Magic: The Gathering – Cheap Lich Deck

Cheap! Cheap! Lich! Lich!

Well, that was one of my more obscure references. And hey, that’s also a great segue into the topic of today’s post, since it’s a deck built around a card so ignored by tournament Spikes (a group of players who know most cards in the format) that they often have to read the card when they see it sitting across the table.

I’ve posted before about why I play Magic: The Gathering, and just what kind of decks I like to build. Today, dear readers, I’m not just going to show you one of those decks, I’m going to show you one of my favorite decks. It’s cheap, it’s flavorful, and it has gone toe to toe with decks that cost ten times what it cost to build. It’s rogue, it’s unexpected, and it is a heck of a lot of fun to play at Friday Night Magic.

And hey, it’s Standard Legal for another month or so, if you want to try it out yourself.

I got that lich a phylactery. Liches love phylacteries.

That joke is courtesy of a comment on the discussion tab for Phylactery Lich, the card that this deck is built around.

Or at least, thematically it’s built around that card.

An ancient lich,  an evil ring, a corrupted weapon, some demons, some more demons,  zombies, vampires, fetid swamps, a secret passage, a pact that grants knowledge in exchange for blood, a curse on a whole bloodline, a havoc on both friend and foe, and a spell to enslave the dead…  The number of its relics is seven, its dark sorceries thirteen.

Hey, I like flavor in my games. :)


But that’s theme, and while tasty, it doesn’t win games. It does bring up a good point about Phylactery Lich, though, and why I think it’s so overlooked. While flavorful, the card is clearly powerful, and it just begs for players to build around it. I mean, you have to build around it at least a little. If you don’t provide an artifact, the Lich will immediately die.

Yet because it begs so hard, players overshoot ‘accommodating’ the Lich and attempt to full bore build around it. The current Standard Format (Innistrad, Return to Ravnica, M13, and M14) has some nice artifacts, but not enough to fill a deck.

Protip: The Lich just needs a comfy couch, not a whole house.

But lets not forget that the Lich costs BBB, or three black mana. That means you’ll have to be playing a dedicated black deck, rather than splashing for another color in a format that goes out of its way to encourage multicolored decks.

Protip: The Lich requires dedication to its color, not itself.


Since building this, I’ve browsed around to see other people’s attempts at Phylactery Lich decks… and they just weren’t effective. The drawbacks were too much, they couldn’t find enough artifacts to build around it, and if their Lichpin got knocked out then the whole deck fell apart.

So how do I get around all that?

I use the Phylactery Lich as a bonus, not a focus.

It’s certainly the all-star in the deck’s list of creatures, but I recognize a flagship is not a fleet. The deck is not even mechanically focused on artifacts. They’re treated just like the Lich, as a bonus.

In fact, there are only seven artifacts in the whole deck. At first glance, that sounds crazy. That could mean there are times when I’ve got a Phylactery Lich in my hand, but can’t play them because of lacking artifacts.

Or even worse, if an artifact gets destroyed with a Phylactery Lich out, then the deck just got two-for-one’d!

Oh well.

You read that correctly. Oh. Well. My philosophy on playing with cards like these is the same as if you’re playing against a blue player with counterspells. Make ’em use it! Let them sit over there and worry over whether they can make you play around their removal, whether they’re working hard to bluff you or just thinking hard about when to best use it. You should just smile and play like they don’t have it.

So what if you have to work for the Phylactery Lich to be awesome? Have you SEEN how awesome it is?!


But maybe a 5/5 indestructible Lich isn’t awesome enough for you. Maybe you want it turned up to 11, but don’t know which knob to twist.

Ring of Xathrid is a great choice, being an evil ring and all. Honey badger Lich don’t care about regeneration, but it does like to get bigger every turn. But what about that corrupted weapon I mentioned? How about the delicious irony of a Lich using an Inquisitor’s Flail as a phylactery?

That’s some juicy flavor!

And the Lich doesn’t care if it gets smacked in the face for double damage, it’s indestructible! Meanwhile, it’s hitting something for TEN DAMAGE on as little as turn four.

On turn five, it’s possible to make it unblockable as well, thanks to Rogue’s Passage. That’s ten damage on turn five, with ten more coming on turn six.

For a player with a $400 deck, having an obscure combination of cheap cards defeat them in two turns is either infuriating or awesome.

I’m okay with it either way.

And the ability of Inquisitor’s Flail stacks if you’ve got more than one on a creature. One makes the Phylactery Lich deal 10 damage, two makes it deal 20 damage, three makes it deal 40 damage, and four makes it deal 80 damage.

But wait! Surely I’m just doing that thing that Johnny Obscurepants everywhere do, talking about how great their undefeatable deck is when it’s really just crap.

If you think that, you didn’t check out the previous post. :D

Of course this deck isn’t unbeatable, and if an opponent sideboards for it then it could easily be beaten… just like most other decks. But it is a good deck, and resilient. It’ll make you work to beat it, especially if you underestimate its potential.

Alright. That’s a lot of talk about the initial set up. Lets get on to the deck list!



 LANDS – 23
21x Swamp
2x Rogue’s Passage

4x Vampire Nighthawk
3x Geralf’s Messenger
4x Phylactery Lich
4x Desecration Demon
3x Bloodgift Demon

3x Ring of Xathrid
4x Inquisitor’s Flail

4x Sign in Blood
4x Mutilate
3x Sever the Bloodline
2x Immortal Servitude


As you can see, while the deck has a flavor focus around the Lich, the mechanical focus of the deck is low mana cost but highly aggressive creatures. Most of the deck’s creatures cost just three mana, and they’re all awesome. The four mana creature has a drawback that’s basically a slow nuke of your opponents creatures, the five mana creature draws you cards and could potentially ping your opponent for some needed damage, and both of those creatures are flying beatsticks as well.

It’s straight up relentless aggro, but it’s not your typical aggro deck.

It’s more devious than that.

It isn’t afraid to nuke the board with Mutilate, as the Lich and the demons are often big enough to survive it. Geralf’s Messenger and Vampire Nighthawk are both aggressive, full of value, and either one will gladly wear the Ring of Xathrid or use the Inquisitor’s Flail. Sure, they might die from the extra damage, but that’s what Immortal Servitude is for.

That particular spell will almost always be cast for 3BBB, because it can potentially resurrect a total of eleven creatures straight to the battlefield. Phylactery Lich, Geralf’s Messenger, and Vampire Nighthawk are all worth three, and they’re not something your opponent wants to see come back all at once.

There’s only two Immortal Servitudes in there, though. It costs six mana, and it’s best when your graveyard is full. That makes for something you want to see mid to late game, not early and often.

The same thing goes for Rogue’s Passage. Sure, it will let you swing in with an unblockable creature, but it’s a land that produces colorless mana in a deck that’s heavy on black. Two lets it show up often enough to be useful, but that’s usually after you’ve got enough swamps to cast what you need.

Both Sign in Blood and Bloodgift Demon let you draw cards. This helps get over the drawback of only having a few artifacts for the Phylactery Lich, and helps find Rogue’s Passage and Immortal Servitude.

Desecration Demon is cheap and flavorful. Sure, sacrifice a creature to keep it from attacking, but that’s only going to make it more powerful. Not great against token decks, but for everything else it can quickly become difficult to deal with.

Sever the Bloodline rounds out the deck as one of my favorite removal spells. There is cheaper removal in the format, and I’ve had people Y U NO about them not being in here… But for this deck, I’d rather have Sever the Bloodline over any of the one or two cost versions. Between all the aggressive creatures (including one with deathtouch) and Mutilate, the ability to be used twice and the potential to take out several creatures makes Sever the Bloodline more valuable.


And the total cost of this deck? $17.81

That’s using the lowest prices from, and without shipping. If you ordered the cards from it would cost more than twice that.

I got my cards for it from trading and ebay, but I usually just say the deck cost about $20, so the TCGPlayer price is about accurate to what I paid for it.

And it can go toe to toe with decks that cost ten and twenty times as much as it.


This deck was made before M14 came out. Looking through the black and artifact cards, there’s only one that I’d probably add to the deck.

Fireshrieker seems like it would make a great replacement for the Ring of Xathrid. The Lich doesn’t care about the regeneration from the ring, although every other creature does, but I think doublestrike is more useful… and more awesome when paired up with the Inquisitor’s Flail. And Vampire Nighthawk with doublestrike means an instant kill against most creatures. It does cost one more mana, which means the Lich isn’t as quick to get out. Because of that, I think I’d keep the Inquisitor’s Flail at four and just use three of the Fireshriekers.


So that’s my cheap Lich deck, Honey Badger Lich!

Questions? Comments? Thrown underwear?

Use the box below to let me know!

~Matt Booker

2 thoughts on “Magic: The Gathering – Cheap Lich Deck

  1. Interesting.

    If I had time & money for MTG at the moment, I’d be tempted to try and put a copy of that together. Maybe I should just borrow your copy. :)

    I will say that I love Vampire Nighthawk. He’s a prominent part of my black/red vampire deck.

  2. Sorry for the late response, Heli. And if you wanted to try out this deck, just wait a month or so until it rotates out, and you’ll be able to buy all the cards for even cheaper. :)

    And Vampire Nighthawk is really cool. Before Return To Ravnica came in, I was playing a black deck that had Vampire Nighthawk and Lashwrithe. :D

    ~Matt Booker

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