Commander Top 10: Orah, Skyclave Hierophant

Bennie Smith has some Clerical work to do for his next Commander deck. How will he build around Zendikar Rising’s Orah, Skyclave Hierophant?

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
Orah, Skyclave Hierophant, illustrated by Anna Steinbauer

Zendikar Rising previews are upon us, and boy has there been some cool stuff revealed in this first week, including several legendary creatures that are going to be super-fun to build around!  So where should I start?  Well, with the party mechanic and the return of tribal support for Clerics, Rogues, Warriors and Wizards I thought it most exciting to dig into Cleric tribal since it’s been quite a while since that card type got a lot of love, and that means picking Orah, Skyclave Hierophant as our commander!

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant

While a 3/3 creature with lifelink for four mana isn’t anything to write home about, the rest of his text box is incredibly impressive! 

Whenever Orah, Skyclave Hierophant or another Cleric you control dies, return target Cleric card with lesser converted mana cost from your graveyard to the battlefield.

While we don’t have Release Notes for Orah, Skyclave Hierophant yet, we’re lucky enough to have had another card that’s templated nearly the same:  Scrap Trawler.

Scrap Trawler

Taking the notes on Scrapyard Trawler and replacing “artifact” with “Cleric” and “hand” with “battlefield,” here are some things to keep in mind:

If Orah, Skyclave Hierophant and another Cleric you control are put into a graveyard at the same time, Orah, Skyclave Hierophant’s ability triggers for each of them.  The Clerics that died will be in the graveyard once the triggers are put on the stack so they can be targeted by each trigger’s resolution if the converted mana cost lines up.

This is a pretty powerful ability to be tied to your commander, since tribal decks are traditionally soft to mass removal.  With Orah on the battlefield, you should feel much less worried about overextending, especially if you can protect Orah from direct removal.  Another side benefit, there are a handful of Clerics that self-sacrifice for beneficial effect, so with Orah on the battlefield, the odds are quite good you can bring one back to feuse. 

Okay, let’s get brewing!

1. Edgewalker


Back in 2002-2003 Wizards released three sets in a block:  Onslaught, Legions, and Scourge.  The themes leaned heavily into “creatures matter” and particular tribes including Clerics. In Scourge fans of that tribe got a very strange and cool card called Edgewalker, which featured colored mana cost reduction.  While this card is welcome in any Cleric deck, it’s particularly great in Orah because it lets you power out higher-cost Clerics, and if they die with Orah on the battlefield, you’ll get to return higher-cost Clerics from the graveyard.  Plus, if you cast Edgewalker on Turn 3, you can cast Orah the following turn for just two generic mana—a simple tap of a Sol Ring, giving you extra mana to cast something else.

I’m including some other “Clerics matter” Cleric cards to take advantage of our resilient tribe under Orah’s leadership:

Battlefield Medic Rotlung Reanimator Ancestor's Prophet Battletide Alchemist

With Rotlung Reanimator alongside Orah, you could end up further ahead on the battlefield after a battlefield sweeper!  Ancestor’s Prophet and four Clerical friends can tap to gain a whopping ten life!  And Battletide Alchemist with some Clerical friends can make it very difficult for any one source to punch through any but the largest amount of damage.  Don’t forget you can use Battletide Alchemist‘s ability to prevent damage to any player, so feel free to leverage that for political advantage!

2. Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim

Being able to sacrifice a creature on demand is going to be important to benefit from Orah triggers, and Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is one of the best around with a ton of abilities stuffed into a 2/3 for two mana. Preserving life and gaining life should be relatively easy for a Cleric deck to manage, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to make that second activated ability available.  Plus, Ayli is a Kor Cleric like Orah so they probably can let their hair down and joke around together.

I’m including some other ways to sacrifice Clerics for profit:

Westvale Abbey Phyrexian Tower Pitiless Pontiff Dark Supplicant Scion of Darkness

Westvale Abbey is a card I’ve always loved to play with, and with Orah’s trigger odds are pretty good we can build up to five creatures we can sacrifice, and if Orah’s still around we could potentially get some Clerics we sacrifice right back to hold the home fort while Ormendahl, Profane Prince goes on its flying, lifelinking, indestructible and hasty rampage.   Plus, the other ability on Westvale Abbey makes Human Cleric tokens for tribal benefit!

Dark Supplicant sacrifices just three Clerics to call up Scion of Darkness onto the battlefield no matter whether its lurking in your graveyard, hand or library.

3. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

If there’s one thing an Orzhov Cleric deck is good at, it’s doing nefarious things with lifegain, and Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose is at the top of the list.  Remember Ancestor’s Prophet above?  Gaining ten life means an opponent losing ten life when Vito is holding services. Plus, Vito’s activated ability can mean a huge swing of life by giving all of your Cleric’s lifelink and causing a huge amount of life loss to your opponents.

I’m including some other ways of gaining life too:

Starlit Sanctum Miren, the Moaning Well Daru Spiritualist Shaman en-Kor

Daru Spiritualist is an old-school combo piece with Starlit Sanctum and some way to target Daru Spiritualist for zero mana.  Target it over and over and over again until Daru Spiritualist gets enough +0/+2 triggers that you can sacrifice it to Starlit Sanctum to gain life equal to its toughness. 

I believe the old-school way to do that was equipping Daru Spiritualist with Shuko, but since this is a Cleric deck I decided to use Shaman en-Kor’s damage-redirection ability instead, the Oracle text of which reads, “0: The next 1 damage that would be dealt to Shaman en-Kor this turn is dealt to target creature you control instead.” [Copy Editor’s Note: The Standard-legal version of the combo, once played by some weird college kid in Indiana, used Lightning Greaves, while the Extended-format Life.dec in the Top 8 of 2004’s Pro Tour Columbus used Nomads en-Kor as well as Shaman en-Kor.]

Miren, the Moaning Well does a pretty good stand-in for Starlit Sanctum, and just remember that any arbitrarily large lifegain will usually be lethal to someone with Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose on the battlefield.

4. Etchings of the Chosen

Etchings of the Chosen

We can make use of some other non-specific tribal cards to support our Clerics too, and since we’re in Orzhov, Etchings of the Chosen is a great one to have.  That sacrifice cost to activate is so good in an Orah deck; you can sacrifice a Cleric to protect Orah from a destroy effect, and that Cleric can either be sacrificed to specifically bring back another Cleric that you want, or be in the graveyard to be brought back when some other Cleric dies. 

Here are some of the other tribal cards I’ve found room for:

Cavern of Souls Path of Ancestry Stoneforge Masterwork Heirloom Blade Vanquisher's Banner

Stoneforge Masterwork is a great card for making one Cleric large enough to get aggressive, but I really love the flavor win with our Kor commander.

5. Mother of Runes

Mother of Runes

There are quite a few Clerics that are just good cards outside of specific tribal synergies, and we’ll want plenty of those in the deck. But first among them should be Mother of Runes, which comes down early and really messes with your opponents’ ability to use pinpoint removal on your creatures.  There will often be a coordinated effort to take down Mother of Runes first so that other creatures can be targeted, but in our Orah deck chances are good Mother of Runes at just one converted mana cost will be back to mess up their plans again and again.  There’s a very good reason why Mother of Runes gets played in every format it’s legal: excellent card is excellent!

Archfiend's Vessel Giver of Runes Grand Abolisher Skirsdag High Priest Suture Priest Frontline Medic Liliana, Heretical Healer Entomber Exarch Drana, the Last Bloodchief Pontiff of Blight

Archfiend’s Vessel seems like a perfect inclusion in Orah; it’s just one converted mana cost, so odds are pretty good it will eventually come back from the graveyard off an Orah trigger, and when it does you get to cash it in for a 5/5 Demon with flying!  I also like another new legend from Zendikar Rising: Drana, the Last Bloodchief.  This Cleric flies and has a nice attack trigger, where defending player must let you return a nonlegendary creature card in your graveyard to the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it.  If you don’t any Clerics in the graveyard, you can effectively choose one with a sacrifice effect. 

6. Doomed Necromancer

Doomed Necromancer

Remember when I talked about self-sacrificing Clerics in the opening paragraphs above?  Well, here they are, and I think the best of the bunch is Doomed Necromancer.  At three converted mana cost, Doomed Necromancer is going to come back to the battlefield from an Orah trigger one or more times, and its sacrificed ability lets you bring back a Cleric that’s two mana or less and also bring back a creature with a higher mana cost—which, when it dies if Orah is around, it could being back Doomed Necromancer.  Now that’s a value engine folks!

Benevolent Bodyguard Nova Cleric Selfless Spirit Remorseful Cleric

7. Mangara, the Diplomat

Mangara, the Diplomat

There’s no doubt that we’ll be able to grind some value with Orah, but we’ll also want to make use of card draw in our deck, and one of the best we have available just happens to also be a Cleric: Mangara, the Diplomat!  With so much lifegain and damage reduction, attacking you with just one creature isn’t going to go far, so I imagine attacking en masse will be much more likely and that means an extra card drawn!  Plus, people double-spell in Commander quite a bit and won’t begrudge you drawing a card for that too.

I’m including some other ways to draw cards, including some more Clerics:

Castle Locthwain Barren Moor Secluded Steppe Mikokoro, Center of the Sea Skullclamp Tymna the Weaver Phyrexian Arena Custodi Lich Ravos, Soultender Damnable Pact

8. War Priest of Thune

War Priest of Thune

The Orzhov color combination has no shortage of removal options, and I’m including a bunch of them here.  War Priest of Thune gets the nod for best in class here since it’s also a Cleric that can be brought back with Orah, and I tend to heavily favor ways to destroy enchantments in Commander due to the presence of huge annoyances like Rhystic Study and Smothering Tithe.

Swords to Plowshares Despark Go for the Throat Anguished Unmaking Mortify Wrath of God Damnation Kaya's Wrath Deadly Rollick

9. Flawless Maneuver

Flawless Maneuver

Outside of removal, I like to have other ways to interact with my opponents’ plans, and one of the best is Flawless Maneuver.  When someone casts a battlefield sweeper like Wrath of God, someone else may respond by hitting Orah with a pinpoint removal spell so all your Clerics will die and stay dead (at least temporarily).  Even if you’re tapped out, you could respond by casting Flawless Maneuver since Orah is on the battlefield and give everyone a nasty surprise!

Mirrorpool Dust Bowl Tectonic Edge Bojuka Bog Shadowspear Nihil Spellbomb Soul-Guide Lantern Kaya's Guile

10. Sword of the Animist

Sword of the Animist

Last but not least, we’ll squeeze in a fair amount of the mana ramp available to Orzhov, and the best of the bunch is Sword of the Animist. We have a lot of cheap Clerics in this deck, so one of them could equip with Sword of the Animist and start attacking to search up a basic land and put it on the battlefield tapped.  Even if it’s a suicide mission if everyone has lethal blockers, Orah will happily bring back someone of such devotion to the cause.

Myriad Landscape Sol Ring Wayfarer's Bauble Arcane Signet Orzhov Signet Talisman of Hierarchy

Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 09-05-2020
Magic Card Back

Here’s how the deck looks graphically, thanks to our friends at Archidekt:

What do you think?  Are there any cards I’ve overlooked?  If you see any new cards from Zendikar Rising that should find a home here, let me know!  As I submit this to my editors, I note one newly previewed card that would definitely make the cut: Taborax, Hope’s Demise

Taborax, Hope's Demise

We already have Clerics, and we have ways to make Demons, and now we have a Demon Cleric!

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do a deckbuilding stream every Monday evening, and pepper in some other Commander-related streams when I can.  If you can join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

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