Teysa Orzhov Scion was an under-the-radar commander that I locked onto a while back as well. I absolutely love the color combination and I'm a sucker for creatures that are active as soon as they hit the battlefield as well as anything that includes the word "exile" in the card text or current Oracle ruling.
She's a deceptively strong commander. When I had it together Teysa was easily one of my best decks. (This was still true even after I stopped savagely cheating; for a long time I thought that playing Darkest Hour made the tokens Teysa creates black in addition to white thus making a machine-gun combo that can clear the board of all creatures once I activated her exile ability for the first time. I'm so good at this game folks…)
Your decklist (and your description) illustrates a common problem that tends to follow around certain archetypes which is something that can apply to other decks and color combinations as well. Not everyone has a B/W list so it's really nice when I can talk about a principle or strategy that can be applied across the board.
(Speaking of descriptions—I'm sure I can speak for Sean here as well when I say that we're going to be much more likely to choose your submission for the "Dear Azami" treatment if you spend some time telling us a little bit about your deck first. What does it do? Where does it fall flat? What do you hope to achieve with it? We want to be as excited about your list as you are so please send some info along with your list so we know what to do with it.
After all without this helpful guidance I'm going to have to assume that the reason you sent in your carefully crafted Riku of Two Reflections list is because you can't figure out how to make it successfully work as a tribal Gnome deck. Consider yourself warned…)
I think it's fair to call your list a 'budget-minded' one. (I'm going to try to respect that by keeping the suggestions to a lower level dollar-wise. Honest!) I don't see the usual complement of Scrubland Vampiric Tutor Volrath's Stronghold or Damnation. This is both a good thing and a bad thing; it's nice to be able to break from the "good stuff" mold and showcase the fact that a solid deck doesn't need to cost as much as the gross national product of a small country.
At the same time it also has a tendency to push decks in a direction that can have the kind of repercussions it sounds like you're experiencing. For that reason that's the place I want to focus my energy.
In my experience when a player starts with a specific restriction on card availability or dollar value for a deck it has a tendency to push that person into playing "Rattlesnakes" "Turtles" and what we refer to up in my neck of the woods as "Peacocks." The reason is usually that cards that fit these criteria tend to offer decent bang for the buck so you can feel like it's actually possible to hang in games with decks that play big-dollar haymakers without breaking the bank to do it.
In practice the effect tends to not go quite as planned.
Rattlesnakes such as Martyr's Bond are easy passive threats that prevent your opponents from dealing with your stuff under penalty of mutual assured destruction while Turtles (such as Propaganda) make it easy for you to sit back behind a virtual wall of protection. Your opponents will usually just throw up their hands in frustration and attack the poor mono-white tribal Cats player next to you who's stuck on three lands.
This probably sounds good in theory but in effect you're really creating a non-interactive board state. No one bothers you and you don't tend to do much yourself. Where's the fun in that?
This brings us to the Peacocks. Like the bird of the same name cards in this category get you noticed in a hurry but don't really manage to do much else. These are cards that draw a disproportionate amount of hate when you play them without actually really providing much of a benefit in the long run. This can be either due to a mistaken evaluation of the card itself (Night Dealings looks really good at first…) or because it represents a huge threat and never sticks around long enough to provide a benefit. (Hello Debtors' Knell!) The net result is that you catch a beating without actually doing anything tangible to deserve it. In this deck Sanguine Bond and Exquisite Blood are your Peacocks.
Together these two cards represent an immediate game-ending combo if you can kick-start the process with a single point of damage. Alone however you get minimal life gain and marginal damage while still representing the threat of the impending full combo. Twice the perceived threat with only a fraction of the actual power. Not a great deal.
Rereading your opening paragraph my guess is that at some point you had a memorable game that ended with the Bond/Blood combo but probably not before you built a wall of protective effects that caused the rest of the table to leave you alone. As a result just shuffling up this deck reopens the wounds in your opponents and draws you a disproportionate amount of hate before you even play a single card.
So I'm going to change it up. You want a deck that really leverages your commander has solid synergy with the creatures that are coming and going and most importantly doesn't get you killed prematurely. My plan of attack will be to refocus your deck to address these things. I'm going to move away from cards like Norn's Annex and Wall of Omens that encourage you to sit back and do nothing. I'm going to find some stronger creatures that will interact with Teysa better and pack a bigger punch for some finishing power. I'm going to find extra synergy to better utilize your resources and I'm going to increase the amount of card draw you have as well.
And yeah…I'll also be pulling the Bond/Blood combo. I just don't think you'll need it once we're through with the other changes and you're better off getting away from it to begin with if it's generating the amount of hate that I think it is. Let's face it; once you pull it off for the first time you'll notice it quickly loses its luster and just becomes 'another two-card combo' anyway.
Let's get right to the creatures.
Angel of Despair – I counted and recounted your list and came up with 98cards sans commander so we get a free addition. Vindicate is a little out of our target price range and I really wanted to do what I could to add extra bodies to the list that give us utility play really well with Teysa by hitting both colors or have the strength to act as a finisher. This addition hits the trifecta by nailing all three.
Necrotic Sliver – Angel of Despair's little brother also provides a strong removal option another dual-color body for Teysa to play with and plays very nicely with another replacement a bit further down the list.
Sunblast Angel – Teysa is a control enabler. A little extra mass removal strapped to a moderately sized body never hurts and in this case the body plays triple duty; a limited Wrath of God a flying beater and fuel for your commander to get to work exiling stuff. I love the synergy.
Dread – Okay…so I'm not completely leaving the Rattlesnake theme behind. The fact of the matter is that your game-winning combo is gone and to replace that artillery I need to bring in some big bodies with solid evasion. In keeping with the 'triple-threat' theme Dread offers removal and limited self-recursion in addition finishing power.
Sun Titan – With a gentle realignment of your list Titan will always provide value; you'll gain extra basic lands from your Terramorphic Expanse Necrotic Sliver becomes a removal engine and it plays extremely well with Oblivion Ring.
Grave Titan – Stepping over Sun Titan's evil twin adds raw Zombie horsepower. It's nearly impossible to top the power-to-cost ratio you get with Grave Titan which is what this deck wants all day long.
Spoiler alert: token producers are going to get a serious shot in the arm. Stay tuned.
Deathbringer Liege – This card is a bit on the pricy side but it ends up being an all-star addition to the deck if you can swing it. Your creatures all immediately improve you gain more removal and I hear Liege and Sunblast Angel get along really well.
Stonecloaker – Reusable graveyard hate that bounces token generators to your hand at instant speed. This is rapidly becoming one of my favorite go-to cards in this format.
Cloudgoat Ranger – I want to add creatures that bring three friends with them when they enter the battlefield so that Teysa immediately gets enough fodder to exile something and you can utilize some bounce to rinse and repeat. As it is Cloudgoat Ranger becomes modal in this deck; either create your Kithkin Soldiers and beat for five or Vindicate the best permanent on the battlefield.
Wall of Omens Chancellor of the Annex Windborn Muse – To make room for our improved threat density out go the types of cards that offer a minimal speed bump to the Kresh the Bloodbraided player and help convince him that you're the person he should be attacking immediately after playing Plague Wind. You know just for example.
Darien King of Kjeldor – I like tokens as much as the next guy but they're not on the list of things I want to pay one life each for.
Thraben Doomsayer – I have yet to see anyone utilize the 'fateful hour' mechanic to any positive extent. If you had a reliable way to give creatures haste in this deck you could pay three mana for Doomsayer three mana for your commander tap Doomsayer and be able to deal with one creature.
Which is a very overpriced set of hoops to jump through for one piece of targeted removal.
Feudkiller's Verdict – Speaking of overpriced things six mana for a single vanilla 5/5 token isn't a very good deal and life gain is marginal anyway. This card is even worse when you're way behind and only get the life-gain out of the deal.
Moonlit Wake – If I'm playing a white enchantment that ends with the word "Wake" it had better start with "Mirari's."
Exquisite Blood – You won't even notice it's gone. Honest!
Moving on to the sorceries…
Mine Excavation – A little slower and slightly more expensive than the card it replaces. Also has the potential to be bonkers in a tokens deck. Upgrade!
Plague Wind – This is definitive answer to your problems.
Argivian Find – The artwork beats the heck out of Mine Excavation… I'll give it that.
Let's look at instants.
White Sun's Zenith – I'd love to suggest Entreat the Angels to you here but in lieu of that we're going to go with a potential truckload of Cat tokens. It's a great surprise defense that recurs itself and a late-game selective Wrath effect with your commander.
Oh and remember the tribal Cats player we talked about earlier? Totally jealous.
Altar's Reap – A quick instant-speed card-draw shot in the arm for a deck that can easily support the sacrifice. You'll be surprised to see how happy you'll be to have this show up in your opening hand.
Oh…it's also hopelessly slow. There's that too.
Sanguine Bond – I did see a sweet altered version of this card that replaces the art with an image of Sean Connery as James Bond from the From Russia With Love movie poster. If you happen to own that alteration you should probably keep it in the deck.
That brings us to enchantments. There's some work to do in here.
Luminarch Ascension – This card is one of those 'Peacocks' we were talking about earlier.
Of course sometimes it comes down on turn 2 nobody answers it and it wins the game. So it's like a Peacock that owns an Abrams tank.
Debtors' Knell – Don't blame me; I'm pretty sure the Commander Rules Committee made this a mandatory include in B/W decks. Really. Look it up. I'll wait here.
Grave Pact – This is another synergistic include that plays way too well with Teysa to not make the list.
Cathars' Crusade – This is my new favorite creature improvement card for token decks. As of right now (well at least before this article was published) Cathars' Crusade flies under the radar whenever I cast it. Since it doesn't affect the current board people will be reluctant to bother with it until it becomes an issue. Which it does as soon as you play a single creature.
One of my favorite moments with this card came a few weeks ago. I won a four-player game by playing Luminarch Ascension on turn 2 and Cathar's Crusade on turn 5 and nothing else for the rest of the game. Let me tell you…it's great when an Angel token can block a Krosan Cloudscraper and live.
Phyrexian Reclamation – I'm always surprised that this card isn't more expensive. In any black deck it's worth a look—the equivalent of running Eternal Witness in a green deck. When you couple that with a commander that wants to sacrifice white creatures and a bunch of white creatures that make more white creatures when they enter the battlefield you've got a serious removal engine.
Phyrexian Arena – If Phyrexian Reclamation is worth a look in any black deck Arena is worth a guaranteed slot. Card draw doesn't come easy to decks like this so a personal Howling Mine is always going to be welcome.
Sigil of the Empty Throne – Once I'm finished your total count of enchantments will have dropped to a number that will prove to be too small to support this card. Luminarch Ascension simply outclasses it.
Fanatical Devotion – If we're sacrificing creatures it should be to make tokens and exile creatures.
Quest for the Gravelord – I don't care about flavor. This is a lot of effort for a limited payout. If the sacrifice was not part of the cost we might be talking. But it isn't so we're not.
And speaking of artifacts—
Nim Deathmantle – Not only does this provide insane recursion but the fact that it makes the equipped creature black can be relevant with Teysa.
Skullclamp – Because tokens?
Conjurer's Closet – You'll want some bounce effects to exploit token-creating creatures. This one is pretty fantastic giving you enters-the-battlefield triggers and effectively imparting vigilance at the same time.
Erratic Portal – More bounce for a reasonable colorless investment.
Cloudstone Curio – Passive bounce for a reasonable colorless investment. It plays great with any token-generating creatures but be warned ahead of time that it's a card that has been around for a while and usually raises warning flags.
Still the first time you're allowed to resolve Cloudgoat Ranger with Curio in play and some decent open mana you'll understand why it's here.
Bonehoard – The 'living weapon' mechanic is another one that is criminally overlooked in Commander. These are cards that gain you value by essentially being able to add a creature and a piece of utility to a single slot in your deck.
Bonehoard is often overshadowed by Batterskull but it was suggested to me by one of my fellow players. He said it's not uncommon in Commander to see this thing hit easy double-digit power and toughness and so far I'm inclined to agree. This is a great finisher to add to the deck.
Seize the Soul – I'd be more inclined to leave this in if not for the fact that I previously pulled it from my own Teysa list. The fact that it can't hit black or white creatures meant that it was usually not the correct answer I needed whenever I drew it.
Sculpting Steel – At first I was confused as to why this was in your list. But then…
… Nope. Still confused.
Norn's Annex – Rounding out the removal of the 'Turtle' suite.
Fellwar Stone Orzhov Signet – I'm okay cutting back on mana producers in this deck because it runs 38 lands up front and complements those with Sol Ring Darksteel Ingot Pristine Talisman and Expedition Map. You should be fine.
Champion's Helm – Bonehoard seemed like a vast improvement to me. Hexproof is nice but if you're investing in equipment that protects Teysa for three mana I'd personally recommend starting with Darksteel Plate anyway.
The lands look good. There are just a few tweaks here.
Mystifying Maze – A little protection never hurt.
Bojuka Bog – That goes for graveyard hate too.
Tainted Field – With the massive price tag on Revised dual lands and Ravnica shocklands I'm really starting to come around on cards like this. For all intents and purposes this will always be a Scrubland for a fraction of the cost in this deck.
Vault of the Archangel – This land is an absolute beating even on the back of 1/1 tokens. Ironically I was playing against this card last week with Wurmcoil Engine and I was getting out-Wurmcoil Engined by it. Awkward.
Springjack Pasture – You wanted the Goats… You got the Goats.
Karoo Everglades Naya Panorama Kabira Crossroads Swamp Terrain Generator – You did a very good job with this mana base to begin with. Colored mana production doesn't appear to be a problem at all. All I wanted to accomplish here is to add some utility and cut back on the amount of lands that enter the battlefield tapped.
Done and done. And done.
The Finished List
- 1 Angel of Despair
- 1 Blood Artist
- 1 Bloodgift Demon
- 1 Captain of the Watch
- 1 Cloudgoat Ranger
- 1 Deathbringer Liege
- 1 Dread
- 1 Falkenrath Noble
- 1 Geist-Honored Monk
- 1 Grave Titan
- 1 Knight-Captain of Eos
- 1 Necrotic Sliver
- 1 Requiem Angel
- 1 Springjack Shepherd
- 1 Stonecloaker
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Sunblast Angel
- 1 Twilight Drover
- 1 Teysa, Orzhov Scion
- 1 Bonehoard
- 1 Cloudstone Curio
- 1 Conjurer's Closet
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Erratic Portal
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Nim Deathmantle
- 1 Pristine Talisman
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Cathars' Crusade
- 1 Debtors' Knell
- 1 Grave Pact
- 1 Journey to Nowhere
- 1 Luminarch Ascension
- 1 Martyr's Bond
- 1 Necromancer's Covenant
- 1 Oblivion Ring
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Phyrexian Reclamation
- 1 True Conviction
- 1 Altar's Reap
- 1 Batwing Brume
- 1 Oblation
- 1 Tragic Slip
- 1 Unmake
- 1 White Sun's Zenith
- 1 Archangel's Light
- 1 Austere Command
- 1 Black Sun's Zenith
- 1 Conqueror's Pledge
- 1 Day of Judgment
- 1 Decree of Justice
- 1 Diabolic Tutor
- 1 Increasing Ambition
- 1 Increasing Devotion
- 1 Lingering Souls
- 1 Mine Excavation
- 1 Phyrexian Rebirth
- 1 Plague Wind
- 1 Syphon Mind
- 1 Bitterblossom
That's a net change of 32 cards; fortunately most of these choices are on the cheap and I think together they create a solid path that transforms Teysa from a deck that gets singled out and beaten-up to a deck that does the beating. A grand total of $66.14 gets you the full upgrade and you'll receive a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com for your participation in this week's "Dear Azami." That ought to help!
Here's the breakdown:
|White Sun's Zenith||$0.49|
|Vault of the Archangel||$1.49|
|Emeria the Sky Ruin||$2.49|
That's it for me this week. Thanks again for reading everyone!
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