Conditions Allow - Revisiting Etrata, the Silencer in EDH

Ben Doolittle • August 16, 2022

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

Striking in Silence

Etrata, the Silencer is one of those "commanders that got away" for me. She has a really unique effect that very flavorfully represents an assassin hitting her mark and then fading back into the shadows. Unfortunately, this also makes her relatively difficult to use. The best ways to avoid shuffling Etrata back into your deck are to bounce her back to your hand or blink her with her effect on the stack. This will still let her exile a creature while ensuring you keep your commander "in play". Essentially, Etrata is a Voltron commander that uses Ghostly Flicker and Siren's Ruse instead of Embercleave and Blackblade Reforged to win the game.

Unfortunately, a commander that says "you win the game" and is removal on an unblockable stick tends to draw a lot of attention, and unlike other Voltron commanders, Etrata always has to hit each player exactly three times. As the game has gotten faster, this has become less and less likely to happen, which is why I've been so excited by several new cards that change the math on Etrata silencing your enemies.

Extra Hits

The first, and most important, of these cards are Mari, the Killing Quill and Ravenloft Adventurer. Both of these exile any creatures that die under your opponent's control with hit counters. These are the same counters that Etrata, the Silencer checks for on creatures when she deals combat damage, so if you've killed three creatures while Ravenloft Adventurer is in play and then attack with your commander, she'll see three creatures in exile with hit counters and take that player out of the game. This is a huge step up over attacking and blinking Etrata three times per opponent, and because Etrata exiles a creature and then checks if that player loses, you only have to have exiled two creatures before she attacks.

This still won't be easy, however. First, you have to keep Mari, the Killing Quill or Ravenloft Adventurer alive long enough to exile at least two creatures per opponent with hit counters. Your opponents will immediately understand what you're trying to do and will get rid of these key creatures to stop you. Especially as the format has gotten faster, waiting around to Murder and Cast Down enough creatures is still a losing proposition. Instead, you'll let your opponents build up board states and then wipe the board with either Mari or the Adventurer in play. Every creature that dies alongside them will be exiled with hit counters, putting each player within reach of Etrata, the Silencer at once.

Blink and Miss It

Of course, Etrata, the Silencer still needs to attack each player to win, so to avoid recasting her from the command zone, you'll still want to blink your commander to keep her in play. I'm including most of the classics. Ghostly Flicker is joined by Blur, while Essence Flux and Siren's Ruse offer more mana-efficient options. The real star of the show here, however, is the new Displacer Kitten.

Whenever you cast a noncreature spell, Displacer Kitten blinks a nonland permanent you control. This turns Opt and Murder into blink spells that return Etrata, the Silencer to play after she attacks. You can also use your instants to help Mari, the Killing Quill dodge targeted removal. Perhaps my favorite interaction here is with planeswalkers. In particular, Tasha, the Witch Queen exiles instants and sorceries from opponents' graveyards and then lets you cast them. Displacer Kitten can then reset Tasha, putting her back to four loyalty and letting you activate her ability again. Plus, because she lets you cast spells with page counters, you'll still have access to the spells you exiled previously. I couldn't find room for a ton of other planeswalkers, but Narset, Parter of Veils has a powerful effect that finds you instants. Finally, Liliana of the Dark Realms ensures you hit your land drops and can remove a creature in a pinch.

Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate also gave us plenty of extra payoffs for blinking your commander. Candlekeep Sage is an extremely powerful draw engine, netting you two cards every time you blink Etrata, the Silencer. Ravenloft Adventurer and Mari, the Killing Quill have found their way onto Etrata's EDHREC page, but Candlekeep Sage hasn't yet, despite being just as valuable. There will be games were you need to attack with Etrata before three creatures are exiled with hit counters, and Candlekeep Sage helps you chain together blink spells and find counterspells to ensure no one else runs away with the game. Kindred Discovery  isn't new, but its first reprint has made it much more accessible.

Can't Hit What Isn't There

So far so good, but we have one more problem to consider before finishing the deck. Not every player will have three creatures for you to exile. Commanders can always go back to the command zone, and tokens won't work for a number of reasons. Most decks don't need to commit three creatures to the board at once, and some don't even play three creatures. To make sure we're not relying solely on Etrata's effect to win, I'm including Vorpal Sword. Vorpal Sword is another "you die" effect that fits perfectly into this Dimir control deck. With the draw from Candlekeep Sage, Kindred Discovery, and many draw spells, you should hit all your land drops, so by turn eight or nine you can start eliminating anyone who isn't playing enough creatures.

Those same draw effects, and a few tutors, help you dig for Ravenloft Adventurer, and they keep a steady stream of removal available as well as finding one of the board wipes in the deck. There aren't as many of these as you might expect, but I want to make sure I'm not bogging down the game with wrath after wrath. More than being ways to eliminate creatures, the board wipes in the deck are combo pieces with Ravenloft Adventurer and Mari, the Killing Quill to set up a lethal blow from Etrata, the Silencer.

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I'm really pleased with how this deck turned out. It really feels like Etrata, the Silencer finally has enough support to be a real presence at the table. Have you revisited Etrata since Battle for Baldur's Gate? Do you think these new cards have made her more viable, or did she never need the help at all?

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.