Meddling Orzhov Power

Welcome to another Intro Pack Meddling for Dragon's Maze! Today, it's the Church of Deals that goes into the spotlight. If you're just joining us, we're doing something a little different this time around. Rather than the customary Meddling in which we rebuild a preconstructed deck using commons and uncommons from the sets represented in the deck, for Dragon's Maze, we're combining both of the guild’s decks into one card pool and then distilling an optimal sixty-card build from it.

About the Orzhov

Basilica Screecher
From our experience playing the Orzhov, there are a few things we'll want to bear in mind as we pare away the superfluous and extraneous on our way to our goal.

  • The Orzhov's mechanic extort essentially adds 1 or more mana to almost everything we cast. Although it won't always be correct to delay the casting of a spell just to nab an extort trigger, we can maximize our opportunities to use it by running less expensive cards.
  • This is a slow strategy. Although we can afford to take some early hits, the Orzhov are quite susceptible to being overrun early against an aggressive opponent.
  • Therefore, erecting a proper defense that puts the red zone in a state of gridlock, thus letting us extort from a safe distance, is optimal.
  • We can hasten the inevitable by employing evasive creatures to whittle down our opponent.

Now let's take a look at the cards we have to work with. Rather than posting one massive card pool up front, I'm going to carve out the relevant cards as we go. That should make it a little easier to follow. On that note, let's start brewing!

The Early Game (1- to 2-Drops)

The header here is something of a misnomer here, for the Orzhov asks much more of its cheaper plays than to simply be present early in a game. Because of the power of extort, cheaper cards are especially welcome later in the game as well, giving them an extra bit of versatility. This compels us to look a little more closely at the early cards available to us.

High Priest of Penance

The first thing we'll want to do is grab every extort body we can. Unlike some of the other guilds' decks, the Orzhov mechanic isn't supplemental to the deck winning—it's essential. We'll want to come out of this with a solid core of these enablers so that we can reliably begin bleeding our opponent out early and often. That snap-includes a play set of Basilica Screechers and the pair of Tithe Drinkers. As a Vindicate-on-a-stick, the High Priest of Penance is a superb defensive tripwire, and as it was for the Simic, defense is an essential consideration. The Simic wanted some synergy by having high-toughness creatures that triggered evolve. For the Orzhov's purposes, defensive options give us a wall to stand behind as we look to bring our bleeder engine online.

For that reason, we'll also be grabbing the Bane Alley Blackguards. These aren't as sexy as some of the other options open to us, but they're an interesting role-filler. Historically, black's go-to was the Scathe Zombies, a classic model of black's relative inefficiency. Innistrad remedied that with the Walking Corpse, and the Blackguards play in that same model—though nicely skewed toward defense. Finally, the Vizkopa Guildmage is an easy keep, given the utility of both abilities she brings to the table.

Inking their severance packages are the Silvercoat Lion, Shadow Alley Denizen, and Tormented Soul. The Lion is too weak when compared to the Blackguards. We won't be looking to do a lot of damage on the ground with this deck, so a 2/2 is something of a liability here. By the same token, the other two don't carry enough weight to keep, either. We'll look mainly in the air and through bleeder effects for our win conditions, with a few notable exceptions. These just don't do enough.

The Midgame (3- to 4-Drops)

Kingpin's Pet

Again, we'll want to stock the ranks with extort creatures, which means we'll take the trio of Basilica Guards and Kingpin's Pets as well as the miser's copy of Knight of Obligation. Notice something missing? That’s right: I'm taking a pass on the Syndicate Enforcers. Of all the extort options we have in Orzhov, these are amongst the worst. A 4-mana 3/2 is fairly poor as far as our creatures go, and as mentioned above, we really want to stay out of the ground game unless creatures bring something extra to the table. In this case, having a couple more instances of the guild's mechanic isn't quite enough. Because we'll want to extort every spell we can—ideally multiple times—we need to be ruthless when assessing our more expensive options.

Paying 4 mana for the Crypt Ghast, meanwhile, is a no-brainer. Not only does it have that wonderful keyword, but it can give you a massive mana boost once it hits the table. This was a great inclusion in Orzhov Power, and it’s one we'll gladly accept. Finally, we'll want that pair of Ubul Sar Gatekeepers. While we'll be shedding the slow Guildgates in some of our faster builds, the Orzhov—like the Simic—are quite happy with the versatility. With removal quite dear in this format, we can't turn our back on the opportunity to take out opposing Guildmages or other undesirables. Its 4 toughness also plays right in to the deck's wagon-circle defenses.

So, what didn't make the cut? The Sin Collector is a nice two-for-one opportunity, but if you whiff on your opponent's hand, all that's left behind is a 2/1 creature—the very opposite of what we'd want to be fielding. For that reason, it's just not worth the risk. The Dark Revenant is a 2/2 flyer that never dies, and again it's a cute ability that doesn't justify the price tag. Although at first it seems like a cute chump-blocker that's effectively immortal, the fact that you never see another new card brings you no closer to solving the problem that the Revenant is keeping at bay for you.

The Late Game (5-Drops and Up)

Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts

Having now built the deck's foundations, we can now take a few jewels for the crown. Most of these, however, really aren't worth their cardboard. The Bazaar Krovod was a fair fit in the Azorius Advance Intro Pack, where a stocky attacker that buffed another attacker was a welcome addition. Here, it just doesn't mesh well with the rest of the deck. The Guardian Lions, on the other hand, are "too much of a good thing." We're delighted to take cheaper blockers to thicken up the red zone, but the Lions are over the top.

Maw of the Obzedat is an interesting card, and I normally enjoy sacrifice shenanigans. Generally, though, they need to involve either token generation or graveyard recursion to offset the card disadvantage incurred by popping your own creeps. This deck has neither, which means you'll probably be using it most often to try to close out a wounded opponent. Of course, there's a certain negative synergy within the card—you want to have a lot of creatures to maximize the bonus to your team, but each one you pop results in there being one fewer creature to benefit from the bonus. With a load of Spirit tokens, this might work a trick, but here, we're looking to be a bit more surgical. The Smog Elementals would be a fit there, too, but like the Maw, they're just not synergistic enough for a tight extort build. Finally, the Zombie Goliath can head for the exit, too.

What does that leave? Well, we'll keep the flashy rare bombs in Treasury Thrull and Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts, even if she commands a massive price tag. We'll also retain the services of the Steeple Rocs. Although they're vulnerable to small pings of damage, 3 power in the air with first strike is quite strong. If needed, first strike also serves exceptionally well on defense, giving the Rocs box-to-box play.

The Support Suite

One Thousand Lashes
Now that we've assembled our creatures, it's time to look at the spells. Here's what we have to work with:

Angelic Edict
This cull is a lot easier to do—Intro Packs often pack in a number of different effects for fun and variety, but we're looking to end up with a fairly consistent deck. The first thing we'll want, naturally, is removal. Although removal isn't all that great here, there's enough to give us some ability to resolve threats from across the table. We'll certainly want the Angelic Edicts, which, while pricey remove, a target creature or enchantment from the game altogether. Executioner's Swing is a bit conditional, unable to deal with an annoying utility creature of your opponent that's not drawing a wage for its activities in the red zone. Still, it's a substantial debuff for a cheap investment.

Next, we find Murder, which is an easy pick, as is One Thousand Lashes. For 1 mana more, this is an Arrest with teeth, helping us bleed out our opponent. After that, we begin to have to hold our nose as we pick our cards. Sure Assassin's Strike puts you up an extra card by forcing your opponent to discard one, but it costs 6. Fatal Fumes, meanwhile, wouldn't even kill off one of our Bane Alley Blackguards for its 4 mana, but removal is removal. The more of our opponent's attackers we can kill off, the longer we'll have to drain our opponent dry. It should be little surprise, then, that we'll also grab the Profit // Loss.

The final addition to the deck are a pair of Orzhov Keyrunes. These are superior to the Cluestones, as they both cost the same and offer some additional mana, but the Keyrunes also can become a 1/4 with lifelink. Ideally, they're added ramp, but in a pinch, they can help fortify your defenses and gain a little life back in the process. We'll also be including the full play set of Orzhov Guildgates. Here's our final build.

The Matchups

Sam and I recreated our matchup that we did for Ertai's Lament, with her piloting Azorius Authority. This was a great place to contrast deck styles, with the Azorius looking to get in through the red zone on the back of detain and my deck trying to stall and drain for the win. My air force was a little less effective here given the Azorius options in the sky, but then that's what the removal's for, right?

The meddled Orzhov deck absolutely bullied poor Sam. In fairness to her, the stock Azorius deck wasn't as aggressive as it needed to be out of the box, so I was consistently able to erect my defenses in fairly short order. Sure, she could get in some early hits, particularly by detaining a Blackguard or so, but in almost every game, if she didn't have a substantial foothold in by the midgame, I'd simply be able to make up the lost life through extort while her creatures increasingly found it difficult to score hits against my life total. Sam did manage to deploy Lavinia of the Tenth, and given the relatively inexpensive cost of many of my creatures, it was a very effective play, but she was completely outclassed by Teysa.