability allowed me to beat mono-black’s all-in pack rat…which I was pretty impressed with. A lot of times pack rat was played out as a lightning rod so that I could follow with Brimaz and Demon. I think that I like the 1 maindeck Lifebane over the 4th Brimaz.

    Anyway, I was planning on building the deck when I saw it on TCGplayer and then I read your article here and was sold. I wanted something that I felt confident I could beat Gruul monsters with and this delivered. I went 2-0 against gruul variants in 3 different matches and beat mono-black 2-1 all against competitive players. I felt like the mana was a bit greedy going in, but after playing it, it felt ok. Never had bad mana problems.

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