Friday, September 16, 2016

All Hail the Queen!

Howdy folks. I’m excited to share today’s deck with you, as it’s a concept I’ve been trying to execute upon for a very long time, but only now, thanks in large part to the mechanics and cards in Conspiracy: Take the Crown, it is finally working more or less how I wanted it to.

Before we get to the deck list, let me tell you all the story of its origins, of my quest to make an idea work despite multiple failures.

The idea was born of a simple seed: Grand Melee + Ghostly Prison.

I’ll elaborate. Multiplayer games sometimes tend to get bogged down in board stalls. People build up armies but are afraid to leave themselves open, so they don’t attack. This leads to long, drawn out games. Boring games, even, some might say. So, I wanted to build a deck that encouraged (or even forced) attacking to happen more often and more aggressively. Cards like Grand Melee and Fumiko the Lowblood came to mind. But, past experience has showed me when you play cards that force your opponents to attack, they tend to prioritize attacking you! People tend not to like having the strategic choice of when and who to attack, and with which creatures, taken away from them. It’s one of those things that is considered “fair” in a casual setting, but is still likely to irk people and make you the target.

So, if you’re going to force your opponets into attacking, you need to be able to defend yourself, should they make you the focus of their ire. It’s best to use both the “carrot” and the “stick”, I have found out. Meaning, one strategy is to incentivize attacking someone else. Cards that attach a cost to attacking you, such as Ghostly Prison, King Darien, Propaganda, etc., would fit this category, as would cards that reward your opponents for attacking someone else, such as Edric, or Gahiji. So on one axis you have cards that say “It will cost you resources to attack me, or give me resources, but attacking Bob or Mary is free, so why not attack them?”, then on the other axis you have cards that say “Attacking me gains you nothing, but attacking Bob or Mary will draw you some cards or pump your team!” These types of cards are the carrot. They incentivize attacking elsewhere, but don’t do much if your opponent decides it’s worth it to pay whatever cost is associated and comes after you anyway.

The “stick” cards are more about punishing those who don’t cooperate with your more subtle forms of coercion. Again, there are two types of cards that fall into this category. On-board and surprise. On-board “sticks” are cards like No Mercy, Knight-Captain of Eos, or an Oblivion Stone with 5 mana open. Many enfranchised Magic players know these types of cards as “rattlesnakes”. Then there are the surprise effects – cards like Aetherize, Comeuppance, Rout, or even just a good ol’ Fog. The thing about these cards is they benefit most from being part of a regular group, or being known for having them. The first time someone walks right into your Angel of the Dire Hour can be a huge blow out, but later, the mere THREAT of an Angel coming down can drastically influence that player’s decision-making in future games.

So, it’s all about reward and punishment. Positive and negative reinforcement. You say “I will reward you, or at the very least withhold punishment, as long as you cooperate and attack only our mutual opponents.” But you need to be prepared to also say “If you scorn my offer of reward and choose to come after me anyway, I can assure you that you will regret doing so”. And, crucially, you need to be able to back up those assertions – if you threaten retaliation, you have to be capable of delivering on that threat, and if you offer reward or incentive for an opponent to cooperate with your schemes, you need to make good on that promise as well.

For instance, if you play out an Edric you are essentially saying “hey, attack anyone but me and you get some free cards!” but if one of your opponents plays along and attacks a mutual enemy instead of you, don’t Fog their attack or bounce Edric or some other nonsense in response. They took your offer, so you have to deliver on your end of the bargain. For this kind of political deck to work you have to have a reputation as an honest person. There’s always times where you can BLUFF, but outright lies and trickery will only backfire on you in the long run. And of course there will always be situations where allowing someone to cash in on whatever reward you offered will be a disaster... example: You control an Edric, but one of your opponents has out a Psychosis Crawler and an army of 1/1 tokens. If they go to attack a mutual opponent and get 20 or more triggers off Edric that might just spell doom for all of you! So if there is a very clear and immediate strategic reason to screw someone out of the very reward you set out to offer them, well, let’s just hope you’re a smooth-talker!

Anyway, I have really jumped ahead. I was supposed to be talking about the process of how I got to these conclusions, not the end results. Backing up, let me get back to the beginning. So my goal was two-fold: to build a deck that leaned heavily into the political aspect of multiplayer, and encouraged a faster-paced, more proactive style of gameplay, thereby reducing the length of games and alleviating some of the more durdly board-stalls that came up often in my group. My first attempt was a WBR deck led by Oros the Avenger (largely because he was the only option at the time, for those colors). This deck didn’t really work out for a variety of reasons, but in broad strokes, this is how I learned the aforementioned lesson about earning the table’s ire and being able to defend ones’ self. It also had the disadvantage of having a much shallower pool of cards to draw from as WoTC wasn’t really doing much “specifically for multiplayer” design back then. I wanted more cards like Ghostly Prison and No Mercy but had to rely on cards more like Lightmine Field, which ultimately worked at cross-purposes with my goal. You see I very much want to encourage attacking, in general, I just want to discourage those attacks from coming my way. Cards like Lightmine Field actually just halt creature combat altogether, which makes board stalls worse, not better.

I also had something of a punisher/group slug thing going on, with cards like Tainted Aether and Painful  Quandary just annoying people even more, and making them even more likely to come after me. Again, working directly against my goal of dissuading attacks in my direction!

So, I learned from those mistakes, but after tinkering with the deck some more, the real problem emerged. I just didn’t have the kind of cards I needed to make the idea work. There were a few but not enough. I gave up on the idea for a while.

Fast forward a few years and now WotC is making sets like Conspiracy, Archenemy, Planechase and the Commander decks. All of which have a more multiplayer-oriented focus. Now we’re seeing more cards like Illusionist’s Gambit, Comeuppance, Edric and Gahiji, etc. Cards that are design with multiplayer politics in mind. I got especially excited when they printed Cyclonic Rift, Aetherize, Illusionist’s Gambit and Comeuppance in the space of a couple of years. I felt we’d finally hit a critical mass of both carrot and stick politics cards, and a good mix of both surprise and on-board tricks.

So I revisited the idea, going with RWU this time, running Ruhan mainly for the colors but also for his political angle and decent clock he represents. But, even though I went out of my way to avoid running cards like Lightmine Field that just grind the game to a halt, somehow the deck managed to still make games slower and grindier rather than the stated goal of speeding them up and making them more dynamic. The deck did have a much better track record of defending itself and making attacking ME very difficult, but ultimately it was difficult to close out games and the game would devolve to a state where I’m considered the main threat, and everyone else wants to team up to attack me… but my defenses are such that they can’t really manage to do this effectively, so rather than fight each other they call truce until such time as they are able to gang up on me. Meanwhile I’m digging for a threat to close out the game now that my defenses are well-established, but the deck was so defensive that it was hard for me to assemble a powerful offense, and my opponents were able to use their removal sparingly to shut me down when I did manage to present some threats.

Once again, I tinkered with the deck but just couldn’t find the right mix of defense and offence, of reward and punishment, or whatever was off, I just couldn’t get it right.

One of the big problem was momentum. Even though I was now in Blue, I couldn’t fit enough draw into the deck to make it work. If I cut defensive stuff for draw, I’d just get dogpiled, and I was already too light on game-ending threats to cut any of those. I did what I could to provide card advantage and value engines, but that just diluted the main themes of the deck too much. Not seeing a solution I gave up on the idea once again.

I’m pretty sure by this point I was actually up to about three or four attempts at making this concept work, but so far only Edric was even remotely successful at playing up the political manipulation angle, but that deck didn’t have access to the “everybody has to attack” cards that Red brings to the table, so even Edric did very little to actually speed up games and prevent board stalls.

Finally, Conspiracy 2 appears and brings us Queen Marchesa. I had been, for several months, trying to make an Alesha deck work, but was not having any luck with it. I kinda knew at least some of what I was doing wrong, but I was married to the idea I had come up with, and was stubbornly trying to make the deck work as envisioned, rather than changing up certain aspects of it. For instance, I was adamant that it be a Sunforger dcek. I had cut Sunforger from my Aurelia list and was determined to give it a new home in Mardu colors. I had my reasons, and it still makes sense to me why I did it… it just didn’t work out as I’d hoped. Not even close.

I’m okay having some of my decks be weaker than others. But there’s a threshold, and Alesha was falling well below that. I still had the list sleeved up, and was still holding out hope that I’d figure out how to fix the problems present in the list, but wasn’t putting much time or effort into it. When Recruiter of the Guard was spoiled I got a renewed sense of purpose and idly thought that perhaps adding in Recruiter and building a bit more around its ability might be at least a step in the right direction.

But, I got really intrigued by Queen Marchesa along the way, and while I spent quite a bit of time theorycrafting some big changes to Alesha, I was still thinking of it as an Alesha deck. As more and more Monarchy cards got spoiled though, I really thought that this new mechanic might be a big boon for these colors and I found myself wanting to include lots of “you become the monarch” cards. Many of which do not necessarily interact with Alesha – she can’t bring back 5/5 dragons after all.

I’m also a sucker for commanders who come with built-in card draw engines!

So somewhere along the way, as I was making theoretical changes to Alesha’s list, I just started to think of the list as a Marchesa deck. Once I realized that paradigm shift, I suddenly realized that this was my opportunity to finally make that old concept of “Everybody attack! Just don’t attack ME!” work. I started scrapping a lot of the aggressive aspects of the deck in favor of Ghostly Prisons and No Mercies and Comeuppances. I realized there was still a lot of value in having Recruiter in the deck, so I commited to keeping Alesha in the 99, and building around her as much as I could, while still allowing for the bigger creatures like Skyline Despot.

So now the new goal was to build around the Monarchy mechanic. Become the monarch, draw cards, defend the crown heavily. Secondary to that was, running lots of little evasive creatures that could sneak through and retake the crown, should I lose it. This tied into the Alesha and Recruiter angle nicely. Suddenly the deck was coming together nicely with a lot of different themes that had pleasantly overlapping synergies. The funny thing is that Alesha has done far more work in the 99 of this list than she did as commander, even though the deck was more focused on her then!

I cut quite a bit of my draw and removal spells, as well as scrapping the whole Stoneforge Mystic/Equipment package. I felt really nervous about those choices, as those were all sources of card advantage in some fashion. But since playing the deck, I find that the extra draw I get from the Monarch ability is pretty decent on its own, and having just a smattering of draw elsewhere as a hedge is plenty of draw power. Beyond that, I still have the Land Tax/Scroll Rack engine of value, as well as Kiki-Jiki/Recruiter of the Guard, or really Kiki-Jiki plus almost anything.  One game I got Alesha to recur a Solem Simulacrum enough times that I ran out of basics in my deck.

Simply put, Queen Marchesa rules.

(sorry not sorry)

Well that about does it for the origin story. Sorry for the long-windedness. Let me can the chatter for a moment and get to the deck list!


Queen Marchesa

Mother of Runes
Selfless Spirit
Recruiter of the Guard
Soltari Champion
Bastion Protector
Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker
Academy Rector
Windborn Muse
Archangel of Tithes
Knight-Captain of Eos
Karmic Guide
Protector of the Crown
Darien, King of Kjeldor
Angel of the Dire Hour

Vampire Nighthawk
Drana, Liberator of Malakir
Custodi Lich

Goblin Diplomats
Grenzo, Havoc Raiser
Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
Fumiko the Lowblood
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Warmonger Hellkite
Skyline Despot

Knights of the Black Rose
Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts

Burnished Hart
Solemn Simulacrum


Swords to Plowshares
Land Tax
Ghostly Prison
Always Watching
Return to Dust
Cathar's Crusade
Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Read the Bones
Behind the Scenes
Phyrexian Arena
Marchesa's Decree
No Mercy

Mizzium Mortars
Wheel of Fortune
Blasphemous Act

Boros Charm
Deflecting Palm
Anguished Unmaking
Utter End
Assemble the Legion

Rakdos Signet
Orzhov Signet
Boros Signet
Scroll Rack
Crown of Doom
Hedron Archive


Blood Crypt
Godless Shrine
Sacred Foundry
Bloodstained Mire
Marsh Flats
Dragonskull Summit
Isolated Chapel
Clifftop Retreat
Temple of Malice
Temple of Silence
Temple of Triumph
Rakdos Carnarium
Orzhov Basilica
Boros Garrison
Nomad Outpost
Command Tower
New Benalia
Secluded Steppe
Bojuka Bog
Barren Moor
Forgotten Cave
Kher Keep
Slayer's Stronghold
Throne of the High City
Terramorphic Expanse
3x Plains
3x Swamp
3x Mountain

As you can see, it shares some DNA with the previous Alesha build, but it does play out drastically differently. For one thing it’s actually good. It’s not GREAT, not yet, as there is still some fine-tuning to be done. Even then I believe this is probably the type of deck that really only does well in a friendly, casual setting where you know your opponents and they know you. It’s also not fantastic against decks that aren’t overly reliant on creatures and attacking. For instance, we don’t match up super well against a U/R Spells Tribal deck. Also can have some trouble with one-shot commanders like Prossh that can sometimes just swing one time with one creature and win out of nowhere. It’s not TERRIBLE in those matches… they just aren’t our ideal matchups.

One cool thing abou the deck is how it is primarily designed to be defensive, but keeping the creature base small and in Alesha/Recruiter range gives the deck the versatility to be quite fast and aggressive at times. It depends on your draws and what your opponents are on, but there are times when it is clearly correct to just go on the beatdown plan ASAP. A primary goal of mine with this deck is to slowly and carefully amp the aggro side back up just a bit. I’d love to see Iroas and Gisela in here, along with just a smidge more cheap, quick attackers. Maybe some Doublestrike?

But despite the potential for aggression, this is clearly a defensive deck first and foremost. Getting that Monarch draw AND KEEPING IT TO YOURSELF are paramount to the deck’s success. It’s fine to lose the monarchy once in a while, briefly, as there are things like Custodi Lich that require the crown to be passed back and forth to work, but to lose the crown for an extended period of time can spell disaster. You want to make damn sure you can either attack to get it back or play something that automatically makes you the monarch. So far I’ve identified two cards that aren’t exceptionally good, but are staying in for the time being based on theme/flavor. Marchesa’s Decree and Knights of the Black Rose. Neither card is terrible, but they also haven’t been all that great. Eventually I’m sure I’ll cut them to make room for more results-oriented cards, but the flavor alone is enough to keep ‘em around a bit longer.

In terms of utility there are some clear gaps. I have no frickin’ clue how I managed to build this deck without Sol Ring, but even the Alesha list I had posted before did not include it. I guess it’s not strictly necessary as I have a low-ish curve and have not had (significant) mana problems as of yet. But still, Sol Ring should absolutely be in this deck, period. I’d also LOVE to squeeze in a Vandalblast, Path to Exile and one cheap sweeper like Toxic Deluge or Wrath of God.

I’ve already mentioned Iroas as something I’d like to include to beef up my offense just a bit (and provide evasion to make it easier to steal back the crown!), but I also have my eye on Gisela, Brutal Hordechief  and Urabrask as potential ways to beef up my end game. Gisela and Urabrask have the added bonus of also providing some defensive measures alongside their offensive value. Getting hit by a Haste creature has actually been an issue more than once already, so Urabrask, Thalia 2.0 and Blind Obedience are all under consideration as a hedge against the surprise haste attack, but of those I think I like Urabrask the most.

Boros Reckoner is probably another one that deserves a slot, but I haven’t been able to find room for him. He’s a pretty good rattlesnake against attackers, and has cool synergy with Blasphemous Act. Blazing Archon was actually in the deck at one point but got cut due to his high CMC and fragility. He’s a huge removal magnet, and costs a fortune to cast. Still, he’d be nice to have, if I can find room, but he’s not the highest priority on my list.

One last card, which is pretty high on the list of things I’d like to include is Sun Titan.  He seems like he’d play well with the likes of Alesha, Recruiter and all the other low-cost spells in the list. I actually only left Sun Titan out initially because I didn’t have any more copies not already in decks. Luckily I found a copy on the cheap at a local store so I now have one; my problem remains one of finding room  for it.

EDIT: After writing this I suddenly remembered the card Angel’s Trumpet and have now added that to my list of potential inclusions.

As for cards that got excluded intentionally, there are a few I must address. The first is Grand Melee, one of the cards that originally led to this concept in the first place. The problem with Grand Melee is that, in some cases, it can backfire pretty badly, mainly due to the “all creatures must block if able” part of the card. As I mentioned before, this deck CAN go aggro when the opportunity is there, but most of the time it is much more defensive. Being forced to run Marchesa into a blocker is  much worse for us than being able to leave her back as a blocker. Instead I opted for cards like Fumiko and Goblin Diplomats as they don’t force ME to make bad attacks.

Another one is Assault Suit. It’s on theme and I really like the effect it would have, but it’s got two things going against it. First, it’s just really expensive to cast and equip. I was worried it would just be too clunky. But I have had less issues with mana than I anticipated, so the cost might not be as prohibitive as I originally estimated. It is still a factor of concern. The second issue is, to get the ball rolling, you have to equip it to one of your own creatures. So far, this hasn’t struck me as a deck that has a lot of spare creatures to give away. Sure, once in a while I might be able to slap the Suit on one of Marchesa’s Assasin tokens, but that doesn’t thrill me.

Ophiomancer would be a cool source of tokens to give away, but I don’t want to run it just for the Assault Suit interaction, and I’m not sure it’s good enough on its own. Deathtouch blockers are nice to have… but I’ve run Ophiomancer in a few other decks and it’s always been pretty “meh”.

That’s about all I have at the moment. This is still a very new deck and I’m still trying to fine-tune it and getting used to playing it. But so far the deck has been quite fun to play, and ran much more smoothly than any version of this deck I’ve made in the past. Very happy with how it’s turning out already.

Let me know if there’s any sweet tech I missed!


  1. Hello!

    I like what you're trying to do, and I've been working on the same concept of encouraging attacks for a time. :) First and foremost, Angel's trumpet might interest you, as you noted.
    There are also an handful of black cards that force one opponent to attack that you haven't mentioned. I sadly never got to test them but I have the list ready so here it is :
    Season of the witch, Angel's trumpet, maddening imp, Norritt, Nettling Imp, walking desacration, instigator, Oracle en-vec.

    As always, great article. :)

  2. Awesome, thanks! I will look into those cards, see if I own any of those. Appreciate the suggestions.