He’s been out for a while, and for a long time I was convinced that Leovold, Emissary of Trest was actually a prank by Wizards. I had feelers out in the community for a Leovold since Conspiracy 2 was released, and nobody had one. I couldn’t find anybody who had even seen one opened. So I ordered one online, half convinced that I was just throwing money away on nothing.

But he arrived, and he was real, and much joy was had. I had pre-brewed for him, for the first time ever, and immediately set to sleeving the deck. Sadly, it was two weeks before I was able to sit down with him, and in that period of time Leovold, Emissary of Trest gained a bit of a reputation. Go to EDHRec.com and search him up and you’ll see that almost everybody is building him the same way. The most common cards in the lists are Windfall, Teferi’s Puzzle Box, and Day’s Undoing.

77% of lists have Windfall. That’s just lazy deckbuilding, and 77% of the people running Leovold should feel bad about themselves. Of the 14 ‘signature cards’ for Leovold on EDHRec.com, nine of them have the base effect of discarding hands and drawing seven new cards. This is awful, and makes me sad. My list has exactly one instance of the word ‘discard’ in it, and I’ll get to that later, but trust me, it’s fair. The deck is still bloody awesome though, and it is ridiculously fun to play.

Because, and bear with me here, I talked to my playgroup.

When I sat down, it was against a well-known Oros the Avenger Voltron deck (colloquially referred to in our playgroup as ‘Gary, the Racist Dragon’), Group Hug under Pheldagriff, and the LGS’s copy of creatureless enchantments under Genju of the Realm.

I know, Genju is not technically legal. It’s a casual format.

We revealed our commanders and started shuffling. I took the opportunity to state my claim about my deck, and my intentions for the game I was looking for. I said that there was only one discard effect in my deck, and that you only lose one card while getting all the others you pitched back. I said openly and with a friendly tone that I was looking for a fun game that went a dozen turns or more, and asked if everyone else was looking for the same thing.

They all agreed that it sounded like it was on par with their own expectations, and that was exactly what we got. The social contract works, folks.

The Proof Is in the Planewalker

It ended up being a great game, with power and momentum swings all over the place. At one point, Oros swung at me with 36 power, unblockable and with double strike, and the Genju player, knowing I was the only one keeping Pheldagriff under control, responded with an AEtherspouts to save me. Pheldagriff ended up winning through self-mill and Laboratory Maniac, which seems like a cheap way to do it, but he actually worked to get it and pushed through a lot of control to make it work. This happened after I tried to cast Fascination for 26 with Psychosis Crawler in play, which would have been lethal for everyone until Oros player dropped a Comeuppance on me and Pheldagriff pulled something out that pushed him above 26 life. I can’t remember exactly what it was.

It was a ridiculous game with lots of interaction, with two diametrically opposed decks (Leovold wants to stop everybody from drawing cards and Pheldagriff wants to make everybody draw cards) squaring off against each other while also holding an aggressive Voltron build and a surprisingly resilient enchantments player in check.

In Which I Detail “The Lesson”

This game, however, could have gone very differently. Had I not been up-front about my deck, people would have assumed I built the one that led to Windfall being in 77% of Leovold decks. I would have taken a ton of early aggression and likely would not have been able to survive it. Or if I had built that Leovold deck, I could have easily locked everybody out of the game as early as turn four. Drop Leovold on turn three, then Teferi’s Puzzle Box on turn four, and all of a sudden nobody gets any cards ever again. But that’s not fun, and that’s not how I want to play.

Anyone can do that, but I choose not to.

The social contract works, folks. Thirty seconds of honest conversation while we were shuffling our decks was all it took, and everybody had a great time. Even those of us who lost did so with smiles on our faces, because we talked about our expectations beforehand, and then met them. In the second game, we all decided to play a little meaner, a little more cut-throat, and changed decks accordingly. Even when I killed somebody with poison counters on turn five, they were fine with it because that’s what we agreed to.

The Gold Star

But the star of the whole day, for me, was the deck. Like I said, Leovold has a reputation, and I did my very best to move my build away from that. I even have the cards right there in my collection, and it’s easy enough to sleeve them up. Instead, I leveraged ‘symmetrical’ card draw in my favour. Cards like Howling Mine and Fascination. Or effects that tack card draw onto other things, like Fatal Lore and Damnable Pact. Pain’s Reward is a great way to make your opponents very uncomfortable in this deck, and Seizan, Perverter of Truth is ridiculous with Levold in play.

But the real stars in my list are things that allow me to draw cards using the second ability on Leovold. The one that nobody pays attention to. “Whenever you or a permanent you control becomes the target of a spell or ability an opponent controls, you may draw a card.” Now, my permanents are probably drawing a little bit of hate anyway, just due to the nature of what they do and my playgroup’s knowledge of what shenanigans I like to pull. But I can leverage this a bit, as well, with Spellskite, Misdirection, Redirect, and similar effects. Yes, you can put Eldrazi Conscrption on your Scryb Sprites, OR you could just put that right here on my Urborg Elf, thanks. Oh, and I’ll draw a card to replace the Misdirection I used to make that happen.

Missdirection Not a Directions Miss.

Admittedly, there are not a lot of these abilities in the deck. There are not a lot of them printed in these colours. But there are enough that I can easily swing a game heavily in my favour with them. But the point is, the deck is FAIR. I’m not trying to lock anybody out of the game, and I’m not trying to take your hand away. I want you to keep playing, so I can spring my Willbender on your win condition. When I cast Damnable Pact on you for 12, I want you to have the option to kill Leovold in response to get the cards. I’ll draw first, and hopefully rip a Counterspell off the top, but that’s the kind of play that makes for amazing EDH stories. Nobody cares about the time you locked the board out on turn four and made everybody sit on their thumbs for an hour while you drew into your combo. But casting Chaos Warp twice in a game, and having the Warped target be the card revealed post-shuffle both times . . . that makes for a great story.

(Yeah, that happened to me a few weeks ago. Chaos Warp is now cut from all decks.)

In Summary…

The only card that makes you discard anything in my Leovold deck is Memory Jar. The way it works is, I pop it and you exile your hand. Then you draw one card each while I draw seven. I durdle away my cards, then at the end of the turn you discard your one card, and return your original hand. It’s a way to pop Memory Jar without being awful about it. It just makes sure that you probably can’t stop me from using the cards I draw off the Jar. If I can get you to draw a single card ahead of time, even better – then you get no cards off it, and you don’t have to discard anything. That, right there, is the heart of what I want my list to do. Advantage is all to me, but you’re not locked out of the game. You can still play, because that’s why we’re here.

If I wanted to sit around a table and not have fun, I’d stay home and work on a grocery plan. Instead, I want to have a good time, and sometimes that means my finely-crafted death machine gets stomped on by a Hippo token.