Underdog's Corner - Lyzolda, the Blood Witch

Lyzolda, the Blood Witch

Hello everyone and welcome back to this edition of the Underdog's Corner! It is now the first week after the official release of Guilds of Ravnica, and just like everyone else, I'm starting to brew with cards from the set. (Keep an eye out for my take on Emmara, Soul of the Accord in the next installment of Christian Alexander's Playgroup Brews!) However, this article isn't about any of the legends from Guilds. It'll still be a few more weeks before I cover one of the new legends, but that doesn't stop the Ravnica train! We're going to continue this series on some of the under-appreciated and underrated legends from Ravnica sets of old!

Last time we took a look at Experiment Kraj, from the original Ravnica block's Dissension set. For this week's challenger, we won't move from that block. In fact, we won't even move sets. Give it up for this week's Underdog, Lyzolda, the Blood Witch.

With Halloween coming up this month, we're going to cover a legend that should fit right in with the season. Being a witch herself, Lyzolda is a perfect fit by aesthetic, and statistically she almost gets there as well, with 172 decks on EDHREC. So why should we bother with Lyzolda?

With a converted mana cost of three, Lyzolda is a fairly cheap commander to play early, and can be recast once without much issue. However, I think Lyzolda is a commander who wants to stay in the wings until it's time to come out of the shadows. With a paltry statline of three power and only a single toughness, Lyzolda doesn't even have a keyword to help her in combat like her successor, Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch. So what direction is Lyzolda pointing us toward?

{2}, Sacrifice a creature: Lyzolda, the Blood Witch deals 2 damage to any target if the sacrificed creature was red. Draw a card if the sacrificed creature was black.

For a commander labeled as a "Blood Witch," it would be a disappointment if she wasn't linked to ritual sacrifices. Sacrificing creatures for advantage is right up black's alley, and red is very willing to throw itself into the fire to secure victory. Drawing cards with spare mana and creatures is always powerful, and doing so with colorless mana is helpful in multicolor decks. Lyzolda effectly allows us to turn any black creature we control into a Clue Token. For the red creatures, two mana gets us a Shock. While this isn't as universally as powerful as drawing cards, being able to throw damage around when needed is powerful. This ability will easily pick off utility creatures and low cost commanders, and with enough expendable creatures, Lyzolda is able to remove larger targets when necessary.

Due to Lyzolda's wording, if we sacrifice a creature that is both black and red, we get both effects. Two mana for a Shock or a card in hand is passable, but getting both makes this ability a lot more interesting. Because we gain benefit from both colors, we should include as many multicolored creatures as possible and even into cards that make black and red tokens. I've always wanted to find a home for Din of the Fireherd, and this place seems perfect. (Oh! One last thing, Lyzolda's ability doesn't contain the words "another creature" so she can sacrifice herself in a pinch.)

Blood and Oil

First, let's look at what multicolored creatures we have to work with.

Scryfall search: [id=rb t:creature]

Playing into both angles of sacrifice and damage, we have Murderous Redcap and Deathbringer Thoctar. Murderous Redcap represents three damage spread out over multiple instances as it enters the battlefield. Combined with Lyzolda and six mana, we can spread five damage around and draw a card. That's a lot of mana for what sounds like a minimal payoff, but Redcap is a deadly combination with many effects in the deck. If we're going to include our murderous goblin, we should look strongly at including Mikaeus, the Unhallowed for the potential to create an infinite damage loop.

We'll get to more of those pieces later. It's always nice to have redundancy in our decks, and Deathbringer Thoctar does just that by representing the exact same kill condition as Redcap with Mikaeus. Additionally, every sacrifice made with Lyzolda now yields an extra damage. Adding a pinger to card draw, or turning Shock into Lightning Bolt is a powerful buff. However, that's not everything this beast can do. The Thoctar gains counters from any creature dying, not just our own. Just by themselves, Lyzolda can potentially clear the entire board of small creature with this beast. Let's not forget that it can hoard counters and be a beater as well.

Taking a step away from the ritual sacrifices, we still have several creatures to help us throw around damage. Vial Smasher, the Fierce spins the wheel and deals damage randomly from our first spell each turn. For four extra mana, we get the deluxe version of this effect with Kaervek, the Merciless. Instead of damage from our first spells each turn, Kaervek turns every spell our opponents cast into damage. That will add up, and it'll make sure Kaervek leaves a lasting impression before he inevitably draws removal. Mogis, God of Slaughter isn't quite as explosive and dangerous at face value as these other two, but being a God affords him a level of consistency and inevitability that the other two might not have. Each turn, Mogis deals damage or forces sacrifice, and I think that is both powerful and on-theme.

Rite of the Knife

Despite having access to Lyzolda from the command zone, we're going to want more sacrifice outlets scattered throughout our deck. While Lyzolda's effect can be flexible, it's important to recognize that it is not the end-all-be-all of sacrifice effects. That's not to say Lyzolda's ability is bad; in fact it's quite good. It's versatile, as both card advantage and removal. However, it's important to realize that Lyzolda trades efficiency for versatility. So let's take a look at our options.

First, let's talk about the quintessential cards that encapsulate what Lyzolda can do with her two sacrifice conditions. Goblin Bombardment is a classic sac outlet in red, and that's for a good reason. Having access to free sac outlets is important for any deck that wants death triggers. This allows us to dodge removal like Merciless Eviction, Swords to Plowshares, and Anguished Unmaking, all of which show up in the top 20 cards played most often in EDH. You will see these cards, and you'll want answers.

Beyond the importance of free sacrifice, Goblin Bombardment adds an extra layer of complexity if we have expendable bodies. Every creatures now represents a single "ping," which can threaten players at low life totals, utility creatures, and commanders alike. That's a powerful tool.

Skullclamp was a mistake. Period. However, it exists, and we have no reason to exclude it, especially since it's been printed in four consecutive Commander products. While this isn't a "sac outlet" in strict terms, this deck will be making plenty of 1/1 creatures, which allows it to fill that role. For a single mana, we draw two cards. I don't think much else has to be said for how good that is. Combine it with Lyzolda, and we can turn any creature (with toughness 2 or greater) into three cards for three mana. That's a price I will pay anytime.

For a more unique card that's on theme, take a look at Rakdos Riteknife. This piece of equipment falls into what I consider the "sweet spot" for equipment, playable and equippable for four mana. Once equipped, we can start accumulating blood counters, which will form a growing threat. While the equipped creature is limited to sacrificing a single creature, it's possible to swap the equipment across many creatures to quickly accrue counters. Of note, the Riteknife's second ability doesn't require that it be equipped to a creature, and we can hold up {R}{B} to threaten activation while we hold up our usual mana for Lyzolda's ability. This may not be the best choice for the deck, but I think its worth more than the 9% of decks it currently appears.

Beyond these, we have two cards that are infamous and will find their home in this deck just as well. Ashnod's Altar is the epitome of sac outlets, and I find myself including it in any deck with creatures. While that's great on its own, what makes it dangerous is its well-known partner: Nim Deathmantle. Combined, these two will often form infinite resurrection loops as well as infinite mana loops. Once we achieve and infinite mana loop, Lyzolda, the Blood Witch can end the game from the command zone. Even excluding Deathmantle, Ashnod's Altar allows us to accelerate our mana, and I think there are a few other cards that can help us in that regard.

Appearing in only one and two Lyzolda decks respectively, we have Burnt Offering and Soldevi Adnate. Both function in a similar manner as the Altar, but with a few limitations. Rather than creating a static two mana like Ashnod's, both of these cards produce mana equal to the sacrificed creature's casting cost. That allows us to scale higher, though it also reduces the effective of tokens. Oh, let's not forget these two underplayed cards also add colored mana, which is a significant boon. We can keep playing the comparison game, but I hope that you give these cards a shot if you consider Lyzolda.

Sacrificial Subjects

Since we're going to sacrifice creatures, we need ways to make them. We'll want a mix of both red and black creatures, but I think we're going to want to lean towards the black; drawing cards will dig deeper into our deck for more options.

For the most part, we want our creatures to bring in at least two extra bodies consistently. It's okay if we're only making one token at a time, but only if we can do so consistently over multiple turns. Ophiomancer and Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder both fill this archetype. Ophiomancer will make 1/1 black Snakes (with deathtouch!) on each upkeep if we don't control any other Snakes, so that gives us four bodies per turn cycle. While our Snake charmer is a source of consistent tokens, Endrek Sahr brings them out in bursts. Endrek Sahr can be explosive, and as long as we manage him mob we can consistently bring in multiple bodies every turn for value.

Siege-Gang Commander falls into our other category of token producers: many bodies at once. Siege-Gang is a terror in Limited formats everywhere. Bringing four bodies to the fray is already a strength even before we consider that this Goblin leader is a self-contained Lyzolda as well. Along with Siege-Gang, we have access to staples like Grave Titan, as well as more unique cards like Marsh Flitter and Kathari Bomber.

Not only do we have creatures that bring multiple bodies, but we also have creatures that can be sacrificed over and over again. Reassembling Skeleton is a classic choice, as it is listed as the highest-placed Signature Card for Lyzolda, at 52% popularity. Nether Traitor has an extra condition to bring it back, but that allows it to be brought repeatedly at a lower cost. Notably, both of these are great Skullclamp targets.

With our deck so focused on sacrifice, we should include ways to reap everything from those creatures on their death bed. Zulaport Cutthroat, Blood Artist, and Falkenrath Noble are the poster children of 'Aristocrats' decks, and they should all be considered, even if only a few make the cut. Smothering Abomination adds even more card draw to our deck, but it's a bit harder to gain advantage with Lyzolda thanks to Devoid. (Thanks a lot, Battle for Zendikar.) 

Last is a card that I have been burnt by many times. Vicious Shadows punishes decks that like to hold cards in hand. Even holding three to four cards in hand is a dangerous proposition with this enchantment. In some cases, if this is played on an established board, we can hold certain players hostage or just burn them out without playing politics. Remember: it triggers whenever any creature dies, not just your own.

A Final Tribute

That's it for this week! Thank you for reading, and I hoped you enjoyed a mildly-themed installment of this series! In keeping with the spooky October theme, my next article will cover a commander that haunted me in the early days of my Commander-playing career. Until then, below is my first pass at Lyzolda, the Blood Witch! I hope I have given you some perspective on her strengths, and if this has interested you, definitely give her a shot!

Rituals of Days Gone By

View on Archidekt

Commander (11)
Creature (158)
Artifact (74)
Instant (24)
Enchantment (39)
Sorcery (44)
Land (108)

Thanks for joining me in the Underdog's Corner!

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