Playing Magic: The Orzhov Syndicate

Hey everybody!
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these “playing Magic” blogs, but in light of the fact that I’ve started to collect some cards again, and seeing as how we’ve just experienced another return to the plane of Ravnica, I thought it’s about time I wrote up a blog showcasing the Orzhov deck that I’ve been talking about in a number of my previous blogs! So without further ado, let’s get to it!

Orzhov Syndicate

The Orzhov Syndicate is a bit like the idea of a corrupt Church organisation, not all that far removed from real life, where the leaders are more businessmen than clerics, and who have a very temporal power through their control of all manner of deals. Indeed, one of the Guild-specific land cards in the original Ravnica block is Orzhova, the Church of Deals. There is a strong theme whereby even in death, a person’s debt is rarely paid, and so the Guild features a lot of ghosts and shades, with a few keywords that have come in over the years that play on that idea.

The original keyword mechanic for the Orzhov Syndicate was Haunt. Widely considered to be a terrible mechanic (head designer Mark Rosewater himself considers it “a mistake”), a card with Haunt will be exiled rather than placed in the graveyard, “haunting” another permanent on the battlefield. When the card it is haunting is itself then put into the graveyard, that action will trigger the Haunt effect of the original card, basically getting a second use out of it before both die.

During Return to Ravnica block, Orzhov had the mechanic Extort, which allows you to pay an additional white or black mana whenever you cast a spell, whereupon each opponent loses 1 life and you gain life equal to the total lost. Commonly referred to as “drain and gain”, it’s a great way to ensure cards have impact for you the whole game, and it’s the mechanic around which I’ve built my deck that I’ll talk about shortly!

During the latest Guilds of Ravnica block, the new Orzhov mechanic is Afterlife X, which creates X 1/1 Spirit creature tokens when the card with Afterlife X dies. I suppose you can think of this as a cleaner Haunt, or at least, a cleaner implementation of the idea of Haunt! It’s also extremely on-point for the idea of never quite paying off your debts to the Syndicate!

Unlike my Dimir deck, my Orzhov deck is all about the Guild, and goes heavily into the theme of Orzhov, using cards only from Ravnica and Return to Ravnica blocks.

Orzhov Syndicate

I’ll be the first to admit, this deck can be clunky as hell. Because of the fact that I’ve got the self-imposed limit of only including Guild-specific cards in the deck, it’s really difficult to reliably make the deck win. I’ve also included some cards in there for the sheer theme alone, and ordinarily wouldn’t consider using if I were trying to make the deck more playable. But it’s a lot of fun to build decks that are dripping with theme like this, so there is definitely that in its favour!

Creatures (25):
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Kingpin’s Pet
Treasury Thrull
Syndic of Tithes
Syndicate Enforcer
Souls of the Faultless
Maze Sentinel
Basilica Guards
Sin Collector
High Priest of Penance (2)
Tithe Drinker (2)
Orzhov Guildmage
Vizkopa Confessor
Thrull Parasite (2)
Crypt Ghast
Pontiff of Blight
Vizkopa Guildmage
Dutiful Thrull (2)
Basilica Screecher (2)

Instants & Sorceries (5):
Purge the Profane
Executioner’s Swing (2)
Obzedat’s Aid (2)

Artifacts (4):
Orzhov Signet
Orzhov Cluestone
Orzhov Keyrune (2)

Enchantments (4):
Gift of Orzhova (2)
Shadow Lance
Blind Obedience

Land (22):
Orzhov Guildgate (3)
Orzhov Basilica (3)
Orzhova, the Church of Deals
Plains (8)
Swamp (7)

Orzhov Syndicate

There are 15 instances of Extort as a keyword in the deck, though thanks to the Pontiff of Blight, every single spell being cast has the potential to gain Extort – and in case you were wondering, multiple instances of Extort on a card do indeed stack, so there is definitely the potential for some serious drain and gain shenanigans going on there!

Of course, Extort isn’t the only thing going on with the deck. There is a certain element of Control, thanks to stuff like Blind Obedience (a card I normally dislike playing due to the amount of hate it can attract) and the High Priest of Penance forcing some difficult choices to be made by any would-be attacker. The lifegain potential in the deck is high, due to the multiple instances of Lifelink outside of Extort, though one of the big areas this deck falls down is a failing to weaponize that. I’ve talked more in-depth on weaponizing lifegain in my Ayli Commander deck blog, though, and I think if I were to travel outside of the Ravnica block cards, it wouldn’t be too difficult to create a really punishing version of this deck.

Ultimately, this is meant to be just a fun deck that is really dripping with theme, and one that brings back fond memories for me when I was first getting into Magic the Gathering, watching Spellslingers and enjoying the interactions of the cards, as well as seeing just how much fun you can have playing this game!!

Playing Magic: Commander

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today I want to talk about the multiplayer format for Magic: the Gathering – it’s time to talk about Commander! I had a game last week, after having built a deck up over the summer, and I have to say, it was pretty good! Let’s get into this…

Magic the Gathering Commander

Commander is a multiplayer format of Magic, where decks have 99 cards that work around a central Commander, which is any Legendary Creature from the long history of the game. Additionally, your Commander deck cannot have more than one copy of any card aside from basic land cards. The deck can only contain cards that are in your commander’s colour identity – that is to say, any colour that is referenced on your commander’s card, both in casting cost and the text box.

Magic the Gathering Commander

The commander starts the game in the Command Zone, and can be cast from that zone whenever you have the mana available. Whenever if would go into the graveyard, back into your hand/library or into exile, you can instead have it return to the Command Zone, whereupon you must pay 2 additional colourless mana to cast it again, and an additional 2 colourless mana each additional time you do so.

Finally, players start at 40 life, and in addition to the usual rules for decking out or being reduced to 0 life, you will be eliminated if your commander takes 21 total damage over the course of the game from any other single commander.

I actually managed to play a Commander variant called Duel Commander, which was 1v1 rather than the usual multiplayer buffet. For my game, I had constructed a black/white deck using Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim as my commander. She’s a cheap choice, and the deck doesn’t rely too much on her to function well. It’s very much a drain-and-gain deck that uses effects like Extort to work, rather than anything that I really wanted to have going on, such as the bigger spells for reducing my opponents’ life. But it worked well enough!

Magic the Gathering Commander

The deck has plenty of stuff to really bring the pain, such as Sanguine Bond or Defiant Bloodlord combined with things like Sunspring Expedition and Meditation Puzzle. Anything to really cause some serious lifeloss while also putting me ahead!

Ayli did make an appearance, but didn’t really set the world on fire. I did manage to sacrifice my Wall of Essence after a while, which did gain me some life so that I could later use her exile effect, but yeah, the deck mainly came together through Extort. Which is a shame, because that’s exactly what my Orzhov deck does! Should probably do a blog on my Orzhov deck at some point, that is one deck that I really enjoy playing…

Magic the Gathering Commander

So yeah, Commander was a fun game to try as something different, but I suppose it would have been more interesting if it was a full multi-player experience.

Anyway, here’s my Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim deck – enjoy!

Commander
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim (OGW)

Creatures
Suture Priest (NPH)
Defiant Bloodlord (BFZ)
Zulaport Cutthroat (BFZ)
Augur il-Vec (FUT)
Undercity Informer (GTC)
Zulaport Chainmage (OGW)
Scholar of Athreos (THS)
Treasury Thrull (GTC)
Wall of Essence (M15)
War Priest of Thune (M13)
Drana’s Emissary (BFZ)
Kingpin’s Pet (GTC)
Cliffhaven Vampire (OGW)
Pontiff of Blight (DGM)
Vampire Envoy (OGW)
Drana’s Chosen (OGW)
Alabaster Mage (M12)
Wakedancer (CNS)
Knight of Obligation (GTC)
Blood Host (M15)
Kalastria Healer (BFZ)
Paragon of New Dawns (M15)
Tithe Drinker (DGM)
Malakir Familiar (BFZ)
Shadow Alley Denizen (GTC)
Onyx Mage (M12)
Underworld Coinsmith (JOU)

Instants
Profit / Loss (DGM)
Executioner’s Swing (GTC)
Grisly Spectacle (GTC)
Rain of Blades (M13)
Congregate (M15)
Meditation Puzzle (M15)
Zealous Persecution (ARB)
Midnight Charm (PLC)
Sun’s Bounty (CSP)

Sorcery
Sign in Blood (M13)
Essence Drain (M13)
Shadow Slice (GTC)

Enchantments
Blind Obedience (GTC)
Feast on the Fallen (M15)
Eternal Thirst (M15)
Curse of Wizardry (ROE)
Lightmine Field (ROE)
Blood Reckoning (M13)
Divine Favor (M15)
Sunspring Expedition (ZEN)
Sanguine Bond (M14)
Campaign of Vengeance (EMN)

Artifacts
Phyrexian Totem (TSP)
Prism Ring (ORI)
Staff of the Death Magus (M15)
Dolmen Gate (LRW)
Thunder Totem (TSP)
Staff of the Sun Magus (M15)
Orzhov Cluestone (DGM)
Orzhov Keyrune (GTC)
Pristine Talisman (NPH)
Tainted Sigil (ARB)
Commander’s Sphere (C14)

Lands
Orzhov Guildgate (GTC)
Scoured Barrens (KTK)
Orzhov Basilica (GBT)
Temple of Silence (THS)
Forsaken Sanctuary (SOI)
Isolated Chapel (INN)
Caves of Koilos (M15)
Tainted Field (C15)
Piranha Marsh (ZEN)
Kabira Crossroads (ZEN)
Secluded Steppe (CMD)
Stalking Stones (MRD)
Shimmering Grotto (INN)
Unknown Shores (OGW)
Buried Ruin (M12)
Unstable Frontier (CON)
11 Plains
12 Swamps

I haven’t been playing a lot of Magic lately, so have been feeling kinda rusty with the whole thing. I also haven’t really been paying attention to a lot of the new cards released from Kaladesh onwards, if I’m honest! It might need a bit of a tune-up in light of some of the more recently-released cards, but I guess time will tell on that score. I’d also like to get down to some more Magic games and try this thing out in a full multi-player environment. So stay tuned for that in the new year!