Deck Tech: Olivia Voldaren

Olivia Voldaren was my first Commander, from back when I was a brand new player with no knowledge of how to play the game. My then-husband threw together the deck for me from cards he had on hand. It’s undergone some major changes since then, but retained its core of vampires and hatred.

The deck speaks to me on a personal level. If I were a Magic card, I would be red-black. Maybe there would be another color—possibly white, possibly blue (my friends and I at one point agreed that Kaalia of the Vast best represented me, although now that Queen Marchesa has been printed I feel Marchesa in either incarnation might be a better fit)—but the red and black are definitely there. I’m both passionate and ambitious. Any amount of sacrifice is worth achieving my goals—I sacrificed a good three hours of sleep in order to be on JudgeCast, despite being a self-proclaimed member of the Cult of Hypnos, with a religious obligation to get eight hours of sleep a night. Vampires are also my favorite mythical species. Part of the reason I got into Magic in the first place was because vampire tribal was a thing. It’s definitely not a coincidence that my first deck was vampire tribal in theme.

Being my first and favorite deck, Olivia gets all the love. Any new cards I get my hands on are slotted to Olivia first. Akroma’s Memorial cycled through Olivia, then to Sisters of Stone Death (because the theme was deathtouch and first strike, and also, Sisters with trample is just brutal); I’m not sure where it wound up after I took that deck apart. My judge foil Damnation is currently in Olivia, even though my Teysa removal-themed deck would probably be a better fit. I’ve somewhat gotten away from giving Olivia the “best” cards from my collection now that I keep my idealized decklists on Cockatrice and order cards from StarCity Games as I acquire the funds to do so.

I don’t play Olivia much anymore, since as time progressed, she began to focus more on winning than having fun. Not to say that winning isn’t fun; but losing certainly isn’t fun, and if all my deck does is make my opponents lose, they’re not having fun. And unless I’m in a particular mood, if they’re not having fun, neither am I. Usually because they’re scowling at me and exuding an aura of salt that can shrivel even my level of cheer.

One of the great things about Olivia is that the better my opponent’s deck, the better she becomes. One of the not-so-great things is that she folds to Akroma’s Memorial, which is a staple in a lot of Commander decks. Perhaps I should run more artifact hate. The original decklist ran Smelt, which I took out because it wasn’t doing enough; then again, at the time, I was playing against decks that didn’t run a lot of powerful artifacts, and killing someone’s mana rock never seemed to be the correct play.

Olivia mostly runs vampires and removal. Red-black is great for kill-spells. It also does well hating on life-gain. As I’ve written about previously, my very first night playing Magic I practically made the life-gain player cry by playing Havoc Festival in five out of six games. Tainted Remedy is even better for that sort of thing. That on Turn 3, or better yet, Rain of Gore on Turn 2, is beautiful against the Oloro player. (I feel like Oloro is an unfair card because there’s almost no way to interact with that effect. Turning it against them seems like the perfect karma.) The thing to remember about Rain of Gore is that it doesn’t stop lifelink, since in that case it’s the damage itself causing the life-gain.

So. Let’s take a look at what Olivia has to offer.

Vampires:

Anowon, the Ruin Sage

Baron Sengir

Blood Artist

Blood Seeker

Bloodline Keeper

Bloodlord of Vaasgoth

Butcher of Malakir

Captivating Vampire

Chancellor of the Dross

Dark Impostor

Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief

Drana, Liberator of Malakir

Falkenrath Exterminator

Falkenrath Marauders

Fiend of Shadows

Guul Draz Assassin

Guul Draz Overseer

Havengul Vampire

Heirs of Stromkirk

Indulgent Aristocrat

Malakir Bloodwitch

Malakir Cullblade

Markov Blademaster

Necropolis Regent

Olivia’s Bloodsworn

Rakish Heir

Shadow Alley Denizen

Stromkirk Captain

Vampiric Dragon

Vein Drinker

Viscera Seer

Some of these cards are just utility cards that happen to be vampires, such as Butcher of Malakir. Other are vampire tribal, like Stromkirk Captain. Vampiric Dragon remains on the decklist because it’s both a vampire and a dragon—two things that I adore. Viscera Seer might be taken off the list as more and better vampires get printed; it’s only on there because my ex was a firm believer in having free sac outlets in case of boardwipe, something that was probably more relevant in his original playgroup than the one I’m currently a part of. And of course there’s Olivia herself.

For a while I ran some non-vampire creatures under the philosophy that I could just make them vampires using Olivia. Something like Heartless Hidetsugu is gold in this deck. It’s very aggro and loves cutting everyone’s life total in half. But I decided the tribal theme was more important than streamlining the deck. Deathbringer Thoctar might combo well with some of the other cards, but I’d rather have another true vampire; if I need to win that badly, perhaps I should be playing Teysa or Kaalia instead.

Artifacts:

Basilisk Collar

Blade of the Bloodchief

Coat of Arms

Door of Destinies

Heartstone

Illusionist’s Bracers

Lightning Greaves

Mask of Avacyn

Sol Ring

Swiftfoot Boots

Normally I’d have stuff like Coat of Arms and Door of Destines in a category titled “Vampire Tribal” along with Stromkirk Captain and Captivating Vampire, and Greaves, Mask, and Boots together in a category labeled “Protection.” But Olivia’s artifacts are just so all over the place I decided to lump them all together.

Basilisk Collar turns Olivia into a machine gun. Equipped to her, it becomes, 1R: Destroy target creature. With Heartstone, that price is lowered to a single red.

Sol Ring allows me to cast Olivia on Turn 2, assuming in that time I get at least one source of red and at least one source of black. This is actually one of the few decks I run the card. It’s good for acceleration but in most cases I’d rather have another card, since my philosophy isn’t about trying to win every match.

Illusionist’s Bracers is just nonsense in this deck. I had one game with Turn 1 Sol Ring, Turn 2 Olivia, Turn 3 Illusionist’s Bracers cast and equipped. After that I had enough mana to convert and steal two creatures on each of my turns. My opponents just stopped playing creatures because they were tired of me attacking them with their own threats. (Incidentally, if they’d just communicated amongst themselves, and each of them played at least one creature per turn, I couldn’t have stolen all of them, and they might have been able to team up to eliminate me.)

Removal:

Doom Blade

Hero’s Downfall

Malicious Affliction

Murder

Terminate

Tragic Slip

Ultimate Price

Urge to Feed

Victim of Night

Blasphemous Act

Burn from Within

Damnation

Dreadbore

Ruinous Path

Sever the Bloodline

Vandalblast

Urge to Feed doubles as vampire tribal. Burn from Within is good when going up against things like Avacyn; I can Burn from Within for one and then Doom Blade her for the kill. And of course removal in general is just good. Especially if I don’t have the mana to steal the creatures with Olivia. Or if she’s been killed too many times for me to re-cast her.

Enchantments:

Braid of Fire

Havoc Festival

Mana Flare

Rain of Gore

Spiteful Visions

Stensia Masquerade

Tainted Remedy

Like with the artifacts, usually I’d have divided up the enchantments into categories. Havoc Festival, Rain of Gore, and Tainted Remedy definitely belong in a category together, perhaps with Spiteful Visions as well. That last is primarily in the deck for the damage it deals, although drawing extra cards is certainly helpful. Stensia Masquerade of course is vampire tribal, and Braid of Fire and Mana Flare help me afford Olivia’s ping ability, which buffs her and lets me swing in for the kill.

Lands:

Akoum Refuge

Blood Crypt

Bloodfell Caves

Bloodstained Mire

Dragonskull Summit

Molten Slagheap

Mountain x13

Rakdos Carnarium

Rakdos Guildgate

Smoldering Marsh

Swamp x13

There’s not much to say about the lands. Thirteen mountains and thirteen swamps is deliberate due to that being my favorite number. Normally I wouldn’t include a fetch land in a Commander deck, but I pulled so many from Khans packs that I declared the next one I pulled would go in Olivia, and since I did indeed pull another, it made its way into the decklist (and the deck is probably better for it).

I recently had a chance to play Olivia against some of my fellow judges. After deciding that because it was a friendly game we could mulligan whatever way we wanted until we had a keepable hand, I wound up with a hand that had two Mountains and a Sol Ring. What I didn’t have was a Swamp, but I drew one first turn, so my Turn 1 was Swamp, Sol Ring, Mask of Avacyn, which is the best Turn 1 I’ve ever had playing Olivia. The only better Turn 1 would have been Lightning Greaves in place of the Mask.

My friend Isaac had played Serra Ascendant on his own Turn 1, and swung at me Turn 2, swiftly earning my enmity. It was well-deserved, since he pointed out to the table, quite correctly, that a Turn 2 Olivia was much scarier than his Turn 1 Serra Ascendant (especially considering that I would soon have enough mana to steal the Serra Ascendant and then I would have both).

Turn 2, naturally, I played a land, and Olivia. Turn 3 I was able to equip with the Mask; I’d taken the gamble that no one would have removal this early in the game, and it paid off. With my remaining mana I pinged something, giving Olivia +1/+1, and swung at Isaac in retaliation for the six damage he’d dealt to me.

Turn 4 I drew Lightning Greaves, cast and equipped, pinged two more creatures, and swung at Isaac for seven more, for a total of 12 commander damage. (It might not have been the wisest choice for him to piss off the Rakdos player Turn 2.)

On Turn 5, I pinged Victor’s Mother of Runes—Victor was another judge who was playing with us. In response he tapped the MoR to give Battlegrace Angel protection from red until end of turn. With that on the stack, I pinged Battlegrace Angel, turning it into a vampire and giving Olivia her +1/+1 counter. After that I had enough mana left over for another ping, and I swung at Isaac for 10 commander, which added to the 12 he’d already taken was more than lethal.

Unfortunately round abouts that time, one of the other players got down an Akroma’s Memorial. Up until that point, he was easily handleable with what I had on board. But now his creatures had both flying and protection from Olivia, so there was no way for me to handle his board. I didn’t actually have Vandalblast in the physical version of the deck, and I wasn’t fortunate enough to draw Damnation—although even that would have only delayed the inevitable.

On Turn 6 I finally drew the second swamp I needed to start stealing things. My first take was Battlegrace Angel—I needed that life-gain, plus it was keeping me from attacking Victor. At that point I was in a good position to eliminate every player at the table except the one with Akroma’s Memorial, and I did so, then was run over by a bunch of flying elves.

Lessons learned: Unfortunately Akroma’s Memorial is a thing. I could try to run enough artifact hate to get rid of it whenever it shows up, similar to what I do with Trostani and enchantment hate (directed at things like Havoc Festival and Tainted Remedy). However currently artifact hate doesn’t seem terribly worth it, when it’s really just the one artifact that hoses my deck, and between the monetary and mana cost, it doesn’t come up in a whole lot of games. If I play Olivia more against a wider range of decks I might decide the artifact hate is worth it, even just to prevent my current boyfriend from getting too much of an advantage with his Birthing Pod.

Also, Olivia is scary. When my deck is more of a threat than a Turn 1 6/6 flying lifelink creature…I’m doing something right. When I kill three of the four other players in the game, and only lose to the one who has a card that shuts off my entire deck, I’m doing pretty well for myself. Olivia would definitely rather kill other players than win overall, and she does that quite well.

Randomization

Last weekend at DragonCon, I overheard a player giving advice to his opponent on how to shuffle. The player suggested laying out the cards one at a time into five piles in order to increase randomization. When I explained to him that this method of so-called “pile shuffling” does nothing to add to randomness in the deck, he insisted I was wrong. I was tempted to break out an old card trick my sister showed me over a decade ago, wherein I sort the deck into a number of piles, ask which pile your card is in, pick up all the piles and repeat. That’s all it takes for me to be able to identify which card was chosen.

So let’s start with what it means for a deck to be random. First off, randomization and shuffling are synonyms. One of my opponents at the last pre-release, upon being told that pile shuffling didn’t actually randomize his deck, informed me that he wasn’t randomizing, he was shuffling. I had a very Inigo Montoya moment—I do not think that word means what you think it means.

A truly random deck is one where each card has an equal probability of being in any position, and those probabilities do not change as more information becomes known. For instance, if I draw my Havoc Festival, I should not be able to use that information to conclude that my Wound Reflection is somewhere in the next ten cards. True randomness will reduce but not eliminate the chance of mana flood or mana screw; in a deck with an even distribution of spells and lands, spell-spell-spell-spell, spell-land-spell-land, and land-land-land-land have approximately equal probabilities of occurring. Each individual distribution of cards is exactly as likely to happen as any other; the fact that there are more ways for lands and spells to be distributed in an approximately even manner than for all to be clumped together means that as a whole those types of distributions are more likely to occur.

If I know the location, or approximate location, of any card in the deck, the deck is not random. For instance, if I shuffle my cards face-up, then flip the deck over and do a single face-down shuffle, I know that whatever card was on the bottom is still very close to that position. I’ll also know that said card is still very close to whatever cards it was close to when I turned the deck over, so if I draw one of them I’ll know the others are coming up soon, even if my opponent has cut my deck.

Most people think a random distribution means everything is approximately evenly spaced, like a group of people standing in an elevator. In fact, clumping is an aspect of randomness, because the presence of, say, one land card, has no bearing on the positioning of others. This is a very difficult thing for the human brain to grasp. It seems impossible that if you have twenty-three people in a room, two of them will share a birthday, but in fact there’s a better than fifty percent chance of that being the case. (The math on this is simple. Given two people, there’s a 364/365 chance that they don’t share a birthday. Multiply this by a third person’s 363/365 chance of not sharing a birthday with either of them, since now there are two days already taken. The fourth person is 362/265, and so on. As you multiply all of these numbers together, the probability of no one sharing a birthday shrinks, until it’s less than fifty percent, meaning there’s a greater than fifty percent chance that at least two people do share a birthday.)

Back on the topic of pile counting, there’s actually an infamous cheat known as the double nickel, wherein the player counts out his cards into five piles, stacks the piles, and repeats. This creates a near-perfect distribution of lands versus spells. Since most opponents only cut the deck, rather than shuffle, the distribution is preserved. (If I have land-spell-spell throughout my deck, it doesn’t matter what the top card is, the top seven will have either two or three lands, with another land either the first or second draw.)

In a less blatantly cheaty-face example, say I know the card that’s thirteenth from the top. I count my cards into five piles. The card I know is now in the third pile, third from the bottom. In a ninety-nine card deck, it’s going to wind up twenty-second from the bottom. Any card whose position I knew before the pile count, I can uniquely identify its position afterwards. No knowledge has actually been lost, therefore the deck is no more random than it was before the supposed shuffle.

Does that mean that an opponent who uses this technique is automatically cheating? Not necessarily. Judges refer to it as pile counting for a reason. It’s a great way to make sure you’re presenting a legal deck by ensuring you have all forty, sixty, or ninety-nine cards. It can also be helpful in determining if any cards are stuck together and unsticking them, so those cards don’t remain next to each other throughout the shuffling process.

So how should you shuffle? Riffle shuffling is best—that’s your typical playing card shuffle—but it’s rather difficult with a pile of ninety-nine sleeved Magic cards. One thing I like to do, after a few initial shuffles, is to cut the deck in half and shuffle each half separately. With sleeved cards, it can also be easier to mash shuffle (where you just mash the two piles of cards together, rather than bend them and let them riffle through your fingers), although mash shuffling isn’t as effective a randomization technique.

For a fifty-two card deck of playing cards, or a sixty card Magic deck, seven riffle shuffles will make the deck essentially random. In a Commander deck, you need at least one more, and that’s if you’re shuffling the entire deck at once. If not, first you have to randomize which cards are in the top versus bottom half (and not simply by cutting, since that preserves cards being in the same half, since they’ll move together from the top to bottom or vice versa), then cut it in half and shuffle each half seven times, before then shuffling the two halves back together.

For perfect randomization, it takes eleven or twelve shuffles to make a fifty-two card deck indistinguishable from true random. That number is going to increase as the number of cards in the deck increases. Of course it’s not terribly feasible to shuffle a Commander deck a baker’s dozen times before every game and after every search of the library; games take more than long enough as it is. Especially since it’s a casual format, I’m not really worried about players knowing the relative positions of cards. If you’re cheating in Commander, you’re doing it wrong. The main point of shuffling here is to create a random distribution of lands, which will hopefully provide semi-regular land drops and allow you to play your deck, while also undoing any knowledge you’ve gained of card positions either from looking through your library, or putting the cards on top after a previous game. Seven or eight shuffles—or seven shuffles of each half of the deck—should be sufficient for the purposes of the game. After searching the library, four or five riffle or mash shuffles will undo any knowledge gained, since it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to memorize the relative positions of ninety cards in the few seconds it takes to find the card you want.

Now go forth and spread the news! And don’t let people tell new players that pile counting randomizes their deck.

 

Deck Tech: Kaalia

When I first sat down to make a Mardu deck, my chosen theme was angels, demons, and vampires. At the time, vampires were mainly red in my mind, since it was shortly after the first Innistrad block. Incidentally, this was before the Mardu clan existed, so the color combination was still known as Dega, and there were only a few choices for Dega commanders.

My original commander was Tariel, because I wasn’t ready to shell out the money necessary to purchase a Kaalia, and for some reason I was determined to stick to vampires rather than dragons despite already having a vampire deck. Eventually that deck morphed into Mardu good stuff with Zurgo at the helm after Khans of Tarkir came out. I’ve been a lot happier with it since I stopped trying to force it to be something it didn’t want to be, but the idea of angels and demon still drew me.

Of course, I already had a red/white angel deck in Gisela, and with the printing of Shadowborn Apostle I decided to put together a mono-black demons deck as well. Honestly if I’d really wanted I probably could have combined the two into a Kaalia deck, but I dislike taking apart my decks, and Gisela and Shirei had their own personalities that would be lost if they got combined. (Gisela strives for one-shot commander damage, and Shirei can do such fun things as a Turn 2 Demon of Death’s Gate.)

For a while, I held off on building a Kaalia deck. There were three reasons for this. First, my husband was working on one. Why build my own deck when I could just borrow his? Second, the expense. Not only is Kaalia herself expensive, the deck requires several powerful cards that don’t come cheap. I could have cannibalized Gisela and Shirei for some of those cards, but nostalgia won out. (If there’s a Guinness record for greatest number of Commander decks owned, I’m working on achieving it. Current count is seventy-five.) Third, Kaalia decks are just plain mean. Due to Kaalia negating the need for mana, they tend to run a lot of mass land destruction, which makes the deck no fun to play against.

The first reason became irrelevant when my husband decided to move in with his girlfriend. He’s now my ex-husband, and we no longer communicate. I’ve since put together several decks that he was (and probably still is) working on.

The second hurdle was solved when I got more active with judging. StarCity Games offers store credit as one of the options for judges who work their evens. Working three of their events in a month earned me more than enough to put together the deck.

The third objection was perhaps the hardest to overcome. I dislike playing unfun decks. In putting together my own playgroup from friends who hadn’t played Magic for years, I had to focus on decks that are fun for the whole table, so my friends would want to continue to come over and play. But that group fell apart after the divorce, and recently I’ve been playing in assigned pods at the local gaming store. This means occasionally I get paired against players who have degenerate combo decks, and I care about their fun to the precise degree that they care about mine, which is to say, not at all. Besides, sometimes I’m just in the mood to wreck face. With the number of decks I have to choose from, I can afford to have a few decks that are just plain mean.

I approached the decklist with the assumption that I’d be making myself a target the minute I sat down. Some commanders draw hate by the nature of the decks they typically command. Sharuum decks have degenerate combos; Zur decks are difficult to interact with; and Kaalia decks run land destruction. Regardless of whether the individual deck in question does those things, the other players at the table are going to assume. Thus I needed ways to protect my commander and recur her if she got countered or killed. I also wanted to be able to cast at least some of my creatures without my commander to cheat them out.

Naturally the core of the deck is angels, demons, and dragons. Big, stompy creatures that I can cheat in using Kaalia’s ability. The rest of the deck is about reanimation, protection, land destruction, and removal. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the decklist.

***

Angels:

Adarkar Valkyrie

Admonition Angel

Aegis Angel

Akroma, Angel of Fury

Akroma, Angel of Wrath

Angel of Deliverance

Angel of Despair

Angel of Serenity

Angelic Arbiter

Angelic Field Marshal

Angelic Skirmisher

Archangel of Strife

Archangel of Thune

Archangel of Tithes

Aurelia, the Warleader

Avacyn, Angel of Hope

Deathless Angel

Emeria Shepherd

Gisela, Blade of Goldnight

Iona, Shield of Emeria

Linvala, Keeper of Silence

Platinum Angel

Resolute Archangel

Reya Dawnbringer

Subjugator Angel

Tariel, Reckoner of Souls

Linvala is good because at only four mana, if I can cast Kaalia, I can probably cast her. Angelic Field Marshal is also four CMC, but she’s really only good when Kaalia is in play. Archangel of Thune is pretty easy to cast at five, and her ability will help buff my other creatures, Kaalia included, assuming she’s on the battlefield.

The best use for Aurelia is to play her before combat. She has haste, so she can attack that turn, giving you that sweet attack trigger. Then you can drop in two other creatures that same turn. If you cheat her in with Kaalia, you lose out on the trigger until you attack with her the next turn. That’s because her ability only triggers when she’s declared as an attacker, and Kaalia’s ability puts her onto the battlefield already attacking. Then again, if it’s Turn 5 and you have Kaalia out and Aurelia in hand, dropping her in could well be the best play.

Archangel of Tithes, though only four CMC, can be difficult to play without Kaalia’s ability because of the three white in the mana cost. However, unlike Aurelia, her ability is not a trigger, therefore you still get the benefit even if you cheat her in with Kaalia’s ability. Also, while she’s untapped, it’s that much harder for opponents to attack you, especially if you’ve recently destroyed all of their lands.

Subjugator Angel is great, because if you drop her in with Kaalia, it all but guarantees that your opponents won’t be able to block this turn. This can be good if you don’t yet have a way to protect Kaalia and the opponent you want to attack has flying blockers. It can also lead to some shenanigans second combat phase if you also attack with Aurelia.

Aegis Angel, Avacyn, and Deathless Angel can be protection for Kaalia to keep her from being destroyed; Adarkar Valkyrie, Emeria Shepherd, and Reya Dawnbringer can bring her back after she gets killed.

The rest are mostly just good, powerful creatures that would be good in any deck. The mana curve is steeper than I’d typically play in a deck, but with Kaalia it’s okay, because I should be able to cheat them out early. If I can’t, well, I’m probably going to lose. In this particular case, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

***

Demons:

Bloodgift Demon

Harvester of Souls

Master of Cruelties

Rakdos the Defiler

Rune-Scarred Demon

Master of Cruelties is great if one of your opponents has no blockers. Swing with Kaalia, drop him in to her ability. His attack restriction is only checked when he’s declared as an attacker; because he enters the battlefield already attacking, the restriction doesn’t matter. With no blockers to be declared, MoC’s ability triggers, preventing all damage he would deal and setting the defending player’s life total to 1. That happens in the declare blockers step. Then we go to the combat damage step. MoC deals no damage because it’s been prevented, but his ability has no effect on Kaalia, who deals her 2 like normal. Now the defending player is at -1 and loses the game.

Of course this only works the once. The next time MoC attacks, he has to do it alone. Even then, he’s a good card. Unblocked, he sets defending player to 1, leaving them easy pickings next turn. Blocked, the combination of first strike and deathtouch means the blocking creature is going to die before it has a chance to deal its own damage. Or I can just keep him in reserve as a blocker, to kill any creatures foolish enough to come my way.

Rakdos is kind of a one-off effect, and I may take him out of the deck depending on how he performs. Still, I can’t pass up the opportunity to drop him in with Kaalia and thus bypass his downside while forcing one of my opponents to sacrifice half their permanents.

***

Dragons:

Balefire Dragon

Moonveil Dragon

Utvara Hellkite

All three dragons that made the final cut are rather difficult to cast. I almost have to have Kaalia on the field in order to get them down. Balefire Dragon and Moonveil Dragon are just plain good in any deck, so including them is no hardship. Utvara Hellkite is a little iffy in a deck with only three dragons, but even with only himself, I can double my number of dragons every turn. Plus, this way he’s already there if WotC prints more dragons I want to put in the deck.

***

Land Destruction:

Armageddon

Boom//Bust

Cataclysm

Catastrophe

Decree of Annihilation

Ravages of War

As previously stated, I dislike land destruction, because it means out of four players at the table, only one is actually getting to play her deck. I feel justified in running it in Kaalia, however, because, first off, I’m going to be targeted the minute I sit down, and second, if I manage to landwipe with Kaalia in play, the game isn’t going to last much longer. Without lands, no one will be able to kill my threats, most importantly Kaalia, so my boardstate will continue to increase over the next few turns until I’ve eliminated all the other players. Then I can pull out a deck that’s perhaps a wee bit more fair.

***

Removal:

Anguished Unmaking

Disenchant

Go for the Throat

Hero’s Downfall

Mortify

Murder

Terminate

Tragic Slip

Vindicate

As I’ve written about in a previous post, removal is key. There are several things that can shut my deck off, like Guul Draz Assassin, or Sheoldred, or Dictate of Erebos. I need to be able to get rid of those things if they come up. My chosen removal involves a lot of things that can hit a variety of permanents, so I’m ready for anything.

***

Recurrance:

Animate Dead

Debtor’s Knell

Phyrexian Reclamation

Breath of Life

Defy Death

Profane Command

Resurrection

Unburial Rites

Sheoldred, Whispering One

Kaalia is going to be a target. The easiest way to stop the Kaalia player is to kill Kaalia herself until she’s uncastable. Being able to bring her back from the graveyard, rather than having to send her to the command zone and pay the command tax, gives me more time to build up my mana base while my opponents futilely throw kill spells in the hopes that one will eventually stick.

***

Protection:

Darksteel Plate

Lightning Greaves

Swiftfoot Boots

Whispersilk Cloak

Not much needs to be said about being able to keep Kaalia from being targeted or destroyed once I get her out. I would like to note however that Whispersilk Cloak has the additional benefit of keeping her from being blocked, which means my opponent can’t just get down a two-power flier and be safe from my wrath.

***

Other:

Dictate of the Twin Gods

Havoc Festival

Honestly these cards could fall under the category of “acceleration,” but with only two of them it didn’t feel worth it to create said category. Both are in the deck because Kaalia depends on reducing life totals in order to win games. A turn 5 Dictate while swinging with Kaalia and dropping in Gisela means twenty-eight damage to somebody’s face. Turn 6 Havoc Festival means everyone now has a turn to get rid of something or they’re all going to die.

***

Land:

Arid Mesa

Badlands

Blood Crypt

Bloodfell Caves

Bloodstained Mire

Boros Garrison

Boros Guildgate

Command Tower

Godless Shrine

Marsh Flats

Mountain x4

Nomad Outpost

Opal Palace

Orzhov Basilica

Orzhov Guildgate

Plains x4

Plateau

Rakdos Carnarium

Rakdos Guildgate

Rogue’s Passage

Sacred Foundry

Scoured Barrens

Scrubland

Smoldering Marsh

Swamp x4

Wind-Scarred Crag

For this deck, I decided it was worth it to shell out the money for duals. Kaalia really needs to be able to hit the field by Turn 4, since she’s racing the clock to kill everyone before any of them have a chance to build up enough of a board presence to stop her. Most of the lands are just mana-fixing, although I did throw in a Rogue’s Passage to make Kaalia unblockable in order to protect her, or help Master of Cruelties get through.

***

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to play Kaalia. At the time I hadn’t yet gotten my hands on any of the duals I wanted, although it turned out they were for sale at the store where I was playing, and I was able to acquire them for store credit before the end of the night. Here then is a run-down of how the night progressed.

Game one. Opening hand had only one land, had to mulligan. Second hand had a Swamp and three Plains, no sources of red. Every card was foil. Kept, hoping for a red source that never appeared, although I did hard-cast Archangel of Tithes. From the moment I sat down the Daxos player targeted me, since there had been a Kaalia deck in his last playgroup and he had not-so-fond memories of playing against it. I felt this was perfectly fair; after all, I was playing Kaalia, and when I sit down across from a Kaalia deck, my first thought is to contain the threat. Gitrog combo’d off around Turn 6 and we shuffled up for Game two.

Game two. Opening hand had Boros Garrison, the Badlands I’d just purchased from the shop, Godless Shrine, and Nomad Outpost. Karador got down a Birthing Pod and a creature that was going to allow him to search for creatures, so I teamed up with Gitrog, casting Murder on the creature while Gitrog destroyed the artifact. Got down Kaalia Turn 4. Turn 5 I swung at Gitrog and dropped in a Gisela, dealing 14 damage, then dropped in a Phyrexian Reclamation and played Boros Garrison, returning my tapped swamp. Turn 6 I swung again, dropping in Deathless Angel for 24 more damage to Gitrog, killing him for exactsies, since he was already down 2 from some other effect. At the end of my turn, Karador exiled my Gisela, which was a fair play.

Daxos had down a Gravepact, and sacrificed a creature, forcing myself and Karador to sac creatures as well. I chose Kaalia, then returned her to hand with Phyrexian Reclamation. The recurrence I run in my deck was earning its pay. Daxos then destroyed my Phyrexian Reclamation so I couldn’t do that anymore.

On my next turn, I swung Deathless Angel at Daxos, flashing in Dictate of the Twin Gods for 10 damage.

Daxos proceeded to enchant his commander with Fallen Ideal, which was a problem for myself and Karador, since we now couldn’t keep creatures on the field. I then proceeded to team up with Karador; he tutored for Reclamation Sage to destroy the Gravepact after I returned Kaalia to the battlefield once again using Unburial Rites. Next turn I swung at Daxos, dropping in a Rakdos the Defiler. He took 18 and had to sacrifice six permanents, which effectively kept him from doing anything else, and proved that Rakdos was a good inclusion in the deck. The very next turn Karador combo’d off and won.

All in all, I was pretty happy with how the deck worked. Although that Gravepact/Fallen Ideal combo stymied me for a while, given enough time I could have drawn into Mortify, Vindicate, or Anguished Unmaking. What really made me happy, though, was the fact that everyone had a good time. At various points in the game each of us had the advantage. It was also pretty interesting actually allying with other people while playing Kaalia. Usually it’s Kaalia versus the rest of the table. Most likely it was my own mindset, rather than the decklist, that allowed that, but it’s nice to know that even with a truly degenerate deck I can still play a game wherein everyone enjoys themselves.