Commander, it turns out, is a lot like professional wrestling. (Well, Commander isn’t staged, but bear with me.) It’s a lot more fun to do flashy stuff than to simply choke your opponents out, and it’s at its best when it features superstars with style and stage presence. Luckily, Ravnica Allegiance has provided me with one of my favorite new superstars to headline a Commander deck: Prime Speaker Vannifar.

If this looks a lot like a creature version of Birthing Pod, that’s because it absolutely is. Prime Speaker Vannifar allows you to upgrade creatures that have outlived their usefulness but are still kicking around on the battlefield. For those of you who aren’t as familiar with the artifact that took Sam Pardee to multiple GP titles, here are a few fun facts about Prime Speaker Vannifar:

  • Vannifar can’t sacrifice herself, so you’ll need a wider board presence.
  • When you use Vannifar’s ability, you’ll need to search up a creature with converted mana cost exactly one higher than the creature you sacrificed—there’s no “or less” clause to be found.
  • Vannifar’s ability only works at sorcery speed, so you won’t be able to protect your creatures from removal spells by using her.

So what’s the goal of a deck headlined by everyone’s favorite Elf Ooze Wizard? Well, from my perspective, the best thing to do is take advantage of creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities that you can “chain” up from one another in order to generate enormous amounts of value. Ideally, you find some win conditions that have ETB abilities for the top of the chain but in a pinch, some heavy hitters in blue and green will do just fine. Once you have your value creatures and heavy hitters assembled, there’s a third category you can’t forget: cards you can use to protect your board and disrupt your opponents. After all, you’re not playing in a vacuum! Finally, Vannifar is only as good as her ability, so cards that enable you to activate that ability early and often are incredibly important.

Note that the cards I talk about and the deck list I provide certainly aren’t absolutes. The idea here is to provide a template that you can fill in with your favorite value creatures, finishers, protection/disruption cards, and Vannifar augmentations. There’s more than one way to build a Vannifar deck (or really, any Commander deck), so don’t be held down by anyone’s suggestions that are outside your budget or your range of preferences!

Ravnica Allegiance didn’t really bring us value creatures with good ETB abilities, as the adapt mechanic doesn’t really fit well with that. That was more Zegana’s deal, and she’s on the way out as far as the Simic seem to be concerned. With that in mind, let me show you some classic cards that should guide you to the sort of creatures I’m talking about.

Bringing back cards from the graveyard, ramping, drawing cards, destroying problem permanents—these are just some of the things you’ll want to cover in a deck like this. A Vannifar deck is a toolbox deck, so striking a balance between redundancy and a breadth of options is key.
Clones are often a good fit for this kind of deck as well, so you may want to consider some of these:

Ravnica Allegiance does feature a fantastic game-ender that, while it doesn’t quite stand up to Craterhoof Behemoth, will also appear in my deck list because redundancy is important, and even the mighty ‘hoof doesn’t always finish the whole job.

This might be a Gruul card, but Domri really knows how to bring about the end times, so this Simic deck is willing to borrow it for a while. Even a board full of Wood Elves-type creatures can quickly become deadly with the help of End-Raze Forerunners. Other heavy hitters worth considering include:

Next we’ll need some disruptive/protective spells. Check the deck list for more, but Ravnica Allegiance is going to give us a couple of interesting ones:

Mass Manipulation is an interesting one, but the long and short of it is, if there’s a creature or planeswalker keeping you from doing your thing, maybe it’s time to make it your own. Sure, it costs 6 mana to steal one thing, but it scales incredibly well. Time will tell if this deserves a spot over Blatant Thievery, but it’s worth trying out. Rampage of the Clans does a pretty good Bane of Progress imitation (we’ll probably play that one as well as a direct counter for enchantment control-type decks) and Frilled Mystic, while it’s not great to Vannifar up, sure does a great Mystic Snake impression when it’s in your hand.

Finally, we need to get Vannifar going quickly and repeatedly. Here are a few ways to do that:

Here’s my starting deck list for Vannifar. Obviously I can’t include every card, and obviously this is a draft, but here’s what I’ll be trying out soon. What does your Vannifar list look like? Post it in the comments!

Commander: Prime Speaker Vannifar