Conditions Allow – Etrata, the Silencer

(Etrata, the Silencer | Art by Bastien L. Deharme)

Silence is Golden

Welcome back to Conditions Allow, the article series where I pick a legendary creature with a drawback, and try to turn it into a strength. This week I’m taking a look at a legendary Vampire Assassin from Ravnica that garnered a lot of discussion when she was first released. There are plenty of other deck techs for her online, so I’ll be trying to put a unique spin on Etrata, the Silencer.

Etrata, the Silencer has a powerful ability, capable of eliminating a player in just three swings, if she can exile a creature with each attack. However, Etrata, the Silencer doesn’t stick around after making her kills. Whether a creature is exiled or not, whenever Etrata deals combat damage she’ll be shuffled into our library. We could send her back to the command zone, instead, but dealing with commander tax quickly becomes impossible.

Being able to keep Etrata, the Silencer on the field is our major concern. If we check her EDHREC page, there are actually a surprising number of ways to do this. The most popular fall into two broad categories: blink and bounce. Etrata, the Silencer‘s triggered ability will resolve even if she is removed from the field, ready to attack again the next turn.

Playing Ninjas with Etrata, the Silencer gives you a lot of flexibility. You can choose to let Etrata deal damage and activate a Ninjutsu ability in response to her trigger going on the stack so that she doesn’t get shuffled away, or you can use Ninjutsu before damage is dealt to get the powerful effects of cards like Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni. Ninjas also pair well with bounce effects like Portal of Sanctuary and Erratic Portal. These can bounce Etrata directly, or let you easily reactivate Ninjutsu abilities. Blood Clock and Umbilicus would also be great cards for this strategy, as they make sure you will always have a Ninja to use with Etrata, the Silencer when she attacks.

Another popular strategy with Etrata, the Silencer is Clones. Clones of our commander are just as dangerous, but have no downside when being shuffled back into your library. Supplant Form is great for this approach. You can respond to the real Etrata’s trigger with Supplant Form to return the real commander to your hand while creating a token to threaten a second attack on your next turn. Of course, the best card for an Etrata, the Silencer clone deck is Helm of the Host. Attack with the token copies each turn to keep constant pressure on your opponents. Alternately, hold the tokens back until you have enough to wipe a player out in a single turn.

I suspect, however, that you’ve heard all of this before. Clone and Ninja decks were being built for Etrata, the Silencer almost as soon as she was spoiled, and there are a number of great videos talking about EDH decks for this commander. I want to try something new.


A Voltron by Any Other Name

Etrata, the Silencer is really a Voltron commander. Your primary win condition is your commander dealing damage to opponents. Instead of using Equipment to reinforce that strategy, however, you’re using bounce or clone effects to keep the pressure on. This is a really cool twist on an existing archetype, but not one I’m going to delve into any further. For this article, I want to embrace shuffling Etrata into our library. 

There are a couple of cards in Magic that shuffle themselves back into your library. Blightsteel Colossus gets shuffled away when it dies, while Blue Sun’s Zenith and Nexus of Fate do so as they resolve. While this stops us from casting these cards from graveyards, it opens up different opportunities. Nexus of Fate is well known as an infinite turn engine when it’s the only card left in your library. We can take a similar approach with Etrata, the Silencer. The fewer cards there are in our library, the less of a downside Etrata has.


Finding Our Champions

There are a surprisingly large number of ways to accomplish this. Morality Shift is among the most expensive, but, with enough graveyard manipulation, we could make our graveyard contain only what we need before swapping it with our library. Paradigm Shift is a cheaper version of this effect. Exiling our library, however, makes it much harder to recover should our gameplan be interrupted.

Neither of these cards can compete with Doomsday, though. Doomsday lets us get exactly what we need and cuts our library down to those five cards. It doesn’t matter if essential cards have already been destroyed, either, since Doomsday lets us search our library and graveyard. Enter the Infinite is another excellent way of paring our library down to a manageable size. It does cost twelve mana, however. Winning the same turn we cast Doomsday isn’t cheap either, but doing so with Enter the Infinite requires nearly an infinite amount of mana. Or some level of Omniscience.


Forming Voltron

So what five cards do we find when casting Doomsday? I’m glad you asked. Most important are the extra turn spells.

These essentially function as extra combat spells for this deck, letting us attack each player with Etrata, the Silencer uninterrupted until we’ve won the game. That they shuffle themselves into our library is important, as it allows us to keep the chain of attacks going. Etrata, the Silencer is also going to need haste so that she can attack during each extra turn. Lightning Greaves is perfect in this role. Shroud is valuable protection against any last-minute removal, and the free equip cost helps us cut down on the mana required for all this to work. Crashing Drawbridge is another free haste enabler; it just requires a turn to deal with its own summoning sickness before we can use it.

We’re also going to need an extra draw during every turn. We’ll have a two-card library at the beginning of every turn, and we need both those cards to keep the combo going. Dictate of Kruphix and Honden of Seeing Winds are straightforward ways to do this, but they can be dangerous, as well. If one of these cards is in play before we cast Doomsday, we need to make sure that we cast Nexus of Fate with one card still in our library, otherwise we’ll deck ourselves out. Future Sight gets around this problem by being a form of virtual card draw. Instead of actually drawing us our second card, Future Sight lets us cast it from our library.

The final pieces of the puzzle are free draw spells. These are important for getting us through the Doomsday pile and to the spells that actually win the game. Cantrips like Opt and Ponder are also vital for getting us to the top card of our library after casting Doomsday. The trickiest thing about actually selecting and ordering the five cards is knowing which of these free draw spells to choose, and where. Gush will almost always be the top card of your library, as it draws the most cards and is the easiest to cast. If you have Dictate of Kruphix or Honden of Seeing Winds in play, you’ll want to put Gitaxian Probe next in order to leave two cards in your library after casting Nexus of Fate. This ensures that you don’t deck yourself out. Otherwise, Frantic Search will draw the final two cards. You’ll just need to have two disposable cards in hand to get rid of. If you have the mana necessary, Night’s Whisper works in this slot as well.

This leaves three spots among our five cards, just enough to find an extra turn spell, a draw engine, and a haste enabler. Once you cast Doomsday and a cantrip to draw Gush, the goal is to cast Nexus of Fate to take an extra turn. After that, you can cast Lightning Greaves and Nexus of Fate, and then Etrata, the Silencer on the turn after. You’re then all set up to start attacking every turn with your commander.


The Rest of the Team

In order to support and protect this strategy, I’ve included a lot of counterspells. With fifteen in total, this deck should always have an answer to any problem it faces. Just be careful not to get too trigger happy. Etrata, the Silencer will already make players feel like they can’t play creatures. Countering every other spell they try and cast will only lead to bad feelings. Save your Mana Leaks and Mana Drains for removal or game-winning spells. You’re going to need a lot of mana to make the Doomsday line work, and you just need to make sure you survive long enough to get at least eleven mana.

There’s plenty of ramp in the deck to help us get there as quickly as we can. Alongside Cabal Coffers and Cabal Stronghold, this deck has the potential to make lots of mana rather quickly. Of course, this means that we’re playing Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, as well, which pairs with Kormus Bell to ensure our opponents have creatures in play for Etrata, the Silencer to exile.

With a couple tutors to help find Doomsday or Omniscience, we have ourselves a deck.

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This was an interesting deck to put together. Doomsday is a fun card to brew around, and it required some creative problem-solving for this deck. Etrata, the Silencer is a really fun and flavorful commander, as well. Normally, I think about her assassination target being the creature she exiles, but trying to get all three hits for all four players at once made me switch that perception. She’s now targeting my opponents directly. Like any good assassin, Etrata won’t reveal herself until the last minute, and won’t play with her targets. She moves straight for the killing blow, leaving no opening for retaliation or escape.

I also realized while looking at other deck techs that Etrata, the Silencer doesn’t actually care if the exiled cards are creatures. So exiling lands that are animated as creatures is a viable strategy. This is most often mentioned alongside Wind Zendikon, but I’m surprised Kormus Bell doesn’t come up at all. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is very easy to include, especially because the deck already wants to make a ton of mana.

But what do you think? What are your favorite cards for Etrata, the Silencer? This deck interacts less with Etrata’s shuffle clause than a more ‘typical’ build. Does this make it less interesting? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

Ben was introduced to Magic during Seventh Edition and has played on and off ever since. A Simic mage at heart, he loves being given a problem to solve. When not shuffling cards, Ben can be found lost in a book or skiing in the mountains of Vermont.