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Budget Commander: Licia, Sanguine Tribune ($50 & $100)


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Finding Her Place

My initial impression of Licia, Sanguine Tribune was a resounding "meh." She clearly wants to be in a Lifegain deck, but the card simply didn't look powerful enough to warrant being the leader of a Lifegain deck or even part of the 99. There's a lot of competition for the coveted commander spot in the Lifegain archetype, with a powerful commander option already available to us depending on what flavor of Lifegain you're going for:

  • Looking for a flexible Voltron commander that can deal with pesky creatures while also threatening to knock out people with commander damage? Karlov of the Ghost Council can't be beat for that.
  • Looking for a more flexible, controlling Lifegain commander that can remove any problem permanent? Vona, Butcher of Magan does it best with a Politics angle ("I won't blow up your permanent if ..."), while Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim mixes in a Sacrifice subtheme and also supports Cleric Tribal
  • Looking to durdle as much as possible? Oloro, Ageless Ascetic reigns supreme, and he doesn't even need to get off his throne!

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So where does Licia, Sanguine Tribune fit amongst the Lifegain commanders? She can be beefy, but she doesn't even come close to how quickly Karlov grows. She offers none of the removal that Karlov, Ayli, and Vona provide. And nobody comes close to Oloro's level of durdle. So why pick Licia over these other options?

Simply put: Licia gives your Lifegain deck access to Red cards.

Red doesn't have many (if any) cards that directly support the Lifegain archetype; yes, Searing Meditation and Brightflame exist, but they're pretty bad and I wouldn't recommend them. Red ain't good at gaining life or rewarding you for gaining life, at least in Commander. What Red is good at, however, is hurting people, which can indirectly support your Lifegain deck in a very powerful way. It's that realization that got me truly excited about building around Licia, Sanguine Tribune.

 

Lifegain and Group Pain

Red is really good/mana-efficient at dishing out the pain: board wipes like Earthquake and Pyrohemia not only hurt creatures, but also all players too; an Earthquake where X=5 is dealing a whopping 20 damage total in a typical four-player Commander game. If all you want to do is damage players, Manabarbs is an innocent-looking 4cmc enchantment, but if each player is tapping 6 lands a turn, this 4cmc enchantment is dishing out 24 damage each turn! Some of that damage is directed at you, of course, but that's the price of mana efficiency.

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Burning the whole table down is great fun, but it comes with an obvious risk: you're getting burned too, so you're at risk of killing yourself with your own spells, or getting low enough that an opponent can finish you off. So how do you offset this risk? You know where I'm going with this: we keep our life total nice and toasty with our Lifegain cards!

What I propose is this: you build a Lifegain deck with all the usual archetype staples: Soul Warden and all her sisters / Authority of the Consuls and others to gain tons of life, Well of Lost Dreams / Crested Sunmare and other sweet Lifegain payoff cards, yadayada, and then inject Red Group Pain cards to control/kill your opponents. Sounds good? Of so, then let's get down to business!

 

Lifegain

The Lifegain aspect of this deck is just your typical Orzhov Lifegain staples. Red adds little if any good Lifegain cards: Searing Meditation and Brightflame cost too much mana to be good, and Firemane Avenger or Balefire Liege are fine but those are better in a Go Wide deck, not here. Firemane Angel is the closest to playable Lifegain card that I could find in Red, where its sole purpose is to be put in the graveyard to passively gain 1 life each turn, but I'm not sure if that's worth including.

Since Red doesn't give us much, we're going to pick up all the usual good Black and White Lifegain cards. Here are some of my top choices under $5:

The best Lifegain cards specifically in Licia, Sanguine Tribune are ones that can generate a lot of life on your own turn, so you can cast Licia at a huge discount. Lifelink creatures like Blood Baron of Vizkopa or equipping any creature with Loxodon Warhammer will do nicely. 

A steady stream of lifegain can be sweet too, of course: Authority of the Consuls can net a ton of life in no time and tons of 1 life triggers work perfectly with Ajani's Pridemate and Cliffhaven Vampire.

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Group Pain

With our life total nice and high, it's time to start dishing out the pain! As mentioned earlier, Red is an expert at dishing out pain, but Black also helps out in many regards: Black lets you exchange life for mana-efficient effects like card draw (Greed) and board wipes (Toxic Deluge), but also can hurt opponents (Pestilence). 

Here are some of my favorite painful cards under $5:

Like I mentioned in the Lifegain section, the best Pain cards are ones that can meaningfully interact with the board. All the Earthquake variants are the best example of this because they deal damage to players while also clearing the board of threats. If all a card does is ping opponents, it has to be exceptional at its job to warrant inclusion: in my opinion, Manabarbs and Spellshock are the two best.

Finally, I get another chance to promote my pet card: Night Dealings is fantastic when paired with pain cards! Yes, it's slow, but one Earthquake for X=5 is an easy 15 theft counters on the enchantment!

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No Pain, No Gain

Red board wipes like Earthquake, Fault Line, Rolling Earthquake and so on perform double duty in this deck, removing creatures but also acting as finishers if our opponents are low enough. They can kill our own creatures, but since this is board wipe is damage-based, we can actually get around this and turn these global board wipes into amazing one-sided wipes:

Alternatively, you can embrace the damage being dealt to all creatures by turning it into a benefit with cards like Stuffy Doll, Boros Reckoner, and Spitemare. Slap on a Darksteel Plate on the latter two and go to town! Keep in mind this cards do not work well with Mark of Asylum and similar effects.

With all the mass damage going around, our opponent's life totals will dwindle in no time, so let's top the deck off with Anya, Merciless Angel, who can easily be a 13/13 flying indestructible menace for only 5 cmc!

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Putting It All Together

We've got our Lifegain cards, our Group Pain cards, and now we just flesh it out with lands, ramp, removal, and other cards that are generally good but don't necessarily fit our theme. I'm not going to go over all the general goodstuff cards, however I'll show you the big ol' list of cards I like under $5 that can potentially go in Licia, Sanguine Tribune:

 

$50 Budget Lucia

Finally, we start selecting cards from the big list of recommendations and assemble an actual deck. As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have certain ratios of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:

  • 50 mana: lands and ramp, usually a 38–12 split
  • 10 sources of "card advantage;" I use this term loosely but am mostly looking for card draw or any spell that nets me 2+ non-land cards in hand / directly into play
  • 6 single target removal, split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal
  • 3 board wipes
  • 2 recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate
  • 1 surprise "I Win" card

That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.

For Licia, Sanguine Tribune, cards like Earthquake are the true backbone of the deck, because I will be using them not just as board wipes but also as finishers, and I'll even be protecting my own creatures from them with cards like Mark of Asylum. So I already know that I will have way more than 3 creature board wipes, but all the other ratios are going to be somewhat similar.

With a budget of only $50 USD at the time of writing this article, I present to you this sample list:

A Life Gain / Group Pain /Control deck is the result. The strongest part of the deck is undoubtedly the Earthquake cards: Fault Line, Ashling the Pilgrim, Inferno, Pestilence, and Pyrohemia. They keep the board clear of opposing creatures and then finish off the table once people are low enough. Paired with Mark of Asylum, Light of Sanction, Furnace of Rath, and Dictate of the Twin Gods, things get silly fast!

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$6+ Licia Upgrades

More can be done with a greater budget, of course. I've made a quick list of expensive cards that fit the theme, along with a couple generic goodstuff cards. Of note:

Here's all of them:

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$100 Budget Licia

A higher budget means more powerful cards that can be added. Here's my attempt at $100 Licia:

The goal remains the same: control the board, keep our life total nice and high, then take out our opponents with big beats or a lethal Earthquake. Big upgrades like Serra Ascendant and Gisela, Blade of Goldnight make the cut now. I didn't improve the mana base much because I was more focused on adding neat nonland things instead.

There's always room for improvement, but with these two sample lists and two giant piles of card recommendations, you should have a good start to upgrading even more if you desire.

 

That's All, Folks!

Hope you liked this take on Licia, Sanguine TribuneRivals of Ixalan spoilers are now in full swing, so my next article will focus on the legendaries and archetypes from the Ixalan block! I'm excited to see what sweet stuff arrives for us Commander players!

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