A Song of Loyalty and Betrayal

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This is the first part of Marchesa's journey to becoming the queen (see the second part here). Do you like the Game of Thrones? Do you like controlling the board with politics and threats? Do you enjoy playing synergistic strategies? Do you like having the versatility to win via combat or infinite combos? If your answer is yes, then Marchesa is the commander for you. Capitalizing on her craftiness, ruthlessness, and wide-reaching influences to secure her throne, who dares question her authority and legitimacy?


The basic strategy

The benefit of playing Marchesa is that she is a natural pillowfort. Experienced players will usually not want to lower your life total to enable her immortal army dethrone mechanic. This can help us to have more control over our life totals and effective political maneuvering throughout the game to position ourselves in a favorable state. When it comes down to the foundation of the deck, it boils down to either setting up the game so that Marchesa and her army is immortal and can never be removed or to assemble a winning combo as soon as possible depending on the pod she is playing against. This deck is capable of a consistent turn 6 win uninterrupted but usually is able to fight through the hate with the right setup. The strategy can be divided into three phases:

  1. Deploy phase - Play efficient creatures like Baleful Strix that could be abused with Marchesa later in the game as well as setting up protection and haste like Lightning Greaves/Spellskite. This is where the decision to play Marchesa early or later gets decided. If there are adequate protection for her early game, getting her out early is probably the right decision. However, if there are no protection pieces at all, getting Marchesa out early is reckless and should be avoided at all costs.

  2. Offensive phase - After deploying necessary threats and protection, start setting up an immortal board by getting the counters on the creatures. The main goal of this phase is to have Marchesa and her army be in a position to be immortal through her recursive counter engine, however assembling an infinite combo to win at this point is not uncommon too. Graveyard hate like Leyline of the Void/Rest in Peace hurts us the most and needs to be dealt with proactively or reactively using cards like Arcane Denial or Chaos Warp.

  3. Conqueror phase - You should have a formidable boardstate at this point. Win the game with a massive army or assemble any infinite combo (described in section below) to end the game.

Getting the +1/+1 counters

Using dethrone to get the counters is not reliable and there are other ways of getting them without manipulating our life totals in hopes of getting us to the promise land. Therefore cards like Blood Artist and Kokusho, the Evening Star could be further abused without worrying about being on the throne. Graft creatures like Cytoplast Manipulator not only bypass our dependency on life totals, but also can be abused with value creatures on every players' turns by sacrificing them together and have Marchesa bring them back EoT. The graft creature will be able to graft one +1/+1 counter on the value creature for maximum abuse. Cards like Metallic Mimic also allow us to abuse multiple creatures with the same creature type as the mimic. For example, by having mimic come in naming wizard, I could potentially abuse almost 40% of my creature base on each of the players' turns. I also have Unspeakable Symbol to put +1/+1 counters on creatures at instant speed.

Stealing creatures permanently

Marchesa's second ability lets us steal any creatures permanently as long as it has a delayed trigger and we are able to put a +1/+1 counter on them before sending them to the graveyard. Cards like Sower of Temptation becomes very abusive as we can steal a creature, put a +1/+1 counter on it, and sac it to have it come back as a brand new creature under our control. We can then sac SoT to have it steal another new creature and can be done on every players' turn if we have the setup listed in the above subsection. The same could be done with Puppeteer Clique where it can actually steal up to two creatures permanently due to it's persist ability.


Primary Win Condition: Infinite Combos

The following infinite loop which is either initiated by Glen Elendra Archmage or Puppeteer Clique forms an infinite combo loop to win with either Goblin Bombardment/Altar of Dementia as sac outlets or Flayer of the Hatebound/Blood Artist on the field. Alternatively, if the sac outlet is Viscera Seer, we can sac "infinitely" to scry the finishing combo piece at the top to either draw it on the spot to win or doing it at opponent's EoT:

The following lines of play deals infinite damage to everyone:

Secondary Win Condition: Drain Everyone to Death

You must be wondering why we have Kokusho, the Evening Star in Marchesa that wants to usually have lower health than her opponents. As discussed in the previous section above, our build does not depend on the "dethrone" mechanic as much as other builds do. Even if we have the highest life total in the pod, there are still numerous ways for us to get +1/+1 counters on our creatures to abuse their value every turn. With the amount of pain/shock lands and cards that make us lose our life, our life total is often dangeoursly low mid to late game that if we don't win by then, we can't possibly survive till late game if anything goes wrong. The nice thing about running Kokusho over Gary (Gray Merchant of Asphodel) is that we have control over when we have to gain life and how much life we will be gaining. Running Kokusho also gives us the comfort of having a life cushion later in the game and inevitability. This is our alternate win condition in a slow game when we have got the entire board locked down:

  • Marchesa, the Black Rose + Kokusho, the Evening Star + Unspeakable Symbol/(Vigean Graftmage/Cytoplast Manipulator/Metallic Mimic) + sac outlet = Drain the table at the end of each player's turn. In a typical 4 player game, sac Kokusho end of player's turn to get him back (with Marchesa's ability) while using Unspeakable Symbol or saccing the graft creature to put a +1/+1 counter on it to be sac'd on another player's turn (ad nauseaum). Each round in a four player game will drain each player 15 life while gaining us 45 life (45 - 9 = 36 life if using Unspeakable Symbol). This means that the game will usually end between two to three turns if our opponents don't gain a ton of life back in between. As you can already tell, this combo gets more degenerate the more players there are in the pod. Commanders like Meren have also abused this combo every round with her reanimate ability but is a lot slower and less effective than Marchesa as we can do it every turn to accelerate everyone's demise. With Necropotence and Thought Vessel/Reliquary Tower in play, we will be able to draw a ton of cards each round to inevitably win. Without Marchesa, this combo could only be used once a round with Phyrexian Reclamation/Volrath's Stronghold and is very mana intensive.

Other Notable Combos


The general rule of thumb for tutoring comes down to what is most needed now or in the immediate future to progress our game plan. Depending on the pod, the tutor target might be different. For example, it is generally safe to tutor for cards like Sage of Fables early game to protect Marchesa if is absent as common creature removal like Path to Exile/Swords to Plowshares isn't an early threat. Kira, Great Glass-Spinner is usually the safest protection to tutor for all general purposes of targeted removal protection. If our hand is emptying out faster than we can refill, tutoring for a draw card to set up a draw engine is probably the best move forward. If our life total is getting low late game, tutoring for Kokusho, the Evening Star wouldn't be a bad idea as both a life saver and a game ender.

Imperial Recruiter

Other Tutors (not listed above)


The following are popular generals in my meta that would probably have a good Bribery target:


A deck build around Marchesa's abilities will never be competitive and that's a reality most people find hard to believe. Her ability is extremely strong and when abused will usually put the controller at a board position that is way ahead of everyone. The problem is that competitive decks have the capability of winning uninterrupted by turn 3 or 4 while decks build around Marchesa wants to go for a more mid range game. Without going full storm combo in order to be competitive (therefore just using her for her colors), Marchesa is best played in a "75%" pod (not too casual and not too competitive) to get full satisfaction and enjoyment of the deck. Therefore we can only hope to optimize Marchesa as more cards get introduced into the cardpool and enjoy the journey of getting the throne.


"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground." - Cersei Lannister


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