My attitude: not playing Pack Rat and Thoughtseize is like carrying a piano up the stairs when there is a perfectly good pulley available. You might burn some calories, win some clever points, but you’ll probably drop it on your foot and break the piano. Here is my deck list for the Pro Tour in Portland (my main deck is locked, but I might change a SB card or two):

To clarify, this is not Black Devotion splashing white. This is an entirely different archetype—Orzhov midrange. With a Legacy owing to the deck Patrick Chapin and I used with great effect last fall in Dublin, this latest incarnation has evolved significantly to incorporate black staples like Pack Rat and Desecration Demon. The concept is that you trade some resources and then knock them out with one of your 5cc or 6cc haymakers (or clean up with Pack Rats). Specifically, Blood Baron of Vizkopa is a card we feel is especially well-positioned in this particular metagame, which we expect to be full of Black Devotion variants, white/green aggro, and Detention Spheres. In addition, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is a criminally underplayed card in Standard.

Let’s discuss the removal suite. There is a concept that you have a static “main deck” and a sideboard and that so-and-so is a maindeck card not a sideboard card and vice versa. Well, in a midrange/haymakers deck, that idea doesn’t really apply. The idea is to maximize the equity of your deck against the range of expected decks and adjust your numbers accordingly. So while a card like Devour Flesh will almost never be your best removal spell in a particular matchup, it serves a critical function. It’s a catch-all for Nightveil Specter, Pack Rat, Sylvan Caryatid, etc. It’s also low on the curve and gives you additional utility by allowing you to sacrifice your own Desecration Demon against Burn. Bile Blight is just a great Magic card—awesome against Pack Rat, aggro, Mutavault, and Blue Devotion. Ultimate Price provides some diversity, allowing you to deal with threats like Polukranos, Stormbreath Dragon, and Desecration Demon. Notice that our entire 2cc removal package deals with Pack Rat—this is not a coincidence, as I feel Pack Rat is the second best card in Standard.

Behind Thoughtseize, that is. Thoughtseize is an incredible weapon for a skilled professional. Enough ink has been spilled that I don’t want to be redundant, but I’ll reiterate how difficult Thoughtseize makes life for decks that rely on assembling any kind of synergy to be effective. Moreover, in a deck with a synthesis of diverse removal suite and potent threats (such as this one), Thoughtseize frequently removes the only card that could throw a wrench in your plans.

 

One important point: Desecration Demon and Lifebane Zombie are slightly worse in this deck than in Mono-Black Devotion, due to the lack of Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Lifebane Zombie is so objectively powerful that we include it anyway, but it’s possible that Desecration Demon would be better off as more removal, disruption, or a different threat.

Obviously we hope to play against Black Devotion with this deck, as we not only have a nuclear weapon in Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but are able to win the Underworld Connections/Erebos battle, with Deicide and Banishing Light. In addition, control variants should be overall favorable matchups. While we might struggle in game one when we draw a significant volume of dead removal, our sideboard plan of card drawing and hand destruction is extremely effective. Midrange decks are also favorable pairings. Thoughtseize and Pack Rat has always been a potent baseline strategy against them, but Elspeth Sun’s Champion really shines here. There just isn’t another planeswalker like her in Standard.

All-in styles of red aggro and U-Devotion are our weakest matchups. The former can simply get in under a lot of our answers and beat us with raw speed. The latter has a few critical cards, like Bident of Thassa, Thassa herself, Master of Waves, and Nightveil Specter that are extremely annoying. Neither is truly that bad. The key is just to survive until the midgame until you either get a repetitive source of life gain (against red) or an unanswered Elspeth or Demon against Blue.

What’s great is that the raw power level of a lot of our cards rank among the highest in Standard, so even when a card does not shine in a particular situation, it is usually still pretty good.

All in all, Orzhov is just a great choice for good players. Between scrying, Pack Rat, Thoughtseize, Lifebane Zombie, card draw with Underworld Connections, and the diversity and efficacy of the removal suite, the deck has a ton of play and decision points. After sideboarding, we’re able to transform into a solid hammer vs. virtually any nail. Often working with perfect or near-perfect information, good players are able to sequence their plays such that every single relevant threat is neutralized and our haymakers clean up the job.

Thanks for reading,

Paul