Last updated on April 29, 2022
Teysa Karlov | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve
Are you a control player, or do you like being an aggressor? How do you want to win, through combos or with combat damage? Each color combo has a different answer to that question.
Today I present you with Orzhov (). I’ll go over why you should choose to play with an Orzhov commander, rank the top twenty, and even provide a sample decklist with one of the combo’s top commanders.
Let’s get into it!
Athreos, God of Passage | Illustration by Ryan Barger
Of the color combos in Magic, Orzhov specifically is good at hitting multiple enemies at once. Orzhov can support sacrifice effects, draining life, and even making huge armies of creatures to win through combat damage through one of its spectacular commanders. It also offers great support for lifegain and aristocrat playstyles.
There are of course other strategies running around, like tokens or clerics, but creatures dying and your life total going up are staple characteristics of Orzhov.
What’s not to like about that?
Venturing into the dungeon is a mechanic introduced in Forgotten Realms that only has one playable commander: Barrowin of Clan Undurr. Venturing is technically worse than drawing a card so it’s best to venture many times per turn to generate enough value to stay alive and kill your opponents. That means that nearly your entire deck will be related to actively venturing into the dungeon.
But aside from just including cards that venture into the dungeon, you want to make use of Barrowin of Clan Undurr’s second ability to reanimate creatures with mana value three or less. There are a lot of great inclusions that can be targets for this, including Cloister Gargoyle, Plaguecrafter, Burnished Hart, and Clattering Skeletons.
Next is Edgar, Charmed Groom, a vampire tribal commander that has the ability to turn into an enchantment that generates more Vampire tokens. Vampires are typically a Rakdos- () or Mardu- () based tribe, which is why this Edgar is so low on the rankings today. There just aren’t as many powerful vampires since you don’t have access to red.
That said, there are still a lot of great ones in black to fill up the creature base. You can take advantage of white’s protection and removal to make up for lost cards.
An aristocrat subtheme is great here since Edgar, Charmed Groom’s flipside, Edgar Markov’s Coffin, supplies plenty of tokens to continuously sacrifice. The various Sorin planeswalkers like Sorin, Lord of Innistrad or Sorin the Mirthless also make tokens.
My main suggestion if you’re going to run Edgar vampires in Orzhov is to include plenty of token-supporting cards since that’s where a significant portion of your vampire creatures actually come from. You want to look at Rally the Ranks, Cathars’ Crusade, and Wedding Announcement.
Obzedat, Ghost Council is an all-time classic Orzhov commander that’s unfortunately fallen behind in recent years due to, well, better cards being printed. Obzedat’s whole kit revolves around draining enemies for life, so that’s what its deck also focuses on. Lifegain is a heavily supported theme in both white and black which makes it an excellent choice for basically any Orzhov list.
In terms of actually gaining life you have plenty of options. Soul Warden and cards like it are great at consistently gaining life each turn, especially when paired with something like Authority of the Consuls.
Life is a resource meant to be used so make sure to include payoff cards in the form of enchantments like Phyrexian Arena or Angelic Accord. And you don’t want to forget to damage your opponents in the process, which is why Exquisite Blood, Revenge of Ravens, and Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose are all excellent.
Next on the list is General Kudro of Drannith, an excellent human tribal commander in the Orzhov colors. Humans aren’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Orzhov. That’s usually clerics, vampires, or lifegain. But don’t let that fool you!
“Human” is a creature subtype that’s liberally given to creatures of various types including wizards, clerics, and more. This means that plenty of generally great creatures are humans in addition to being other things. Pair this with plenty of blanket tribe-supporting cards like Vanquisher’s Banner or Herald’s Horn and you’ve got yourself a superb tribal deck with just about anything you put in it. Assuming it’s, you know, a human.
Kambal, Consul of Allocation is up next. Kambal is a pretty simply commander that drains two life from an opponent whenever they cast a noncreature spell. This is a great option for lifegain decks to help actually deal damage for once, as well as offer consistent lifegain triggers on your opponent’s turns.
The biggest weakness I’ve experienced when building a lifegain deck is being a sitting duck when you’re not gaining life. This happens most often on your opponents’ turns.
Cards that consistently gain you life in addition to your commander are a must-have when it comes to deckbuilding. These are most easily found in enchantments like Ashes of the Abhorrent or Polluted Bonds, so look there first when putting your list together.
Thalisse, Reverent Medium is another powerful token commander in Orzhov. Tokens, especially in white and black, are usually very small and come in large numbers. These work great with Thalisse, who effectively doubles the number of tokens you make by giving you an equal number at each end step.
This helps with the biggest blow to token decks: board wipes. Since these tokens come at the end of each turn they can be generated after your opponents have used their wipes, refilling your board.
Since tokens come in numbers and are quick to die and be replaced it’s best to focus on board-wide buff effects rather than auras or artifacts to create bigger threats. That’s where cards like Eldrazi Monument come in. You want passive effects, not things that die when your creatures die.
Elenda, the Dusk Rose is where things start to get interesting. Elenda can support two strategies very well: vampires or aristocrats. Since vampires aren’t as supported in Orzhov because of the lack of red aristocrats is my main suggestion. Elenda’s tokens work as great cannon fodder for sacrifice outlets, and its first ability extracts more value whenever any other creature dies.
Aristocrats is a strategy that’s success depends mostly on how many sacrifice triggers you can get per turn, and what you get out of each sacrifice. Elenda, the Dusk Rose helps in both regards which makes it an excellent choice.
In the #13 spot is Athreos, Shroud-Veiled, otherwise known as the worse Athreos. This version of the original Theros block god revolves around putting “coin counters” on creatures that allow them to return to the battlefield instead of going to the graveyard or exile. This is pretty powerful when you think about it, except for the fact that it’s limited to once per turn on your end step.
Athreos, Shroud-Veiled isn’t exactly the aristocrat-supporting commander it otherwise is since you’re limited to one coin per turn. It’s better off as a lifegain or reanimator commander as a way to cheat the death of your most powerful creatures.
Overall, I have to say that I’m pretty disappointed in this iteration of Athreos. It just seems weaker than what a legendary god should be doing.
Shadrix Silverquill is a commander I’ve gone back and forth on a lot. Silverquill’s ability demands you give one of the effects to another player, which means somebody is getting something beneficial every time you do. But the third option that puts a +1/+1 counter on every creature is much more potent than the one that just generates a 2/1.
Buffing an entire array of tokens in exchange for somebody you might not even attack getting a 2/1 is a great deal when you think about it. This means you’re heavy on the token strategy since you want to use that +1/+1 counter buff whenever possible.
When you don’t have enough creatures to warrant buffing, you still have an excellent secondary option to draw a card for one life. Cards are a great exchange for life, especially since you start at 40 and there’s nothing better than drawing more cards.
Karlov of the Ghost Council is next to make an appearance on the list and is a commander whose sole purpose is to be a lifegain outlet. Lifegain decks often struggle to find enough ways to use their life as a resource, and Karlov lets you effectively do so without actually losing the life.
Karlov gains two counters whenever you gain life, so you want to maximize the number of times you gain life, not how much life you gain.You can do this through cards that gain you life whenever common things happen, like Blood Artist, Drana’s Emissary, and cards with extort.
Next is the newer (albeit weaker) version of Liesa, Liesa, Forgotten Archangel. This angel commander’s kit revolves around bringing your nontoken creatures that die back to life while simultaneously exiling the creature your opponents control. This is a great ability that not only supports your main strategy of aristocrats by bringing those sacrificed back to life, it also shuts down any graveyard strategies across the table.
When it comes to aristocrats it’s best to have a strong base of sacrifice outlets to make sure you have plenty of opportunities to generate sacrifice triggers. On top of that, actually having multiple sacrifice triggers each time a creature dies is your main wincon. Sacrificing one creature won’t do much, but it starts to add up and out-value your opponents if you have plenty of benefits through cards like Dictate of Erebos or Desecrated Tomb.
#9. Daxos the Returned
I’m placing Daxos the Returned in the #9 because, while it’s one of the best general enchantment-supporting commanders out there, it still doesn’t bring much to the table other than some extra creature tokens. Don’t get me wrong, the creatures Daxos makes are powerful, but they’re not what Orzhov needs.
That said, Daxos the Returned is still a commander that I’d consider strong. Enchantments are a strong strategy overall and having more creature tokens available is still a good ability.
Next up is Felisa, Fang of Silverquill, a commander that loves anything to do with counters. There are many different types of counters in Magic, but +1/+1 counters are by far the most supported and powerful ones we have access to. That’s why they’ll be the focus of just about any deck with Felisa in the command zone.
White has excellent synergy with +1/+1 counters with a lot of different cards to support the strategy. Cards like Sunscorch Regent, Yahenni, Undying Partisan, and Breena, the Demagogue all supply you with more counters while your commander Hagra Constrictor, and cards like them actually do things with them.
The only downside to playing a counters-based deck is that it’s especially susceptible to board wipes. The better your deck is at refilling or extracting value from dying creatures the better off it’ll be in the long run.
In the #7 spot is Breena, the Demagogue, most notably an excellent pillow fort commander. “Pillow Fort” is a strategy that revolves around protecting yourself by not only disincentivizing attacking you but also incentivizing attacking your opponents.
Enchantments are without a doubt the most important card type in this deck. There are two main kinds you want.
First are enchantments that benefit you directly, either through card or mana advantages or by limiting how many creatures can attack you. Smothering Tithe and Sphere of Safety are great examples of this. Second are enchantments that benefit you by harming other players, mostly by causing them distress. Blind Obedience, Court of Ambition, and Vow of Duty all work here.
#6. Tymna the Weaver
Yes, you read that right. Just Tymna the Weaver is in the #6 spot. Tymna is one of the most powerful commanders, period. You can of course play any partner that’s black or white with it, but Tymna alone is one of the strongest Orzhov commanders available to you.
Tymna is great in just about any generic strategy that Orzhov supports, including aristocrats and lifegain. Its whole utility comes from early-game card advantage which makes it an attractive pick for the more competitive decks that seek to combo off early but desperately need to find pieces or tutors to close out games.
Orah, Skyclave Hierophant is at the top of its class when it comes to cleric tribal. Clerics have gotten a lot of love in recent years, which means they’re ahead of the curve in terms of power creep. Not only are they well supported in white but they have a lot of playable cards in black too. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose and Priest of Forgotten Gods fit in just as well as Mother of Runes or Righteous Valkyrie.
My main suggestion if you’re going to build a cleric tribal deck with Orah, Skyclave Hierophant is to include plenty of payoff and game-ending cards. Clerics are notoriously weak creatures, often only having one or two power. These won’t win you the game through combat damage, so make sure you have an Aetherflux Reservoir or Angel of Destiny to close out games.
Next up on today’s list is Killian, Ink Duelist, an Orzhov human warlock from Strixhaven that loves auras. When I think of auras my mind usually goes to Selesnya () or Esper (), not necessarily Orzhov. That’s why I was pretty surprised to see how much the color combo could support the strategy, and that’s as good as it is.
Aura’s strength comes from being able to protect the creature carrying all the enchantments since losing it means all those enchantments go to the graveyard. White and black are specifically good at notletting that happen, which means you’re still safe not playing blue or green when it comes to creature longevity. Cards like Blessing of Leeches, Pentarch Ward, and Spectra Ward all work as layers of defense against removal spells and damage.
When it comes to turning your creatures into actual threats, there are more than enough excellent auras to choose from. Since your commander’s ability make your auras cost less you’re going to be a little preferential towards the expensive ones. Holy Mantle, Eldrazi Conscription, and Gift of Immortality all come to mind, but this is where you can really customize your own decklist.
Here you have the best lifegain commander in Orzhov, Liesa, Shroud of Dusk! This is a pretty straightforward commander. You want to consistently keep it in play by using all the life you’re gaining to bypass the commander tax.
I hope you’ve made note of Liesa’s second ability, which taxes two life whenever any player casts any spell. That includes you, but more importantly it covers each of your opponents 100% of the time. Trading two life for two life from each opponent is always worth it, especially when the entire rest of your deck is dedicated to lifegain.
Lifegain decks are pretty easy to build, customize, and adjust the power level. You want your staple cards, like Bolas’s Citadel, Righteous Valkyrie, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and so on. After that it’s really up to you. I like to have my lifegain decks focus more on actually using that life for bigger spells or to generate card advantage, so I recommend looking at Erebos, God of the Dead and Phyrexian Processor.
Athreos, God of Passage has always been my favorite god to come out of the original Theros block, but I promise that isn’t influencing my decision to put it so high on this list. Athreos perfectly supports the Shadowborn Apostle strategy, which is an incredibly rare and otherwise unsupported theme.
The weakness of playing an apostles deck is that they all die before you can kill everyone at the table. Getting two or three demons out that are all instantly killed because your opponents know they’re coming isn’t enough.
That’s where Athreos comes in, flinging bolts of three damage at whoever you want unless they let you get your apostles back. This gives decks running 24+ Shadowborn Apostles another way to apply consistent pressure while simultaneouslytutoring out game-ending threats like Razaketh, the Foulblooded or Taborax, Hope’s Demise.
And don’t forget about sacrifice being a subtheme in your Shadowborn Apostle deck. You’re already sacrificing them in bundles of six, so why not include Dictate of Erebos or Faith’s Reward in your list? It only adds even more value and pressure to your games.
I’ve decided to place Teysa Karlov in the #1 spot today thanks to its extremely powerful ability to double your triggered abilities. Don’t get me wrong, giving all your tokens vigilance and lifelink is amazing, but you’re here for the double triggers entirely.
Aristocrats and Orzhov are practically synonyms at this point, and what better way to support an aristocrat theme than supplying yourself with twice as many sacrifice triggers? Karlov makes deckbuilding extraordinarily easy in this situation. Just pick a few dozen cards that do something when a creature dies and put them in your deck! Simple.
There are hundreds of sacrifice cards that are worth including but only a few I see as staples for any aristocrats deck. The first, as you might’ve guessed, is Blood Artist. This card is a powerhouse that’s already overpowered and is even stronger when it triggers twice. The same can be said for Dictate of Erebos, Requiem Angel, and Skullclamp.
There are obviously huge payout cards, like The Meathook Massacre on a full board, or Grave Pact consistently shutting down your opponents’ strategies. But the main way this deck pulls ahead is from continuous value plays. Scrying for two instead of one, leaching two life instead of one, and causing your opponents to sacrifice twice as many creatures all start to add up eventually.
Liesa, Shroud of Dusk | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
Angel of Destiny
Archangel of Thune
Erebos, God of the Dead
Giver of Runes
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Karlov of the Ghost Council
Kunoros, Hound of Athreos
Mangara, the Diplomat
Mother of Runes
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Ranger-Captain of Eos
Vilis, Broker of Blood
Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
Witch of the Moors
Caves of Koilos
Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Vault of the Archangel
Here’s a sample decklist I’ve put together with Liesa, Shroud of Dusk in the command zone. I think lifegain is a strategy that’s as fun as it is powerful, and something every player should try at least once. Being at ridiculous life totals in multiplayer games just feels great and puts you above creature-based strategies that other players might have.
Liesa, Shroud of Dusk’s ability to effectively dodge the commander tax is something I love, and it makes sense in a lifegain deck. The pitfall many players fall into is not having enough ways to actually use all the life you gain. If you’re just gaining life without any payoffs then you’re just extending the length of time it takes for you to die, nothing more.
Killian, Ink Duelist | Illustration by Ryan Pancoast
That wraps up everything I have for you today on the best commanders in Orzhov! I seriously enjoyed putting this list together. Orzhov is one of my personal favorite color pairs in Magic. Something about lifegain and aristocrat decks just gets me going, what can I say?
But what did you think? Are you a fan of Orzhov, or is something like Izzet or Golgari more your style? Let me know what your favorite color pairing or commander is down below in the comments or over in the official Draftsim Discord.
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