Archetune-Up - Licia, Durdle-less Lifegain

(Licia, Sanguine Tribune | Art by Magali Villeneuve)

The Ol' Drain Train

Hello, and welcome back to Archetune-Up, a weekly article series devoted tweaking a deck with the help of the EDHREC Theme pages!

This week, we're back with a deck theme that's near and dear to my heart: lifegain! The first Commander deck I ever built was a lifegain deck helmed by Obzedat, Ghost Council. It was as fun as the first Commander decks could be... you know, with 30 lands, expensive spells, and no way to win.

That last point seems to be an issue with a lot of lifegain decks that I see. Outside of an Exsanguinate, they're often more focused on preserving their life total than progressing a plan to snuff out their opponents. So, what can we do to try and apply pressure while also gaining copious amounts of life? Add a bit of red to our white/black deck, that's what! While sometimes it's scary to change your commander to add an entirely new color to your existing deck, I think this is a situation where doing just that is the best idea.

Licia has been out for a little over two years now, and she's at the helm of just shy of 400 decks on EDHREC, which seems a bit low, in my opinion. I can only guess that the biggest issue is her lack of a clear build path. She certainly isn't a bad card by any means, but she doesn't facilitate a strategy on her own.

If that's the case, why would I choose her to command our 99? Well, take a look at the average Licia list and see if anything catches your eye.

Average Licia by EDHREC

Comander (1)
Creatures (22)
Instants (8)
Sorceries (9)
Artifacts (13)
Enchantments (9)
Planeswalkers (1)
Lands (37)


There are quite a few ways to punch through our opponents' life totals and close out games in this stock list, not even including Licia herself! On top of that, there are just enough good red cards splashed in to justify adding the third color. There are definitely some things I would change, though, so let's get into it and see what we can swap out!


Adding Some Pain to our Gain

The most important piece of text on Licia is her cost-reduction ability. Hard-casting her the first time will set us back a hefty seven mana, but, depending on how much life we're able to gain over the course of our turn, she can possibly cost as little as three! Because gaining life is our focal point, we're going to be sticking to the aptly named Lifegain Theme this week and see what kind of goodies we can find.

My first changes to incorporate from this theme page was swapping Felidar Sovereign for Test of Endurance, and adding Approach of the Second Sun. We're looking to win through beating people up with Licia, sure, but we still need backup plans. Nearly all of our creatures have lifelink, so we'll be within Test of Endurance range quite often. On top of that, both Test of Endurance and Approach of the Second Sun are less vulnerable than Felidar Sovereign, which is something I value in my win conditions.

Speaking of cards that win games, in the late game, Command the Dreadhorde can do just that. With a life total as high as ours, we can easily sink more than half our life into this spell and bring back not only our own creatures (most of which will gain us our life back through combat damage), but our opponents' biggest bombs, too. This is an alternative to Rise of the Dark Realms, but due to the lower CMC, I opted to use Command, even if it hurts us; it's well worth the life investment.

Continuing with ways to utilize our life total, I added four cards to take advantage of the copious amounts that we'll be gaining. I added Sign in Blood, Night's Whisper, Ambition's Cost, and Toxic Deluge to help leverage our life and turn it into whatever we need, be it cards or much needed board control. Having a high life total doesn't do us any good unless we're able to use it; these cards can help us translate our high life total into tangible, more powerful effects that we desire.

Similar to my swapping of Felidar Sovereign and Test of Endurance, I also swapped Rhox Faithmender with Alhammarret's Archive. Both of these cards are a bit "win more", but Archive will at the very least double our card draw effects, which is quite juicy when we're paying two life to draw four cards, etc. Archive's secondary bonus, while also being a bit harder to kill, is why Rhox got the boot from me.

In my effort to maximize our lifegain potential and payoffs, I added Sorin, Solemn Visitor, and Ajani, Strength of the Pride. Sorin is yet another way to ensure every single creature we attack with has lifelink. Pumping up our team, spitting out a 2/2 flying body, or even keep the board under control if his ult goes off, are all just added bonuses. Ajani, on the other hand, is another free way to reduce Licia's cost with his +1, while also providing an Ajani's Pridemate token, and being a potential board wipe. There were plenty of solid walkers I could have thrown into the deck, but these two definitely have the most synergy and potential for us.

When looking through the lifegain theme, one card I didn't expect to see was Embercleave. Embercleave is an incredibly powerful Equipment can end games in a hurry. Embercleave pushes a lot of our creatures like Blood Baron of Vizkopa or Divinity of Pride into the red (heh), smacking our enemies for incredible amounts of damage while also healing ourselves in the process. Even Licia can easily kill opponents in a single turn with Embercleave if left unchecked. This is easily my favorite addition into the deck.

The final card from this section is an underrated pet card of mine, Disrupt Decorum. While it is only a one-time effect, when used at the proper time, it is an aggressive Fog that will prevent any combat damage that comes your way over the next turn, while also leaving your opponents vulnerable to Licia and her bloodthirsty army. This is a clutch way to catch opponents off-guard and swing for the fences with minimal fear of dying on the crack-back thanks to our high life total.


Life(gain)’s Greatest Lesson

For this week's Bonus Round, instead of talking about the cards that I personally added in (which you can see in the final deck list below) I'm going to get on my soapbox and give everyone a PSA:

Do not play these kinds of cards

Sprinkled through lifegain commander's pages are cards like Congregate, Dawnglow Infusion, and Tavern Swindler. These cards are traps 99% of the time. Even in a deck with Licia, whose mana cost is reduced by the amount of life you gain during your turn, these cards are near unplayable.

For instance, Chaplain's Blessing is played in 17% of all Licia decks. Conversely, Swords to Plowshares isn't even listed on her page whatsoever. All Chaplain's Blessing does a poor imitation of Dark Ritual since it can only be used to help cast Licia. At least Swords is a removal spell that can also be used on your own creatures for a life boost if you're in desperate need.

On the other end of the spectrum, even Beacon of Immortality is nearly unplayable. Being an instant sure is an upside, but most of the time, if your life isn't high enough, doubling your life total doesn't help. Conversely, if you life total is super high, then you probably don't need to double your life since that's obviously not the axis on which your opponent's are trying to kill you. Cards like these end up hurting the quality of your deck much more than they end up helping it, trust me. What can we do to gain life in an efficient way, then?

Incidental and incremental life gain is essential in order to make sure that you are getting the best use out of every slot in your deck no matter what color you are in. Are you in green/white? Put down that Heroes' Reunion and pick up a Thragtusk or Pelakka Wurm. Are you in blue/white and want to draw cards? Well Sphinx's Revelation is efficient and you gain life as a bonus! Are you still stuck on forcing Beacon of Immortality? Just play Revival//Revenge instead. Play cards that have life gain tacked on as a bonus, and not the main effect, please.

What else can gain us life? Well, we've been talking about creatures with lifelink this entire time, so they seem like something great to mention! Wurmcoil Engine, Drogskol Reaver, Sage of the Inward Eye, Dragonlord Dromoka, all of these cards pressure your opponents and move your game plan forward while also gaining you life. Incidental life gain should not be underestimated. Life stapled onto cards as a secondary effect can win games.

I'm not here to tell you that having a lifegain is bad. Heck, lifegain is one of my favorite strategies, I just want to make sure you are utilizing every slot, every point of life, and every opportunity to make sure you deck is tuned up and efficient. If you are skeptical, please try out some of the changes I suggested above, I included some for every color. Play with these cards a bit, and see how much of a difference trading in your Sanguine Sacraments for Death Grasp makes.


Such as Life, all Things Must End.

Soapboxing aside, I hope you enjoyed this take at one of the more underrated commanders from Commander 2017. With so many sets coming out now, and with a plethora or legends in each, it is inevitable that some get swept under the rug in favor of the newest, shiniest legend. If you have a lifegain deck, or are thinking of building one, I implore you to at least think about Licia as you commander. She blends gaining life and aggression very well, and it's something I'd like to see from more commanders like this in the future.

If you'd like to reach me, I'm quite active on Twitter (@thejesguy), and have an email that I do my best to respond to (thejeskaiguy@gmail.com). If you have any comments, questions, concerns, or anything else of the sort, please don't hesitate to leave them in the comments below, or get in touch!

As always, thanks for you time, and thank you for arche-tuning in!

Hurting Me Only Makes Me Stronger

Comander (1)
Creatures (10)
Instants (5)
Sorceries (6)
Artifacts (13)
Enchantments (6)
Planeswalkers (1)
Lifegain Theme (12)
Potpourri (9)
Lands (37)

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Angelo is a Connecticut resident who started playing Magic during Return to Ravnica, and has made it his mission to play Jeskai in every format possible. Along with Commander, he loves Limited, Cube, and Modern, and will always put his trust in counterspells over creatures. He is still hurt by Sphinx's Revelation's rotation out of Standard.