In a surprising move this weekend, the Ghost Council of Orzhova was ousted from power by their lieutenant, Vish Kal, the Blood Arbiter. The notorious vampire instigated the coup and successfully overturned the Ghost Council’s rulership, cementing his command over the Orzhov legions.
Along with the Ghost Council themselves, Kal dismissed a number of the Council’s most loyal followers, including Elesh Norn, Hero of Bladehold, Pawn of Ulamog, Phyrexian Plaguelord and a number of other token-producers.
Unsurprisingly, Vish Kal filled those vacancies with his own loyalists, particularly a number of vampires such as Vampire Nighthawk and Bloodline Keeper.
In a statement to the press, Kal outlined the plan for his reign, which would focus less on token producing and Grave Pact effects, and would carry the pre-existing theme of “life and death” over into the creature base, by including a number of creatures with Lifelink and Deathtouch (such as the aforementioned Nighthawk, and newcomer Wurmcoil Engine).
Okay, that’s about enough of the cheesy fanfiction bullshit. Here’s the scoop: My Orzhov deck was moderately successful under the Ghost Council’s command, but it was not a complete home-run. The deck’s two themes felt inorganic and at odds – the “duality of life and death” theme was explored through mirror-image White and Black cards, as well as the presence of a high number of creature removal and reanimation. The deck was seemingly all about killing things and reanimating them. Yet, to make Ghost Council work as a general, I had to shoehorn in an awkward token-making subtheme. Many times, though, I was forced to blow up my own token armies with Wrath effects because my opponent’s creatures would outclass my measly tokens.
So the token aspect was not fully working out, both in flavor terms and in gameplay terms. I decided to swap out Ghost Council for Vish Kal as my general, and retool the deck to eliminate the token stuff and emply more useful and synergistic effects. However, I had a bit of a hard time coming up with what to put IN the deck. In short, the deck needed an identity, and it proved difficult to come up with one. I was still really enjoying the way the deck played out other than the tokens, so I wanted to keep the Life and Death theme very much intact. But I couldn’t figure out how to make the creature base gel with what the non-creature stuff was doing.
Then it finally dawned on me. Lifelink and Deathtouch. It was so obvious – both abilities have my thematic keywords in their names! Lifelink and Deathtouch... simple as that. I started with the obvious two choices – Nighthawk and Wurmcoil - then I knew I had my deck’s identity. It’d be a life-gain deck mostly, but with a minor emphasis on Deathtouch, removal and reanimation effects.
Another exciting moment came when I stumbled upon Cradle of Vitality – a card that was janky and useless before, but seemed almost tailor-made to go into a Vish Kal deck. With the Cradle out, I don’t have to sac my dudes to power up Vish Kal – just hit somebody with him, and pay 1W to give him 5 counters. As long as I can gain life in any fashion, the Cradle will keep Kal powered up and ready to neutralize threats all day long.
Once I cut the majority of the token-makers and any other cards that just didn’t make sense for the deck’s new direction (for example, Butcher of Malakir – yeah, he’s a vampire, and he’s good, but without the token fodder to sac, he’s just less appealing), I focused on making the creature base more thematically resonant with various life-gain creatures, a few Deathtouch-ers, and a healthy dose of generic “Good stuff” like Akroma, Deathbringer Liege and Mirran Crusader. Though, many of these seemingly random “good stuff” cards were in fact chosen for how they could interact with some other cards (for instance, I still haven’t had Akroma and True Conviction in play at the same time yet).
Battlegrace Angel was an obvious pick, and Mirran Crusader followed from that choice as the Angel’s bonuses are great when applied to a Crusader attacking alone. The Crusader is also one of the best guys you could equip with a Sword of Stuff and Junk.
Elspeth got the boot in favor of the weaker but more appropriate Ajani Goldmane. So many of the deck's creatures already have Flying, yet almost none have Vigilance, so Goldmane just felt like the right call, despite the obvious power of Elspeth.
I managed to keep Martyr’s Bond in the deck, and it’s now sort of mirrored by Black’s Sanguine Bond (okay, they don’t really do anything similar at all, but they’re both Enchantments with the word “Bond” in their name… give me some slack!).
I kept the draw engines in place – Land Tax + Scroll Rack, Bloodghast + Skullclamp, and of course every “Arena” effect I could find.
Also joining the party is Sword of War and Peace – a good-stuff inclusion that also manages to be relevant as it gain me life!
Finally, as one of the other efforts to really give the deck a defining theme, I managed to tweak the numbers a little to bring the White and Black cards into perfect balance! There are 12 White creatures and 12 Black creatures. 9 White spells and 9 Black spells. This, in my mind, makes the deck a more fitting representation of the “Yin and Yang” – light and dark in perfect balance – opposite yet equal. Two sides of the same coin, etc. Okay, okay, I get you - less hyperbole and more decklist!
Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
Mentor of the Meek
Wall of Reverance
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Dimir House Guard
Geth, Lord of the Vault
Sheoldred, Whispering One
Divinity of Pride
Angel of Despair
Swords to Plowshares
Path to Exile
Cradle of Vitality
Wrath of God
Return to Dust
Decree of Pain
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Sword of Fire and Ice
Sword of Light and Shadow
Sword of War and Peace
Caves of Koilos
Temple of the False God
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Alright, so that’s the deck as it stands now. I am missing one extremely obvious and important card – Vault of the Archangel. This land was already one of my most anticipated Dark Ascension cards, and unfortunately I haven’t acquired one yet. I have, however, witnessed the card in action a couple of times. And folks, let me tell ya, it’s a beast. It has the potential to completely reverse the outcome of a game – one match I witnessed included a Ghave deck that appeared to be dead in the water against a Thraximundar deck that was using Thrax and Sheoldred to absolutely dominate the game. Topdecking the Vault, the Ghave deck was able to use the threat of Deathtouch to hold off Thrax from further assaults, while Lifelink allowed Ghave’s Grave Titan to race the unblockabe Sheoldred with ease.
So, yeah, I’ll definitely be getting a Vault for the deck ASAP. Other than that, though, I think the deck looks great. I haven’t played it yet though, so we’ll see how it goes. One thing I might do is replace Sheoldred. For one thing I already have Debtor’s Knell, and Geth, and Puppeteer Clique AND Phyreixian Reclemation… so as good as Sheoldred is, I think she might just be a bit TOO redundant. I thought about putting Rune-Scarred Demon in her place, but ended up not doing that. What do you all think?
Leave me a comment if you have any questions or suggestions, especially about what Sheoldred’s slot should actually be (keep in mind, it needs to be a Black creature to preserve the Yin/Yang balance!).