PTQ’ing with Orzhov – Spread the Sickness by Grant Hislop

PTQ’ing with Orzhov – Spread the Sickness by Grant Hislop

PTQ’ing with Orzhov – Spread the Sickness by Grant Hislop

I played in a PTQ the other weekend. It went poorly.

Having tested Esper and various Azorius variants extensively, I just wasn’t happy with how they were performing. You’d play for thirty minutes, ahead all the time, then spend the next five drawing horrendously and lose, without time to finish a match. While this is somewhat mitigated on Magic Online, due to the chess clock style countdown, I really wasn’t comfortable playing the deck in an environment without one, as I foresaw a lot of 1-0 matches.

A couple of days after writing the primer on Esper that I submitted last time, I looked at my collection, and noticed that I’d only need to shell out $20 or so on the missing pieces for the Mono-Black deck. This seemed more than reasonable, given that I hadn’t actually played the deck before.

I thought I’d give it a whirl, to try to understand what made the deck tick, which might improve my testing of other decks. I’m firmly in the camp that the black deck is a very good deck, but that it’s not oppressive enough that it necessitates playing either it or a foil; rather that deck building choices need to be made with it in mind.


One Pack Rat. That’s all it took. The first time I untapped with a Pack Rat, I just felt invincible. Why had I been denying myself this privilege? For the most part, my testing in the current Standard has involved the various Azorius decks, against which Pack Rat isn’t particularly impressive. The first time you face down a Pack Rat with a deck without sweepers, it’s a jarring experience. That card is just bonkers to play with and against. It creates such an unpleasant game for the opponent that I just knew I wanted to be the one giving that feeling.

I messed around with Black a bit, winning a bunch, losing significantly less than with Esper, and being able to fit more games in as well, which was another positive. I came across an Orzhov variant which eschewed Nightveil Specter for Elspeth, Suns Champion, Blood Baron of Vizkopa and a different removal suite. At this stage, I was becoming disenchanted by Specter anyway, as its primary uses are in the mirror; everywhere else it’s merely OK. I did not require much of a push to make this jump.

As it turned out, quite a few of my friends had the same ideas on the deck, so for our PTQ, I had to put together 3 copies of 70+/75, which wasn’t the most fun to do, especially when you’re looking for cards that are seemingly as rare as hen’s teeth like Blood Baron of Vizkopa and an extra set of Mutavaults, given that everyone’s likely to be playing their own. Like 90% of the reason I spend money on Magic cards is so that I can avoid having to track down cards. This experience ratified my decision to do so.

The Deck

Desecration Demon Wallpaper

I finished highest out of all of us, so my deck is the one you get to see:

4 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
3 Desecration Demon
1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
4 Pack Rat

2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

2 Devour Flesh
4 Heros Downfall
2 Last Breath
2 Ratchet Bomb
4 Thoughtseize
2 Ultimate Price
4 Underworld Connections

4 Godless Shrine
4 Mutavault
2 Orzhov Guildgate
2 Plains
10 Swamp
4 Temple of Silence


3 Dark Betrayal
2 Doom Blade
3 Duress
1 Glare of Heresy
1 Last Breath
3 Lifebane Zombie
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council

This deck is fairly by the numbers for the archetype. Tom Robinson, Andy Morrison and I talked about this a fair amount online, and we were pretty close in our decklists, within 2-3 cards on each. The differences largely account for personal playstyle, and pig-headedness on their part to not see why I was right.

As I recall, the main bone of contention was over Wear//Tear out of the sideboard, which I disliked, but they both ran, and Ratchet Bomb, which Tom and I did, but I don’t think Andy ran maindeck. Minor differences, in any case.

The Tournament

Underworld Connections Banner

I was very happy with the deck going into the tournament – it’s got a solid plan against every deck it’s likely to face, and is the Black deck that wins the Black deck mirrors, due to Blood Baron being significantly better than Gray Merchant of Asphodel in this matchup.

In Mono-Black mirrors, there are basically three stages to the game. Firstly, there’s the Pack Rat game, where in the early turns, if one player establishes a Pack Rat presence, they’ll win.

The second stage is the Nightveil Specter and Underworld Connections game, where assuming neither player has a Pack Rat, the one who establishes either or both of these before the other will generally win. The third stage is the Gray Merchant game, where all other avenues have been exhausted, the player with the last Gray Merchant will win.

The Orzhov deck weakens the second stage to strengthen the third, and adds a fourth, Elspeth stage, which admittedly should probably be thought of as stage 2.5, as there are a lot of Heros Downfalls kicking around, and we present significantly less targets for them than the purely Black decks. Again, a cost is that our manabase can sometimes refuse to play ball.

My tournament was as follows:

Round One – Golgari Midrange – 2-0
Round Two – Raka Control – 2-0
Round Three – Mono Blue – 1-2
Round Four – Mono Black – 2-0
Round Five – Mono Black – 2-0
Round Six – Big Boros – 2-0
Round Seven – Mono Blue – 0-2
Round Eight – Gruul Monsters – 0-2

Massive shout outs to Gary Campbell, for putting on the biggest PTQ in Scottish history, with an impressive 140 odd people turning up. Significantly better than Modern season’s 40 odd, due to Team GP clashes and format unpopularity.

The Meta Overview

Master of Waves Wallpaper MTG

One thing I noticed during this tournament was that my Mono-Blue matchup felt significantly worse than I’d found it previously. While looking back over my notes, I do see that I lost to Blue more than any other deck online, I still did have a positive record. While in this tournament, I lost convincingly each time I played it. Sure, there were timely Master of Waves in both matches, but I was far more back to the wall in both matches than I’d felt Online.

Presumably the changes made to make this deck better in the mirror have come at the cost of weakening the Blue matchup, and this is obviously a matchup in which Nightveil Specter would have done some work. I didn’t expect this deck to be particularly represented either, as it just doesn’t feel like a deck that British people play. From what I saw, of the 140 people, only 5-8 people were playing Blue, so I can feel quite unlucky to have faced it twice.

Mono Black went as expected, though I was gifted with plentiful mulligans and less than competent opponents when I faced it, I feel like this is suitably representative of how the scores should look, all things considered equal.

Boros ReckonerBig Boros is a nightmare to play against. It plays like a pseudo-combo deck that we’re only peripherally able to interact with. The danger is constant – am I going to get another turn or am I going to get hit for 17 from an empty board? Who knows? I found this, in my testing, to be the matchup I was most afraid of, and consider myself quite fortunate to have escaped this round with a win. Fortunately, for me, the deck doesn’t mulligan well, and can sometimes fizzle out.

Gruul Monsters wasn’t a deck I’d prepared against. The fact that the major proponent of the deck, Chris VanMeter elected to set it aside due to feeling it was poorly positioned was enough to convince me that while the matchup didn’t seem particularly good, it wouldn’t be overly represented.

Seems like people didn’t get the memo, however, and I played it in the consolation round, and two copies made the top 8, including the eventual winner. Game two of this match came down to me on a single life, him dead on board to a swarm of Pack Rats on the crack back. One draw step. ‘Dragon?’ Taps four mana, ‘Chandra, Pyromaster?’ Seems like a fitting end to the day.

This match ended up getting misreported, and I got the win, which is nice, as my opponent was English, and as I’m a complete moron, I’m also fiercely nationalistic, and think that one of the primary things that defines me as a person is the fluke of geography that determines where I live, and that all people who don’t come from the same place (and even those that come from different, very similar places to me, but that aren’t the exact same one) are inferior to me, and are deserving of my contempt. Why can’t people see that people who don’t come from Corstorphine in Edinburgh are just the worst?

Final Thoughts

Orb Worship MTG Wallpaper

This tournament was quite frustrating for me. I worked a tonne on the deck, format knowledge and actually just churning out quality games of Magic with it, and I lost to the matchups Gods. You can easily trick yourself into thinking that you’re the only one working this hard, but realistically, it’s just not the case.

Everyone in that room had a story for how they’ve got to where they are, and to be dismissive of them and their efforts is just moronic on my part. I worked hard for this event, and that’s a good thing. It’s not like I had a horrible time doing it. But things just didn’t break my way, and I lost.

Next time, I’ll need to pair the practice I put in with some better luck, and I might win. I did everything I could this time to give myself the best possible chance at winning that tournament, and that’s an achievement in and of itself, given my previously discussed propensity for self-sabotage.

Given that the new set is about to drop, what ‘improvements’ could I make to this deck, assuming I was interested in carrying on with it? Well, firstly, Drown in Sorrow, Bile Blight and Revoke Existence are all cards that I’d be very interested in experimenting with. Other than that, there’s really precious little.

Brimaz, King of Oreskos MTG Wallpaper

This set seems like it has a few decent cards in it for Constructed, but there’s nothing outside of Brimaz that’s actually got me feeling excited to usher in a new format. From a finance perspective, the major players are Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Xenagos, God of Revels, Ephara, God of the Polis and the rest are all uncommons.

As always, I’d advise to pick up C/U playsets asap, and hold off on the rest of the cards. This set will be opened a tonne over the next six months, so there’s very little reason to pay premiums for cards that you’re not NEEDING to play with right away.

Heres something that you might find useful – MTG Guild Diagram

MTG Guild Faction Colour Pie Chart Magic

Stay classy mtgUK,


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