This entry is part 9 of 23 in the series Savor That Commander Flavor

By William aka BlueRam

When you’re a beginner, there are cards that can be scary to play against. Some can leave a lasting impression on how you play the game. They can awe and inspire you to do things you’ve never done before.

As I begin a new season here at Commandercast, I’m reminded of how our experiences shape who we are and how we do the things we do. Of course, playing Magic fits into this like a hand and glove.

I was just a newbie when I started playing Commander. My scope of what the multiverse held was limited to what was found in Zendikar, and what were the beginnings of Mirrodin’s impending war.

In those days, Rith, the Awakener was my only general, and I was having fun playing one-on-one games against a friend and his Reaper King deck. When I eventually got Kaailia’s pre-con, I had a pair of decks that used big creatures and were very aggressive. To me, that was the only way to play.

Later that summer, I made a good friend (henceforth referred to as “Gary”) during the M12 pre-release, and got invited play Commander at his apartment the week after. I went over with my wide-eyed youth and a deck full of creatures that were bigger than life itself.

When our group finally sat down to play, I looked over curiously at Gary’s general. There were still tons of cards I hadn’t seen before, and Merieke Ri Berit was one of them. I asked if I could read the card. When I had, I knew I wasn’t going to like where the game was going.

The whole game is a blur to me now, but I remember the horror of Merieke stealing multiple creatures with Rings of Brighthearth, and destroying them just for Gary to reset her to do it all over again with Minamo, School at Water’s Edge.

As someone who was (and still is) overly attached to his cards, this was just about the worst thing that could happen to me. I hated watching helplessly as my the huge creatures I worked so hard to put into play were turned against me, and forced to watch them get destroyed if I tried to get them back. All while she was slowly grinding her way to victory.

I’ll say this, his general was a bitch, but Gary was a great mentor to have as a new player. I kept coming back to play, getting better as both a player and a deck builder each time I did thanks to his help.

Flash forward a few months, and Gary had gotten tired of playing with Merieke. She was the only deck that he had, and he was tired of both winning the same way every time, and the hate that Merieke was starting to garner in our group. Since I had recently taken apart my Rith token deck, he must’ve decided that then would be a good time to take her apart and try out a token deck of his own.

The next time we played, instead of Merieke, we were up against Hazezon Tamar and the start of a new era in our metagame.

Honestly, I was disappointed to see Merieke go. At the time, I considered her a great rival to play against, and the measuring stick for how well my decks were being built. She might not have been the funnest card to play against, but she was definitely one of the most challenging.

With most of the deck in his trade binder, I could have tried to trade for, and build, Merieke myself. I certainly had plenty of opportunities to make a grab for her. But it never felt right to try and part Gary and Merieke, even though I figured he’d trade her no problem if he was getting something he wanted out of it. It’s probably because I imagine a bond between a player and his general, no matter what sort of relationship they actually have, even if it’s that between an inanimate possession and its owner.

For that reason, I will never build a Merieke deck of my own.

But, that didn’t mean I couldn’t try and build a deck SIMILAR to Merieke. This, my friends, is where Innistrad starts to play a big role in our story.

Dark Ascension was in spoiler mode, and there were plenty of goodies to be seen. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed was the center of everyone’s excitement, but I was still busy looking at a ‘woman’ from the previous set who had cast her glamour over me.

Olivia Voldaren was a card that I’d been interested in for a while. Vampires were a tribal type that I’d been wanting to experiment with, and the new ones coming out in Dark Ascension meant that I would have some pretty powerful support. But that in and of itself wasn’t why I was interested in her.

Her ability to steal creatures reminded me a lot of Merieke but without the distaste of playing the blue spells that I disliked at the time. A lot of Merieke’s strategy was to steal creatures, and then get rid of them when something better came by, which was similar to what Gary was doing with his Hazezon deck. Hazezon was using a lot of Threaten effects with sacrifice outlets available to get rid of problematic creatures (in addition to normal removal spells).

Up until now, I’d been sticking with either huge and aggressive creatures, or small armies of tokens. I wanted to see if I could play a thieving creature deck, and I also wanted to see if I could build a control deck in a way that suited my style of play.

So I decided to interview the vampire, and see what we could do together.

The first thing I tried was to surround Olivia with her vampire brethren. Building around the strongest vampires and their flavored spells wasn’t quite working out though. I needed to better build around Olivia specifically, but I couldn’t just straight up copy the cards Gary used. I would have to tailor them to play to Olivia’s strengths. So I asked myself a question:

Where did they differ?

The Esper colored Merieke has access some of the best spot removal in the game in Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile and even Unmake.  But Olivia can make up for the quality of her removal with the quantity that only Rakdos possesses. A lot of our control comes in the form of burn spells (such asBituminous Blast), spot destruction (Wrecking Ball), as well as Olivia’s first ability.

By herself, she can’t destroy monsters, but she can repeatedly shoot them until they die. If Olivia happens to have Basilisk Collar or Quietus Spike though, she obtains a “kiss of death” that makes her deadlier than Kissin’ Kate Barlow.

But even if she doesn’t have her accessories, she can mark a man for death by singling him out. By leaving a single creature “unmarked” on an opponent’s field, they’ll have no choice but to sacrifice it to Anowon, the Ruin Sage’s effect. It’s a great way to get around cards that have shroud or hexproof (like Uril, the Miststalker or an enchanted Zur).

If they’re still alive after all of that, then Olivia’s glamour ability steals them for our side to use after they’ve been “bitten”. Unlike Merieke though, Olivia can’t destroy the creatures she’s glamoured when I lose control of her.

But this also leads to one of the advantages that Olivia does have over her human counterpart: With Rings of Brighthearth, the most Merieke can steal are two creatures before she resets to destroy them. Olivia can glamour creatures permanently and build up her own, personal, army single handedly.

With so many vampires running around, tribal bonuses have a stronger effect. Stromkirk Captain is a lord that gives the legion first strike so that they may attack their former allies without fear. Blood Tribute is normally a gimmick card, but since we have vampire’s on demand, it can be a nice boost to our life, especially if we’re draining our own life totals with phyrexian and draw effects.  Malakir Bloodwitch also fits into this category, but her protection from white is what keeps her game relevant. She can avoid Merieke’s touch without a single problem.

Anyone who’s been betrayed will tell you that leaving your enemies alive, even to serve you, is a liability. Having a contingency plan is important, as I’ve learned the hard way. I’ll never forget the day that Rebuke destroyed Olivia and I was beaten to a pulp by an army of angry creatures, upset that they were now cursed as vampires.

I mean, jeez. You’d think they’d appreciate being able to outlive their friends and family for all of eternity.

To that end, commonplace sacrifice outlets are king when Olivia’s running around. Being able to sacrifice our opponent’s creatures to power Rakdos Riteknife is a delicious irony that Olivia enjoys very much. They can power creatures like Lyzolda, the Blood Witch, and Falkenrath Aristocrat, to get special effects when we offer them our enemy’s life wine.

Fists of the Demigod might seem counter-intuitive, since it grants Olivia wither and shrinks the creatures we want to steal, making them weaker keeps them from being deadly when they turn against us. It also allows Olivia to get around indestructibility, if need be,  something that’s beyond Merieke’s power to do normally.

Of course, Merieke does have her fair share of help too. Esper has a strong tradition of being an EDH powerhouse with Wrexial, the Risen Deep, Deadeye Navigator, and it’s plethora of equipment tutors that help Merieke get all of her favorite toys.

Olivia’s favorite toy, though, is a doll. Stuffy Doll, to be precise. Normally, Olivia can only ping creatures. But her dolly turns that damage into a gatling gun that serves as a great mana-sink in the late game. It’s also got great synergy with the red wrath effects of Chain Reaction and Blasphemous Act, particularly if they’re copied with Increasing Vengeance.

And with that, the base of the deck was built. It didn’t take long to start grinding out wins, and everyone I played with began to feel the fear of having their most powerful cards turned against them.

As my meta shifted, so did some of the cards I included. Torpor Orb and Grafdigger’s Cage became hate cards, as did Blood Moon. But they’re also cards that can easily be swapped out if different answers are needed. Blood Moon in particular is a great lock-out, but has been dwindling in power as Olivia’s mana-base increases in power and diversity.

The face of the deck might be different, but the core idea is similar enough that It’s safe to say that without Merieke to inspire me, playing with Olivia might never have evolved beyond a cute vampire tribal deck that was just strong enough to lend to my sister whenever she wanted to play with me.

By levelten @

But our story hasn’t ended quite yet.

After taking almost a year, Gary’s Hazezon deck is complete. No more proxies to be made, and everything accounted for. He even has all of the pokemon cards he wanted to use for his tokens (He uses a bunch of Sandslashes for Hazezon’s sandwarriors, in case you were interested). Now he’s looking for his next deck project to work on.

The group’s suggested a few things, and some were tested, but nothing’s ever really stuck.

Then, half a month ago, I got to Gary’s place a little early to find him going through his cards. He was getting ready to sell most of them since he didn’t have the time or partners to trade them away, and he had no plans to use them in the future.

But before he did that, he was pulling out assorted cards and slipping them into one of his binders. When I asked him what he was doing, he told me that he needed those cards to rebuild Merieke. She was not only a fun deck for him to play with, but the first one he put together as well; and he was going to make her better then he had the last time he used her. He would have to proxy some stuff, but no one in our group minds.

When I got home, I started flipping through Olivia’s deck, making plans to upgrade her and finish collecting the cards I needed to get rid of her proxies.

Merieke’s back, and it’s time she met her star pupil.

(Pic by MightlyOats)

As always, if you have any comments/questions/ideas for articles/etc, feel free to leave some comments down below, tweet my account @BlueRam1409, or send an email to my inbox at Wiehernandez(at)gmail(dot)com. I’m also “BlueRam” on the MTG Salvation forums. I really do enjoy getting feedback for my work!

Join me next week, when we take a look at the possibility of decks without commanders.

Until then, I have to go help someone gear up for her duel. You wouldn’t believe what she can fit under that dress of hers.

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