Guildpact: Code of the Orzhov Review (Part 2 of 2)
For our opening look at Guildpact, Sam’s ready with Izzet Gizmometry. Itself an unusual build, today’s match pits one unorthodox style against another. In the end, only one can prevail… will the Orzhov have enough to make sure theirs is the last Thrull standing?
Now turn 4, Sam plays an Island and passes, while I deploy an Ostiary Thrull off a Plains. Sam then draws first blood at the end of my turn, pinging me with the Gelectrode. Next turn she plays a Mountain, but has no other play. I drop an Orzhov Basilica, then Castigate her hand. She’s got the expected variety of cards for the Izzet deck like a Runeboggle and a Thunderheads, as well as Tibor and Lumia. Ordinarily I’d happily see the back of the guild champions, but with a Pillory of the Sleepless in hand I’m actually hoping to see Sam play something worth sticking it onto. I exile the Thunderheads instead. Sam pings me again, and the turn is over.
Now turn 6, Sam has another play-land-and-pass turn. I attack in with my Thrull for 2, then play a Poisonbelly Ogre. Sam responds by pinging the Thrull with her Gelectrode, then playing Runeboggle on my casting of the Ogre. With an open land I’m in no danger of losing the Ogre to the Runeboggle, but that’s hardly the point. Playing the instant lets Sam untap the Gelectrode, and she finishes off my wounded Thrull while drawing a free card off the Runeboggle- a card whose surprise value was nil after my Castigate uncovered it. Back to Sam, she then pings the Ogre, plays a Pyromatics while replicating it twice. This lets her kill off the Ogre as well, and send some damage my way to put me at 16. With the Gelectrode able to kill much of what my deck holds with the aid of even a single instant or sorcery, I need to put a choke on Sam’s development. Towards that end, I next play Strands of Undeath– on the Gelectrode. It’s a throwaway play, since I won’t be regenerating Sam’s creature anytime soon, but it does carve out two cards from her hand (Rain of Embers, Repeal).
Now turn 8, Sam summons a Petrahydrox, another nettlesome creature for my deck since it’s immune to my Pillories. Back to me, I play a second Strands of Undeath on the Gelectrode, flushing away the last two cards in Sam’s hand (Thunderheads, Tibor and Lumia). It’s not the feelgood play of the week, since I’m essentially overpaying for a Mind Rot, but if it can buy me some respite from the Gelectrode it will be worth it. I then follow with a Blind Hunter, and after getting pinged at the end of my turn the game stands at 14-17 in my favour.
Next turn, Sam swings in for 3 with the Petrahydrox to even the score. Back to me, I topdeck a Mortify and use it immediately to kill the Gelectrode, which pings me one last time on the way out. I then attack in for 2 with the Hunter, dropping Sam to 12. At the end of my turn Sam then activates Nivix, but whiffs on an Island. Back to her, she attacks in again with the Petrahydrox for another 3 points of damage. Down to 10, I’m delighted to topdeck another answer in the form of a Souls of the Faultless. At the end of turn, Sam activates Nivix again. This time she hits a Pyromatics, and has the mana to replicate it twice. This lets her kill off the Hunter, and throw another point my way. I have the Hunter haunt the Souls.
Now turn 11, Sam sends the Petrahyrdox trundling once more into the red zone. Although I expect a trick, I block with the Souls, figuring even if she has a trick I’ll still get my card’s worth off the lifegain and damage. Sure enough, she plays a Pyromatics replicated twice. One point finishes off my defender, while the remaining two come at me directly. After the Souls have done their bit, the Hunter’s haunt kicks in, tapping Sam for another 2 life. By the time the smoke has cleared, Sam’s down to 5 life, with me back up to 12. Back to me, I play an Infectious Host and pass.
Next turn, Sam plays a Telling Time, then attacks. I block her lone attacker with my Host, dropping Sam down to 3 life. Victory is within reach- but then Sam goes and plays a second Petrahydrox before passing. My turn, sadly, is a blank. Back to Sam, she swings in for 6, cutting me in half. I’m forced to cast the Pillory of the Sleepless I’ve held onto all game to essentially Unsummon a Petrahydrox. Sam goes fishing with Nivix at end of turn, but whiffs on an Izzet Chronarch. Still, I’ve got nothing, and draw nothing. I give in to the inevitable and scoop on turn 14.
Now on the play, I lead with a Plagued Rusalka, then follow with an Orzhov Guildmage after swinging in. Sam continues to build her manabase, and on turn 3 I’m firing in again to put Sam at an early 16. Orzhov aggro, who knew? Sam then kills off my Rusalka with a Pyromatics- at eight cards in hand, she needed to play something to avoid discarding after dropping an Izzet Boilerworks. At the end of turn, I then use the Guildmage to drop us each 1 life.
Now turn 4, I swing in for 2 with the Guildmage, then play a Blind Hunter. For Sam’s part, she lands the Wee Dragonauts. Back to me, I lead with a 4-point attack with the Guildmage and Hunter. Sam blocks the Hunter with the Dragonauts, taking 2. I then follow with an Infectious Host. Over to Sam, she next adds an Izzet Chronarch, letting her return her Pyromatics to hand. She sends in the Dragonauts for 1, but I prevent that damage with my Festival of the Guildpact (mainly so I can get another card).
I counterattack Sam on turn 6 with my Host and Hunter, and Sam takes the chance to kill off the Host early by blocking with the Chronarch. This puts her down 2 life, and she ends at 5. The Chronarch charges back for 2 of its own on Sam’s turn, and at the end of turn I trigger the Guildmage’s life loss ability twice. Sam goes down to 3 (and me to 17), then Sam kills the Guildmage off altogether with a replicated Pyromatics.
Now turn 7, I replace my loss with a Mourning Thrull, then play a Shrieking Grotesque to force Sam to discard a Convolute. Sam’s turn is a blank. I next enchant the Thrull with a Strands of Undeath, but Sam Repeals the Thrull in response to fizzle my casting. I replay the Thrull with my last two mana and pass. Again, Sam’s turn is a blank, hinting at more reactive play ahead.
I swing with the Thrull, the Hunter, and the Grotesque on turn 9, and Sam’s ready with the Thunderheads, replicated once. I respond by Mortifying her Wee Dragonauts, taking them out of the picture altogether. Although my Thrull and Grotesque get killed on impact, my Hunter gets past for 2. Sam draws her last card and, finding nothing, concedes.
Sam opens with an Island, as I counter with a Plains. Next turn Sam plays an Izzet Boilerworks, and having both mulliganed down to 6 and started on the play she’s in no danger of an overfull hand for doing so. I play a Swamp and pass.
Finally, I break through on turn 3 with Teysa, Orzhov Scion after both of us continue to build our manabases. Sam’s response? A next-turn Mark of Eviction for Teysa. I attack in with her for 2, then add a Mourning Thrull.
Now turn 5, Tesya is returned to my hand, with Sam getting her Mark back as well. With no other play, Sam passes. Back to me, I resummon Teysa- and walk right into a Runeboggle. Chagrined, I then play my land- an Orzhov Basilica- and end the turn after swinging with my Thrull for 1. Next turn, Sam plays a Rain of Embers, hitting each of us for 1 and killing my poor Thrull. This puts me back down to 20, and Sam at 16. Back to me, I play an Agent of Masks.
Sam answers that with a turn-7 Petrahydrox, then passes. During my upkeep, the Agent syphons 1 life off Sam for me, then I go ahead and add a second one. Next turn, Sam attacks for 3 with the Petrahydrox, then plays the hated Gelectrode. After replaying the Mark of Eviction on an Agent, she’s finally done. For my part, I get a 2-point life bump at Sam’s expense duuring my upkeep thanks to the Agents, then get clever by playing a Strands of Undeath on the Agent bearing Sam’s Mark, since it too will return to my hand once the Agent is bounced. Sam pitches a Repeal and Pyromatics. I then turn both Agents sideways for 4, putting Sam down to 9 life.
Now turn 9, Sam’s Mark of Eviction returns to her hand, and my Agent and Strands come back to mine. She then replays the Mark on the other Agent, then ends with an attack in for 3 to drop me to 17. For my part, I steal another point of life during my upkeep, then attack for 2 with the Agent. With Sam at 6, I then look to replay my Strands of Undeath, but this time Sam Frazzles it. I then place a Pillory of the Sleepless on the Gelectrode, just to get a “DoT” working on Sam’s life total. Sam pings me at the end of turn, and I’m now back down to 17.
On turn 10, Sam loses 1 life from the Pillory on her upkeep, then sees her Mark return as it bounces my Agent to my hand. She fires in for 3 with the Petrahydrox, then adds a Leyline of Lightning. Back to me, I replay an Agent of Masks, then thwart her end-of-turn ping with a Festival of the Guildpact- again, mainly to replace it with another card. Next turn, Sam loses another point off the Pillory, then puts me down to 11 with another attack through the red zone. She then replays the Mark on my Agent, paying one more mana to ding me off of her Leyline. I end the turn at 10. My Agent steals a point again on my upkeep, then I attack in with it for 2. Sam chumps with her Gelectrode, pinging me with it one more time on the way out. I then try to bring out the other Agent from my hand, but Sam Frazzles it instead. In retribution, I play a Shrieking Grotesque for the discard, ripping the last card out of her hand (Thunderheads) as my last play of the turn.
Now turn 12, the Mark and Agent bounce back to our respective hands, and Sam swings for 3 with the now-familiar Petrahydrox. She puts the Mark back out on my Grotesque in an act of desperation, then plays an Izzet Guildmage. Back to me, I send in the Grotesque for 2, then Pillory the Guildmage. With Sam now at 1 life, that’s checkmate.
Thoughts & Analysis
I have to say that after a turn behind Code of the Orzhov, I have to give somewhat qualified acclaim. Part of me really wanted the deck to be good, to recapture those feelings of nostalgia for some of my earliest deck constructions at the dawn of the game, when I first learned to play. As I mentioned in the deck analysis, I loved a Black/Blue deck with some of Alpha/Beta’s best bleeder options, and it has been many, many years since I last tinkered with the archetype.
Another part of me wanted the deck to be good because it’s unique. I always appreciate more those precon decks that stand out from a very crowded field by either doing something unusual, or doing something more ordinary but in an unusual way. As a bleeder deck, Code of the Orzhov is quite firmly in the former camp, being the only one of its kind we’ve yet seen.
Finally, a third part of me wanted the deck to do well because it’s White/Black, one of the less common colour pairings in preconstructed Magic. Allied colour pairs tend to be fairly straightforward when compared to their enemy-coloured kin, so again this falls into the “show me something new” file.
As it happens, I wasn’t disappointed- though I wasn’t entirely blown away, either. Much of this was because while Code of the Orzhov did have a heavy bleeder core, it grafted that onto a less noteworthy sacrifice deck with a fairly wonky core mechanic. The sacrifice component was passable but not great, and seemed present in order to get the greatest mileage from haunt. The problem with that was that haunt just didn’t seem to be a lot of fun. Sure it’s card advantage- who doesn’t love card advantage- but it seemed like a bit too much work for too little payoff.
In the third game, for instance, I had an Orzhov Euthanist in hand the entire game and never managed to cast him, largely because I had no way to damage Sam’s creatures outside of getting her to block. Perhaps I would have had more luck had Sam been playing a more creature-heavy deck, but by and large Sam’s creatures were pitted directly against me rather than sitting back waiting to eat some 1/1 dork. And really, what was I jumping through hoops for? Killing a creature if I catch a break? A free Syphon Life? A couple of Bat tokens? Meh. It’s not that there weren’t cooler options out there- Guildpact gave us instants and sorceries with the mechanic, but it’s a pity none of those ever made it into the deck. A Seize the Soul might have been a bit much to hope for, but I’d have been happy with a Cry of Contrition. Overall, though, haunt just felt like a harder-to-trigger rebound, though that’s a bit unfair considering it was the first one of the two by a number of years.
That said, there are some very strong cards in the deck that might have been tuned towards a more incremental advantage deck without worrying too much about haunt. The Souls of the Faultless and Shrieking Grotesque in particlar were standout cards in this category, but it’s a rich vein that was largely consigned to bit-player status in a deck with perhaps one tactic too many competing for precious card slots.
Still, the deck gets bonus points for novelty in bringing back the bleeder archetype. Although a bit unfocused, it was fun to play and one which will go down in the annals of the most memorable of Magic’s precons.
Hits: Bleeder archetype a most welcome revisit; wonderful to see unusual or lesser-used deck strategies getting some space devoted to them; some very solid cards in the deck, and a very good (if somewhat underdeveloped) removal suite
Misses: Deck is a bit too unfocused, you’ve got a bleeder deck, a sac deck, and haunt jammed together; haunt mechanic one of the less exciting ones of Ravnica
OVERALL SCORE: 4.45/5.50