My Consecration. My Commerce. My Guild.

The Primer

This section will provide explanation about this Primer, the reason why I chose to play Orzhov/Karlov, pro's/con's and introduction about Orzhov.


The Orzhov Syndicate

The Orzhov Syndicate is the Ravnican guild of business, where the values of white and black meet and the dead exist solely to rule. Nearly every business in Ravnica ties back to the Orzhov in some way or another. While they bear the facade of a religious group and may have been a true faith at the signing of the Guildpact, they now worship only profit and power.

The Orzhov guild is founded on the beliefs that wealth is power, that structure breeds wealth, and that guilt creates structure. The guild is a combination of a religion, credit-lending agency, and crime syndicate. An ostentatious hierarchy of priests, enforcers, and ghostly councilors rules over a congregation of guilt-bound loyalists, indebted ghosts, and thrull servants. Should somebody be in debt to them, that person must work off their debt even beyond death. Many Orzhov guild members believe that their actions are necessary for making Ravnica the best it can be, and they are unscrupulous in their methods of seizing power. Most Ravnicans see the Orzhov as a corrupt organization, but many are attracted by promises of wealth, prestige, and longevity.

Their white flavor is exemplified by how they have a strong sense of tradition and community, reflected by the fact that they still partake in all of their ancient rituals and customs despite not worshiping any gods. It is also symbolized in how they hoard their wealth, but are shown to share with family members or close friends. Their black flavor can be seen in that they regularly deal with the dead, they never give to charity if they can help it, and continually violate the spirit of the law merely to meet their own ends.The Orzhov know also how to create thrulls out of remnants of past debtors.

Guild Leader: The Obzedat, the Ghost Council

The Orzhov guild is ruled by the Obzedat, a council of ghostly autocrats who have maintained their wealth and power even as they've shed their mortal forms. Members of the Obzedat are called the Deathless, as they have managed to cheat mortality, maintaining their consciousness (and their greed) beyond the threshold of death. Most of the Deathless appear as morbidly obese high priests or nobles, but sickly, pale, and ghostly in form. They are as paranoid and spiteful as dictators, often going out of their way to thwart ambitious underlings, crush rumormongers, and spy on potential enemies. They crave wealth, respect, and loyalty. The Obzedat rarely speak directly with those outside the guild; instead, they communicate through the official Grand Envoy, Teysa Karlov.

Guild Champion: Teysa, Grand Envoy of the Obzedat

The greedy, patriarchal ghosts of the Obzedat and the bickering leaders of the various cartels tend to be poor spokespeople for the Orzhov Syndicate. The human Teysa Karlov has taken a special, unprecedented position called "Grand Envoy," serving as the official speaker and ambassador for the members of the Obzedat ghost council. Once an advokist and lawmage who was instrumental in forging the current wording of the Guildpact, Teysa is now of middle age, her youthful resourcefulness streaked with wisdom and perspective. She has grown into her ambition well; her unique position allows her not only to express the will of the Deathless, but also to mold policy for her guild. While Teysa is not the official ruler of the guild, (the Obzedat still holds that position), many believe that to cross Teysa is to cross the entire Syndicate.


The Syndicate used to be presided over by a council of ghosts, the Obzedat, in Orzhova, the Church of Deals. Below the obzedat stood the olicharchs, elite families who have belonged to the Orzhov for generations, and the pontiffs (executive managers). Ministrants are the priests and practitioners of Orzhov's religion. This is the highest position anyone can hope to obtain without being born within the guild. On the same level stand the knights. who provide the muscle for collecting money on time and in an orderly fashion. The lowermost position in the guild is taken by the syndics (attorneys, advisors, accountants, couriers etc.). Borrowers are not part of the guild, but they can't escape their debt even after their death.

Unlike most churches, at Orzhova it's best to pray before you arrive

The Cartels

Reporting to the Obzedat is a web of competing cartels, which are the individually operating units of the Orzhov Syndicate. Each cartel claims different territories and markets across Ravnica, and each has its own internal hierarchy of priests, advokists (lawmages), enforcers, and others. Each cartel is ruled by a cardinal or kingpin whose role is somewhere between gang leader, bank manager, and high priest.

Even the darkest corners of Ravnica still lie in the shadow of the Church

Long lived

The high-ranking members of the Orzhov use magical means to extend their lives, but are mutated in many ways that they pass on to their offspring. For example, one of Teysa Karlov's legs is practically useless, and therefore she has been forced to use a walking cane since she learned to walk. Members of the Obzedat were called the Deathless, as they had managed to cheat mortality, maintaining their consciousness (and their greed) beyond the threshold of death. Most of the Deathless appeared as morbidly obese high priests or nobles, but sickly, pale, and ghostly in form. They craved wealth, respect, and loyalty.

Under the influence of Bolas

To boost their declining profits in an unstable economy, the Orzhov have begun offering "protection services", promising to shield their customers both from physical harm and fiscal disaster, with the underlying threat that those who refuse to pay will become targets of Orzhov's own thugs and enforcers. Lately, the planeswalker Kaya has taken control as guildmaster of Orzhov after taking down the Obzedat. She has done this at the behest of Nicol Bolas, in exchange for him helping her "troubled family". Despite Teysa warning against it, Kaya has been freeing people from the debt they owe the guild, particularly the bound ghosts.

"Time to let the dead be dead" - Kaya to Teysa
The decklist itself is pretty straight forward, I try to explain all the card choices I've made. If anything is not clear or you doubt I choice I've made I'd love to discuss it in the comments and love to see your angles on a certain card choice.

Also in my current meta easy combo's are a bit frowned upon, including by myself. Therefor I'm 99% sure I don't run any big combos in this deck, at least not actively. Some people do enjoy them and it would make it more competitive, it's just not my cup of tea.

I have organized this primer into custom categories in wich I see the roll per card. Later on we will talk about the following categories:

  • Lifegain The cards used to trigger Karlov's ability
  • Removal Taking care of the unwanted
  • Ramp Even tho in Orzhov we still use a few cards to get our mana accelation going
  • Bombs/Finishers Big guns to finish a game
  • Card Draw More cards in our hands is always a good thing
  • Tutors Tutors are cards that allow you to search/filter your deck for other cards
  • Protection Karlov will be a main target since he is a big threath, these cards will help protecting him.
  • Recursion Cards that get other cards back out of the graveyard
  • Evasion Cards that help let Karlov do damage to opponents

I have been playing magic for nealy 15 years now and I always have had a major weakspot for White and Black. Therefore I really wanted to play an Orzhov deck with mechanics that really represented the guild. In my opinion is Karlov the alternative for Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim especially if you don't want to go for the big lifegain and tokens. Wich a lot of other color combination can give you as well. The fact that Karlov focuses on small lifegain triggers and taxing other people really embraces the Orzhov spirit for me.
Karlov is considered a Tier 3 powerlevel commander or High Tier Powerlevel according to Commanders by Power Level [EDH Tier List]. In my opinion a prime example of a 75% deck. We can disrupt cEDH decks and just as well play with more casual based decks. That being said we do pack a whole range of removal and in my experience really casual decks don't do well against it.
  • You like B/W control
  • You like lifegain
  • You like looking after a lot of triggers going on
  • You like playing tempo
  • You like winning on commander damage
  • You like exiling creatures
  • You like doing your taxes every year
  • You don't like decks that centre around a commander
  • You hate paying attention to triggers
  • You feel lost when you dont have acces to blue
  • You don't like whiping the board or spotremoving threaths
  • You think taxes are useless
  • You like big dumb creatures
The bread and butter of our deck. Karlov does not care about big lifegain triggers like Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim does. Karlov want small lifegain triggers, lots of 'em. We are also not the kind of deck that does big things with our live total. See it as the taxes that come in the Orzhov Syndicate. The following list are the lifegain triggers I run in my deck. They are focused on triggering when you do something, in my opinion things that trigger once in your upkeep is way to slow and give opponents the chance of dealing with Karlov.
  • Aetherflux Reservoir 4 Coloroless mana to give lifegain on each spell we cast is pretty good. It's more in the style of Contemplation and Tablet of the Guilds . Even tho I do think the manacost of 4 is a bit high, I'm still convinced it's worth the mana.
  • Archangel of Thune Flying (evasion) and lifelink to trigger Karlov. We'll talk more about her later in bombs/finishers
  • Auriok Champion Gives us a live whenever a creature enters the battlefield, so also when opponents play creatures and in multiplayer that happes quite often. The build in protection from black and red is a bonus
  • Authority of the Consuls Very good to have in your opening hand, since it will land before Karlov enters in turn 2. It taxes our opponents by making their creatures entering the battlefield tapped and it gives a life whenever a creature enters on opponents side.
  • Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim She provides lifegain in a sac outlet. My creatures often get targeted by exile and therefor she is the ideal candidate to protect my guys against exile, gaining life in the progress
  • Blind Obedience Same category as card: Authority of the Counsuls but with extort. Wich will trigger quite often.
  • Blood Artist For now in the deck, still need to see how it performs.
  • Bloodchief Ascension Needs a bit of set up with attacking opponents, but if your meta plays fetches and shocks getting this at 3 won't be a problem. After that its drain 2 whenever a card hits the graveyard from anywhere on opponents side. Wich is ridiculous for only one mana.
  • Debt to the Deathless Lifegain, but more of a finisher card.
  • Exquisite Blood Much much better version of Sanguine Bond . Also is less annoying than Sanguine Bond since it does not do constant damage to everyone. Triggers on combat, fetches, shocks or opponents paying life. Best thing you don't have to do anything to trigger it.
  • High Market Sometimes you need that 1x lifegain to deal with a very troublesome situation. That's where High Market comes in. It's a emergency break if you really need to exile something. It also serves the role of protection our creatures from being exiled.
  • Kambal, Consul of Allocation Bane of control players aka The Taxman. He makes people pay, a lot. Most of the time not annoying enough for people to remove him, but he does so much work for you
  • Kaya, Orzhov Usurper She's on try out. I really wanna find out how she performs, but I think she might do okay
  • Loxodon Warhammer Tutorable by a lot of cards in the deck and provide big lifegain hits if needed.
  • Patron of the Kitsune Lifegain on attack with a 5/6 body to protect me when Karlov attacks.
  • Pristine Talisman My only mana rock, but the manarock for Karlov, since using it gives us one life
  • Serra Ascendant 6/6 lifelink flying for one mana, no brainer. More info in bombs/finishers
  • Shambling Vent If all else fails I can always make it into a creature and equip some equipments on it.
  • Soul's Attendant One of the 2 soul sisters. Whenever a creature enters (any creature) gives us a life triggers, insanely good.
  • Soul Warden The other soul sister. Does exactly the same as Soul's Attendant
  • Sunscorch Regent Everytime an opponents casts (!!!) something you gain one life, thank you very much
  • Suture Priest Taxing version of Soul Sisters. Does one damage when a creature enters on opponents side and gives a life when we enter a creature. Less good than the other 3, still very valuable.
  • Sword of Light and Shadow The fact that it gives 3 life on combat damage to a player is very nice, more on this piece in the other sections
  • Sword of War and Peace In my opinion less good than the Sword of Light and Shadow , but still a lifegain trigger on combat damage to an opponent.
  • Twilight Prophet Often gets removed, but if she survives a turn shes the whole package. Lifegain, draw and damage on a 2/4 flyer
  • Tymna the Weaver In this section she provides lifelink on a 2/2. You will rarely attack with her, but if an opponents is open she can trigger lifelink
  • Umezawa's Jitte Can do some preparation work for when Karlov enters. With only 4 counters on it, it can get Karlov live as soon as he hits the battlefield.
  • Tablet of the Guilds Little try out and boy does it work. Hardly anyone wants to spend their removal on this card cause most of the time its not worth it. It basically triggers everytime you play a spell

We play quite a lot of removal. This because we want to make sure to disrupt the opponent and to let Karlov get through. Since we don't have any acces to blue, we need to deal with things on the field.

  • Anguished Unmaking One of my favorite spot removals. At only 3 mana we can exile a nonland permanent. The lifeloss does not hurt us and the flexibility of this card is out of this world.
  • Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim She provides an exile on the moment she hits the field. 90% of the time we will be above 50 life. Almost all of our creatures are value, but expendable looking at the fact we run quite an amount of sustainable recursion
  • Bojuka Bog Removes the graveyard of target opponent
  • Damnation Standard boardwhipe that denies regeneration. Same as Wrath of God
  • Karlov of the Ghost Council Our main guy, every 6 +1/+1 counters he can exile a creature for only 2 mana. Let's face it, that's not really hard to get. Hits the board at only 2 mana.
  • Kaya, Orzhov Usurper There is some reanimation in our meta and she gives live while exiling cards from the Graveyard. I really wanna see how she performs.
  • Merciless Eviction Nothing says more "get the fuck out of here" as a well placed Merciless Eviction. Very flexible and it really gets permanents away, for good.
  • Path to Exile 1 mana removal at the cost of 1 basic land. Perfect
  • Return to Dust Most of the time it exiles 2 artifact/enchantments. But if needed can be cast as an instant.
  • Strip Mine Destroys a land
  • Swords to Plowshares Same as Path to Exile 1 mana exile.
  • Umezawa's Jitte We don't play this card for its removal, but the fact that it can give creature -1/-1 until end of turn per counter used. It proves to be very flexible.
  • Utter End Weaker version of Anguished Unmaking , but still it deals with any nonland permanent
  • Vindicate 3 mana to take care of ANY permanent including Lands is amazing!
  • Wrath of God Granddaddy of boardwhipes, no reason not to play it. Quick reset of the board.
We don't play a lot of ramp, since our curve is quite low. Next to that it's mostly fixing of mana than it is ramp. Never had the feeling that i had too little of it. Ofcourse if needed you can always run more mana rocks.
We play a few cards that make a big impact on either the boardstate or on someone's life total. Some need a bit of set up other enable Karlov, but most of them have the ability to finish the game.
  • Aetherflux Reservoir After long consideration it made the cut again. A bit for the chance to finish someone off at once. But mostly for the lifegain. Rarely I go so much above 50 life to comfortable kill a player off while there are still other players in the game. But late game and if there is just me and another player left it's an insta win if I'm above 50. Also it's a bit of a political tool as well.
  • Ajani, Caller of the Pride If Karlov hits 12 (wich he does quite easy, it will mean lethal.
  • Archangel of Thune With all the lifegaining goin on, Card: Archangel of Tune has the ability to finish games without Karlov. She buffs all the tiny lifegivers and otherwise she is a 3/4 body that grows quite fast.
  • Crested Sunmare Another powerhouse, the ability to give us 5/5 horses at EACH end step and make them indestructible is quite good. Even if the Crested Sunmare gets removed it will still provide us with quite some beaters
  • Debt to the Deathless Such an amazing card, especially with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Cabal Coffers it's game ending
  • Karlov of the Ghost Council ofcourse our commander has to be on this list as well. Karlov gets big surprisingly fast and with evasion can swing in for lethal in 1-2 turns.
  • Regna, the Redeemer Back in the deck again, provides protection for Karlov again sac effects and she provides sac fodder for Ayli.
  • Sanguine Bond A finisher in combination with some pieces in this deck, otherwise straight up damage whenever we gain life
  • Serra Ascendant One of the most OP early drops. In commander it is a 6/6 flying lifelink from turn 1. It starts hitting in turn 2. It has won games for me.
  • Sunscorch Regent An amazing 5 drop, get crazy big in one round and while getting big he triggers Karlov everytime an opponents casts a spell. Has evasion on board and hits like a truck.
B/W has very good options for card draw and often come close to the explosiveness that blue has. Often there is life involved in the bargain we make with Dark Forces for extra cards, but we balance this out with all the lifegain. This is also the category where most of the changes happen, since im always testing out different draw cards.
  • Dawn of Hope Card draw for 2 mana whenever you gain life
  • Greed Straight up value in our deck. 1 mana + 2 life for one card.
  • Necropotence By far THE best draw spell in commander, the fact that you can completely refill your hand at the cost of 1 life per card is retarded. Every deck that has acces to black needs to run this card.
  • Phyrexian Arena Most of the time free draw at the draw step, since the lifeloss is being compensated.
  • Twilight Prophet Extra card draw every time that comes with a drain effect.
  • Tymna the Weaver She does so much work. Every time you damage an opponent through combat damage you can pay 1 life per opponent to draw 1 card per life. Really good.
  • Well of Lost Dreams Draw when you gain life. It's what our deck does
We play black, we have acces to the best tutors in the game. Looking for answers is not really a problem in our color combination.
Since we are in a way a Voltron deck and we really really want to protect our beloved Karlov (as well as other pieces) we run quite a lot of protection cards. Some of these cards have a double role and will be explained in the Evasion section.
Every Black and White deck runs it. Recursion. Often creaturebased. We run the following cards to get our guys back.
  • Karmic Guide Oh boy, this guy does a lot of work. The echo cost doesn't matter. No one pays it, but the fact that we return a creature from our graveyard straight to battlefield from is really good.
  • Phyrexian Reclamation At 2 mana and a bit of life really good to get creatures back to your hand. One of my favorite recursion cards in magic.
  • Reveillark With almost 10+ targets to hit, all of wich crucial lifegain pieces. He is too much value not to run.
  • Sun Titan Gets permanents back to the field, so a lot of option to choose from. Nice target for Karmic Guide
  • Sword of Light and Shadow Gives us a creature back to our hand on combat damage to a player
  • Volrath's Stronghold Crazy good recursion on a land slot. If you have it, run it.
Like I said before a lot of the protection cards serve a double role. Cause with the right color protection Karlov can't be blocked and can often swing in for letal with commander damage.
Karlov needs a bit experience to be piloted. It is definitely not your typical Gruul/Green deck where you just stomp opponents. As with blue you are constantly busy with threath assessment, but in our case we take care of permanents on the battlefield. Our removal is plenty, but limited and you constantly have to asses if the boardwhipe is worth it. Next to that, people don't like their creatures being exiled. Therefor when Karlov hits the table you are instantly a threath.

Next to controlling the battlefield we like to take our opponents out one by one with commander damage. Karlov hits like a truck and only need 21 to take someone out.

If all else fails we have plenty of other big beaters and spells that can end the game.

  • Mana fixing. We only need 2 mana to cast Karlov.
  • Drop a early lifegainer. Early game Karlov + for example a Soul's Attendant give Karlov a flying almost unstoppable start. 2 lifegainers is almost game winning. Also early game protection is vital, Mother of Runes , Lightning Greaves or Eight-and-a-Half-Tails . Early game people will still have their removal and Karlov is a juicy target to remove. Protect him at all cost or just cast him again for 4 mana.
  • This is where Karlov shines. Try taking out opponents with commander damage. Protect Karlov and try to control the field with Karlovs ability and other spells we run. This is the time where we want to take at least 1-2 opponents out, we are no battlecruiser and going into late game against 3 opponents is bad news for us.
    If Karlov is still castable, cast him and protect him. Keep controlling the board by exiling creatures. Otherwise try other bombs like Archangel of Thune to drag the game in. We are not the best deck to go really late game, but it is possible to win.
    We are quite easy happy with our hands, 2-3 lands with at least 1 black and 1 white is a good start. Maybe some removal and definitely a cheap lifegainer. Try to avoid greedy hands with heavy drops. We want a quick start.
    This section can be found below at the updates. All changes i'll make I will explain in that section.
    This section will be hosting a list of cards where I'm still in doubt off.
    • Faith's Reward As a backup Teferi's Protection
    • Resplendent Angel I still don't have a copy to playtest. The 5 life seems a bit high to get with just my triggers. So this will mean that I'm gonna spend 5 mana per turn to activate the Angel. Still in doubt on it.
    • Tainted Strike I've played it, my playgroup frowns upon it. So for now it will stay on the possible addition list.
    • Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle I'm intrigued by this card. The fact that it triggers on 23 things I cast in my deck (including an easy castable Karlov) and that it resolves on cast gives me the feeling it would work really well. Next to this I have about 12 (13 including Karlov) creatures I could revive with it, including all my precious lifegivers.
    • Dark Confidant Really good card draw at the cost of life, not sure if my lifegain keeps up to cover it
      Right now we have about 4 cards that I consider my flex slots. These are the following:
    • Patron of the Kitsune Try out if it's word the heavy mana investment.
    • Kaya, Orzhov Usurper Up till now she actually performed quite decent. Resulting in disruption of Graveyard Decks like card: Muldrotha, the Grave Tide and actually gaining me life in the proces. And for 3 mana she seems to be on her powerlevel. Still more testing is needed.
    • All of the Sorin's. They same good on paper, with lifelink and making tokens. But I have tried them all. They all lacked making the impact I like my planeswalkers to make.
    • Test of Endurance / Felidar Sovereign They hardly see the next round to give me the win. Next to that the "i win" effects often feel right.
    • Mana Crypt I have one, foil, but it's in my Krenko's Command deck. And thanks to the price of the card I'm not playing it in this one.
    • Pontiff of Blight Don't get me wrong, I love the Pontiff, but if only he was 5 mana instead of his 6. It doesnt sound a lot, but often it prevents you from doing 2 things in one turn or having enough mana open to activate Karlov. He's just too expensive for what he does

    Thank you

    First of all I would like to thank you for taking your time to read the primer and hopefully it will help you in finding new ideas for card: Karlov of the Ghost Counsil. This is the first primer I have written so any feedback is more than welcome!

    Also a special thanks to Oksnor for listening to my endless stream of ideas for tuning Karlov and helping me with making possible cuts or additions. Great deckbuilder and really worth the effort to check his decks.

    Ofcourse I don't know all of the cards (I know a lot of them) so I would love to discuss cards/the primer/strategy in the comment section. I'm almost daily on this website, so it won't take to long before I respond!

    Press here for a +1 upvote, it's much appreciated

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    Updates Add

    After an evening of playing and constantly walking into the problem of running out of cards, I decided to make one more swap. Taking Exsanguinate out, wich serves as a finisher in plan B. The choice between keeping Debt to the Deathless and not Exsanguinate , is a personal flavor choice.

    I put Well of Lost Dreams back in, not that I'm a super fan of it, it's quite mana heavy. But we have no better options in Orzhov and I'm not a huge fan of the one off cards like Ancient Craving they are good, but for a multiplayer commander game they always feel like they are not returning enough for the spot.


    In: +1 Well of Lost Dreams

    Out: -1 Exsanguinate


    27% Casual

    73% Competitive

    Top Ranked
    Date added 9 months
    Last updated 6 months
    Exclude colors URG

    This deck is Commander / EDH legal.

    Cards 100
    Avg. CMC 2.94
    Tokens 5/5 Horse, 2/2 Cat, None Treasure, 1/1 Warrior, 1/1 Soldier, 1/1 City's Blessing
    Folders My decks, Deck Research, Deck ideas, Interesting Decks, Awesome decks, EDH Practice, Bookmarked CMDR, Deck Ideas, the deck list, Postfetch EDH Decks
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    Revision 18 See all

    6 months ago)

    +1 Well of Lost Dreams main
    -1 Exsanguinate main