Welcome to Gatecrash Week!
I hope everyone who wanted to was able to get out to a Prerelease event this past weekend. I am admittedly not a competitive player these days, but I do love getting an early crack at the new set. It's nice to switch things up and take a stab at a different format once in a while too.
I gotta admit, though, that I just can't get used to 40-card decks. I'm so used to Commander decks that I find myself looking around nervously all the time to make sure the other half of my cards didn't get knocked on the floor or something. I also end up a little surprised when I draw multiples of a nonland card; if ever you get paired against me, make some notes on the duplicates you see in the first game and watch my face in the next ones. I'm positive I'm throwing out tells like an amateur poker player on a weekend trip to Vegas.
Anyway, the one thing I do look forward to after a weekend of playing new cards (terribly) is a chance to get back and start brewing in Commander with all of the new toys the set brings to us. For Gatecrash Week, the Commander writers here at StarCityGames.com decided to divvy up the new legendary offerings and get a bit of a jump on things, kind of like we did with Return to Ravnica. Sean laid early claim to the Simic Combine, and I'm pretty sure that Bennie has something in his contract stipulating that he gets first shot at anything big and green, so I decided to take a look at the darker side of this fair city with Obzedat, leader of the Orzhov.
Ghost Council 2.0 is a tough nut to crack for Commander. He's going to see a ton of love in both Limited and Standard, but things are a little different in this format. Let's take a look at how the new school stacks up against the old school before we take a look at where I went with the deck.
In all honesty, the size and casting cost increases are so marginal that they barely matter in comparison. Typically, the threshold for respectable creature size in this format starts at 6/6, so neither the old nor the new GC really hits the mark anyway. Both pack the same color requirements, so an extra colorless mana isn't really a make-or-break proposition (and neither one is particularly easy in this area to begin with, necessitating a decent focus on not overdoing it with colorless utility lands.)
From there, things get a little trickier. Obzedat doubles up on the payoff from the enters-the-battlefield trigger and doesn't require an additional creature sacrifice to get moving, at the expense of being able to choose when and where to activate the ability. This is tough to quantify; in theory, the OG Council is more flexible and able to dodge instant speed removal, but without support, he can get caught out in the open and easily fall to a Wrath of God. 2.0 is never sticking around to let that happen.
Realistically, this probably ends up a push. It will come down to your play style and preference for power over flexibility (or vice-versa.). It might even come down to the art (I'm down with the original over the new personally) or whether you manage to pull one from a pack and resist trading it to the Standard crowd for the huge value it currently enjoys. The similarities between the two probably mean that it's not so much which one is at the helm but what's on the ship that really matters.
Let's weigh anchor and see what I'm setting sail with, shall we?
Going Off the Reservation
This is what happens when someone hands me a blank sheet of paper and a box of crayons. I get a little crazy.
I wanted to take this deck and article in a different and unexpected direction. There are tons of examples of W/B Commander decks out there, and since this theme week allows me to work on an original design with neither the constraint of an existing reader submission nor the boundaries of my own personal collection (or wallet), I decided to get a little crazy.
Theme deck crazy.
Welcome to "The Failed Republic."
This build looks at a city ruled by a corrupt cabal of ghostly bureaucrats. There's a struggle between a failed ruling class that tried to maintain an honorable way of business and life, and an ever-growing cast of unscrupulous characters who seek to take advantage of the economy, the people, and even the military for personal gain. It's a society broken under the fear of a leadership constantly walking the line between law and lawlessness. There's murder, blackmail, and extortion at every turn and a civilization doomed to failure.
This place is a mess, a society on the edge of extinction. Let me walk you through the deck that paints the picture.
The Evil Dictator: Obzedat, Ghost Council
The rulers of this corrupted city are a governing body of bloated Spirits. They disappear with regularity, not willing to let others have access to them when at their most vulnerable state, but quickly reappear with a speedy vengeance to reap, pillage, and profit from the blood of their constituents.
The Orzhov rule this version of Ravnica, and their sphere of influence is expanding. Back in the day, schemes were plotted solely from the clan headquarters at Orzhova, the Church of Deals. That has now expanded with the addition of the Orzhov Basilica and the new Orzhov Guildgate. It isn't an uncommon sight to see a once-peaceful church taken over and converted into a dark Cathedral of War, the Basilica Screechers diving in and out of the marble alcoves with a dreadful banshee's wail. The old ruling class still maintains a fading foothold on the city from deep within Eiganjo Castle, but the City of Shadows is beginning to take its toll on everyone and the bright walls of the fortress have faded and aged into a Tarnished Citadel.
Some semblance of normalcy still remains for the citizens. They venture out to the High Market to procure supplies and needed services and unwind by taking in the spectacle that is the Grand Coliseum. Nonetheless, the Tower of the Magistrate is a truly Forbidding Watchtower that hangs over the city like a specter of death. None ever escape its gaze.
And all the while, deep below the city, the Orzhov continue to amass wealth in the Cabal Coffers…
The Fall of the Old Guard
It wasn't always like this.
The city used to be bright and prosperous. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad once gazed out over the skyline from his throne, a hard-edged ruler who nonetheless had a streak of kindness and a desire to make his city stronger through his rule. The might of his military ruling class kept a steady peace before Obzedat arrived and overran them all in a bloody Rout, his Overwhelming Forces decimating Sorin's ranks in little to no time at all. A bloody battle of Attrition took place, leaving nothing left but the Ravages of War when the dust cleared. Sorin was soundly defeated, and the Ghost Council of Orzhova forced an Armistice on the fallen Lord, announcing it to the city with the clarion call of their Marshal's Anthem.
In reality, there was no deal, and the old guard was simply driven to extinction. Where once there was a proud Knight of Glory, it was now replaced with a corrupt and murderous Knight of Infamy. Sorin withdrew deep into the castle and ceded all power, and the remaining pockets of his old guard were rounded up and forced into slave labor; their badges replaced with chains, their Swords to Plowshares. Never again would the citizens see their Valor on display, and to this day the only remnants of what once was—the royal Throne, Scepter, and Crown of Empires and the Imperial Seal—silently collect dust in the darkness of a forgotten museum.
The Orzhova installed Darien, King of Kjeldor as a puppet dictator to rule the city outwardly and answer to their every whim behind closed doors, and with that, they had realized a complete Martial Coup.
Things Get Worse
Once the path to rule the city was clear, the Orzhov wasted no time. A new government was put into place, filled with many a Corrupt Official unafraid to pay for Ambition's Cost to gain a Promise of Power. A ruling body filled with many an inept senator or Sengir Autocrat engaged at first in Night Dealings to hide their festering corruption but soon dropped all vestiges of honor and outwardly called on Underworld Connections to force a Cruel Bargain or Infernal Contract on the unprotected people living under their rule.
The innocent city dwellers were punished deeply by a cruel justice system unafraid to hand down a Merciless Eviction in order to snatch up prime real estate; this in turn was often given in a Gift of Estates to a crooked landowner or an Ogre Slumlord. The rent doubled, and the condition of the buildings were nearly in ruin.
The citizens were doubly careful not to run afoul of the "law," lest they be forced before a Corrupt Court Official and his rigged and Crooked Scales of justice. Once fair, judicious and Noetic, these Culling Scales now manipulated by a Syndic of Tithes forced a simple choice: be made an example by the Bond of a Martyr's Cause and lose everything you've worked for or Sign in Blood and offer a forced Tithe to the Orzhova that was more often than not more than anyone could afford to pay. To stand up and fight was a sure way to disappear forever via an admission of guilt coerced by the Vizikopa Confessor and banishment to the bowels of a Ghostly Prison.
Even the once-proud marketplace now lays in ruin. Honest business eventually gave way to the Black Market dealings of seedy businessmen. Trustworthy establishments closed shop, forced to borrow money and live in fear of the Debtors' Knell after an unreasonable Land Tax left them owing more than they could reasonably afford to pay.
The banks were no longer any help either; attempting to procure a loan to stay afloat would mean agreeing to an exorbitant interest rate from the Icatian Moneychanger, and defaulted payments would lead to visits from the financial institution's Spelltithe Enforcer that typically ended with worldly possessions piled onto the Treasury Thrull for repossession. Neither option being all that favorable, complete family inheritances were often flung headlong into The Abyss.
The Current State of Affairs
The fair city is now a shell of its former self. Residents have largely disappeared, sneaking away under cover of night or disappearing after midnight visits from a Syndicate Enforcer. Soldiers are nothing more than mercenaries, proud warriors now forced into the role of Knight of Obligation to make ends meet. Even the once-noble Basilica Guards are unafraid to resort to petty theft to keep food on the table.
Those that remain are burdened by a Blind Obedience to Obzedat, fearful of the otherworldly Temporal Extortion the ghostly cabal wields but silently praying that a Day of Judgment will someday arrive to rescue them from the hellish Nether Void of their existence.
Summing It All Up
Now, this is admittedly very heavy-handed in the theme department (and heavier in the creative writing department, for which I deeply apologize…). Nonetheless, the deck within can still stand on its own and should actually be a decent little midrange build for group games.
It will want to leverage the new extort cards to keep gaining incremental life and slowly bleed out opponents. There's a nod to exalted as well, which should help to make Obzedat a potentially solid way to win the game on the back of commander damage. For an on-theme B/W deck, it still picks up some solid mana acceleration in the way of Land Tax, Tithe, Gift of Estates, and Black Market, and there are plenty of control elements as well, from the shiny-and-new Merciless Eviction to Culling Scales and Overwhelming Forces.
The life gain is there to fuel the draw that taxes the deck, from Promise of Power to Infernal Contract and Ambition's Cost. And while I typically dislike mass land destruction, Ravages of War can be a game-ender on the heels of Obzedat, and tossing in Temporal Extortion at the right time can easily do the trick as well.
I'm not saying that this is the strongest deck out there. There are certainly some on-theme stinkers present, but if you play smart and try to be the "third-biggest threat" at the table, this deck should hang right in to the very end.
- 1 Basilica Guards
- 1 Basilica Screecher
- 1 Corrupt Court Official
- 1 Corrupt Official
- 1 Corrupting Licid
- 1 Crypt Ghast
- 1 Icatian Moneychanger
- 1 Kingpin's Pet
- 1 Knight of Glory
- 1 Knight of Infamy
- 1 Knight of Obligation
- 1 Ogre Slumlord
- 1 Sengir Autocrat
- 1 Spelltithe Enforcer
- 1 Syndic of Tithes
- 1 Syndicate Enforcer
- 1 Thrull Parasite
- 1 Treasury Thrull
- 1 Valor
- 1 Vizkopa Confessor
- 1 Darien, King of Kjeldor
- 1 Ghost Council of Orzhova
- 1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
- 1 Crooked Scales
- 1 Crown of Empires
- 1 Culling Scales
- 1 Noetic Scales
- 1 Scepter of Empires
- 1 Throne of Empires
- 1 Armistice
- 1 Attrition
- 1 Black Market
- 1 Blind Obedience
- 1 Bloodchief Ascension
- 1 Debtors' Knell
- 1 Ghostly Prison
- 1 Land Tax
- 1 Marshal's Anthem
- 1 Martyr's Bond
- 1 Martyr's Cause
- 1 Night Dealings
- 1 Underworld Connections
- 1 Mana Tithe
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Tithe
- 1 Ambition's Cost
- 1 Cruel Bargain
- 1 Day of Judgment
- 1 Gift of Estates
- 1 Imperial Seal
- 1 Infernal Contract
- 1 Martial Coup
- 1 Merciless Eviction
- 1 Overwhelming Forces
- 1 Promise of Power
- 1 Ravages of War
- 1 Rout
- 1 Sign in Blood
- 1 Temporal Extortion
- 1 Nether Void
- 1 The Abyss
With the thematic inclusion of some of the rarest and most sought after cards from the Portal expansions, it's very clear that the rulers let the city slide into a massive budget deficit as a consequence of poor fiscal planning and embezzlement on all levels. This reckless financial policy has brought about total fiscal ruin!
How do you like that? Even the cost is on-theme here. Am I on a roll or what?
Here's the breakdown, card-by-card:
|Syndic of Tithes||$0.15|
|Crown of Empires||$0.25|
|Knight of Obligation||$0.25|
|Orzhova, Church of Deals||$0.25|
|Scepter of Empires||$0.25|
|Sign in Blood||$0.25|
|Throne of Empires||$0.49|
|Knight of Infamy||$0.99|
|Promise of Power||$0.99|
|Knight of Glory||$1.49|
|Day of Judgment||$1.49|
|Ghost Council of Orzhova||$1.99|
|Cathedral of War||$2.99|
|Gift of Estates||$2.99|
|Darien, King of Kjeldor||$3.49|
|Swords to Plowshares||$3.99|
|City of Shadows||$4.99|
|Tower of the Magistrate||$7.99|
|Corrupt Court Official||$9.99|
|Sorin, Lord of Innistrad||$21.99|
|Obzedat, Ghost Council||$24.99|
|Ravages of War||$249.99|
I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it in style, folks. And yes, I probably do need to get my medication looked at.
Luckily for those of you interested in putting this deck together, you can shave roughly $1,250 off the price by substituting some lower-dollar selections for the four cards at the bottom of the list. Off the top of my head, you can stick with the same rough functionality and go with Wrath of God, Armageddon, Magus of the Abyss, and Plague Wind.
I hope you all enjoyed this little escape from the norm. It's a departure for me (and one that won't happen all that often—please stop the cheering), but I had a wonderful time piecing it all together.
Before I head out for the week, I want to put out a call to the Dear Azamireaders to help Sean and me out a little bit. Last week, Sean noted that he and I might cross paths someday to try a deck build-off stemming from the same submission, with the goal of coming in under the $20 budget that we offer in credit to StarCityGames.com for being a part of the show each week.
It got me thinking. We share an article space, but Sean and I have never actually crossed paths before. While it is clear that we share many similar beliefs regarding Commander as a format, I suspect that we also approach things from very different angles, so this should be a fascinating exercise.
What I'd like from you, should you choose, is a submission that you think would be a great one for this little contest. If you have something that you think would be a solid deck for us both to put our personal signatures on or you want to come up with something from scratch that fits the bill, submit it to Dear Azamiand make sure to point it out to us in the email subject. We'll hash out the details and get to work very soon.
Thanks again, everyone. Enjoy the rest of Gatecrash Week!
I am Izzet. Besides being the main colors that I usually flock to when I build decks or draft (the best time I ever had in Standard was playing Adrian Sullivan's "Eminent Domain" list!), I'm also very much behind the philosophy; I'm at my happiest tinkering around with things, understanding them, and experimenting with them. Any wonder that my background is in computers, graphic and web design, and my degree is in film theory and production? ;)
Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We're always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Kris' Reaper King deck or Andrew's Lovisa Coldeyes deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azamiincludes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com !
Email us a deck submission using this link here!
Like what you've seen? Feel free to explore more of "Dear Azami" here!Feel free to follow Sean on Facebook... Sometimes there are extra surprises and bonus content to be found over on his Facebook Fan Page, as well as previews of the next week's column at the end of the week! Follow Cassidy on his Facebook page or check out his Commander blog!