When I went through the New Phyrexia spoiler, there were a bunch of cards that really impressed me. Most of them were black (I know; shocking, right?), but the non-black card that almost literally leapt out at me was Urabrask, the Hidden. I mean, look at him:
Do you even need to be told he has haste? He’s practically tearing his way out of the card to crush your skull! I couldn’t wait to slam him down and start swinging…but then something strange happened.
I know that, after making Sheoldred less powerful and more themey, I promised to build Urabrask for maximum efficiency and power, but I have to be honest…I have virtually no memory of when or how I built the deck. I remember searching through almost all of my cards to get a stack of red goodness that could choke a dozen donkeys, but when I sat down to build it, I saw Red. No really, it was all a red haze. I think I may have been possessed by the Praetor himself, because I don’t think I’m capable of building a deck that single-mindedly savage; all I know is that the deck is sitting on the desk right now glaring balefully at me like a cardboard Christine, demanding to know why it isn’t out killing people. I’m afraid to put it in the shoebox with my other Commander decks!
In our New Phyrexia preview article, I wrote:
“I’m looking forward to…building a blazingly fast EDH deck with Urabrask as my general. Seething Song, Pyretic Ritual, et al, will speed me up, a little bit of artifact and land destruction, as well as cards like Tsabo’s Web and War’s Toll, will slow them down, and Urabrask means that my other critters don’t have to choose between weights and speedwork”
None of that happened. I got my 40 land and decided, like with Sheoldred, to devote an extra ten slots to acceleration, such as Seething Song, but Urabrask roared More Power!! so I ended up with some pretty expensive accelerants, including Gauntlet of Power, Caged Sun and Dreamstone Hedron. I guess that’s OK, because this deck will usually get to five mana right on schedule, and so that extra mana is more useful in the late game when it allows me to recast Urabrask for 11 and play one of his friends as well, but it’s not the direction I had in mind when I thought I would be designing the deck.
On the basis of 40 land, 30 critters and 30 spells, that left me 20 spell slots. I suggested that we consider a range of subthemes to maximize synergy, versatility and effectiveness in the long game, but Urabrask just looked at each card and asked, How much will it hurt when we hit them with it?! On that basis, the remaining 20 spell slots were divided evenly between the categories (and I quote):
I asked if I should consider a slightly modified build based on my local metagame, but he stabbed me with a length of steel tubing, so I guess this is the final configuration. Similarly, I had found around 50 creatures that I wanted to put in, and I have some vague idea that I tried to organize them by converted mana cost at one stage, but then I just heard, Too slow! Shuffle it up and let’s kill!! and felt a sharp blow to the head. When I regained consciousness, this is the chaotic masterpiece that had been assembled.
URABRASK, GOD OF TEMPO!!
Fiery Fall (leave it to Urabrask to choose an accelerant that doubles as removal)
Stingscourger (bounce is twice as good with Urabrask out!)
Savage Firecat (Is it a 7/7 Ball Lightning that might stick around, or is it crap? I guess I have to play it to find out!)
Urabrask, the Hidden
Earth Servant (Urabrask later dragged the Elemental into a furnace, ranting about More Power!!, so he may be replaced by something with a more offensive orientation. Still, there’s something to be said for a red creature that can block the biggest behemoths green has to offer all day long. Too bad Urabrask nixed my P/T-switching subtheme)
Loxodon Warhammer (made with real Loxodon!)
Skullclamp (I think he just liked the way it sounds)
To those who would say that there are some glaring omissions, all I can say is take it up with Urabrask. Don’t get me wrong, I tried to “optimize” the deck.
“What about Mind’s Eye?” I asked.
Can you hit them with it?! he growled back.
“What about Insurrection?” I offered. “You can hit them with everything!”
Boring!! he shot back. And to be fair, he kind of has a point.
I even tried to point out to him that Avatar of Fury doesn’t technically cost two mana. He fixed me with a burning stare, and then fixed me with a burning blow-torch.
It does when I cast it!!!
With that, I thought it was best to just shut up, shuffle up, and get onto the games.
Playing with Urabrask as your commander is a lot like taking your dog for a walk in the park—if your dog is a rabid Great Dane-wolverine cross and your park is filled with terrified yet tasty poodle owners. Urabrask and I played three games last night—a ménage-a-trois, a foursome and five-way—and while we didn’t win any of them, we came damn close. More importantly, in at least two of those games Urabrask totally set the tone: striking first, crushing opposition and dropping life totals with maniacal efficiency. In the first game, the artifact player was able to stall with a Sword of Fire and Ice (against two red decks) until he comboed out, while I didn’t see any of my Break Them options until the third game. It was still a pretty close game that could have been ours had things gone slightly differently.
In the second, I crushed the artifact player (who had switched to Oros, the Griefer), dropped the manaflooded Bosh player to five and had set up Wrexial for the kill, when Bosh cast his first relevant spell of the game: Insurrection. It was a classic kingmaker position—I had enough on the board myself to kill Wrexial, who was on slightly less life than me, and Wrexial had enough to put a dent in my life total but not actually kill me, so Bosh had to choose between killing one or the other. Apparently he didn’t take too kindly to me beating him to a pulp all game and chose to kill me, letting Wrexial take the game on his turn.
The third game was a real gas, right up ‘til the end. Second turn Stigma Lasher made sure nobody was going to undo the damage I did, then Cyclops Gladiator cleared away the riff-raff. I was going to kill Bosh first to make up for him stealing the last game from me, but he played Gauntlet of Might and it suddenly became a good idea to let him live for a bit. Instead, I sent my hordes around the table, and soon everyone but me was under 20 life, and most were under ten, when things started going out of control. Damnation swept away my 8/8 Urabrask, and Bosh was able to use his Gauntlet mana to cast Kozilek (untapped, dammit!) and Akroma’s Memorial (the wrong Akroma; double dammit!!) on the same turn. Apparently he has a thing about taking more than 20 damage from the same player, because he came right at me, and post-Wrath all I could do was sac mana. On my turn I still had the mana to drop a 15/15 Slag Fiend, neutralize his pro-red blocker and attack twice with a World at War, but without the haste from Urabrask I couldn’t make it happen in time to save me from the second swing with Annihilate 4, and Bosh stole the table out from under me again.
Here are some of the unexpected All-Stars from those games that will be getting a LOT more consideration from me in the future:
- Avatar of Fury—it really does cost two mana.
- Slag Fiend—like I said, 15/15. Did I mention that was after someone exiled my graveyard? Makes me want to add a Mindcrank and perhaps a Magnivore.
- Goblin Goon—6/6 for four, eminently splashable, and now with haste!
- Smoldering Spires—how many other ways can a monored deck get past a 14/14 Kozilek with pro-red, flying, first strike and vigilance? Goes in every red aggro deck ever made, no exceptions, no excuses.
- Tenza, Godo’s Maul—this is a weird one, and easy to overlook, but what a bargain! For one mana, any creature gets +1/+1, a red creature gets +1/+1 and trample (and red creatures usually need trample), and a red commander gets +3/+3 and trample. For a four-power general, +3 is the magic number, making it a three-turn clock.
I also have a sneak-attacking suspicion that Goblin Welder is going to be awesome: answers indestructible artifacts, shenanigans with the Wellsprings and hoses the table with Duplicant. Too bad I never got to play him.
Unleash the Chaos!
Urabrask is an incredibly powerful general. Of course, I knew he would allow me to control the tempo of the game, and that my opponents wouldn’t be able to use their blockers for a turn because they’d come into play tapped, but I had no idea how badly that “comes into play tapped” clause would hurt them. Here are a few examples of common cards and strategies that Urabrask messes with:
- Flash blockers
- Unearth, and a lot of other reanimation effects (our fifth player had a Sedris deck—late in the game someone asked him why he hadn’t cast his general, and he just looked sad)
- Mimic Vat—the most prevalent non-accelerant artifact in EDH
- Nim Deathmantle—arguably the most prevalent equipment in EDH
To be honest, the only real problem I had was the friction between my natural playstyle and my commander’s homicidal tendencies. In that last game, Bosh (the eventual winner) had stalled on land in the early game, but eventually dropped mountain number four to go with his Temple of the False God and put out a Steel Hellkite. I almost dropped Fissure Vent on his land and Dragon, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Strategically it was the right play, as it would have crippled him, and allowed me to kill him in two or three turns. I could feel Urabrask urging me on, shouting Finish Him!! like the bad sensei in the original Karate Kid, but I don’t like to kill people early if there isn’t another game for them to join. Also, I like the way that my group has learned to eschew the quick kill for the mutually enjoyable game, and I don’t want to disrupt that delicate casual ecosystem. Talk about a painful quandary!
The bottom line is this: if you or your group have fewer problems with early exits, or if your opponents appreciate someone who is reducing everyone’s life total, then Urabrask is a turbo-charged engine of carnage that is pretty much guaranteed to reduce the number of players at your table. Similarly, if you want to be the guy who drives the action and forces everyone to respond, win or lose, then playing Urabrask is going to be a sweet, sweet joyride in a stolen, blood-red Mustang.
 And killing a lot of people.
 Or was it “sweep the leg?” I don’t remember.
 And just in case my slightly biased game summary made the Bosh player sound like a jerk, I should add that in the first game he deliberately chose not to turn his fourth-turn Godo into a fourth-turn kill with Grafted Exoskeleton, which is a very classy decision here in casual world. However, a lot of folks will tell you that hammering a single target is by far the surest way to win with aggro decks in multiplayer—check out the discussion in CommanderCast 2.13 about an hour in for more thoughts.
 I think my group was a little taken aback by Urabrask’s ferocity. Everyone was like, “You’ve done 20 damage to me; I have to kill you!” My defense that I’d done 20 damage to each of my opponents apparently failed to persuade them not to work me over together.