Brewing in a Top Hat: Orzhov Cleric Combo in Standard and Historic

Orah-Skyclave-Hierophant-Zendikar-Rising-MtG-Art

Welcome back to Brewing In A Top Hat, I have schemed up two very fun decks for you all to grind some wins with in Standard and Historic. They are aggressive, resilient, creature-based decks, and the Historic list even has an infinite combo finisher.  We want to attack our opponent’s life not only with our creatures, but with our life gain in the form of Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose and Marauding Blight-Priest, while protecting ourselves from board wipes with Orah, Skyclave Hierophant.  I’ll start with the Historic list this time, but you can scroll down for the Standard one!

Historic Bad Medicine

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Creature (26)
2
Blood Artist
4
Cleric of Life's Bond
3
Marauding Blight-Priest
1
Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
4
Nullpriest of Oblivion
4
Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
4
Soul Warden
4
Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
Sorcery (3)
1
Agadeem's Awakening/Agadeem, the Undercrypt
2
Bloodchief's Thirst
Instant (4)
4
Fatal Push
Enchantment (4)
2
Exquisite Blood
1
Phyrexian Arena
1
Phyrexian Reclamation
Land (23)
4
Brightclimb Pathway/Grimclimb Pathway
4
Concealed Courtyard
2
Fabled Passage
4
Godless Shrine
4
Isolated Chapel
1
Phyrexian Tower
2
Plains
2
Swamp
Cards 60
Sideboard (15)
2
Blood Artist
2
Bloodchief's Thirst
1
Cleansing Nova
2
Containment Priest
1
Deafening Silence
1
Leyline of the Void
1
Phyrexian Arena
1
Remorseful Cleric
1
The Immortal Sun
3
Thoughtseize

Card Selection

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Soul Warden: A mainstay in lifegain decks everywhere, stretching from Historic to the lofty wilds of the Modern format, Soul Warden makes yet another appearance here.

Fatal Push: This incredible removal spell from Kaladesh has quickly become every black mage’s new favorite toy.  It is a notable upgrade over Bloodchief’s Thirst due to its instant speed.

Bloodchief’s Thirst: Fatal Push’s younger brother is still a fantastic removal spell in this deck, due to its flexible cost and ability to remove planeswalkers.

Phyrexian Reclamation: This deck doesn’t have many ways to produce card advantage.  It’s a little slow, and is terrible in multiples, so we only use one.

Nullpriest of Oblivion: We will hardly ever cast the kicker.  His types, stats, and keywords make this little guy quite the two-drop.

Blood Artist: Board wipe insurance.  If you get enough of your creatures out, then your opponent can’t just cast Wrath of God without worrying about killing themselves.  The life gain compounds with your Vitos and Blight-Priests, so don’t be afraid to make bad blocks if your opponent is low enough.  Just remember that the Vito and Blight-Priests need to be alive when the Blood Artist triggers resolve to get the extra damage.

Cleric of Life’s Bond: This is our best early threat.  He can work like a lightning rod, absorbing your opponent’s early removal so that you can develop the rest of your board.  If your opponent can’t deal with him right away, he can quickly take over a game.

Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle: Mav is a great one-of for us.  He is able to apply pressure immediately, since most of our creatures are vampires and his tokens have lifelink, which synergizes with our Vitos and Blight-Priests.

Phyrexian Arena: Like Reclamation, Arena is a way for us to generate card advantage.  It is particularly good in longer matches, since the life loss is inconsequential most of the time.  We shouldn’t have a problem gaining more than one life a turn.

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose: Vito is our strongest game ender.  Yes he can combo with Exquisite Blood to infinitely drain your opponent, but don’t write off his own ability.  He can sometimes win a game just by attacking with a big board of lifelinkers.

Marauding Blight-Priest: He might seem like just a discount Vito, but since he is non-legendary, you can have multiple copies out.  This is a significant advantage he has over Vito in our deck, since we have so much chip lifegain.  In combination with a Soul Warden, you can sometimes lock aggro decks out of the board, and the more of them you play, the harder they drain.

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant: More board wipe insurance.  Playing an Orah onto a well developed board means you should only lose your largest creature.  If you fear a board wipe and have an Orah in hand, try to curve your creatures out.  That way each one that dies will bring back one lower than it, so that all you really lose is the largest cleric you played (Orah).  Just make sure you pay close attention to which creature you click with which trigger.  A nice trick to remember is that if you have Orah out and play one from hand, you can reanimate TWO clerics because of the legend rule (just like Anax makes four Satyrs when you play a second copy), so he is not a dead draw in multiples.

Exquisite Blood: Haha life drain combo go brrrrr.  I’d avoid playing this until you are far enough ahead that you don’t need to add to your board, or you can combo finish your opponent.  It does nothing to affect the board right away.

Agadeem’s Awakening: Remember that this is a land primarily, and a reanimate spell only if you are flooded or have nothing else.

Phyrexian Tower: Generating a mana advantage, specifically on turn 4, can be really important.  Under perfect circumstances, you can play Vito or Blight-Priest on three then follow up with Exquisite Blood to win on turn 4.  Plus the sacrifice outlet can be critically important with Orah.

Sideboard Guide

Your sideboards should change with the meta, and you should tweak the one I’ve provided. Keep track of what decks you are facing a lot of, what decks the most popular streamers are playing, and what matchups are worst for you, then take that information and use it to inform how to build it.

Aggro Decks

InOut
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-1 Phyrexian Arena
-1 Exquisite Blood

These are great matchups for you, as you would expect from a lifegain deck.  Stay ahead in life and try to get a Cleric of Life’s Bond over 4 toughness so they can’t remove it.  You don’t need to pressure them, just defend and outlast them.

Sacrifice Decks

InOut
+2 Containment Priest-1 Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
+1 Remorseful Cleric-3 Nullpriest of Oblivion
+1 Leyline of the Void-2 Bloodchief’s Thirst
+2 Blood Artist

Sultai Midrange

InOut
+3 Thoughtseize-4 Fatal Push
+1 Phyrexian Arena-2 Soul Warden
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-1 Nullpriest of Oblivion
+1 The Immortal Sun

There are a lot of different versions of this deck going around so pay attention game one to what sort of threats they are using.  If they lean heavier into creatures, you might want to leave in the Fatal Pushes.

Auras

InOut
+1 Cleansing Nova-2 Exquisite Blood
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst-1 Phyrexian Reclamation

We board out our later game stuff in favor of more spot removal.  Cleansing Nova hitting Enchantments is good, because they have numerous ways of making their creatures indestructible, but they can’t do the same for their auras.

Rakdos Arcanist

InOut
+1 Leyline of the Void-2 Nullpriest of Oblivion
+1 Remorseful Cleric-1 Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
+2 Containment Priest-1 Exquisite Blood

Containment Priest takes care of Kroxa and Claim//Fame.  Leyline of the Void in an opening hand can lock them out of the game since they have artifact removal more often than enchantment removal (although that does exist now in Feed the Swarm, which you should be wary of in game 3!).

Control Decks

+1 Deafening Silence-4 Fatal Push
+3 Thoughtseize-1 Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
+1 The Immortal Sun-4 Nullpriest of Oblivion
+2 Bloodchief’s Thirst
+2 Blood Artist

The specific cards you choose to keep in or board out are going to depend on the specific style of control you see, but in general you won’t need Fatal Push. If they do have a few creatures, then we can rely on a kicked Bloodchief’s Thirst, which we are keeping in to deal with Planeswalkers.

Neoform

InOut
+2 Containment Priest-2 Exquisite Blood
+3 Thoughtseize-2 Bloodchief’s Thirst
+1 Phyrexian Arena-2 Blood Artist

The secret to beating Neoform is to know the timing to disrupt their combo.  After they play Seagate Stormcaller, they are going to try to get a double Neoform.  If you have the Fatal Push, you want to let the Stormcaller come into play, and then kill it in response to its ability.  If you have the Containment Priest, you want to let them play the Neoform and sacrifice the Seagate, then play your Priest before the Neoform resolves.  Thoughtseize prioritizes Seagate Stormcaller and Neoform before anything else.

Even if they resolve the combo, don’t concede – you’re a lifegain deck and they can only deal so much damage, especially if they’ve drawn some of their clone effects/you have a blocker to trade with Combat Celebrant.

Tips and Tricks

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Overextending versus going all in

One big difficulty for new players of this deck (and many other creature decks) is going to be deciding whether it’s time to drop your whole hand or hold some cards back.  It is incredibly easy to play out your entire hand, but then you run the risk of being blown out by a well-timed sweeper.  So what should you look for when deciding if you should throw down two 2-drops on turn four, or just one?

Well for starters you need to identify what type of interaction your opponent is playing.  If they have lots of board wipes like Wrath of God, Languish, or Shatter the Sky, then you want to try to get your board wipe protectors up – these are Orah at any point, and Blood Artist if they’re on a low life total (which hopefully they will be after you’ve attacked them a bunch).  If you’re able to do that, then you can overextend all you like.

However, if they have exile-based removal like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or Cry of the Carnarium, then you need to hold back what you play and try to force them to cast it on an non-optimal board state.  Get out a big single card threat like Cleric of Life’s Bond or Mavren Fein then start pressuring them with it so they have no choice but to blow their removal on it, then unload your whole hand.

Cards we tend to struggle with and how to play around them.

Knowing your weaknesses is crucial for dealing with them.  While we can be quite a resilient deck, there are certain strategies we tend to not be able to handle that well. Even in those matchups, we can certainly win some of the time, and playing in such a way that we mitigate how good those strategies are goes a long way towards that.

First and foremost is Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.  We can handle most setbacks, but a board wipe that hits our enchantments and avoids our death triggers is backbreaking.  There isn’t anything we have that can react to him, so we must be proactive if we suspect our opponent has them.  If it is game one, that means beating them before he comes out.  Don’t worry about overextending before you’ve established yourself, because you can’t establish a board that handles him game 1 – you just don’t have the cards so you’re better off playing as though they haven’t drawn him.  In your post-board games, you want to lean heavily on Thoughtseize and The Immortal Sun.  Be smart about when you Thoughtseize – if you’re looking specifically to stop Ugin, it can be correct to hold it for quite a while.  If they have Elspeth Conquers Death and Ugin in hand, then Thoughtseizing Ugin is just setting them up to get it back.

Scavenging Ooze is another card that can be quite the nuisance.  It can come out game one and race our Cleric of Life’s Bond in size early, while messing up our reanimation gameplay late.  It’s the natural ability that Scooze has to both pressure us early and simultaneously sabotage us later that can just frustrate the hell out of us.  The best response is to not give it things to eat, but that can be easier said than done.  The best way I’ve found to handle it is by not blocking it early, and by not removing the mana dorks that accompany it.  Most common knowledge would say bolt their birds (use Fatal Push/Bloodchief’s Thirst on their Llanowar Elves), but we actually have an easier time of dealing with their higher cost threats than with Scooze, so save your removal for it.

Other Cards and Budget Options

Here are some other cards that I tried and evaluated for you.  Some were playable and some, not so much.  Adjust for your collection to craft the version that works best for you, without blowing all your wild cards.

Archfiend’s Vessel: We don’t run quite enough reanimation to abuse him.  This was the last card I cut, but it’s possible to play it alongside Call of the Death-Dweller in a different shell.

Luminarch Aspirant: If you want to lean heavier into the clerics and go for a more all-in, go-wide, dump-your-hand type of strategy, this card can run away with a game if unchecked, especially with a Cleric of Life’s Bond.

Hallowed Priest: The initial power and toughness are a little low, but it’s still a threat that can run away with the game if unchecked.  Great if you are concerned with wildcards.

Impassioned Orator: Not bad, but just not quite good enough.  Everything is just sort of okay about this card, and the two-drop spot is competitive.  Not bad doesn’t cut it in Historic.

Ministrant of Obligation: If you want to try a build more focused on reanimation, this is a really fun card to keep bringing back.  Works especially well with…

Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord: Just a touch too slow, but wow can this card blow out games.  Fun when it works, but frustrating when it fails.

Bishop of Rebirth: Too expensive for the current competitive meta, but if you’re just looking for some fun, this is a neat option to try out.

Priest of Forgotten Gods: We just don’t have the fodder in this deck to make it work. Love the card, but this didn’t seem like the deck for it.

Taborax, Hope’s Demise: Just a little under-statted and not quite the right type lines. I prefer Mavren Fein.  If you try a more Aristocrats style, I see this guy shining.  The card draw is really nice.

Thwart the Grave: Bringing back 2 creatures for (usually) five mana is nothing to shake a stick at.  However, it is dead early and we do most of our work in this deck on turns 2-4.

Relic Vial: If the death trigger was symmetrical, this would take the place of Blood Artist, but unfortunately it’s just not as good.

Adanto Vanguard: If you lean more into Vampires, this is a must use.  It really is just a powerhouse of a card.

Bloodthirsty Aerialist: Just a strong budget option.  If you don’t want to use the combo package, this is another good way of making use of multiple lifegain triggers.

Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord: Our largest creature isn’t a vampire, so we don’t want this.

Legion Lieutenant: We don’t go wide enough for this to be worth it.

Standard Bad Medicine

619356
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Creature (33)
4
Archfiend's Vessel
4
Cleric of Life's Bond
1
Drana, the Last Bloodchief
4
Luminarch Aspirant
4
Marauding Blight-Priest
4
Nullpriest of Oblivion
4
Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
4
Speaker of the Heavens
4
Taborax, Hope's Demise
Sorcery (8)
4
Agadeem's Awakening/Agadeem, the Undercrypt
4
Bloodchief's Thirst
Land (19)
4
Brightclimb Pathway/Grimclimb Pathway
3
Fabled Passage
4
Plains
5
Swamp
3
Temple of Silence
Cards 60
Sideboard (15)
2
Call of the Death-Dweller
1
Cling to Dust
4
Dire Tactics
1
Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis
3
Extinction Event
2
Revoke Existence
2
Shatter the Sky

The Standard version of this deck is less vampire-centric and doesn’t use a combo finisher.  Instead, the deck wants to build a board that can trade our lifelink creatures to bring back smaller ones, and chip away at our opponent’s life by triggering Marauding Blight-Priest, Taborax, Hope’s Demise, and Orah, Skyclave Hierophant, which all help to keep our hand full and our board stable.

Card Selection

Speaker of the Heavens Art

Speaker of the Heavens: Speaker is a great one drop for us, that can be a late game threat if we jump out to an early life lead.  This is a great target for Luminarch Aspirant to grow, since its vigilance lets it take advantage of lifelink on both players’ turns.

Archfiend’s Vessel: Curving out is really important for this deck, so we use eight one drop creatures.  The lifelink synergizes with Marauding Blight-Priest and reanimating into a 5/5 is fantastic when we have so many ways to recur it – Agadeem’s Awakening, Orah, and Nullpriest of Oblivion all do that!

Bloodchief’s Thirst: Every deck needs good removal, and the variable cost this brings us is why we run it.  With the popularity of Scavenging Ooze in the main deck, this is a must have for us to stay competitive.

Luminarch Aspirant: Growing a big lifelinker early will let you pay life from Taborax, Hope’s Demise more easily, and once you have him out then you can use Luminarch to speed up growing him to five counters.

Nullpriest of Oblivion: Gives us everything we want for this deck.  The Menace can be key when trying to out-rush aggro decks.

Cleric of Life’s Bond: The life gain triggers synergize with Marauding Blight-Priest allowing you to indirectly attack your opponent’s life total. Combined with a Luminarch Aspirant, you can quickly grow too big for some decks to deal with. 

Marauding Blight-Priest: There might not be any infinite loops with MBP, but it is still a great card for damaging your opponent. Its three power means it can trade with a lot of popular cards in standard, like Bonecrusher Giant.

Taborax, Hope’s Demise: This card is a powerhouse.  The card draw keeps us in games by allowing us to make unfavorable blocks without losing card advantage.  He is also one of our win conditions if he gets big enough.

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant: This guy offers some great protection to a board if we’re curving out.  We use four copies because of how the legend rule works – when you play a second copy with the first copy on board, we can bring back two three-drops (or smaller) from our graveyard.  That’s a lot of stats for four mana. 

Drana, the Last Bloodchief: We would use more than one copy if Drana didn’t say nonlegendary, but even with that unfortunate caveat, she is a must-kill card that threatens to win the game if left unchecked for even a turn.

Agadeem’s Awakening: Unlike the Historic version, we actually end up casting this from time to time. Rarely, if you have an Archfiend’s Vessel in the graveyard, it is even playable at x=1, but usually you want to wait for x=2 where it’s great value.

Sideboard Guide

Your sideboards should change with the meta, and you should tweak the one I’ve provided. Keep track of what decks you are facing a lot of, what decks the most popular streamers are playing, and what matchups are worst for you, then take that information and use it to inform how to build it.

Gruul Adventures

InOut
+2 Shatter the Sky-4 Archfiend’s Vessel
+2 Extinction Event-1 Drana, the Last Bloodchief
+2 Dire Tactics-1 Agadeem’s Awakening

We bring in some board wipes to keep them from overwhelming us with their aggressive game plan, and we lose some of our slower spells.  They will usually bring in some sort of graveyard hate, assuming they didn’t already have Scavenging Ooze in the main, so drop the AFVs.  Get a large threat to stick, and use your lifelinkers to block.  You win by out valuing them.

Dimir Rogues

InOut
+1 Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis-2 Bloodchief’s Thirst
+2 Call of the Death-Dweller-1 Drana, the Last Bloodchief
+4 Dire Tactics-2 Agadeem’s Awakening
-2 Speaker of the Heavens

In my experience, the mill is a bigger threat to us than their creatures (being a lifegain deck), so we bring in some ways to take advantage of them milling us.  Not only can you Escape Elspeth out of the graveyard if they mill her, but she can also use the lands that inevitably get milled for Escape-fodder.  Call of the Death-Dweller is a cool card to side in when our opponent is nice enough to mill targets for it into the graveyard.  Dire Tactics come in because destroying isn’t permanent enough when they have Lurrus as their companion.  All their cards have low cmc, so we don’t even need a human out to cast it; just pay the life then gain it back later.

Rakdos Midrange

InOut
+1 Cling to Dust-2 Bloodchief’s Thirst
+3 Dire Tactics-1 Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
+3 Extinction Event-4 Nullpriest of Oblivion

Most creatures in Rakdos Midrange have even cmc, so Extinction Event is a very powerful card against them.  We can afford to lose some of our even cost creatures. We change over a few Bloodchief’s Thirsts for Dire Tactics because they have a lot of reanimation, and they still run 7 or so odd-costed creatures.

Mono Green Food

InOut
+4 Dire Tactics-2 Bloodchief’s Thirst
+3 Extinction Event-1 Drana, the Last Bloodchief
-4 Archfiend’s Vessel

This time we bring in Dire Tactics and Extinction Event because our opponent has several indestructible creatures that destroying just won’t work against.  They usually have Scavenging Oozes, so we keep 2 Bloodchief’s Thirst in to deal with it early.  Get a Taborax to 5 counters and this match up is a breeze; they can’t keep up with the life gain.  Your biggest threat from this deck is if they side in an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.

Esper Doom

InOut
+2 Revoke Existence-3 Bloodchief’s Thirst
+1 Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis


This is a really bad matchup because they usually have 4 copies of Elspeth’s Nightmare in their main deck.  We bring in 2 Revoke Existence to try to handle it before it gets to the third lore token.  You can stave off Doom Foretold using descending sacrifices with Orah.  I didn’t face this deck enough to warrant dedicating a ton of sideboard space to improve the matchup, but if you see it a lot then putting cards like Duress in your sideboard might not be a bad idea.

Tips and Tricks

Taborax-Hopes-Demise-Zendikar-Rising-MtG-Art
Right out of a Hellboy movie…

Is it better to have one huge creature or several smaller ones when I am placing +1+1 counters with Luminarch Aspirant?

Think about the deck you are facing before deciding how to place your counters.  If you are facing a deck with a lot of single target removal, like a black deck, then you want to spread your counters around.  If you are facing a deck with softer, damage-based removal, like green or red, then it’s better to grow a single creature out of reach of their removal before moving on to another.  If you are facing a control deck with lots of board wipes, then it’s best to not overextend into their board wipes, but rather present them with one threat at a time to deal with.

How low on life can I go with Taborax before it’s a bad idea to keep drawing with him?

That depends on your opponent’s reach.  How much damage can they do to you in one turn?  Think about the board state and count up the damage.  Think about cards you have seen them play already, and about cards you’ve seen similar decks play.  Then use that information to determine if it’s worth taking the risk to draw more.  Is there a specific card in your deck that you are waiting for to win the game, like a piece of removal?  It might be worth going for.  Are you in a secure enough position already, but are a little low on life?  Better to maybe save it.  One warning I can give is, don’t count on the lifelink from Taborax hitting your opponent.  There are numerous ways in Standard of sacrificing your own creatures to avoid combat (Merfolk Windrobber springs to mind), as well as some powerful spot removal.  Heartless Act can steal your tokens to make sure you don’t gain that life.  Be wary of counting on life that you don’t have yet.

Other Cards and Budget Options

Here are some other cards that I tried and evaluated for you.  Some were playable and some, not so much.  Adjust for your collection to craft the version that works best for you, without blowing all your wild cards.

Anointed Chorister: A budget one drop that has lifelink and relevant types.

Containment Priest: There aren’t enough decks in standard where this is relevant at the moment.

Expedition Healer: Nice stats and keywords, but Nullpriest of Oblivion is just better.

Keensight Mentor/Duskfang Mentor: I’d say the black one is a little better because we have a lot of cards with lifelink, but the ability to give Taborax Vigilance is pretty strong.  Still probably a little too slow.

Attended Healer: The effect is nice, but gated, and it does not have high enough stats for the cost.

Victory’s Envoy: I couldn’t get this to work because it was just too slow and vulnerable.

Relic Vial: Again, if the effect was symmetrical it would be a must include, but it’s not.  We aren’t really an aristocrats deck.

The Ozolith: Now, here is an interesting option.  If you have a few of these floating around from my last article with nothing to do with them, that can certainly work.  I wouldn’t go out of your way to craft them, but the deck generates a lot of +1+1 counters.  If the list wasn’t so tight I might have fit one or two.

Heliod, Sun-Crowned/Daxos, Blessed by the Sun: Great effects, but not clerics.

Thanks for reading! Check out my other articles:

Terence

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