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Budget Magic: $98 Orzhov Clerics (Modern)


Shalom, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to our new and improved post-ban Modern format to play one of the tribes that got the most support in Kaldheim: Clerics! While Clerics haven't really found their footing in Standard yet, there are some reasons to think that Modern might be an even friendlier format for the tribe since there are some really synergistic older Clerics that are missing from Standard. While Clerics aren't the most aggressive of tribes and are lacking true lords, they have a surprising amount of synergy, with some unique lifegain payoffs and sacrifice shenanigans. Can Clerics work in Modern on a budget? What older Clerics can we use to power up some of the new Standard-legal payoffs? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Orzhov Clerics

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The Decks

Clerics are a tribal deck, but not in the traditional "play a bunch of lords and beat you down quickly" way that decks like Merfolk or Elves play. Instead, Clerics are more dependent on synergies, especially lifegain and sacrifice synergies, to power up some of its best tribe members and the deck as a whole. Thankfully, the lifegain and sacrifice plans interact in some sneaky ways, which can make Clerics play much more powerfully than they might look on paper.

Lifegain Payoffs

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So, why are we willing to overload our deck with Clerics? What is the reason to play a bunch of Clerics together in the same deck? The first answer is Righteous Valkyrie, which technically isn't a Cleric lord but sort of plays like one since once we get Righteous Valkyrie on the battlefield, we'll gain a bunch of life as our Clerics enter the battlefield. Then, we'll eventually (hopefully quickly) get to 27 or more life, and Righteous Valkyrie will give our entire team +2/+2, which should allow us to close out the game fairly fast by turning all of our small support Clerics into real threats. Of course, even outside of its pump ability, Righteous Valkyrie is insane against aggro, where four toughness dodges Lightning Bolt, and incidental lifegain can win the match in our favor, even if we don't manage to get all the way up to 27 to pump our creatures. While Clerics might not have a true lord, Righteous Valkyrie is a more than worthy substitute and is better than a more traditional lord in a lot of matchups.

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Backing up Righteous Valkyrie are a couple more lifegain payoffs Clerics. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose is actually pretty insane in our deck because almost all of our creatures gain us life in one way or another, which means once Vito hits the battlefield, we can typically drain our opponent out of the game in short order. If our opponent can gum up the board with blockers to shut down our offense, Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose offers a way to finish the game without attacking, which is quite powerful. Meanwhile, Speaker of the Heavens is best friends with Righteous Valkyrie. Once we get up to 27 life, Speaker of the Heavens can make a 4/4 Angel every turn, which triggers Righteous Valkyrie to gain us even more life. This not only makes sure we stay over 27 so we can keep making more Angels but also triggers Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose to drain our opponent.

Lifegain Support

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Some of the biggest reasons to play Clerics in Modern are the soul sisters Soul Warden and Soul's Attendant, which both happen to be Clerics and also happen to be the perfect support pieces for our lifegain plan. With each creature gaining us a life whenever a creature comes into play, Soul Warden and Soul's Attendant quickly get us to 27 life to turn on Righteous Valkyrie and Speaker of the Heavens while also draining our opponent with Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose. If we can get our opponent low enough on life, just having a couple of our soul sisters on the battlefield alongside Vito can lock our opponent out of playing creatures altogether because if they do, they'll die to Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose's drain. Meanwhile, Cleric of Life's Bond is half of a soul sister (gaining us life when creatures come into play but only triggering on our Clerics, rather than triggering on any creature) and half a lifegain payoff, as it grows with a +1/+1 counter once each turn if we gain life. Add both halves together, and Cleric of Life's Bond is basically a bad Soul Warden and a bad Ajani's Pridemate all at once. The flexibility of being both a lifegain card and a lifegain payoff (along with its Cleric creature type) makes Cleric of Life's Bond a solid addition to our deck.

Sacrifice Stuff

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Priest of Forgotten Gods is the only creature in our deck that doesn't directly gain us life, but it has two jobs: joining Path to Exile in our removal suite and also allowing us to sacrifice our own creatures. While sacrifice and lifegain might not be the most obvious mash-up, Clerics are the rare tribe that manages to care about both, and the two plans are surprisingly synergistic. If Priest of Forgotten Gods sits out on the battlefield, it can take over the game against creature decks, forcing our opponent to sacrifice a creature each turn. And having a sacrifice outlet in the deck is important for powering up some of our other Cleric payoffs.

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Take, for example, Taborax, Hope's Demise. While it is fine on its own as a weird Midnight Reaper for Clerics, it's even better if we have Priest of Forgotten Gods to sacrifice our own creatures for value. With a Taborax on the battlefield, a single Priest of Forgotten Gods activation will draw us three cards, while also making our opponent sacrifice a creature, which is a solid deal for sacrificing our two worst Clerics. As our Clerics die, they will also grow Taborax, until it eventually becomes a massive lifelinking flier, which then allows Taborax to help support our lifegain plan as well, by keeping our life total high for Righteous Valkyrie and by draining our opponent with Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

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The other reason we're happy to sacrifice our own creatures is the combo of Archfiend's Vessel and Orah, Skyclave Hierophant. Archfiend's Vessel isn't all that exciting as a one-drop, only being a 1/1 (although having lifelink is a nice bonus), but if we can get it into the graveyard and back to the battlefield, we're rewarded with a 5/5 flier, which is a meaningful threat, even in Modern. Getting Archfiend's Vessel into the graveyard is pretty easy. Outside of sacrificing it to Priest of Forgotten Gods, we often can chump block with it. As for getting Archfiend's Vessel back into play, we have two options.

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant is another strong payoff for playing a deck full of Clerics, especially in slower removal-heavy matchups, allowing us to reanimate a Cleric of lesser converted mana cost for free whenever a Cleric dies. This helps us fight through targeted removal while also offering some protection from wraths since Orah, Skyclave Hierophant mostly should rebuild our board after a Supreme Verdict or Damnation and also gives us a way to put Archfiend's Vessel into play from our graveyard. As for Unearth, apart from comboing with Archfiend's Vessel, it can reanimate any non-Orah creature in our deck for one mana. Getting back a Righteous Valkyrie or Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose for a single mana is a great deal, giving us a bit of resilience against removal-heavy decks.

Playing the Deck

The most important thing to realize about Clerics is that it's a synergy-based deck. Unlike many other tribal decks, we're not likely to pick up fast aggro wins by curving out. Instead, we need to play toward maximizing payoffs like Righteous Valkyrie, Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, and Orah, Skyclave Hierophant. If you pick up the deck and try to play it like Merfolk or Elves, it will probably go really poorly. 

When it comes to creatures that can grow themselves, like Cleric of Life's Bond and Taborax, Hope's Demise, it's important to think of them in the context of the Modern format. Lightning Bolt is one of the most played cards in the format, which means getting either of these cards up to four toughness offers a lot of value. On the other hand, getting to five toughness isn't as important. Sometimes, this means waiting a turn to play Taborax, Hope's Demise so we can activate Priest of Forgotten Gods to sacrifice a couple of Clerics and turn Taborax into a 4/4 while our opponent is tapped out.

While most of the sideboard is pretty self-explanatory (Damping Sphere for combo and Tron, Duress for control and combo, Remorseful Cleric for graveyard decks, Path to Exile for aggro / creature decks, and another Orah, Skyclave Hierophant for decks with lots of removal and wraths), Battletide Alchemist is worth mentioning. While five mana is a lot, Battletide Alchemist's ability to prevent pretty much any damage our opponent could deal to us (assuming we have a big board of Clerics) is actually insane in some matchups. Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt can't kill it, which makes Battletide Alchemist a sideboard all-star against go-wide decks with small creatures (like Goblins, 8 Whack, and tokens) as well as burn decks.

Wrap-Up

All in all, we finished 3-2 with Clerics, which is a fine record for a budget deck. We absolutely crushed Burn and Mono-Red Aggro, which felt like great matchups (which is nice because both are pretty popular in Modern at the moment), but struggled against more removal-heavy decks like Jund. In our losses, our biggest problem was drawing too many lands. While our budget mana base was solid as far as giving us the right colors to cast our spells, it doesn't offer much additional value, so things tend to go poorly when we draw six or seven lands. Some of the easiest upgrades to the deck would be cards like Agadeem's Awakening, Castle Locthwain (along with more Swamps like Godless Shrine), and Westvale Abbey (which not only works with our sacrifice plan but also makes Cleric tokens), to help give us some protection from flooding out. It's hard to draw too many lands when your lands can draw cards, make creatures, and reanimate a bunch of Clerics!

As far as updates to the budget build of the deck, in general, I'm pretty happy with where the deck landed, although there are several possibilities for budget Clerics in Modern. Pyre of Heroes could be interesting in the deck, although being able to play some more expensive Clerics like Liliana, Heretical Healer or Yawgmoth, Thran Physician as tutor targets would make it even better, so it might end up being more of a non-budget Cleric card than a budget Cleric card. I also really wanted to find room for some number of Village Rites for card advantage but couldn't fight out what to cut to make it work. If there's a card you don't like, Village Rites seems like a solid replacement. Another interesting option is Lurrus of the Dream-Den. The issue is that there is no way we can make it work as a companion because many of our best Clerics cost three or four mana. And between Taborax, Hope's Demise, Righteous Valkyrie, and Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, our three-drop slot is already pretty full of good tribe members. 

So, should you play Clerics in Modern? I think the tribe is a fun budget option, and I was really impressed with some of the synergies. It also has some really interesting and potentially powerful upgrade options, so if you start with the budget build, you'll have plenty of possibilities for upgrades and customization. Plus, we're likely to get more good Clerics in the D&D set this summer, so the tribe should be even better in the few months! For now, I think Clerics is in the middle of the Budget Magic pack, in terms of how competitive is it in the Modern format. It has some great and some poor matchups, but with some upgrades and potentially powerful new tribe members in the not-too-distant future, I wouldn't be surprised if Clerics were to develop into a solid Modern tribe!

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Getting Clerics down near $50 isn't too difficult, although it does mean adding a bunch of tapped lands to the mana base, which will probably lead to some games where we get off to painfully slow starts. Shambling Vent and Scoured Barrens come in over Concealed Courtyard and Brightclimb Pathway. Otherwise, the main deck stays mostly the same, apart from a couple of Village Rites over two Priest of Forgotten Gods and Bloodchief's Thirst over Path to Exile for removal.

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For our non-budget build, we take advantage of some of the ideas we've been discussing. Our mana base gets Castle Locthwain and Agadeem's Awakening to minimize the chances of flooding. Pyre of Heroes joins the main deck alongside some powerful tutor targets like Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, Orzhov Pontiff, and Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim. We also get three copies of Liliana, Heretical Healer, which seems absolutely perfect for the deck, offering a lifelinking Cleric on the front and a reanimating planeswalker on the back. While the plan of the non-budget build is more or less the same as the budget build we played for the video, it should be both more consistent and more powerful. I really enjoyed playing Clerics, and I wouldn't be surprised if we revisited the archetype in non-budget form at some point in the near future.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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