Standard Orzhov Clerics Deck Guide: The Aggro Killer
Hello everyone! Today I’ll be going over Orzhov Clerics, a deck that I took to on a 14-0 run in the most recent Standard Metagame Challenge. While a player in previous Standard formats, Orzhov Clerics wasn’t quite at critical mass until Innistrad: Crimson Vow. One of this deck’s greatest strengths is its matchup against aggressive decks, which means that given the current abundance of Mono-White and Mono-Green, especially on the MTG Arena ladder, Orzhov Clerics is very well-positioned in the current metagame.
Best of Three (Bo3)
The core of this deck is made up of, of course, clerics, but also a whole lot of lifegain. Cleric of Life's Bond, Righteous Valkyrie, Pyre of Heroes, and Orah, Skyclave Hierophant all directly synergize with clerics, and nearly all the cards in the deck either gain life, reward you for gaining life, or both.
The first part of any good lifegain deck is a way to gain life, and this deck certainly has no problem with that with 12 Soul Warden effects. First up is Lunarch Veteran, which is the best at what it does. The primary one-drop for this deck, Lunarch Veteran can lead to some busted starts if followed up by a Voice of the Blessed or Cleric of Life's Bond. Synergies aside, Lunarch Veteran is both at alleviating early-game pressure with its incidental lifegain and applying early-game pressure with its cheap, recursive body.
Cleric of Life's Bond and Righteous Valkyrie are more expensive versions of Lunarch Veteran, but each come with their own additional upside. While Cleric of Life's Bond does cost a mana more and only trigger off clerics, it acts as an enabler and payoff for lifegain all in one and can get pretty big pretty quick, and not only does Righteous Valkyrie gain more life than either of the aforementioned, it provides a massive payoff if you can get to 27 or more life.
The second ingredient in our lifegain soup has to be, of course, the payoffs. Lifegain in and of itself can be worth quite a lot when playing against an aggressive deck, but this deck also does an excellent job getting extra value from every point of lifegain. Additionally, one of the strengths of this deck is that many of the cards fuel their own synergies, so drawing all enablers or all payoffs is very unlikely.
Voice of the Blessed and Cleric of Life's Bond are both variants of the classic Ajani's Pridemate, the default payoff for these kinds of decks. Both, but especially Voice of the Blessed can become enormous (and flying) in no time. Righteous Valkyrie, while initially less explosive, can make your team massive as early as turn four, giving your board a double Glorious Anthem once you’re above 27 life.
Now that we’ve gone over the basic meat and potatoes of this deck, we can get to the fun stuff. Orah, Skyclave Hierophant is this deck’s most important synergy piece, providing synergy against wraths, making combat all the more difficult for the opponent, and supercharging Pyre of Heroes. Additionally, legend-ruling a second Orah, Skyclave Hierophant gives you two triggers, which in many cases is straight-up better than a second Orah.
Cleric of Life's Bond and Righteous Valkyrie give a good reason to keep all our creatures clerics, but the second real synergy piece of this deck is Pyre of Heroes because it turns out even a significantly worse Birthing Pod can still be very powerful in the right deck. Pyre of Heroes is great at gaining life by triggering enters-the-battlefield triggers, and while Skyclave Apparition isn’t a cleric, it can still be fetched by Skyclave Cleric, and fetch Orah, Skyclave Hierophant. One of Pyre of Heroes biggest strengths is how well it works with Orah, and conveniently, if you don’t draw an Orah you can still tutor it straight onto the battlefield with any of this deck’s three-drops.
Finally, the deck is rounded out with a bit of utility. Ollenbock Escort can protect many of the most important creatures in this deck, especially with the help of Luminarch Aspirant, which despite not synergizing with the rest of the deck very well alone, gets in by merit of raw power. Speaking of raw power, Skyclave Apparition isn’t even a cleric and is still a full four-of due to just how flexible of a removal spell it is. Many of the most problematic permanents in Standard cost four or less, and being able to hit noncreature permanents as well as creatures makes this card truly insane. Finally, a pair of Elite Spellbinder round out the 60, providing a little extra hand disruption, and a solid flying body.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Reidane, God of the Worthy, Duress, and Elite Spellbinder all help this deck’s control matchup, which isn’t great, but thanks to all these excellent sideboard options, is certainly winnable. All of these, save Duress, serve the same purpose of slowing down and taxing the opponent’s mana while simultaneously being creatures that can apply pressure.
Crippling Fear is a house against Mono-White and can do some solid work against other creature decks as well.
Finally, a one-of Valorous Stance is in the sideboard specifically against Izzet, where a way to counter removal can be excellent, and it’s a great way to have an extra answer for a pesky Smoldering Egg or Hullbreaker Horror without risking being stuck with a dead card.
Best of One (Bo1)
For best of one, the only changes to the list are a pair of Vanishing Verse and a Crippling Fear replacing an Ollenbock Escort and the two Elite Spellbinder. Bo1 tends to have a higher percentage of proactive and aggressive decks than Bo3 so to adjust for this, I cut Elite Spellbinder and trimmed Ollenbock Escort.
Elite Spellbinder is worse against lower curve decks, because it less often disrupts their curve or hits a unique effect, and Ollenbock Escort is particularly weak against Mono-White and their wealth of exile-based removal. These cards come out for a pair of Vanishing Verse, which is an excellent removal spell against creature decks that still have some relevance against control, and a one-of Crippling Fear to bolster the more abundant aggro matchups.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
Disclaimer: While sideboard guides are useful, make sure not to just follow them blindly. Your exact sideboarding should change based on whether you’re on the play or draw, your opponent’s specific list (or your best guess at it), and in game 3, what sideboard cards you’ve seen them bring in.
|+2 Crippling Fear||-3 Ollenbock Escort|
|+2 Vanishing Verse||-2 Pyre of Heroes|
|+2 Portable Hole||-2 Elite Spellbinder|
|+1 Infernal Grasp|
This matchup is excellent, and one of the reasons why I believe Orzhov Clerics is so well-positioned right now. This deck’s abundance of lifegain makes racing very hard for Mono-White, and its synergies means that it has the advantage in the long game as well. The main way Mono-White wins this matchup is early pressure backed up by Skyclave Apparition, and an unanswered Luminarch Aspirant can be scary as well. Post-board this matchup becomes even better with the addition of Crippling Fear, just be aware of overlapping creature types between your and your opponent’s creatures.
|+2 Vanishing Verse||-2 Ollenbock Escort|
|+1 Portable Hole||-2 Pyre of Heroes|
|+1 Infernal Grasp||-1 Elite Spellbinder|
|+1 Valorous Stance|
Another great matchup for this deck, getting your important creatures out of range of a fight spell as fast as possible is very important here, as once you can stop green’s early aggression with a big creature or two, your synergies can again help you take over the late game, and Mono-Green’s removal is only as good as their biggest creature.
|+2 Vanishing Verse||-3 Ollenbock Escort|
|+2 Portable Hole||-2 Pyre of Heroes|
|+1 Infernal Grasp||-1 Elite Spellbinder|
|+1 Valorous Stance|
This matchup is pretty even. Big fliers from the opponent pose a threat but are raceable, and the big decider in this matchup is often who can start snowballing first. Skyclave Apparition is a very high-leverage card in this matchup, and make sure not to get blown out by the fact that Immersturm Predator can exile cards from the graveyard at instant speed.
|+3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben||-4 Skyclave Apparition|
|+2 Reidane, God of the Worthy||-3 Voice of the Blessed|
|+1 Elite Spellbinder||-1 Ollenbock Escort|
-2 Pyre of Heroes against Izzet Dragons
|+1 Valorous Stance|
+2 Vanishing Verse against Izzet Dragons
This matchup isn’t great, due to a combination of cheap removal and wraths from the opponent, and the fact that having a high life total usually won’t make you any less dead if Izzet Turns starts going off. Post-board, hatebears give this deck a lot more game, and a well timed removal spell on Hullbreaker Horror can leave Izzet Turns unable to win the game with just an Alrund's Epiphany or two.
One thing that is especially important with this deck is sequencing. Many of the cards in this deck do nearly the same thing, just slightly differently. Take Lunarch Veteran and Cleric of Life's Bond for example, or Cleric of Life's Bond and Voice of the Blessed. Additionally, the amount of different enters-the-battlefield triggers in this deck mean that planning out your turns ahead of time is hugely important when it comes to maximizing value.
Another thing that is important to keep in mind with regards to sequencing, are the lands. Sometimes you’ll need double white on turn-two for Voice of the Blessed, but you may also want to get down your Hive of the Eye Tyrant before it comes in tapped. With that being said, here are some general rules for sequencing:
- Cleric of Life's Bond is usually a better turn-two play than Luminarch Aspirant if you’re planning to trigger it each turn for the next couple turns. Otherwise, Luminarch Aspirant is better because it will add more power to the board over the next couple turns. This comes up most often when you think you’re going to play a turn three Skyclave Apparition.
- Luminarch Aspirant can also be a better two drop than Cleric of Life's Bond if you want to protect your creatures with Ollenbock Escort or play around removal by putting counters on multiple different creatures.
- It’s usually better to play Voice of the Blessed after all your Soul Warden effects, making it weaker on turn two in most cases than Cleric of Life's Bond or Luminarch Aspirant.
- Try to get Righteous Valkyrie down as soon as possible, if left unanswered it will in most cases put you over 27 within a turn or two, and take over the game in short order. The upside from an early Righteous Valkyrie is so high it’s usually not worth playing around removal by playing it only once you’re already at 27 life.
- If necessary, save your higher toughness creatures for after you cast Righteous Valkyrie to gain more life. Getting to 27 or more a turn earlier can represent a massive amount of extra damage, so make sure to do the math.
- If you play a creature that grows when you gain life, for example, Voice of the Blessed, and you have another creature that gains life, say a Lunarch Veteran, stack the triggers so that the lifegain from Lunarch Veteran resolves before that of Righteous Valkyrie. Voice of the Blessed will become a 3/3, and you will then gain three life instead of two from the Righteous Valkyrie trigger.
- You can either play a turn-two Voice of the Blessed, or play an untapped Hive of the Eye Tyrant, but not both.
- While having white mana in the early game is generally more important than black mana, because this deck simply has a lot more cheap white spells than black ones, in the late game you’ll usually want to have triple black for
Agadeem’s Awakening, so keep that in mind when playing your Brightclimb Pathway.
- Agadeem's Awakening has a very powerful effect when cast for six or seven mana, so if you don’t think it’s likely you’ll need the extra mana from the land side, hold it instead of playing it out as a Swamp. Even if you do need to play it untapped, this deck does a good job mitigating the life loss.
- Most importantly, feel free to break any of these rules if you feel it’s worth it in a particular situation – these are general guidelines and not set in stone by any means!
Tips, Tricks, and Things to Watch Out For
- Cleric of Life’s Bond only triggers off of clerics, and Righteous Valkyrie only triggers off of clerics and angels, but Lunarch Veteran triggers off of anything. Voice of the Blessed triggers each time you gain life, but Cleric of Life's Bond only triggers only on the first time life is gained per turn. This means that if you gain life, then in the same turn play a Cleric of Life's Bond and gain life again, it won’t get a counter.
- Keep in mind there are more creature types in common in this deck than just clerics, which is especially relevant for Crippling Fear and Pyre of Heroes. Also, for Crippling Fear, don’t forget that while not many of the creatures your opponents play are clerics, Mono-White runs Luminarch Aspirant, which is a cleric.
- If one of your creatures has lethal damage marked on it but is being kept alive by a Righteous Valkyrie giving it +2/+2, if you go below 27 life or the Righteous Valkyrie dies, your creature will die. This is especially relevant if you might go below 27 during combat, or if your opponent is representing instant-speed removal.
- Sometimes it’s best not to cast the disturb side of Lunarch Veteran so that it can be reanimated by Orah, Skyclave Hierophant, or by Agadeem's Awakening.
- While for some reason Arena doesn’t tell you which creature each Orah trigger is for, you can usually deduce it by looking at what the highest mana cost creature that you can target with each creature is.
- Pyre of Heroes only searches for a creature that costs exactly one more than the creature you sacrificed. If you sacrifice the disturb side of Lunarch Veteran, you’ll search for a creature with mana cost two.
Orzhov Clerics is well-positioned in the metagame, with a great aggro matchup, and is a powerful synergistic deck that rewards precise technical play, especially in the early turns.