Underdog's Corner - Licia, Sanguine Tribune

(Licia, Sanguine Tribune | Art by Magali Villeneuve)

A Twist in Time

Hello, everyone! My name is Mason Brantley, and I'd like to welcome you back to the Underdog's Corner, where we analyze commanders that don't get enough love on EDHREC!

Over the past few weeks, we've revisited legendary creatures already covered in articles from years past, such as Hallar, the Firefletcher, Arjun, the Shifting Flame, and Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper. This week, we're adding a twist. Instead of covering an old legend, I want to cover someone new that occupies a similar design space. We're going to be playing with our life total, but rather than Selenia, Dark Angel, a popular commander for lifegain and life-loss antics, we're going to take a look at this archetype through the eyes of Licia, Sanguine Tribune.

Licia, Sanguine Tribune

Let's look at Licia's stats. Among individual Mardu commanders, she ranks second-to-last with 361 decks, only ahead of Oros, the Avenger. Licia even ranks in the bottom half of legends from her own set, Commander 2017.

So what is it about Licia's toolkit that puts her in this situation?

Let's start with her combat stats. Licia is a 4/4 with first strike and lifelink. While that's strong in a vacuum, it comes at a price. To start, she costs eight mana. That's a lot. Luckily, she has a cost-reduction mechanic built into her.

This spell costs {1} less to cast for each 1 life you gained this turn.

Remind you of anyone? Licia isn't in the same realm as Karador, Ghost Chieftain, but it's cool to see Wizards toy around with that design space. However, Licia does give us an incentive and payoff to gain life with her activated ability.

Pay 5 life: Put three +1/+1 counters on Licia, Sanguine Tribune. Activate this ability only during your turn and only once each turn.

This is the biggest parallel with Selenia, Dark Angel. When we add it all together, we get... something. Licia is a strange mixture of abilities. I've always liked her, but it's always been a puzzle to put together. We gain life, cast Licia, then use that life to activate Licia's ability. Seems simple, right? The problem is that her payoff doesn't feel as impactful as it could be.

There's beauty in simplicity, though. Licia allows us to pour life into her ability (but only once, during our turn), but ultimately, she's just a beater. She becomes a 7/7 for five life the turn we play her, and she has the potential to grow larger and more threatening (with continued payments). She can potentially attack as a 10/10, which puts a large target on her head. Through combat, she'll gain us a massive amount of life.

Now how do we build around her?


The Price is Life

Let's approach all of Licia's abilities a bit more in detail.

This spell costs {1} less to cast for each 1 life you gained this turn.

If we can gain five or more life in a turn, we can reduce Licia, Sanguine Tribune's cost down to {R}{W}{B}. That sounds great! We can consistently make our commander cost three mana! Well... not really.

While that does sound awesome, there are some hidden costs in that ability. While it's true we can reduce Licia's cost down to Mardu colors, it can be difficult to gain that much life without spending mana. If we have to cast a spell to set up our commander to be cheaper, we're effectively adding that spell's cost as a tax to Licia. While that won't always be an issue, it's something to consider.

How can we "solve" this issue?

The first (and easiest) way is to play creatures with lifegain, and/or cards that grant it. Attacking doesn't cost us mana and is mostly a "guaranteed" source of lifegain, so we'll gain bursts of life without mana expenditure. If we go heavily in this direction, we have to strike a balance, as we don't want to play sub-optimal cards just to reach a critical mass of enablers.

Serra's Ascendant is the poster child of efficient lifegain creatures, and we can easily play Licia on turn three if we have the correct colors. If we want to play a longer game, cards like Whip of Erebos or the insane True Conviction allow us to play out Licia with relative ease. The latter is especially dangerous, as Licia becomes a terror on the battlefield by swinging for 20 total damage the first time she even gets into combat.

For other "free" methods of lifegain, look no further than this group of cards. Eternity Vessel or Resolute Archangel lets us play around with a fun rules interaction.

118.5. If an effect sets a player’s life total to a specific number, the player gains or loses the necessary amount of life to end up with the new total.

Gaining life or losing life to equal the total? That means we can pay life for Licia's ability, play a land, and immediately gain five life. While this ability is great for casting Licia, I think it will shine brighter from abilities that look at how much life we gain. The same goes for the likes of Tainted Sigil and Children of Korlis. These are all-stars in Selenia, Dark Angel decks, and I'm sure they will pull their weight here, too. To gain the maximum benefit from these cards, we're going to need a way to pay life over and over again.


Life is Truly a Resource

With the focus on gaining life in chunks, we'll want to look into effects that scale. While Soul's Attendant has its home in many decks, it may not be the right fit for this deck.

To stay thematic, we're going to lean into black's ability to pay life for advantages. Necrologia allows us to dig as far as we want for five mana and the life we're willing to pay. Erebos, God of the Dead and Greed let us dump mana and life into resources as well.

We also have access to creatures like Bloodtracker and Tymna, the Weaver. If we want to use our life, we can use Well of Lost Dreams to great effect. We were already going to play black draw spells for their superior strength over red and white spells, but leaning into these effects will let us really dig into our life total, to be reset later with enormous life swings.

Sometimes Licia won't carry us to victory alone, so we need a backup plan. Sanguine Bond along with Vizkopa Guildmage (and others) let us weaponize our lifegain.

Most people are aware of the danger Aetherflux Reservoir presents, but we should be able to safely use it with access to Tainted Sigil and others.

We can also use other sources for a combative Resplendant AngelCrested Sunmare, and Angelic Accord all create tokens if we meet a given threshold of lifegain per turn. Creating 4/4 flying Angels or 5/5 semi-Indestructible Horses in large quantities will end a game quickly.


Repay in Kind

Lastly, let's talk about two cards that I think are perfect inclusions in a Licia, Sanguine Tribune deck.

Font of Agonies is one of those cards you can't help but look at strangely on the first read. It's so unique and so unordinary that it initially feels like there's not much support for it. Luckily, we plan on paying life as a natural part of our gameplan. Activating Licia just once puts five counters on this enchantment, gearing it up for an activation right away.

By casting this and activating it once, we've effectively cast Murder, and it only becomes increasingly stronger as it sits on the board. We can amass counters just by playing our deck, so what happens if we get to eight counters? Twelve? More? We effectively have a soft-lock piece for the board.

This is the card I'm most excited about from War of the Spark so far. Bolas's Citadel is a house that lets us play lands and cast spells from the top of our deck by paying life instead of mana. We're planning to have a surplus of life, so it's a match. As long as we don't run into too many lands on top of the deck, we can continue playing spells, and by the end, we should be able to recoup our losses with Eternity Vessel or Children of Korlis or any other effects.

Since we're already planning to include Aetherflux Reservoir, we'll make a point to include Sensei's Divining Top. Top forms a pseudo-infinite loop with Bolas's Citadel, and a game-ending infinite loop with Citadel and Reservoir.

If you haven't seen this discussed, let me explain. With Top's activated ability, we can draw a card and put it on top of our library. For one life, we can replay Top with Citadel. We have now built our very own Yawgmoth's Bargain. If we don't have access to mana, we can use this to continually dig into our library to find pieces that we need. Now let's add Aetherflux Reservoir. By looping Top, we gain a bazillion life off Reservoir, to power up for a huge series of game-ending blasts.


Final Payment

That's it for my brief review of Licia, Sanguine Tribune. I hope you have gleaned something from this article, and that you give Licia a chance! Though she's not as popular as her peers, she's got some sweet tricks up her sleeve. Check her out in the decklist below!

”Paid for in Blood: Licia’s Tribute”

Commander (1)
Creature (23)
Artifact (16)
Instant (7)
Enchantment (12)
Sorcery (4)
Land (37)

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Thanks again for joining me in the Underdog's Corner!

Mason is an EDH player from Georgia, who is a self-proclaimed Johnny and Vorthos. His MTG career started with a casual lifegain deck with only a single win-condition. When not consuming MTG, he spends his time being a full-time student, an avid sports fan, and a dabbling musician. Mason can be found on twitter @K_Mason64