Meddling Orzhov Oppression

Sorry, Church of Deals! Yes, I know we're in the midst of your theme week, but I'd like to begin by revisiting last week's guild before we tear into the meddling of Orzhov Oppression. Like the Orzhov themselves, the Dimir are somewhat misunderstood and multifaceted. On the one hand, some choose to see them as simple—if a touch sinister—information brokers, stealth agents, and spies for hire. There's a case to be made here, but it would be the very height of naïveté to dismiss the possibility that there's something even more at work behind the scenes. Like the fabled Illuminati, perhaps what the Dimir are after isn't leverage, but control. Just putting it out there for a moment, but we’ll come back to it.

Kingpin's Pet
But now, let's turn our attention to the Orzhov, the last of the five guilds in Gatecrash to get the meddling treatment! If you're new to the series, this is where we take an Intro Pack deck and tune it to become a stronger and more consistent representative of the deck's themes. Not only that, but we do so using only commons and uncommons and—even then—only cards from sets already present in the deck. This keeps it accessible and affordable, but by the same token, it also lets the deck's themes and mechanics shine a little more brightly. Rares and mythics tend to be splashier cards, and while their power is undeniable you can do a lot of solid work on a deck's fundamentals with a restricted card pool.

And what fundamentals this deck has in store! Orzhov Oppression is a very rare bird, a precon deck that uses the "bleeder" archetype. Many precons tend to stick somewhat closely to the stock formula of “24 creatures + 12 supporting spells = 20 damage in the red zone.” When we find decks that look to tread the lesser-worn paths to glory, they're a lot of fun to build from. In this case, that's the Orzhov's signature extort mechanic. Extort lets you drain an opponent for a single point of life each time you cast a spell. That doesn't seem like a lot at first, but when you start adding up the points, it can really decide a game in your favor. Still, it does demand some tactical consideration when building around it because there's a hidden downside to the mechanic that isn't always obvious. In short, it makes your deck slower.

If it costs a single mana to pay for an extort when casting a spell, it's fair to say that you should imagine a deck in which all of your spells cost 1 more mana to play. That's not entirely fair since you can always decline to extort (and sometimes should), but the deck only really kicks into high gear when you have more than one extort running at the same time. As we look at the deck, keep an eye out for two things—first, ways to maximize extort through card selection; second, ways to keep us upright until we manage to bring our engine up to speed. Extort has a knack for pulling you back out of the danger zone in close games once it starts firing off reliably, but we want to be sure that we don't fall when we're at our weakest. For the Orzhov, that's the early-to-mid-game while we build up our supporting players.

Let's start our deck-building by taking a look at the stock list:

Cast Out

Although the stock list had a fair distribution of extort creatures, it also packed in a number of less-exciting bodies to round out the deck. The Guardian Lions have the right idea, delivering a high-toughness creature that can soak up a ton of threat on the battlefield and live to do it again each turn. The problem, though, is that it costs 5 mana. As we'll see, defense is crucial to the deck's success, but by the time this guy comes along, you should already be on your way to controlling the outcome of the game. He can take the Silvercoat Lion with him, a vanilla "bear" that doesn't do enough here either.

Syndicate Enforcer
In the same way, we can eliminate the Zombie Goliath. Although it packs a nice punch and is a staple go-to card in these sorts of decks, we want to avoid expensive cards because they reduce our opportunities for extort. The Smog Elemental is cute—and brutal to your buddy with the Spirit-tokens deck from Innistrad—but again, we need to keep the deck's overall budget fairly tight. 6 mana doesn't leave enough room for extortion, and it’s more that it’s a 3/3 flyer that's going to consistently lead you to triumph.

The Shadow Alley Denizen is a 1-drop with a nifty trick of making one of your creatures temporarily evasive (provided your opponent isn't running the same colors), and evasion is something we'll be very keen on in this deck. That said, there are better ways to find it than with her, so she receives a pink slip. Finally, we'll get rid of the Syndicate Enforcer. Although he has the right keyword, he's the worst of his kind here—clunkily expensive at 4 mana, unable to soak up much incoming damage thanks to his 2 toughness, and lacking evasion, he'll be difficult to swing in with for damage. Sorry, buddy; go hail the Denizen a cab.

Now let's turn our attentions to the noncreature supporting suite. As we'd expect, it's a largely inconsistent smattering of the spells and effects you'd expect. Murder is superb removal, and we'll be keeping that. So is One Thousand Lashes. But everything else we can safely jettison to make room. They're not bad cards, but variety is the necessary sacrifice for consistency.

Rebuilding the Faith

Basilica Screecher
Thus far, we've removed a lot of the chaff, giving us plenty of room to rebuild the Orzhov. We'll begin by fleshing out some of the extort cards, as we'll want to carry as much of these as we can—especially at the cheaper casting costs. There is a 1-drop extort creature in the Thrull Parasite, but we're not so desperate to fuel the mechanic that we're willing to take a big hit to playability. Instead, we'll add in one more Basilica Screecher to give us the full play set. The Screecher in many ways is the model Orzhov. It's cheap at 2 mana, meaning it can help you chain multiple extorts later in the game. It flies, so it's harder for your opponent to block. And it's asymmetrically weighted at the backend, so it can even do a bit of blocking in a pinch.

Next up is the Syndic of Tithes. These weren't included in the original deck, but they fill a good role here. Though a 2/2 body isn't going to do much on the battlefield and it lacks evasion, it still brings the mechanic to the table at a cheap cost. We'll also be adding a second Vizkopa Guildmage to the mix. The Guildmages set up a nasty combo with extort, essentially doubling your damage output. That said, they're much better late (when you can extort multiple times), so we're happy with two. We'll also be keeping the Vindicate-on-a-stick, the High Priest of Penance, since he is a speed bump par excellence for your opponent and can help buy you the time you need to entrench your position.

Moving up to the 3-drops, we'll also want to stock this step on the curve. Basilica Guards are perfect fits thanks to their defensive nature, and 4 toughness is quite hardy. We'll add in two more to have the full play set. We'll also be rounding out the Kingpin's Pets. Between the 2-drops and 3-drops, we have a tidy sum of nineteen creatures, and we should expect to see the deck's bleeder engine activate fairly early.

For a little more muscle, we'll also be taking a pair of Knight of Obligation. These keep the mechanical theme alive while giving you a body that can both attack and defend—a solid fit. We'll also retain the services of the Treasury Thrull. Although it has a price tag to match its size, it’s a serviceable closer that can work some card-advantage magic each time it attacks.

Heresy

Tormented Soul
That brings us to the last creature in the deck . . . the lowly Tormented Soul. Although the Orzhov have put it to good purpose, adding to the relentless drip of damage the deck can wring out each turn, our friend here is harboring a dirty little secret: It's a double agent! If we established earlier that the Dimir are rather like the Illuminati or some other shadowy conspiracy group, it only makes sense that they'd try to infiltrate the Orzhov. The Church wields both influence and wealth, an intoxicating combination of power that Lazav surely must fix a lustful eye upon. The purists might lament that we're "mixing guilds," but in fairness, we've kept that to a minimum over the course of these meddlings. This time, it was too good to pass up! We're going for a full play set of Souls, and you can probably guess what's coming next.

For the noncreature package, we'll be filling out some of the deck's removal. We'll be adding two more Murders because, let's face it, murder is something this deck can't have enough of. A 3-mana nuke to your opponent's best creature—while being another spell to trigger extorts—is a splendid two-for-one opportunity. The same goes with One Thousand Lashes, which doesn't kill its victim but instead leaves it there to suffer and bleed out your opponent turn after relentless turn.

As for the rest of the spells, we'll be going with a trio of Shadow Slices and pair of Mental Vaporss. These cipher cards are strong contenders here, helping accelerate your opponent's demise while keeping him mentally feeble and off-balance. It wouldn't be worth it for just a play set of Tormented Souls, but with another eight flyers in the deck, you'll seldom have much difficulty generating maximal value from them. Here's the final decklist.

Playing It Out

Mental Vapors
I took the deck back to the battlefield to recreate the showdown it had with Simic Synthesis for our review at Ertai's Lament. The deck did well enough before, but it had a certain looseness that gave the Simic room to grow—literally. This time, the Orzhov showed no such mercies. A two-land keep for the opener was the riskiest opening hand on the night, but thanks to Murders, I was able to keep anything that grew too large in check. As expected, there were plenty of opportunities for extort to shine, and in combination with my flyers, I was able to whittle Sam down to nothing.

The next game highlighted the wicked synergy that exists between the two guilds. When I was able to cipher a Mental Vaporss onto a Tormented Soul, Sam's hand was quickly reduced to tatters, while each recast gave me a new opportunity to extort. Overall, most games seemed to go the way of evasive damage, with the welcome reach of the guild's signature mechanic accounting for a sizable chunk of the damage, and it certainly felt to Sam like the death of a thousand cuts.

If there's a weakness in the deck, it’s that the deck is a little pricey with its mana costs. After my brush with death off the opening two-lander, I typically shipped them for mulligans unless the hand was very strong. Three lands were about what I wanted to see. More so than the other guilds, the Orzhov really rely on that mana to set themselves up, and playing a deck that bears full fruit only later in the game gives you more chances to stall out on missed land drops. It's a gamble, but when everything comes together and you're extorting your opponent for 3 life a turn, the result is all but inevitable.




Thanks for joining me on this meddling trek through the ten guilds of Ravnica. I hope you've found building off Intro Packs as fun and rewarding as I have! These last ten articles have been something of a trial run here on Gathering Magic, so please let us know in the comments below if you'd like to see more of them through Dragon's Maze and beyond.

Jay Kirkman
@ErtaisLament