The Dragons of Tarkir are poised to descend upon us soon and I don’t know about you, but so far the spoilers have me pretty excited. From the glimpse of the set that we have so far, I would think that Dragons of Tarkir has the highest power level in Constructed out of the entire block, but it also has some very creative cards without obvious applications, which I love.
One theme that some of these interesting cards share is the graveyard. We have already seen some shenanigans in this department from the likes of Bloodsoaked Champion, among other creatures, but these days we go a little bit bigger with the newly spoiled Risen Executioner!
On the surface, we have a 4/3 for four mana, which is certainly not amazing, but is perfectly passable. Not being able to block will limit its application, but if we are making room for this guy in our win condition slots, hopefully we can mitigate the drawback. Risen Executioner brings along some Zombie lord action as well, which is where things begin to get interesting.
The big appeal of Risen Executioner is sitting in that third line of text. Here, we learn that our Zombie lord gets to rise over and over again. The scaling mana cost is a very real problem though, especially considering that we would like to be playing other Zombies with a Zombie lord. This tension creates a sort of fork in the road that leads to three primary use cases for the Executioner.
How to Use the Executioner
1) The Lone Gun. The idea here is that you use Risen Executioner as your only creature, possibly in some type of blue/black control shell. The big pull being that your Risen Executioner provides a removal-resistant win condition that you basically always pay 4 mana for. When you are paying additional tax, it is only because another Executioner is in your ‘yard which turns on their lord properties, as Risen Executioner is himself a Zombie.
I actually think that this route sounds sort of appealing, especially with black having a sweeper, but many, myself included, have to question whether a 4/3 that cannot block is a strong enough win condition to warrant this shift. Imagine instead a Silumgar or Pearl Lake Ancient cleaning up the game. I think Executioner has some draw here, but is probably outclassed in the long run.
2) The Zombie Lord. This application is rather obvious as the card strongly suggests being paired with other Zombiefolk. While in theory the graveyard recursion is hampered by introducing other creatures to the mix, the +1/+1 effect becomes significantly better. I would argue that the last ability is where the power is at here, so maximizing anything else on the card is potentially a mistake, but with enough solid Zombies in the format this is at least a direction to explore.
An issue we quickly run into is the lack of Constructed-quality Zombies. Remember, Necromancer’s Stockpile is still around and while it works great with Risen Executioner, there is a reason it has not seen play—the Zombies are too weak. Sidisi, Undead Vizier does happen to be a Zombie, and a strong one at that, so perhaps there will be enough quality Zombies in Dragons of Tarkir that make the lord side of Risen Executioner worthwhile.
3) Undead Tokens. Necromancer’s Stockpile is pretty strong with Risen Executioner as it makes Zombie tokens and can discard the Executioner himself for some value. The issue is that every token made equals another creature in the ‘yard, which taxes the Executioner. We could run a ton of delve to exile other creatures and keep the tax on Executioner to a minimum, but that seems inconsistent.
Another route would be to sort of combine the last two options. What if we had the army-making capacity of Necromancer’s Stockpile but could still reliably cast our Risen Executioners from the ‘yard?
A quick search of Zombie-token making cards offers the following options:
Other cards like Sidisi need other creatures to fuel their Zombie-making ability, so it doesn’t really fit. However, of the three cards from above, Empty the Pits has some real merit.
On one hand, you might argue that Empty the Pits should not need any assistance in winning the game. After all, when you make a ton of Zombies at instant speed, you probably are far ahead and ending the game, or catching back up in a big way. That argument is probably solid enough, but there are plenty of situations where I can see casting Empty for 4ish Zombies less than is lethal and then casting a Risen Executioner on my turn for the win. This sounds best in some type of blue/black control shell. Maybe we can add some extra synergy via Monastery Siege, but otherwise I imagine the deck will look fairly normal.
Waste Not is an exciting card that has been getting some loving lately with Dark Deal and I think there is some potential here. Dark Deal gives us a way to get our Executioner into the ‘yard while working excellently with Waste Not. And once all of our Waste Not synergies have been used up, we simply spend our 4 mana and cast Executioner from the ‘yard, pumping up our tokens and hopefully taking over the game.
Tasigur is the most obvious delve card to add to this list, but without blue or green to activate, plus the fact that Gurmag Angler is a Zombie, helps to sell me on Angler instead. If the mana ends up being crucial, by all means switch to the cheaper of the two options.
Waste Not has the huge benefit of granting us quite a bit of mana when we pair it with Dark Deal. If our opponent discards 2 lands, for example, that is already enough to rebuy the Executioner on the same turn in which we cast our Dark Deal. This can lead to some explosive starts where you either rip apart an opponent’s hand by turn 3 or 4, or you have a sizable army around the same time.
Executioner just sort of works as a highly synergistic piece to this puzzle even though it is not essential to this deck “going off” which is probably more of a good thing than not.
Still, I see this card having a lot of potential with a few barriers in the way that will keep a lot of deckbuilders away from the card. That makes is a prime piece for the crazy ones out there to have a go at though! Go out there and get your Zombie tribal on. (The Dragons will wait, I promise!)