Religion is a touchy subject for a lot of humans. People are quick to assume a homogeneity amongst religious folk, whether or not the aforementioned are themselves religious. I find it just as frustrating when a Christian universalizes their own sect's dogma as it is when an Atheist dismisses millions of Muslims based on the actions of a radical few. Even within these umbrellas there are vibrant diversities of belief.
This past weekend I spent some time at the naming ceremony for my tiny Jewish niece. Now, I was raised a Quaker, a religion which still holds my soul and my attention, if not my weekly attendance at a Meeting House. Quakers, or at least the Philadelphian sect I come from, are basically a Hippie religion that helped found America. Pennsylvania wouldn't exist without Quakers, and like Rhode Island, Pennsylvania was founded to be a home to religious pluralism. You see, Quakers are universalist, and more than happy to allow for the many paths that people take to talk to some higher power… but we eschew ritual. The focus of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is on one's personal relationship with god. In most cases, they don't utilize priests or clerics (the logic being that if god is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, an intermediary or required payment isn't really necessary).
The Church of Orzhova is basically the inverse of everything I believe, and I find it fascinating because of that. When I was young, Magic got banned from my Quaker school when my heavy-handed computer teacher threw a fit over the demonic imagery on Unholy Strength and Lord of the Pit. I take it she wasn't the only one, for the next printing of both those cards had the questionable symbols ripped from the art. After that, Magic got a little gunshy about critiquing and depicting religion for a while… until we reached the City of Guilds.
If there's a more trenchant fantasy critique of the structure of the elder churches, it has to be less popular than Magic. In eras of great inequality, religions like the Catholic Church owned land, harvested money from their believers, and generally put themselves on sale. The practice of buying indulgences was so widespread at one point that it was name-checked in Martin Luther's 95 Theses, the document that basically started the Protestant schism. Even before that, when you go back to early Christianity, you see the corruption inherent in an event like the Council of Nicea, where the modern Christian bible was thrown together in a process reminiscent of the 1968 Democratic Convention. Magic took all this semi-forgotten history, tied it in a bow, and then gave the white-black dyad a color identity: lawful evil, the corrupted church.
I was reminded of all this when I saw today's entry, focusing on Ghost Dad and the taxation elements of the Orzhov. Let's see what the Church of Deals has to offer us today!
I've gone through several iterations of a White/Black deck, first out of Triad of Fates that slowly evolved into a more "Group Hug" deck that took incremental advantage as the game progressed instead of flickering value creatures like Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Stonehorn Dignitary.
Instead of trying to keep tinkering with it, I finally changed the commander to something more solid with the Church of Deals: Obzedat, Ghost Council. The deck focuses on lifegain and the same incremental advantages as before, but in a more nickel and dime fashion. The basic tenant of the deck is that everyone gets to play, but they have to pay the cost of doing business. Be it from Underworld Dreams, Polluted Bonds or the ilk, there's a cost to doing things.
Money, in Magic, is mostly represented in 3 things: Life, mana, and cards. That's the focus here, and by manipulating Life, the Church of Deals can quite frequently make it to the finish line with a record of debt.
My problem is I am not sure it's as cohesive as it should be. It's a very political deck so the card choices are fairly odd (Who really runs Truce/Temporary Truce?) compared to a more direct deck. It's very likely I've gone too deep on the taxation front and have a gaping blind spot I don't know how to fill.
There are only two things I will not do: Run Sanguine Bond in the same deck with Exquisite Blood (I've been on the receiving end of that far too often and it is not fun) and drop the Enchantment theme. Other than that, I really hope you might be willing to offer some insight and suggestions.
This is the deck:
Syndicate Panda (AKA Free Lunch)
Commander: Obzedat, Ghost Council
I've been in the same situation as Russel, and I think part of that is inherent to a deck that's undergone a fairly major pivot. Magic has a huge card pool and perhaps a larger pool of potential themes. Take a deck like this one, which has several major themes in play, and you can see how it might be hard to start cutting.
Especially when the remnants of the old themes work decently with the new ones. The four major themes of this deck are enchantments, taxation, lifegain, and "choke on it" draw. The choking theme plays well with the taxation theme since they both whittle away at similar rates, and the enchantment and lifegain themes partner well together since several great lifegain cards are themselves enchantments. So on one level, these factors fit.
Of course, nothing exists on only one level. While these themes weave together mechanically, they have vastly different effects on your aggro profile. Unless you're at more than 100 life, lifegain doesn't tend to draw a ton of aggro. Sure, you might get attacked a little more since you have life to spare, but no one is going to dedicate themselves to ruining your board position on the back of lifegain alone. Taxation is annoying to keep track of, but as long as each individual person is only taking a point or two here and there, it tends to be a low aggro theme. Enchantments worry people because they are the hardest permanents to remove, but without something like Serra's Sanctum or one of the Enchantresses, people tend to respond calmly as you're developing your board.
But people hate to get choked by something like Underworld Dreams or Fate Unraveler. Giving other people cards will keep them from attacking you so long as those cards are free, but when you add a cost and make them pay it… that turns it around. Every card they draw is a reminder that you're hurting them, and they've got a limited number of cards they could possibly see to dig themselves out of that mess. That leads to the universal solvent situation: people coming after you because the only way to get rid of your permanent is your death.
So I cut the "choke on it" draw theme, leaning into the extortion and enchantment themes a little bit more. I didn't go full extort, although I think there's definitely room to play Thrull Parasite, Tithe Drinker, Syndic of Tithes, and Basilica Screecher in a deck like this. Instead… well, why don't I just show you?
Lands and Ramp
Your lands seemed fine. You've got enough basics to maximize the value of Land Tax and Oath of Lieges, and your non-basics all seemed on point. Perhaps you might want to add in Rogue's Passage, but the aggro that would draw might not be worth the slot.
What I did find somewhat less necessary were the inclusions of Chrome Mox and Mox Diamond. They're both negative on card advantage, and the boost in speed they grant is only really needed if you have a guaranteed two-drop or way to take advantage of their costs. I would play Mox Diamond in a Life From The Loam deck or Chrome Mox in a deck with Torrent Elemental or Misthollow Griffin, but without specific synergies or a two-drop commander, I think it's a little loose.
Instead, let's play Pristine Talisman! That card is often overlooked because one life seems so marginal, and it's a three-drop rock that doesn't tap for rainbow mana. But it's on theme, it does something, and that life adds up without being something your opponents are going to bother to answer. I would never play a card that just read "gain one life a turn," but slap that ability on something useful and then we're cooking with gas!
Draw and Recursion
The titans really raised the bar for attack triggers. Now, whenever I see something that only provides card advantage when it attacks, I wish it were more like the titans. Considering the mythology we draw our titans from, that's not a particularly pleasant wish. But it certainly means I'm much more skeptical now of a card like Silent Sentinel, which gives your opponents a full turn cycle to bomb your graveyard or scythe the Silent Sentinel before you get a chance to go net positive on your card advantage.
Instead, let's run Palace Siege. It's on theme for enchantments and for taxation, even if it's not amazing in either theme. It doesn't let you pull back enchantments like Silent Sentinel, and it's got a sizable wait for the ability as well, but its flexibility goes a long way towards making up for its relatively weak power level.
When I first saw Dark Deal, I thought it was cool, some black version of Windfall or Wheel of Fortune. My fervor has since dissipated due to the political balance the card strikes. Discarding your hand is usually infuriating. It's one of the reasons I dislike playing discard strategies in tabletop Commander; without an ameliorative aspect, they draw aggro without advancing your board position. Sure, you narrow their decision tree, but again, that often inspires backlash. Wheel of Fortune and Windfall make up for that by making your opponents whole again. You get a better set of cards because you're the one pulling the trigger; they get a worse set of cards (usually), but it's enough of a wash that they're not going to hate you for making them drop their hand. Dark Deal doesn't make them whole again. If your opponent has two good cards in hand, and you make them discard them both and draw a land, that opponent is going to hate you. If you're pinging them for each card on top of it, that hate will blossom into murderous rage.
Finally, there's Scroll Rack and Sensei's Divining Top. Personally, I find Top annoying in Commander. It takes up a tremendous amount of time while not really offering great selection. In a non-green deck I prefer the Crystal Ball to the Top, as it's self-limiting in terms of how much time you can spend on it, it sends bad stuff away so you don't get Top-locked, and it draws significantly less attention than the difficult-to-remove Top. In green, I prefer Cream of the Crop. You see far more cards, and I like that.
Scroll Rack has that cute combo with Land Tax, but Land Tax is plenty powerful without it. I like it in cards where the top of your library matters, like Maelstrom Wanderer or Narset, Enlightened Master, but otherwise I think Scroll Rack is another annoying timesuck.
Instead, let's bring in some draw options that a) only work for you, and b) reinforce the themes of the deck. For Phyrexian Arena, Greed, and Underworld Connections, the reinforced theme is obvious: They're enchantments! Playing them will trigger your constellation. For Bloodgift Demon it's a little less obvious, but I like it because of how it can be used politically. That draw ability can be pointed in any which way, and there are times when that's going to make a difference.
As I mentioned it before, I'm not a huge fan of cinch-subthemes. If you build your whole deck around it, you'll have the tools to manage the aggression your strategy will provoke; otherwise, you might find you're drawing aggro disproportionate to your primary strategy. Underworld Dreams is annoying. Fate Unraveler is annoying. Polluted Bonds is even worse. Each one penalizes you for doing the basic elements of playing Magic, things that people can't or won't stop doing.
Compare Polluted Bonds with Shattered Angel. Shattered Angel gives you a reward when your opponents do something; Polluted Bonds steals something from your opponents when they do something. Guess which one draws more hate!
Instead, let's bring in Ghostly Prison. It's a cheap enchantment to buff up your enchantment subtheme, and it narrows your opponents' options in a way that both fits the theme of the deck and doesn't draw a tremendous amount of hate. Imagine if Ghostly Prison worked in the inverse and made your opponent pay mana whenever they attacked anyone. That would be annoying, and it would be baldly apparent how you have limited their options. However, when you're still letting that opponent attack other players, they're much more likely to overlook the way you're messing with their decision trees.
At least, that's what I like about Propaganda effects.
Sorin Markov and Magister Sphinx should be banned from Commander. Venser's Journal is a borderline card, both because of its cost and because of its effect. Five mana is a lot to pay for a card that doesn't affect the battlefield. The primary reason to run it is to have no maximum hand size, but I find that hand size limitation is a major element in keeping games running quickly. When you have to search through 25 cards to find the play you want to trigger at any given moment, that is necessarily going to extend the dead time for your opponents.
I like Cradle of Vitality in an Obzedat, Ghost Council deck. The difference between a five-power commander and a seven-power commander is the difference between a three-turn clock and a five-turn clock. With Cradle of Vitality, whenever Obzedat comes back into play you can pay 1W to give it +2/+2. Or, if commander damage isn't your jam, you can buff up other creatures after every upkeep, keeping your monsters relevant even as your opponents ramp up.
Elspeth Tirel is in there because she does a bunch of different things. She gains life, makes tokens, and works as a Wrath of God of last resort if you can ultimate her (which is not hard). With Spear of Heliod in the deck, those tokens could come in handy.
Exsanguinate is on theme and a good complement to Debt to the Deathless. I used to Group Game Draft during Scars of Mirrodin block, and Exsanguinate was a slam first pick since it made rumbling very easy.
Have you ever Group Game Drafted? You should, it's a lot of fun! All it takes is four to six people and four packs each… if you want to learn more, check out this link.
Finally, there's Pontiff of Blight. I like that card, because not only does it allow for incredibly efficient uses of your mana, but it's also a 2/7. Those stats are great when you don't plan to attack to win since they hold the ground against all sorts of attackers.
Now we come to the end, the removal section. I considered going full flavor and bringing in Wrath of God and Damnation, but one of those is way more expensive than the other (thanks Modern Masters 2 for the exclusion), while neither of them work great with a Commander relatively immune to sorcery-speed mass removal.
But mass removal is still the name of the game in Commander, so I brought in three that should fit: Austere Command, Merciless Eviction, and Cleansing Meditation. Each has a loophole that gives you the power to dodge the destruction if that's what you need at that specific point in time.
Instead of the spot removal offered by Arrest, which is vulnerable to Day of Judgment and kin if you're trying to keep enchantments on the board, let's go with Oblivion Ring. It's a more utilitarian solution. Similarly, while Hero's Downfall is a cheap instant, a deck that can gain life and play with the graveyard (I see you, Whip of Erebos) is going to be better served by Ashen Rider. That card is bonkers, and you're going to get to the lategame enough that casting it shouldn't be a problem.
- 1 Agent of Masks
- 1 Ashen Rider
- 1 Bloodgift Demon
- 1 Pontiff of Blight
- 1 Rhox Faithmender
- 1 Scholar of Athreos
- 1 Souls of the Faultless
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Sunscorch Regent
- 1 Treasury Thrull
- 1 Vizkopa Guildmage
- 1 Agent of Erebos
- 1 Doomwake Giant
- 1 Grim Guardian
- 1 Underworld Coinsmith
- 1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
- 1 Athreos, God of Passage
- 1 Erebos, God of the Dead
- 1 Heliod, God of the Sun
- 1 Orzhov Signet
- 1 Phyrexian Processor
- 1 Pristine Talisman
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Tainted Sigil
- 1 Well of Lost Dreams
- 1 Angelic Chorus
- 1 Blind Obedience
- 1 Cradle of Vitality
- 1 Darksteel Mutation
- 1 Exquisite Blood
- 1 Flickering Ward
- 1 Ghostly Prison
- 1 Greed
- 1 Hissing Miasma
- 1 Land Tax
- 1 Oath of Lieges
- 1 Oblivion Ring
- 1 One Thousand Lashes
- 1 Palace Siege
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Pillory of the Sleepless
- 1 Prison Term
- 1 Seal of Doom
- 1 Sphere of Safety
- 1 Subversion
- 1 Underworld Connections
- 1 Oblation
- 1 Truce
- 1 Spear of Heliod
- 1 Whip of Erebos
- 1 Austere Command
- 1 Cleansing Meditation
- 1 Damnable Pact
- 1 Debt to the Deathless
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Exsanguinate
- 1 Merciless Eviction
- 1 Open the Vaults
- 1 Replenish
- 1 Temporary Truce
As you can see, it retains the enchantment and taxation themes, as well as keeping in enough tools like Truce to help maintain political advantage. I leaned in a bit to the removal and draw sections, but all in all, it should play similarly to the previous version, just a bit sharper.
Not that it wasn't sharp to start! I made fewer adjustments to this list than usual, because I liked where it was even in the beginning. Hopefully, moving away from the "choke on it" subtheme (can someone please come up with a pithy name for this theme because that's the best I can do and it's killing me) will prove a positive in the long run.
As you learn from the Church of Deals, everything has its price. In this case, though, that price was not hugely expensive. Most of the price comes from four cards, each of which should have been included in Modern Masters 2015: Austere Command, Elspeth Tirel, Ghostly Prison, and Phyrexian Arena. The rest is relatively inexpensive… see for yourself!
I hope you like these changes, and I hope you get good use out of that $20 StarCityGames.com® store credit you receive from having your deck chosen for use in Dear Azami. Other interested parties should be sure to submit via our email address, which is DearAzami [at] gmail [dot] com.
Submit! And while you're at it, check out all the cool cards they DID reprint in Modern Masters 2015. There's some neat stuff in there, and some even cooler foils!
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