Dear Azami – Dear Olivia!

This week’s Dear Azami has Sean editing an Olivia Voldaren Commander deck–this Legend has been making splashes in a lot of formats lately! How will this deck turn out?

Hi Sean,
I figured I’d try resubmitting my Olivia deck for your weekly column, since you’re okay writing about Black commanders again, :-).

The deck has undergone several changes since the last version I sent you, and is now less tribally-focused and much better (IMO, anyway).

Since I’ve done poorly at every PTQ I’ve played this season, I’ve been able to get a lot of 2- and 3-player games under my belt and have won the vast majority of them, which leads me to believe that I’m on the right track.

Here’s an updated list, which you can also find in my Google Docs spreadsheet (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AmykLfPf99BLdElpWHl5Mm01Y1hYQ0hXTzROM053T1E&hl=en_US#gid=3), along with cards I’ve recently cut/added and am thinking about adding in future.

My initial comments re: colored mana and number of mana sources still apply, but I’ve largely redefined this deck as more mid-range and less tribal, so I’m less conflicted on that than before.

I’d love to hear your feedback on the deck, so please feature it in your article, :-).


Olivia Voldaren
Test deck on 12-11-2011

Hi Luis, it’s my pleasure to tell you that you have been selected for this week. 🙂

Rather than reference an old email, can I just ask you for your Top 5 favorite and Bottom 5 / most questionable additions at this point?

Awesome, :-).

Here are my top/bottom picks:

Top-5 favorite (not necessarily the most powerful)
1. Bloodline Keeper: not just good in Limited! This was a recent addition and has always dominated the board whenever it’s in play; there aren’t always good ways of dealing with it since it’s Black.
2. Army of the Damned: besides being insanely cool/fun/flavorful, the first time I cast it I got to draw 14 cards on my next upkeep with my Graveborn Muse (though I admittedly then had to cycle Decree of Pain to avoid dying on my next turn!).
3. Mimic Vat: there are so many awesome things you can imprint in the format, and it always causes headaches for opponents. It’s a frequent tutor target.
4. Void: it’s not hard to get this to hit multiple annoying permanents in 3+ player games, and getting to hit someone’s hand is just gravy. One of the only ways I have of dealing with artifacts (which may be something that needs remedying).
5. Makeshift Mannequin: I just added it to the deck, so it hasn’t come up much yet, but it’s been a pet card of mine since Conley Woods‘ old Jund Mannequin deck, where I fell in love.

Bottom-5 (not necessarily the weakest)
1. Oversold Cemetery: I know this is good from playing it back in the day, but it’s not always easy to trigger and is obviously hurt by commonly-played graveyard hate. Maybe it’s better to replace it and have no purely graveyard dependent cards (Living Death still Wraths, Profane Command still has other modes, etc.).
2. Skeletal Vampire: I wonder if this is too underpowered for Commander, despite being a good mana sink and creature-generator. It’s a shame that he makes Bats and not Vampires.
3. Taurean Mauler: I’ve struggled with this card, since I know it can get big very quickly in multiplayer games, but he’s just a dude that doesn’t do anything special so perhaps it needs to get the axe.
4. Vampire Nocturnus/Mephidross Vampire (tie): now that I’m less tribally-focused, I’m not sure these cards are worth it; I’ll frequently have non-Vamps in play (making Nocturnus less effective) and only have a few cards that make me want to have all Vamps in play (Bloodline Keeper, Nocturnus).
5. Avatar of Woe: this has always been stuck in my hand when I draw it, and I’ve yet to cast it for BB; maybe I’ve just been unlucky? I’ve considered replacing it with Visara, which will always cost 6.

The short list of cards I’m considering adding to the deck (* = cards I don’t own):
Nirkana Revenant* (this deck is very mana hungry!)
Sword of Feast and Famine (too much equipment already?)
Balthor the Defiled*
Geth, Lord of the Vault* (this seemed awesome in Herman’s Olivia deck, and I got to use its ability with my Necrotic Ooze!)
Beacon of Unrest

Other cards I’ve considered cutting (besides the Bottom-5 mentioned above):
Falkenrath Noble (too cute?)
Wild Ricochet (I’ve seen it be awesome but I’ve also had it stuck in hand)
Tresserhorn Sinks/Sulfurous Springs/Shadowblood Ridge (are there better B/R land options?)
Mutavault (is the 2/2 worth running a non-spectacular colorless land?)

Happy to answer any other questions that would be helpful!


I have been meaning to get to Olivia for some time; I even went and picked up a Blood Crypt and Badlands to go along with my earnest intentions to assemble her as a new Commander deck for my own playtime. I’ve sort of fallen headfirst into Occupy Wall Street, and that’s fine for why I haven’t built my own, but it doesn’t make me any less interested in seeing yours and where we can go with it.

I don’t think Olivia Voldaren really wants to be vampire-tribal. There are no clear benefits to doing so, and trying to shoehorn that tribal theme in leads to picking some cards that aren’t really fitting here. Olivia is good at controlling the creatures on the board, provided enough mana to work with, so we’ll be chasing the theme of ‘getting your mana on the cheap’ and ‘grind-y control deck.’ I love me a nice, grind-y control deck in Commander, after all, and Olivia seems like she would be exceptionally good at the job. What you supplement her with, then, will depend on what you think it takes to do the job.

First off, you had a question about the mana. Mutavault doesn’t seem worth it, to me, and in fact I’ll go one further and say I am not in love with your Wasteland — the easy answer is it’d be better as a Strip Mine, but I’ll go even further and say I like this better as just Dust Bowl to work with, given the spirit you want to be playing with (and the fact that I will be adding a Crucible of Worlds to your decklist — the joys of knowing your budget is literally unlimited, thanks to the fact that I have actually seen your closet full of cards and the binder with the Moxes in it…). I don’t love Volrath’s Stronghold, either, but I won’t turn it out of bed for eating cookies either, and we’ll settle for trying to make your mana-base that little bit better you want it to be, and go from there.

Tresserhorn Sinks and Sulfurous Spring weren’t really doing it for you, but you have just the single solitary fetchland — Bloodstained Mire. Now, I know that Polluted Delta has a black and blue watermark on it, but the fun rule of Commander is that it needs to actually have a mana symbol on it somewhere for it to break the color identity rules, and the fact of the matter is that Polluted Delta is perfectly playable in your R/B deck and can fetch your Blood Crypt or Badlands with aplomb. Following through on the fact that you have one Mountain but many Swamps, we’ll only add the fetchlands that can fetch basic Swamp, since there is the hope that you will be able to reuse this effect with Crucible of Worlds and Arid Mesa runs out of targets for you very quickly.

+1 Polluted Delta, +1 Marsh Flats, +1 Verdant Catacomb

Looking at the other land options, you wanted to improve your R/B dual lands, and in addition to adding more fetchlands you can also add Tainted Peak to get easy access to another solid R/B dual land. Your mana-base is designed to have Swamps very easily, so this will always just tap for your choice of red or black mana, and I am not convinced that Shadowblood Ridge isn’t good enough for the deck — yes, it stinks for casting Gatekeeper of Malakir on turn three unless you also draw the Graven Cairns, but in almost every other scenario it will be pulling its weight by coming into play untapped and fixing your colors right.

Adding the other nonbasic lands I think you need to go with Olivia’s design choices, Thawing Glaciers is a very obvious addition, as yet another way to get to the higher reaches of mana for a relatively low card investment. Kher Keep is a low-cost addition that can have a very high impact, especially in a deck with Skullclamp, and Winding Canyons you have to play to understand but once you do, you’ll just get it. Your commander controls the board for enemy creatures, and being able to play her at instant speed is another awesome control mechanism that is well worth including.

+1 Kher Keep, +1 Thawing Glaciers, +1 Winding Canyons, +1 Tainted Peak

Four cuts were identified, and worse yet you’re a little mana-laden, so I want to cut one of your 39 land slots and replace it with another spell, and that means four have to go. Those four are all basic Swamp, but considering you’re replacing those with thaws and fetches you shouldn’t notice any lack of basic Swamp access.

Moving on to the next round of cuts, I took a harsh look at your spells and creatures, and took some of them out back to beat them with clubs. Some of these are even sacred cows — I don’t believe that Lightning Greaves is an auto-include in every Commander deck, for example, and don’t think it adds a truly new or unique element to your deck even if it is a good card. And just because I felt guilty at adding the hyper-expensive Sword of Fire and Ice to Aaron’s Konda deck doesn’t mean I will fail to cut it from your deck, when it is not in fact the right Sword you are looking for.

The lady doth protest too much. She wants to be equipped with a Sword of Feast and Famine, and your mana untapping to use her ability over and over again will thank you for listening to her.

Cutting Away At Your Noncreature Spells:

Lightning Greaves — Sacred cows are delicious. Your position as a controlling deck won’t really benefit you by adding Lightning Greaves, as the most ‘controlling’ part of it to you is the shroud that prevents your Commander disappearing to a pinpoint removal spell, not the haste it is most commonly included for. Slowing down, and playing more tactically, is what you want to be building for instead, or maybe just playing things a turn faster.

Coalition Relic — A solid card, sure, but you can do better than this.

Sword of Fire and Ice — The most expensive Sword is not always the right one.

Oversold Cemetery — As you noted, this wasn’t really working for you, so it gets the axe for a card that is less prone to spontaneously disappearing on you at awkward moments.

Profane Command — Not actually a controlling sort of card, given how much you have to spend in Commander to really kill a meaningful creature with this. A two-for-one is good, and this “can” end the game in one fatal blow, but that doesn’t mean it, ahem, “will.”

Reckless Spite — I remember this card being awesome, and not minding paying the life is on your agenda, but you can get other benefits out of your pinpoint removal than ‘a two-for-one’ and we’ll be looking for something that fits more with your role as a control deck and shores up your weaknesses.

Wild Ricochet — Another underperformer to be lit up on the barbeque.

Bituminous Blast — Another suspected underperformer, given the fact that there are a fair number of things you can Cascade into that are frankly a waste and the pinpoint removal part isn’t actually that impressive in the first place.

Sorin Markov — Too expensive as removal, and building towards a Mindslaver is something that people in Commander just don’t really let you do. The question, then, is: does it advantage you to set someone’s life total to ten? Not really, in a control deck, so he kind of gets in the way of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Reaching for their replacements, then, you’ll start to see how the deck is designing itself a little differently. You have a solid focus on comes-into-play effects that is worth keeping your eye on, and we’ll pursue the intersection between reanimation, replaying cards, and comes-into-play effects as our ‘tribe’ as it were. It’s not a straight-line ‘linear’ quite like ‘vampires matter!’ is direct and to-the-point, but you’ll be better rewarded for a theme that plays well in games instead of just being able to say ‘it shops at Hot Topic.’

Armillary Sphere — High impact? Not in the least. Consistent card advantage? Got it in one. It’s a card that fixes your colors (thanks to your including the one basic Mountain) and provides two mana very consistently, unlike Coalition Relic which provides two mana explosively but tends to disappear the first time a board wipe comes around. Board wipes being fairly inevitable, Armillary Sphere will help keep those Insurrections and Army flashbacks within your price range.

Mana CryptCoalition Relic on crack. If the idea of going from three to six on turn for excites you, imagine going from 1-4 right to 3-6 on turns one through four instead. Bonkers ridiculous, and the occasional damage you take is well worth it… an early Mana Crypt is even more ‘you’re winning’ than an early Sol Ring is, you can take the hits because the game still will have you out in the lead.

Sword of Feast and Famine — The mana multiplier of choice for Olivia to attack with, and the Sword of greatest interest to you after accounting for the recursion-providing Light and Shadow’s obvious benefits.

Crucible of Worlds — Add fetchland, break mana ceiling. Between fetchlands, your light LD package of Dust Bowl and potentially Vesuva, and the fact that you have your own Urborg/Coffers combo that the opponents will be trying to break up, Crucible of Worlds will do a lot of heavy lifting for you, helping you get a lot of mana and then keep it once you have it.

Erratic Portal — An old favorite of mine from back when you could still play Emrakul, but just as good in your deck with its focus on comes-into-play effects, especially since it is just a strong card for defending your own resources with turn after turn. Another grind-y little card that helps build up incremental advantage, one of my favorite things to do in Commander and something I know for a fact you love as well, Luis Not-Vargas.

Sensei’s Divining Top — The question is not whether you missed this, but whether there was an intentional reason why you didn’t include the Top. Barring actual mention that you were going Topless for a reason, we’ll be adding the Divining Top back in.

Grim Harvest — Such a beautiful little grind-y card, so hard to stop with countermagic and so good with a controlling shell in a black deck. One of my notorious favorites in the format, and one that will serve you well.

Necromancy — So you say your favorite cards included warm, fuzzy memories of Makeshift Mannequin… how about this potentially pure upgrade? Played at sorcery speed it’s just a mana cheaper for a pure reanimation spell that can target anyone’s graveyard, with the vulnerability being that the life of the creature is tied to the life of the enchantment instead of ‘don’t target me please.’ As an instant, well, you’ll still get a lot of the same bang — how long does your average creature with a Mannequin counter on it live in Commander anyway? — but have more targets to work with, plus that one-mana-off discount still remains. Why play one copy of your favorite card, when you can play two?

Ricochet Trap — The main reason Wild Ricochet gets stuck in the hand is because you are looking for good targets but don’t necessarily have four mana to keep open. Ricochet Trap is still darn good against Time Stretch, as it were, and is so much easier to keep mana open for it’s absurd. Not quite as good as Imp’s Mischief, since it won’t always cost one, but quite strong regardless.

Snuff Out — A duplicate copy of Slaughter Pact, under the belief that the way your deck will be playing out is sort of as a tap-out control deck, where you are throwing a lot of haymakers and are not necessarily keeping your mana untapped reactively in the middle of the game but might still want to be able to answer problem cards that come up. Snuff Out complements this theme nicely, since you’re tapped out and thus need only be able to spare the life points, and when that isn’t especially important can pay the mana.

Moving on to the creature spells, the Vampire tribal theme just isn’t panning out for you, and we’ll try to work in some          solid replacements that should smooth over how the deck is playing out.

Creature cuts:

Bloodghast — Not enough bang for your buck.

Taurean Mauler — A good deal on size-to-mana ratio, but that is not actually what you’re trying to accomplish, so the only other benefits is ‘counts as a Samurai’ on this quasi-Vampire.

Falkenrath Noble — Cute, but not necessarily effective.

Vampire Nocturnus — The question is whether Vampire tribal is actually a benefit to you. Even with Sensei’s Divining Top in the deck, the answer is sadly no.

Malakir Bloodwitch — Included as a Vampire tribal linear, that happens to scale very nicely in multiplayer. Still not that solid, not even with the words “gain twelve life” stapled to it.

Mephidross Vampire — Under-performs, in that it interacts with so very few of your cards and provides only a very small benefit.

Skeletal Vampire — I am sad to cut Batman, too, but cut Batman we shall. I’ve been happy to include him in the past, when the card fit the deck, but in yours it’s a mismatch.

Avatar of Woe — Under-performer. I’ve liked the Avatar, too, but concur that the alternate casting cost doesn’t come up quite often enough to make it worthwhile, and you have a better board control element designed to be in place by the time you’re spending eight or more mana.

Filling in some of these slots is easy, given that I see more ways to rock out with the themes you are already chasing, and can see a few things you really want to include just from a purely tactical standpoint. The last few cards, though, those are included for the joy of the thing, and should help fill the remainder of the deck’s tools and tricks out nicely.

Myojin of Night’s Reach — I have already written a love letter to this card, more or less, in those first few articles of strategy I worked on before settling into the deck-doctor formula Dear Azami now has. Myojin of Night’s Reach is still ideal just at breaking up unpleasant combinations lurking in people’s hands, and scrumming hard with the kinds of folks who don’t like to play a lot of permanents for you to blow up. Covering your weaknesses is just as important as playing to your strengths, and Myojin of Night’s Reach does that expertly.

Nirkana Revenant, Geth, Lord of the Vault — Two excellent creatures you were keeping nearby on the bench, and had only excluded for the cardinal sin of not being born in a cape with pointy teeth. With Batman and Mephidross off the team, these can take their spots happily.

Nezumi Graverobber — Part graveyard control, part reanimating powerhouse, and not hard at all to flip if you try to.

Keldon Vandals — Pinpoint artifact removal, that is even so convenient enough as to place itself neatly in the graveyard if you want it to so you can reuse it with Grim Harvest or Sword of Light and Shadow, and happens to also be the right size to off itself with Skullclamp should it be so inclined. Another riff on the comes-into-play theme that we’re amplifying in your deck, and another way to deal with key problems of the noncreature variety.

Discordant Spirit — Welcome to the wonderful, weird world of old multiplayer cards. This Mirage-era gem is a mere 2/2 for 4… one more mana even than the Taurean Mauler that we ended up cutting. However, unlike the Taurean Mauler that grows large and just asks for a removal spell because there is nothing you can do about it, Discordant Spirit helps to discourage the opponents from attacking you in the first place and (on defense) makes it harder for any subsequent attacks to get through without significant losses from the attacker. A little light on power (let’s face it, in the modern era there would be no hesitation whatsoever to give this creature trample) but still a nice tool to play with.

Deathbringer Thoctar — One of Sheldon’s favorites, and one I think you’ll appreciate giving a try. It’s like a Goblin Sharpshooter on crack, that gets to save up those pings for a rainy day (or just to attack people in the face with them first). Another high-power way to complement Olivia’s abilities, as well as just being solid cardboard for Commander.

Ogre Arsonist — Yes, Avalanche Riders is a little easier, but I started to get worried about the number of 2/2 or smaller creatures in the deck. For one extra mana up front you lose the echo, which admittedly was argued to be a point in Keldon Vandals’ favor, and swap the haste for a permanent +1/+1. You can lose the echo and haste at the same time if you want to play Ravenous Baboons, and keep the size upgrade (as well as the option to jump in the graveyard easily!) if you want to play Faultgrinder, but for this particular slot I wanted to meet it somewhere in the middle… the temptation was not to reach for the Arsonist but to go further in a worse direction and pack Detritivore, a card which frankly makes no one any friends. Ogre Arsonist has the right cost and better stats, as well as providing that extra little bit of targeted land destruction capability (and allows for recursion!) that was lost when Wasteland was pulled from the mana-base.

Putting it all together, you have a nice little bundle of comes-into-play abilities as well as a good team of fighters in general, and the ability for strange and interesting things to happen — after all, what if your Deathbringer Thoctar is dead, granting the ‘remove a counter’ ability to your Necrotic Ooze, and something else juicy appears that happens to let you gain counters? Copper-Leaf Angel, Feral Hydra, Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter… I can think of a few cards I’ve seen in play recently that can lead to amusing shenanigans with your Necrotic Ooze that you might not even have intended. You have a more controlling view of the game, as well as a clearer focus on the tempo of the game and the style of card advantage you are most interested in gaining — repetitive, grinding advantage from a dash of graveyard recursion, an inch at a time.

Olivia Voldaren
Sean McKeown
Test deck on 12-11-2011
Magic Card Back

Other than the truly-obscure Ogre Arsonist and perhaps an oddball like Discordant Spirit, I would be surprised if you didn’t own everything but the Mana Crypt already — as I said, there are certain advantages to knowing you have an effectively unlimited ceiling for card access, unless I throw something truly weird your way. Whether or not that was the justification behind Ogre Arsonist over Avalanche Riders, I leave as an exercise to the reader.

Sean McKeown

Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submission to consider for use in a future article, like The Sack’s Godo, Bandit Warlord deck or The Sack’s Godo, Bandit Warlord deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com Store!

Email Sean a deck submission using this link here!

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