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Budget Commander: Teysa Karlov

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Teysa Karlov has been recently spoiled and while we don't have the full list of cards from Ravnica Allegiance yet, this card has so much sweet Commander potential that I couldn't wait to start writing about her! This latest version of Teysa has clearly been designed to play nice with the Orzhov guild's new afterlife mechanic (e.g. Tithe Taker) so I'm sure there will be a few sweet cards not yet revealed that will be easy inclusions to this deck. But even without those we have tons of cards with powerful death triggers and great creature tokens that can take full advantage of what Teysa Karlov has to offer! Let's start brewing!

Deck Goal: Sacrifice and Tokens

Teysa Karlov is a very straightforward deck to build: she pushes you towards Sacrifice and Token themes, both of which are heavily supported in Orzhov colors. In fact, we've already seen an Orzhov Sacrifice + Tokens commander just last year with the partners Krav, the Unredeemed + Regna, the Redeemer. If you go way back to original Ravnica, Teysa, Orzhov Scion is another excellent Sacrifice + Tokens commander, being one of the most powerful and popular boogeyman in the early days of the format. You can look up decks using those older commanders as inspiration for Teysa Karlov lists due to how much overlap there is between them.

This guide will show how to build Teysa Karlov as a Sacrifice Tokens deck. We're going to break down and analyze the deck bit by bit, then show how everything can come together with sample deck lists.

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Double Death Triggers

Teysa Karlov is the Panharmonicon of Sacrifice decks, letting you double up on your death triggers. Here are some of the cards that have their triggers doubled by Teysa:

  • Creatures that have a triggered ability when they die; e.g. Hallowed Spiritkeeper
  • Creatures that have a triggered ability when other creatures die; e.g. Blood Artist
  • Noncreature permanents that have a triggered ability when creatures die; e.g. Skullclamp

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There's also some less obvious candidates, like Reveillark's trigger is doubled if it's triggered by dying, and possibly other cards that out there that don't specifically mention creatures dying but still count.

Here are some of my favorite cards that Teysa Karlov can double the triggers of. Any triggers that produce tokens are extra good here because Tokens are our other theme:

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Sacrifice Outlets

Playing a bunch of cards with sweet death triggers aren't going to do us much good if creatures aren't dying. Yeah, creatures are going to die naturally over the course of any game, but in a dedicated Sacrifice deck like this one, we're going to need ways to kill our own creatures on demand when we need to. The best sac outlets are always going to be ones that don't cost mana, are repeatable, can be used at instant speed, and have some worthwhile payoff. That's why most Sacrifice decks end up running premium sac outlets like Ashnod's Altar, Phyrexian Altar, and Viscera Seer. You can still run sac outlets that require mana to activate or are single-use, but the payoff needs to be strong enough to justify it, like Attrition.

Here are some of my favorite sac outlets for a Teysa Karlov deck. I'm casting a wide net for playables at any budget:

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Teysa Karlov gives all our tokens lifelink and vigilance. These aren't insane buffs but it's a nice bonus. As a rule of thumb, the best token generators are going to fit one or more of the following criteria:

  • Good, mana-efficient cards even without Teysa Karlov on the battlefield (Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder)
  • The token generation happens due to a death trigger so Teysa can double it (Pawn of Ulamog)
  • The card itself has the Creature type, since Orzhov has so much Creature recursion (Requiem Angel)
  • If the tokens are small (1/1, 2/2) then they should have evasion so we can still attack with them (Doomed Traveler)

The new Orzhov mechanic, afterlife (Tithe Taker), fits all of this criteria, so it's highly likely that there will be some auto-includes for this deck that haven't been spoiled yet.

Here are some of my favorite Token cards that work nicely with our Sacrifice theme. I just shoved them all into one big list because the vast majority just make tokens and nothing else.

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Generic Stuff: Mana, Removal, Card Draw, etc.

We've gone over the Sacrifice and Token cards. Now let's quickly touch on generic good Orzhov cards that can fill out our Teysa Karlov deck. Here are some of my favorite options for each aspect of the deck:

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It wouldn't be a Tomer article if I didn't sneak in some naughty combos, would it? Luckily Teysa Karlov has some easy combos to win games with. 

First we've got the tried and true Infinite Sacrifice Combos. These combos sacrifice a creature an infinite number of times and use the resulting triggers to win the game. There's a billion variations of this combo, but all of them involve a creature that produces at least one additional creature like Hunted Witness or Sengir Autocrat, sacrificing the creature to a repeatable (usually free) sacrifice outlet like Ashnod's Altar, getting the creature back into play with stuff like Nim Deathmantle or Decaying Soil, and finally a card that turns these infinite death triggers into a win like Blood Artist.

Here are some variations of the Infinite Sacrifice Combo that we can play in the deck:

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Next we've got the Divine Visitation combos. This sweet enchantment not only buffs your typically weenie 1/1 tokens into 4/4 flyers, but it also breaks otherwise innocuous token generators: Requiem Angel, Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder, and Ophiomancer all become way better when the tokens they're producing are Angels. For example, you can now perform this infinite combo:

You can toss Teysa Karlov into the mix and generate infinite Angel tokens as well, because why not?

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There are a TON of combos available to Teysa Karlov decks. They're great ways to give your budget deck a power boost and help you win games out of nowhere.


Putting It All Together

Alright, now that we've gone over the card pool we're working with, it's time to talk about how we craft the 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 a certain ratio 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 37–13 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 targeted removal, split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate; because you never forget to add some graveyard hate in your deck, right? Right? Right?!
  • 1 surprise "I Win" card; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup

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.


Budget Deck Lists

Finally we get to the part everyone scrolls down to: the budget deck lists! Here's a couple of lists I threw together using the cards I listed and the ratios discussed previously.

$40 List

First up we've got the most budget list at $40 USD at the time of writing this, with Teysa Karlov herself eating up $7 of the budget. Most cards are under $1, and none are over $1.50 . The deck has a standard amount of ramp with the potential to generate absurd amounts of mana with the help of Pitiless Plunderer and Revel in Riches (which doubles as a bonus win-con!). We have plenty of sweet death triggers to double with Teysa, most of which generate tokens like Twilight Drover. We have a variety of sac outlets to kill our stuff when we want, from the innocuous but incredibly efficient Carrion Feeder to more expensive but powerful Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim. We have plenty of card draw engines from Grim Haruspex to Dark Prophecy to keep our hand full, Whisper, Blood Liturgist and other sources of recursion, board wipes with Martial Coup and Phyrexian Rebirth among others. We'll win most games just flooding the board with tokens while simultaneously keeping the opposing boards clear of creatures. Heavy hitters like Krav, the Unredeemed and our multiple Falkenrath Noble effects quickly drain our opponents to 0 as well. Finally we do have combo potential with Cathodion, Teysa Karlov, a sac outlet like Carrion Feeder, and Decaying Soil, but this is a backup plan and not our primary win condition.

$100 List

Next up is the $100. It's still a Sacrifice Tokens deck looking to win the exact same way as before. We've made significant improvements to the manabase such as picking up Smothering Tithe which is bonkers good but especially good when paired with Revel in Riches. Divine Visitation has been added to give our tokens extra oomph and to enable disgusting things with Requiem Angel. Anointed Procession strengthens everything this deck wants to do, so in it goes. Our sac outlets got upgraded as well with Viscera Seer and Ashnod's Altar taking the place of lesser outlets.

$200 List

The last sample list tightens the manabase even further and lowers the deck's average cmc so it can win faster. As the budget goes up, Combo becomes the preferred win condition, so I threw in some tutors to help assemble those faster. We also run more general goodstuff like Land Tax.

You may notice that the $200 isn't very different from the $100 despite doubling the budget. The reason is that the only cards remaining to take the deck to the next level are way more expensive, since they're the best of the best. For example, if you're looking for some of the best tutors for the deck, Diabolic Intent is superb and just $5 and easily fits a $100. But you want to go even beyond to Demonic Tutor? It's $26. Vampiric Tutor is $45! This is not a complaint but more an explanation why the difference between my $100 version and $200 is only a handful of cards. To swap in as many upgrades as I did going from the $40 to $100 lists, I'd have to boost the budget to around $1,000.


That's All, Folks!

Hope you enjoyed my in-depth guide to Teysa Karlov. Since the deck will undoubtedly get some good cards from Ravnica Allegiance, I plan on updating the card suggestions with them once the set is fully spoiled.

I plan on doing at least two more articles on the new commanders from Ravnica Allegiance before talking about other decks. 

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