Welcome back to Anatomy of an Archetype where I combine data analysis and over twenty five years of professional level drafting experience to evaluate the different pieces of an archetype. There’s a ton of noise in the data so I’ve filtered that out and broken it down to give you all the relevant information you need to dominate the competition.
Today we are going to be talking about slowly grinding your opponent into dust with Innistrad: Crimson Vow Orzhov (White-Black). If you love demoralizing the opposition by making them play long after the point you both know they can’t possibly win, then this is the deck for you.
Look at archetypes objectives
You should go into most games expecting to play the long game. Just like every other deck, it can have aggressive starts, but most of the time you are just going to be setting up a brick wall and gaining a bunch of life while slowly beating them to death with small flyers. I like to call it Death by a Thousand Herons.
One of the things that I have to discuss is that these games tend to go a lot longer than the other archetypes. The other day I won by decking three different times in the same Premier Draft by just outlasting them with life gain so be prepared for a marathon play session.
Outside of all the life gain, this combination has the most unconditional removal and both of the board wipes in the format which is yet another thing that can drag games out.
Navigating the draft
What gets you into the archetype
A great way to start off in Orzhov is to open Edgar, Charmed Groom, but he is easily splashable into other decks so it’s a light commitment at best. While some people think Path of Peril is another reason to hop in early, I would take a Bleed Dry over it pack one pick one.
The most common way I end up in Orzhov is by starting off in Rakdos while staying open to a pivot into either Orzhov or Izzet since I think they are the three best decks. Markov Purifier, Traveling Minister or Heron of Hope after pick five are all great signs that you should consider switching into this archetype.
Top 5 Commons
It’s important to not just look at the data for highest win rate for games in hand in that particular color combination, but to think through why they are performing well in that particular archetype.
Traveling Minister continues to somehow be both a fantastic common enabler and criminally underrated at the same time. There are packs I would take this pick one and yet somehow I am still getting them between pick six and eight. The two point life swing every turn for only one initial mana is wonderful on it’s own, but it just turns on so many things in this deck that you really want to make sure you don’t go into battle without them.
Diregraf Scavenger is another versatile jack of all trades for Orzhov. The draining for two both keeps you alive and enables a lifegain trigger. The 2/3 deathtouch also clogs up the board either trading for a big threat or holding all of their 2/2’s back.
Pointed Discussion is a card that shines so much more in Orzhov than it does in any other color combination. Being able to play Sift in a combination that wants raw card draw, doesn’t mind the life loss, and doesn’t usually suffer from blood flood makes the first one of these a premium common. Despite the higher win rate, you should still take removal over this almost every time the choice is presented to you.
Fierce Retribution is surprisingly performing on equal footing with Bleed Dry in Orzhov. The main reason why is that you are pretty mana intensive while setting up and your problem is a deck going underneath you so a Doom Blade on an attacker will turn the tempo right back to your favor.
Bleed Dry continues to be the gold standard for a common removal spell in VOW. I don’t think I really need to explain why at this point.
Honorable Mention to Heron of Hope which in combination with Traveling Minister requires your opponent to deal with one part of the combo or try to race against six extra life a turn. This gets disgusting in multiples so even though Heron falls out of the top five win rate commons, it’s a key piece of VOW Orzhov.
Top 3 Uncommons
Based off of the color pair specific data
Markov Purifier can be a game warping card by giving you a personal Howling Mine with Traveling Minister. The life linking 2/3 provides a decent blocker and can even get in there for two to trigger itself.
Fell Stinger is just a solid creature that can provide card advantage in a deck that doesn’t care about the life loss. You usually don’t have too many creatures you want to sacrifice, but if a Doomed Dissenter makes your deck or one of your creatures gets a Sigarda's Imprisonment on it then it’s a nice bonus.
Top 3 Rares
We’re going to ignore Mythic Rares here because you’re less likely to get them. It’s also pretty obvious which ones are busted and should go in any deck that can make the mana work. I need to note here that it is based on win rate in this color pair and not ranked from my personal opinion.
Dreadfeast Demon is one of the biggest bombs in the format. Period. The End. Seriously, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve said, “I can beat anything, but Demon.” before promptly being smashed with it.
Wedding Announcement goes wide quickly giving you the staying power in the early game before giving your whole army a boost. Obviously gives creatures with life link a nice power boost.
Edgar, Charmed Groom makes combat incredibly awkward for your opponent. Old man river keeps cracking in for four until they finally trade for him and the clock starts counting down to his return while providing you with an army of life linkers. Bleed Dry is one of the few clean answers to him besides using Abrade on the back side. You can also get tricky and remove him with Honored Heirloom while he is still in the graveyard.
Is there a part of the curve with a glut of playables (i.e the four drop slot in blue in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt)?
This is another deck where you don’t want to let your curve get too heavy. You are going to have a bevy of options at the four and up slot, but most of them are going to want to be removal, bombs, Diregraf Scavenger, or Heron of Hope.
Adjusting card grades
It’s important to think about what cards are going to perform differently in the archetype you’re drafting so you can take advantage of picking them up later. It’s also key to find cards that provide a lesser, but similar effect to other cards that you haven’t been able to pick up.
Courier Bat is a card that can put in real work for the Orzhov deck while being a run of the mill wind drake for anyone else. Unless the rest of the table is drafting in 2005, you should only be fighting with fellow Black White drafters for these.
Kindly Ancestor is one of the key cards for stalling out the board on the ground. It puts a halt on all of their 2/2s and when they finally trade for it, you just life link up your best creature. One of the key bridge cards that gets you between Traveling Minister and Heron of Hope shenanigans.
Nebelgast Beguiler is basically unplayable in every other archetype, but provides a big blocking butt and a way to force through damage in the late game. The main difference is that you know that you are going to be in a long game. I’m not saying that you should take this highly or that it even goes into every Orzhov build, but you should be aware anytime you can consistently grab a playable after pick ten.
Estwald Shieldbasher isn’t a card that I want to be playing in any of my decks, but especially not one that is trying to turtle up and win in the air. Even if you end up being the aggressor with this on the play, you have to worry about getting wrecked by one mana removal.
Gryff Rider just doesn’t fit into this decks game plan at all. If you’re looking for a flyer, play Heron of Hope or Heron-Blessed Geist instead of this card. You are rarely going to be able to train it making it vulnerable to everything from Vampires Vengeance to a single spirit token.
Militia Rallier is awkward in Orzhov even though it’s a fine blocker. It is really hard to get a situation where you want to attack with it between defensive board states and being a nonbo with Traveling Minister.
If you don’t get any of the blood producers or card advantage cards, I would recommend a Ceremonial Knife as a way to churn through your deck.
If you are low on removal, make sure you grab a Grisly Ritual or two as you will usually have the time to play them.
What sources are available and how much do they matter to the archetype?
While you have some pseudo card advantage with blood production, it’s not as heavy as red so try to pick up at least one Pointed Discussion to help you pull ahead. Courier Bat is another way that you can get ahead on cards with very little cost.
On the other hand, a card like Investigator's Journal performs much worse here than in the average deck. This is due to being too mana intensive when you have other sinks you’d rather be dropping your excess mana into like Heron of Hope activations.
Combos and Synergies
Is it supported in this archetype and how much should you look to do it?
While the numbers show a significant drop in win percentage if you splash, you can’t just look at that blindly. Those numbers include people who didn’t have enough playables or splashed inappropriate cards. If you get an Anje, Maid of Dishonor or Olivia, Crimson Bride then you should be looking to splash them.
One of the other interesting things to look at is that Bramble Wurm is actually the highest win rate Uncommon in a Orzhov deck, this shows that as long as a card is synergistic with what you are trying to do it’s a fine splash.
Deep vs shallow
How many drafters can a table support?
Both Black and White are deep colors with a variety of removal and efficient creatures.
VOW Orzhov can typically support 2.5 drafters per table.
Biggest Trap Cards
These sounded like a good idea….
Persistent Specimen seems like one of the ultimate durdle cards, but it just doesn’t do enough to be worth a card.
Bride's Gown and Groom's Finery combo are too expensive without providing a big enough benefit. This is probably the worst combo that I frequently get asked about, even if you get there on both you can get blown out pretty bad by a bounce or removal spell.
Kaya, Geist Hunter is a huge trap unless you have multiple ways to make tokens. People see the mythic on color planeswalker and just slam it without realizing that in most cases, it does literally nothing.
Vampire's Kiss gains life, lets you filter some cards, and puts you down a card. I’ve seen people slip this in their black white decks and the damage does not matter so if you are desperate enough for life gain to play this, your draft has already gone terribly wrong.
Obviously ignore this in Bo1 land, but be on the lookout for these cards late in Bo3.
Aim for the Head is a great sideboard card against anything with expensive bombs even if they don’t have zombies.
For mirror matches, I like having extra Pointed Discussions to bring in as well as a blood fountain to help you get through Grindfest 2022.
A trophy deck that gives you a good idea of a build to aim for!
This was a solid traditional deck that would have killed for another copy of Traveling Minister. It felt unbeatable every game I played the Minister and was a huge slog every other game.
One thing to note is that they both have at least five removal spells which is what I consider a good number to shoot for in Orzhov.
Well that brings us to the end of the latest edition of Anatomy of an Archetype. Thanks for reading and I hope this will help you grind your way to victory.
I’m always open to feedback, let me know in the comments section what you loved, what you hated, or what you would like added to the next edition.
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