The Usurpation of Modern

Dmitriy Butakov

Dmitriy Butakov


Hello Everyone!

Some cool Modern events are drawing near, and today I want to talk about a possible sleeper for the format: 《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》.

Kaya, Orzhov UsurperTibalt, the Fiend-Blooded

When the card was just revealed, most of the people (myself included) saw it as a new 《Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded》, it’s cheap and packed with 3 absolutely irrelevant abilities. In Standard it has found a place in some Esper Control build as a bane of Mono Blue Tempo first drops and a cumulative Turn 3 threat.

But in Modern her potential is much bigger, I have a pretty good streak of 4-1s in MO leagues with UW Control splash 《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》 (we have to keep in mind, MO metagame is a bit different from GP/MC scene, it’s not always Izzet Phoenix, Dredge, Dredge, Humans, Tron, sometimes it’s Bogles, Infect, Mono Blue Tron, Ponza and my favorite Merfolks, that cut me from 5-0 twice in one day with different guys playing it).

Esper Control

Kaya, Orzhov UsurperJace, the Mind SculptorTeferi, Hero of Dominaria

Here is the build I’m using right now, we’ll consider it one of the possible shells for the card, I’m still tweaking the configuration of counterspells and the sideboard, but I think I’m somewhere not very far from the final version.

Since the article is mostly about is the splash worthwhile, we’ll have a look at the most popular Modern decks and the potential impact 《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》 has there.

I don’t think the sideboard guide is needed, it’s pretty obvious what changes you want to make most of the time. If you’re interested in some specific matchups sideboard just write me on MO or leave a comment here, if by that time I’m not disappointed in the deck I’ll respond as soon as possible.

Izzet Phoenix

Thing in the IceArclight Phoenix

The matchup was OK for UW control, and, despite it looks 《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》 +1 should shine here, I can’t say the splash makes the matchup better, we get some surprise factor game 1, but it comes at a price of some extra life points thanks to finding an open Black source on turn 3. Also, don’t forget to play around 《Blood Moon》 post board. I’d say she improves game 1 a bit, but the matchup is not drastically affected.

Possible Ability Uses


Stinkweed ImpPrized AmalgamCreeping Chill

《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》 is all star here, she clears the graveyard of Dredgers and helps you to recover from 《Creeping Chill》. Apart from the nut draws Dredge needs a pretty specific graveyard configuration to function properly, removing 2 pieces from the puzzle on turn 3 could slow it down a lot, but you don’t have to slam it as soon as possible if there is a way to Miracle a 《Terminus》 or something.

Playing 《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》 allows you not to play 《Rest in Peace》 in the sideboard, but if the Dredge Player doesn’t know your exact list, they will have to bring their 《Nature’s Claim》 in anyway, so it’s a pretty little mind trick.

Possible Ability Uses

4C Prison, Lantern Control, Slot Machine Combo

Whir of InventionLantern of InsightSemblance Anvil

《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》 rocks vs the 《Mox Opal》 decks, she purges the reusable combo pieces from their graveyard and -1 deals with half of the decks artifacts (although not the most important ones). Once installed she is capable of being a utility card and a win condition at the same time, provided you organize a little support. Considering the rising popularity of 4C Prison deck, I’d say having it as a good matchup is a solid perk for a deck.

Possible Ability Uses

《Death’s Shadow》

Death's ShadowGurmag Angler

I think the splash improves the matchup a bit, everything in 《Death’s Shadow》 is cheap on mana and it doesn’t bother much about the original UW’s countermagic and card draw effects.

《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》, on the other hand, kills the 《Death’s Shadow》, sometimes delays 《Gurmag Angler》, meddles with 《Snapcaster Mage》 and 《Tarmogoyf》, and doing all this she remains a threat to be dealt with.

Possible Ability Uses

《Hardened Scales》

Hardened ScalesArcbound RavagerWalking Ballista

One more deck where 《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》 is very important, this time her -1 is the main mode, it deals with almost everything up to 3 times! The matchup was already good, now the only card you care about is 《Arcbound Ravager》, as long as you play around it, the matchup is heavily favored.

Possible Ability Uses

UW Control

Jace, the Mind SculptorTeferi, Hero of DominariaSnapcaster Mage

I like playing the former mirror match as aggressive as possible game 1, you have more threats and just slamming a Planeswalker every turn is a working strategy in general. There are different versions of UW, an anti-aggro with 《Condemn》, 《Settle the Wreckage》 and etc, should be a piece of cake.

The heavier builds with more cheap countermagic and card draw are a bigger problem, if your hand doesn’t offer you a clear line of play at the moment, all-in plays deserve a thought, to play a 《Hieroglyphic Illumination》, they have to poker face a Counterspell sometimes. I think a control deck that may play more aggressively in the mirror and doesn’t care about the damage from the lands benefits from the splash.

Possible Ability Uses

Mono Green Tron

Karn LiberatedUlamog, the Ceaseless HungerWorld Breaker

Here the things go worse with the splash, 《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》 doesn’t have that much impact in the matchup and you had to cut some utility lands which are your best weapon against Tron, but the general strategy remains the same – to make a window and play a Planeswalker (《Jace, the Mind Sculptor》 at best, his +2 is a win condition and a good control measure at the same time) and protect it.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Speaking of protection, they have a very limited set of threats, I’d say it is 《Karn Liberated》, 《Ugin, the Spirit Dragon》, 《Walking Ballista》 and 《Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger》. 《Wurmcoil Engine》 has no Enter The Battlefield effect, you have a ton of ways to deal with it.

The downside of a Planeswalker-based game plan is the usually useless 《Oblivion Stone》 becomes a serious threat. I have played neither UW nor Tron much, so I’m not sure how the original matchup looks like, probably unfavored Pre-Sideboard to even after it. Here we have some countermeasures and 《Stony Silence》 will shine, but for this esper build I think Tron is an unfavorable matchup nonetheless.

Possible Ability Uses

5C Humans / Spirits

AEther VialNoble HierarchChampion of the Parish

I know these decks are different, but they have a lot in common too. I think the splash is a slight improvement, 《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》 comes in place of countermagic and 《Hieroglyphic Illumination》 kind of spells and they are pretty bad vs tribal 《AEther Vial》 decks.


The point is it comes to the splash only if you were able to fend off the first wave. If you have Miracled a 《Terminus》 or had multiple 《Path to Exile》, 《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》 can finish the 《Champion of the Parish》 or 《Noble Hierarch》 and even survive a 《Noble Hierarch》 or 《Kitesail Freebooter》 attack. Last, but not least use of -1 is 《AEther Vial》, even after turn 4 it could be pretty annoying messing with your 《Terminus》 sequencing.

Both decks are an unfavorable matchup for any UW build but now we kind of benefit from the lowering numbers of Humans and Spirits, for them being harassed by Dredge and Prison decks.

Possible Ability Uses

Other Possible Home for 《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》

Other possible homes for 《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》 are BW Tokens, Eldrazi&Taxes and Abzan Midrange. BW Tokens are not very popular right now, but in a certain field a deck with 4 《Auriok Champion》 main deck will be very well positioned.


Kaya, Orzhov UsurperThalia, Guardian of ThrabenThought-Knot Seer

There is an interesting build that made it to the finals of Star City Games Invitational Qualifier.

Despite the 3rd drop seems overburdened, the deck has 《AEther Vial》 that allows you to deploy 2 creatures a turn. I like 《AEther Vial》 decks very much, but due to their inability to effectively oppose graveyard based strategies it doesn’t seem it’s a golden age for them now, but in BW you have access to all the biggest guns vs Dredge and etc. Also, you have lots of ways to prevent 《Thing in the Ice》 from flipping.

Abzan Midrange

Kaya, Orzhov UsurperLiliana of the VeilTarmogoyf

One more option is to commit blasphemy and not play a playset of 《Liliana of the Veil》 in Abzan Midrange, 《Liliana of the Veil》 is mediocre against Izzet Phoenix and terrible against Dredge, 2 most popular decks. 《Kaya, Orzhov Usurper》 has a negative interaction with your 《Tarmogoyf》, but your own graveyard should be diverse enough.

March 24th update: I’ve joined the Format Playoff with this list, it has proved to be good vs Dredge, Phoenix and Whir of Invention decks, but I’ve met 2 Trons (virtually unwinnable matchup) on my way and ended up 3-3 drop, winning a Whir, Izzet Phoenix and Dredge.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the read.

Thank you and see you online.

Dmitriy Butakov@butakov_mtg on Twitter

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Dmitriy Butakov

Dmitriy Butakov A player from Russia who plays mainly on Magic Online. He was champion of the 2012 Magic Online Championship and in the following year, he top 4s the 2013 Magic Online Championship. In 2018, he becomes champion of the 2017 Magic Online Championship for the second time. Also, with his win at the Magic Online Championship, he achieved his prize to become a Platinum Level Pro. Having these tremendous results, in March 2018, he joins the Hareruya Pros. Read more articles by Dmitriy Butakov