I've been playing a lot of different Modern decks this week in preparation for Grand Prix Indianapolis this coming weekend. I recorded a video set earlier this week with Boros Control and I liked a lot of what it was doing. Black-White Tokens is also a deck I have a lot of experience with, but I don't like any current configuration of that archetype. So I decided to merge them together and make Orzhov Control!
If you're a fan of Black-White Control in Standard, you'll love this deck. It basically has the same game plan but uses much more powerful cards.
The deck generally wants to lead off with a turn one discard spell to see what the opponent is up to and also to slow them down by taking their best card. Lots of decks in the format are weak to a turn one discard spell, especially if we're on the play. For instance, Infect and Bogle often keep hands that contain a single creature and a bunch of ways to pump that creature. If we take their creature out of the hand, it can leave them with no game plan. I went with a four-two split between Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek because I want the extra help against Tron, Bant Eldrazi, and Collected Company decks. Inquisition is really only better against Burn decks, but we run four Sorin, Solemn Visitor main for that matchup, so I'd rather our discard spell help us out more in other matchups.
Once we clear the way with our discard spell, the ideal turn two play is Bitterblossom. It acts as a Forcefield against decks that pressure us, churning out a chump blocker each turn. And against any of the midrange decks (Jund, Jeskai, etc) it is a continuous source of card advantage that demands an immediate answer or it takes over the game. I also tried Wall of Omens in the two-slot and it performed reasonably well. It protects our Planeswalkers and our life total while replacing itself with another card. I ended up cutting them to make space for a twenty-sixth land, an Orzhov Signet, and more Planeswalkers, though I can easily see the walls finding their way back in if Burn continues to be a popular deck in Modern.
Speaking of Orzhov Signet, I only ever want to draw one copy of the card and it is certainly not necessary, but I like it enough to run a copy in the deck. It will fix our mana to make sure we're never stuck with only a single black for Liliana of the Veil or a single white for Wrath of God, Elspeth, Knight Errant or Gideon Jura. It also helps us get out from underneath Spread Seas or Blood Moon, two cards that could otherwise cause us some headaches if not stripped out of the hand with a discard spell. It also ramps us into our bigger Planeswalkers or into a Wrath effect against decks that dump their hand as soon as possible, such as Affinity, Elves, or Zoo. It can also get us to that crucial fifth mana a turn earlier so we can resolve Damnation through a Cursecatcher on our fourth turn.
On the third turn we have the option of playing two of the strongest cards in Modern. Lingering Souls has been one of the defining trump cards in Midrange matchups for years. It's a way to pull ahead in the face of Terminates and Path to Exiles and also to pressure opposing Planeswalkers. It's also backbreaking against Affinity's Signal Pest draws. It's also a great fifth turn play, casting it and flashing it back immediately. Every time I try to play Black-White in Modern without Lingering Souls I feel like I'm doing it wrong (e.g. Eldrazi Taxes). Fortunately Lingering Souls fits into this deck perfectly since it not only protects our Planeswalkers but also works great in conjunction with their abilities.
Speaking of Planeswalkers, one of the main reasons I moved away from Boros to Orzhov is because of Liliana of the Veil. In my opinion Liliana is the primary appeal of Jund strategies in Modern. She's great against creature decks, stabilizing the board with her -2 ability immediately. She is also great against combo and control decks because of her +1 ability and its synergy with discard spells. The one thing Liliana is not good against is token makers. Fortunately we have enough of our own token-makers to mitigate that weakness, making Liliana an exceptionally powerful card in our deck. She also allows us to beat Bogles in our first game, a feat so many decks in Modern struggle with.
If you show up to a tournament with this deck and lead off with Thoughtseize into Bitterblossom into Lingering Souls, your opponent will almost certainly put you on Black-White Tokens and fearlessly deploy all their threats in hopes of maximizing their board presence. This is typically the optimal strategy against Black-White Tokens. That game plan falls right into our Wrath of God and Damnation trap. We can afford to run four main deck sweepers because all our creatures are so expendable and we can rebuild any army in the matter of a turn or two without even deploying any additional resources. We simply let Bitterblossom continue to do its thing, flashback Lingering Souls, and activate our Planeswalkers and suddenly we have an army reassembled the turn after wiping the board!
The other four mana plays in the deck are Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Elspeth, Knight-Errant. Sorin is pivotal because he's our primary way to gain life. Our cards cause us to lose life (Bitterblossom, Thoughtseize, Marsh Flats, Polluted Delta, Godless Shrine), so being able to Recoup that life loss can be very important in matchups that aggressively pressure our life total. Sorin works especially well with all our token makers, granting lifelink and +1/+0 whether they are attacking or blocking. Sorin can also make vampires, which comes up quite a bit in this deck given that we have fewer creatures than most Sorin decks (i.e. no Spectral Procession or Tarmogoyfs).
Elspeth, Knight-Errant is really strong in this deck and I would like to fit in a second copy somewhere if possible. She can immediately make a token the turn she comes down, which is nearly always what happens if we play her on turn 3 or 4. But in later turns she is able to do some really absurd things. If we need to gain some life and we don't have Sorin, Solemn Visitor, Elspeth can make Shambling Vent into a 5/6 with lifelink for the turn. That'll get us out of burn range in a hurry! Or if we're just mounting an alpha strike, all of our creatures fly except Shambling Vent (Spirit Tokens, Faerie Tokens, Vampire Tokens). So Shambling Vent can usually get blocked on the ground fairly easily – but not so fast if Elspeth is around to grant it flying! Lastly, my favorite use for Elspeth is to make Gideon Jura into a 9/9 flier!
Most of the cards in our deck can play offense or defense well and Gideon Jura is certainly no exception. The turn he comes down he can either kill a tapped creature or force every creature to attack him the following turn. If the opponent has a Grim Flayer or some other big trampler that our tokens have difficulty stopping, I'll usually start off by killing that creature with the -2 ability. Otherwise I'm usually going +2. Eight loyalty is so much and soaks up so much damage. It also protects all our other Planeswalkers since everyone has to attack Gideon first. So on defense, Gideon is great at protecting our other Planeswalkers, but on offense he also works great with them. I already mentioned the combo with Elspeth, making him a 9/9 flier, but if we also have Sorin, he becomes a 10/9 flying lifelinker – good luck racing that! My other favorite line with Gideon is to give all our Spirits, Vampires, and Faerie tokens +1/+0 and lifelink with Sorin and then force all the opponent's creatures to attack into this swarm of lifelinkers the following turn via Gideon's +2 ability. This will provide us a significant life cushion, allow us to make the combat trades we want to make, and generally allows us to turn the corner the following turn. Gideon is basically the perfect curve-topper in this deck.
In addition to Wrath of God, Damnation and our Planeswalkers, we also have Path to Exile as our key removal spell of choice. Path is the most versatile removal spell in modern and since we're a control deck at heart, we generally don't mind giving the opponent an extra land. I'm ok with casting Path to Exile early because it usually translates into the opponent deploying more threats faster, which walks right into our Wrath of God and Damnation plan. And if they don't over-extend into our sweeper, then we'll just naturally take over the game with tokens and Planeswalkers. I really like being able to kill any creature unconditionally at instant speed for just one mana. It allows us to cast a Planeswalker and protect it from an attacker at a very low cost. I've liked it so much that I would also consider running some number of Slaughter Pacts main as well. Dismember is a consideration, but I feel like we're already pretty close to being maxed out on spells that cause us to lose life.
As far as the mana is concerned, I have fourteen lands that can produce black on the first turn to enable us to cast a discard spell. I take that to be the minimum number required. Shambling Vent is kind of a no-brainer in this deck: It gains us life, helps us turn the corner, and works especially well with Elspeth, Knight-Errant. I'll often play it on turn two along with a second discard spell or a Path to Exile so I can spend the following turns curving out with Planeswalkers.
Ghost Quarter is the mana base's biggest concession. If Tron were not a deck, I would likely only run two copies. I like Ghost Quarter's utility in this deck though, affording us an easy answer to creature lands, especially Inkmoth Nexus out of Affinity or Infect, though also Raging Ravine or Celestial Colonnade out of the midrange decks.
What to Sideboard In?
Fulminator Mage is mostly for the Tron matchup, though it can also come in any time we have too many cards to sideboard out. I also like it a lot against Valakut decks.
Against these same decks I also bring in Extirpate and Surgical Extractions. If we blow up their Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or a Tron piece with Ghost Quarter or Fulminator Mage and then we exile it with either of these cards, we permanently take them off that game plan, which often cripples such a strategy. I also bring in Extirpate against Snapcaster Mage decks to target the card they target with Snapcaster Mage in response. I can also just use these as value cards in conjunction with a discard spell once I know their hand and know that I can take a card out of their hand with it.
Grafdigger's Cage comes in against Collected Company decks, Snapcaster Mage decks and Dredge decks—but not Living End since it doesn't work against that card!
Rest in Peace comes in against any graveyard deck, including most of the ones mentioned above. It's also backbreaking against these new Jund decks that run Grim Flayer and Tarmogoyf.
Oblivion Ring is another versatile card that can come in whenever, but I want it a lot against Bogles (for their Leyline of Sanctity) and Affinity ( Ghirapur Aether Grid).
Leyline of Sanctity comes in against Burn to protect our face and our Planeswalkers, forcing them to use all their burn spells on our tokens. I also like it against black decks that aim discard spells at us.
Stony Silence comes in against the usual suspects: Tron, Affinity, Lantern, Open the Vaults, etc. Be sure to board out your Orzhov Signet when you bring this in.
Duress is great against Burn and any sort of Combo or Control deck, including: Tron, Infect, Death's Shadow, Scapeshift, Ad Nauseam, Jund, Jeskai Nahiri, etc.
What to Sideboard Out?
Wrath of God and Damnation come out against any deck that doesn't go wide with creatures.
Path to Exile can come out against decks like Ad Nauseam, Scapeshift, etc. I also like going down to 2-3 copies against Tron as they only have Wurmcoil Engine and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
Bitterblossom comes out against Burn, though I rarely take it out anywhere else.
Liliana of the Veil comes out against token-heavy strategies.
I'll shave a Sorin, Solemn Visitor or two in matchups where lifelink is not relevant such as against Infect.
Lingering Souls, Gideon Jura and Inquisition of Kozilek basically never come out.
Other Cards to Consider
As I said earlier, Wall of Omens was originally in the deck and I like the card enough that I might put it back in. It protects our Planeswalkers and smooths out our draws.
Timely Reinforcements will give us an additional life cushion and works great with our Planeswalkers. Maybe add 1-2 of these to the sideboard if Burn is super popular in your area.
Phyrexian Arena is solid in the deck and is phenomenal against Jund, Jeskai, Abzan and all the other midrange decks. The reason I cut it is because nearly every other card in our deck is also great in all those matchups, so I'd rather have extra help in our weaker matchups.
Shining Shoal can be good against Infect and Burn. If you add this, then switch Damnation to either more Wrath of Gods or Day of Judgments so you have more fodder for the Shoal.
Secure the Wastes can work great with Sorin, Solemn Visitor, though we play most of our cards at sorcery speed so it's probably not good enough.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is a great combo with Liliana of the Veil and would be even more attractive if we add Slaughter Pact, but he will have a giant target on his back as the only non-token creature in our deck. The life gain is certainly welcome though. Maybe as a sideboard card after opponents board out their Terminates and Path to Exiles.
Scepter of Dominance is so close to playable yet so far off everyone's radar.
Go for the Throat, Dismember or Slaughter Pact are available if we need extra removal.
Disenchant is a possibility too, though currently Oblivion Ring fills this role.
Initial testing with this deck has been impressive. I like a lot of the things it is doing. It feels like a super-powered version of Standard Black-White Control. I like it more than traditional Black-White tokens since you don't have to play weaker cards like Raise the Alarm and Auriok Champion. You also don't have draws where you are flooded with Intangible Virtues and discard spells and can't ever find a threat, nor are you weak to sweepers since the Planeswalkers allow us to recover easily.
With a bit of tuning, I can definitely see this being a contender in Modern!