When I first built this deck over six years ago, it was the most expensive deck that I owned, coming in at a solid $35. At the time, I was reading The Richest Man in Babylon, and for some reason this whole deck concept that I was brewing really reminded me of the lessons learned in that book. The most important lesson that The Richest Babylonian Man can teach you, is that your life is as much a resource as your mana. Ultimately, I don’t consider this to be a budget deck, but when it comes to card selection, there were quite a few budget selections that were made. The archetypes of this deck make it interesting to maintain, because it seems like there’s a new card printed every set that could potentially fit in this deck. I am constantly on the lookout for options to improve this deck. Keeping a deck fresh and tuned is just another facet of deck building. This deck in particular is something that I am proud of.
Let’s spend some life
Wall of Blood: Defender (This creature can’t attack.) Pay 1 life: Wall of Blood gets +1/+1 until end of turn.
Phyrexian Processor: As Phyrexian Processor enters the battlefield, pay any amount of life. 4 Colorless Mana + Tap Phyrexian Processor: Create an X/X black Minion creature token, where X is the life paid as Phyrexian Processor entered the battlefield.
Pain’s Reward: Each player may bid life. You start the bidding with a bid of any number. In turn order, each player may top the high bid. The bidding ends if the high bid stands. The high bidder loses life equal to the high bid and draws four cards.
You gotta spend life to make life. I mean really make life—not piddly interest. Each of these cards provides a different way to spend life, and they each have the possibility to combo with different cards (that we’ll see shortly) to squeeze the life out of our opponents.
With Wall of Blood, we can spend life to boost its power and toughness accordingly. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it has defender. It doesn’t need combat to hurt.
Phyrexian Processor lets us pay life and eventually transform that life into a creature. Unlike Wall of Blood, this creature lets us swing in for some solid ground damage. If things go according to plan, we won’t ever need to attack.
Finally, Pain’s Reward lets us present a game of chicken against our fellow opponents, where we play a deadly contest where life could transform into card advantage or more. I’ll take this time to say, if you really want to bust out the moves, pull a full Triple-H and cryptically exclaim “it’s time to play the game!” when you drop this card on the stack.
You’re probably thinking that these cards are really risky to play, because if we hit zero life, we’re dead. Well, we’re not going to lich it up here, I’ve got other plans in mind.
Safety net: insurance to bring it back
Children of Korlis: Sacrifice Children of Korlis: You gain life equal to the life you’ve lost this turn. (Damage causes loss of life.)
Tainted Sigil: Tap Tainted Sigial + Sacrifice Tainted Sigil: You gain life equal to the total life lost by all players this turn. (Damage causes loss of life.)
Before we get into win conditions, I want to set the stage a bit more. It’s never wise to make a risky investment, especially without planning ahead or ensuring that a solid safety net is available for protection (not to be confused with protection.) With Children of Korlis, or Tainted Sigil, we can, at instant speed, regain the life that we just spent, thus netting a life loss and life gain of equal or greater value within the same turn. We can spend tons of life, but we can also make it back, and in some cases, we can double it.
Recording these values is of particular importance, so always keep an eye on how much life you’ve lost, and how much life you’ve gained.
You might find later on that these cards are redundant in this deck. No safety net is perfect, so we must be careful that our opponents do not have a way to stifle, or bolt us into a position we can’t recover from. Remember that paying life is a cost, and it is paid when the ability is triggered.
Capitalize on losses and gains
Essence Harvest: Target player loses X life and you gain X life, where X is the greatest power among creatures you control.
Rite of Consumption: As an additional cost to cast this spell, sacrifice a creature. Rite of Consumption deals damage equal to the sacrificed creature’s power to target player or planeswalker. You gain life equal to the damage dealt this way.
Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose: Whenever you gain life, target opponent loses that much life.
Now that we have a way to set our life loss and our life gain at will, sometimes to values more than the starting life total, we need to capitalize on those changes.
Working off of Wall of Blood or Phyrexian Processor, both Essence Harvest, and Rite of Consumption let you target a single player and hit them with its power. If Wall of Blood is a 20/22, then we’re dealing a tremendous blow to a single opponent. Certainly this doesn’t work perfectly in multiplayer, but it can be very effective as a tool of politics. Protect me, and I won’t instantly kill you. If I had the room for green mana, I would definitely be playing Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, who can sacrifice a creature to hit each opponent. In blue, Quicken would also come in handy. Maybe in a future revision, I will see about splashing for Jarad (not Quicken,) but I imagine the dual black/green and white/green lands would be the most expensive part of that modification.
In the interim, we need a way to exploit the situation to its fullest effect. In comes Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose as a cheaply costed Sanguine Bond. The original iteration of this deck leveraged Sanguine Bond to convert life gain into life loss. Since this deck liberally employs life gain, it seemed like a solid option. Unfortunately, Sanguine Bond doesn’t do enough to justify its presence as a 5-drop. Vito can be played earlier than its enchantment alternative, can act as a blocker in dire circumstances, and without a particularly stable board full of creatures (which this deck does not have) isn’t that threatening. Of course, all of this assumes no one else understands how this deck operates.
Tools to stay in business
Nyx-Fleece Ram: At the beginning of your upkeep, you gain 1 life.
Font of Agonies: Whenever you pay life, put that many blood counters on Font of Agonies. 1 Colorless Mana + 1 Black Mana, Remove four blood counters from Font of Agonies: Destroy target creature.
Revitalize: You gain 3 life. Draw a card.
Mortify: Destroy target creature or enchantment.
Diabolic Tutor: Search your library for a card and put that card into your hand. Then shuffle your library.
Before I get into the tools to stay in business, I wanted to explain that the lands for this deck are all budget options to support a black and white life manipulation archetype. Ultimately the only abilities that these lands have worth mentioning is life gain on ETB. Beyond that, there isn’t anything else to really discuss.
Because there are so many cards here that contribute to the game plan of this deck, there isn’t that much room for support and utility. There is a reason why we stick to the minimum number of cards allowed in Magic: The Gathering™ and this deck isn’t going to stray from that methodology. It can be devastating not having the right answers for the right situation, but there is only so much room available. Like I mentioned at the start of this article, the sheer number of cards that could fit makes it difficult during the card selection portion of building and maintaining this deck. Without further ado, let’s go over the wide variety of choices I’ve made.
Nyx-Fleece Ram, or as I like to call him, Mini-Oloro, can be played early, can block big ground creatures, and can provide that extra little edge to outpace your opponents and deliver a 20-life combo kill. I know that this Ram doesn’t seem like a decent option, but I have had great success keeping him around and getting him out early. Admittedly, late game, he’s a dead card.
Font of Agonies has the opposite problem, because in the early game, it’s also a dead card. After a single Wall of Blood life dump, however, opponent creatures are permanently on notice. While instant speed targeted removal is better, especially if it hits other nonland permanents, Font of Agonies seems like a perfect fit with this deck.
Revitalize is a solid life gain card that replaces itself with draw, and can be played at instant speed. I find that the extra 3 life is just right to edge out opponents while counting to 20.
Mortify is solid all around removal. It can target a single creature, sure, but it also provides enchantment removal. Imagine being up against Luminarch Ascension with a deck that doesn’t hit opponents until the game is practically over. I’ve been there. Mortify is worth the three mana and it is a budget staple.
Finally, Diabolic Tutor, like most tutors, can fit into almost any deck. I will say, though, that it would be my first card to cut if I were to put in the effort to make Jarad work. On the one hand, it’s very useful to search and find the exact card that you need in any moment, but on the other hand, that’s not always that fun in casual/kitchen table.
I know that I insinuated that small life gain, like Revitalize, Nyx-Fleece Ram, or Radiant Fountain isn’t good enough for this deck. The truth is that we need at least one more life than our opponent to make this deck work in one hit, and if we can gain a little bit of life from our utility cards early on, we can be in a position later to spend 20 or more life to down anyone who threatens our portfolio. It’s important to note, however, that in this deck, any card that gains life must also have another worthwhile ability to keep it relevant.
I know that I’ve chosen a lot of support cards when I don’t have the room for it. Although decision making is an article on its own, I wanted to briefly touch on what has become a sub-theme of this article: card selection. It’s hard to say whether the budgetary considerations I’ve imposed on my deck building hinders or helps my decision making. Let’s look at Mortify and Font of Agonies. Right now, both of these cards are budget-oriented options that fit this deck fine. Despite not spending a tremendous amount of money, I still have choices that I could employ full playsets of if I had the room. Which would be a better choice? On the flip side, Vindicate, Anguished Unmaking, and Utter End would potentially eliminate my issues with choosing Mortify or Font of Agonies, but I’m just swapping one type of problem for another. Which is harder to make a selection from? The answer depends entirely on the metagame at hand. Play style, opponents, format, and budget, all contribute to these decisions. In my case, they might even pull in different directions.
We’ve discussed each category individually, but it might help to finalize this article by enumerating all of the combinations that I’ve found while building this deck.
- Wall of Blood + Essence Harvest (+ Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose)
- Wall of Blood + Rite of Consumption (+ Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose)
- Wall of Blood + Tainted Sigil + Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
- Wall of Blood + Children of Korlis + Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
- Phyrexian Processor + Essence Harvest (+ Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose)
- Phyrexian Processor + Rite of Consumption (+ Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose)
- Phyrexian Processor + Tainted Sigil + Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
- Phyrexian Processor + Children of Korlis + Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
- Pain’s Reward + Tainted Sigil + Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
- Pain’s Reward + Children of Korlis + Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
Clearly it seems like there’s a lot going on in this deck, but I personally think it’s fairly simple once you understand synergy. Everything in this deck builds towards combining various cards in a cacophony of success. In building this deck, I’ve tried to make it so that whatever is topdecked helps achieve that success. It’s up to the player to understand how, when, and in what order to pace and cast the spells they have available to them. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about this deck, and if you can see anything else I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments!
- 1 Phyrexian Processor
- 4 Tainted Sigil
- 4 Children of Korlis
- 4 Wall of Blood
- 4 Nyx-Fleece Ram
- 1 Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
- 2 Font of Agonies
- 2 Revitalize
- 2 Mortify
- 2 Diabolic Tutor
- 4 Essence Harvest
- 4 Pain’s Reward
- 2 Rite of Consumption
- 4 Plains
- 4 Scoured Barrens
- 10 Swamp
- 4 Tainted Field
- 2 Radiant Fountain