Pat Cox Talks – Orzhov

“Just tell her we broke it.” -BenS

As you may have heard, it was a real pain in the ass to get to Grand Prix Fort Worth. My girlfriend was wondering why I would go through so much trouble just to attend a GP, and I suppose Ben’s proposed response sums it up. We’d come up with this great Orzhov deck, and I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to play it.

(She just asked, “broke what?” when I showed her this article. Good thing I went with a more detailed response at the time.)

On Naming Conventions

I never liked the name Boros. Sure, it is fine to label Paul Rietzl’s Paris deck as Boros. But White Weenie with two red cards is suddenly Boros? That is asinine. However, now that we also have a White Weenie deck splashing two (ish) black cards, I guess we can’t call them both White Weenie. For the purposes of this article, let’s just call them Boros and Orzhov. They, like Death and Taxes, are still just White Weenie decks, though.

From Boros to Orzhov

After my 10th place finish with Boros in GP Albuquerque, I saw no reason not to play the same deck for GP Fort Worth. LSV was not a believer prior to Albuquerque, but after watching a lot of my matches there, he was on board. I suggested we try to get BenS on the Boros train, since assumably (#shitBenSsays) he would just play it a ton on MTGO and tune it for us. This plan worked perfectly. I should be some sort of Magic manager.

For reference, here is what I ran in Albuquerque:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Boros Elite
4 Dryad Militant
4 Soldier of the Pantheon
4 Precinct Captain
2 Imposing Sovereign
1 Azorius Arrester
4 Daring Skyjack
4 Banisher Priest
4 Brave the Elements
1 Spear of Heliod
4 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
2 Boros Charm
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Mutavault
10 Plains
Sideboard:
2 Boros Charm
1 Gideon, Champion of Justice
1 Burning Earth
2 Electrickery
2 Mizzium Mortars
2 Pacifism
1 Glare of Heresy
1 Spear of Heliod
3 Fiendslayer Paladin[/deck]

Our main concern was how to improve the Mono-Black Devotion matchup. Play more [ccProd]Pacifism[/ccProd]s? Sideboard lands and [ccProd]Assemble the Legion[/ccProd]? Red didn’t afford a lot of options.

After a few days, our friend (and last GP Fort Worth finalist) Orrin Beasley and I came up with the idea of trying Orzhov. You can only reasonably splash red or black because scry lands are great and guildgates suck, so other colors weren’t considered. Why Orzhov? [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd] really only shines against control, so why not play a Charm that is better against everything else? Plus you get [ccProd]Dark Betrayal[/ccProd] to help with our goal of improving the black matchup.

Our first cut at the deck just switched [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd] to [ccProd]Orzhov Charm[/ccProd], [ccProd]Mizzium Mortars[/ccProd] to [ccProd]Doom Blade[/ccProd], [ccProd]Electrickery[/ccProd] to [ccProd]Profit // Loss[/ccProd], and jammed in some [ccProd]Sin Collector[/ccProd]s. This deck was fine, but drastically worse against Esper.

Luis, Orrin, and I immediately started tinkering with Orzhov, while BenS took the surprisingly methodical approach of playing Plain-Jane-No-Splash White Weenie for a few days to figure out where the holes were. Ben isn’t a Google Docs scientist, so he then suggested we cut the [ccProd]Frontline Medic[/ccProd] from a three-week-old tab, and asked us about trying Orzhov, which already had its own tab.

[ccProd]Orzhov Charm[/ccProd] improved the Blue and Black Devotion match-ups an appreciable amount, but it made us much softer to control decks. The [ccProd]Sin Collector[/ccProd]s alone weren’t cutting it. Being a preemptive Boros Charm is nice, but it’d be even nicer if your discard took [ccProd]Blood Baron[/ccProd] and Jace. This is how we ended up with the [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd]s.

The big breakthrough came when BenS wondered if [ccProd]Xathrid Necromancer[/ccProd] could be good, and the rest of us essentially said, “holy sh*t, that’s the best thing I ever heard.”

Incidentally, by playing all the best white beaters, you are playing a bunch of Humans. Out of the 27 creatures in the main deck, 23 are Humans. Why couldn’t they just print Human Militant?

Creature type counts aside, why is Necromancer good? Well Mono-Black is trying to kill all your guys and grind you out, and Necromancer makes that plan a lot worse. Also, it is a threat that you can play into [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd] against control, which I’m always interested in. See: Gideon in my GP Albuquerque deck.

Anyway, here is where Orrin and I ended up:

[deck]Main Deck
8 Plains
1 Swamp
1 Orzhov Guildgate
4 Mutavault
4 Temple of Silence
4 Godless Shrine
4 Soldier of the Pantheon
4 Dryad Militant
4 Boros Elite
4 Daring Skyjek
4 Precinct Captain
3 Imposing Sovereign
2 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
4 Banisher Priest
2 Spear of Heliod
4 Brave the Elements
3 Orzhov Charm
Sideboard:
1 Profit Loss
3 Dark Betrayal
2 Doom Blade
3 Xathrid Necromancer
2 Sin Collector
2 Thoughtseize
2 Fiendslayer Paladin[/deck]

This list differed slightly from that of BenS, Wrapter, and LSV because I didn’t want to give up [ccProd]Ajani, Caller of the Pride[/ccProd]. BenS argued that the deck needs the reach from Ajani less, thanks to the additional removal. This is true, but “needs it less” and “doesn’t need it” aren’t the same thing. I did win several games with Ajani during the tournament by jumping, and the ability to grow a single guy continually helps break board stalls. [ccProd]Spear of Heliod[/ccProd] doesn’t give you this flexibility.

The list Ben made Top 4 with is:

[deck]Main Deck
8 Plains
1 Swamp
1 Orzhov Guildgate
4 Mutavault
4 Temple of Silence
4 Godless Shrine
4 Soldier of the Pantheon
4 Dryad Militant
4 Boros Elite
4 Daring Skyjek
4 Precinct Captain
3 Imposing Sovereign
2 Xathrid Necromancer
4 Banisher Priest
2 Spear of Heliod
4 Brave the Elements
3 Orzhov Charm
Sideboard:
2 Profit Loss
3 Dark Betrayal
3 Doom Blade
2 Xathrid Necromancer
2 Sin Collector
2 Thoughtseize
1 Orzhov Charm[/deck]

Play These Black Cards

You can find a discussion of the shell of the deck in my Boros article here, so I won’t cover that again. But let’s talk about the new additions.

[draft]orzhov charm[/draft]

[ccProd]Orzhov Charm[/ccProd] is what got us interested in black in the first place. Despite seeing no play previously, it is one of the most versatile removal spells in Standard. Unlike [ccProd]Doom Blade[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Ultimate Price[/ccProd], it can kill [ccProd]Nightveil Spectre[/ccProd]. The life loss isn’t totally irrelevant, but certainly less so in a deck where you are the aggressor. This also makes [ccProd]Soldier of the Pantheon[/ccProd]’s lifegain a bit more relevant than in Boros, though it admittedly still doesn’t matter much.

The return a creature ability is actually fairly relevant, as well. Not only does it make Charm not a dead card against control, but it means that even if you have nothing to kill against a creature deck, you can potentially add to your board. I only used the bounce ability once (to return/replay a creature blocked by a [ccProd]Fiendslayer Paladin[/ccProd] while alpha striking), but I won’t complain about more options.

[draft]xathrid necromancer[/draft]

As mentioned previously, this was the big “ah ha” moment for the deck. [ccProd]Xathrid Necromancer[/ccProd] is meant to come in against both Black Devotion and Esper, though it can have other applications such as against red decks with a lot of burn. Sadly it is not good against [ccProd]Anger of the Gods[/ccProd], but you can’t have everything I suppose.

When Necromancer is good, it is great. I watched a game where Wrapter had eleven tokens off of two Necromancers. I had an opponent [ccProd]Shrivel[/ccProd] away three guys, only to read Necromancer and sigh. Don’t forget that your [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd] is a Human too.

Unfortunately, Necromancer isn’t so great against UW Control, which is gaining popularity over Esper. It is still awesome against [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd], but none of their other removal actually kills things, instead exiling them. I wasn’t sold on the card in the main deck already, and I think the weakness against UW cements its place in the sideboard for me.

Another reason I don’t like Necromancer as much maindeck is that its primary purpose is against Mono-Black Devotion, where it is better after sideboard because they bring in additional removal.

[draft]doom blade
dark betrayal[/draft]

Nearly any creature that anyone plays will: a) be better than your creatures, b) cost more than the thing you are killing it with. These spells allow you to remove blockers and keep attacking. It is unfortunate that the removal is so conditional, meaning you have to sideboard different spells for different decks, but you have the room in your sideboard.

If you want to have some amount of overlap, you can play an [ccProd]Ultimate Price[/ccProd], since it kills things against both Blue Devotion and Black Devotion, but it doesn’t kill everything in either deck. I’d stick with the three [ccProd]Dark Betrayal[/ccProd]s at least. It is efficient enough that you can almost always play another spell the turn you cast it, and a large portion of the games you win against Mono-Black are by coming out of the gates hard and fast.

profitloss

Loss is [ccProd]Electrickery[/ccProd], and Profit counters [ccProd]Electrickery[/ccProd]. Not a bad deal for a single card! You want to bring this in against the mirror, the red decks with X/1s, and Mono-Blue Devotion. I also was bringing one in against control, since it kills Elspeth tokens or helps you kill a Jace by negating his +1 ability.

[draft]thoughtseize
sin collector[/draft]

The exact split of these spells is debatable, but you want some combination of both. As mentioned earlier, [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] takes a larger variety of problematic cards against control. However, the most problematic card is [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd], and it cannot be overlooked that Sin Collector comes with a body.

I was siding in the [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd]s against Mono-Black, though only the [ccProd]Sin Collector[/ccProd]s if they had the green splash with [ccProd]Gaze of Granite[/ccProd]. I also brought in a single [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] against Mono-Blue Devotion, because you need to side out all of the [ccProd]Dryad Militant[/ccProd]s (due to [ccProd]Tidebinder Mage[/ccProd]), and I only had three cards for the matchup.

[draft]fiendslayer paladin[/draft]

Ben, Luis, and Wrapter ended up cutting this card at the last minute, and I can’t say they were wrong to do so. I didn’t side it once during the tournament. When it’s good, it’s great, but aggressive red decks have largely fallen out of favor. Necromancer also does a reasonable impression of Fiendslayer against those decks.

Grand Prix Fort Worth

In retrospect, I probably should’ve just accepted my fate when my flight was canceled. But the last time I missed a GP due to weather was GP Miami. I’d worked with Reid Duke on a Jund list that I thought was great, wasn’t able to go, and then Reid won the tournament. I thought our deck was even better this time, and didn’t want to miss out again. Irrational? Probably.

For those of you who don’t know, a massive winter storm hit the midwest last weekend. The very bottom of the affected area was Dallas/Fort Worth. By the time I was flying to the GP, the storm was over, but none of the planes going there from DC had ever arrived in DC in the first place. My flight was predictably canceled, but there were flights in the morning, so not all was lost.

I went online to switch to a morning flight, but my itinerary was straight-up not on American Airlines’ website anymore. So I called them. I got an automated message to the effect of, “too many people are calling right now, goodbye -click-.” I certainly do not blame American Airlines for the weather or having an increased call volume, but what in the hell? Neither their website nor their phone number can reschedule me? That is horrible.

Luckily, I work 10 minutes from National Airport, so I just drove over to talk to an agent there. This went relatively quickly, and I was rescheduled for the next morning. Roughly 30 minutes after returning to work, that flight was canceled as well. I tried to call American again, but got the same message and hang up. Four days later this same automated message is still all I get when I call trying to get a refund. American Airlines has great customer service.

I ended up instead flying Southwest out of Baltimore to the farther away of the two Dallas airports, but I was glad enough to have made it at all. I arrived to perhaps the worst road conditions I have ever seen. I assume part of it is that they don’t have many plows in Dallas, but I’m not actually sure plows do anything about giant sheets of ice anyway.

Apparently cabs were barely running, but luckily my friend Mike Bennett lives in Texas and was able to pick me up. Also luckily, Bennett, like me, used to live in Blacksburg, Virginia, and was therefore used to driving in winter conditions. It took awhile, but we made it to Fort Worth without incident.

Luis and Ben were delayed even more than me, so our plan of finalizing the deck when we met up Friday night went out the window. We texted about it for awhile, but couldn’t come to a consensus and I was tired, so I submitted and went to sleep. This is how we ended up with the slightly different lists.

The tournament started off great for me: I ended Day 1 at 8-1. I narrowly missed Top 8 after this start in Albuquerque, so I was feeling good when I went to bed Saturday night.

Sunday didn’t go as well. In the last four rounds, I had something like 6-7 zero land hands, including mulls to 4 and 5 in the same match. I also made a mistake by not attacking with a [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd] in my last turn of the penultimate round, and got punished by a topdecked [ccProd]Nylea, God of the Hunt[/ccProd]. I ended up in 56th.

The deck did great overall, though. BenS made it Top 4, and Orrin and Wrapter both Top 16’d. Not too shabby for only five pilots.

Aside: I know I mentioned this in a previous article, but I still don’t get how I keep seeing people say “X is the current best player,” and X isn’t BenS. I guess people just forget because he stopped going to GPs when he had eight finishes before anyone else had five? Admittedly, basing skill evaluations purely on results is silly, but he also just plays better than everyone else.

Should You Play Orzhov Right Now?

Well, you should certainly play it over Boros. If you expect a ton of Esper, it is still probably better to just maindeck [ccProd]Xathrid Necromancer[/ccProd] than have [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd].

As to whether you should be playing any White Weenie variant: I think that depends on how much UW Control you expect. The matchup seems like a huge pain. If you have any suggestions on how to improve it, please let me know in the comments section.

I wouldn’t change the main deck at all, but would remove the [ccProd]Fiendslayer[/ccProd]s from the board for additional removal, like my teammates’ list. I think Ajani is too good to cut—it pained me to go down to only two copies. Though we did jokingly agree that whichever version had the higher finish was better, so I suppose I can’t fault you if you maindeck the Necromancers.

Wrap-up

By Sunday, the same storm had made its way to DC, so my flight home was canceled. In my three consecutive weeks of GP travel, this was my second time missing my flight home on Sunday. Which, oh well, sh*t happens, but I’m certainly excited to be home for the next month. That being said, I know I’ll miss it soon enough, so excuse me while I go book a flight to GP Sacramento.

Thanks for reading,

Pat Cox
@wildestnacatl on Twitter

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