O! The Possibilities: Building With Omnath, Locus of Creation and Orah, Skyclave Hierophant

Zendikar Rising introduced tons of fun new cards for Commander and Sheldon Menery is ready to get brewing!

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


Zendikar Rising is awash with possibilities for Commander players and deck builders.  I’ve seized those possibilities and laid out the two decks I want to build with Zendikar Rising commanders. 

Here’s the thing.  It’s easy to build the obvious decks.  I don’t want to construct the obvious.  After all, Commander is predicated on being something different.  Let’s embrace the differentness.  I’m not designing decks here so that other folks will copy them and bring them into their own environments.  I’m designing them because I want to play them and I hope that my design will inspire folks in their own builds — that they’ll see a Hidden Gem or a compelling synergy and do something with it.  I already have plenty of decks that hit the tropes — a Gishath, Sun’s Avatar Dinosaur deck, for example.  Going forward, I want to avoid making the good stuff or well-walked path choices, and get closer to finding builds that get an initial response of “ooh, neat idea,” as opposed to “yeah, that’s good.”  If that means they’re lower-powered, that’s fine by me.  The biodome I play in isn’t particularly high-powered anyway. 

It’s sometimes hard to take a commander and head in a direction for which it’s not intended.  I’m not just going to be blatantly contrarian.  Certain commanders do certain things; I’ll look for the path that does them in novel ways.  Problematically, there are cards I just love to play.  The hard part will be breaking away from the reflexive move towards them.  My first thought for Omnath, Locus of Creation, for example, was Elemental tribal, because then I’d get to play Risen Reef, etc.  I plan to put the first thought aside for a while. 

I’ll build two decks today.  The first is Omnath, Locus of Creation.  The second is Orah, Skyclave Hierophant.  I’ll share with you the questions I asked myself went digging into what to do with each.

Omnath, Locus of Creation

Omnath, Locus of Creation

It’s clear that while building this version of Omnath that we can’t avoid landfall.  We can leverage the landfall, but we don’t have to make it a landfall deck.  It would be silly to not use what Omnath’s triggered ability does, but there’s no need to focus on it.  My choice was to focus on the other thing that Omnath does — draw a card when it enters the battlefield.

This led me to consider some blink shenanigans.  Certainly, I could just go with good stuff and utility enters-the-battlefield triggers, but that’s what I said I wanted to avoid.  I started with Eldrazi Displacer (aka Blinky the Eldrazi) and a few of the other blink stalwarts and then went on the search for something different. 

I liked the idea of many of the creatures emulating the boss, so I grabbed several which also draw when they enter the battlefield.  They would be the utility, drawing me into the business.  Then it hit me that I could continue that theme further — have creatures that gain life, add mana, and deal damage.  Ideally, those numbers would be as close to four as we could get them, and I could do four of each!  I’d see how far I could stretch theme of four.

Card Draw

Keruga, the Macrosage Tishana, Voice of Thunder Wall of Blossoms Wall of Omens

Life Gain

Knight of Autumn Loxodon Hierarch Obstinate Baloth Lone Missionary


Akki Rockspeaker Burning-Tree Emissary Priest of Urabrask Quirion Sentinel


Flametongue Kavu Thundermaw Hellkite Demanding Dragon Dagger Caster

Each successive category got harder to fill.  I pretty much had to abandon four damage and just go with four creatures that dealt damage but had some play in them. 

One of the lines I considered here but didn’t go down was using blink to get around tax effects — so set up Meekstone or Marble Titan and then blink my stuff around it.  It’s how Arena of the Ancients got into the deck, and I left it to see how it would play. 

Now that we had some cute bits, we needed win conditions.  I like the idea of Approach of the Second Sun for three reasons.  One is that I don’t play it elsewhere.  Another is that it’s copiable with Lithoform Engine.  The third is that with all the card drawing going on, it won’t be seven turns before it comes back. 

Getting some large, saucy creatures and having them swing is a pretty good win con, especially with extra attack steps from Moraug (am I missing a chance by not including Angel of Destiny?).  Tishana can get large, but I want something more natively so.  The ones that can get silly, like Lord of Extinction and Consuming Aberration are black, so they’re out.  Not the hugest fan of the double red, but I like Malignus’ ability to not be preventable.  Since I committed to double red and I’ve taken it out of another deck, I think I’ll nick back in Ilharg, the Rage Boar.  Changeling Titan seems like a nice way to be able get an extra enters-the-battlefield trigger out of a smaller creature and/or restart after a sweeper.  Wurmcoil Engine keeps needing to find a home, and a four-color deck is the right place as a failsafe.  Thassa, God of the Sea, should give us some free attacks.  A few Clones, which copy everyone else’s brutal creatures and can be reset with a blink, round out the package. 

With the creatures that create mana on entering the battlefield, Kruphix, God of Horizons seemed like a natural fit. With that, adding Comet Storm as a win condition also seemed like a solid idea. After that, it’s just some self-protection elements, like artifact and enchantment removal, some creature control, and we’re done.  Here’s the list:

Omnath, Locus of Creation
Sheldon Menery
Test deck on 10-03-2020
Magic Card Back

Like many of the decks I make, there’s not a single desired end state; it doesn’t lead to a game-ending combo.  I like to play decks, not have them play me, so I build with that in mind.  Sure, there are finishing moves, but I remain a fan of Commander’s variance.  This is a deck I’ll have to play and judge game states to get maximum benefit out of, which is just how I like it.

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant

The challenge to building an Orah Clerics deck will again be in not slipping into the obvious.  Sure, we’re going to run Clerics, and we’re obviously going to leverage Orah’s ability.  How we can go one step beyond becomes the puzzle to solve.  There are 28 Clerics in Orzhov colors in the last four sets alone.  There are way more of them than we can use, so we’ll need to find some lines we like. 

The first card that goes into the deck is Rotlung Reanimator, since I own the original art.  The second is Edgewalker, since it reduces part of the colored mana cost of Clerics.  When thinking about a direction, it’s likely that this deck isn’t going to win with combat damage.  That’s not to say we won’t attack and there will probably be the odd time that Rotlung Reanimator will make a Zombie army after looping some Clerics through the yard, but for the most part, I suspect draining life will be our jam; it’ll give us cards like Pontiff of Blight.  Even so, we need some beef.  It turns out that Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is a Cleric, even if attacking isn’t his specialty. 

Having missed using Angel of Destiny in the other deck, I think we’ll run it plus Marauding Blight-Priest as a combo with each other, and certainly the latter with other cards in the deck.  That probably gets us to Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose.

Angel of Destiny Marauding Blight-Priest

Knowing that we’re not doing much combat, and if it is it’s likely with smaller creatures, some cards that make for awkward combat make sense.  Blind Obedience shuts down hasty creatures, Ensnaring Bridge simply keeps larger creatures from battling, and Crawlspace keeps the numbers down.  Ghostly Prison taxes folks if they want to attack. 

Part of the road less traveled will be playing cards from The Dark.  Two of them, in fact:  Preacher and Exorcist.  They’re both Clerics, and they do useful things.  With a reasonable number of sacrifice outlets, which we’ll have, Preacher is basically removal for either someone’s worst creature or their best if they happen to have one (really good) thing. 

We’ll win some games by sitting back and waiting, slowly draining people and whatnot, I’d like to do something here that I don’t normally do:  put in an infinite combo.  We said we’re getting out of the comfort zone, right?  Of course, it has to be complicated.  The cards involved are Orah, Doomed Necromancer, Thousand Year Elixir, Phyrexian Altar, and Bastion of Remembrance/Relic Vial

Start with Doomed Necromancer in the graveyard (which, of course, you can make happen with Phyrexian Altar).  Sacrifice Orah to Phyrexian Altar for a black mana.  Relic Vial triggers for the drain.  Orah’s trigger brings back Doomed Necromancer.  Leave Orah in the graveyard.  Because of Thousand Year Elixir, you can activate Doomed Necromancer with the black mana, returning Orah to the battlefield.  Relic Vial (the Cleric choice!) triggers again.  Repeat until there are no opponents left standing.  It also works with a Cleric whose converted mana cost is four or greater, leaving Orah to hang out on the battlefield and direct traffic.  If you also have another, smaller Cleric in the mix somewhere, the trigger on sacrificing Doomed Necromancer can bring it back, making more sacrifice fodder. 

There’s not a Blood/Bond combo with Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, mostly because it’s a little too easy.  It’s still going to pay some pretty high dividends. 

Once again, we fill out our list with all the other Clerics that seem like fun, and only Clerics, because we’re making a real tribal commitment.  Even some of the other things, like Faith’s Reward and Martyr’s Bond kind of fit the Cleric theme.  A few other non-Cleric creatures, like Zulaport Cuthroat, might make the deck a little tighter, but I’m okay with staying on theme. Then we add the stuff that makes a Commander deck run, and we’re good.  Check it out:

I’m reasonably sure the deck runs on the 36 lands; I’m not normally comfortable with fewer than 37, but the relatively low mana cost of everything in there tells me that we can run it.  Again, it’s a deck with some play in it.  If I become Rube Goldberg and assemble that contraption, great.  The good news is all the pieces are independently useful. 

I’m thoroughly excited to play with a bunch of the new cards from Zendikar Rising, and building decks with some of the available commanders is one of the ways to do that.  These might not be the only two I build from the set.  Akiri, Fearless Voyager caught my eye and I got one in my Collector Booster.  Kaza, Roil Chaser has also piqued my interest, since although I have an Izzet deck, I really don’t play it.  If I build something else, rest assured that you good folks will be the first to hear about it.