Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Making Magic in the Arena - Orzhov Aristocrats

Magic players who know we personally know that I enjoy removing killing creatures and clearing boards of creatures. In my EDH playgroup, I'm known as the guy who tends to have the removal options needed to take out big threats.

But what I like even more than that is killing my own creatures and gaining benefits from their deaths. More commonly known as an Aristocrats strategy, it's a deck type that I've always found interesting, and that I love trying to build and pilot.

My decklist is here.

However, I was also credit Strictly Better MTG for this deck, because the fundamental core of it comes from his YouTube video where he discusses his version of the build. This may be my own spin on it, but I'd be wrong not to attribute him credit where it is due.

There are 3 things that an Aristocrats deck needs in order to perform that way it is intended to:
  • Either a swarm of cheap creatures that can replace themselves or be otherwise recurred.
  • Cards that have triggered abilities that activate when the aforementioned fodder dies.
  • Ways to sacrifice or kill off those creatures.
And this deck has all 3 of those. 10 of the cards in this deck costs 1 mana, and all of them are creatures. Hunted Witness is an obvious include, because it has a death trigger that produces token that we can also use as a sacrifice. And even though it doesn't replace itself, Footlight Fiend's 1 damage on death can serve as that extra bit of reach we may need in a pinch.

We also have a full set of Gutterbones. The reason I run this instead of Reassembling Skeleton is because it only costs 1-mana to play initially, even if it comes out tapped. Early on, when mana is hard to come by, that's significant. And later on, when the need to recast Gutterbones will make it overall more expensive, I found that I had enough mana where it didn't matter.

On top of all those 1-drops, we have Hero of Precinct One as a token generator. While it's removal bait in the worse case, we have enough multicolored spells in the deck that there's a potential to create a lot of tokens with her ability. And since they're just 1/1 Humans with no abilities to speak of, we'll feel nothing when they too die.

As for cards that have death triggers, we have Cruel Celebrant and Corpse Knight as our two key pieces, which will often be what close the game off. Of the two, the Knight seems less obvious because it's technically not a death trigger, but rather an enter-the-battlefield effect. However, it still fits in this deck because our strategy necessitates summon a ton of smaller bodies, which will add up if Corpse Knight is allowed to survive. And when something like Hunted Witness dies, this effectively becomes a death trigger because a token will be generated.

Our other payoff creature is Midnight Reaper. The biggest problem a deck like this can have is that it can run out of cards quickly, and this will help us avoid that. While it doesn't activate when a token dies, and it does cost us life, which can kill us since it's not a "may" ability, it's worth it to avoid burning out prematurely.

The sacrifice outlet we run is also there to help us in that respect, and a few others: Priest of Forgotten Gods. One of the best early play lines we can hope for it is to play her on Turn 2, and then play two of our fodder creatures on Turn 3 to immediate sacrifice them to her ability. The value of her ability cannot be overstated, because one we start activating it, our opponents often have difficulty keeping up. She does everything this deck could want by letting us sacrifice creatures will removing pieces from our opponent, scratching them a bit while drawing us cards and producing mana. Conveniently, the mana she generated is exactly enough to pay the cost of returning Gutterbones to our hand and the life loss is enough to allow us to activate it, making it easier to maintain our loop.

But despite not having another card to sacrifice creatures to, we have another obvious way of killing off our force: COMBAT! Once we're online, opponents having extremely tough times breaking through our front line. This is depicted a couple of times in the games I recorded for this post. Our opponents had boards with big trampling bodies, but the moment they attacked I just blocked and let my horde die, ending the game with a stack of Cruel Celebrant triggers. Conversely, I had games where I managed to whittle my opponent to a point where I could swing in an kill them even if they block.

Lastly, there are a couple of cards that were include as part of a support package. Mortify and Despark exist purely for removal purposes. I include them because both because hit enchantments and that are multicolored, which triggers Hero of Precinct One.

The new Teysa Karlov card exists purely because it synergies well with our strategy, often making the difference in tight spots by doubling our death trigger output. And finally, we arrive at Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord. His +2 puts opponents one the clock, letting us close out the game in a stalled board. The passive ability synergies with Midnight Reaper, canceling out the damage it deals to us while encouraging us to make swings when we are able. And as a deck that sacrifices its creatures, the -X ability gives us a way to bring back either fodder or one of our key pieces like the Celebrant or the Priest.

There's a lot of moving parts to this deck, but you can't beat the feeling of a well-constructed machine coming together.

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