If you’ve been embracing Phyrexian perfection over the last week or so, you might have seen some cool new legendary creatures that would fit perfectly at the front of a commander deck. Yes, mono-white is getting a lot of love from Phyrexia: All Will Be One, with cards like Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines, Mondrak, Glory Dominus, and Skrelv, Defector Mite being standouts. However, if you desire greatness at any cost, this mono-black thane of executions is a wonderful place to start. Welcome back to the Commander Corner, and today’s Spotlight is on…

At first glance, Vraan has some glaring weaknesses. For instance, if you look in his text box, you’ll see a few phrases we tend to really dislike these days. “Once each turn,” “other creatures,” and “you control” are all significant constraints on the amount of power we can generate in bursts. Of course, there are advantages. The foremost advantage is that Vraan drains for 2 instead of the standard 1 we see on cards like Zulaport Cutthroat. As a color, black has cared about creatures dying for decades, and there are plenty of tools we can use to bring our opponents low over multiple turn cycles.

Below, I’m going to break down many of the cards featured in this deck and describe how they function in tandem with Vraan. It is worth noting that this is by no means a cEDH guide on how to build Vraan. This is a guide on what Vraan could and probably should look like in a casual setting. This isn’t a deck where we’re pitching Archon of Cruelty to hand size and casting Reanimate on turn 2. This is a deck I’ve designed to be fun and interactive at a table of players looking to have medium-paced games.

The Engine – Sacrifice

Vraan, Executioner Thane demands our creatures die on a once-per-turn basis. This is most easily achieved with cards which create multiple creature tokens across the game. The standout performance is Ophiomancer, which will create a new token every turn so long as another doesn’t exist. Other cards like Bitterblossom, Dreadhorde Invasion, and Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia will also produce a decent amount of value, albeit at a slower rate. Even the classic Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder can produce you a hefty number of tokens.

Plaguecrafter is joined by Fleshbag Marauder and Merciless Executioner as ways to simultaneously deal with opposing creatures while sending your worst ones to the graveyard, all while triggering Vraan.

Gurgling Anointer, Relentless Dead, and Body Launderer all help you accrue card advantage while pushing your game plan forward.

Virus Beetle and its many other variants (Burglar Rat, Yarok’s Fenlurker, Elvish Doomsayer, etc.) are all expendable creatures since they tend to accrue value upon entering the battlefield or dying. They make great blockers and excellent sacrifice fodder.

Cards like Viscera Seer are free outlets by which you can sacrifice creatures. Seer in particular creates some wild interactions with a card we’ll take a look at soon. Phyrexian Altar and its less expensive friend Ashnod’s Altar give you mana back for your trouble, and are no less efficient at enabling sacrifices on each player’s turn. Make no mistake, you need some number of these sacrifice outlets. Your game plan will not be nearly as consistent without one of them in play.

The Wheels – Redundancy

Although it would be nice to rely solely on Vraan to take out your opponents, it often won’t be enough. Across one turn cycle in a four-player pod, you can drain each opponent for eight. Over five turns you can turn that into 40, if Vraan is uncontested. Of course, you will never be uncontested, and so the clock needs to shorten. Instead of relying purely on Vraan, use cards like Zulaport Cutthroat, Blood Artist, Bastion of Remembrance, and The Meathook Massacre to close the distance between 40 and 0 quicker. The more cards you have with similar effects, the more likely you are to see those cards in a normal game. This extends to sacrifice outlets, token producers, and the like.

The Gasoline – Card Advantage and Mana

Since your commander does not provide any inherent card advantage, you need a concise game plan and ways to ensure your hand doesn’t run out. Since your game plan is based primarily around the creature card type, you don’t have a lot of slots for ramp. This can make playing multiple cards per turn a bit dependent on your draw power, which is limited. While commanders like Korvold, Fae-Cursed King and Braids, Arisen Nightmare might have built-in card draw, the cards in your 99 have to do the work for you. Speaking of, you should play Braids in this deck, she’s quite strong.

There is a pretty solid amount of draw power in this color, and unsurprisingly a lot of it has to do with the death of our creatures. Cards like Midnight Reaper and Grim Haruspex, although they only care about non-token creatures, are an affordable three mana. Erebos, Bleak-Hearted doesn’t care what kind of creature it is, and although he taxes you two life for each card, your commander will refund that life once each turn. Dark Prophecy costs a similar amount of mana and pays you off for the low cost of one life each. Additionally, you can play cards like Priest of Forgotten Gods to incredible effect, earning you mana, cards, and tempo.

Your mana is incredibly important in this deck. Although this particular build has a relatively low curve, you want to start chaining spells together as quickly as possible. Cards like Soldevi Adnate, Illuminor Szeras, and even Phyrexian Tower are great ways to sacrifice creatures for mana. Black Market also pays you off more slowly when creatures die, but can be devastating over multiple turns. Playing mana doublers like Crypt Ghast, especially alongside Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth also helps ensure your mana is flowing. Cabal Stronghold and Cabal Coffers also fit the bill in this regard, although lands can get a bit expensive in mono-black.

The Ejector Seat – Interaction

In a pod of four players, you will undoubtedly run into problems. While cards previously mentioned like Plaguecrafter and Burglar Rat are fine for some moderate value, their primary purpose is to supplement your game plan, not to remove any and all threats. Cards like Dictate of Erebos and Grave Pact do an excellent job at removing creatures from the board. It isn’t a stretch to say that creature-based strategies will stop dead in their tracks if one of those resolves. I’ve seen games hit a stalemate for several turns while people frantically dig for a way to escape the situation. Cards like Curtains’ Call, Murderous Cut, Hero’s Downfall, and Vampire Hexmage all enable you to interact with problematic permanents across the table when your other options aren’t quite hitting what you want them to hit. For bonus points, since your commander is relatively cheap to play, make use of Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering. As always, single target removal is generally reserved for things that will accrue game-ending advantage, so don’t go wasting the precious slots you’ve sacrificed to play removal on weak targets like utility creatures and medium planeswalkers.

Chemical X – The Elephant in the Room

In every deck you must make a decision. That decision drastically affects the power level of your deck and the flow of the games you’ll be playing. This section is reserved for cards that will objectively raise your win percentage and increase the power of your deck, but will also make it more competitive and less casual as a result. Read on, and understand you can replace any of these cards with your own selections based on the kinds of games you’re looking to play.

Bolas’s Citadel is one of the best ways to overwhelm opponents with a flood of card advantage, especially when combined with Aetherflux Reservoir. Thanks to Vraan, your life total is padded enough to afford casting a big number of spells with the citadel. If you can manage to draw enough cards with Midnight Reaper and the like, you’ll be able to ensure the citadel never runs out of gas, clearing the lands off the top of your deck with a well-timed sacrifice. 

The sky’s the limit when it comes to mono-black combo potential. The next step in exploring this potential is Gravecrawler. With this zombie, you can have functionally infinite death and cast triggers as long as you can refund the casting cost with Phyrexian Altar. You can use this with the aforementioned Aetherflux Reservoir or cards like Blood Artist to end the game quite fast. The bottom line is nearly every mono-black combo can fit in here if you’re looking to pump up your power level.

The Full Package – A Decklist/Template

This decklist is by no means the ultimate guide on how one must build this deck. But it is a good starting point for players who want to have fun, without a tremendous amount of cost and consideration of competitive viability. If you like this list but think some cards are too weak or too strong, feel free to switch out as much as you like in your iteration. There are no wrong answers.

Vraan, Executioner Thane

Creatures – 26
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder, Ayara, First of Locthwain, Braids, Arisen Nightmare, Ophiomancer, Blood Artist, Zulaport Cutthroat, Viscera Seer, Jadar, Ghoulcaller of NephaliaPitiless PlundererPlaguecrafter, Gravecrawler, Syr Konrad, the Grim, Morbid OpportunistStronghold Assassin, Relentless Dead, Virus Beetle, Burglar Rat, Yarok’s Fenlurker, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Fleshbag Marauder, Merciless Executioner, Midnight Reaper, Grim Haruspex, Drivnod, Carnage Dominus, Pawn of Ulamog, Vermin Gorger

Artifacts – 7
Bolas’s Citadel, Aetherflux Reservoir, Sol Ring, Mox Amber, Phyrexian Altar, Ashnod’s Altar, Skullclamp

Instants – 8
Hero’s Downfall, Village Rites, Fake Your Own Death, Infernal GraspDefile, Mausoleum Secrets, Szat’s Will, Body Count

Sorceries – 5
Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering, Feed the Swarm, Diabolic Intent, Torment of Hailfire, Victimize

Enchantments – 11
Dictate of Erebos, Grave Pact, Dark Prophecy, Dreadhorde InvasionBitterblossom, Ghoulish Procession, Revel in Riches, The Eldest Reborn, Kaya’s Ghostform, The Meathook Massacre, Bastion of Remembrance

Planeswalkers – 2
Vraska, Betrayal’s Sting, Liliana, Dreadhorde General

Lands – 40
37 of your favorite Swamp, Cabal Coffers, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Phyrexian Tower

You’ve seen almost everything I have to offer for Vraan, but this is only the beginning. There are thousands of cards, hundreds of combos, and dozens of upgrades you could add to the list above if you so desire. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at this interesting commander and you come back again next week to the Commander Corner.

Luka Sharaska (they/them) earned the nickname “Robot” by having a monotone voice, a mind for calculating odds, and a calm demeanor. Robot has been playing Magic for more than a decade, starting during the days of New Phyrexia in 2011. Most days, you’ll find them in the gym or creating content for their YouTube channel: Robot Rallis.

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