Orzhov Auras Historic Deck Guide: Spiritdancer is Still Tier 0

Orzhov Auras Historic Deck Guide: Spiritdancer is Still Tier 0
Kor Spiritdancer Art by Scott Chou

Hello everybody! Today, we’re going to do a much needed update on one of the best decks (if not the best) in Historic: Orzhov Auras. As a content creator, I have to test out a lot of different decks by nature. A lot of them work out decently, some of them work out well, but the rest end up being pretty bad. Not every deck you brew is going to be a winner after all. However, when I get kicked down into the percentages on ladder, I always know that Auras can bail me out.

Just a week ago, I was testing a bunch of different decks and went from top 20 mythic to 98%. Knowing I wanted to climb back up, I played Auras all the way back to top 50 mythic again in a few days. If you know how to play this deck, you can easily climb the ladder, but let me say, it’s a lot harder than people give it credit for. Let’s take a look at my list.

Strix Orzhov Auras 

Companion
1
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Creatures (8)
4
Kor Spiritdancer
4
Sram, Senior Edificer
Spells (8)
4
Claim/Fame
/
4
Thoughtseize
Enchantments (23)
4
Cartouche of Solidarity
1
Demonic Vigor
2
Hateful Eidolon
4
Kaya's Ghostform
4
Sentinel's Eyes
2
All That Glitters
3
Angelic Gift
3
Heliod's Punishment
Lands (21)
4
Brightclimb Pathway
4
Concealed Courtyard
4
Godless Shrine
2
Isolated Chapel
4
Plains
1
Sacred Foundry
2
Swamp
Cards (60)
Sideboard (15)
4
Dead Weight
1
Demonic Vigor
3
Duress
1
Heliod's Punishment
4
Hushbringer
1
Legion's End
1
Lurrus of the Dream-Den

This list is very similar to the one Arne Huscenbath won with at the Kaldheim Championships and I repurposed it for the ladder. This may be more common knowledge now, but this version or Orzhov is a far cry from what the deck used to look like. The main difference between the new version and the old version of Orhov Auras is easily the creature count. The first iterations of Auras would play around 16 creatures: 4 Alseid of Life's Bounty (or Hateful Eidolon), Selfless Savior, Kor Spiritdancer, Sram, Senior Edificer. The idea was that you wanted your 8 spiritdancers and then some other creatures to help insulate them. It was a strategy that worked well for awhile and was the generally agreed upon best configuration.

NOTE: For the rest of the article, I’m going to lump together Sram, Senior Artificer and Kor Spiritdancer as “spiritdancers”. If I want to reference particularly Kor Spiritdancer, I’ll make sure to specify it’s Kor Spiritdancer and not a Spiritdancer.

However, right before Strixhaven, the protection package began to look worse and worse. There wasn’t as much removal, and the removal that was being played was Claim the Firstborn and a lot of exile effects. Selfless Savior really wasn’t cutting it anymore. In the same vein, Alseid was generally an unimpressive card overall. I would frequently cut it from most matchups and the 1 mana to protect something was generally too hard to keep up. I felt that the list needed to change, but couldn’t see how to do it. However, Arne and his team (plus many other players in the Kaldheim Championship), realized the deck really only needed the Spiritdancers to win as all the other creatures were just fluff. If you can’t keep a hand most of the time without a Spiritdancer, why are we playing other creatures at all? So they cut down the excess creatures to just the 2 Hateful Eidolon, but I know many players are cutting those as well!

The deck has leaned down into one main gameplan, play a Spiritdancer and slap Auras on it. It may seem simple, but the complexity that can go into playing the deck well is insane. Most players believe this is an aggro deck, but it’s actually a much grindier strategy than most believe. Auras can have fast starts, but to beat them, you need to dismantle all their pieces at every turn or they’ll quickly overwhelm you with a creature and a flurry of Auras. I’m not positive what archetype you would classify this as, but my friend Tristan (a great player and teammate of Arne) said I had to call this a prison deck if I wanted some of his insight. So you heard it here first, Auras is a prison deck. This may seem like a silly concept, but here’s a quote from him on the topic: “I’ve said this a bunch of times and it’s kind of a meme at this point, but I generally like to think it (Auras) as a prison deck. You’re generally just trying to accumulate more copies of Sram/Spiritdancer or protection for them (Kaya’s Ghostform, Claim, etc) than your opponent can deal with. You’re rarely trying to pressure their life total early (in some matchups you may need to though),but instead trying to fight over card advantage and board presence. You can lock many decks out with just big creatures and removal.”

We’ll move onto the matchups and sideboarding, but after that I’ll have an expansive tips and tricks section using some of Tristan’s extremely helpful notes.

MATCHUPS AND SIDEBOARDING

Hushbringer by Bastien Lecouffe Deharme
Hushbringer by Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

MIRROR

INOUT
+4 Dead Weight-2 Hateful Eidolon
+1 Heliod’s Punishment-1 Demonic Vigor
+1 Legion’s End-3 Kaya’s Ghostform

Although Auras is a complicated deck, the mirror doesn’t feel that way. It will really come down to who can draw their Kor Spiritdancer first and kill the other player. Sram is great here too of course, but Spiritdancer makes or breaks the mirror. We board all the cards that are generally unhelpful (you can keep in 1 Eidolon or 1 Ghostform, neither are great here) and bring in removal in hopes of tagging Kor Spiritdancer with it.

GW COMPANY (MODERATELY FAVORED)

INOUT
+4 Dead Weight-2 Hateful Eidolon
+1 Heliod’s Punishment-1 Demonic Vigor
+4 Hushbringer-4 Claim // Fame
-2 All that Glitters

This matchup is quite good for us as our game plan lines up well against theirs. They don’t have much interaction, racing Auras is hard for them, and Hushbringer is really good against them. The concerning cards from them are Thalia, Guardian of Thraben as she taxes all of your Auras and Archon of Emeria which can slow you down tremendously. Try to hold your Heliod’s Punishments as long as possible so you can tag an Archon of Emeria with it.

GRUUL AGGRO (MODERATELY FAVORED TO HEAVILY FAVORED)

INOUT
+4 Dead Weight-4 Thoughtseize
+1 Heliod’s Punishment-1 Demonic Vigor
+2 Hushbringer-2 Kaya’s Ghostform

Gruul is seeing a resurgence in the meta since Jund Company and Auras have taken a small hiatus, but this matchup is extremely difficult for Gruul. You can grow your creatures to huge proportions very quickly and putting an All that Glitters on a creature with Lifelink will usually be a death sentence. You can lose this matchup if you have awkward hands or they have a super explosive start, but your average hands should generally beat their good hands.

DIMIR ROGUES (EVEN)

INOUT
+4 Dead Weight-2 All that Glitters
+3 Duress-3 Angelic Gift
+1 Legion’s End-3 Heliod’s Punishment 

This matchup can definitely be challenging as they have a lot of ways to disrupt your game plan. Whenever they have a bunch of interaction, it can feel unwinnable, but if you can accumulate more threats then they have answers, the matchup feels unloseable. It’s really going to come down both player’s opening hands and how you time playing the Spiritdancers. My best tip is to try and avoid playing out a Spiritdancer unless you can for sure draw a card off of it. If for example you’re on the play and they play a tapland turn 1 and you have multiple Spiritdancers, then playing one on 2 is fine.

CONTROL DECKS

INOUT
+1 Demonic Vigor-1 Angelic Gift
+3 Duress-3 Heliod’s Punishment

This boarding advice is very general, but Control has splintered into so many different archetypes recently it’s hard to cover them all. Never the less, the general plan of boarding out your removal spells and bringing in cards that will help you grind remains a great base to start with. Most control decks struggle to beat Auras as a discard spell into Spiritdancer and Ghostform can easily be the knockout blow by itself. Control decks can definitely be difficult especially if they have a lot of early interaction into nice payoffs like Terferi, Hero of Dominaria or Torrential Gearhulk, but most creature decks are going to lose to that anyway. Narset, Parter of Veils is also a huge issue for this deck as she stops the card draw ability from our spiritdancers to stopping her is always priority number 1 against Control.

TIPS AND TRICKS

Kaya's Ghostform Art By Johan Grenier
Kaya’s Ghostform Art By Johan Grenier

Once again, thank you to Tristan for compiling a large amount of these tips in his testing with Team 7%.

  • “Although the deck seems easy, it can be really unintuitive to play. Sometimes you’ll want to play out a spiritdancer just for it to die if you think they can’t cast a removal spell and another card in the same turn. Sometimes you’ll want to hold off because you could be afraid they can spend their mana too efficiently if you run it out.” It’s all contextual and the only way to get better at it is to play Auras more and really try to envision what’s in the opponent’s hand from how they play.
  • You have to mulligan for either of your spiritdancers pretty much every game. There can be hands where just Hateful Eidolon would make it keepable, but they’d have to be really good hands and ideally you’d know the matchup as well. 
  • Based on Tristan’s math, you’re quite likely to find a hand with a Spiritdancer, especially if you’re on the draw and are willing to keep one landers as well since you’re 65% to draw a second land in 2 draw steps. Here’s his breakdown on the likelihood of having a spiritdancer in your opening hand.
HANDANY ONE LANDERTWO LANDER WITH WHITE SOURCE
762.68%50.21%
686.07%75.21%
594.80%87.66%
  • With this in mind, you can’t keep any hand with lands and spiritdancer, but you can keep most of them (Thoughtseize, Sram, and 5 lands you functionally can’t ever keep)
  • Sentinel’s Eyes is one of the best Auras as it’s the only one you can naturally rebuy. If you feel like you need the ability to recast it down the line and the Vigilance doesn’t particularly matter, putting it on a creature that’s likely to die can give you plays in the future.
  • Prioritize exiling cards you can’t recur with Sentinel’s Eyes first. After that, start exiling duplicates of cards that you have (hand, graveyard, or battlefield)
  • When you have Hateful Eidolon out, you can cast Dead Weight on your own creatures to draw a card in a pinch. This can also work with creatures that have Sentinel’s Eyes attached so you can rebuy the Eyes later.
  • With both Eidolon and Sentinel’s Eyes, playing a Sram when you already have a Sram out is a common line and can net you more cards in the future.
  • Eidolon’s ability doesn’t trigger when you have a Hushbringer out
  • Hushbringer stops Demonic Vigor and Kaya’s Ghostform from working when your creatures die, Ghostform will still work if they get exiled though. This is also true with Grafdigger’s Cage. However, if the opponent has both a Rest in Peace AND a Grafdigger’s Cage (and you don’t have a Hushbringer) a creature that gets destroyed will still come back
  • Adding Lurrus to hand and passing can be a great alternative to running out a Spiritdancer if the opponent is holding open mana
  • Dead Weight does not kill Kor Spiritdancer as it gets a static +2/+2 for each Aura attached to it. With that in mind, you can’t kill opposing Kor Spiritdancers with Dead Weight, but you can also cycle your own Dead Weight by attaching it to your own Kor Spiritdancer
  • Cartouche of Solidarity and Kaya’s Ghostform can only enchant creatures you control. This is most relevant with Claim the Firstborn as they’ll fall off if your creatures change sides. This can be good as it makes it harder for the opponent to kill you with your own creature, but also makes Kaya’s Ghostform generally bad against Claim decks. Demonic Vigor however, still works against Claim.
  • Try to avoid putting Demonic Vigor and Kaya’s Ghostform on the same creature, but if you have to, make sure you can set your triggers manually so it doesn’t return to your hand when you want it to return to the board.
  • Be careful with how you spend your Angelic Gifts as some decks can clog up the ground so well the only way you can win is through Flying. 
  • You don’t always need to take interaction with your Thoughtseize effects. Sometimes taking their proactive play then waiting until they tap out is a much more effective strategy.

Thank you for reading! If you like my content and want to see more of it, you can check me out on Twitch! Have a great day!

DoggertQBones

Robert "DoggertQBones" Lee is a streamer and high ranked Arena player. He has one GP Top 8 and pioneered popular archetypes like UB 8 Shark, UB Yorion, GW Company in Historic, and Temur Koma in Historic. Beyond Magic, his passions are writing and coaching! Join our community on Twitch and Discord.

14 Responses

  1. Shr says:

    I’d argue you should just get rid of the Eidolons altogether. With a lot of control/storm decks right now, you’re better off with IoK or Duress in its place. Eidolons don’t help you win against those archetypes and even against creature-based decks, your Spiritdancers are more than enough to do the job.

    If you really are so afixed to running 4 Claim/Fame you should consider running 1 less Sram.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • DoggertQBones says:

      I can see cutting Eidolon entirely for sure. I still like them because they can increase the amount of hands kept and they’re very rarely “bad”, but can overall be mediocre. I don’t think you can ever cut a Sram though, the decks biggest weakness is not having a spiritdancer in the opener.

  2. Gus says:

    I think that the maindeck is missing a Demonic Vigor, right? I see it bein boarded out of some matches but there are none in the main deck.

    • DoggertQBones says:

      Yes it was! Sorry about that! The list has been fixed.

      • aldeayeah says:

        Looking over the SB notes – Is it just me, or does Dead Weight do absolutely nothing against an opponent Spiritdancer?

        • DoggertQBones says:

          That is correct. It doesn’t do anything against specifically Kor Spiritdancer but it’s still important for killing a Sram with no Auras or a Lurrus. It’s not exciting for sure, but it’s better than the cards we’re boarding out

  3. Derael says:

    Is 2 copies of All that Glitters really enough?

    • DoggertQBones says:

      I believe so, a lot of lists have started cutting them even more. I like them since they can really increase your clock, but you don’t really need too many. I could see a 3rd copy potentially over the Demonic Vigor but wouldn’t go to 4

      • Derael says:

        Played a bit more with it, but for some reason UW auras perform much better for me. Either I don’t know how to play Orzhov, or the deck is just way too popular, so everyone got used to playing against it. UW auras have access to counterspells, and it catches a lot of people unprepared (Got 22-4 series today with UW).

        • DoggertQBones says:

          Hard to say. It’s still a pretty small sample size, but maybe you’re just better with UW? I would say Orzhov is almost strictly better but play skill can help offset the difference.

  4. Yena says:

    DoggertQBones, I have an Orzhov humans deck that’s something like this:

    4 Thoughtseize
    2 Inquisition of Kozilek
    4 Thraben Inspector
    4 Kitesail Freebooter
    4 Silverquill Silencer
    4 Vanishing Verse
    3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
    3 General Kudro of Drannith
    4 Benalish Marshal
    2 Elite Spellbinder
    2 Lurrus of the Dream-den
    24 Lands (duals)

    It’s usually good against control and combo matchups but even then, it still lacks that “oomph” to finish them off. Against aggro, it’s quite okay.

    Since I already got all the dual lands, do you think switching to Orzhov Auras will be an upgrade?

    • DoggertQBones says:

      Auras is fast like creature decks but it’s much harder to interact with and can grind very well too. That being said, these decks are different enough I wouldn’t necessarily compare them directly either. However, if the question is: is auras or this deck better, my answer is Auras.

  5. FtPEng says:

    I’ve been playing this deck for a while and i LOVE IT! although I’m having hard time with jeskai turn deck. have you came to a sideboard/solution for this matchup? I’ve seen one with lots of Dragon’s approach.

    • DoggertQBones says:

      To be honest I’m not entirely sure what matchup you’re talking about, but it sounds like some sort of control shell. I would go with the standard control sideboarding and take it from there if you think you need to do something different.

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