Nearly Identical - Kambal or Liesa?

(Tenuous Truce | Art by Kari Christensen)

No Pain, No Game

Hello! Welcome to Nearly Identical, a series where I take a close look at two commanders with similar designs and archetypes, find out what sets them apart, and help you find your next commander. Today, I'm taking a look at two Orzhov commanders that drain players just for casting spells: Kambal, Consul of Allocation and Liesa, Shroud of Dusk.

Orzhov is known for its strong synergies with lifegain effects. From the soul sisters like Soul Warden to the new Elas il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim, Orzhov's goals are very clear: gain life to survive long enough to drain out everyone else. That's where both of our commanders come in. Both want to do the same thing, drain opponents for two life each time they cast a spell. Kambal only triggers when opponents cast noncreature spells, but he does gain us life in exchange. Liesa, however, drains anyone for daring to cast spells, including us. She has a pretty mean effect if we wish to cast a lot of things, but she makes up for it by being a lifelinking 5/5 flier, so any life we do lose, she can gain back. Plus, her first ability allows us to avoid paying commander tax, so we're not too concerned if she gets removed over and over again.

As for how we build them, Kambal and Liesa don't really ask you to do anything too specific. Their drain effects happen when our opponents do something, so there isn't a clear build-around for them as commanders. Despite that, they're almost exclusively built as lifegain commanders. Players build around the fact that both of them have some way to gain life, which will trigger permanents like Sanguine Bond and Archangel of Thune. Based on data provided by MtGDS, we see that these two have a similarity coefficient of 93%! That means there is a 93% chance a card found in a Kambal deck is also found in a Liesa deck. Wow!

These decks are nearly identical! You could probably swap these two commanders out and wouldn't see much difference in play style. I don't know if this speaks more to how similar the commanders are, or how focused the Orzhov Lifegain strategy is. In order to really think outside of the box here, I've taken both of these commanders in two distinct directions. Since Kambal cares about what our opponents are doing, I've decided to build him with cards that scale based on what our opponents' gameplans are, and for Liesa, I'm going full-on Voltron. But first, what kind of cards do we want in a lifegain deck?

I've already mentioned the soul sisters, which are a staple to the lifegain strategy, but there are so many incidental ways we can gain life. Archivist of Oghma just so happens to gain us life on top of the card draw, and with all the lifegain triggers, we'll be able to add up to an explosive Well of Lost Dreams and draw a ton of cards, if we have the leftover mana. Witch of the Moors has an excellent recursion trigger that can even mow down our opponents' boards over time. Now let's talk about how we're going to build Kambal!

Benefiting Off Others

Our Kambal, Consul of Allocation's deck will focus on what our opponents are doing and scale depending on how strong our opponents are. I'm looking to include cards like Deep Gnome Terramancer and the already-mentioned Archivist of Oghma that get better at higher-power tables but aren't overwhelming elsewhere. The goal is to create a deck that can basically be played at almost any level. After all, Kambal is the Consul of Allocation, so any resources our opponents gather will also be distributed to us. However, if we're the only ones benefiting, then we'll put a target on our heads. We need to form alliances.

Tenuous Truce will give us card draw while also incentivizing an opponent to not attack us. Our deck doesn't need to attack to win, so keeping this truce shouldn't be difficult for us. Master of Ceremonies gives everyone a little something. Our opponents get to choose what they get while we get all the value. This can even help make deals with players if we need to draw into answers for the opponent looking to win. Smuggler's Share is the final piece of value we'll talk about here. It can ramp and draw us cards on each of our opponents' turns! I've seen Smuggler's Share do a lot of work, but I've seen it do very little. It may be a hit or miss, but it fits right into the theme I'm looking for.

Now let's talk about how we get one over on our opponents.

How better to advance our own board state than to reanimate (that is, steal) our opponents creatures? Lorcan, Warlock Collector is a very high-costing Tergrid, God of Fright effect that only takes creatures. His effect works if creatures go into the graveyard from anywhere - battlefield, hand, even library if we somehow mill them. Sepulchral Primordial is a more classic example of how we can take from our opponents' graveyards, and Portal to Phyrexia is a whopping nine mana for a decent sweeper effect that allows us to repeatedly recur something from any graveyard.

Reanimating stuff can be fun, but there's the chance we won't know what to do with these creatures once we have them. How do we ensure we get the win?

Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor can give us any answers we need. Take off the top of an opponent's library and maybe we'll find a powerful draw spell that can outvalue our opponents or a burn spell that can wipe out everyone all at once. Either way, we're sure to take the best thing our opponents have to offer. If our opponents aren't casting a lot of noncreature spells to trigger Kambal, then we can fall back on Suture Priest to make sure they'll lose life if they play a creature-heavy deck.

I've installed one failsafe plan if all else goes run and our deck doesn't perform. I'll be including Aetherflux Reservoir in the deck. We'll be using it along with Sensei's Divining Top and Bolas's Citadel to perform a near-infinite combo that'll allow us to gain a ton of life and easily zap our opponents for 50.

And here's the deck!

Kambal, the Patient One

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Creatures (20)
Instants (10)
Sorceries (7)
Enchantments (8)
Artifacts (18)
Lands (36)

Angelic Strike

Our Liesa, Shroud of Dusk is simple: suit her up with Equipment that increase her power, and hit face. Voltron strategies can be fragile, especially since each time our commander dies, we'll have to pay an additional two each time just to get our gameplan back online, but Liesa doesn't have that problem. She'll always cost five, so recasting her and getting back into the combat step isn't a big issue. Hammer of Nazahn will allow us to suit up Liesa even faster! Brass Knuckles gives her double strike, which will be helpful in killing opponents with commander damage, and Blackblade Reforged will speed up the clock on our opponents depending on how many lands we have. How else can we make sure our opponents' lives go down?

One thing about this strategy is that we don't have to pay two life just to equip Liesa. If that's where the majority of our mana expenditure goes, then we won't be hurting ourselves as much as we'll be hurting our opponents. Keen Duelist and Protection Racket can also both offer us card draw by putting pressure on enemy life totals, a resource that they're already limited on with Liesa out.

And just wait until you have Tivash, Gloom Summoner out with a fully equipped lifelinker. If we don't need the life, we can create a giant flying Demon that'll only add to the damage we can do to our opponents. Our gameplan is simple, but effective.

Liesa's Swift Strike

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Creatures (17)
Enchantments (7)
Artifacts (25)
Sorceries (6)
Instants (8)
Lands (36)

Life is a Resource

Draining our opponents is one of Orzhov's best finishers, and no commander exemplifies that better than the top Orzhov commander herself, Liesa, Shroud of Dusk. With a total of 6,800 decks, players have seen the power she wields. Draining two life for each spell cast speeds up the game for everyone, and having a 5/5 flying lifelinker as the commander means we'll almost always be ahead of our opponents.

Kambal, Consul of Allocation simply doesn't size up to Liesa's potential, and with barely 1,600 decks, it shows. Limiting the drain effect to only noncreature spells means we're missing out on players who have creature-heavy decks, and if we're playing at lower power tables, it's more likely that we'll be against at least one or two every time. That being said, I did enjoy building a deck that has a chance to scale with the power level of other people's decks. Plus, I haven't seen a Kambal deck in some time. Having a lesser-played commander won't ring as many alarms as Liesa will, and I think there's some benefit to that.

Let me know what you think! Do you want to profit from your opponents, or beat face with a sword-wielding Angel? And if you play lifegain, what other ways do you try to win?

Josh is a creative writer that started playing Magic when Throne of Eldraine was released. He loves entering combat and pressuring life totals, and to him, commander damage is always relevant. Outside of brewing many commander decks, he can be found prepping his D&D campaigns with a cat purring in his lap.

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