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Building Urabrask, Heretic Praetor in EDH


Pandemonium by John Martin (1841)Jaya Ballard by Keiran Yanner.

With the influx of Streets of New Capenna previews, I was faced with a challenge this past week. From the legendary creatures that had not yet been grabbed by the other Commander writers here at CoolStuffInc.com, I needed to pick my first card to build a deck around and write a column about. For some odd reason, I found myself drawn to Urabrask, Heretic Praetor.

I am not a big fan of the Praetors, but Urabrask the Hidden was always the one Praetor that I never felt bad about putting in a deck. Urabrask isn't that oppressive. It doesn't shut down entire strategies or keep people from playing the game. It just speeds you up and slows your opponents down. Its impact on a game isn't any worse for your tablemates than a Blind Obedience or Authority of the Consuls.

I also had a feeling that Urabrask, Heretic Praetor might end up being one of the last legendary creatures picked by my fellow writers. It isn't splashy, it isn't incredibly exciting, and it doesn't open up any obvious build paths. It's just a source of card advantage in Red.

Urabrask, Heretic Praetor

This 4/4 Phyrexian Praetor has Haste and gives everyone "impulse draw". For me, that means that at the beginning of my upkeep I'll exile the top card of my library and I may play it this turn. I'll still get my normal draw after my upkeep, so I'm essentially getting an extra card each turn with the caveat that I need to play it that turn or it just stays in exile and can no longer be played.

For my opponents Urabrask is a little less helpful. At the beginning of each of their upkeeps Urabrask will trigger and the next time they would draw a card this turn, instead they exile the top card of their library and they may play it this turn. This REPLACES their normal draw.

This "impulse draw" ability might amount to nothing. It also might be HUGE in a game, cutting opponents off from key cards they need to execute their game plans. It's very hard to know, and I think the question of whether this Urabrask will be the weakest of the next Praetor cycle is still up in the air. My magic 8-ball is saying "ask again later" and I can't really argue with that.

Impulse Draw For the Win

Urabrask is a 5-drop so it's unlikely that I'll be playing my commander early and really affecting anyone's early game. That doesn't mean he isn't going to bring value to a game. I think the best-case scenario for Urabrask is as follows.

For me: I would love to only impulse draw into cards I can play that turn. If I'm always casting out of my impulse draw, I'll be making the most of his ability. I might cast other spells as well, but if I exile a land during my upkeep I'll play it, and if I exile a spell I'll try to make sure I cast it. One more card cast out of my impulse draw from Urabrask means one less card cast out of my hand.

For my opponents: my hope is that they will reliably exile cards that they simply cannot cast. They might be on four mana and exile a card with a mana value of 5 or more. If they are on a multicolored deck, they might only have one white mana available and they might exile a card that requires 2 white mana. What I want is to essentially be pulling cards off the top of their deck and tossing them into the wind, never to be seen again in that game.

This isn't the best game plan, as most other decks will be able to ramp at least as fast as I will be ramping, if not much faster. Instead of losing cards at the start of their turns, my tablemates might simply be in a position of having to cast a spell that they would prefer to save for a later turn. If nothing else, this will affect their ability to save cards and plan ahead.

If I want to maximize the chance that my tablemates won't be able to cast their impulse draw cards, I should do my best to affect my tablemates' mana production. If I were in Green, I might run a card like Hall of Gemstone to force players to pick a color for their turn. I could see an argument for running Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger, though that level of oppressive gameplay isn't' my style - I'm notoriously anti-Praetor in casual EDH.

Blood Moon
Magus of the Moon

While I say I don't like the Praetors, we all have our own weird lines for what cards we will or won't play, and I do like Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon. They both punish non-basic lands and don't affect me too negatively. I already run mountains, so if my nonbasiics turn into Mountains that's a small price to pay for the chance to really slow down my tablemates. Turning nonbasic lands into Mountains will be very likely to impact my tablemates' ability to cast out of their impulse draw.

There's an argument that this deck should be running land destruction to try to keep my opponents off of the colors they'll need to cast the cards that get exiled on their upkeeps. I don't like MLD (mass land destruction) in this deck if I don't have a way to make it one-sided.

My initial take was that I didn't see targeted land destruction as being an effective enough tool in multiplayer. I could see trying a little nonbasic land hate but the chances you're going to really impact the game by blowing up a single land isn't huge and you're more likely to put a target on your back and get hated off the table if you pop too many lands. Diving into full stax with Smokestack, Tangle Wire and the like might make sense, but mono-Red isn't the best starting point for a stax build.

I like but don't love what Urabrask is giving me to work with. I'm actually glad I picked him for my first New Capenna column because he's really making me think.

One of the biggest issues for me with this deck is the freedom Urabrask gives me to build anything I want to build in mono-Red.

Choices, Choices

We're stuck in one color for this build. That's not a huge problem; I have built lots of mono-Red decks that I enjoyed and that proved capable of winning games. My problem, if you can call it that, is that Urabrask gives me nothing else. That's both wonderful and dreadful.

Urabrask could be a great commander for a Goblin deck. Goblins are low mana so I'm likely to be able to cast cards from my impulse draw each turn without any misses. Goblins can be built in a few directions, though they are mostly combat-focused. I wouldn't want to build around a tribe like Dragons, where they are generally much more expensive to cast and I might lose cards to exile just because I couldn't pay the mana or didn't want to commit a whole turn to casting them.

A much more interesting direction that I haven't yet built is to have Urabrask be a Dragon's Approach commander. I love the idea of loading up on damage multipliers and having that extra impulse draw slot to help increase the chances that I will be able to launch into a table-killing turn.

I think Dragon's Approach makes sense for Urabrask, Heretic Praetor. I think it could be an exciting, fun deck to play, and there's only one thing stopping me from having today's list be a Dragon's Approach deck - it's boring to write about. Same thing applies to Persistent Petitioners and Relentless Rats. These decks want a couple of dozen of the same nonland card in their lists, and that doesn't leave a lot of room for creativity and fun. If I had a couple dozen copies of Dragon's Approach and an Urabrask, Heretic Praetor, I would be very tempted to build that deck.

There are other tribes and ideas I haven't yet built that would work for Urabrask. I've never built Phoenix tribal and I do think that would be fun to dig into someday. For today's list I decided to try to go after a bit of a Unicorn in EDH.

Mono-Red Burn

I've never really built a mono-Red EDH burn deck. I've built Purphoros with token generators, but I don't think of that as being a burn deck. After today's column you might still be able to say that I haven't built a real burn deck, but I'm certainly going to try.

With the intention of NOT taking the easy route of just playing a couple dozen copies of Dragon's Approach, I'm already at a loss for what I want to run, but I do know one thing.

Fire Servant
Embermaw Hellion
Fiery Emancipation

I want to cast damage spells and I want the impact of those spells to be doubled, or even tripled! I'm also running damage amplifiers like Torbran, Thane of Red Fell and a few old standbys in Furnace of Rath and Dictate of the Twin Gods.

Lightning Bolt
Price of Progress
Farideh's Fireball

I can't build a mono-Red burn deck without Lightning Bolt. I know it's not the best removal spell, but if I see a Birds of Paradise, I'll find some amusement in being able to bolt the Bird. I do want a certain number of low mana burn spells that I can cast off my impulse draw and Bolt fits the bill perfectly. If I've got a couple of damage doublers or a doubler and a tripler, that 3 damage can become 12 or 18. Some of this deck's wins will probably come from flying under the radar, outliving a few tablemates and then knocking out my last opponent when they thought they were relatively safe.

Price of Progress will do damage to each player equal to double the number of nonbasic lands they control. I like burn spells that can hit each player, or even better - each opponent. I'm not likely to have too many nonbasic lands, so my risk of killing myself with Price of Progress is fairly low. Farideh's Fireball can hit a creature or planeswalker for 5 and then either burn each player or each opponent for 2, based on the outcome of a die roll.

Explosion of Riches
Crackle with Power
Comet Storm

Explosion of Riches is a very exciting card to me. It replaces itself, and I'll get to try to cajole other players into drawing a card and letting it do 5 damage to a randomly chosen opponent. With a damage multiplier on the field, that could result in some very interesting moments. If one player is at a high life total, do the other players risk getting burned to see if they dodge the damage? It's likely players will say yes if they're over 30 life, but if they get down below 20 this sorcery will be an overcosted Lava Axe that replaces itself. Either way, it'll be fun.

Crackle with Power has a casting cost with three Xs. That seems like a steep cost but if I can get up to 3 for my X, paying 11 mana total I can have it do 15 damage to three targets. With damage multipliers that could just win me the game. Comet Storm and Jaya's Immolating Inferno are also in the list, giving me a few more X spells to try to spread a little damage around. I am running Mana Geyser and Extraplanar Lens, so there is some chance I'll be able to have a big mana turn and really push out some damage.

Burn Baby Burn

I'm still on the fence about how well this deck will play in mid-powered games. I'm sure it'll do OK in low-powered games and might be too much for precon decks, but like many deckbuilders I have occasionally misjudged my own builds. I do not think this could keep up with high powered tables and certainly wouldn't have a place in fringe cEDH or full cEDH games.

I like this deck's game plan and I think the wins the deck gets will be exciting, but some of those damage doublers could also really backfire on you. Get an opponent with Jeska, Thrice Reborn on the field and they'll be delighted to start swinging big damage around. Chances are decent that they'll focus on you first to keep anyone else from swinging back at them with their damage multiplied.

Urabrask Burn | Commander | Stephen Johnson

I claimed earlier that I'm far from an expert on playing burn in any format, so I'm confident that some of my readers will have ideas on how this first draft could be turned into a much better deck. I think there's an argument for running a few spells like Fork, Reiterate, Reciprocate and Wild Ricochet. Being able to play a big burn spell and copy it is in ways better than having a damage doubler that could be used against you. Copy spells are fun and interactive and this deck doesn't have enough ways to interact with spells on the stack. It's aiming to be a mid-powered casual deck and you generally need more stack interaction when you start moving up towards high powered and cEDh play. Still, some copy spells, a Red Elemental Blast, Burnout or Tibalt's Trickery might have a place in this list if you can't stand not being able to deal with spells on the stack.

Final Thoughts

If there are obvious spells I left out of this list, I would love to hear about them in the comments. I think there's a good reason folks don't play burn in EDH. Multiplayer is a hard game for burn to work in and burn decks in other formats very much rely upon playing a 4-card playset of the cards they need to win the game.

I do think you could fly under the radar and win a few games with this deck, but this also might not be the best commander for a red EDH burn deck. Neheb, the Eternal can convert your damage into mana. Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh might not be overpowered, but does play into a burn strategy. Your best bet for burn might be to go with two colors and play Wort, the Raidmother or Vadrik, Astral Archmage, but those would end up being very different decks than today's Urabrask, Heretic Praetor list.

Writing about this deck got me thinking about Dragon's Approach more than I have in a while. I really think a Dragon's Approach list could be fun, but I don't know that Urabrask is the best pick for the commander. You're very likely to be able to cast your impulse draw card each turn if you're running twenty or more copies of Dragon's Approach, but what you really want is a commander that can give you more card draw than just one extra card each turn. Torbran, Thane of Red Fell might work nicely to increase your damage output, but if you think that extra card will make a difference, Urabrask might worth trying.

For my regular readers you may remember that I've been playing my "Doggie Dargo" partners list with Yoshimaru, Ever Faithful and Dargo, the Shipwrecker in my EDH League. I'm happy to report that the deck finally won its first game in league play. I got more than a little lucky, and if I hadn't won when I managed to combo off, the other Dargo player in our meta was going to win on his next turn. Dargo Combo is legit, but every game is feeling like the same process of building up my board and hoping to hit the combo. It's fun, but I am 100% certain that by the end of the month I'll be tired of the deck and will be happy to move on to something new for May's league games.

That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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