Commander Showdown - Teysa vs Thalisse

(Teysa Karlov by Magali Villeneuve | Thalisse, Reverent Medium by Heonhwa Choe)

Welcome to the Syndicate

Welcome to Commander Showdown, the series where we take two similar-ish commander and compare and contrast them to discover differences in their strategies and deck construction. Though the most popular vote on the previous article's poll favored Pirate matchup, I'm going to make like the Orzhov and be a little selfish here. I just can't wait to talk about these glamorous Orzhov commanders.

Not too long ago, Teysa Karlov broke onto the scene, shocking us all with her double-death triggers and token-modifying abilities. Just like the lore, she rose to the head of the Orzhov guild, her rightful title.

This year we've received another black-white commander with a penchant for tokens. EDHREC's very own YouTube channel previewed the new Thalisse, Reverent Medium.

Thalisse is by no means destined to reach the same level of fame as Teysa Karlov. There are so many commanders in Commander Legends that she's potentially destined to be overlook. However, as a Thalisse player myself, I'm here to share some secrets with you, because she's got a trick or two that even Teysa ought to watch out for.

One doubles death triggers, one doubles tokens! How do these decks differ, and where do they overlap? What can they learn from one another? Let's take a look!


The Height of Luxury

We'll begin with Teysa Karlov, also known as the 'Death-harmonicon'. Teysa is the purest embodiment of the Aristocrats strategy. While other decks would mourn the loss of their creatures, Teysa can barely wait for them to kick the bucket. Killing her minions does not set her back, but only makes her that much stronger!

Teysa has found herself plenty of heavy-hitting cards whose death abilities are astonishing to duplicate. Kokusho, the Evening Star, Elenda, the Dusk Rose, Archon of Justice, cards whose death triggers are so powerful that we're almost tempted just to have her loop those creatures in and out of the graveyard over and over again!

But Teysa also balances out those expensive powerhouses with a death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach, too. A single Blood Artist on its own doesn't do much, but a Ministrant of Obligation, Midnight Reaper, and Pitiless Plunderer altogether add up to an extraordinarily powerful blackout. Coupled with an effect like Dictate of Erebos, which will also trigger twice, it's hard to see how our enemies can overcome all this nickel-and-diming.

Of particular importance, though, is the way Teysa can also profit from the deaths of her opponents' creatures.

It's easy to forget, sometimes, but Teysa doesn't care whether the creature that dies is your own, just whether the permanent whose ability triggered belongs to you. A Massacre Wurm can wipe out a board of tokens and drain opponents for four life per creature, not just two. Revel in Riches will add up so quickly it's not even funny, and I've even seen a Yahenni, Undying Partisan climb to over 30 power almost by complete accident. Opponents can barely dare to kill Teysa's creatures, and beyond that, they'll be afraid of ever casting their own!

Lavish, Luxurious, and Lethal

Commander (1)
Creatures (31)
Instants (4)
Enchantments (10)
Artifacts (12)
Planeswalkers (1)
Sorceries (4)
Lands (37)

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My most important lesson for Teysa Karlov is definitely to watch out for the engine's sustainability. A single Skullclamp will trigger to help draw four cards instead of just two. That's amazing. But it also isn't guaranteed to show up every single game. The number of Midnight Reaper effects in the game isn't infinite. When Aristocrats decks profit so gleefully off the deaths of their own creatures, they sometimes get so eager to experience the value that they run out of creatures to sacrifice.

There are fun ways to mitigate this, and it's extremely important to bear in mind that drawing cards is absolutely not the only way to make sure the engine can keep chugging and bringing the pain train to our opponents. If a Hallowed Spiritkeeper is about to make 12 tokens and we have a Zulaport Cutthroat in play, we don't exactly need to draw more cards, cuz that's most likely a game-winner right there! I'll recommend a couple of extra-cool cards that help keep Teysa's coffers well-stocked. For now, however, we'll turn our attention to another Spiritkeeper.


Thalisse of Your Worries

Even if she hadn't been EDHREC's preview card, Thalisse, Reverent Medium would have been my favorite commander from the entire set. I could not wait to build her. I've been aching for a black-white tokens deck for years, and Teysa Karlov (or even other commanders like Regna, the Redeemer + Krav, the Unredeemed never quite scratched that itch for me. Thalisse knocks it out of the park; she may be an uncommon, but like Syr Konrad, the Grim and Tatyova, Benthic Druic before her, that rarity symbol is absolutely not a knock against her power level.

Thalisse is practically an Anointed Procession in the command zone. She doesn't double the precise tokens you make with a Call the Coppercoats, but in some cases, that's a good thing! We're often just making a bunch of 1/1 Soldiers, so matching them with an equal number of evasive Spirits is a total upgrade! She gets even nastier when we do have Anointed Procession in play, too; say we used Elspeth, Sun's Champion to create three 1/1s, which our enchantment doubled to six. On our end step, Thalisse creates that many Spirits, which gets doubled to 12. That's so many creatures!

Not just that, but Thalisse triggers on each end step, not just our own. So a Smothering Tithe making treasures on enemy turns means we'll have lots of Spirits by the time it's our turn again. Oh, and if we didn't already have tons of reasons to love Divine Visitation, Thalisse gives us yet another. I've managed to pull off the Ophiomancer + Divine Visitation trick more than once, and it's even more insane when that interaction also triggers your commander to make even more Angels each end step, too. You don't always have to focus on creating tokens on every single turn, though. Casting Thalisse into an Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder will give you twelve total bodies on the board by the time the turn is out. That's powerful Magic. 

This is where the deviations from Teysa really emerge. Teysa knows that every creature in her deck is expendable, and those she grants cool abilities to her tokens, she knows for sure that everything's destiny is to live a very short life.

Thalisse has another route to choose, if she would like to take it. She can load up on Zulaport Cutthroats too (I especially recommend Nadier's Nightblade and Bastion of Remembrance), but she's also making so many bodies that I feel it would be silly not to take advantage of their quantity somehow.

This is the decklist I've personally landed on for my Thalisse build, and having played it numerous times on stream and with friends, I'm confident in saying that this one of the best, most impactful, and most fun decks I've had the joy of building in a very, very long time. It has cemented itself as one of my absolute favorites in my stable of decks, and I'm delighted to share it with you.

Thalisse You Could Do

Commander (1)
Creatures (16)
Enchantments (11)
Sorceries (13)
Instants (6)
Artifacts (12)
Planeswalkers (3)
Lands (38)

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There are a number of anthems I've made sure to include here, from the obvious Intangible Virtue to the entrancing Mirror Entity and Heraldic Banner. Even a single emblem from Sorin, Lord of Innistrad will cause enemies to sweat when they see just how many Spirits this deck can pump out. Cathars' Crusade, by the way, is so hilarious that I'm sometimes overcome by a fit of giggles when it begins to go off.

I suspect the data will shape up for Thalisse's payoffs to more closely resemble Teysa's. More Blood Artists, more cards that intend to exploit the token bodies as sacrifice fodder. I opted to include some beatdown-y cards alongside some of these, to help diversify the win conditions, but Aristocrats is a popular archetype for good reason, and what sets Thalisse apart from Teysa so much is that she helps participate in the creation of the very bodies Aristocrats will exploit. Both make the good cards better, but the places where they differ come down to a matter as simple as 'setup' vs 'payoff'.

Thalisse enhances the setup part of her deck. She doubles a Lingering Souls or an Increasing Devotion. From there, she can sacrifice them all to proc tons of Nadier's Nightblade effects or she can Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite for a powerful aerial force.

Teysa, by contrast, enhances the payoff. The rest of her deck needs to setup and supply a chain of creatures to pick off, and she'll arrive when the funeral procession is ready to begin, to help turn that dirge into a proper celebration. It's a matter of timing: Thalisse comes down early and often to amplify the board yet to come, while Teysa doesn't hurry, instead waiting until the stage has been set to make her arrival.

I think the most important differences in the above decklists don't lie in small matters like whether one deck plays Requiem Angel or not, or which deck likes Woe Strider most. Rather, the most important distinction lies in how they are supported. Teysa has many low-cost creatures that become their most potent when all assembled en masse. Thus, she doesn't just need to find a method of card advantage, she needs to find ways to refuel, be that card draw or mini-resurrection, so her sacrifice engine may continue to eat morsel after morsel. Meanwhile, Thalisse doesn't just need mana acceleration, she needs mana consistency, to help her cast those high-cost Grave Titans and Ghoulcaller Gisas.

Best of all, despite their differences, these commanders can agree upon one very important thing: they absolutely rock the spirit world.


Cards to Consider

Before we go, let's pause and consider some cool cards we mustn't overlook for these commanders!


Teysa

  • Spawning Pit: This is the best sac outlet you're not playing. It's terrific, and it gives you even more bodies to sacrifice later!
  • Fanatical Devotion: Actually, this might be one of the best sac outlets you're not playing.
  • Tombstone Stairwell: Utterly insane, this card. I've never seen so many Blood Artist triggers. Teysa even gives them lifelink. When I discussed this card in the Upping the Average series, which has a budget restriction, it was like $3, but it's gotten way higher nowadays. Teysa is amazing even when she's on a budget, but if you find yourself with the opportunity to spruce it up even more, this should be a priority.
  • Dutiful Attendant: Yes, really. This is a very effective tool to help Teysa restock. They go to hand, not to play, but this consistency is very useful for us. We don't need to draw all the time. Luminous Broodmoth and Reveillark have taught us that getting the same creatures back even just one more time is sometimes enough to carry us to victory.
  • Wake the Dead: This doesn't show up much for traditional Reanimator decks, but that's because it's not a great Reanimator card. Those strategies want to resurrect and keep a creature. We want ours to die again as soon as possible. This card has won me more games than I can count.

Thalisse

  • Jazal Goldmane: Thalisse will almost accidentally wind up with ten or fifteen creatures on the board. I like making them lethal attackers.
  • Kaya's Guile: This is already a solid card, but in this deck, the 1/1 Spirit mode could come in handy even more than people would anticipate.
  • Maw of the Obzedat: Sac outlet and part-time Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest impersonator. Another great way to make a lethal board, whether from attacking or from saccing!
  • Night's Whisper: I'm seeing this card at like only 20% popularity so far for Thalisse, and other draw options aren't faring much better. Don't forget to eat your veggies. Thalisse needs card advantage effects, make sure she has them.
  • Shrine of Loyal Legions: It doesn't look like much, but it builds up faster than you think, and three mana to unleash a bunch of tokens that Thalisse can copy is really nice, especially since most of the snazzy token-makers tend to cost a lot more mana.

Life After Afterlife

Thalisse isn't going to unseat Teysa's popularity crown anytime soon, but she doesn't need to! She's introduced a splendid surge of spiritual energy into the Orzhov lineup, and I'm delighted to have her with us. I also cannot wait for Olivia Gobert-Hicks to deliver yet another stunning cosplay!

So what do you think of those Aristocratic adventure? Oh, and which commanders would you like to see on the next Commander Showdown?

Til next time!

Joey is the lead editor and content producer for EDHREC. You can find him hosting and creating tons of great videos over at https://www.youtube.com/edhrecast or give him a follow at @JosephMSchultz on Twitter, where he likes to celebrate Commander, coffee, and corgis.