Rally the Ancestors - #justoliviathings

Olivia, Mobilized for War
Olivia, Mobilized for War | Art by Livia Prima)


Welcome back to Rally the Ancestors! Olivia Voldaren is a complicated vampire. She has not one, not two, but three cards. Every time the game heads to Innistrad, there she is, with a fresh new look. She's been four mana, back to three, and then six.

This time we're going to explore the forgotten middle child, Olivia, Mobilized for War. She's a little smaller and a little less popular than her other versions (540 decks on EDHREC (rank #41) at the time of writing this), but there's a lot going on with this card and I think she's worth exploring. She's a discard outlet, a way to pump our team and give them haste, enabler of Vampire typal shenanigans and an evasive attacker. That's plenty to think about!

I ran through many an idea before I landed on the final build of this deck; probably more than any other article I've put together. Initially I had thought about using token generators to trigger Olivia every turn and set up for a big Living Death, but I felt that was a little fragile. Ninjutsu was always on the table, but there isn't enough impactful Ninjas in Rakdos colors to make that the full deck. Ditto with Madness, and Vampires would've nearly built itself thanks to EDHREC's wonderful suggestions. Not that there's anything wrong with running a Vampire build here, but I owe it to you folks to get creative! So I thought to myself...

  1. Olivia wants creatures to attack, so I'll need some payoffs for hitting players and ways to get in
  2. I can synergize with her discard and other discard effects (and yes, Madness is part of that)
  3. I don't want to leave myself too open to getting smacked back.

And then it hit me. This Olivia is a perfect commander to feature everyone's favorite $9 uncommon and likely soon to be the most proxied card in Magic: The Gathering history (not that I'm advocating for it) from Lord of the Rings, Nazgûl!

"Say hi to the audience, Nazgûl!"

This low-to-the-ground deathtoucher also lets us get tempted by the Ring repeatedly, which provides a way to get through blockers, gives us another discard outlet AND another payoff for attacking. It's a perfect marriage (despite us not playing with Olivia, Crimson Bride). Of course, Nazgûl isn't the only creature worth running. This will be a creature-heavy, low-curve build with plenty of payoffs for dealing combat damage. We know the Olivia Things we want to do. So let's do #justoliviathings!

Deck Goals

Let's talk about what we're trying to accomplish...

  1. Get in and get in early. We have a lot of creatures that can benefit from actually connecting with an attack, so we'll need ways to facilitate that. Olivia being a flier herself and granting haste to our other creatures sure helps, but we'll need more.
  2. Use our creatures to break through defenses or potentially force a bad block. I'm thinking deathtouch, along with other forms of evasion.
  3. Find ways to hang around in longer games as we generate incremental damage. This means prioritizing our removal for the things we may struggle with later on (big fliers, perhaps).

Tips for building and playing Olivia, Mobilized for War

Tip #1: This is a very card hungry deck. If you're making changes to this list, ensure you keep plenty of card draw intact! Needing to discard for Olivia's ability can add up, so we'll need some decent recurring card draw. Being able to recycle what we discard is important, too!

Tip #2: Be first; be proactive! While we have ways to close games out, the deck trades off having a high volume of answers for a high volume of cheap cards that need answered, and need answered soon. If you ever find yourself playing one-on-one Commander, this deck will shine. It has enough versatility to function in a four-player environment as well, too.

Tip #3: This is one time I'm going to try getting away with 36 lands and not a ton of ramp. Our curve is pretty low. Admittedly we do have a lot of three-mana creatures, which isn't as ideal with a three-mana commander, but we have enough card draw and can function with less lands well enough. I generally advocate for running more than you might think you need, but in this case I'll break my own rule.

Tip #4: When in doubt, this deck does have a sneaky infinite combo. Is it three or four cards? Well, yes. There's some redundancy at least. If you manage to get Olivia out alongside a draw-upon-death card like Grim Haruspex and a sacrifice outlet like Viscera Seer, you can get infinite damage off of Murderous Redcap. Yawgmoth, Thran Physician can also get the job of both the sac outlet and the card draw engine if you have enough life to sustain it. So if the situation calls for it, prioritize finding the pieces with your tutors. I don't like to build solely with infinites in mind (it gets a little stale after a while), but pulling this one off will feel like an accomplishment! Thankfully each piece is still good on its own, too.

The Deck

Key components of our deck include:

Discard synergy/value

Still strong: Big Game Hunter, Terminal Agony, Squee, Goblin Nabob, Archfiend of Ifnir
New hotness: Conspiracy Theorist, Surly Badgersaur, Currency Converter

While we're running some cards that want creatures in our graveyard, it's nice to have some ways to take advantage of discard in general since we'll be doing plenty of it. Madness cards are an obvious place to look, but I only found a few I felt were worth running. If we manage to land Squee, Goblin Nabob we can use Olivia's ability with no downside, which is the best case scenario, really. Newcomers like Conspiracy Theorist, Surly Badgersaur and Currency Converter give us plenty of extra value. Archfiend of Ifnir is very strong in this deck, giving us a good-sized body to run the skies in addition to wrecking the rest of the board in the process.

Combat damage matters

Still strong: Grenzo, Havoc Raiser, Graveblade Marauder, Virtus the Veiled, Okiba-Gang Shinobi
New hotness: Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor, Nashi, Moon Sage's Scion, Dokuchi Silencer

Much like Madness for discard, Ninjutsu is an obvious payoff for attacking. Thankfully we have some great new cards to complement some of the old classics. Virtus the Veiled is probably our best way to speed our victory up; hitting opponents for half their life is no joke. Unfortunately, people will want to block Virtus. So while we can occasionally force a bad trade, we're better off trying to get it through. Thankfully, we have a few tricks up our sleeve for doing just that.


Getting in

Still strong: Bitterblossom, Key to the City, Skeleton Key
New hotness: Nazgûl, Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire, Call of the Ring

Between Skulk, deathtouch and the Ring tempting us, we have several ways to ensure our creatures get through to enable our payoffs and deal enough damage. Most of our creatures are quite small, even with Olivia's +1/+1 counter, so The Ring tempts you mechanic will be a very consistent way to do so and generate value in the process. As mentioned earlier, Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire is our unofficial ninth Nazgûl and can find key cards for us while dealing damage. Of course, between Bitterblossom's neverending flow of chump blockers and all our creatures with deathtouch, we'll be difficult to attack back into profitably too.

Graveyard fun

Still strong: Whip of Erebos, Victimize, Unearth
New hotness: Chainer, Nightmare Adept, Terror of Towashi, Virtue of Persistence

With our high creature count and discard-focused game plan, having ways to interact with our graveyard is a no-brainer. Older reanimation spells like Victimize hold up just fine here, but new additions like Chainer, Nightmare Adept and Virtue of Persistence give us new ways to repeatedly bring cards back. Terror of Towashi is yet another deathtouching threat that can also repeatedly bring creatures back, if our opponents feel generous enough to let it live. At the very least, it should end up being a good two-for-one. Hopefully more!

Card draw

Still strong: Skullclamp, Phyrexian Arena, Vampiric Rites
New hotness: Palantír of Orthanc, Stormfist Crusader

As mentioned, having access to repeatable card draw is very important for such a card-hungry deck. Symmetrical card draw like Stormfist Crusader can be very dangerous, but I think it's worth the risk here. It's an evasive two-mana creature that opponents will have a hard time blocking and probably think twice about killing (who doesn't like drawing cards?!). Skullclamp is really hard to top while running smaller creatures, especially with the classic Bitterblossom pairing. Vampiric Rites does a suitable impression of Skullclamp if needed (you can pair them up, too!). I'm also running Phyrexian Arena over Black Market Connections as I feel that we'd be choosing the card drawing mode of the latter pretty much every time with this deck. Might as well save one life.

Rowan package

Speaking of losing life, I realized we were running quite a few cards that we pay life to use, so I thought it would be fun to try out Rowan, Scion of War. While I've mostly heard of her being used as a combo machine with cards like Treasonous Ogre, even reducing spells by a mana or two can be quite good in a deck like this. She also hits quite hard for a three-mana creature, so she's perfect here. I've mentioned a lot of our sources of life loss already (Bitterblossom, Phyrexian Arena etc.), but here are a few more. Cards like Shadowspear and Whip of Erebos will help soften the self-inflicted blows a bit too.

Still strong: Sulfurous Springs, Blood Crypt, Bloodstained Mire
New hotness: Mount Doom, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician

Even our lands help out with this portion of our game plan! I didn't include The One Ring here, but I'm sure it would be a solid contributor if you happen to have one.

And here's our list.


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Commander (1)
Planeswalkers (1)
Creatures (36)
Instants (5)
Sorceries (9)
Artifacts (11)
Enchantments (5)
Lands (32)

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How I used EDHREC to build this deck

A lot of Olivia lists lean hard into the vampire theme, which I ended up leaning away from. This made looking for cards a bit trickier. I went into the "Madness" theme on Olivia's EDHREC page to help find some options. While it helped, I also wanted to keep my curve low and didn't intend on going full Madness with it. So, I had to do plenty of digging on Scryfall as well.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I went through more iterations of this deck than any other since I started this column so it's tough to remember how it all came together. It had been sitting in various stages of drafts since the spring, until The Lord of the Rings came out and the Nazgûl concept came to mind. That felt like the last piece of the puzzle, and it has been running quite well in test games lately. There's enough sneaky synergy and value to hold its own, even in four player games. Rare for what is essentially an aggro deck! In any case, I'm proud of this one and I hope you've enjoyed the article. Give it a go if you're looking for a slightly offbeat aggro build. Until next time!

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Dallas is a communications professional, writer and nearly life-long Magic player from Canada. Commander is his format of choice. When not playing or writing about Magic, you can find him skiing or biking in the mountains he calls home.

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