Deep Analysis - Aristocrats

(Teysa Karlov | Art by Magali Villeneuve)

Unlimited Power

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Deep Analysis is a new series where we learn about an Archetype using its wiki page, then apply this new knowledge to build a deck.

In our first entry of this series, we'll take a look at the Aristocrats page. Let's see how the archetype is defined there:

"'Aristocrats' is a [Magic] deck archetype that seeks to sacrifice its own creatures, especially many low-cost and/or token creatures, to accumulate game-winning benefits. Aristocrats decks use a combination of sacrifice outlets and cards that trigger when their creatures enter and/or leave the battlefield."

This is a great place to start; we've established that we're a creature-based deck that gets value by sacrificing our own creatures, using it to fuel a myriad of different effects.

Aristocrat decks require some setup to get going, usually along the lines of some sacrifice outlets coupled with some creatures that benefit from other creatures dying, and some fodder to sacrifice. The benefits from this engine are often realized slowly on a turn-by-turn base, but the archetype is no stranger to explosive plays.

Most of the Aristocrats decks are black-inclusive, so let's do a quick overview of each black-inclusive color combination to see what each has to offer. If you feel like exploring other color combinations, EDHREC has a way to only see the specific archetype that you're looking for in a given color combination. This is extremely useful when doing some "window shopping" in a random color identity page. Alternatively, if you know what you want, but don't know which color combination to use, you could go into the Theme page and start from there.


Mono-black is as straightforward as it gets. A mono-black Aristocrat deck can be used as a starting point for other colors because it has almost all of the archetype's staples.

Key Commanders


Orzhov has the most support for the archetype; it plays a bit more grindier than its alternatives, but it has no problem finishing off games.

Key Cards

Key Commanders


Rakdos is a whole lot more explosive. Red gives lots of ways to quickly rack up damage.

Key Cards

Key Commanders


Golgari is a more goodstuff shell; it has some of the best creatures in the format and a wide array of tools to cover all spectrums of the archetype.

Key Cards

Key Commanders


Dimir lacks the direct support and is a bit slower than the other colors; however, what it lacks in general speed it gains in the form of interaction, and it has some indirect support that can help out the archetype.

Key Cards

Key Commanders

Orzhov might be the best color combination for the archetype; after all, the archetype is named after an Orzhov card: Cartel Aristocrat. Out of its commander options, Teysa Karlov is, by far, the most popular, so why not use her as our commander of choice? Her ability to get double triggers from creatures dying makes grinding that much easier, and she has the potential to be extremely explosive under the right circumstances. The second part of her kit is pretty handy, too, allowing us to mount a better defense, and even chipping in for damage on some players.

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The wiki page mentions a few important components (or packages) for the archetype, so let's go over them one by one and explain what their role is in the archetype. There are even cards that cover multiple roles, so they'll be mentioned multiple times.

Sacrifice Package

This is the most important part of every Aristocrat deck; it's the oil that makes the machine run smoothly. Good sacrifice outlets are cheap to play, are free to activate, and have relevant effects that get us value even without any other support. They can also serve as a way to protect from exile-based removal, which can often be very strong against us.

Life Drain Package

Aristocrat lists want to play a slow game, and this is where ping effects truly shine. Having one of them in play might not seem like all that much; however, when we start having two or more they can add up very quickly. The best part is that they can also act as a board wipe protection, because we might discourage people from pulling the trigger if it gets painful enough.

Draw Package

Card draw is extremely important for the archetype. We need a plethora of cards to build our engine, and without it, we'll very quickly run out of gas. Card draw also adds more parts to our engine, making it that much deadlier.

Recursion Package

Getting creatures back from the graveyard is especially important in a deck that wants to sacrifice them. Recursion is an efficient way to recycle good creatures and avoid the "go fish" nature of card draw.


On-theme removal is always a good thing to have in a deck; they make the deck feel more thematic and allow us to get more value out of our removal suite. They also are a bit more slot-efficient than the usual generic removal because they can be used to fuel other cards. We just need to be sure to pack a few generic removal as well so that we're not completely dead to hate.


Sometimes we don't have as many bodies to sacrifice as we'd like, so including a few token-makers can really help out with this specific demand. One thing to notice is that some Aristocrat effects don't work on tokens, so we can't go overboard.

Now that we've talked about the list, let's get some tips from the Wiki and see what we should be looking out for when playing the archetype.

"Aristocrats decks are very vulnerable to ‘grave hate’ effects that exile graveyards, especially cards like Rest in Peace. Effects that prevent them from triggering any abilities when creatures leave the battlefield will wholly turn off an Aristocrats player’s strategy and negate the majority of benefits they would receive from sacrificing their creatures.
If an Aristocrats player is unable to find a death trigger payoff card (or if that card is swiftly removed by their opponents) they may not be able to assemble a meaningful advantage, and may wind up with many small, non-powerful creatures to sacrifice without making a significant impact on their enemies."
Without an appropriate balance of token-makers, card draw and/or recursion, Aristocrats decks can quickly run out of creatures to sacrifice and therefore cause the deck to stall out."

Graveyard hate is certainly troublesome for Aristocrats in general. One-shot effects, like Bojuka Bog, can get us out of nowhere, and constant effects, like Rest in Peace, will not only hose our graveyard but also prevent death triggers (since, for a creature to die, it needs to go to the graveyard from the battlefield). It's hard to play around the first, because they tend to have an impact as soon as they hit the board, but if your meta is filled with the latter, it might be worth running more generic removal to have an easier time finding an out.

Aristocrat decks are engine-builders, and, as such, they need to have a few pieces out to get full benefits from its effects. This means that card draw is important, but so is knowing how to curve out safely. Different types of pieces have different priorities, and knowing which one to risk and which one to save for later will help out a lot when dealing with removal. One clear example are draw-enablers, like Grim Haruspex, which are really important once we have an board established; however, we can get blown out by having them instantly removed without gaining any value. On the other hand, if we have a bunch of these effects in hand and nothing much else, it might be prudent to play just to try to fish for more cards.

Even with a properly balanced deck, we can still draw the wrong half of our deck and run out of fodder to sacrifice. When this happens, it's often better to start sacrificing support pieces to avoid getting too far behind; doing so, also might help us dig out of this hole. This type of scenario, although being a worst case, will happen from time to time, and having some experience goes a long way to make the most of this bad situation.

The End

If you want to build an Aristocrat deck, but don't want to play Teysa Karlov, or maybe you want to avoid the Orzhov guild altogether, here are some suggestions of which cards to replace.

Commander-Specific Cards

Color-Identity-Specific cards

That's it for this article. Now I want to hear from you. Share your thoughts on this list, or even Aristocrats in general. What archetype do you want to see covered next?

While this series will focus on just archetypes, there's a ton of other cool community-built content in the Wiki. Check it out, and feel free to contribute, if you'd like!

Bernardo has been playing(on and off) since portal and somehow manage to survive mirrodin block while being a total casual(beast tribal ftw?). He loves all the shades of blue and being the one saying "nope", while holding a full grip of cards in hand.

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