I’ve been down this dark path before.

Nefarious Lich. Lich’s Tomb. Lich’s Mirror. I’ve tried to break the Lich’s curse in the past, with Bitterblossoms and Glimpse the Unthinkables, with Morality Shift and Axis of Mortality. Necropotence works with the Mirror, but you’d be better off just playing Necropotence. Shared Trauma is a blast with Nefarious Lich, but a single Nature’s Claim goes antiphylactic real fast. The less said about Lich’s Tomb, the better, so I’ll just say that losing to Ancient Grudge is a tough thing to come back from. So I get a little gun-shy about signing up for that pact. It feels good to admit, then, I am officially Back on My Bullshit. Since I saw it on the spoiler, since I read Richard Garfield’s quick snapshot of the design process, I knew my fate. I was born to be a lich.

Zvi Mowshowitz’s “My Fires” long-form series was the first Magic writing that made me believe Magic writing could be literature, that the game was about theory, not about mana. What set Mowshowitz’s articles apart, and what made them so important for the time, was his meticulous analysis of card choice and his agility in deck construction. Walking someone through Saproling Burst interactions was important, sure, but outlining why he ran the full Llanowar Elves/Bird of Paradise suite helped so many Magic players hit the next level of theory, made them see deck building as an evolutionary process.

Saffron Olive just released his version of a Lich’s Mastery deck last week, and Mike Flores did his uniquely frothy theorycrafting back during spoiler season. I want to do something different: I want to track this deck through the throes of infatuation, to Standard grinding, to rotation. I want this to be a journey. I don’t anticipate this being as discursive as Mowshowitz’s series—rather, I’m planning on a three-part series, interspersed with more traditional articles—and today, we’re going to talk the basics of Liches and how best to exploit the enchantment. There are a surprising number of angles here: there are some cute combos with Lich’s MasteryGlorious End, Approach of the Second Sun, and Gideon of the Trials are all on standby—but I wanted something more traditional, something that can board out the Mastery when necessary and play a low-to-the-ground game. I wanted to recreate Necropotence, not Trix, and so I went with a W/B shell that runs lifelinkers and disruption. Turning “Lifelink” into “Cardlink” is an extremely potent ability. Your Aetherborn become superpowered Ophidians and your Essence Extractions are Ancestral Recall plus Lightning Bolt.

Meanwhile, your Sanguine Sacrament is two Sphinx’s Revelations stapled together. Seems like a good card.

Lich's Apprenticeship (Draft Date: April 30th, 2018)

Creatures (10)
Gifted Aetherborn
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Crested Sunmare

Spells (25)
Azor's Gateway
Renewed Faith
Essence Extraction
Mastermind's Acquisition
Vraska's Contempt
Mastermind's Acquisition
Lich's Mastery
Sanguine Sacrament
Lands (25)
Concealed Courtyard
Isolated Chapel
Ifnir Deadlands

Sideboard (15)
Arguel's Blood Fast
Profane Procession
Lich's Mastery
Twilight Prophet
Battle at the Bridge
Ritual of Rejuvenation
Desert's Hold

Strengths: With the life gain and Mastery game-plan, you’re pre-sideboarded against Mono-Red, certainly. I’ve also been looking for a way to use Mastermind’s Acquisition in Standard—it’s too slow for anything but a control deck or a deck that operates on a different axis from make-creatures-on-a-curve, so this is the place for it. It gives the deck a tool box flavor, with the ability to sculpt your picks to match your needs. The Prophets are solid against more aggressive decks—blocking early and saving you Lich sacrifices, then grinding out the game later on.

Weaknesses: I’m keeping an eye on the Sunmares; they might be better off as three copies of Lyra. It’s pretty great to flood the board with indestructible Horses, though. Obviously, a River’s Rebuke, Hour of Revelation, or any upcoming Tranquility effects will wreck you, but the point of being a Lich is having ultimate power and a glass jaw, so lean into the skid. Hopefully, no one will remember that Scavenger Grounds is a card. The Scarab God is a problem, too—if you can’t Contempt it away, you’re in trouble, hence the Desert’s Hold in the board.

Other Choices: I see Vona, Butcher of Magan as a sideboard/Mastermind slot. Draw four, discard seven to Vindicate is odd, but potentially potent. This may shift into a Vampire tokens deck, depending on how the metagame develops and the caliber of removal folks end up playing. Right now, I’m remaining agile until we see how the Standard environment shakes out post-Birmingham.

The first question each new deck inspires is simple: why play this deck? Is this an unbeatable choice for the metagame? Is this an angle of attack no one is ready for? Does it exploit new technology before anyone has been able to adapt to it? Nah. Hell nah. In short, I miss clunky, game-breaking enchantments. Future Sight, Mirari’s Wake, Yawgmoth’s Bargain—these were the cards that draw me into the games, the hefty enchantments that offered incremental or explosive advantages. They’ve been supplanted in many respects by Planeswalkers—Future Sight is pretty awful compared to Karn, Scion of Urza—but there’s something so expressive about creating a deck with a centerpiece enchantment, especially one that changes the rules of the game. Call it the Dovescape Theory of Magic. Circles of Protection invalidated entire decks back in the day, Tight Sight catalyzed whole new schools of Magic theory, and Fires…well, we’ve talked about Fires. Lich’s Mastery may not define Standard at all, but this is something I want to play—something I believe in, a deck that can win games and do so with style and humor.

If you need another reason, it doesn’t require any copies of Karn. Your card advantage game is strong already, so save that $150.

So what’s next? In the next article, we’ll move beyond the theoretical and jam some games with Lich’s Mastery.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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