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Licia, First Sword of the Mardu {Primer}

Commander / EDH Combo Lifegain Primer RBW (Mardu)



Artifact (1)

Licia, Sanguine Tribune is often narrowly classified as a voltron commander, and as such, is mistakenly undervalued compared to other Mardu commanders who provide more "noticeable" value like Edgar Markov, Queen Marchesa, and Kaalia of the Vast.

The goal of this Primer is not only to explain how the deck functions, but also to argue why Licia, Sanguine Tribune is one of the best value engines in Mardu.

- She is castable for multiple times a game; early-game this gives you tempo advantage.

  • As a life linker, she keeps us healthy, but more importantly, gives us more ammo to use against our opponents. Gaining 1 Life in this deck is like loading another bullet into your rifle.

  • She synergizes really well with life gain/pay life cards. Unlike some other commanders which may dabble with a few "pay life"/"life gain" cards here or there (I'm looking at you Necropotence), Licia fully commits to these strategies allowing us to wield the full might of life in this tenacious Mardu color pie.

  • She is a persistent board threat on her own and a card advantage engine. She attracts removal from the rest of our game-plan and kills high-value creatures our opponents inevitably have to use to block for fear of losing to commander damage.

  • Her high converted mana cost allows access to a few spells that we can use for explosive value.

  • While she makes the deck run far smoother and gives us access to powerful moves/combinations - she isn't crucial to making the deck run which makes the deck far more resilient compared to a commander like Kaalia of the Vast.

  • In my opinion, and I'm certainly biased, I believe Licia to be the quintessential representation of the Mardu philosophy.

"I give my blood, my life, all I have in exchange for victory."

"Sometimes the best offense is hitting opponents before they're ready." - Black

One of this deck's greatest strengths is its ability to catch opponents off guard and put them on the backpedal. Timing is key to playing this deck, particularly when playing at a high level against high-powered decks like Chulane or Urza.

The explosivity of this deck derives from utilizing life as its premier resource to outdo its opponents in Card Velocity, Tempo, and Card Advantage while dictating the game flow with Inverse Advantage.

Indeed, this deck favors explosive velocity in its life gain, card draw, and damage over incrementalism. When played right, the deck can often leave our opponents questioning what piece to remove from our board to slow us down. Thankfully, once we get to that point in the game, it usually doesn't matter as all of our combo pieces synergize really well with each other which allows for varied combo trees to move to.

The modal nature of our combo pieces allow flexibility in the manner with which we can achieve our end-game plan.

"One of the advantages of proper planning is that you can execute attack strategies fast..." - White

It's important to state that this is not a voltron deck.

Licia, Sanguine Tribune is used for both Card Advantage and value; whether it be life gain or using her high cmc to our advantage.

There are two types of opening hands that you may acquire with this deck:

  • The Aggressive Beat-Down Hand


  • The Methodical Control Hand

Either hand is a good one to have and can get you to your end-goal, but which one you get will determine the manner in which you get there and how you're perceived at the table.

A hallmark of the "Aggressive Beat-Down" hand is having one of our "Licia Ramp" cards, enough mana fixing/ramp to cast Licia by turn 3-4, and either a tutor or something to spend life with for card advantage or damage.

You'll usually start off with casting something like Icatian Moneychanger or Serra Ascendant to reduce Licia's casting cost to WBR and cast her by turn 3-4. After that, you'll have an ever-growing, commander-damaging, 7/7, first strike, life linker that your opponents will inevitably have to deal with at some point.

I found that most people will let Licia stay on the board for a rotation after cast as they can afford the hit to face or via chump block. This is where Licia's non-evasive nature actually helps us. Either way, on our next turn we will gain an additional 10 life to be able to use for value.

To put it simply, this is when you begin to build your board with various inconspicuous combo pieces like Martyr of Sands, Children of Korlis, and/or Venser's Journal as you aggressively attack with Licia.

Truthfully, there is more nuance to this aggressive beat down strategy as I usually utilize Inverse Advantage cards and targeted removal to slow my opponents role as I beat them down to maintain my Tempo advantage while compiling my combo pieces.

You'll attract more ire with the aggressive hand (for good reason), but it's strength is in its ability to let you force your opponents to exhaust their resources in trying to remove your immediate threats while you build your end-game threat.

This hand typically consists of no "Licia Ramp" cards, but instead has removal, and some combination of either ramp, card draw, inverse advantage, combo piece, a tutor, and lands.

Early-game, you'll feel like you're durdling around for the first 4-5 turns as you keep your mana up for removal while maybe sneaking in some quiet combo pieces like Ivory Tower, Tainted Sigil, or Children of Korlis.

If you have one of your Inverse Advantage cards like Hushbringer or Treasure Nabber, you may disrupt your opponents game-plan by putting those down too.

Essentially, your goal when given this hand is to stall your opponents until turns 5-7 where you may begin to really push ahead with certain combos, etc.

The upside with this hand is that more aggressive decks will attract attention/removal from what we're doing so we can quietly build our board unimpeded and catch our opponents off guard when it's time to strike.

05/17/20 Side Note: I just played a game against high-powered Scion of the Ur-Dragon, Elsha of the Infinite, and Arvad of the Cursed decks from the PlayEdh discord where I started with a control hand and I literally, systematically played combo pieces turn after turn to the point where I had Vizkopa Guildmage, Wall of Blood, Children of Korlis, and Ranger-Captain of Eos last an entire rotation on my board and I was simply able to activate them to win the game on turn 6. I'm still bewildered why nobody tried to remove any one of them. I put this here not to gloat, but to provide an example as to how you can take advantage of the aggression of other decks.

The term "Inverse Advantage" was coined by Charles Zhuang, a mono-white commander player who plays both competitive and casual edh to great success. He has written articles discussing Inverse Advantage as well as the other value paradigms like Card Advantage, Tempo, Card Velocity, and Virtual Card Advantage.

His article diving into Inverse Advantage can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/dice-city-games/value-paradigms-in-commander-part-iii-inverse-advantage/2877599562320737/

So what is Inverse Advantage? Simply put, it's changing the rules of the game to alter the value of your opponents cards.

As a Mardu deck, we come into a game where has superior card advantage/card velocity engines, powerful artifact synergies, and access to the most tempo-halting cards in counterspells. Meanwhile, gets to run loose with insane mana ramp and creature-based removal/value engines.

How's that fair for us guys? Well it isn't, so instead we're going to make our own rules.

  • Hushbringer changes the rules so that any value that and decks get from ETBs comes to a sudden halt. That and the death triggers from and decks also come to a halt. We didn't build our decks with heaps of ETB or death triggers so why should they get to abuse them?
  • Blind Obedience changes the rules so that all those fast mana artifacts people like to use come into play tapped. Likewise, any haste creatures will have trouble sneaking in for damage the turn they get played. Can't storm off with this on the table.
  • Treasure Nabber alters the game so that our opponents need to question whether giving us ramp is the right move to make or if they should hold back. Either we ramp with them or we hold them to our level; we win either way.
  • Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet changes the rules on opponents for creatures dying. Now all those death triggers or graveyard-value cards become far less valuable and wiping the board doesn't look great for our opponents. He also works as card advantage with the tokens he makes.
  • Darksteel Mutation quite literally alters the value of one of your opponents creatures. This is best used on high-value generating commanders.
  • Grand Abolisher polymorphs all of 's counterspells into useless cardboard on our turn as well as nullifying any instant removal from our opponents.
  • Ranger-Captain of Eos's activated ability also transforms all of 's counterspells into garbage cardboard.
  • Boseiju, Who Shelters All also turns all of 's counterspells into flimsy, weak cardboard in one's hand when casting a crucial instant or sorcery.
  • Silence is our final dandy piece of anti-counterspell tech. It either baits a counterspell or it resolves giving us free reign to cast whatever we want.

There are three primary strategies to winning with this deck:

  1. The Chandra's Ignition Mission
  2. The Vizkopa Guildmage Play
  3. The Aetherflux Reservoir Detonation

Found within these three primary strategies, however, are many varied sub-strategies that we can act on.

The goal of this strategy is to gain more life than your opponents and get one of these three creatures on the table:

Using one method or another, you pay enough life to raise their power and then cast Chandra's Ignition to light the table ablaze and end the game.

-Wall of Blood is our #1 choice because of the incredible rate of 1 life for 1 power, its 3 cmc cost, and not needing to rely on other pieces to help us get there. It does it all on its own. All you need to do is to have more life than your opponents.

-Our #2 choice is Moltensteel Dragon, because he has a "Pay Life" ability on him already, but his rate of 2 life for 1 power is not as efficient as Wall of Blood's. So to get there, we need an additional piece in either Children of Korlis or Tainted Sigil to regain the life we paid to be able to pay again and increase Moltensteel Dragon's power further. However, if we were able to build one of our burst life-gain engines, we may already be able to pay enough life to burn the table.

-Lastly, at #3 is Greven, Predator Captain. His is the hardest to pull off because we need to engineer a way to pay as much life as we want. The easiest way to pull it off is to have Necropotence or Treasonous Ogre on the table, but we can also use Wall of Blood or Moltensteel Dragon. Although, if you're using Wall of Blood for that then you might as well just use Wall of Blood for the Chandra's Ignition. Other methods of engineering this is to have Bolas's Citadel and Sensei's Divining Top out, or if you have enough life then using a single Aetherflux Reservoir blast. Lastly, if we were successful in building an Ivory Tower/Venser's Journal + Necropotence/Ad Nauseam life gain engine combo then using Castle Locthwain can get you there too, but it requires a little extra mana.


Maybe you have one of these three creatures in hand or on the table, but no Chandra's Ignition or a way to get it; or worse, you already used up Chandra's Ignition earlier in the game with Licia to wipe the board and gained a ton of life to spend. What use do these Big Boi's have now?

Well, both Greven, Predator Captain and Moltensteel Dragon are threats in their own right with the evasion they present. Greven can get even more evasive if Shizo, Death's Storehouse is on your board. However, they have added usefulness when you're able to sneak in a shocking Soul's Fire or Rite of Consumption. As stated before, timing on this is key as you need to find the right, open moment to strike; a counterspell can hurt you on this.

Additionally, if you have Sanguine Bond, you can raise Wall of Blood or Moltensteel Dragon's power and then either use Children of Korlis/Tainted Sigil to regain that life effectively making another Aetherflux Reservoir. You can use Swords to Plowshares or Rite of Consumption on your own creature to do this as well.

You can also use Moltensteel Dragon in conjunction with Children of Korlis/Tainted Sigil for a large burst of free pumped-up combat damage.

Greven's single-player removal is why I still like to keep him around despite the higher difficulty of pulling off Chandra's Ignition with him. It's so easy for us to just lose life on our turn with all the lands we use, and various creatures that take life from us like Dark Confidant or Licia, Sanguine Tribune herself. Using Toxic Deluge for 4 life can be awesome with Greven and usually leaves one person open. Plus, if I really need the card draw I can attack with him to sacrifice Licia and draw at minimum 7 cards.

The goal of this strategy is to use Vizkopa Guildmage's activated ability to drain our opponents life based on how much life we gain that turn. There are many sub-strategies to set this up:

It's worth noting that Vizkopa Guildmage's ability stacks if you have the extra mana for it.

The goal of this strategy is to gain enough life to be able to laser your opponents with Aetherflux Reservoir. While that is simple enough, there are at least a few sub-strategies that lie here:

  • The infamous Bolas's Citadel/Sensei's Divining Top/Aetherflux Reservoir combo. I'm sure you know of this one by now. Basically, with these three pieces on the board, we can cast Sensei's Divining Top from the top of our library an infinite amount of times gaining as much life as we want and then lasering everybody in the face. Even if you only have Bolas's Citadel and Sensei's Divining Top in the beginning, you can usually dig deep enough into your library to find Aetherflux Reservoir.

  • Using Swords to Plowshares on Licia, Sanguine Tribune to gain enough life to laser someone. Using our "Life Bombs" like Gonti's Machinations or Martyr of Sands to gain enough life to laser someone. Paying 50 life to laser someone then sacrificing Tainted Sigil to gain 100 more life to then laser the other two. Children of Korlis can only net you one more kill after a laser. Using Heliod's Intervention to gain enough life to laser someone. Getting an "Aggressive Beat-Down" hand and swinging with Serra Ascendant and Licia, Sanguine Tribune to gain enough life to potentially laser someone on turn 4. Casting a ton of our 1 or 2 cmc spells in a turn to gain progressively more life with every cast to laser someone. There are plenty of ways to gain enough life to activate Aetherflux Reservoir in this deck.

  • We actually have a 2nd Aetherflux Reservoir in the deck with Sanguine Bond which can go off with any number of bouts of Life Gain we have in the deck.

Aetherflux Reservoir's True Value

Aetherflux Reservoir is perhaps the most notorious card in EDH Life Gain decks; it's inclusion as a wincon in storm decks has further increased its notoriety. When you come to the table and say you're playing a "Licia Life Gain" deck, they already know you have Aetherflux Reservoir in the deck. They expect it coming.

What they don't know is this simple fact: We don't need Aetherflux Reservoir to win the game.

So let's use Aetherflux Reservoir's notoriety against them and force our opponents to exhaust their available resources. We can bait counterspells with it, we can use it to lure away removal from our other combo pieces that we are planning to use, and the best part? Aetherflux Reservoir is still a very real threat for our opponents. We're not bluffing the table with it, if we have the life to use then we're going to use it. It truly puts our opponents in a precarious situation they don't want to be in.

Reading through "The Combo Tree" section, you may be asking yourself if Licia, Sanguine Tribune is really needed for this deck. After all, why can't you just put these same cards in other Mardu commanders like Edgar Markov or Queen Marchesa? Edgar already offers life link vampires and you can build Queen Marchesa however you want.

Edgar's strength comes from his powerful eminence ability, and needs many vampires to reach it's maximum aggressive potential. He simply would be useless with a decklist that has two vampires. Edgar's lifegain strategies typically revolve around tokens and aristocrat life drain strategies that deal incremental damage turn after turn. Edgar Markov is simply built for a narrower aggressive strategy and couldn't commit to the pure Life Gain strategy that this decklist provides. Plus, piloting any Edgar Markov deck would already put a target on your back as he is notoriously aggressive.

Queen Marchesa would be a better choice than Edgar for this decklist as she allows for a broader variety of archetypes to build around; most notably the "aikido" style. However, she simply doesn't synergize with the rest of the deck. The deck would simply lose out on the synergistic consistency, threat, velocity, and resilience that Licia, Sanguine Tribune provides.

You couldn't cast Chandra's Ignition or Soul's Fire on Queen Marchesa to wipe the board, gain a massive burst of life, and follow up with a Vizkopa Guildmage, Aetherflux Reservoir, or Sanguine Bond play without devoting more resources towards making that happen. You would spend 3 mana on Morbid Curiosity to gain 4 cards from sacrificing Queen Marchesa as opposed to gaining 8 cards for 3 mana from sacrificing Licia who you could recast for 3 mana later. Likewise, Disciple of Bolas is pretty bad when used on Queen Marchesa as opposed to Licia, Sanguine Tribune. Using Soldevi Adnate or Burnt Offering on Queen Marchesa wouldn't net you as much mana or value as it would for using it on the resilient, reappearing Licia, Sanguine Tribune. Even just saccing Gonti's Machinations to cast Licia for 3 mana only to just sac her with Burnt Offering would still net you 5 mana.

The fact that Licia, Sanguine Tribune is the only Mardu commander with a "Pay Life" ability provides more synergistic consistency when used in conjuction with cards like Font of Agonies, Vilis, Broker of Blood, or Greven, Predator Captain or when trying to regain as much life as possible for a Vizkopa Guildmage/Sanguine Bond + Children of Korlis/Tainted Sigil/Swords to Plowshares play.

As for the rest of the Mardu commanders? None of them have the capability to always come back and be a threat on the field for a simple like Licia, Sanguine Tribune does. Other Mardu commanders need to make up for removal by throwing more mana rocks and ramp into the deck to keep up, but Licia makes it easy for us.

What we may lose in Tempo, we gain in Card Advantage every time someone uses removal on Licia, because they lose a card and Licia goes back to the command zone where we can create ways to recast her for 3 mana if we want to.

Licia, Sanguine Tribune is always there for us to use whether we need her assistance or not in a game.

Being a tri-color deck means mana fixing will be more of an issue than dual or mono-colored decks. We have plenty of dual lands, tri-lands, fetchlands, mana rocks, and other cards in the deck to fix this issue, but sometimes variance will just screw you over; it's a fact of magic. This is more likely to happen with red than black or white. However, most of the time you should be fine.

Although, you are totally susceptible to nonbasic land hate, but that's just a risk we gotta take!

We also need to be careful when playing against well-built voltron decks. Particularly those that aim to only hit you once like a fast coin flip Okaun, Eye of Chaos/Zndrsplt, Eye of Wisdom deck or a heavy-control Bruna, Light of Alabaster deck. Just be mindful when playing against these type of decks.

Another weakness is counterspells. Yes that's right, counterspells. As stated before, one of this deck's great strengths is its explosive velocity, but a single, stray counterspell can halt that velocity in an instant. That's why we have Grand Abolisher, Ranger-Captain of Eos, Boseiju, Who Shelters All, and Silence in the deck to be able to shut counterspells off when we go for the win. Otherwise, you need to bait those counterspells.

Lastly, any "Life-Hate" cards like Witch Hunt or Everlasting Torment are silver bullets for our deck, but thankfully these types of cards are too niche/narrow that they aren't used in the majority of decks. The most common one to see would be Erebos, God of the Dead, but our deck packs enough interaction to be able to deal with the problem if one of these silver bullets show up.

Are you criticizing other Mardu Commanders/Decks?

If it comes off as if I'm criticizing them, I don't mean to come off that way. I love Mardu. I simply wanted to provide my arguments as to why I believe Licia, Sanguine Tribune should be considered as a top Mardu commander herself. Her value isn't as visible as the others, and it pains me to see her behind a commander like Mathas, Fiend Seeker on EDHREC. Again, no disrespect, but Licia's better than that rank implies.

Also, my list isn't the end all be all for Licia as there are a variety of ways you can take advantage of the value she provides! I've seen great group slug, voltron, and even storm decks that utilize Licia at the helm.

There are many ways we can exert our Life Advantage over our opponents to end the game. I hope this primer illuminates some of the possibilies that Mardu Life Strategies have to offer with Licia.

Some cards I played around with over the years that you may not find on EDHREC, but for one reason or another cut them from my "final" decklist. I offer them here for you as they may be a better fit for the direction you decide to take:

-Dragon Breath

-Spirit en-Dal


-Neheb, the Eternal

-Heartless Hidetsugu



-Unspeakable Symbol

-Fire Covenant

-Phyrexian Processor

-Words of Worship


-Bloodchief Ascension

-Evra, Halcyon Witness


It seems like you really hate decks...

Oh not at all! I have plenty of blue decks myself like Riku of Two Reflections and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. However, decks are the bane of decks because we want to come in hot, but likes to say no let's take it slowwwww. So basically, if you think you've setup a shot with a Hatred, Soul's Fire, Aetherflux Reservoir, or pumped-up Moltensteel Dragon against a player; TAKE THE SHOT!

Also, all things being equal in a game, it's always worth swinging Licia, Sanguine Tribune towards the player to force their hand on your terms.

Why not include Mana Crypt/Mox's?

I don't include any of these cards for three reasons:

  1. This is first and foremost a casual EDH deck, and putting those in the deck would push it to a level I don't want it to be for my playgroup. The deck is already very strong without them. If I were to create a CEDH version of this deck then absolutely, but I don't play CEDH.

  2. I don't own them, and I don't like looking at proxies in the deck I consider my baby. This is also why Badlands and Plateau aren't in the deck alongside my Scrubland. I'll purchase them eventually, but for now they aren't in the deck.

  3. With the amount of interaction and Inverse Advantage in the deck, it can already hang with fringe-CEDH decks without too much issue. True CEDH is another story, but it can battle with high-powered fringe-CEDH decks with smart play.

Why didn't you include Exquisite Blood or Felidar Sovereign/Test of Endurance?

I'm not a fan of Felidar Sovereign-style win cons because it's never been gratifying to win like that for me; too easy. I've also never been a fan of the 2 card infinite combo between Exquisite Blood and Sanguine Blood. It's just boring to me.

What about including something like Axis of Mortality/Repay in Kind?

These are more up my alley, but ultimately these cards are too slow with their high cmc cost and it would take focus away from the rest of my deck. I simply don't need them.

Why not use stuff like Chaplain's Blessing for Licia Ramp?

I don't like the one-off nature of these cards compared to the other choices I have. Something like Gonti's Machinations is recurrable with Lurrus of the Dream-Den, Hall of Heliod's Generosity, and Sevinne's Reclamation and is useful whether I obtain the card early-game or late-game as it can be used in conjunction with other pieces to help me end the game; they serve a dual purpose in the game.


Updates Add

I just discovered this card Rite of Consumption while looking up stuff on Scryfall and it's everything I could ever want in a card for this deck. It's effectively a "fling" card with life link attached. This synergizes incredibly well with Wall of Blood, Moltensteel Dragon, and Greven, Predator Captain. Fling one of these guys, take out an opponent, and recast Licia for 3 mana easy.

If you attack with Licia first before using it on her, you can get get double the life gain for her power (or even double the face damage). Great for trying to get over 50 for Aetherflux Reservoir in a pinch or for added fuel to use towards other things.

I decided to take out Hatred for this card as I always found hatred to be just a tad too mana heavy to use effectively in this deck and there weren't TOO many targets I would have liked to use it on anyway. At 2 cmc, Rite of Consumption does a lot more for me.



83% Competitive

Top Ranked
  • Achieved #2 position overall 1 year ago
  • Achieved #1 position in Commander / EDH 1 year ago
Date added 1 year
Last updated 23 hours

This deck is Commander / EDH legal.

Rarity (main - side)

6 - 0 Mythic Rares

63 - 0 Rares

14 - 0 Uncommons

14 - 0 Commons

Cards 100
Avg. CMC 2.86
Tokens None Treasure, Companion, 2/2 Zombie
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3 days ago)

-1 Hatred main
+1 Rite of Consumption main