Rolebuilding - Lolth, Queen of Spiders
(Elves of Deep Shadow | Art by Justin Sweet)
What a Tangled Web She Weaves...
Welcome to Rolebuilding, where we analyze a Dungeons & Dragons character and build an EDH deck based on that character's background and motivation. Today we're taking a user suggestion to look at one of the most famous D&D gods: Lolth, Queen of the Demonweb Pits. We'll look at Lolth's lore for some inspiration and tips, then construct a Commander deck that reflects her personality and objectives. Let's dive in!
The Elves Begin
To understand Lolth's motivations, we must start with the story of her father, the greater god Corellon. Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes tell us, "Corellon was a god like no other, able to take the form of a chuckling stream, a teasing breeze, an incandescent beam...on nothing more than a whim." Gruumsh, the orc god, did not appreciate Corellon's mercurial, flamboyant nature.
After a great battle with Gruumsh that left them both wounded, according to the Tome, "[T]he first elves emerged from the blood that Corellon shed. These primal elves were much akin to Corellon, not nearly as powerful but just as changeable and audacious." Corellon began naming these echoes of his form, and the first elf gods were born. One of these elf gods, who called herself Lolth in defiance of her given name, was not satisfied with being one of Corellon's underlings.
Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes continues, "Lolth spoke to the other new gods and wove an enticing tale of how the elves could attain superiority if only they could relinquish a bit of their individual freedom...Through this argument, Lolth persuaded the primal entities to take static forms, largely resembling what elves look like today, and thereby turn away from the example of Corellon's wild, ever-shifting ways." These first elves began to view Corellon as their father, the one who sired them, and Lolth as their mother, the one who set them on their path to destiny.
Corellon was angered by this rebellion, but many elves rose up to defend Lolth even as others took Corellon's side. Lolth attempted to assassinate Corellon, and this act rent the elves, as a people, asunder. Lolth and Corellon parted ways, and Lolth became a demon lord of the Abyss. She was banished to an abyssal layer called the Demonweb, which is one massive spider web. The elves who most revered Lolth became the drow, or dark elves, and took up residence in the unforgiving realm of the Underdark, where Lolth's enmity for Corellon has stewed over many millenia.
A House Divided
Drow are reflections of Lolth, and her presence pervades every aspect of their society. The Tome tells us, "From the time they're old enough to understand, drow are taught that they're superior to all other creatures, for they remain steadfast in their devotion to Lolth despite the hardships of their existence...Reverence for Lolth touches every aspect of drow life." Drow especially hate surface elves, considering them cowards and turncoats since they initially followed Lolth in taking a physical form, but then betrayed her during the ensuing conflict with Corellon.
The principal organization in drow culture is the house, an extended clan that comprises many related families, plus a number of lesser families who have pledged loyalty to the house. Houses are in constant competition with one another as they vie for Lolth's approval. No tactic is outside the rules in this ongoing conflict: raids, rumors of heresy against Lolth, and assassinations by blade or poison are a constant threat. The Tome explains, "Bodyguards and food tasters are as necessary to the survival of a high-ranking drow as air and water."
Lolth is not a distant god, frequently visiting the Underdark in one of her forms to reward her most loyal matriarchs or houses with signs and favors, or to punish heresy and disloyalty. In this way she stays fresh in the minds of her followers while simultaneously encouraging the constant state of war and intrigue among her followers. This sort of violent competition is, in and of itself, the worship that Lolth adores.
The following is not canon lore, but my own conjecture: Lolth encourages her followers to compete brutally so that they will be strong and vicious enough to one day claim vengeance on Corellon and his followers, the surface elves. She is preparing, gradually, for a great war of dominance over all elfkind.
Elves and Spiders and Sacrifices, Oh My!
How do we make an EDH deck out of this multi-faceted story? Let's focus on the major key components and Lolth's driving ambitions. We'll use the construct of the drow houses as a microcosm for our EDH table, with each opponent being a competing house.
We'll include primarily Elves and Spiders, though other creatures will make cameos. We'll need to imagine that all of the elves included in our deck are drow for the purpose of the story we're telling. Our noncreature cards should also fit the theme and the Underdark's bleak landscape to ensure that we're delivering drow-ish or Lolth-ian judgments at all times.
Rampage of the *Houses
Our final goal is to dominate all of the elves (or, opponents), but like Lolth we want to lay in wait and prepare. We'll encourage competition, providing signs of favor or displeasure every so often to stir the pot. Our strategy is built around establishing our board state with smaller creatures, creeping through Underdark passages so we don't attract too much attention. When the moment is right, we'll declare all-out war with a horde of spiders and drow to raid the other houses and those cowardly surface-dwellers!
Drow train giant spiders like humans train hunting dogs. Even though this is not a Spider tribal deck, Rotwidow Pack creates her own tribe and is plenty dangerous with just a few Spiders in play. I love the flavor of recycling one of our creatures to breed more Spiders and drain our opponents. Nyx Weaver helps us build up our graveyard and provides themed recursion. Arasta of the Endless Web slowly and economically builds our board state without attracting too much suspicion. We're also including Dragonlair Spider for redundancy.
Our deck's strategy requires lots of smaller creatures to use as attack or sacrifice fodder. Aggressive Elves like Tana the Bloodsower fit this description perfectly by giving us more tokens as we follow our warlike plan. Lolth is a demanding mistress, and she lends her favor to drow houses who make sacrifices of blood or treasure in her honor. Izoni, Thousand-Eyed creates more tokens and provides us with a boon for each sacrifice we make. Grand Warlord Radha rewards us for attacking with our beasties and helps fuel our relatively high-CMC endgame plans.
Drow culture encourages arrogance and aristocracy, leading to individual drow constantly jockeying for rank and favor among Lolth's elite. With Izoni and the Rotwidow already in the mix, Jarad, Golgari, Lich Lord adds another element to this strategy. Imperious Perfect churns out more tokens and symbolizes the shameless sense of superiority that we're aiming for. Poison-Tip Archer is both my favorite aristocrat and one of the strongest. He also fits nicely with the next phase of our deck's strategy, where we'll encourage our opponents' houses to fight it out.
It's All Jund and Games Until Everyone Gets Hurt
It's time to sow some discord, so let's encourage a little deadly competition. Curse of Opulence and Curse of Disturbance fit right in with the drow's wily methods of sabotaging one another. Avatar of Slaughter represents one of Lolth's many avatars, gracing the Underdark just long enough to stir up a few new family feuds. We're also including Mass Hysteria, not only to make finishing the game easier for us, but also to encourage our opponents to attack liberally.
Speaking of sowing discord, how about Sower of Discord? Demons might seem out of place here, but Lolth, herself, is actually a demon lord in addition to being a god. Drow often summon demons in an attempt to make a deal for power, knowledge, or service. Sometimes these deals go well, other times not, but either way it permits us to include a few flavorful Demons into our Rolebuild. Doom Whisperer has economical stats, provides card selection, and fills our graveyard for other shenanigans, while Harvester of Souls is an on-theme source of card advantage.
Bodyguards and Food Tasters
With all this hysteria and discord, we need to make sure we stay safe through the midgame. Dropping Curses or big aristocratic pieces tends to draw some hate. This deck has more than 17 ramp pieces (depending on your criteria), so we'll be attracting attention. Our greatest matriarchs need to find a way to stay alive during all of this commotion.
If you've ever attacked with a full board state into a Revenge of Ravens, you know just how disheartening that can be once you start doing the math. Marchesa's Decree drops the lifelink in return for some card advantage, and the Monarch mechanic brings a fun flavor to our house competition subtext. Of course, there is No Mercy in the Underdark.
I'm not a fan of fogs, as they tend to be underwhelming in Commander, but since we've got a Group Slug thing going, including a couple of these provides necessary protection. Arachnogenesis is the best (and most flavorful) protection spell in the deck, potentially saving us from a mortal blow while also setting us up to win the next turn. Also, the new Obscuring Haze can surprise an opponent when we're tapped out and give us that one critical turn to reverse our fortune.
The table is set for our inevitable rise from the Underdark. We've been preparing patiently, now it is time for us to strike. The other houses won't know what hit them.
Beastmaster Ascension seems like a fitting metaphor for rising from our underground homes alongside our Spidery friends to wreak havoc on surface-dwellers. Shared Animosity is more commonly found in strict tribal decks, but both the flavor and mechanics are too good to not include here. The animosity in our original story has ancient roots, and we can bring that to life with finishers like this. If you play this card and shout "I take my vengeance upon thee, Corellon!" as you turn all your Elves and Spiders sideways, you've truly embraced the spirit of what this deck is trying to do. You might also be asked politely to leave the table, but that's OK.
Finale of Devastation is truly a devastating finisher, especially in a deck like this that is filling up the graveyard. We've packed this deck with ramp, so we'll grab our Avatar of Slaughter and watch the other houses melt under our army of pumped-up, double-striking mana dorks and Spiderlings. If the game runs long and your board is empty, Izoni, Thousand-Eyed can act as an army-in-a-can with the Finale.
The drow like to use symbols for their houses, a sort of Underdark Coat of Arms. This card synergizes well with a couple of our strategies, as it encourages our opponents to attack by pumping their creatures, too. It seems counterintuitive to include cards like this in a deck that's comprised of a mix of tribes, but more often than not we'll have a lot of one type of token on the field.
I'm not sure I could have created a more perfect design for Lolth and this deck than In the Web of War if I had tried.
You might have already guessed who I'm choosing to helm Lolth's Spidery battle royale.
Thantis, the Warweaver encapsulates Lolth's war domain perfectly, encouraging battle amongst her houses while she sits patiently, growing stronger. She lives on an enormous web, ever watchful her followers' deeds (and misdeeds). Other than Avatar of Slaughter, I haven't included many options for forcing our opponents to attack because we have one in the command zone. We'll play Thantis once we've set up a few synergy pieces to disrupt what our opponents are doing and encourage them to whittle down each other's life totals.
Thantis pumps herself, and given the right circumstances she can become a deadly threat, especially if your opponent attacked with all of their creatures thinking their blow was lethal and then you play Obscuring Haze. In this case, it's helpful to be able to be able to grant Thantis evasion like with Mina and Denn, Wildborn or Kessig Wolf Run. This is more of a tertiary strategy, though, because Thantis will often be removed or end the game within a few rounds. Both of these cards do other things to help us as well, so they will never be dead in our hand even if we aren't deploying this strategy.
They All Lived Dreadfully Ever After
We come to the close of our long journey, an epic fall from grace that became a quest for revenge.
Most of the rest of the deck is Elf-style ramp, targeted removal, and card draw, all keeping with the themes I've mentioned. For tutors I've added just Demonic Tutor and Fauna Shaman as they help us hit the right flavor notes while also aiding our search for the finisher that fits best with the strategy we've drawn into. I've included only one board wipe, Blasphemous Act, which is telling of Lolth's early story. We want our opponents to war with one another, so board wiping is a bit counterintuitive.
Take a look at this arachno-tastic deck, our Queen of Spiders' warlike quest in EDH form!
A Web Not Gently Spun
Thanks for reading this week's chapter of Rolebuilding! Lolth was a fun recommendation and provided me with a lot of lore to sift through. There really are a lot of directions this deck could have gone. Would you have built Lolth's deck differently? Maybe focused more on Spiders instead of Drow? Or focused on the Drow practice of spycraft and poisons? A fun exercise would be to build a deck around Corellon to create an archrival for Lolth's deck. As always, I really appreciate your suggestions and feedback. Vote in the poll below on who you'd like to see in the next Rolebuilding article, or drop a comment if you have another idea!