Humility-Prayer decks are designed to create a "soft lock" against all creature decks. Humility strips creatures of their abilities and limits their power to 1, while Orim's Prayer gives you back one life for each attacking creature. The lock is backed up with counters and some strong utility cards. It emerged during the Rath Cycle and has been a popular deck in the Extended environment. Note that Humility-Prayer is a control deck. It is designed to take control and keep it and relies on a strong sideboard to solve any additional problems it might encounter.
Original Rath Block Constructed Deck
Humility-Prayer was originally designed by Spanish players Israel Hernandez and Ellen Koeberer, and was used by a number of players for the Rath Cycle portion of that Worlds. (It was nicknamed Monastery due to the meditative flavor of its key cards.) The original deck looked like this:
4 Orim's Prayer
3 Mana Leak
3 Oath of Lieges
2 Reaping the Rewards
2 Peace of Mind
2 Whispers of the Muse
4 Mox Diamond
Notice the Oath of Lieges-Reaping the Rewards component. The designers were concerned with surviving against decks that used a lot of burn. The Oath of Lieges allowed you to shorten your deck while gaining life from Reaping the Rewards. Peace of Mind was additional insurance deemed necessary for the deck to succeed in the environment.
Their deck was far from perfect -- twenty-two lands was a bit light, and the search capabilities of the deck were weak. The counter base also had gaping holes. Later versions dropped the Oath of Lieges-Reaping the Rewards combo. Dismiss was usually relegated to the sideboard.
Forbid-Whispers was far superior, and Forbidian was already well known in Type II at the time. Also note the absence of Scroll Racks. They were crucial components of the deck and became staples in later versions.
Brian Schneider's version refined the archtype. He removed a number of cards and tuned the counter base. His biggest improvement was the addition of Intuition to get his combo out faster. He then added the tech with two Reclaims (this will be discussed further below). The deck also added Wastelands to handle any obnoxious lands. In fact the mana base changed completely, as the original version was light on land attempting to take advantage of the Oath-Rewards combo.
It was played by Brian Hacker, John Yoo, Terry Tsang, and many other top players.
3 Orim's Prayer
2 Scroll Rack
3 Whispers of the Muse
3 Mox Diamond
2 Vec Townships
4 Thalakos Lowlands
2 Reflecting Pool
1 Peace of Mind
1 Light of Day
1 Circle of Protection: Red
1 Whispers of the Muse
Humility-Prayer is the "soft lock" that allows you to patiently grind away at your opponent's library. Either slows creature threats, and both nullify them. In the early game, the lock is supported by Propaganda, which buys time for both combo components to enter play.
Intuition and Reclaim work in much the same way as Tutors. The Intuitions will fetch the needed components of the lock or a much needed Propoganda, Scroll Rack, Capsize or Whispers. Reclaims allow you to effectively tutor for something that you only have 1 or 2 of using Intuition.
Being able to Intuition for sideboard cards is a huge advantage as well. Flores Black recognized the power of tutoring for essential cards in this deck is one the forerunners of that strategy.
Whispers is used in combination with Forbid to create a secondary "soft lock". Once control has been established, Whispers thins out deck, and finds a specific land if needed or a needed utility spell.
Only eight counters are used to protect the lock, although Dismiss can be brought in from the side. The four Counters and four Forbids are the clutch as they allow the deck to establish and maintain control. The Counterspells are cheaper, and the Forbids can be bought back when needed by pitching extra enchantments and land, and with Whispers they form a practical lock by themselves. Forbid is reusable with the Whispers and the eight counters are enough against Aggro deck.
The Scroll Racks and Whispers are card manipulation and advantage cards that allow the deck's owner to get what is needed, when, and to build its resources. Wasteland is a good card in general, but is there specifically for Volrath's Stronghold. The Disenchants and Capsize are problem solvers.
The Win Condition
Playing Against Aggressive Decks
Against an aggressive deck, the Humilty player attempts to set up a "soft lock" by getting Humility and Orim's Prayer into play to shut down all the opponent's creatures. The Humility player then bides his time, protecting the lock, while slowly grinding away at the opponent's library until it is depleted.
Playing against control and creatureless decks
Against mixed decks or against a very reactive deck that contains only a few creatures or none at all, the strategy becomes a control contest in which card advantage is sought. Scroll Rack and Whispers of the Muse become the important cards to fight over, with Grindstone being a major threat. Since by its nature Humility-Prayer is a control deck, a number of cards are brought in from the side to combat creatureless decks and the Humility-Prayer lock is abanadoned.
The Intuitions are the real keys to the deck. They allow you to grab Humilty, Prayer or Propaganda against creature attacks. Whispers is essential for maintaining card advantage once control has been established, and is used to thin out deck. A strong counter base and good utility cards are very helpful in this battle.
Casual Type One
In today's environment, a number of superior cards could be used to help find the lock and the same principals apply. The use of tutors and recursion would replace the Reclaim-Intuition combo of old and allow fewer copies of the key cards. Moat and Abyss are far superior to Propoganda. As you look at the deck you have to notice its marked similarities to Keeper, which accomplishes the same task, though better in most ways.
Nonetheless, a possible configuration looks like this:
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
4 Volcanic Island
4 City of Brass
2 Underground Sea
1 Strip Mine
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Kjeldoran Outpost
2 Gaea's Blessing
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Enlightened Tutor
3 Swords to Plowshares
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Time Walk
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Stroke of Genius
4 Force of Will
4 Mana Drain
1 Jayemdae Tome
1 Scroll Rack
1 Tormod's Crypt
Here, Moat has replaced Orim's Prayer, but the combo has been retained. The most interesting addition is the Outpost, which could be a Sacred Mesa to generate tokens more quickly. It should play very much like like Keeper, but it has Humility to nullify even creatures that get past Abyss and Moat (Monk Realist, Gorilla Shaman, Nightwind Glider, Morphling, and a few others).
There are a few tricks the casual player can use. Scroll Rack, by itself, can prevent a player from running out of cards, if played right. Timetwister and Tormod's Crypt can also induce library death, as can Gaea's Blessing. The Grindstone has been left in for the sake of the impatient.
To end, note that another deck utilized Humility in its time. Paired with Nature's Revolt, this deck prevented all land in play from being tapped for mana. A variation used Nature's Revolt and Pendrell Mists, which killed all land in play as the rules at the time prevented the lands from being tapped for mana until their upkeep was paid. The deck won by keeping a single artifact mana source, such as a Moss or Sky Diamond, that paid for the upkeep of one land, which eventually killed the opponent at its leisure. The deck is easily adapted to Type I play. Though permanents may now pay for their own upkeep and can use a green/white deck with Humility, Living Plane, and a Mox or Diamond to keep the animated Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale alive.