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October 27, 2016

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Orzhov ain’t Dead

Black/White control is dead, say the unbelievers; Orzhov-walkers can’t keep up with the current meta. Foolish heathens, what do they know? They put their faith in hairy Dwarves and floppy Helicopters. I keep mine where it belongs – In the Church.

B/W control is an archetype that we saw dominate, and I mean DOMINATE, standard before Kaladesh dropped on us like a fiery ball of death from the sky. Since that day, B/W seems to have fallen out of favour, with only a single B/W list making the top 8 across the various SCG Regionals that have taken place over the last week-and-a-half-or-so.

This list, belonging to Dmitri Shrum, took 1st place at the Columbus Regionals in Ohio, beating out Rakdos Aggro, Boros Dwarves, Grixis Emerge, and a whole slew of other aggro decks.

Orzhov by Dmitri Shrum

Lands: (26)
Aether Hub
Concealed Courtyard
Plains
Shambling Vent
12 Swamp

Creatures: (3)
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Linvala, the Preserver

Spells: (19)
Anguished Unmaking
Essence Extraction
Fumigate
Grasp of Darkness
Harsh Scrutiny
Live Fast
Ruinous Path

Planeswalkers: (10)
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Liliana, the Last Hope
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Sorin, Grim Nemesis

Artifacts: (2)
Deadlock Trap

Sideboard: (15)
Deadlock Trap
Fragmentize
Fumigate
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Pick the Brain
Quarantine Field
Ruinous Path
Transgress the Mind

This deck came in first place, so it obviously has something going right for itself. Naturally, the pilot makes all the difference, but a crappy car won’t get you far. It has everything black/white control needs; draw spells, planeswalkers, and removal, removal, removal. There’s no denying it’s not a great list, but I have some recommendations to make for anyone seeking to use all that Orzhov can offer for Standard.

For starters, the Deadlock Trap has got to go. In a meta that is both fast and aggressive, a better Tumble Magnet does seem advantageous. Deadlock Trap‘s best argument is that it taps down Gideon who is a consistent beater/body maker that has shown face in many lists. However, if my opponent’s turn two play is a Smuggler’s Copter, I really don’t want my turn two play to be a Deadlock Trap. Having been playing the black/white control archetype for months straight, I can honestly say I’d rather my turn two play be holding or casting a removal spell to deal with the problem permanently.

Essence Extraction is the next card on my chopping block. It costs the same as Murder, but can’t kill anything bigger than a Dwarfpire Whitehawk. I mean, Vampbeard Nightdwarf. AERIAL RESPONDER, that’s it. Anyways, Essence Extraction can not deal with anything larger than three toughness. That’s a problem. Distended Mindbender, Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Archangel Avacyn, Voldaren Pariah, Elder Deep-Fiend, Sylvan Advocate (after turn 6) and even Wretched Gryff can all outlive an Essence Extraction. I mean, sure, Essence Extraction paired with Liliana, the Last Hope‘s +1 will actually manage to take out almost everything I just listed, but that’s essentially 2-for-1’ing yourself, and I don’t enjoy doing that. You know what they can’t outlive? Getting Murdered. It’s quicker, it’s cleaner, and by Orzhov, does it ever kill stuff.

The third card I’d cut is Live Fast. I actually struggled with this one myself, having been used to Read the Bones, I didn’t mind swapping one sorcery-speed draw spell for another. But then I realized, Black/White doesn’t have a good outlet for energy unless you put Deadlock Trap in your list. It also just doesn’t care enough about energy for it to matter. I dropped Live Fast in favour of Succumb to Temptation, and haven’t looked back since. The change to instant speed makes a world of difference; with Succumb in your hand, you don’t have to make the choice between drawing this turn or holding removal. You get to wait until it matters to make that decision on your opponent’s turn.

The last major cut I’d make is Fumigate. “But whoa now”, you might be saying. “That’s a board wipe, and Black/White needs board wipes”. You’re not wrong, Orzhov loves clearing the board, but you know what else it loves? Wrathing the board and coming out on top. Despite giving your opponent a choice of what to keep, Cataclysmic Gearhulk leaves you with a 4/5 vigilance creature and you don’t have to worry about being shut down by Archangel Avacyn or Selfless Spirit. Going from a turn three Liliana, the Last Hope into turn four Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and a turn five Cataclysmic Gearhulk is sweet. 

How does it work? Easy peasy. Before you cast Cataclysmic Gearhulk, use Gideon, Ally of Zendikar‘s +1 to animate him into a creature, then cast Cataclysmic Gearhulk, choosing Liliana, the Last Hope as your planeswalker, Gideon as your creature, and Cataclysmic as your Artifact.

After your opponent has sacked what was likely to be either their second Dynavolt Tower, one of their Smuggler’s Copters, or a bunch of their creatures, you swing in with Gideon knowing that you’ve got a fat 4/5 blocker waiting in the wings. And of course, you’re playing Black/White, so you know you’re going to be able to kill whatever they chose to keep alive anyway.

Here is my current Black/White list. While it didn’t win regionals, it did make me Gameday Champion here at my LGS and that’s good enough for me (for now).

Orzhov by Jesse Jordan

Lands: (25)
Blighted Fen
Concealed Courtyard
Aether Hub
Forsaken Sanctuary
Plains
Shambling Vent
Swamp

Creatures: (6)
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Cataclysmic Gearhulk
Noxious Gearhulk

Spells: (17)
Anguished Unmaking
Blessed Alliance
Declaration in Stone
Grasp of Darkness
Murder
Ruinous Path
Succumb to Temptation
Transgress the Mind

Enchantments: (2)
Oath of Liliana

Planeswalkers: (10)
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Liliana, the Last Hope
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Sorin, Grim Nemesis

Side Board: (15)
Lost Legacy
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Harsh Scrutiny
Quarantine Field
Anguished Unmaking
Flaying Tendrils
Cataclysmic Gearhulk
Noxious Gearhulk

Planeswalkers

Let’s start with the similarities. Ten seems to be the magic number for planeswalkers in two and three colour decks. Just enough to get them consistently, not so many that you’re flooded with them. Where Dmitri dropped an Ob Nixilis Reignited, I dropped a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Because this deck can’t afford to run out of cards, I believe dropping an Ob Nixilis Reignited is a mistake. A turn five Ob Nixilis Reignited into turn a six Sorin, Grim Nemesis asserts control on the game.

Creatures

Creature wise, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet stays. Not much gets passed a 3/4 lifelink and he gives you zombies for everything that dies. This is relevant, because as a black/white player, you want everything to die. EVERYTHING. I love the synergy in this deck and I can’t tell you how solid of a position it is when you’re sitting with Lili-Gideon-Cataclysmic on the field and you pass the turn.

Main Differences

The main differences? For starters, I dropped Deadlock Trap for Oath of Liliana, and for SO many reasons. A turn three Bristling Hydra is really not an uncommon play for any G/x deck or for any G/R energy deck out there. If your opponent has the extra energy to make it hexproof before you can blow it up, you’re in serious trouble. It’s very rare that an opponent will cast it with less than three energy already in reserve. That’s relevant because, as you should know, you have the ability to kill a Bristling Hydra in response to its ETB effect of generating energy before they can activate the hexproof. When I can, I use Grasp of Darkness
. When I can’t, I cast Oath of Liliana. Buh-bye, Hydra. As if that wasn’t enough, did we forget that it makes free zombies? Apparently some people have.

I leaned a lot more into White than Dmitri did in my removal suite; while we both run Anguished Unmaking, I opted for a pair of Blessed Alliances and Declaration in Stones. Why Blessed Alliance? Because of Bristling Hydra attacking in on turn four, and also for Blossoming Defense, and Built to Last, and Archangel Avacyn, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Forcing your opponent to ‘Sacrifice’ just solves all your problems. Gaining 4 life never hurts either.

I chose to have a pair of Declaration in Stones mainboard for a couple of reasons. It’s important to have two-drop removal spells in this meta, and ‘exile’ works around indestructible. I also did it because of Haunted Dead, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Prized Amalgam. These cards, and the decks that run them, posed some serious trouble for my original list With two Declaration in Stones mainboard and three Flaying Tendrils in the sideboard, all my zombie problems have disappeared.

Sideboard

Sideboard-wise, I packed what you’d expect a B/W player to bring to the battlefield; Quarantine Field, Lost Legacy and extra copies of cards to punch up numbers of in game two and three. Gonti, Lord of Luxury is probably my favourite Magic: the Gathering card ever printed. I was running him in my mainboard until I realized how poorly he works against aggro decks. Gonti shines against control decks where your opponent has to choose between using a precious counterspell to get rid of him or losing a card from the top four cards of their library. I’ve honestly lost count of the planeswalkers Gonti has stolen for me. He’s stolen removal spells, draw spells, helicopters, gearhulks… He’s amazing. When I run into a control deck, I board out Kalitas for Gonti, and I am almost always rewarded. Don’t believe me? Give him a try.

Can Black/White emerge victorious from the fiery thopter wreckage that is the arrival of Kaladesh? I truly believe so, and I’ve got a fancy new playmat to prove it.