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Fangs for Nothing

Fangs for Nothing

The Vampiric Bloodlust deck is a fairly tough nut to crack. On the surface it can be an incredibly powerful aggro deck helmed by Edgar Markov, netting tokens with every vampire you play. This creates a steady stream of bodies that can quickly overwhelm your opponents, especially when Edgar Markov himself comes down to battle. And while tuning the deck is straightforward, really all you have to do is add as many vampire lords as you can to really abuse the free creatures you’re getting. As you can imagine, that advice doesn’t really make for the best web content, so I’ve decided to turn my attention toward a different newcomer that I feel has a lot more avenues of attack: Licia, Sanguine Tribune.

Licia, Sanguine Tribune has a lot going for her. Solid stats, relevant abilities, and a unique effect that, when combined with sufficient lifegain can effectively nullify the need for a Commander tax. A 4/4 first striking lifelinker is nothing to scoff at, but when that body is coming down as early as turn 3, it’s something to be feared. Furthermore, you can pay five life to put three +1/+1 counters on her, lending her to a natural Voltron shell. On top of all that, there are several combos in Black and White that can win the game on the spot. There were enough avenues to explore that I hit the drawing board and started brainstorming how to really elevate a Licia deck.

First and foremost, a Licia deck needs ways to power her out early, and to do that we need cheap and fast lifegain effects. Chaplain’s Blessing, Whitesun’s Passage, Scent of Jasmine, and Rest for the Weary are among the cheapest and biggest lifegain effects, each netting at minimum four life. These cards act effectively as Seething Songs for casting Licia, ramping her into play well beyond when your opponents are prepared for her. As well, since you start at 40 life, you can make her into a 7/7 with lifelink right away, so when she attacks the following turn as a 12/12 you can gain all the life you spent right back. What makes this even more powerful is that as the game progresses and the lifegain effects get bigger, Licia can still be cast for WBR even if she’s been cast multiple times during the game. As long as you have a steady supply of big chunks of lifegain, Licia will always cost three mana, which is a huge advantage over other aggressive Commanders that tend to die often.

On the surface, Licia’s Voltron tendencies are easy to exploit. With several equipment like Grappling Hook and Conqueror’s Flail it’s an simple task to rack up the Commander damage. Since we only need to deal 21 Commander damage and we can make her a 12/12 by the turn we untap, having double strike or a damage doubling effect like Furnace of Rath can one-shot an unsuspecting opponent. Also, since Licia has lifelink, when we knock out a player in one hit it becomes considerably harder for the other players to get a revenge kill due to the fact that our life total increased by roughly 1.5 times. Because Licia is going to be going into the red zone turn after turn, we need effects that can keep her around. Darksteel Plate, Gift of Immortality, and Bastion Protector make Licia effectively immortal so she can continue to swing in over and over.

While auras tend to not see as much play as equipment because they are only one use, if Licia is indestructible they become much more palatable to include in the deck. The “God Auras” from Shadowmoor/Eventide are particularly powerful in this regard since they are all inexpensive and give multiple bonuses if the target has multiple colours. For example, Scourge of the Nobilis would give Licia +2/+2, lifelink, and firebreathing, while Fists of the Demigod would give her +2/+2, first strike, and wither. But of all the God Auras, the strongest one has to be Edge of the Divinity. For a single mana, we can give Licia a whopping +3/+3, which cause some serious damage early on. There are also two enchantments that play very well with Licia’s lifegain subtheme: Sunbond and Cradle of Vitality. Sunbond is an aura that, whenever you gain life, puts +1/+1 counters on the enchanted creature equal to the amount of life you gain. On a creature with lifelink this basically doubles its stats every time it attacks or blocks. Cradle of Vitality does the same thing, but instead of getting the counters for free, you pay 1W each time you gain life. This comes with the tradeoff of not being an aura, so if Licia should leave play, Cradle will stick around for future triggers.

Another element with Licia we can explore is her combo potential. There are several lifegain combos in Commander, from the tried and true Sanguine Bond/Vizkopa Guildmage/Defiant Bloodlord with Exquisite Blood to the tricky yet satisfying Beacon of Immortality and Tainted Remedy. These combos can automatically end the game, and should really only be used in more competitive circles. For more interactable win conditions, I highly recommend Felidar Sovereign. If you can keep it around for a full turn and keep your life total at 40 or more, you automatically win the game. While this seems just as unfair as the other combos, tapping out for Felidar Sovereign and having to survive an entire turn cycle with it in play is surprisingly difficult in a format of board wipes. Playing Felidar Sovereign always puts a huge target on your head, so there’s also a fairly decent chance that you yourself may not survive to your next turn. However, the risk is always worth the reward because sometimes it just sits there without an answer, so Felidar Sovereign comes highly recommended.

To help out these combos and to keep our own life total as high as possible, we need cards that can either net us several life over the course of the game or turn moderate amounts of lifegain into huge chunks of life. For example, the “Soul Sisters” trio of Soul Warden, Soul’s Attendant, and Martyr of Sands has made many a Modern player miserable, and in a format like Commander where token decks are the norm, you can net several life every turn. Authority of the Consuls is also strong against decks like The Locust God and Krenko, Mob Boss since it forces all of their tokens to enter tapped, and you also gain one life each time a creature enters under their control. Against opponents that try to ramp up the tokens, this card plays a major role in your survival. The recent Standard format also saw the printing of several Black and White creatures that bleed your opponents every turn. Drana’s Emissary, Cliffhaven Vampire, and Kambal, Consul of Allocation can each drain your opponents every turn, bolstering your own life total while dwindling theirs. Kambal is extremely potent in Commander since he is a natural deterrent to the many Storm-style combo decks in the format.

Extort creatures from Gatecrash and Dragon’s Maze are exceptionally strong in multiplayer since the extort mechanic hits each opponent and drains each of them by one life while you gain the total of life they lost. This is why Pontiff of Blight is such an effective multiplayer creature. As long it’s in play, each creature you control has extort, so you can sink any leftover mana you have from casting a spell into extorting your opponents for each creature you control. With enough creatures in play this can quickly drain several opponents at once, but like Felidar Sovereign, this strategy does come with the price of putting a bounty on your head.

For larger chunks of life, Rhox Faithmender, Boon Reflection, and Alhammarret’s Archive are my go-to recommendations. These three cards double the amount of life you gain, turning small gains into daunting sums that have to be dealt with immediately. Other powerful effects in this vein are Exsanguinate and Debt to the Deathless. Through mana doubling effects like Crypt Ghast, Doubling Cube, and Mana Flare, these cards can easily finish off an entire table of players, and the amount of life you gain grows considerably the more people you’re playing with. When coupled with a life doubling effect, you can put your life total so far out of reach that most opponents not packing an infinite combo may just concede on the spot.

Finally, we have two spells that deserve an inclusion simply due to how unique the effects are. Chandra’s Ignition is a classic Red board wipe, dealing damage to each other creature and each opponent. While this doesn’t sound too impressive, when used on Licia you get to gain life equal to the total damage being dealt since Licia herself is dealing the damage. As a result, not only are you wiping the board, you’re netting massive amounts of life. The other card that deserves mentioning is Aetherflux Reservoir as it gives us something to do with this copious amount of life we’re gaining. While we aren’t really set up to abuse the psuedo-Storm element of the card, we really care about the second ability. By paying 50 life we can deal 50 damage to a creature or player, and since we’re gaining such massive amounts of life we can easily plop this on the table and shoot each opponent in a single turn. There are so many scenarios where this card is just game over, not unlike Umbral Mantle for Selvala, Heart of the Wild or Eater of the Dead is for Phenax, God of Deception.

Licia, Sanguine Tribune is a Commander with a surprising amount of depth and variety, and there are several different ways to build her, unlike the flagship Commander of the Vampiric Bloodlust deck. Either by Voltron aggro or lifegain combo, Licia is a frighteningly powerful threat that is hard to keep down. Her ability to negate her own Commander tax puts her leaps and bounds ahead of other aggressive Commanders, even to the point of The Locust God-levels of recursion. While Edgar Markov is currently hogging the spotlight, I believe that Licia, Sanguine Tribune has what it takes to cement her place among the best Mardu Commanders in the format.