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.
Anowon, the Ruin Sage
Bloodlord of Vaasgoth
Butcher of Malakir
Chancellor of the Dross
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief
Drana, Liberator of Malakir
Fiend of Shadows
Guul Draz Assassin
Guul Draz Overseer
Heirs of Stromkirk
Shadow Alley Denizen
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.
Blade of the Bloodchief
Coat of Arms
Door of Destinies
Mask of Avacyn
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.)
Urge to Feed
Victim of Night
Burn from Within
Sever the Bloodline
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.
Braid of Fire
Rain of Gore
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.
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.