Conditions Allow - Olivia, Crimson Bride EDH
(Olivia, Crimson Bride | Art by Anna Steinbauer)
An Invitation You Can't Refuse
Olivia, Crimson Bride is one of the most popular commanders from Innistrad: Crimson Vow, with over 800 decks on EDHREC. Her appeal isn't hard to understand, since she has the ability to revive any creature from your graveyard to attack alongside her. Even more important, however, is the fact that the downside of this ability is very easy to play around.
If, at any point, you don't control a legendary Vampire, each creature that Olivia revived will be exiled. That Vampire doesn't have to be Olivia herself, and if the reanimated creatures themselves would die, they'll return to the graveyard as normal. This means that your average Olivia, Crimson Bride deck has plenty of other legendary Vampires and lots of ways to sacrifice creatures. When your last legendary Vampire is targeted with removal, you can just sacrifice any reanimated creatures to keep them stashed in the graveyard to safely retrieve later.
But, in a twist for this series, I want to lean into Olivia's drawback, rather than build to mitigate it. Reanimator decks are powerful because they're designed to do the most powerful thing in Magic: cheat mana costs. Additionally, they often invalidate removal because they're designed specifically to pull creatures back out of the graveyard. Especially when your commander can revive your creatures right away, it can feel impossible to meaningfully interact with your deck.
Olivia, however, comes with a built-in pressure release. If your opponents can remove her, then each creature she's revived will be gone forever. Not only does this turn Hero's Downfall and Terminate into graveyard hate, it also forces you to play smarter. With the threat of exile looming, you can't freely flood the board with reanimated creatures, but when you're playing creatures as impactful as Archon of Cruelty, Massacre Wurm, and Sepulchral Primordial, you don't need more than one at a time.
What to Reanimate
In return for purposefully making your threats easier to answer, you get to play all of the best reanimation targets. Or at least, you don't have to feel slightly bad about it. Sepulchral Primordial, Sheoldred, Whispering One, and Razaketh, the Foulblooded are the highlights of the deck. Even Archon of Cruelty, which loses some utility due to targeting one player at a time, is a huge threat that will quickly whittle away at the life and resources of whoever it targets.
If you prefer a more active gameplan, then consider instead Inferno Titan, Combustible Gearhulk, and Grave Titan. Combustible Gearhulk is one of the best ways to draw cards in this deck, since you don't really care which mode your opponents choose. If you draw cards, that's great, but this deck is also full of high-mana-value creatures that you want in the graveyard. Among those are Inferno Titan and Grave Titan, which each have a unique and powerful impact on the game. Grave Titan clogs up the board to fight against token decks, while Inferno Titan simply burns them away.
When you want to apply even more pressure, or you feel the coast is clear to really explode, you'll want to grab Moraug, Fury of Akoum or Port Razer. Extra combats let Olivia, Crimson Bride reanimate multiple creatures a turn. Revive Moraug and play a land to grab Angrath's Marauders with your second attack. If that land was Terramorphic Expanse, you'll get to attack again and revive Inferno Titan to start burning life totals away. Port Razer is a more consistent source of extra combats, but its smaller stat line makes it slightly more fragile than Moraug, Fury of Akoum.
Finally, when you really need to win the game, this deck gets to play Master of Cruelties too. Normally, Master of Cruelties must attack alone, so its target is left at one life. But Olivia, Crimson Bride will put it into play tapped and attacking, a lá Alesha, Who Smiles at Death. The two together will take a player out of the game. If you happen to have Razaketh, the Foulblooded in play, you can then sacrifice Master of Cruelties to reanimate it again in your next combat step, chaining together three attacks to eliminate three opponents. Spells like Seize the Day and Relentless Assault mean you don't have to rely on just Port Razer or Moraug, Fury of Akoum either.
Fill the Graveyard
Of course, all this relies on getting creatures into your graveyard. This deck includes some reanimator classics, like Faithless Looting and Entomb, but has plenty of new tricks up its sleeve as well. I like Cavalier of Flames in reanimator decks, as both a reanimator target and a way to pitch cards into the graveyard. Its death trigger can easily get into game-winning territory, especially in games that go a little longer. Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion is another all-star creature that can generate enough mana to simply cast your big creatures in the right situation.
Supporting these non-Vampire creatures are both versions of Anje Falkenrath. Of the two, Anje, Maid of Dishonor will do the least work in this deck, because of the low Vampire count, but the density of powerful creatures means that cracking one Blood token on turn five will set you up for a strong turn six when you attack with Olivia. Anje Falkenrath will dig more consistently and help smooth your draws in the early game. With a six-mana-value commander, hitting your land drops is going to be vital. The Anjes are also the only two legendary Vampires in the deck, so having one in play when you go for an explosive turn with multiple combats will insulate you against a single removal spell.
To go along with these creatures, I'm including Cathartic Pyre and Imposing Grandeur. Cathartic Pyre is a flexible looting spell that can act as removal in a pinch. Imposing Grandeur is more impressive, letting you discard your hand and draw six cards with Olivia, Crimson Bride in the command zone. At five mana, it's among the more expensive options for wheel effects, but I like curving Imposing Grandeur into Olivia, Crimson Bride on your next turn. You can leave your opponents guessing right up until the last moment.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I'm specifically building this deck to play into Olivia, Crimson Bride's weaknesses. I'm not including Lightning Greaves or Swiftfoot Boots to deter removal, or any sacrifice outlets to save creatures when Olivia is targeted, but that doesn't mean you can't try to protect Olivia at all. Bolt Bend and Pyroblast are cards I try to fit into any red deck, and Imp's Mishief is a great gotcha spell in this deck as well.
But you've also got to remember that you're not really trying to protect Olivia. You're trying to protect your other creatures from Olivia, and the best way to do that is not to rely on her to reanimate your creatures at all. Her page runs a little lighter on Reanimates and Animate Deads, thanks to you having access to Olivia herself in the command zone. Because I'm not relying on Olivia, Crimson Bride as heavily, I'm including them, along with Stitch Together and Persist. This will ensure you can always grab a creature you need to stick around and expect to have access to it later.
Not only that, but reanimating a scary creature (Razaketh or Sheoldred) puts your opponents between a rock and a hard place. Do they remove the one creature, or hit your commander and exile the one or two creatures you've reanimated with her? Additionally, you can avoid playing Olivia in the early turns of the game, when removal is plentiful. A reanimation spell that costs eight or ten mana isn't nearly as exciting.
Put all this together will a little extra draw and some interaction of your own, and this is what the deck looks like.
Olivia Crimson BrideView on Archidekt
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Olivia, Crimson Bride has a powerful effect, which is offset by not much in terms of downside. That is the perfect opportunity to mitigate that downside as little as possible in your deck building. You could easily turn up the power level of this deck by playing more legendary Vampires or including Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots, but I like the idea of purposefully leaving weaknesses in your deck. It's an easy way to ensure you aren't building something too powerful while still challenging yourself as a player.