The (spicy) NecroLich

Back at the end of 2022, I declared 2023 Year of the Lich here at the spectacle. I may not exactly have lived up to the inherent promise of such a bold declaration. I have only presented you with two Lich decks: The Mighty Kobold Lich and the beautifully stupid – as well as stupidly beautiful – Towering Lich.

As we are now nearing the end of 2023 in a hurried pace, I found it fit to post another deck tech post about a third Lich deck. Will that be enough to call it a Year of the Lich? I don’t know. But does anyone want a Year of the Lich anyway? It seems as a rather creepy year, and we have already lived through several pandemic-stricken calendars a couple of years back.

That Lich looks like he would bring a nasty disease. I sure wouldn’t want to eat anything he’d cooked up for me…


A bit of background and the idea for the deck

First of all, I have always been fascinated with the legendary black Enchantment Lich. I just think it has such a unique, great effect. It speaks to all my combo-tingling senses all the time. In an environment like Old School, where you have basically no great cards for setting up a combo (and even less for pay-off), Lich just seems like something that should be explored.

At the beginning of 2023 I actually started writing a manuscript for a book on combo in Old School. I never got very far, but I hope to find some time for it again next year. The point here is that in the first chapter of said manuscript I use Lich to help me make the point that even in the most original and very first thoughts about the design of the game, combo was present – it is (part of) what Garfield intended all the time. Lich is simply a card so far from what would otherwise be the “normal” way of playing the game, that it cannot be a coincidence. It is a combo card at its very core.

But what if we don’t think of it merely as a combo card?

Could the card be played as a card advantage engine?

I tried doing so in the no-restricted Towering Lich deck I linked to before. But I wanted to explore it a bit more. And then I re-read an article about the black summer of 1996.

In short: the black summer was a dark period of Magic where one card and one strategy ruled the game to such an extent that the entire game began revolving around that one deck and decks designed specifically to beat this deck.

It was the Necropotence deck.

I guess most of my readers here are aware what Ice Age rare Necropotence does, but just to be sure, here is a picture of the menace:

Yes, this is a very strong card. Very, very strong indeed. This BBB card-drawing Enchantment was put into a shell consisting of cards like Hypnotic Specter, Juzam Djinn, Dark Ritual, Sinkhole, Drain Life and of course cards out of our reach such as Demonic Consultation, Hymn to Tourach and Zuran Orb (oh how I sometimes wish Zuran Orb was legal in Swedish Old School!).

Later, of course, the deck evolved to include a host of other cards, but the first, classic version of the deck looks an awful lot like an old school deck. Except for its namesake card.

A decklist – and why

And this takes us to my first take on a (spicy) NecroLich Old School decklist – a midrange aggro-control-combo monstrosity:

Okay. The layout of the cards is rather stupid, as the Lotus in the middle of everything makes it look like I have sleeved up 61 cards. I haven’t. This is just 60 cards. But it is beautifully laid out, no?

I realize that there are several very big differences between Lich and Necropotence. I guess one could argue that Necropotence was “the fixed” lich, even though Necropotence really isn’t the fixed anything. I think you could actually find a picture of Necropotence if you look up “Broken” in any decent dictionary. So the “playable” Lich then.

But there are very real and rather vital differences between the two cards. First of all; If Lich dies, so do you. This is really hampering for the cards playability. So how do we make it more playable – what cards to put around it?

Of course the dying clause is one reason, why you want to play cards that disrupt your opponent. Hymn to Tourach and extra Strip Mines would be really great here! But we have to make do with Sinkholes and Hypnotic Specters. I was also considering Evil Presence as another way of hindering your opponent in creating white mana for those pesky Disenchants. I chose not to go that direction, but could probably have done so, and taken out the counters.

Of course the Sacrifice could or should probably also be something else. But here it is almost to consider as a fifth Dark Ritual. And Dark Ritual is a rather strong card in this deck.

I also considered playing two to three Disrupting Scepter, and it may be the way to go, even though I think it would probably require more serious changes with it, taking the deck down an even more controlish path with more focus on the combo finish. I am definitely trying this at some point.

Another very important difference between Necropotence and Lich is the fact that Necropotence basically is a one-card combo. It gets better if you are able to get some life, but you can still use it without life-gain or anything else, really (to a certain extent, I realize that the card says to skip your draw phase, which means you will lose if you have no relevant cards in hand or on the board and only one life point left, but then again…). Lich is very much dependent on other cards to just remotely work.

I have chosen to play Diamond Valley – maybe primarily because I have just bought them recently, and because it is a spicy way to go. But the valleys also work okay with Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore, which is actually a decent beater – and blocker!

Besides the Valleys, I have, of course, included some Drain Life. A card that sadly sees very little play, but is just so nice to throw around sometimes. Especially in the magical Christmas wonderland where you have abundant Dark Rituals and a Lich. Again, Dark Ritual is actually rather strong here.

For other life gain options, I see Ivory Tower as the most interesting one, but that would probably also mean that the deck should be built somewhat differently – I would play Tower alongside the Disrupting Scepters. Or one could splash green for Dark Heart of the Woods (and Sylvan Library) or white for Healing Salve (YES! I want to do the Lich Healing Salve at some point), Swords to Plowshares and maybe something really cool with Island Sanctuary!

But just remember if you splash, that you have to be able to make a lot of black mana – Dark Heart of the Wood needs a lot of forests. Not really a combo. Lich requires so much black mana, that I actually think I should probably remove the three off-color moxen and add three Swamp instead. I am not sure here, because I also want to play Evil Eyes as fast as possible and Mirror Universe simply costs six mana!

But back to the differences between the original prankster and the Ice Age newcomer: Lich is a card, you don’t want to draw in multiples (much like Necropotence), and it is a card that is often bad in the first rounds of the game (very much unlike Necropotence!). This means that you rarely want to play more than two copies of Lich, which again means that even if a deck is built around the card, you should also have other plans. Here, the other plan is beatdown – or control until combo.

Because, finally, Necropotence and Lich differs in the fact that Lich really is a combo card. Necropotence is not – even though it has been known to enable a lot of broken shenanigans.

Even though I may try to use it as a card advantage engine here, we have to play two Mirror Universe, because that is really what we want to do, or at the very least and “oops, I win” strategy that is very cheap once you already have decided on playing Lich. The rest of the deck is pretty much there to hold the fort until we assemble these two cards. And they are mana-expensive. Hence, Dark Rituals are great! (And sometimes also Sacrifice – I must mention it, because it is also a really, really cool, spicy, delicious card!).

The remaining cards are restricted craziness and three blue counterspells that only require one blue mana to play. These three cards are to be seen as flex spots. As is, as mentioned, the Sacrifice (but please play more Sacrifice!).

Why am I not playing Juzam in the place of Evil Eye? Because I don’t own Juzam, but they are of course miles better in the spot – not as spicy – but miles! Better. Hands down. Not least because Dark Ritual is a cool card… And Juzam is obviously just a beast. But this is the Spicy NecroLich, remember?

And then to what we want to achieve

Well, as I have already touched upon, this deck is a rather stark blend between combo, midrange-aggro and control. That is not always the best way forward, if you want to dominiate Dominaria, but it makes for games with a lot of interesting choices to be made.

Most games with this deck will come down to how much you are able to disrupt your opponent at the very first turns of the game. Sinkhole can be massive. Hypnotic Specter is still a house – but of course it dies to just about everything.

Drain Life being the only removal option besides counters, but also playing the vital role of kill/draw once you have your Lich in play, makes it a rather short supply.

Okay, so basically the gameplan here is to try to disrupt your opponents plan, until you are either able to remove the last life points with Drain Life or unblockable Eyes, or assemble the combo of Lich and Mirror Universe.

And remember, that it is also actually a specific plan to lose a lot of life and the Mirror the life points and kill with Eyes. Mirror Universe is a fun card.

I think that is how much, I am able to write about the Spicy NecroLich. Of course I don’t claim to have made a deck, that the entire Old School format will not have to revolve around in one way or the other, and I even agree that this is not the optimal version of the deck – that would include Juzam Djinns. But I think it is an interesting deck, and I certainly want to play it someday – at least at home among my Wednesday Wizards.

What do you say? Is this the home for Lich? Could it be done? What obvious additions have I forgot?

3 thoughts on “The (spicy) NecroLich

  1. I’ve also been brewing with Lich this year in a similar space to try to use it as an engine. My favorite version so far has been with Tax/Tower with Dark Heart to bring Land Tax online while comboing with Lich. Land Tax also let’s you use Forests but also helps get to BBBB to cast Lich. Hymn protects the combo and is also straight value off the mana base. This decks can win some games. I’m pleased with the middling power level. Opponents simply don’t have enough enchantment removal to stop the combo. Let me know what you think!

    Enchantment (19)
    3x Dark Heart of the Wood
    3x Fastbond
    4x Land Tax
    3x Lich
    1x Moat
    4x Sylvan Library
    1x The Abyss

    Sorcery (7)
    1x Balance
    1x Demonic Tutor
    3x Hymn to Tourach
    1x Mind Twist
    1x Regrowth

    Artifact (11)
    1x Black Lotus
    1x Chaos Orb
    1x Feldon’s Cane
    4x Ivory Tower
    1x Mirror Universe
    1x Mox Emerald
    1x Mox Jet
    1x Mox Pearl

    Land (23)
    4x Bayou
    6x Forest
    1x Library of Alexandria
    1x Plains
    4x Rainbow Vale
    4x Savannah
    3x Swamp

    1. Hi Jdubs
      Thanks for reading! And thanks for commenting. That seems to be one really sweet deck, you have built! I don’t play with Fallen Empires myself, but I can only dream of being able to play Hymn!
      I like the Land Tax addition, and Tax, Heart, Sylvan is just something I want to do under any circumstance. There is really a sweet interaction between those cards.
      I am impressed by your take on the deck and not least how you seem to have been able to assemble a mana base, that seems to be able to do all the stuff, that is required of it, which is a lot! 🙂

  2. Thanks! I play both formats and I figured if I’m going to make Lich work, all take all the help I can get!
    I’m pleased with the mana base too because it is not an easy thing but land tax fits in well and helps a lot on that front.

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