The ramp up to the return to New Phyrexia in All Will Be One saw the machinations of the Praetors unfold across the multiverse. What if we told you there were more Praetors than the New Phyrexian five?
Well, for starters, of course there are more than the five we’ve had since Kaldheim, you’d say.
For starters, we had Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor in Brother’s War. Gix is a classic Magic character from the original war with Phyrexian forces back in Urza’s time. The card is spicy, and one of the more exciting black, legendary creatures in quite some time.
The more astute among you — those who are a whizz at using Scryfall — well, you’d proclaim that Sanguine Praetor and Ebon Praetor also fall into this category. It might not say so on the card, but errata has since stated that these creatures are indeed Praetors.
So, if we were to follow Scryfall results, we’d end up with both the original five Phyrexian Praetors, their new incarnations, Gix and these two oddities. However, if these were the only Praetors, then we wouldn’t have an article, and I wouldn’t have been able to bait you into reading this indulgence.
What Makes a Praetor?
When it comes down to it, there are some defining features that make up a Praetor — and I can guarantee you’re going to guess at least one of the other cards that follow these design “rules” once I’ve declared the outline.
- A Praetor is a Legendary Creature (Ebon Praetor and Sanguine Praetor don’t count, I’m afraid).
- A Praetor is an aggressively costed body, usually featuring two colored pips of one color (the new Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines is an odd exception, probably because she is the de facto leader, meaning she is easier to “splash” into different factions).
- Above all, a Praetor has two abilities. One of them gives you a bonus, a buff or extra resources; the other takes away in kind from the opponent, leaving them at a disadvantage for the same aspect of game rules.
You can see in Sheoldred and Urabrask above that they follow these rules. Sheoldred gives you life when you draw cards and takes life from opponents when they do. Urabrask lets your creatures attack straight away with Haste while denying opponents the opportunity to block by making their creatures enter tapped.
The balance of power has been tipped when Praetors are involved; benefits weigh toward you with opponents left to suffer. Taking what we know makes up a Praetor, we can piece together how to find the ones hidden in plain sight…
Kamigawa, the location of Jin-Gitaxias’ testing of The Reality Chip, was where we lost Tamiyo to compleation. This was the first Planeswalker we saw compleated, and Jin had a drawn out battle with The Wandering Emperor before retreating. But it turns out there was another Praetor on Kamigawa all along.
The first three color Praetor, Hinata, Dawn-Crowned is a Jeskai Praetor. While she doesn’t bear the creature type Praetor, she is, for all intents and purposes, another Praetor. A 4/4, Flying, Trample for four mana is a pretty good rate; she’s Legendary; and most importantly, she has rule setting that tips the balance in your favor.
If you haven’t already brewed around this card, then it might be worth a look. Hinata essentially makes X spells cost only the colored portion, which makes spells like Sublime Epiphany cost as little as two blue. What’s more, not only does she have the Thalia, Guardian of Thraben effect when it comes to incoming removal spells for Hinata, but she also makes a spell like Decimate or Casualties of War cost more mana per target.
Hinata is extremely powerful and basically kill-on-sight. If Praetors have a fourth aspect, it would probably be this: setting off alarm bells and requiring removal ASAP before an avalanche of advantage can be gained.
The “Boros Praetor,” Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, is another of our hidden Praetors — and she’s not the only one that’s an Angel (I’ll let you see if you can guess the other before you scroll down).
Gisela is a 5/5, Flying, First Strike, and for seven, that feels a little steep — at least until you realize she’s actually hitting for ten. Gisela effectively lets you deal double damage to your opponents while receiving half of the incoming damage you usually would.
There’s nuance here, though, just like there is with the new Elesh Norn. It’s not just a case of doubling your stuff and halving an opponent’s. No, if an opponent would deal damage to one of your opponents, they still take double. That’s hot.
Gisela satisfies the tenets of being a Praetor, and also the other tenet — being kill-on-sight. While she might cost a little much in Commander these days, she’s still a competitive option for decks like Samut, Voice of Dissent, Mayael the Anima and reanimator builds like Dihada.
Innistrad isn’t home to just one Praetor, though. There’s another one, and people initially lost their minds over the prospect of playing against it in Commander.
Liesa, Forgotten Archangel is another Praetor, and another from Innistrad. In short, she essentially gives you back creatures that die under your control at the end of each turn. Opponents don’t even get to enjoy death triggers, though — she straight up exiles their creatures instead.
You’ve probably seen a lot of her on the Standard circuit on Arena, where she featured pretty heavily at the top end of Orzhov Angels decks when Kaldheim was legal. Nowadays, she’s hanging out in Historic Brawl. Over in Commander, she’s the kind of card that fragile players freak out over. Heaven forbid someone play some interaction, right? Sigh.
Anyway, provided you get the opportunity to build her for Commander, Liesa can be a great anchor for a reanimator deck. White and black have countless value EtBs to take advantage of, and plenty of creatures that self-sacrifice, too (Selfless Spirit, Cathar Commando… the list goes on). If you fancy building her, I have some pointers in a deck building article.
Grand Arbiter remains one of the most infamous creatures from Ravnica. A scourge in Commander, GAAIV is every inch a Praetor. Well, maybe he’s on the skinny side, but he is a Human after all (he’s not so athletic, either).
If we ignore the pushed stat-line part, GAIIV fits the bill: he discounts your spells, he makes opponents spells cost more and he’s legendary. GAIIV decks tend to be focused on control, and often try to end the game with typical blue combos that involve the likes of drawing or milling through libraries.
It’s kinda funny, actually, that we already discussed Hinata. Between Hinata, Urza and Stenn, we’ve had a flurry of cost reducing Commanders that seek to make games less of a stall-out-stax-snooze-fest and proceed toward a natural conclusion a little faster.
Praetors are few and far between, and they serve to inspire us with their powerful rule setting abilities. It’s rare we get creatures printed with such rules text, and that’s because the design space for it isn’t actually that deep. However, if we relax the net a little, there are other creatures that seek to tip the scales in similar ways.
Is Notion Thief a Praetor? What about Hullbreacher? They both deny resources while giving them to you. Neither are legendary, though, and they only have one line of rules text. If we were making a classic meme alignment chart, maybe these would fit into Structure Neutral/Ingredient Rebel. Maybe the net’s a little wide.
Instead, why not look at some existing Archetypes?
The Archetype cycle from Born of the Gods is a cycle that feels Praetor-adjacent, for sure. It might be that they’re enchantment creatures and not wholly rooted in reality, but they feel mystical. I’d argue that’s pretty important for a Praetor.
While they may not be legendary, they do have the Praetor ruleset, which is more than can be said for other Praetor-adjacent creatures you might be able to come up with. Above all else, they are proof that there’s still some design space to be had if we revisit the Praetor style card.
While the title of the article may have been in jest, it’s certainly something to think about as we head toward March of the Machine: are there more sleeper agents out there? What creatures of yore hold the power to stand up to Phyrexia? Is Theros’ belief system powerful enough to manifest Archetypal saviors, or dangerous enough to reimagine Yawgmoth? Well, that’s a terrifying thought.
Kristen is Card Kingdom’s Head Writer, and member of the Commander Advisory Group. Formerly a competitive Pokémon TCG grinder, she has been playing Magic since Shadows Over Innistrad, which in her opinion, was a great set to start with. When she’s not taking names with Equipment and Aggro strategies in Commander, she loves to play any form of Limited.