Developing a Commander deck can be rather time-consuming. Finding a general is always the first step; but finding cards, making the mana curve work, and locking in a ninety-nine can continue as long as you want. Today’s topic is about a deck that I built mostly out of the stacks of cards I had collected over my Magic career. But that was three years ago, before Eldritch Moon and the printing of many cards that would probably improve the deck significantly. Today we are going to be looking at Olivia, Mobilized for War and her unending use of madness, flashback, and reanimation.

Olivia, Mobilized for War

During our first trip to Innistrad, Olivia Voldaren made herself known to several formats. She was a Standard powerhouse, has shown up in Modern, and was Commander’s de facto vampire general until the printing of Edgar Markov. I never personally had much interest in Olivia Voldaren as a general, simply because I was never drawn to making a tribal vampire deck.

When we returned to the plane, new Olivia wasn’t the all-star that she had been, but she offered something more interesting for the Commander community. She still supports the vampire tribe, but her abilities now feed a deck instead of being merely powerful. The power of her discard ability can be hard to evaluate, thouh. She’s never really taken off in this incarnation even though she offers an interesting deckbuilding challenge. Olivia can explode out of nowhere, completely flipping the battlefield and the course of the game.

The World is a Vampire

An Olivia deck is always going to be partially tribal vampires. It’s a blessing that Olivia can enlist some of our non-vampires into the tribe, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t play the best vampires in our color identity.

Vampires: Asylum Visitor, Bloodghast, Bloodmad Vampire, Bloodline Keeper, Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Falkenrath Gorger, Falkenrath Marauders, Guul Draz Vampire, Heir to Falkenrath, Markov Blademaster, Rakish Heir, Sanguinary Mage, Stromkirk Captain, Vampire Nighthawk

Bloodghast and Drana are immensely powerful. Bloodline Keeper is a satisfactory lord for the tribe. And Markov Blademaster is a far better attacker than she might look like on the surface, which I believe is why she isn’t included in more decks, tribal or not. I had never given much thought to my selection of vampires before, so I am looking for some advice from the community. What key vampires am I missing?

Drive Myself Crazy

The first innovation for this deck—really the first thing that got me interested in this version of Olivia—is the synergy between flashback and madness from Odyssey block. If the cards we’re discarding to Olivia in response to creatures entering the battlefield can be cast later in the game, then we’re never truly losing card advantage.

Madness: Fiery Temper, Grave Scrabbler, Ichor Slick, Reckless Wurm, Stensia Masquerade, Strength of Lunacy

Madless lets you cast spells at unexpected times, but you need mana to do it. Many discard outlets have mana costs, and Olivia provides an opportunity to cast a Madness spell after playing a creature. If you also have Falkenrath Gorger in play, you can chain vampires until you run out of mana.

This has pushed me to value mana rocks higher than normal, often dedicating my first few turns to getting out Sol Ring, Rakdos Signet, and Thran Dynamo. The extra mana also helps fuel the following set of cards.

Spellshaping: Bog Witch, Call the Bloodline, Firefright Mage, Greel, Mind Raker, Latulla, Keldon Overseer, Pack Rat, Putrid Imp, Vampire Hounds

Traditional spellshapers from Masques block are creatures that allow you to discard cards for a specific spell-like effect, for example Dark Ritual, a red-aligned Shriek of Dread, or Fireball. Modern cards offer similar discard-for-spell outlets, like Call the Bloodline. With enough mana, you can do nasty things like discarding Grave Scrabbler to Pack Rat. You can imagine that getting out of hand.

Don’t Call it a Comeback

Flashback: Conflagrate, Devil’s Play, Dread Return, Faithless Looting, Rolling Temblor, Sever the Bloodline, Shattered Perception, Traitor’s Clutch

Flashback is another beloved mechanic that came from Odyssey block. It’s a powerful weapon, though instant- and sorcery-heavy strategies tend not to interest me in multiplayer games. If getting those spells into the graveyard helps feed my creatures however, then I can see the value. These cards can do good work late in a Commander game.

Reanimation also helps get value from discarded cards, along with the normal graveyard-filling that happens naturally. This concept is nothing new, of course, but this deck wants built-in reanimation rather than playing spells to do it—though Dread Return pulls double duty. I was able to find some creatures that could bring themselves back to the battlefield from the graveyard, but I needed to get a little more creative to help fill out solid creature suite. Enter unearth and persist.

Reanimators: Anathemancer, Bloodsoaked Champion, Corpse Connoisseur, Hellspark Elemental, Hell’s Thunder, Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, Murderous Redcap, Puppeteer Clique, Rotting Rats, Scourge Devil

Persist is really strong here, since Olivia can negate the -1/-1 counter those creatures get after dying. Persist doesn’t work as well with discarding, since you need to get the creature in play to set up the recursion. Unearth does that work, though. My only complaint is that I wish there were more creatures for this section of the deck.

Back Me Up

Outside of the these broad themes, there are a few cards that deserve recognition. Pyrewild Shaman is maybe one of the best cards in the deck, though it is also an expensive engine. With the frequent use of +1/+1 counters everywhere in modern Magic, Kulrath Knight comes in and punishes our opponents them for using them. Sandstone Oracle has become a pet card for me, especially in decks like this that can lose their hands very quickly. And Endless One becomes a threat at any point of the game, using all our available mana and our general to make a huge surprise attacker.

This Olivia, Mobilized for War deck is something that I have enjoyed creating from whole cloth. But I recognize that it has its faults. You can run out of cards after a few turns, and I never found a good way to draw more outside of Mask of Memory or Howling Mine. I want to make this deck a little bit better, but not oppressive. My changes will hopefully be the topic of another article some time in the future. I’m looking forward to any feedback, and until next time thank you.

Ryan Sainio is a Graphic Designer who writes about EDH, the EDH community, and streams on Twitch in his down time. He has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 7th Edition in 2002 and values flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks. Join him for a stream at on Tuesday nights.

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