Of the many places we begin when we build decks, one of my favorites is inspiring artwork. As a writer and storyteller, the ability to understand, appreciate, and communicate what is compelling has become very important to me, and its influence is paramount in most of my favorite deck designs.
As Magic has grown in popularity, we have become increasingly spoiled with amazing card art, and Licia is no exception. Even if you aren’t an artist yourself, any person can connect to the energy spent to create something, and that energy can be an incredible jump-start for a deck-builder.
What’s great about Licia’s art is that we can feel not just one story, but a lifetime of stories – the sort of weathering and indifference that comes with immortality and fighting. It is the timelessness and unique contrast of the lonely vampire soldier that helped me craft an exciting build for Licia.
Obviously, the art was the catalyst, but the card itself is equally compelling. I have a lot of experience with Necropotence and pay-to-play Mono-Black decks, and I like leveraging my life total as a resource to accrue card advantage. Drawing more cards has helped effectively replace tutor effects, so I can increase the variance in my decks while maintaining high levels of fun.
Although having a familiar plan is a nice comfort, Licia’s mana cost reduction presented a question I couldn’t pass up: How many times could I cast Licia for RWB? And more importantly, could I do so consistently and effectively?
I began building Licia hoping to maximize tribal interactions, but realized quickly that I wouldn’t be flooding the board with vampires or soldiers. Instead, I chose to focus on Licia as the deck’s primary threat. This would let me take advantage of the popular “lonely vampire” trope while giving myself a fun deck-building challenge: going creatureless!
The themes were starting to cohere into a solid design, but there were still some functional considerations. Although Wrath effects can help mitigate our need to play creatures, we still needed a few fun, non-Licia things to do with this life-gaining, life-paying, creatureless monstrosity.
Ultimately, our plan is to set up life-gain investments to offset our life-paying costs in order to cast Licia. Attacking with Licia represents a powerful, aggressive threat that will win if our opponents don’t deal with her quickly.
In addition to supporting the deck as threat and functional life-gain support, Licia also helps to grind resources and progress the game to points where we can set up a few nice tricks: either a powerful card draw via Ad Nauseam or a combo finish with Scepter/Throne/Crown of Empires or Approach of the Second Sun.
Early in design, I had to break the creatureless restriction for Gerrard Capashen, and it’s turned out to be a very good decision. Having another high-investment life-gain card like Venser’s Journal was too good to pass up. With his soldier creature type and his iconic visage, I felt Gerrard was justified in the sort of intangible story theme I’d created (not to mention, he’s a bit of an old relic, too!). I also added Crested Sunmare and the classic Sengir Vampire once I broke the restriction, though the latter didn’t make the final cut.
Ultimately, the deck’s two key cards are Ad Nauseam and Alhammarret’s Archive. Ad Nauseam is a lot less all-in than it typically is in Maralen Storm Combo decks. Most decks usually pay 10-15 life on average, netting anywhere between 5-10 cards. In Licia, we can reasonably pay 25-30 life, netting 7-13 cards, even if we’re not desperate, because we can gain some of that back once we untap. Alhammarret’s Archive is a big source of incremental life-gain, but even spending four life on removal spells like Solemn Offering is a good move for us.
Even our backup plans have backups, and Assemble the Legion is a really nice Plan C. Not only does it help us put creatures on the board, but the fact that they’re soldiers is very convenient.
With so many important spells that cost five mana, Brainspoil is not only a valuable removal spell, but a very important tutor. The suite of options provide us with access to basically whatever we want to get, putting several different clocks on the game. We can grab Ad Nauseam for a huge draw. We can grab Increasing Ambition for either the Empires combo, or Approach of the Second Sun. Or we can grab Assemble the Legion or Alhammarret’s Archive, for a threat or extra value.
Despite the chance for quick starts, this is definitely a casual deck with potential. Even in optimal lists, I don’t see casting Licia consistently until turn five or six, and I question the consistency of infect and/or all-in Voltron strategies, especially without haste or protection.
In a vacuum, winning with Licia is significantly easier. Without creatures, this deck may need more ways to protect her, and I’m not entirely sure what the best cards are for this purpose. Kindred Boon effects seem okay, but I think I would prefer Apostle’s Blessing-type cards for the potential of exploring an Isochron Scepter package.
Overall, I see this deck in a good space to test at the kitchen table. With enough utility, you’ll see enough of the deck to know if it fits your needs, or those of your playgroup.
Header design: Justin Treadway
Header image: “Licia, Sanguine Tribune” by Magali Villeneuve
For most of his Magic-playing life, Aaron has been playing and writing about Commander. One of the few mono-colored players in a gold-bordered world, Aaron enjoys the challenges of creating meaningful, memorable games, as well as the excitement that comes with engaging underrated cards as he explores the format’s uncharted territory. A disciplined deckbuilder with over 200 lists to his name, Aaron has spent the past several years creating content about his favorite format.