Teysa: Sacrificing Tokens for Fun and Profit

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Mookie
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Post by Mookie » 1 month ago

The Obzedat have revived you with purpose. Don't squander their blessing.
- Teysa, Orzhov Scion.




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Introduction

One idea that appeals to me as a deck builder is the idea that different decks (and different people) care about different things. Some decks care about reducing their opponents life total to zero. Other decks care more about card advantage, or playing lots of creatures. Many of these things can be considered 'universally good' - very few players are going to complain about drawing extra cards or gaining life.

There are other decks that care about attributes that other decks will consider neutral. One example of this is a tribal deck - in a Goblin deck, Goblin Guide may be the 1-drop creature of choice, while a Pirate deck will prefer Daring Buccaneer. Still other decks may care about black mana symbols, or a lack of basic lands.

However, it takes a special type of deck to turn a downside into an upside. Think of something like Death's Shadow to benefit from a low life total, Laboratory Maniac to benefit from an empty library, or Smokestack to benefit from skipping your turn with a Chronatog.

This deck is designed to go wide with many creatures and tokens. However, instead of playing a bunch of anthems and having our creatures charge into glorious battle, we take the opposite direction: sacrificing our creatures so that we may benefit from their demise. Cruel? Perhaps. But they should have known what they were getting into when they joined the Orzhov.

This is an aristocrats-style deck built around generating tokens, then sacrificing them for value.


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Commander Analysis



Mana cost:
Teysa is a member of the Orzhov Syndicate, the guild on Ravnica representing black and white mana. As enemy colors, black and white have many resonant parallels - life vs death, Black Knight vs White Knight, the group vs self. This carries into many of the themes associated with Orzhov colors - the Extort mechanic gains life by taking it from our opponents, while the Afterlife mechanic turns our creatures' deaths into more life.

At three mana, Teysa is on the cheaper side for a commander - she's able to come down early, and we can recast her several times if she gets sent back to the command zone. There are also some cards such as Sun Titan and Unearth which are specifically capable of reanimating small creatures, which we may take advantage of.

In terms of color identity, white and black are known for their premium removal, such as Vindicate and Wrath of God - there are few card types that Orzhov can't deal with. Black also provides tutors and card draw, while white offers more interaction for noncreatures. However, as a color pair, Orzhov does not have particularly good access to interaction on the stack (the best we can do is black discard or white tax pieces), and its ability to ramp is also fairly lacking (most black ramp options only benefit swamps, while most white ramp options require having fewer lands than your opponents).

Type: Legendary Creature - Human Advisor.
Humans are one of Magic's most common creature type, appearing on almost every plane and in every color. There are some tribal support cards, mostly hailing from the plane of Innistrad, making them a fairly powerful tribe in Modern, with cards like Champion of the Parish and Thalia's Lieutenant. Human tribal decks tend to lean towards small aggressive creatures, which isn't a particularly powerful archetype in EDH, but there are some payoffs that are more valuable to us.

Advisors are mostly in Esper colors, with most of them either being in the Orzhov or Azorius guilds on Ravnica. However, as the only tribal payoff isn't in our colors, this tribe isn't very valuable to us.

Stats: 2/3
Three toughness makes Teysa a little hardier than some commanders, but still on the small side - she dies to Lightning Bolt. Two power means commander damage isn't very likely either, unless you're playing something like Cathars' Crusade. However, this low power does have some significant upsides, allowing Teysa to benefit from some of white's small-creature-friendly cards.

Sacrifice three white creatures: Exile target creature.
A targeted exile ability which serves great as a rattlesnake... or a sacrifice outlet if you have lots of expendable tokens. This is, fundamentally, a 1-for-3 card disadvantage, which means we need some way to generate lots of bodies if we want to take advantage of it repeatedly. Repeatable exile is very powerful though, and the mere threat of activation can stop some players from attempting to combo or play scary things.

Whenever another black creature you control dies, create a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying.
Oh hey, a way to generate lots of expendable bodies! This is the more heavily-used of Teysa's abilities, allowing us to double-dip on sacrifice effects, assuming we're sacrificing black creatures. The tokens also have flying, which makes them good at carrying equipment or serving as chump blockers. Alternatively, we can use Teysa's ability to soften the impact of a board wipe - if we have a lot of black creatures get killed at the same time as Teysa, we'll end up with a board full of spirit tokens. These tokens can also be used to fuel various spirit synergies.

This deck may not be for you if:
  • you want to play big creatures
  • you dislike complicated and cluttered board states
  • your meta has tons of grave hate
  • you're not comfortable winning with combo

You may enjoy this deck if:
  • you like tokens and going wide
  • you want to win by grinding out your opponents with incremental value
  • you value having uses for your creatures other than attacking and blocking
  • you enjoy synergistic decks with many interconnected pieces



Other Commander Options
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Teysa Karlov - Teysa 3.0 is another excellent commander for an aristocrats-style deck - we run her as part of the 99. Many 3.0 decks are focused less on tokens and more on creature that natively have death triggers.

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim - a more efficient sac outlet in the command zone, who works well with lifegain and sacrificing bigger creatures.

Judith, the Scourge Diva - an option for aristocrats in Rakdos colors. Can have a somewhat more aggressive slant due to her anthem, but the ping ability is a potent control option with deathtouch.

Athreos, God of Passage - if you can put enough pressure on your opponents' life totals, has a powerful recursion ability. Sometimes seen at the head of an army of Shadowborn Apostles.

Elenda, the Dusk Rose - also benefits from many creatures dying. Can go both big and wide, although there are a few hoops to jump through due to her only triggering on death (meaning you can't send her to the command zone).

Ravos, Soul Tender and Tymna the Weaver - both partners offer card advantage in the command zone, and have abilities that work well with a more aggressive focus.

Krav, the Unredeemed and Regna, the Redeemer - these partners provide lifegain, a sacrifice outlet, token production, and card draw - pretty much everything one could ask for. They're also on the more expensive side.

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Decklist

Decklist by Type

Commander


1Teysa, Orzhov Scion
Approximate Total Cost:

decklist by function
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Decklist by Function

Commander


1Teysa, Orzhov Scion
Approximate Total Cost:


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Card Discussion

a brief note on card choices
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Something to note when looking over these cards is that I have a self-imposed budget restriction of $2 per card, with exceptions for things I happen to already own or trade for. As a result, when looking over the card choices, I will recommend focusing more on the categories of cards than the individual selections - I make no claims that the cards currently in the deck are optimal, and many possible substitutions exist. Of all the decks I own, this is likely the one most in flux - there are many, many possible inclusions, and new potential cards are released all the time.
token production
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Let's start by taking a look at the cards devoted primarily to token production. It is important to note that every black creature is a potential token producer due to Teysa's ability. However, even taking that into account, this category is still a bit on the lighter side. This is primarily due to me modifying the deck over time to be more resilient to board wipes. Many of the more powerful token producers are on creatures like Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder. As a result, if a board wipe is played, you will lose both your tokens and your token producers. I've focused more on cheaper token producing creatures and noncreature token producers to account for this.

Darkest Hour - entirely here for its synergy with Teysa - we can sacrifice any creature to make a now-black spirit, giving us as much sacrifice fodder as we want. At only a single mana, it's quite efficient. Doesn't do anything without Teysa out though.
Dreadhorde Invasion - repeatable free-ish token production. Does need a sacrifice outlet to get a new body though.
Ophiomancer - makes a token on every upkeep, assuming you have a sacrifice outlet. Deathtouch also makes the snake a great blocker.
Pawn of Ulamog - turns creatures dying into Eldrazi Spawn. As efficient as things can get.
Tombstone Stairwell - we don't have a ton of ways to fill our graveyard, but our creatures do tend to die a lot. Gets very silly alongside Teysa, capable of spawning massive numbers of tokens on every upkeep.
Open the Graves - turns creatures dying into Zombies, which we can use alongside Teysa to triple-dip on sacrifice value.
other options
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I've chosen to focus on cheaper token production, but many options exist.

Bitterblossom - the gold standard, providing a very efficient tokens-to-mana ratio given sufficient time.
Painter's Servant - Darkest Hour #2. Will often be easier to recur if it dies too.
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder - a powerful token producer, although a little pricey at 5 mana.
Requiem Angel and Ogre Slumlord - more token producers that trigger on creature deaths. Requiem Angel can do some interesting things alongside Divine Visitation.
Anointed Procession - doubles up token production, although it also has a big target painted on it.
Lingering Souls, White Sun's Zenith, and other one-shot token production - if you want your tokens no-questions-asked.
Lena, Selfless Champion - can be a bit win-more, but she also protects your board.
Xathrid Necromancer and Rotlung Reanimator - can be fun if you're running enough cards of the appropriate tribes.
Skirsdag High Priest - will often require sacrificing a different token to turn on Morbid, but big flying demons are big flying demons.
Twilight Drover - turns tokens dying into more tokens. A bit mana-intensive, but can make a lot of tokens.
Elspeth, Knight-Errant, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, and other planeswalkers - can be powerful if you have the tools to protect them. 1/1 blockers aren't always the greatest though.
Oketra's Monument and Spirit Bonds - turn creatures being cast into more tokens, which can be interesting alongside something like Gravecrawler. They do mean you play a bit more into board wipes though.
Regna, the Redeemer - capable of generating many tokens, assuming you have consistent sources of lifegain. This version of the deck likely doesn't have enough, but it is a direction that could be built into.
sacrifice outlets
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Sometimes, we want our creatures to die. These are chosen primarily based on efficiency and resiliency - if we're trying to perform a combo, having a free sacrifice outlet is usually necessary. They are redundant in multiples, so it's usually a good idea to hold back any extras.

Viscera Seer - at one mana, it's among the cheapest free sacrifice outlets available.
Altar of Dementia - artifacts are harder to kill than creatures. Also fills our graveyard or can serve as a win condition.
Cartel Aristocrat - protects itself through the sacrifice of others. Also a human, which can be relevant.
Spawning Pit - a free sac outlet that doubles as a token producer. You can sacrifice your board in response to a wrath, then redeploy at half-strength.
Ashnod's Altar - almost never played fairly. Being a mana ability means it gets around split-second. We don't have that many expensive spells to ramp into off it, but extra mana is often useful.
Yahenni, Undying Partisan - another sac outlet that can protect itself, this time with indestructible. Also gets pretty big if enough things die.
other options
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There are many sacrifice outlets available, depending on what your goals are.

Blasting Station - turns tokens into removal. Can also serve as a win condition.
Carrion Feeder - another cheap sacrifice outlet. Can get quite big with enough food.
Phyrexian Altar - turn bodies into colored mana. Arguably even more powerful than Ashnod's Altar.
Sadistic Hypnotist and Mind Slash - turn extra bodies into discard. May also cause loss of friends.
Dimir House Guard - a sacrifice outlet, or a tutor. Such flexibility for such a bony body!
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim - costs mana to activate, but lifegain can be useful.
Whisper, Blood Liturgist - turns extra bodies into reanimation, if you want to build into that theme.
Martyrs' Cause - suddenly, any creature can chump block any attack. Also shuts down Comet Storm and friends, although it doesn't stop Exsanguinate.
Vampiric Rites and Krav, the Unredeemed - a bit expensive, but card draw is nice. Consider Regna, the Redeemer too.
interaction
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Our opponents aren't goldfish - they will take actions to try to win, and to prevent our own victory, and we need to be prepared to foil their plans. Fortunately, we have access to many types of removal, capable of dealing with most permanent-based problems.

Leonin Relic-Warder - temporarily deals with an artifact or enchantment, or permanently if we sacrifice it with the trigger on the stack. Can also combo with Animate Dead.
Martial Coup - a board wipe that also gives us a small army of tokens.
Priest of Forgotten Gods - makes our opponents sacrifice creatures, while serving as a sacrifice outlet, mana dork, and card draw for us. It wears many, many hats.
Anguished Unmaking - solves any problem, at the low cost of three mana and three life.
Aven Mindcensor - shuts down tutors of all flavors. This deck can have difficulty with big green decks, and shutting down their land-based ramp slows them down significantly.
Fiend Hunter - solves a creature problem temporarily, or permanently if we sacrifice it before the first trigger resolves. Also functions as a combo piece.
Kambal, Consul of Allocation - Orzhov isn't known for its ability to interact on the stack, but this is a major headache for any sort of storm-based deck. Or any other deck that is light on creatures.
Crush Contraband - exiles two problems. There are some particularly annoying enchantments (such as Rest in Peace) that we really want to have answers to.
Grave Pact - turns all our spare tokens into edicts. Capable of keeping most boards clean if it sticks around.
Dictate of Erebos - as with Grave Pact, it's a very good way to keep the board clean.
Ethereal Absolution - we aren't running a lot of good ways to deal with go-wide strategies other than mass removal (which will also clear our own board). This serves as a powerful check to opposing go-wide strategies, while also serving as a token producer and grave hate.
Merciless Eviction - one of the most flexible board wipes available. Exile means we don't need to worry about any sort of recursion. Good at dealing with decks built around planeswalkers, artifacts, or enchantments, which are often otherwise pretty resistant to removal.
Decree of Pain - wipes the board, and draws a giant pile of cards. The cycling ability can also be relevant if you're expecting countermagic.
other options
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There are many options for removal in both black and white. White also provides access to hate cards, while black offers discard. Your interaction suite should usually be reflective of your meta - if people are running problematic creatures, run more spot removal. If people are playing lots of graveyard strategies, run more grave hate.

Utter End, Vindicate, Generous Gift, Despark, and other flexible removal - all worth consideration if you want more answers to noncreature problems.
Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, and other spot removal for creatures - if you're running into Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, then consider running some more spot removal - board wipes are overkill, but Teysa's ability doesn't work well with them out.
Return to Dust, Aura of Silence, and other Disenchant effects - many options exist if you feel like you have creatures under control.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Withered Wretch, Nihil Spellbomb, and other graveyard hate - annoying for us to see on the other side of the table, but that goes in both directions. Kalitas in particular can also function as a token producer and sacrifice outlet in a pinch.
Dawn Charm, Lapse of Certainty, Rebuff the Wicked, Imp's Mischief, and other countermagic - most of what is available is a little narrow, but people rarely expect these effects out of nonblue decks.
Teferi's Protection, Second Sunrise, and other protective spells - if you expect to run into a lot of board wipes, consider a way to protect or recur your team.
draw
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Card advantage is important, both because we want to be able to find answers to problems, and because we want to find the cards we need to assemble our own synergies. This deck usually wins by assembling a critical mass of interlocking synergies, which means that we really want to be able to dig deep to find what we're looking for. We also have access to several mass recursion spells, which work well with us churning through our deck quickly - even if we play a creature and it immediately dies, it is likely we will be able to get value from it again in the future.

Skullclamp - one of the most efficient card draw effects available, turning every spare token into two cards.
Mask of Memory - cheap to cast and equip, and works well with any evasive bodies we have (such as Spirit tokens). Also fills the graveyard to set up future recursion.
Bygone Bishop - we're running a lot of cheap creatures, so turning them into more card draw is useful.
Dark Prophecy - turns creature deaths into more card draw. Unique in that it also triggers on tokens, unlike most similar effects. The trigger is mandatory, so consider finding some lifegain if you find yourself running low on life.
Grim Haruspex - more card draw from creature deaths. We don't have any other morphs in here, so hiding its identity is rarely worth it.
Mentor of the Meek - one of the more powerful payoffs for running lots of small creatures, turning every token into extra cards.
Midnight Reaper - similar to Grim Haruspex. Causes life loss, but also triggers from its own death.
Phyrexian Arena - more classic black card draw, trading life and time for cards.
Tymna the Weaver - more ways to trade life for cards. Works best if we have evasive creatures available (usually spirit tokens).
Gonti, Lord of Luxury - a bit of filtering to go with our card advantage. Deathtouch makes them a good blocker, and taking the card from an opponent's deck can give access to effects we don't otherwise have access to.
Teysa Karlov - not technically card draw, but she allows us to double-dip on all of our death triggers, similar to Teysa 1.0. This generates virtual card advantage (because we get more value per death) or actual card advantage (if the death triggers in question are drawing us cards). Granting lifelink and vigilance to our tokens is a bit of incidental upside that works well with any evasive tokens we have.
Smothering Abomination - more ways to draw cards from the deaths of our creatures. It does need food, but still draws a card even if it ends up cannibalizing itself.
Syphon Mind - in a four-player game, this is effectively a Harmonize with upside. Actual results vary depending on the number of players in the game.
other options
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Black offers many options for trading life for cards. White's card advantage options are a bit more limited, but there are also many artifact-based draw engines that are worth consideration.

Necropotence, Necrologia, and Ad Nauseum - some of the most powerful ways to trade life for cards. Can be awkward if you've already put a lot of pressure on your life total, but they're first-class in terms of efficiency.
Well of Lost Dreams - in the opposite direction, Well is a way to convert lifegain into card draw. If you run more lifegain, it may be worth consideration.
Sign in Blood, Night's Whisper, Ancient Craving, Read the Bones, and other one-shot effects - all good options if you expect a faster game, and want your card advantage immediately.
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician - a sacrifice outlet that turns creatures and life into more cards.
Sword of Fire and Ice - if you're running an equipment package, there are options for repeatable card draw other than Skullclamp.
Coercive Portal, Mind's Eye, Endless Atlas, and other artifact-based card draw - depending on the contents of your deck and your requirements for card draw, there are many colorless options worth consideration. The black card draw is usually more efficient though.
Scroll Rack - a classic combination with Land Tax, if you happen to be running it.
recursion
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Recursion serves several purposes in this deck. One purpose is card advantage, using our graveyard as a second hand. Another purpose is insurance against board wipes - mass reanimation is a great way to rebuild. The third purpose is as a combo piece - many of our combos involve some sort of recursion loop.

Phyrexian Reclamation - trade life and mana for recursion, at a reasonably efficient rate. We don't always have enough diversity in our creatures to go full toolbox-mode with our recursion, but being able to buy back something specific is still nice.
Animate Dead - recurs any creature, from any graveyard at an extremely efficient rate. We're not a dedicated reanimator deck, so we don't have a ton of beefy creatures to grab back, but that is a direction that could be built into.
Reassembling Skeleton - self-recurs, providing repeatable sacrifice fodder. Gold standard for self-reanimation.
Athreos, God of Passage - depending on the creature that dies, we may or may not get it back. Still, Athreos is hard to deal with, and the life loss adds up over time.
Dusk / Dawn - the front half is an asymmetric board wipe that leaves our small creatures alive. The back half returns any fallen small creatures to our hand, of which we have many.
Karmic Guide - reanimates any creature from our graveyard, no questions asked. Works very well as part of a recursion loop.
Living Death - mass reanimation is fun. Can backfire if our opponents have lots of problems in their graveyards, but that is why we run grave hate and exile effects. Also works well if we can set it up by sacrificing our board beforehand. Alternatively, use it as a board wipe when appropriate.
Reveillark - more synergy for little creatures, this time in the form of recursion.
Sun Titan - one of the few ways we have to reanimate noncreatures. Can serve a lot of functions, depending on what you have available.
Angel of Glory's Rise - a very powerful payoff for building Human tribal. Incidental hate for Zombie tribal decks is nice, but the main draw of the card is the one-sided mass reanimation effect.
other options
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Both white and black have many options for reanimation and recursion. Most of these effects only work on creatures, but there are some other options.

Reanimate, Unburial Rites, Exhume, and other reanimation spells - at their best in a dedicated reanimator deck, but they all work well if we can get things worth reanimating into our graveyard.
Sheoldred, Whispering One - both a reanimation target and an enabler.
Unearth - many of our creatures are on the smaller side, so this is one of the most efficient reanimation spells available.
Patriarch's Bidding, Primevals' Glorious Rebirth, Rise of the Dark Realms, and other mass reanimation effects - powerful if built around.
Xiahou Dun, One-Eyed - one of the few ways to recur noncreatures in black.
Bloodghast, Nether Traitor, Gravecrawler, Bloodsoaked Champion, and other self-recurring creatures - some of these have requirements to fulfill, so keep those in mind. However, free(ish) sacrifice fodder works very well with Teysa and our other cards that care about creature deaths.
mana
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Casting spells is important. Black and white aren't the greatest colors at ramping, which means we often need to rely on artifact mana. However, both have some options available. This deck can have a lot of strict color requirements, with double or triple-weighted mana costs (such as Dark Prophecy), which means that colored mana is generally preferred.

Sol Ring - the most-played card in the format for a reason.
Orzhov Signet - a cheap and efficient mana rock, which also provides filtering.
Sword of the Animist - a cheap way to repeatedly ramp. We have a lot of cheap creatures that can carry it.
Boreas Charger - if you're behind on lands, it can catch you up.
Burnished Hart - sacrifices itself to provide ramp. Fetching lands makes it more resilient than most other ramp we have access to.
Pitiless Plunderer - turns all our creatures into Lotus Petals. Or treasures, I suppose. A very powerful mana engine when active.
Smothering Tithe - taxes and slows down our opponents, or provides ramp. Both modes are useful.
Black Market - capable of producing very large amounts of mana if it is active for any amount of time. We don't have any giant X spells like Torment of Hailfire to pump it into, but that is a direction that could be built into.
other options
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Although we don't have access to the best ramp spells, options do exist.

Talisman of Hierarchy, Fellwar Stone, Charcoal Diamond, Mind Stone, and other cheap mana rocks - all worth consideration if you want more early ramp.
Land Tax, Tithe, Knight of the White Orchid, and other white ramp - often requires you to have fewer lands than your opponents, but can be very efficient when active.
Weathered Wayfarer - fetches up lands repeatedly if you're behind on them. If you're running it, consider also running more utility lands.
Legion's Landing - flips into a land that also functions as a token producer.
Magus of the Coffers, Crypt Ghast, and other swamp-matters cards - this version of the deck doesn't run enough swamps to properly support them, but black decks are capable of producing very large amounts of mana in conjunction with cards like these.
Solemn Simulacrum - a pile of value, and a bit of ramp.
Dark Ritual, Culling the Weak, Songs of the Damned, and other rituals - this deck isn't built around them, but one-shot effects can provide a lot of acceleration if you want to do something unfair.
tutors
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Tutors add consistency to decks. They make it easier to find specific answers, or to assemble combos. Black provides access to unconditional tutors, while white provides access to more narrow tutors. This deck is pretty light on tutors due to budget considerations, but many options exist.

Expedition Map - an efficient way to fetch up particularly important utility lands.
Demonic Tutor - likely the best tutor in the format, capable of fetching anything for only two mana.
Buried Alive - fetches cards directly into the graveyard. Great for setting up mass reanimation spells, but can also be used to fetch Reassembling Skeleton for value.
Sidisi, Undead Vizier - turns any spare token into a tutor, while leaving behind a respectable body.
other options
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Both of our colors have many options for tutors - some narrow, some more flexible.

Stoneforge Mystic, Stonehewer Giant, Open the Armory, Steelshaper's Gift, and other equipment tutors - we have several pieces of equipment worth fetching (especially Skullclamp). If you're running these, consider also running more equipment for different situations.
Enlightened Tutor, Idyllic Tutor, and other white tutors - these can be on the narrow side, but we have many artifacts and enchantments worth fetching.
Diabolic Intent, Vampiric Tutor, and other black tutors - unconditional in what they can fetch, but may have additional costs.
Rune-Scarred Demon - often better as a reanimation target, but providing a large body is always appreciated.
Razaketh, the Foulblooded - a premium reanimation target, capable of assembling many combos by itself (assuming sufficient expendable creatures).
lifegain
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Many Orzhov decks have a lifegain theme, with cards like Ajani's Pridemate and Regna, the Redeemer providing payoffs for gaining life. This deck isn't built around that theme explicitly, but it is capable of putting a lot of pressure on its own life total by converting life into other resources. Most of the cards in this section serve multiple purposes - both buffering our life total and hindering our opponents.

Authority of the Consuls - some incidental lifegain attached to a potent anti-aggro effect - this deck doesn't enjoy being attacked by large hasty threats.
Soul Warden - more incidental lifegain. Not a lot of additional upside here, but the body is relevant, and can be fed to Skullclamp when appropriate.
Blood Artist - turns deaths into life drain. Often functions as a win condition to go along with a sacrifice loop, but can also add up quickly over the course of a game - if enough creatures are on the board, it may prevent an opponent from resolving a board wipe.
Dawn of Hope - primarily here as a payoff for our lifegain, but it also enables itself with the lifelink tokens. Not necessarily efficient, but being able to draw cards and generate tokens gives it a lot of flexibility.
Zulaport Cutthroat - similar to Blood Artist, it turns deaths into life drain. Only triggers on our own creatures, but it also hits all of our opponents and bypasses hexproof. Human tag is also relevant.
other options
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There are many cards capable of incidentally gaining life, ranging from any creature with lifelink to the more exotic.

Soul's Attendant and Auriok Champion - more ways to gain life from creatures.
Suture Priest - only gains life from your own creatures, but also hinders opposing creature-based strategies.
Exsanguinate and Debt to the Deathless - at their best when you can generate massive amounts of mana and use them as a win condition, but also capable of being used to add a sizable buffer to your life total.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Kokusho, the Evening Star - both very nasty when recurred repeatedly, capable of performing mini-Exsanguinates over and over.
utility lands
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Depending on your manabase, you may be able to include some number of utility lands. This deck has a relatively high Plains count to enable Emeria. A deck not playing Emeria could get away with playing more nonbasic lands, and thus also fit in more utility lands.

Bojuka Bog - grave hate on a land. We usually value hitting our land drops over holding it back, but it's still usually worth the cost of entering tapped.
Emeria, The Sky Ruin - a powerful recursion option if the game goes long. We're not able to turn it on as easily as a mono-white or Selesnya deck, but we do have some ways to repeatedly fetch basics out of our deck.
High Market - yet another sacrifice outlet. The lifegain is pretty minor, but sometimes we just really want our creatures to die.
Thawing Glaciers - a bit on the slow side, but it is card advantage in the land slot, and means you'll be able to hit land drops very consistently. Works even better if you have ways to untap it or copy the effect.
Vault of the Archangel - turns our 1/1 tokens into real blockers, and can also gain some life if we need to.
other options
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Other options exist in the utility land slot. When considering other options, compare the value get from them versus the consistency of playing another basic. Alternatively, if you're playing them to get more value from your land slots, it may be worth instead playing a spell that generates more value. If you're playing more utility lands, consider additional ways to fetch them, such as Weathered Wayfarer.

Strip Mine, Wasteland, and other land-destroying lands - worth consideration if you find yourself running into problematic lands across the table.
Volrath's Stronghold - a bit inefficient, but it is recursion on a land.
Buried Ruin - can be useful if you find important artifacts dying frequently, such as Skullclamp or sacrifice outlets.
Phyrexian Tower - another sacrifice outlet on a land. This one even ramps!
Westvale Abbey - a token producer on a land. Also flips into a giant demon.
Field of the Dead - if you're running enough different lands, it's pretty efficient token production. Tapped and colorless makes it a big opportunity cost though.
Mistveil Plains - worth consideration primarily because it is one of very few ways to get instants and sorceries back into our deck, which can be relevant if you're doing a lot of tutoring.
mana-producing lands
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The main component of our manabase - the lands providing fixing and colored mana. We have some stricter color requirements, so fixing is pretty valuable. On the other hand, we want to be running a decent number of basics for cards like Emeria, the Sky Ruin and Sword of the Animist. Playing around Blood Moon and Back to Basics may also be relevant, depending on your meta. Unfortunately, enemy-colored manabases don't have as many options as ally-colored manabases, which means some number of tapped lands may be necessary.

Plains (x10) - the deck actually skews slightly towards black, but this is the minimum number of Plains necessary for Emeria, the Sky Ruin.
Swamp (x6) - we don't have anything that specifically requires swamps, but there are cards that care about running more. Consider flipping Plains and Swamps if you want to build in that direction instead.
Caves of Koilos, Command Tower, Isolated Chapel, Marsh Flats, and Tainted Field - untapped fixing.
Myriad Landscape - a bit of ramp in the land slot.
Orzhov Basilica - a little mana smoothing in the land slot. Can be useful alongside cards which care about how many lands you have relative to your opponents.
Orzhov Guildgate - not a great fixing land.... but at least it has Teysa flavor text!
Path of Ancestry - a bit of incidental scry. Yet another perk to running more Humans.
Scoured Barrens - yet another tapped land. Can be useful if you have more of a lifegain focus.
Shambling Vent - manlands are useful here because they can serve as sacrifice fodder in a pinch.
Temple of Silence - tapped fixing, but the incidental scry can be useful.
Terramorphic Expanse - a bit more tapped fixing. Works well with Sun Titan, or if you have other land recursion.
other options
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More than any other category, your manabase is going to depend on your budget - some players will be running original duals and all the relevant fetchlands, while others will be stuck with guildgates. Use what you have access to.

Scrubland, Godless Shrine, and other untapped fixers - always worth including.
Verdant Catacombs and other fetchlands - also worth including. Their value goes up if you have more lands with basic land types.
Mana Confluence, City of Brass, and other untapped-fixing-with-downside - again, worth consideration if you find yourself wanting better fixing, and aren't encountering too much pressure on your life total.
Forsaken Sanctuary and other tapped lands - try to avoid them, but may be necessary if you find yourself needing more fixing.

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Building an Engine

This deck's usually wins in one of two ways: either by assembling an infinite combo, or by assembling a set of cards which generate value in a non-infinite way. Almost all of these engines require three things: a way to generate creatures, a way to kill our creatures, and a payoff. Some cards are capable of filling multiple roles (such as Altar of Dementia and Spawning Pit), which makes assembling an engine easier. Whether or not these engines are infinite or not depends on the efficiency of the components involved.

The primary way to generate creatures is via token production. However, recursion is another way to generate extra bodies.
Example token producers: Darkest Hour (with Teysa), Ophiomancer, Open the Graves
Example recursion cards: Reassembling Skeleton, Sun Titan, Angel of Glory's Rise

Most of our creature deaths come from various sacrifice outlets. Due to our focus on combo, we prioritize free sacrifice outlets to get the maximum efficiency. However, combat and board wipes are other ways that our creatures are likely to die.
Example sacrifice outlets: Cartel Aristocrat, Ashnod's Altar, Smothering Abomination

Given that our creatures are going to die, we want some way to extract value from their deaths. This can come from explicit on-death triggers, or it could come from the tokens they leave behind.
Example payoffs: Blood Artist, Skullclamp, Grave Pact


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Strategy

Our primary goal when playing the deck is to assemble some sort of engine, then use that engine to generate enough value to win. This can happen by assembling an infinite combo directly, or by generating enough card advantage that we can grind out our opponents. We run a decent amount of recursion in case things get blown up, but grave hate can be pretty annoying to deal with.

Opening Hand
Look for lands, and card draw. Our deck usually requires a critical mass of pieces in order to function, so being able to dig through our deck faster is often more valuable than having synergistic pieces in our opening hand.

Early Game
Focus on hitting land drops. The deck isn't particularly fast, so it can be worth taking a few turns to guarantee land drops from something like Sword of the Animist or Thawing Glaciers instead of building out a board. If you have a way to trade creatures for cards (such as Skullclamp), it is often worth it to do so if it will help hit land drops. Playing out Teysa on turn 3 is often a reasonable choice.

Mid Game
Try to start assembling some sort of value engine. Start looking for token producers and payoffs, and make sure you have a sacrifice outlet available. It's possible that board wipes may be played - try not to extend too much into them, but don't worry too badly if your creatures die - we can generate plenty of value from a well-stocked graveyard.

Late Game
Start focusing on what you need to win. Sometimes you'll have a full graveyard and want a mass reanimation spell. Sometimes you'll have two parts of an infinite combo, and need to find a third. Sometimes you'll draw a ton of cards with Skullclamp, or lock down the board with Grave Pact, or generate enough tokens to keep the board clear with Teysa, or play Tombstone Stairwell while a Blood Artist is out. The deck is capable of winning without requiring that much setup, so bide your time and find an opening.


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Change Log

changelog
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8/13/2019 - initial version
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decks: thada, brago, sharuum, tasigur, animar, samut, teysa, zedruu, kess, mizzix
my cube

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