Lich is a Bad Magic Card

Lich has been around since the very beginning of Magic. Due to its flavour and mystique, it is one of the cards I have always been very curious about. Since 93/94 has become a thing, it’s at last become possible for me to give it a try.

we paid extra for the quality meme

I picked up a couple of Unlimited Liches at Magic Fest Toronto this year and have been brewing with them ever since. Let me tell you, if you enjoy winning games (which I do), you will hate the card Lich. If you enjoy playing really cool cards and messing around building decks (which I do even more than winning), Lich may be the card for you.

There are two main win conditions available to a Lich deck. You can take your pick of Mirror Universe (slow and steady) or Fireball (a turn faster, but with more moving pieces, so even more rickety). Both of these are fun options and possible to build decks around. One can even attempt to cram them in the same deck. Which I did.

Decklist #1 – Classic Lich

The main problem with Lich is once your opponent is “on to you” and figures out that you are playing Lich, if they are any good at Magic at all you are probably going to lose that game. All your opponent has to do is hold a Disenchant or Chaos Orb, wait for you to resolve Lich, and then take it out. Even a plan as simple as holding a couple of Lightning Bolts until after Lich resolves can be devastating when they start forcing you to sacrifice 3 permanents at the cost of 1 mana.

Lich does have some good synergies in Old School. These include:

The Abyss – Matches colour, and we’re not playing creatures.
Avoid Fate – Protects Lich from Disenchant, but not from Chaos Orb.
Fastbond – Where we’re going, we don’t need life, just an excessive amount of mana and some forests to sacrifice.
Sylvan Library – Same deal as Fastbond. Find those combo pieces, who cares if you pay life, it’s going away anyways.
Dark Heart of the Wood – Buy some more time, or start drawing those cards.
– Mirror Universe – Main win condition.
Channel – We don’t need life, and we do need 6 to cast Mirror Universe. We can also win on the first turn by accident 1% of the time.
Dark Ritual – BBBB.
Mana Vault – Helps cast Mirror Universe and can be sacrificed to Lich afterwards.
Time Walk – Great way to get to your next upkeep step without anyone blowing up your combo.

Decklist #2 – Lich Switch

In light of what I learned from playing the “classic” version of Lich, for the Tundra Wolves Challenge II this year I decided to bring a transformational sideboard Lich deck. The deck attempted to steal game 1 with Djinn and Efreet beatdown. The goal was to trick my opponent into side-boarding in creature removal for game 2, hopefully removing some of their enchantment removal. Meanwhile, I took all the creatures out of my deck and replaced them with the cards necessary for Lich combo alongside anti-creature cards like The Abyss.

The plan worked surprisingly well up until I was matched up against Tristan from this group, who unfortunately knew what I was up to before we started playing. I lost game 1 and decided to not sideboard in the combo since he already knew exactly how to beat it, and then lost game 2 anyways. Creatures that slowly deal damage to their controller are not great against burst damage decks like Atog, especially when they are packing several copies of City in a Bottle, but I digress.

Main Enemies of the Lich

– Disenchant
– Chaos Orb
– Tranquility
– Counterspell
– Tristan

Decklist #3 – Lichless Lich

After the tournament I decided to try one more version of the deck, which basically had the same game plan of damaging myself to eventually win the game via Mirror Universe, but this time using Lightning Bolt as the finisher as opposed to having 0 life due to Lich. The deck is a lot stronger, doesn’t randomly die to a stray Chaos Orb, but is arguably more of a knockoff of The Deck than anything resembling a Lich deck.

While writing this article I discovered a slightly odd and cool piece of Lich trivia which I think adds even more to its mystique. The multiverse ID for the original Alpha printing of Lich is #69 (nice), and the multiverse ID for the Unlimited printing is #666 (hail Satan!).

To summarize:

Lich Pros

– You don’t lose the game for having 0 or less life.
– If you gain life, draw that many cards instead.
– Art & flavour is undebatably sweet.
– Alpha printing is card # 69, Unlimited is card # 666.

Lich Cons

– Casting Cost is BBBB, a tall order.
– You lose all life.
– For each point of damage you suffer, you must destroy one of your cards in play. And it has to be a non-token permanent, by the way.
– You lose if this enchantment is destroyed, or if you suffer a point of damage without sending a card to the graveyard.

If you want to win games, never play the card Lich. If you want to brew some cool decks and have fun, give it a shot sometime.

Big Red/Drain Life

A while back, there was some talk on Discord about a High Tide, Initiates of the Ebon Hand, Drain Life deck as a possibility. Seeing as how I love big mana, High Tide and Candelabra, I was all in on this brew. I tossed around some ideas and came up with this decklist, and played around with it a bit, but couldn’t seem to get it to really work. There are some great synergies in there, but it didn’t flow.

It’s no secret that I’m no blue mage, so I decided to revisit this plan but shift into the other big mana color, red. With red, I was able to get Mana Flare, Gauntlet of Might, Bolts, some great creatures, and of course X spells. These all unlocked other lines of play, and led to the current incarnation.

Big Life

This was taken for a couple hours of test driving on Monday night, and I’ve gotta say, it was a lot more fun than High Life was. The Rukh Eggs are great for making your opponent re-evaluate their decisions, especially when the Gauntlet is in play. A 1/4 creature makes for a solid blocker, and forcing the opponent to decide between letting it live or killing it to bring about a 5/5 flyer is a tough one. I also really appreciate the “if you do this more than 3 times, the creature dies” mirroring between the Whelp and Initiates. I know that it’s a drawback, but it’s still a cool theme, in my opinion, and I plan to pull the Terror and a basic land to get either another Whelp or a Nalathni Dragon and a Wheel. Earthquake is more of a Hail Mary play than something I depend on regularly, as it wipes my Initiates, but it can also rekindle my Rukh Eggs, so…

There are some changes that I feel I need to make, like the aforementioned addition of Wheel, but I find making cuts to be a bit tricky. Terror is probably better in the board, especially in the Toronto meta where black aggro is very prominent. Another Shivan would help out at the high end, and another Fork or two would add some more consistency and interaction to it. I love my Unlimited Uthden Troll, but I don’t think it jives w/ the deck too well, making it a good candidate for removal. The card that I’m really considering adding in is Inferno.

Sure there are better cards, but this card solves a lot of problems, and getting 7 mana isn’t so difficult for this deck to get to. I’ve found that Serra Angels and other T4+ creatures require me to spend my X spells on them instead of to the face. Not the worst thing, especially w/ Drain Life as an easy eight point swing, but having something to really clear the field feels right to me.

Overall, the deck is similar to my CandleFlare deck, I mean, the engine for this deck is literally Candelabra and Mana Flare, but it plays considerably differently. It’s not as much of a control deck as it is a midrange/tempo deck. Kill off the early threats, use a Drain Life here and there to get ahead, and eventually either red X them out or Initiates plus Drain Life them out. I’ll be playing some variation of this for quite some time to come.

Candleflare Brewing

Since the days of yore, I’ve loved Candelabra of Tawnos and have sought to play decks using it. In Legacy, I’ve built and played High Tide and 12 Post, and tried to get fun builds together using Tron Lands.  Since diving into Old School, I knew that I wanted to play a deck that I can use my Candelabras in, so pairing it with Mana Flare seemed like an obvious choice.  I’ve read lots of articles on various webpages about CandleFlare decks, so had some good inspiration.

What direction the deck should go, aside from red, was much less obvious.  Having played High Tide in Legacy, it made sense to include blue so that I could exploit that further, as well as provide a play method that I’m already familiar with.  In testing though, I’ve realized that the card draw that makes Legacy High Tide possible, in the form of BrainstormPonder, and Preordain as well as the tutoring abilities of Cunning Wish and Merchant Scroll, meant I had to rethink the strategy.  I could go for a Kird Ape aggro deck, with loads of artifacts, making Gauntlet of Might a fun inclusion, but at heart, I wanted it to be controlly and to win with X spells.  So, I decided to remove all creatures from the possible pool, except for Mishra’s Factory because they are awesome, and allow me to dump excess mana into them to avoid mana burn.

In keeping with the Old School rule of cool, I also wanted to play cards that I like and own.  Since I’m not running creatures, that means that Maze of Ith and Forcefield should be present, although possibly in the sideboard, and four Counterspells along with four Boomerangs means that I can mostly avoid problematic cards from hitting the board or staying there.  Drain Power is an often underused card that I knew I wanted in there because it’ll either resolve, meaning I could get 2-3x mana from my opponent due to Mana Flares, or I suss out a counter, both of which are wins, imho.  Once I’ve either tapped them out, or am fairly confident they don’t have a counter in hand, that’s when I can go all in with some X spells!  FireballDisintegrate, and Earthquake are the main win conditions, and I back those up with two Mana Vaults to make sure I can go for lethal.  The other X spells that are really fun are Mind TwistRecall, and Braingeyser.  Resolving a turn 3-4 Twist with a Flare and/or some mana rocks in play can be brutal, while the other two can be used to load my hand up with either exactly what I need from the graveyard or allow me to dig deep in the library in hopes of finding answers.  Related, since I wanted Twist in there, I decided there was no reason to exclude Demonic Tutor if I’m splashing black already.  This, however, leads to mana concerns…

I playtested a list a few times against my White Weenie deck, and performed horribly. I wasn’t able to get answers, card draw was way too slow, and hitting double blue for the control elements just wasn’t working.  I’m trying to build this deck with cards I own, and unfortunately, I don’t have a full grip of 40 dual lands, nor do I have a playset of City of Brass, so mana fixing is tricky.  Running 2x CoB, 2x Volcanic Islands, 2x Badlands, and single Underground Sea, combined with 4x Factories, a Library of Alexandria, and the necessary Strip Mine, I was running an additional 9 basics, for a total of 22 lands, which is good for Flare and High Tide, but terrible for finding answers.  I managed to find two Chronicles City of Brass, making the mana base a little smoother, as long as I can avoid City in a Bottle and Blood Moon.

So, the current list looks like this:

Old School Candelflare

Enchantments (4)
 Mana Flare
 Copy Artifact

Instants (10)
 Drain Power
 Mana Drain
 High Tide

Sorceries (13)
 Demonic Tutor
 Mind Twist
 Power Sink
 Transmute Artifact
Wheel of Fortune

Artifacts (10)
Candelabra of Tawnos
 Mirror Universe
 Time Vault
 Sol Ring
 Mana Vault
 Nevinyrral's Disk
 Chaos Orb
Lands (23)
 Mishra's Factory
 City of Brass
 Volcanic Island
 Underground Sea
 Strip Mine
 Library of Alexandria

Sideboard (15)
Red Elemental Blast
Blue Elemental Blast
Active Volcano
Maze of Ith
Island of Wak-wak
City in a Bottle

I think that the next iteration will include some more card draw, either in the form of Jayemdae Tome, Jalum Tome, or Howling Mine.  Jalum seems to fit the red side of the deck more, acting as a semi-Faithless Looting and for less mana than Jayemdae, leaving me more able to keep mana open for counters, but the discard could be brutal.  When I look at other lists, they almost always run all three blue pieces of Power, but those are not an option currently.  Howling Mine is a somewhat obvious, and iconic, choice, but without Icy Manipulator or Relic Barrier to make it one-sided, it’s just as likely to kill me as it is to get me to an answer.