August 30, 2012
Posted by Maxwellian2000
With Return to Ravnica on the horizon, there’s going to be a plethora of new two-color generals to test out in the next few months. So this season you will see my musings on that topic a la my Maelstrom Wanderer article from last season. I will of course include some new goodies from RtR as they become available.
But seeing as we still have about a month until then, I thought I’d take a look at something of an obscure R/B option from original Ravnica, Lyzolda, the Blood Witch. She’s underplayed due to several factors, primary of which is that she has one toughness and no other way to protect herself from damage, usually a recipe for quick death in Commander. Another drawback is that two mana is a little much for a general’s conditional sacrifice outlet (or so says Grimgrin, Corpse-Born). Finally, given the other options for generals in these colors (i.e., Olivia Voldaren, Kaervek the Merciless and Wort, Boggart Auntie), as well no in-color responses to enchantments outside of Chaos Warp, Lyzzie just doesn’t get a lot of run.
One of the goals here at Peasant Rebellion is to get the most out of “bad” cards, especially underplayed generals, so of course I had to take her for a spin. What I ended up with was a fun build, even if slightly less powerful than some of the other horses in my stable.
So why play my girl Lyzzie, anyway? She only costs three, which is always a plus in a format where most generals cost at least five. Any black deck that can consistently sacrifice creatures can probably take advantage of Grave Pact given all the tutors available to search it up. That strategy has lost a little luster with the advent of Sigarda, Host of Herons, but it’s still viable. As a reward for triggering Pact via Lyzolda, the Blood Witch, we draw a card, shoot a player or creature for two, or both if that creature happens to be both red and black (yes, we will get to Murderous Redcap). Because life totals don’t matter as much card advantage, and opposing creatures are generally larger than two toughness, my build is heavy on black sacrifice fodder. I found that having some red creatures around, especially via Chancellor of the Forge with some tokens already on the field, is nice for some machine gun action, but the real draw is, well, the draw.
OK, so let’s draw some cards and abuse Grave Pact. Unfortunately, that plan only works if we can keep our one-toughness general on the field for any length of time. Even though a three-power general is not necessarily Voltron material, a Voltron-esque equipment suite focused on boosting toughness and providing protection effects has really helped her stick around. This is the only equipment-centric deck I have at the moment, so this build gets various Swords of Stuff and Junk and an Umezawa’s Jitte, but Whispersilk Cloak and Darksteel Plate would be pretty ballin’ budget options, too. While I can’t remember ever winning with general damage, I can envision a super backup strategy where you just keep swinging with a suited-up Lyzzie.
The next step is to enable Lyzzie to do her thing. Fortunately for us, black is second only to green in the sheer number of cards that make sacrifice fodder. Grave Titan and Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder are both really good, especially Endrek. My foil Bitterblossom is finally getting some run, as its two CMC is on-curve prior to dropping Lyzzie for the first time, as is the Bloodghast/Reassembling Skeleton/Nether Traitor triumvirate, but this deck has got to be THE place for Army of the Damned outside of tribal zombies. There is something just totally awesome about saying “now I have thirteen zombies.” If the they get to untap, someone’s going down, maybe with the assistance of pump cards like Moonveil Dragon, Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Rage Reflection. And given enough mana, we might at least be able to draw some cards before some silly opponent goes to clear the board.
It should be noted that originally I tried to fill the deck with other sacrifice outlets, figuring that that there would be enough tokens to go around. Well, it turns out that drawing a card for two mana, sometimes even one, and maybe with a Grave Pact or Butcher of Malakir…let’s just say that Lyzzie desires the tokens with an unnatural fervor. So now the only sac outlets are just the auto-include Phyrexian Tower, a Dimir House Guard that more often than not transmutes for Grave Pact or Damnation, and a little something from the new core set, Disciple of Bolas. It took me a minute to warm up to the Disciple, but she can work out so well that a Reliquary Tower is necessary to avoid discarding large hands.
While actual sac outlets are in shorter supply that most decks out there looking to abuse Grave Pact, effects that rely on triggers from creatures going to the graveyard are prevalent. Butcher of Malakir, Morbid, and Persist are good starting points. Murderous Redcap is the most synergistic with Lyzzie for obvious reasons, and also enables infinite damage stupidity with Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and a free sac outlet. MIke’s Undying ability is so good in a sacrifice-oriented deck that it doesn’t even matter he doesn’t interact with Lyzzie herself. In my experience, the best way to avoid douche levels of stupidity while still including things like Mike is to resist putting in a ton of free sac outlets (here’s looking at you, Ashnod’s Altar). At least with Lyzzie we still have to pay mana to get abusive.
Some pieces of equipment more focused on abusing goes-to-the-graveyard triggers than protecting Lyzzie include stalwart Skullclamp, always so good in a sacrifice-oriented deck; Nim Deathmantle, which allows Lyzzie to sacrifice and recur herself given enough mana, drawing a card and dealing two damage each time; and Deathrender, which really helps pitch big creatures onto the battlefield, especially with the relative limits on mana production these colors face. Casting Disciple of Bolas, sacing an ETB fattie like Rune-Scarred Demon equipped with a Deathrender and a Skullclamp for good measure, throwing down another fattie for free, drawing 11 cards and gaining 9 life is a pretty swingy play.
So it’s all well and good when Deathrender is on the field, but how are going to get enough mana to routinely get out our fatties and sac as many creatures as we want to Lyzzie? This leads us to the elephant in the room for any non-green deck: mana acceleration. When it comes to ramp, you either go green or you go home. Well, that’s not entirely true, but I would say that it is more challenging to make a non-green deck as fast as one with green. Beyond Cabal Coffers/Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth/Expedition Map, Black Market and Nirkana Revenant (both currently on my wish list), these colors are going to need mana rocks. All those staples are appropriate here, especially Thran Dynamo and Gilded Lotus. Another interaction that has worked out well is Crucible of Worlds with Lake of the Dead to keep the deck in swamps.
Along these lines, there’s no doubt that needing to leave two open to use her ability on a token might be less than ideal, especially early game. However, that problem is mitigated to some extent by Heartstone, which can be searched up with not only the black tutors but also with one of my favorite red creatures, Hoarding Dragon. The Dragon is perfect here because we usually have a sac outlet on board to make sure an opponent’s exile effect doesn’t ruin things. And it shoots something on its way out to boot. Another auto-include creature tutor, given all the equipment and the emphasis on protecting Lyzzie, is Godo, Bandit Warlord.
As for win conditions, we can’t rely on tokens alone in a world with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Propaganda effects. So it seems natural to take a look at the ridiculous demons Wizards has been printing recently in light of Lyzzie’s Rakdos affiliation and Blood Speaker, an actual playable from Champions of Kamigawa not named Sensei’s Divining Top. I mean, every time you cast a demon you get to search for another one at the next upkeep (and maybe trigger Pact, too). This card used to not matter because demons were terrible. Now? It matters. Early game? Search up a Bloodgift Demon. Need something in particular? Rune-Scarred Demon at your service. Just want to draw more cards? They printed Harvester of Souls. Need to wipe that annoying Bant player’s board and keep your stuff while you’re at it? Reiver Demon, coming right up. Prefer targeted removal? Get Reaper from the Abyss and his Morbid trigger on board. The only thing stopping Blood Speaker from being a five-star card in this deck is that we don’t want to sac him to Lyzzie, but this guy has single handedly kept my girl in games.
As for play style, this is a slower, gindy sort of deck that relies on drawing enough cards to achieve a winning board position that usually includes Grave Pact, sac fodder that doubles as a token army, and an active Lyzzie. That strategy can also result in drawing into the Redcap/Mikaeus/Dimir House Guard auto-win for those times when you just have to end the freaking game. The deck doesn’t need to win only with the tokens or combo, though, as the demon suite is pretty good at punishing opponents though the air. As for control, the deck can recover pretty easily from wrath effects as long as Lyzzie has something to sacrifice after a turn or two like a Reassembling Skeleton, so board wipes make the deck even though it is inherently more aggro than control. Other removal includes one of my favorite tricks in a world with Avacyn, Angel of Hope: putting Faceless Butcher’s ability on the stack and sacing him to Lyzzie for a permanent exile effect and a card. Finally, Karn Liberated, Oblivion Stone and Steel Hellkite make their appearance just to have a chance against that True Conviction the white player just dropped. Argentum Armor would also seem to work well with Godo already in the build.
Hopefully these ideas will get Lyzolda, the Blood Witch onto the table a little more. The best thing about this deck is that it is not overpowered. If you do win with it, you can know that you’ve played a good game. But win or lose, rest assured you will at least draw lots of cards and beat face with zombies and demons.
Maxwellian2000 is a former competitive Magic player who now plays mostly Commander formats, along with Palladium Books’ Rifts RPG and Legos. He also works as a lawyer in Kansas and produces music at panoramicrecords.net.