Epic Experiment - Olivia Modular
(Olivia, Mobilized for War | Art by Eric Deschamps)
Hello, EDHREC! I’m Bernardo Melibeu and this is Epic Experiment, a series where we throw all common sense aside and experiment with some unusual strategies, changing how we normally play our deck. Is it going to work? Who knows?! We’re making science here. When you’re an Izzet mage, blowing things up is half the fun.
In this article, we'll be exploring the second appearance of Olivia Voldaren, a card that has a very powerful effect, but it got outshined by the release of Edgar Markov: Olivia, Mobilized for War.
Let's start by taking a quick look at her kit:
Whenever another creature enters the battlefield under your control, you may discard a card. If you do put a +1/+1 counter on that creature, it gains haste until the end of turn, and it becomes a Vampire in addition to its other types.
Observation 1: She's kind of funny, because with that kind of ability (granting +1/+1) one would expect her to be good in go-wide strategies. In fact, it's the opposite, since we probably won't be able to discard cards for every creature we play. She really cares about card quality.
Observation 2: She's decent as a Dredge support; she can have all the black graveyard goodies with the explosive red enablers.
Observation 3: She's interesting as a tribal lord because, while she can give some extra power to her tribe, she benefits non-Vampires even more! Her contribution to the tribe is the ability to add other quality cards while still garnering tribal bonuses.
The Old Formula
With that in mind, let’s see how this vampire queen is usually built:
It's not a complete shock that most of her cards are Vampires. If we delve a little deeper, we can see a trend that distinguishes her from other Vampire commanders: the discard/Madness theme. Both enablers and payoffs are heavily represented in those lists.
The Epic Ingredients
It's gonna sound obvious, but outside of Vampire tribal, there are two main advantages to using her as a commander: haste enabler and +1/+1 counters. It seems simple enough, but the key here is finding a shell that cares about both of them. We need to see past our Rakdos color identity and take a glimpse into the future, where machines dominate and there's almost no need for colored mana.
We're building an artifact deck!
Artifact creatures are naturally drawn into counters, as with the ability Modular, or simply by gaining counters when entering the battlefield, and because of that, many of them have ways to use those counters to our advantage. Cards like Arcbound Ravager, Arcbound Crusher, and Steel Overseer are efficient ways to gain a large amount of counters. When combined with the Proliferate support of Throne of Geth, Contagion Clasp, and Contagion Engine we get an efficient engine that cranks up the power of cards like Hangarback Walker, Walking Ballista, and even the unexpected Aetherborn Marauder to the maximum.
Another selling point into building an artifact-based deck is the access to some of the best artifact reanimation packages. By combining both black generic reanimation spells with red artifact-specific ones. This let us get back some of the cards that we'll eventually lose both with Olivia discarding and by sacrificing ourselves to gain more value, making it a quasi-Golgari playstyle.
Victimize, Trash for Treasure, and Scrap Mastery are highly efficient one-shot effects that provide some explosiveness, since they are cheaper and faster than the recurring abilities like Goblin Welder, Daretti, Scrap Savant, and Phyrexian Reclamation. Cards like Bomat Courier, Myr Retriever, and Hangarback Walker are great early game plays that give us value when they die. Same with Wurmcoil Engine, Duplicant, and Triskelion, as they provide value when entering and leaving the battlefield, but, because of their high CMC, they are usually discarded early to fuel Olivia's ability.
One of this deck's biggest weakness is running low on cards, which makes having a strong card advantage package one of the keys to our success. We already covered using recursion as a way to recoup some of the losses, but let's also acknowledge the raw card draw spells available to us.
Daredevil Dragster is an aggro card that net us two cards, and we can even get it back multiple times for more value. Skullclamp is very strong in this deck, as we play somewhat as an aristocrats strategy and we're counting on losing a few creatures. Phyrexian Arena isn't a powerhouse, but a reliable source of cards is difficult to say 'no' to. Finally, we also have Reforge the Soul and Wheel of Fate, cards that do basically everything we'd like a card draw spell to do, both putting old cards in our graveyard and drawing us new cards.
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The list, while not the most competitive, is very well-rounded and it doesn't lack anything particular. Our ramp is strong because we can get full value from colorless mana rocks, and our removal is flexible, ranging from some of the Rakdos staples to artifact-based permanent destruction, which we can recur, if needed. While we're only playing two board wipes, they're very powerful: Damnation, which is a no-nonsense version of this effect, and All is Dust, which is very often is a asymmetrical effect.
Aside from all the synergy we have, there are two cards worth mentioning: Traxos, Scourge of Kroog and Hellkite Tyrant. Both of those are just in for the ride and provide a very valuable contribution as a simple threat that doesn't really care about having support, which is something very crucial for when everything else fails.
This is an aggro deck, and as such we need a low curve to make it work, prioritizing hands with that have some sort of game plan. 2-3 lands, a mana rock, and some small creatures is a good start, but there'll be some hands that won't get us anywhere simply because of the lack of card draw.
In the early game we need to plan our curve carefully. It's important to know when to discard cards to Olivia's ability, since this is the point of the game where we are more restricted in mana and, at the same time, have a higher amount of cards in hand. Discarding to many cards without thinking is a sure way to be Hellbent by the mid game.
The mid game starts to become uphill battle where we can either hit or miss, but in these deck's case we still have lots of explosive draws either by assembling some engine or by drawing wheels and getting a reset from there. It's important to know which threats to prioritize when powering up our creatures with counters. This is where having basically an entire board of artifacts really starts to become a liability, as we're vulnerable to random Vandalblasts and Wraths.
Our late game will depend on how many cards we actually got to see (via drawing, looting, etc). This means if we can establish the engine, it's very hard to truly keep us down, but on the other hand, if we are stuck with the same parts for too long, our deck will not go off. This point in the game our "isolated" threats can shine, and Olivia's haste is going to be crucial, so knowing when to hold cards is also something worth learning.
Looking back at this list there are some changes that could be made to better suit other playstyles.
Adding powerful looting spells like Faithless Looting, Tormeting Voice and Cathartic Reunion can help alleviate some of the need for fresh cards. Just be careful with those cards when Hellbent. If going this route, adding more reanimation spells and targets would be also a good change; this deck is effectively an artifact reanimator deck, abusing Olivia's ability to both fuel graveyards and give haste to reanimation targets, which means there's always room to lean more into that strategy.
If board wipes are predominant, adding Darksteel Forge and Eldrazi Monument might prove useful.
That’s it for this Epic Experiment! What do you think about this "modern" (wink, wink) take on Olivia? Please fell free to leave any suggestions in the comments section. Do you have any questions about the list? Which cards did you like? Which didn’t you? Was the Epic Experiment a success? Please let me know!