Commander Showdown - Teysa vs Teysa
(Teysa Karlov | Art by Magali Villaneuve) & (Teysa, Orzhov Scion | Art by Todd Lockwood)
Life After Afterlife
A long-standing fixture of the plane of Ravnica, Teysa has had many fascinating iterations over the years. Her original version, Teysa, Orzhov Scion, provides an interesting artistocratic approach to EDH. We saw her again in Gatecrash as Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts, surprising us all with the information that a frail woman with a cane was as powerful as an Armada Wurm.
Now Ravnica Allegiance has graced our format, and brought Teysa Karlov into the fray. Our favorite Orzhov representative has gone back to her roots, rewarding us for the death and self-sacrifice her guild so readily demands.
The original Teysa allows us to exile any creature we dislike by sacrificing three white creatures, and better yet, actually creates white creature tokens whenever a black creature dies. Her abilities feed into each other so well it's frankly scary. That's also true of new Teysa, who doubles our death triggers and gives creature tokens vigilance and lifelink. Those Afterlife creatures are very happy to have her around.
Teysa's original card and her newest iteration share much in common. They both love death, creature tokens, and more death. In fact, they have so much in common that it might be difficult to pick apart their differences in card choice, strategic direction, and deck construction.
In other words, it's time for us to compare and contrast Teysa, Orzhov Scion and Teysa Karlov. It's a Commander Showdown - Afterlife Edition!
Venn Diagram Time
Ravnica Allegiance has barely released, but at time of writing, we already have 108 decks for the new Teysa Karlov! To best compare the two death-obsessed Teysas, let's find out which Top and Signature cards they have in common thus far!
A nice amount of overlap here, in many expected areas. Classic Orzhov removal like Anguished Unmaking and Utter End. Since both decks love to watch their own creatures die, there are tons of additional ways to insure they do so, such as Viscera Seer and Ashnod's Altar. And of course, we have some lovely rewards for our dying creatures: Dictate of Erebos can utterly lock down the board, Pitiless Plunderer can supply a steady stream of Treasure, and of course, Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat do what every Aristocrats deck loves to do - bleed our enemies dry.
How about the individual commander columns? Teysa, Orzhov Scion boasts classic black-white value engines, from Sun Titan to Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder, but look closer: she's got cold, cruel combos running through her veins.
Darkest Hour turns each of Teysa's creatures into a black creature, which means whenever she loses a creature, she immediately replaces it with another. Just add a Blasting Station to ruin the rest of the table, or Suture Priest for infinite life. The fate of the game is all but sealed.
Teysa Karlov, meanwhile, is hyper-obsessed with death triggers. Many of them, such as Grim Haruspex, Midnight Reaper, Harvester of Souls, and Dark Prophecy focus on providing additional card advantage. An even greater number focus on the creation of tokens after death: Hallowed Spiritkeeper, Elenda, the Dusk Rose, Pawn of Ulamog, and heck, even Doomed Traveler. Of significant importance is Requiem Angel, which can make tokens even when token creatures die, a rare treat.
These initial inspections are fun, but we need something more substantive. Let's look at some decklists.
Scion of the Ur-Teysa
With nearly 1,000 decks to her name, OG Teysa has had plenty of time to mature on her EDHREC page, so we can generally trust the Average Deck feature to provide us with a well-rounded list. Let's take a look:
Average Teysa, Orzhov Scion DeckView on Archidekt
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The Professor of TCC stated famously in his Teysa deck tech that the card Darkest Hour functions as a simple switch to turn the deck from 'powerful' to 'overwhelmingly powerful.' Some folks may prefer the direct combos enabled by this innocuous little enchantment, and power to them! Others will be happy simply draining the table without the fuss of the combo, and removing this single card can be a useful way to adjust to the power levels of your personal meta. Even without Darkest Hour, Teysa brings a formidable presence to the battlefield.
Even without going infinite, you could have up to twenty game actions per turn, without much setup required. Playing a single Elenda, the Dusk Rose could trigger your Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder to create four Thrull tokens, triggering your Soul Warden to gain five total life. Then you can sacrifice those Thrull tokens to scry four times with Viscera Seer, creating four Spirits with Teysa (gaining four more life with Soul Warden), and putting four counters on Elenda. After that, you can sacrifice Elenda and two Spirits to have Teysa exile target creature. Since Elenda is a black creature, Teysa creates another Spirit, and Elenda creates four lifelinking white Vampire tokens (which gains you another five life), and since you now have two white Spirits and four white Vampires, you can sacrifice them three at a time to activate Teysa's exiling ability and remove any two creatures at a moment's notice.
Move aside, Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder, this is what it means to Cascade. A single four-mana creature spell could result in fourteen enters-the-battlefield triggers, fourteen life, seven death triggers, and up to three removal spells with the commander's activated ability. Add in a single Blood Artist and the math gets even more complicated.
It's also sinfully easy to go infinite by sheer accident. Phyrexian Altar could provide the mana you need to loop Nether Traitor and Reassembling Skeleton back and forth in and out of the graveyard, using Teysa's new tokens as additional fodder. Karmic Guide and Reveillark are famous for how immediately busted they become. Ashnod's Altar and Nim Deathmantle are hiding in that decklist too, and easily go infinite together, especially since the Deathmantle also makes the equipped creature a black Zombie, which means it triggers Teysa's Spirit-making ability whenever it dies, giving you even more sacrifice fodder! Much like Ghave, Guru of Spores, any card you play in this deck could suddenly win you the game, even if you didn't mean to.
Overall, Teysa's deck reminds me strongly of the Module combo from Kaladesh, where one resource begets another, which begets another. Teysa can combo out with apparent ease, and even without those combos, represents an engine that should strike fear in the hearts of your enemies immediately. If you're considering the original Teysa, just make sure you're prepared for time-consuming, fiddly turns; every action sets off a chain reaction, with creatures turning into sacrifice fodder, sacrifice fodder turning into tokens, tokens turning into removal spells, and a bounty of enters- and leaves-the-battlefield triggers accompanying every single step of the process.
Let's move now to Teysa Karlov, new and improved, ready to help Kaya, Orzhov Usurper annihilate the Ghost Council of Orzhova and her uncle Karlov of the Ghost Council once and for all.
New Teysa famously Panharmonicons all your death triggers. You don't need me to tell you that all those Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat effects are looking mighty fine in this Teysa's deck too. She also opens the door to other fun draining effects, like Kokusho, the Evening Star, and who doesn't want to get two triggers off of Vindictive Lich?
Remember, too, that Teysa double the triggers of any permanent type, not just your dying creatures themselves, so Open the Graves and Grave Pact become even more potent as well. A dying creature equipped with Skullclamp draws four cards, not two. Even if your Athreos, God of Passage isn't a creature, you can force an opponent to pay six life to truly destroy your creatures. Again, you don't need me to say it, but: that's bonkers.
Don't forget that Teysa can also double-trigger abilities that result from the deaths of your opponents' creatures, too! Massacre Wurm can frankly end a game by taking down 10% of an enemy's life total every time they lose a creature. Revel in Riches could very well create ten Treasure tokens in a single round of the table! A personal favorite is Dead Man's Chest, normally only seen in decks like Gonti, Lord of Luxury, since it slots directly into their 'what's-yours-is-now-mine' strategy. In other decks, the payoff often feels too minimal to justify a card slot, but here with Teysa, doubling the number of cards you get to steal could be the equivalent of drawing an entirely new hand.
Many of the death triggers discussed so far come from black cards, but don't forget that white has some excellent offerings, too! Archon of Justice goes from good to great when it exiles not one but two permanents. Along a similar vein, Reliquary Monk is likely to go overlooked, given its obscurity, but it's a fierce effect with which to threaten the table. Oh, and remember how much Teysa loves the Afterlife mechanic? How about slapping a Murder Investigation on a creature to make a bajillion tokens?
Tokens, though - this is the real thing that I think sets new Teysa apart from old Teysa. I've rambled on about a half-dozen exciting Teysa synergies so far, and I haven't even gotten to her second line of rules text! She also gives all your creature tokens vigilance and lifelink!
Old Teysa loved tokens, but she loved them in quantity, not quality. Low-cost cards that produced lots of bodies, that's her style. New Teysa? She can easily follow suit, but she can also do this:
Big ol' tokens make Trostani, Selesnya's Voice proud. Flesh Carver can be used to make two big baddies, which can serve harsh justice and hold back to protect your life total. Grave Titan gets real bonkers real fast in a normal game, but here, it's even worse. Ghoulcaller Gisa supplies a steady stream of death, and now an army of life-providing Zombies, which is a very peculiar sentence.
However, my favorite are the Crested Sunmare effects. A big, indestructible Horse token can engage in combat with no worries in the world, gaining you life, which gives her a sister on the following turn. If any opponent even glances your way during their attack step, the equestrian brigade will threaten to simply make another token at the end of that turn, too. Angelic Accord and the recent Resplendent Angel follow suit, and they're all very exciting.
Let's take this big, diverse list of death, taxes, and tokens, and stuff it into an actual decklist.
Teysa TokensView on Archidekt
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A Real Curveball
There are many fun intricacies to uncover in the list above, and even some combos, just like the original Teysa! However, the way I'd like to summarize the differences between the new and old Teysa is by giving you a warning.
The decklist above is a total blast, but in truth, that mana curve is high, much higher than the original Teysa's. Old Teysa keeps things fairly low to the ground, only deviating into higher costs for exceptional cases like Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Razaketh, the Foulblooded - both of which still reward you for playing lots of little, low-cost creatures! This is the reason Blood Artist shows up in 75% of old Teysa's lists, but Falkenrath Noble only shows up in 26% of them.
New Teysa has a glut of amazing effects to utilize, from Black Market and Divine Visitation to Revel in Riches and Dictate of Erebos, but you can't full your deck with a bunch of five-mana cards. Your curve matters.
It's for this reason that I didn't include Butcher of Malakir and Ashen Rider in the list above, even though they synergize beautifully with new Teysa. The mana costs were already getting pretty expensive, and while it's possible to supplement those costs with more mana rocks, we have to make sure aggressive decks don't take us out in the early stages of the game. Our enemies aren't going to let us live for very long if our opening plays are just Skullclamp, Lightning Greaves, Phyrexian Altar, Anointed Procession, and Divine Visitation before we finally play a Harvester of Souls. By that time they've ramped out a Xenagos, God of Revels and dealt us 30 damage.
Thus: Teysa, Orzhov Scion is the embodiment of "death by a thousand cuts" philosophy, in more ways than one. While she's capable of taking the table out with a simple combo, she's also likely to slowly bleed her opposition dry. Remember, though, the word 'thousand.' Every action she takes has just as many consequences, creating new tokens and triggering new permanents, so even on your politest of turns, expect your plays to require a lot of focused attention. She's playing as a chemist with all those Spirit tokens, and you're playing as the laws of physics that have to actually track all those chemical reactions. A beautiful process, but a complicated one.
Meanwhile, new Teysa is certainly able to have just as many tough-to-track interactions as her previous self, but she can also streamline her plays by doubling a classic Kokusho, the Evening Star trigger. If old Teysa is comparable to Breya, Etherium Shaper with all her fiddly effects and combo potential, then new Teysa is comparable toMeren of Clan Nel Toth, with her love of double-dipping on death and her ability to resort to some classic Grave Titan beatdown.
Cards to Consider
Let's take a quick moment to look closer at a few cards both commanders could potentially make use of, but which don't currently see much play.
Teysa, Orzhov Scion
- Cathars' Crusade - This is a risky one, and I understand why it doesn't see more action for original Teysa. Her creatures need to remain dispensable, and the larger they are, the less you want to get rid of them. Plus, five mana is a lot. You could just combo instead. With that said, sometimes Teysa can drag on a little bit if she doesn't combo, and given the sheer number of tokens she's capable of creating, I think this could be a good option to close things out another way.
- Carnival of Souls - Again, all those tokens entering could cause some serious damage. Yes, it could do some of that damage to you, since you'll lose life, but if you get one of those Blood Artist effects into play, the engine smooths out nicely. Check out this article by Mason Brantley for even more potential.
- Enduring Renewal - We Commander players are trained to ignore good white cards, and 'white combo card' is definitely not a common phrase in our lexicon. This is one of them. Returning a creature to your hand every time it dies is perfect fodder for a mana-generating sacrifice outlet to loop tons of triggers.
- Spawning Pit - This sacrifice outlet is so dang good.
- Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet - Creating black tokens is important, since Teysa turns them into white tokens. Kalitas supplies them in spades, and keeps your enemies from messing around too much with their graveyards.
- Archangel of Thune - Your. Tokens. Have. Lifelink! This will get so many triggers and I'm ecstatic about it.
- Phyrexian Rebirth - Don't just play the classic Wrath of God effects. For a few more mana you get a big reward that synergizes excellently with Teysa and her token-enhancing enchantments like Anointed Procession
- Rite of Belzenlok - Lots of tokens, and a big Demon that deals damage to you. But wait, it has lifelink, which means you gain it right back!
- Noosegraf Mob - I know there aren't many slots for a high-cost creature, but six lifelinking, vigilant Zombies is everything I want in life. Plus, this is nutty with Cathars' Crusade.
- Rootborn Defenses - If you're playing with big tokens, take a leaf out of Trostani, Selesnya's Voice. Keep your board safe and ever-growing. It's easy to overlook a common, but don't forget about this card!
A vision in black and white, Teysa has evolved quite a lot over her years on Ravnica. No matter which version of her you decide to try out, she'll reward your death parade with tons of intricate interaction that will make you the life - and death - of the party.
PS - If you'd like to get even more info about new Teysa, check out this episode of the EDHREC podcast, where cohost Matt Morgan and I brew up some competing decklists!
So, which of these commanders is right for you? Which commanders would you like to see on the next Commander Showdown? Cast your votes below!
Cast your votes, or leave a comment below! Write-in candidates are always welcome.
Til next time!