Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts; art by Karla Ortiz
Orzhov is the white-black guild from Ravnica, dedicated to the collection of wealth and power. The dead lords of Orzhov exact their taxes of gold and lives from their basilicas, while their pawns enforce their will across Ravnica. Your challenge this week is to design a card for the Orzhov guild. It must be white and/or black, though it can be any card type except for legendary (as legendary is reserved only for the guild leaders themselves).
The Long Game
Fitting their nature, Orzhov’s trademark ability is bleeding away the life and gold of its enemies. Cards which drain life, either directly as with Douse in Gloom or more indirectly as with Gift of Orzhova giving a creature lifelink, would fit perfectly with Orzhov. As would cards that tax the opponent, either via mana like Soul Tithe, by controlling the cards in the opponent’s hand like Sin Collector or Castigate, or any other effect which helps chip away at an opponent’s resources and options, like Conjurer’s Ban.
Sacrificing others also comes naturally to Orzhov. After all, what other purpose do pawns serve? Of course, the only thing better than having pawns to sacrifice is having more pawns to sacrifice. Though rather than making more token creatures like Selesnya might, Orzhov prefers to recycle its creatures, either returning them from the graveyard to the battlefield, or exiling cards from graveyard for extra effect after putting them there in the first place. Any card you design which can sacrifice creatures for an effect, or which returns creature cards from the graveyard to the battlefield to be sacrificed again would fit perfectly. Or you could go the other way, designing a creature which players are happy to sacrifice, either because it has a death trigger or because the main value is an enter-the-battlefield trigger.
Of course, your pawns are yours to play with, no one else’s. Orzhov may not actively protect its servants, but anyone who messes with a member of Orzhov should be prepared to deal with the consequences. High Priest of Penance is the perfect example of this, a weak creature which is guaranteed to exact its revenge if an opponent damages it. This spiteful streak continues with cards like Hissing Miasma and Executioner’s Swing which punish players for even deigning to attack the Orzhov. Really, there’s a wide range of designs available which play with Orzhov’s spiteful nature. Any design which punishes the opponent for messing with either you or your permanents
Death and Taxes Finally Meet
Orzhov’s first mechanic is haunt, which exiles a card haunting a creature, copying that card’s effect when the haunted creature dies. In short, do not worry about designing a card with haunt. It is deeply flawed, and Mark Rosewater has even called it his greatest disappointment among all of the original Ravnica mechanics.
Orzhov’s second mechanic, extort, allows a player to drain 1 life from each opponent with each spell cast. It’s a pretty flexible mechanic, at home on both more defensive creatures where it can drain a lot of life over the course of a long game as well as on more efficient creatures with evasion, where extort helps keep up early game pressure and helps win races. As for designing cards which help support extort, the easiest designs will trigger from gaining life, or from the opponent losing life. Going one step further, support cards could also help keep a steady supply of spells to trigger extort, for example by returning cards from the graveyard to hand or trading life for cards.
My design this week began with the idea of combining death and taxes. So, each time one of the opponent’s creatures dies, that player loses some life. I also added the trigger to gain life whenever one of a player’s own creatures dies to give the card some nice symmetry, as well as to make it more appealing to control decks. Overall, it’s a card designed to help control decks gain incremental advantages over time, as well as to help more tempo-based decks race more effectively, functioning similarly to the extort mechanic.
Well, I’m eager to see what designs all of you come up, there’s plenty to explore with Orzhov. Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas to start with. Until next time, may your pawns serve you dutifully.