Rolebuilding - The Vengeful Orc-lock

(Screamreach Brawler | Art By Slawomir Maniak)

A Rough Beginning

Welcome to Rolebuilding, where I blend my fraternal-twin hobbies of tabletop roleplaying games and Magic: The Gathering for your delight and amusement! In this series we’ll choose a role or character from the realms of Dungeons & Dragons and embark on a quest based on their motivations. Today we're experimenting with an unusual race and class combination: Orc Warlock. We'll be using the 5th Edition supplement Volo's Guide to Monsters as our source of lore, as it provides us with a rich background on Orcs.

Orc spellcasters are rare because Orcs have little love for magic. They value martial strength above all else as it fuels their brutal lifestyle of pillage and murder. Volo tells us, "Orcs survive through savagery and force of numbers. Theirs is a life that has no place for weakness, and every warrior must be strong enough to take what is needed by force." The early years of orcs' lives are "fraught with tests of strength, fierce competition[,] and nothing in the way of maternal or paternal love."

Mom? Dad?

Volo continues, "The children that can't endure the rigors of a life of combat are culled from the main body of the tribe, taken into the depths of the lair, and left for the followers of Yurtrus or Shargaas to accept or reject." These are the Orc gods of disease and darkness - bad news. There's no room in an Orc tribe for a runt, which is a perfect setup for our story.

Kindergarten was Tough

Way of the Warlock

A Warlock's power is defined by a pact with an otherworldly entity. Contrast this to a Wizard, who formally studies magic and memorizes spells, or a Sorceror, who has a natural font of magic that they harness. Warlocks are sworn and beholden to a non-deific being like an Archfey, a Fiend, a Celestial, or something from the Far Realm. Typically, the individual will seek out these ethereal beings in search of power, but it doesn't always happen that way.

In our story, I envision a rejected Orc teenager, cast down to the deepest layer of the tribe's lair, preparing to be judged by the Orc gods of death and disease. Too weak to lead the life of a warrior, most orcs would succumb to despair from such a rejection, having been raised with only this one goal in mind. Not us. We aren't sad - we're mad. We're angry that our tribe failed to see our abilities, judged us so narrowly, and cast us down, sentenced to death or a life of misery outside the tribe.

Our anger is perceived by an opportunistic Archfey, one who watches over the elf tribes with whom our brethren regularly clash. Orcs hate elves, and elves hate orcs. Volo explains, "The enmity between the two races cuts to the core, and no Orc will leave an elf alive. Orcs become so frenzied in combat against elves...[the] only trophies of any worth are the heads of their enemies." When this cunning Archfey reaches out to us and offers us the power to take vengeance against our own people, it serves both her interest and ours. We agree to her terms, and our path to vengeance begins.

I'm Not Projecting, You're Projecting

Using our newly-bestowed powers, we'll try to blast our way out of the tribe's lair to freedom. We'll need to test our abilities as we begin our journey to the surface and encounter our former instructors.

Powerful abilities indeed! There are only three Legendary Orc creatures, and Mardu Zurgo seems like a suitably angry choice. Zurgo's EDHREC commander page indicates that Equipment is a common theme, with five of the top ten High Synergy cards being specific to that archetype. Equipment is not a great fit for our story, so let's dig deeper.

Warlocks use a class-specific spell called Eldritch Blast that they learn to augment with various invocations. Let's find our Orcling's Eldritch Blast equivalent on Zurgo's commander page to help guide our deckbuilding.

Only found in 8% of Zurgo decks, Arcbond slots in as our adapted Eldritch Blast. It hurts everything in sight when Zurgo takes damage, a fitting metaphor for adolescence. It also suits the theme of our quest since we're lashing out against anyone or anything standing in the way of our freedom. Now we need to augment Arcbond like a Warlock would and bend it to our purpose. The Burn and Group Slug EDHREC theme pages should be able to help us here.

Arcbond wants damage to be dealt to Zurgo so that we can maximize damage to our opponents and their creatures. We could wait for our opponents to block him, but we can more reliably dish out pain to others by inflicting it upon ourselves. Deafening Clarion isn't the most powerful wrath, but it's cheap and has the added benefit of giving Zurgo lifelink, which will be important as we explore other Arcbond interactions. Molten Disaster and Star of Extinction can each clear the field, and each come with added utility. We'll also want Commander staples like Chain Reaction and Blasphemous Act for good measure.

Redirecting is Caring

Zurgo can't do all of the heavy lifting himself. With all the damage-dealing spells we're running, we won't be including many creatures, but the ones we do include will need to benefit from taking a hit or two.

Spiteful Sliver is a less-versatile but equally spiteful Spitemare. That may be the most spiteful sentence I've ever written, which means our flavor train is right on track. Coalhauler Swine is a pre-Arcbonded creature that we love to see at the top of our curve. We want as many of these damage dorks as possible, so Mogg Maniac and Stuffy Doll make the cut, too.

We can get further mileage out of Arcbond and our damaging spells by copying them. This isn't a big mana deck, so we'll rarely be playing Fault Line where X = 16, but it's feasible to play it for 8 and copy it.

Twinning Arcbond with Increasing Vengeance or Fork produces some potentially dangerous results. With a well-timed Boros Charm and any two creatures, twinning Arcbond produces a full-table infinite damage loop with any sort of damage input. Using Zurgo with Stuffy Doll will produce the same results without the Charm; the Doll can even start the loop itself. This is one way to complete our quest: infinite damage to all of our opponents will grant us the win and the freedom we seek. Ideally we'll find a way to survive the blast.

You Must Be Tired, Rest Here

Rush of Vitality is the only instant-speed card that provides both indestructible and lifelink. We can target Coalhauler Swine just before dropping a Blasphemous Act and profit, or we can target another damage dork just before twinning Arcbond. Provided we did our math correctly, our opponents should die before we do. Remember, Arcbond and our damage dorks deal the damage in these combos, so if we can grant Zurgo and his buddies lifelink in any way, we protect our own life total.

Personal Sanctuary removes all concern for our own health, and Shadowspear is a cheaper Loxodon Warhammer that provides special utility we may need to control our opponents' creatures. On the topic of special cards, this is a good time to mention one of our side quest win conditions.

Pick a Number Between One and Anything

Here are the Scryfall search results for the card text, "an amount of damage of your choice", which is not a choice commonly offered. We're roleplaying here, so we're all about choices.

It's not hard to see why this card is only found in 103 decks on EDHREC. There are lots of ways Volcano Hellion can kill us, but we've included a couple ways it can not kill us, so we should talk about those. Casting Rush of Vitality or Tenacity in response to the Hellion's ETB trigger will protect our life total. In this situation, if we can hit the Swine or our Arcbond-ed general with this monster, choose 1 billion damage, then we'll win the game in grand fashion. Hitting one of our lesser damage dorks will knock a player out of the game for four mana. In a pinch, we can also use the Hellion for spot removing an opponent's creature.

Switching gears, it wouldn't be a Warlock deck without a few Curses. Fortunately, we're in the right colors for some good ones. I've kept it low to the ground as we're playing Mardu and shouldn't get too carried away with CMC.

Curse of Opulence and Curse of Disturbance are good political pieces that reward us for attacking each turn, which Zurgo will be doing anyways. Curse of Bloodletting can accelerate the game clock quickly, especially if we drop it on someone's end step after killing our own Academy Rector with an instant-speed wrath. Dictate of the Twin Gods can do the same for the whole table.

Add some fruits, vegetables, and a Sunforger package, and our mad Orc-lock's deck looks something like this:

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Light at the End of the Tunnel

We crawl through the lair in a blind rage, blasting any Orc who crosses our path. We reach the surface and let out a triumphant roar. Those who deemed us unworthy cower in fear before we send them to their doom with power drawn from their ancient enemies' fey guardian.

What do you think? Will we achieve our quest? Were there some cards I missed? Would you Rolebuild an Orc Warlock's decklist differently? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

Grant is a father, writer, and digital marketer who lives in the frozen tundra of the northland. He enjoys playing with his kids, all flavors of Dungeons & Dragons, and thinking about going outside. He’s been playing Magic: The Gathering since 2013 and enjoys Commander, Standard, and Limited formats.