eath is no reprieve from the Orzhov Syndicate's debts.
Everyone pays up eventually. Whether human, thrull, vampire, or even zombie (no, I don't know how that works, either), the Orzhov will force you to work for them long after your flesh has rotted and your spirit has sprung free.
And this week, those creatures are working overtime.
Beatdown decks usually have many weak points. They run out of gas. They're susceptible to mass removal. If they draw the wrong mix of spells on their curve, they stumble and lose.
This week's beatdown deck has none of those problems.
Let's take a look at Ryo Itabashi's take on Orzhov beatdown—Immortal Servitude!
Ryo Itabashi's Project Immortality
The Battle Plan
Immortal Servitude is a card that promises a lot—if you build around it. I've seen all kinds of combo decks that attempted using it, but a lot of them are difficult to set up.
This one's a little different.
The primary plan here is simple: you are playing a beatdown deck that is composed mostly of one-drops. Play as many as you can, attack at every opportunity, and overrun your opponent with your speedy army.
And if you encounter any resistance? Bring them all back to do it over again.
By keeping most of your creatures at one mana, it means Immortal Servitude is four mana to return all the creatures in your graveyard to the battlefield. Even if your opponent blows away your creatures with a turn-four Supreme Verdict, you can untap and bring them all right back!
Additionally, the deck has a bit of a combo element to it.
Cartel Aristocrat allows you to sacrifice a creature for protection from a color—and you can do this as many times as you'd like. If there's a Blood Artist on the battlefield, suddenly you can combo kill your opponent out of nowhere and drain him or her for a bounty of life.
Attack your opponent to death—and if that doesn't work, use a combo kill. Now that's a style of play I can get behind.
Let's take a look through the deck and see what we might change!
For this card breakdown, I'm going to group all of the one-drops into a single category. Since it's all about efficiency and playing the best (and most synergistic one-drops) possible, it makes sense to look at them as a whole.
This deck plays six different one-drops: Deathrite Shaman, Champion of the Parish, Doomed Traveler, Thrull Parasite, Rakdos Cackler, and Diregraf Ghoul. How do you even begin to choose the assortment you want?
The most important factor in choosing these is one key strength: damage output. You want to deal as much damage as possible, and so it's right to choose the cards that allow you to do that.
As a result, I definitely want to keep all of the 2-power one-drops. Diregraf Ghoul and Rakdos Cackler are great fits.
Champion of the Parish doesn't start out at 2 power—but it's not too hard to get him to be attacking for 2 on turn two. This deck isn't overloaded on Humans, but at the same time there are enough that I feel comfortable he can get to at least a 2/2 or 3/3 with consistency.
So how about Doomed Traveler then? It's easy to think that, as a 1/1, he's off the table. However, my goal is to deal as much damage as possible—that includes in the short term and in the long term. Doomed Traveler is a Human to pump up Champion of the Parish, so it will occasionally come with a bonus point of power attached. The Spirit token also deals more damage when you have your Blood Artist engine rolling, and deals more damage through a Supreme Verdict.
The number of Doomed Travelers I want to play? Three. I don't want to draw a hand full of them as my aggressive creature, but they support what else the deck is doing very well and I don't mind drawing one early—or even two.
Deathrite Shaman, on the other hand, not so much. Many of the beatdown decks in this format only play a handful of spells. Against the control decks, I would rather have a base 2-power creature most of the time—and fortunately Standard has a surplus of 2-power one-drops.
Finally, there's Thrull Parasite. On one hand, the extort is a great boon—it helps you use your mana to deal a little extra damage once you're out of one-drops. However, most of the time a creature with 2 power is just going to be more effective at dealing that damage. I'd rather go in that direction.
What creatures do I want to put in? Well, there are three.
The first is Boros Elite. Not only is it a Human for Champion of the Parish, but with the number of one-drops this deck plays, it is quite often going to be a 3/3 on offense. A one-drop on the first turn followed by a pair of one-drops on the second turn—one of which is a Boros Elite—means that the Elite is already punching in for 3 on turn three!
The second is Gravecrawler. While it can't block, the synergy with other Gravecrawlers and Diregraf Ghoul is enough for me to put it in this deck. It just keeps coming back for more, even without Immortal Servitude!
The third one is Dryad Militant. It still helps fight off Snapcaster Mage in a fashion similar to Deathrite Shaman, but it has 2 power of its own so it can strike hard. Maximizing power is important, and the Militant lends itself toward that goal.
Sometimes a problem in decks like this is making sure you can deal the last bit of damage. Blood Artist helps alleviate that issue.
Even if your opponent starts getting back into the game after sucking up a bunch of damage, a Blood Artist—let alone multiple Blood Artists—can finish off the game all on its own. While it is just a 0/1, you usually want to draw multiples, so I'm okay playing the full four copies. Just keep in mind you don't need to cast it early—wait until after you've already cast the rest of your attackers. (Unless your opponent is playing Supreme Verdict. Then get that good artist to his colorful pastels!) It also combos particularly well with the next card...
Cartel Aristocrat is fairly unassuming—but it does a lot of strong work for this deck.
It's a Human for Champion of the Parish. It helps punch damage through. It sets you up for a combo kill with Blood Artist. The numerous small benefits lead up into one bigger package.
Now, with all of that said, its body isn't that strong on its own. A two-mana 2-power creature isn't nearly as exciting in a deck full of single-mana 2-power creatures that a single spell can bring back. This deck wants to play as many one-drops as possible early as it can, and playing too many cards like this will clog up your hand.
The number I'd like to play is three. You'll see one in many games, but you won't risk drawing a bunch. You can still find your combo sometimes, but a lot of games you won't even need it and Blood Artist will get the job done on its own.
Skirsdag High Priest has many benefits. With all of the creatures in this deck, it's not hard to set up the game state to crank out 5/5 Demons each turn. Play creatures on the first few turns, lay a High Priest, and watch your opponent squirm.
However, Skirsdag High Priest doesn't help you beat down early, and it requires you to temporarily slow down your assault when it's Demon-making time. If I could just put one in my hand there would certainly be many situations where it was good, but every card comes at a cost. Each opening hand with Skirsdag High Priest could have another one-drop, removal spell, or land in it instead—and I think a lot of the time I would rather go with the consistency in this beatdown deck.
With that said, this is definitely a card I would consider out of the sideboard for midrange and beatdown mirror matches. You're bound to attrition back and forth, and the ability to pump out 5/5 Demons is going to go a long way.
This card is what separates this deck from every other beatdown deck.
Immortal Servitude is one of the reasons to build the deck this way in the first place—and it definitely goes a long way toward long game resiliency. I think Ryo had the right numbers here, with three copies of this card.
While it's tempting to play four copies of your namesake card you built around, you can't afford having your hand jammed with these. You will only need to see one to win most of the time. Sideboarding the fourth is certainly a solid direction to look at, but I'm happy sticking with three in the main deck to help keep a board presence. Just this once, everybody lives!
For one, it gives you more gas. Played out your hand? Worry not, for Sign in Blood can dig you a little bit deeper! It also helps find that crucial Immortal Servitude when it's time to collect on your debts.
Second, it can also finish off your opponent. If you need to deal those final couple points of damage, Sign in Blood does that admirably.
However, the problem I have with Sign in Blood is it slows you down. Each Sign in Blood you draw could be another, more aggressive card—and in most cases, I would rather have one of those. I'd prefer to cut Sign in Blood to load up on one-drops.
In the same way, it's crucial to make sure you have the creatures to attack over and over again with this deck, the same is true with making sure you can clear the way so your creatures even can attack in the first place. This unconditional removal spell goes a long way to making sure that happens.
To top things off, Orzhov Charm can also return a one-drop from your graveyard to the battlefield. Since this deck has plenty of one-drops, it gives you a nice instant-speed reanimation trick against control decks that seek to shut down your aggressive strategy. It's always nice when your removal spell isn't dead against control decks, and Orzhov Charm certainly isn't. I'd like to keep all three copies Ryo originally put in this deck.
No Cartel Aristocrat and need to sacrifice your board? Killing Wave will do nicely! The idea behind Killing Wave in this deck is that once you've backed your opponent into a rough spot early on, he or she can't afford to pay much life to Killing Wave. And, if you have a Blood Artist, you can just play it for one mana, sacrifice all of your creatures, and kill your opponent outright!
There are a couple problems with this plan. The first is that this deck doesn't have a ton of lands in the first place, so you aren't going to be casting Killing Wave for that high of a number. The second is that often you'll be able to throw your creatures away pretty easily if you want to by making alpha strikes and attacking with everyone, so you don't need to use Killing Wave to make your Blood Artist better.
There are some situations where Killing Wave is just what you want, like to speed you up against control decks when you have a Blood Artist, for example. However, it's not going to be better than more creatures or Orzhov Charm often enough that I want to include it.
This might look like a slightly weird conclusion on the surface, but I actually like Ryo's strategic one-of Blind Obedience a lot.
It's a card you never want to draw two of, and it isn't always good. However, if it's in your opening hand, you can craft a game plan around it. When you're attacking for such big chunks as this deck is, slowing down your opponent's ability to block with a Loxodon Smiter or Thragtusk goes a long way toward winning the game. Plus, the extorting is a nice little bonus to give you one extra way to deal those final few points of damage if the game goes long.
With all of that in mind, it brings the final decklist to:
Gavin Verhey's Everybody Lives
Now, there are a few more ways you could modify this deck. If you wanted to go with a hyper-combo strategy, you could play cards like Bloodthrone Vampire. Alternatively, you could move a little slower and play cards like Lingering Souls. However, at that point you may want to scrap the Immortal Servitude idea all together.
If you're looking for a blistering-fast beatdown deck with a resilient plan in the form of Immortal Servitude, this is a pretty strong—and unique—option. Give it a try!
This Immortal Servitude deck wasn't the only great Orzhov deck sent into me. Check out some of these other exciting Orzhov decklists!
Thomas Conley's Descent into Extortion
Mark Ian Alloso's Orzhov Blink Aggro
Mahdi's Immortal Ratitude
Richard Murphy's Exquisite Orzhov
Taishiro Kenmotsu's Orzhov Control
Derpotar's WB Aggro Humans
John Valentine's Exquisite Control
Joseph Cugliari's The Dark
Ian Taylor's Ravenous Humans
Quinn Freedman's WB Tokens
Angelica's Heartless Angels
Takahashi Kazuyasu's Double Loop
Jtargonaut's Serra's Lunge Combo
Asmund Jacobsen's Orzhovcrawler Combo
Yvo Warmers's Chalice Of Death
Chris Shipman's Sphere of Obedience
Kazuaki Yamamoto's Faithful Servitude
Out of the City, Into the Maze!
It's hard to believe, but in two short weeks we will hit the beginning of Dragon's Maze previews! There are a ton of exciting cards just around the corner. I get to show off a particularly powerful one in the first week—so let's make some decks to talk about it!
Here are the restrictions:
Restrictions: Your deck must be at least green and white. (Playing other colors is okay as well. Deadline: Sunday, March 31, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists by clicking on "respond via email" below. Please submit decklists using the following template
4 Other Spell
4 Other Spell
I'm excited to see what you all send in! Dragon's Maze is a pretty exciting set—and I can't wait to start putting my first preview card into decks.
In the meantime, feel free to let me know if you have any feedback on this column—I always read through everything you have to say. Feel free to post in the forums below, or send me a tweet!
I'll be back next week, where we get especially topical: it's time to show off the results of the topical blend from the poll in last week's article. It has resulted in an article like none other—I don't think you'll want to miss it.
Until then, have fun building decks for my Dragon's Maze preview card!
When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he wanted a job making Magic cards. Ten years later, his dream was realized as his combined success as a professional player, deck builder, and writer brought him into Wizards R&D during 2011. He's been writing Magic articles since 2005 and has no plans to stop.