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Against the Odds: Orzhov Teysa (Standard, Magic Arena)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 216 of Against the Odds. Last week, thanks to the banned-and-restricted update, we took a break from Pioneer for a Throne of Eldraine Standard 3.0 Against the Odds poll. In the end, it was Teysa Karlov taking home an easy victory. As such, we're heading to Standard today to see if we can win some games by doubling up our death triggers in a sacrifice-heavy Orzhov Aristocrats-style shell. Our deck is overloaded with cards that do things when a creature dies, like Cruel Celebrant to kill our opponent, Midnight Reaper to draw cards, Tithe Taker to make tokens, and Cavalier of Night to reanimate our cheaper creatures. While all of these cards are fine on their own, our deck's goal is to make them much more than fine with Teysa Karlov doubling up all of our death triggers! What are the odds of winning with Teysa Karlov in Standard? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Teysa Orzhov (Standard)

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The Deck

One of the biggest challenges of building around Teysa Karlov was figuring out a way to make the deck feel Teysa-centric. In theory, you could just slot Teysa Karlov into something like Mardu Sacrifice, and she would probably be fine, but that wouldn't really be in the spirit of Against the Odds. One of the ways to make this happen was by focusing on straight Orzhov rather than going into three colors. By staying in two colors, we can overload on Cavalier of Night and Cavalier of Dawn, which are difficult to cast in three-color decks but extremely powerful with Teysa Karlov. The end result is a grindy, sacrifice-focused midrange deck in which Teysa Karlov takes a bunch of pretty good cards and makes them great by doubling up their death triggers!

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Teysa Karlov is pretty simple: it's basically an inverted Panharmonicon. Rather than doubling up enters-the-battlefield triggers, Teysa double death triggers. Technically, she also has a secondary ability of giving our tokens vigilance and lifelink, and while we do have a couple of cards that incidentally make tokens, our deck's main focus is the death-trigger ability.

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Cruel Celebrant is our best way of killing our opponent with the help of Teysa Karlov. Each creature we have die drains our opponent for two, which adds up pretty quickly, especially since our deck is very good at drawing cards (so we have a steady stream of creatures to kill) and sacrificing its own creatures. While we don't really have any instant-kill combos, once we have a Cruel Celebrant or two along with a Teysa Karlov, we can usually kill our opponent over a couple of turns.

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Midnight Reaper and Liliana, Dreadhorde General are our main card-advantage engines, drawing us a card whenever one of our creatures die and two cards if we happen to have Teysa Karlov on the battlefield, which ends up being a ton of card advantage over the course of a long, grindy game. While the damage we take from Midnight Reaper can sometimes be problematic, thankfully, this is usually offset by the life we gain from Cruel Celebrant and occasionally from some lifelinking tokens, thanks to Teysa Karlov. As for Liliana, Dreadhorde General, the main reason the planeswalker is in our deck is to draw us even more cards as our creatures die, but the 4 offers a fine backup sacrifice outlet, and the +1 gives us a steady stream of chump-blocking tokens, which get even better with Teysa Karlov on the battlefield.

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Speaking of tokens, Tithe Taker is mostly in our deck to fill out our curve, but its afterlife ability is especially potent with Teysa Karlov on the battlefield. A two-mana 2/1 that sometimes taxes our opponent and then makes two 1/1 fliers when it dies is a surprisingly good deal, especially since we can later kill the tokens to get even more Cruel Celebrant triggers. As for the taxing ability, while it is more obviously good against control decks with counterspells, making activated abilities cost one more is actually pretty strong against various Cauldron Familiar / Witch's Oven decks, assuming we can keep Tithe Taker on the field. When it costs a mana to activate Witch's Oven during our turn, it becomes a lot harder for our opponent to loop Cauldron Familiar multiple times after blocking one of our creatures with a Cat.

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At the top end of our creature curve are Cavalier of Night and Cavalier of Dawn, both of which provide solid bodies that also work as strange sacrifice outlets to help us kill our own creatures for value. Cavalier of Night not only allows us to sacrifice a creature when it comes into play (which in turn allows us to trigger Midnight Reaper to draw cards, Cruel Celebrant to drain our opponent, or Tithe Taker to make tokens) but also blows up our opponent's best creature. Then, when Cavalier of Night dies, we get to reanimate something like Cruel Celebrant, Midnight Reaper, or Tithe Taker from our graveyard. And if we have Teysa Karlov, we can reanimate two things, which is an absurd amount of value. Meanwhile, Cavalier of Dawn's death trigger isn't that exciting since the only artifact or enchantment in our main deck is Witch's Oven, but being able to blow up anything when it comes into play offers a solid main-deck answer to things like planeswalkers, Fires of Invention, or Wilderness Reclamation. Plus, if our opponent doesn't have anything we need to kill, we can always use Cavalier of Dawn to destroy one of our own creatures to get some death triggers and leave behind a 3/3 (potentially vigilant, lifelink) token.

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While we have some incidental sacrifice outlets in our Cavaliers and Liliana, Dreadhorde General, we also have Witch's Oven in our deck to help ensure that we can kill our own creatures at will to trigger (or double trigger, with Teysa Karlov) our payoffs. Since we have Witch's Oven, we also have Cauldron Familiar, which is actually a pretty insane engine piece in our deck. Once we load up the board with Teysa Karlov, Midnight Reaper and Cruel Celebrant being able to sacrifice Cauldron Familiar for free each turn offers a ton of value, where we often drain our opponent for at least two life and draw at least two extra cards each turn for no mana!

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Last but not least, we have a couple of copies of Blood for Bones, which not only gives us a backup sacrifice outlet but also a way to reanimate some of our biggest threats, like Teysa Karlov or our Cavaliers. While Blood for Bones is a fine card in many decks, it's especially scary in our deck since we actively want our creatures to be dying. So rather than just getting back a creature to the battlefield and to our hand, Blood for Bones is often drawing us extra cards and draining our opponent out of the game as well.

The Matchups

In general, our deck felt very strong against various Cat Oven–style decks (apparently, getting double the death triggers is a pretty good way to break the Aristocrats mirror) and decks looking to win with permanents, where Cavalier of Dawn and our endless sacrifice fodder allow us to easily keep pace with decks like Doom Foretold or even various Fires of Invention builds. On the other hand, decks that are built around spells rather than permanents (like Temur Reclamation and some control builds) can be a lot more difficult since our opponent can usually keep the board clear (or at least, mostly clear), and we don't have many good ways to interact with counterspells or win conditions like Expansion // Explosion other than hoping to draw our Duresses after sideboarding.

The Odds

All in all, we played five matches with Teysa Orzhov and won four, giving us an 80% match win percentage and making Teysa Orzhov significantly above average for an Against the Odds deck. More importantly, Teysa Karlov was actually key to many of our wins, with the best example being our Golgari Sacrifice opponent killing themselves twice with Massacre Girl by not taking into account Teysa doubling up our death triggers! While we got absolutely crushed by Temur Reclamation, we took down two Cat Food decks and two more controlling builds (UB Control and WB Doom Foretold Control). While four copies of Teysa Karlov is probably one (or maybe two) too many for non-Against the Odds deck, in a world where a lot of decks are built around sacrificing their own creatures, it might be time to reevaluate Teysa Karlov from a more competitive perspective. She was surprisingly strong in our matches today and might actually deserve a spot in more tournament-focused builds.

Vote for Next Week's Deck

While Standard is much improved post-bannings, there are still a ton of sweet cards we need to play in Pioneer, so let's cross another one off the list next week! Which of these janky Pioneer cards should we build around? Let us know by voting below!

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Anyway, that's all for today. Don't forget to vote for next week's deck! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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