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Casual Observations – Lich Mob

Art by Michael Komarck

Illus. by Michael Komarck

Since this is my first post on MTGCasualPlay.com, I’ll kick things off with a quick introduction.  My name is Andrew, and I’ve been playing Magic for a little over half my life, since the summer of 1994.  I find this game to be immensely rewarding, both for the strategic component as well as for the social experience.  I’ve dabbled with competitive decks over the years, but in my heart I will always been a casual player. I’ve always felt that the kitchen table is more forgiving when it comes to innovation and flavor, and that’s where my primary focus will be in this column.

If you think about it, casual, kitchen-table Magic is the best format for exploring the depth and richness of the game, because it provides us with the largest possible pool of available cards to choose from.  We’re not restrained by legality or format rotations, only by our imagination and our sense of fair play (however underdeveloped that may be).  Ultimately, my goal is to put a few ideas out there that will help people explore and enjoy Magic.

For my inaugural post, I want to write about a card that is utterly dripping with flavor, a card that screams so loudly for innovation that it practically leaps out of your collection and demands to be made the centerpiece of a cleverly-designed deck: Phylactery Lich.

The Flavor

According to folklore, a Lich is an undead being that has achieved a tenuous state of immortality by housing its soul in a vessel, called a phylactery.  As long as that vessel remains undisturbed, the Lich cannot be destroyed.  The designers at WotC did a remarkable job translating the concept of a Lich into a Magic card.  What they came up with was a creature that borders on unkillable, as long as you can support its unhealthy attachment to a physical object, in this case an artifact of some kind.

Why Phylactery Lich?

What does the Phylactery Lich have going for him that makes him worth focusing on?  First off, he’s 5/5, so he’s a four-turn clock for your opponent as soon as he hits the table.  This means that your opponent must react to him — either by hindering him in some way or by killing him outright — almost immediately.  He’s also indestructible, which substantially reduces the range of your opponents’ options for dealing with him.  The combination of his size and his resiliency makes him a grade-A threat, but his most appealing trait is his aggressive casting cost.  Phylactery Lich hits the table for the bargain-basement cost of .  Facing down an indestructible 5/5 will make anyone nervous, but seeing it on turn 3 can be downright panic-inducing.

In this deck, we are going to push this aggressive cost to its absolute limit by playing four copies of Black’s original powerhouse spell: Dark Ritual.  With a smattering of mana acceleration in our arsenal, we may be able to push the Lich out onto the battlefield during our very first turn.  If a turn-three Lich is panic-inducing, surely a turn-one Lich moves into Nightmare Fuel territory.

Of course, there’s a catch: when the Lich enters the battlefield, you are required to place a phylactery counter on an artifact you control.  This artifact becomes your Lich’s lifeline — if at any point you don’t have any artifacts with phylactery counters, your Lich dies.  So in order to make this deck work, we now have a task before us…

Give That Lich a Phylactery

Liches love phylacteries.

Mono-Black decks aren’t known for their synergy with artifacts, so instead of looking for artifacts that lock the game down and interact with every card in our deck, we need to set the bar a little lower.  We need to find artifacts that meet the following basic criteria:

  1. Can it be put into play easily?
  2. Does it do something beneficial on its own?
  3. Most importantly, is it a good target for the Phylactery Lich’s counter?

Let’s look at #3 first.  What kind of artifact makes a good target for the Lich’s counter?  Well, since we’re tying the Lich’s existence on the board to this artifact’s existence on the board, the best kind of artifact to choose would be one that can’t be destroyed!

Now that we’ve established that we want to be looking for indestructible artifacts, let’s turn our attention to the remaining criteria. Most of the available indestructible artifacts can be ruled out either because they are too difficult to put into play, or they don’t perform a meaningful function once they’re on the battlefield.

Blightsteel Colossus, for instance, is a phenomenal creature in many circumstances. But relying on high-cost artifacts is a bad idea for this deck, because the artifacts we use need to be on the battlefield before we can cast our Lich, and we’re hoping to get him into play as early as possible.

Conversely, Darksteel Relic is remarkably easy to put into play (as easy as is possible, in fact), but it literally does nothing except take up space on your playmat.

However, there are a few good candidates for inclusion that are both easy to cast and that perform some kind of function.

  • Darksteel Axe seems like it was designed for this deck. It is easy to cast and does something worthwhile once it’s on the table.
  • Darksteel Brute is another good candidate, because not only does it serve as an indestructible phylactery, but it turns into an indestructible attacker for additional pressure on your opponent.

As much as I’d like to close the book on artifacts having selected a couple of good ones, we really need to reliably get one into play as early as possible in order to maximize the Lich’s effectiveness. Fortunately, we have a couple of “secret weapons” in the search for cheap artifacts: Darksteel Citadel and Vault of Whispers.

Both of these lands are excellent additions to this deck, because they come into play for free and provide mana to help move our deck forward.  No, Vault of Whispers is not indestructible.  It does, however, allow us to get a free artifact in play without disrupting the deck’s tempo at all.  Darksteel Citadel, on the other hand, IS indestructible, but does disrupt the deck’s consistency because it provides only colorless mana.  Nevertheless, I believe it’s worth including.

Before we move off the topic of artifacts, I want to be sure to mention a small loophole in the Lich’s text. If you have two Liches in play and have placed their respective phylactery counters on two separate artifacts, both artifacts must be destroyed before either Lich wil die. All the Lich requires is that you control an artifact that has a phylactery counter; it doesn’t require that its own phylactery counter remain in play. Just keep that in mind, you never know when it could prove useful.

The Deck So Far

Now that we’ve assembled a few components, let’s take a moment to review what we have:

Lich Mob (framework)

Creatures (4)
Artifacts (8)
Other Spells (4)
Lands (8)

That’s the core of the deck. Now all we need to do is to fill in a few holes and we should have something functional.

Supporting Cast

To round out this deck, we’re going to add in a few basic components: additional threats, a few answers, and the rest of the manabase.  For additional threats, let’s look for a few creatures that, again, don’t disrupt the flow of the deck.  Since we’re just looking for something to distract the opponent while we focus on landing an unkillable Lich, cheaper is better.  Cheaper AND hard to kill is, of course, even better.  For that, we must turn to a relatively recent addition to the game: Gravecrawler.

Gravecrawler may be the perfect addition to this deck.  His casting cost of means he will hit the board early and with minimal disruption to our overall game plan.  His 2-power means that your opponent can’t simply ignore him.  But the icing on the cake is his recursion ability: as long as you have a creature of the type “Zombie” in play, you can re-cast a dead Gravecrawler straight from the graveyard!  The more observant among you may have noticed that our nigh-unkillable Phylactery Lich happens to be a Zombie, so I think we might be on to something here.

As a final touch in the “threat” department, I am going to suggest tossing in a couple copies of Carnophage, which shares a lot in common with Gravecrawler: it costs , it has a power of 2 and is ALSO a Zombie.

A Few Good Answers

This deck is shaping up to be very good at attacking early and in force, but it’s a little light on defense.  We can’t assume that we’ll outpace our opponents on every occasion, so it’s probably a good idea to throw a few odds and ends into our deck that will help us respond to our opponents’ plays.  One common problem with Phylactery Lich is that it doesn’t possess any evasion abilities.  It doesn’t fly, it doesn’t trample, it’s not unblockable, etc.  This means that if your opponent can consistently play chump-blockers, you’ll never be able to push your Lich through to victory.

Fortunately, the Lich is large enough that he only needs to connect a few times in order for us to win the game.  To help keep the path clear, we’re going to include Consuming Vapors as our primary “spot” removal.  This card’s Rebound ability means that we can cast it on one turn, hopefully clearing a path for the Lich to attack, and it will resolve again automatically on our NEXT upkeep, hopefully doing the same thing again.  Of course, Consuming Vapors has an additional benefit: it also nets us a few precious life points whenever it forces our opponent to sacrifice something.

But now we have a bit of a dilemma.  We’ve successfully come up with a solution for scenarios when our opponent has one critter in our Lich’s way, but what if he has a swarm of them?  We’re going to need a reset button to push if the game gets out of hand.  Because the core of this deck involves highly-resilient creatures, we shouldn’t be afraid to use symmetrical options here, known affectionately as “board sweepers”.  Our Lich is huge and indestructible, our Darksteel Brute is only a creature when we need him to be (and is also indestructible), and half of our Zombies can be re-cast from the graveyard without breaking a sweat.  A spell which would obliterate every creature in play would likely affect our opponent much more negatively than it would affect us, so let’s go poke around in that neck of the woods.

Unfortunately, the reset button tailor-made for this deck, Damnation, isn’t exactly an inexpensive solution.  By all means, if you have a playset of them lying around or the means to acquire them, cram them in this deck and be done with it.  If not, however, we need to come up with another idea.

So what are we really looking for here?  We’re looking for a relatively low-cost means to kill off two or more small-ish creatures so that we can bring the pain with our Lich.  I’ve narrowed it down to a list of three good candidates:

All three of those are good options, because they can devastate our opponents’ defenses while barely affecting our side of the board.  That’s precisely what we’re looking for.

Now, if you can hold out for a couple of weeks, we’ll have another good option available.  Born of the Gods will include a Black sorcery named Drown in Sorrow, which operates much in the same way as Massacre.  Here’s the full text:

Drown in Sorrow
All creatures get -2/-2 until end of turn.  Scry 1.

What makes this such a good fit? It’s just as applicable as Massacre, except it’s slightly cheaper to cast and gives us a valuable opportunity to set up our next draw. If Damnation isn’t an option for budget reasons, Drown in Sorrow might be your best option.

Finishing Touches

To round out the deck, there are a couple of final components I feel like it might be wise to include. A full set of Sign in Blood will help us move through our deck more consistently. We should be mindful of the life point investment that goes along with using them, however, so on a trial basis I am going to include a couple copies of Whip of Erebos. The recursion ability will probably be useful from time to time, but giving our entire side of the board Lifelink keeps us in the game that much longer.

And that’s a wrap, really. Throw in some Swamps to fill out the mana base and you have a functional, casual deck that should be fun to play and might win a few games here and there. Here’s what we just built:

Oh, and just one more thing…if you’ll follow me into the Wayback Machine for a minute, I’d like to draw your attention to a card that was last printed waaaay back in Fourth Edition and has since been completely forgotten about: Simulacrum. This might be fun to play around with in this deck (or any deck featuring indestructible creatures, really). Trust me, no one will see it coming.

Signing off for now. Happy dueling!


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    • Griffin Wollowitz on January 19, 2014 at 10:29 am
    • Reply

    Memnite. That way you can turn one swamp and memnite, and then dark ritual into the lich.

    1. Not sure I like Memnite. It does have a 0 cmc and does enable the turn-one play, but its fragility makes it a bad target for the Lich’s counter. It’s just too easy to kill. I included Vault of Whispers to enable the combo, but that’s not really enough to hang your hat on, and I recognize that. If you want to go the route of beefing up the 0 cmc artifacts to increase your chances of comboing the Lich out via Dark Ritual, consider Darksteel Relic instead. Indestructible is really significantly more important than being a 1/1 creature. And if you’re looking for other options, I would recommend Phyrexian Walker over Memnite, as the toughness of 3 makes it that much harder to kill.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  1. Great first article! I love flavorful brews with synergy… Well done!

    1. Thanks, Wally! I appreciate the feedback!

  2. Why not use Cranial Plating or Lashwrithe? Plating gets bonuses for other artifacts, and Lashwrite for swamps. Also the triple Kaldra combo would create some serious funsy stuff…

    1. Both Cranial Plating and Lashwrithe are certainly interesting ideas for inclusion. I think I like Cranial Plating a bit more, because of the lower casting cost. Both choices leave the Lich open to artifact hate, which I was hoping to avoid by including indestructible artifacts.

      Of the Kaldra artifacts, I gravitate mostly toward the Shield, as that’s the source of indestructibility, and resiliency is what this deck is all about (unless we include all three and shoot for the voltron combo, but that’s kind of unlikely to happen). But the 4 casting cost gives me pause…if the Lich is going to land on turn three (or one, hopefully), a 4-drop artifact isn’t the best thing to rely on.

      But Cranial Plating…hmm.

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