And with strange aeons even death may die”
—H.P. Lovecraft, The Nameless City
02: About Me!
03: So, Why Ayli?
04: You'll Like or Dislike Ayli If...
05: Other Commander Considerations
06: The Deck Itself
07: Playing The Deck
08: The Cards, Exclusions & Retirees
09: Music, Please!
10: Deck Change Log
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is a former Kasma cleric who has given in to despair and madness, leading her pilgrimage and followers into the servitude of Ulamog and the other Eldrazi Titans by proxy. All the races of Zendikar once worshiped and idolized three Gods for millenia, each giving them different names. But when their gods reemerged from their dormancy, the truth was laid bare: These were not gods, but horrific eldritch beings of immense power not of this world. The only way to prolong survival as the world around them unravlleed was to continue to serve their horrific gods in luring innocents to sacrifice in their names. Whether in sound mind or through the lens of madness, all must face their inevitable fate; all live and die at the whim of their gods. All are pawns. All are tools.
What Kind of Ayli Deck Is This? What Does It Do?
To start off, you may want to know what kind of deck this is. It is not a fast deck, but a slow burn that requires finesse and a great feel for politics. Orzhov is great at reanimation and that is exactly what this deck relies on, but if you try to mana ramp and rush out a fatty on Turn 2, you will become Public Enemy #1. That is why even though this deck employs large creatures and can do things like drop Kokusho, the Evening Star or Ashen Rider on Turn 2, this is not a beat down deck; they are merely tools for their triggered abilities to be recycled over and over culminating in a dance of rebirth and death that leaves your opponents reeling in the mid to late game. This Ayli build also abuses the stack and arranging triggers to benefit from many card combinations and synergies within the deck, such as sacrificing Angel of Serenity, Fiend Hunter or Leonin Relic-Warder in response to their ETB triggered abilities going onto the stack. Your war is one of attrition, consistent in it's resilience and able to bounce back from out it's own death throes. Back-breaking "mini combos", powerful synergies and the triangle choke can be assembled with ease because the web of cards which interact with each other is enormous! Ultimately, this deck is a amalgamation of Reanimator, Combo and Control. Sound like fun? Read on below!
Blackjack86's Rules of EDH/Commander Deckbuilding
This deck (and thus, this guide) began based on Blackjack86's EDH Ghost Council: The Magic Mafia of Orzhova, and wouldn't exist without his input and thorough testing. As he has not been present for a number of years, in honor of his work, I have continued to evolve, update and test the deck he originally inspired me to build, and it stays true to his philosophy and deck building rules which are as follows:
All my decks try to adhere to these guidelines:
1) Be able to win.
2) Be mostly true to a flavor and a theme.
3) Be fun to pilot or to play against and interactive.
4) Have multiple paths to victory.
5) Have lots of cool interactions and synergy.
6) Play out differently every game to keep it fun over a long time.
7) Be streamlined and fast to play without excessive upkeep, time-consuming play or overcomplicated boardstates.
8) Integrate the Commanders abilities into the strategy at least a little, but be able to win without ever playing the commander.
As a matter of fact, my first actual product I bought myself was a Prophecy booster pack that came with a Top Deck magazine at Wal-Mart (sadly my rare was Shrouded Serpent). Apocalypse was really when I dove into the deep end, and if the artwork and story bits I had picked up from the cards I had weren't enough, an Apocalypse preview from InQuest magazine had me hooked forever. I'm a Vorthos and rotate between the three main demographics of Johnny, Timmy and Spike when playing. I have several other EDH/Commander decks including Animar, Soul of Elements, Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons, Selvala, Explorer Returned, Volrath the Fallen, Jhoira of the Ghitu and many others! I currently have close to 15 EDH/Commander decks and play Affinity in Modern.
My favorite expansion is still Apocalypse to this day, and my favorite color combination is :symw: :symb: . Philosophically I love the duality of the two color philosophies. I first found my way into the online Magic community through MTG News when the previews for Torment started and I was searching for it on MSN in school one day. I've been participating in discussion and active in the community since then, and a few years later I did my best to gather a small group of friends to usher everyone to the then much smaller MTG Salvation forum I had made on a friend's server when the 'News staff walked out on New Years in 2005. The rest is history!
In my personal life I'm an illustrator and graphic designer (some of my work from my old sig shop is still around despite a hiatus!). I love animals, tend to listen to atmospheric music with electronic influence and have been with my partner for nearly 5 years. I met one of my closest friends (IxidorVersionTwo) on MTG News when he was 13 and I was 17, and our friendship transcended the online community and we actually ended up roommates for a year. When I'm not at one of my two local game shops that I frequent, I enjoy writing, playing tabletop games, doing card alters and playing video games.
1. Ayli easily comes out on Turn 2 with a 2/3 body and Deathtouch and a very accessible sac outlet with a decent effect for using it. Ayli helps defend against decks that try to pump out massive Commander damage within the first few turns of the game and remains a deterrent even later in the game thanks to her Deathtouch! This leads to opponents focusing on one another rather than you!
2. She is easy to re-cast. Being able to play her for :symw: :symb: as opposed to Ghost Council's :symw: :symw: :symb: :symb: is especially meaningful in the late game. Later in the game you may want to tie your colored mana up in other abilities to try to close the game out. If you need her and have Commander tax to recast her, she will only require two colored mana and some amount of colorless mana which comes easily to this deck.
3. Ayli's first activated ability is great in a deck that uses a lot of life as a resource! In addition, with so many large creatures like Ashen Rider or other high mana targets, you're gaining valuable life while still triggering those death trigger abilities for profit. She also has great synergy with Vizkopa Guildmage.
4. Her second activated ability does not often become active, but when it does it is game changing. In the mid to late game her second ability makes your opponent's have to make a choice: Get rid of Ayli before you can start to make irreversible damage to their board states, or get rid of your other valuable utility creatures, which you can sacrifice in response to their spells and abilities. She creates a lose-lose situation for opponents.
- You like playing each game differently.
- You enjoy learning a ton of interactions and ways to piece together a win.
- You don't mind long, grindy games.
- Setting up long term plans that payoff sound fun.
- You enjoy closing games with combos.
- You have fun playing politics.
- You like coming back over, and over, and over, and over, and....
- You like aggressive, fast winning decks.
- You don't like long-winded, swingy games.
- You dislike decks that depend heavily on politics to work in the background.
- You play in a Turn 3-4 win meta.
- You don't like the pressure of being the Archenemy in a pod.
- You don't like winning through combos that can include infinite loops.
Example: Say your Sun Titan is in your graveyard, and you've been trying to form a combo with Reveillark and Karmic Guide. Well, you can use Karmic Guide to reanimate your Sun Titan, targeting Necromancy also in your graveyard with the Sun Titan, reanimating Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed to sacrifice to get back Demonic Tutor to go find Angelic Renewal or that Reveillark and then finish the game next turn.
Strengths & Weaknesses
The deck's primary strengths are threefold, and all go hand-in-hand: Resilience, Inevitability and Politics. At it's core, the deck is about getting creatures into play with powerful ETB or death triggers. Many of these creatures are also big, Flying beaters or hard to block if you wish to attack. Opponents don't want to attack into you. They don't want to earn your ire, because chances are you'll block with an Archon of Justice or have False Prophet on the board and they're going to lose something important if they push your buttons. Early on you're deterring attackers by simply having a 2/3 Deathtouch Commander. In the mid game, most of your Creatures and effects are powerful enough to make opponents afraid to attack into you or try to target you. If they target your non-creature spells, you can smite them with ease, and you most likely have a way to get those things back through some sort of recursion. In the late game, it is extremely hard to stop your combos from going off. If they try to stop you or remove a combo piece, you simply sac in response and keep going. Once you have a loop like Ashnod's Altar, Karmic Guide and Reveillark, or a similar sac outlet with Sun Titan and Fiend Hunter, you can response to anything your opponent throws at you by just continuing as you were, sacrificing them to make them illegal targets for spot removal, or just repeatedly stacking triggers. Can't stop, won't stop.
The deck does have a few weaknesses, however. You are utterly dependent on your graveyard. If you get hit with Bojuka Bog a couple times, it's not necessarily the end of the game. Neither is Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void. However, the longer those stay on the board and the more resources such as tutors that you pour into finding removal, the less fuel you have for later in the game. If you expend a Demonic Tutor to find a Vindicate to get rid of one of those, then those have been exiled in the process and that means you can't use them again later via Yawgmoth's Will or Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed. Being able to use your graveyard as a resource is what the deck counts on. The other, which I will talk about constantly throughout the post, is the need for being politically savvy. The deck is full of apparently strong cards. Much of EDH/Commander is playing janky, low-key cards that suddenly come out of nowhere. The cards this deck employs does not have that luxury. If you can make it to the late or mid game without too much interference you'll be set for the rest of the game. But if you draw a lot of hate early on, you'll be limping for the rest of the game. You cannot be the archenemy from the start, as resilient as the deck is.
- Ghost Council of Orzhova - The Ghost Council has since been dethroned for reasons elaborated upon. They remain not a terrible option to put at the helm of the deck, but given all the benefits of Ayli it is hard to justify them. Some may enjoy their flavor more. I still do, myself, were I to be honest.
- Meren of Clan Nel Toth - Easily one of the best reanimator Commanders available, Meren is Golgari and trades out White for Green, enabling some different and great ETB and death triggers unavailable to Orzhov. Like most of the 2015 Commanders, Meren works by gaining experience counters when doing the things a reanimator deck wants to do, mainly sacrificing creatures to reap rewards. While Green grants access to some powerful recursion and reanimation targets, Meren does have the down side that most decks depend on her to be on the battlefield for the deck to function. Because of her reputation, she is also a removal magnet, making it that much harder to make a deck function that depends on her. This is fortunately an issue that Ayli does not have!
- Ghave, Guru of Spores - If you're interested in utilizing Creature tokens and enjoy playing Green, Ghave can be a fun Commander for that style of deck which also utilize recursion of various permanents and spells to make an army of creatures and buff them (or sacrifice for your benefit). Ayli has the advantage of being two colors, whereas tri-color decks tend to get muddled down and having access to enough of all three colors can be difficult and inconsistent, also making the deck more expensive overall due to the land base needed for consitency. As said about Meren, having Green adds a catalog of new Golgari reanimation and recursion effects, but Ghave itself wants to go about recursion in an entirely different way and is more likely to attack with a swarm of huge creatures. Also like Meren, he is necessary for most decks built for him to function, meaning that it becomes that much harder to keep going without him.
- Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter - Vish Kal was formerly in the main list, and is an excellent Commander for this deck, albeit a bit slow. While being a sac outlet would make him a great Commander for a reanimation combo deck, his mana cost is a rather large hindrance. He himself is part of a finishing combo for the deck, which is a fantastic reason to have him in the Command Zone and ready to cast. However, between his mana cost and the high cost of re-casting him if he gets removed, I suggest leaving him as part of the 99 and finding him via tutoring when you feel it necessary in an Orzhov deck that can use his set of skills.
- Athreos, God of Passage - While being a potential Commander built specifically for recursion, he does so in a much different way. Not being a sac outlet makes him less convenient, and he is actually the antithesis of this Ayli deck: He puts your dying creatures into your hand rather than your graveyard, and this deck uses the graveyard as a resource to get your creatures on the battlefield for cheap to enable combos and synergies. A deck with Athreos at the helm would be closer to a Teysa, Orzhov Scion or Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker deck than this hybrid of reanimator, control and combo where you don't want your dying creatures to come back to your hand.
- Karador, Ghost Chieftain - Another popular reanimator Commander, but essentially a 3/4 for 3 mana a lot of the time. While you gain access to Green, to cast him for a reasonable cost you must fill your graveyard with creatures. That's great because you can cast one from your graveyard each turn, right? Well, where as Ayli is unassuming, Karador telegraphs what you're trying to do from the start. If your local meta has any kind of sense, they're running graveyard hate, and boy does Karador get hurt a lot more by graveyard hate with his need for you fill your graveyard far before you can do anything with it!
- Karlov of the Ghost Council - Even though Karlov is also a 2-mana Orzhov commander, he requires a vastly different strategy for you to get the most out of him. Many more bleeder and life gain triggers are required to make him dangerous. In a deck built for him, he can be extremely powerful and hard to deal with. Reanimator Combo he is not, however! And with so much of a deck needing to be built around using him, it can be hard to balance life gain, what to do with that life when Karlov isn't on the board, and making a deck with him at the helm effective otherwise. Some people do attempt to build Ayli decks with a life gain strategy, but ultimately Karlov is much better for that, while he wants to play far differently than what this deck intends to do.
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
Deck By Card Role:
Mana Fixing Lands
Mana Fixing & Ramp
The deck is about at the max of where you want the average CMC to be without going too high. Various cards in the deck are interchangeable and can help lower the CMC if you find you're going too high. While Sepulchral Primordial can be a decent finisher, if you're in very fast or creature-lite meta, Unburial Rites could be a better call. Same with Austere Command. If you don't feel the need for the utility, you can always go with one less sweeper and slot in another cheap reanimation spell, or exchange it for the very effective Black Sun's Zenith.
Average Cost: $758.00 (Updated 12/07/2017)
With how volatile the secondary market is, the deck can shift in price on a daily basis. Although Masters sets are making cards like Kokusho, the Evening Star, Sheoldred, Whispering One and Austere Command cheaper, buyouts and speculators are driving Reserved List cards such as Yawgmoth's Will, Phyrexian Tower and Volrath's Stronghold ever higher. Even Demonic Tutor is approaching $40 now, despite bring printed in the Duel Deck Anthology some years back. It should be telling of the abuse of the secondary market when I tell you that this deck was under $400 when I originally built it, and that relatively little about the deck has changed. It's now approaching $800, as of the end of 2017.
In order to be successful with this build, you must play the political game with careful consideration! Ayli serves as a rattlesnake all game long, deterring early game aggressors in addition to being a convenient sac outlet! This deck's early game is spent building infrastructure with a huge toolbox of options to fit your need, finding utility lands and holding your most important assets while your opponents beat each other. You don't want to telegraph your plays by playing combo pieces like Ashnod's Altar or Nim Deathmantle before you have something to do with them. Everyone knows you're up to something when you play cards such as those, and suddenly all eyes are on you! It's like playing Grave Pact when you have no creatures on the board - it's just asking to be removed without even getting to use it!
You also don't want to draw attention until you're ready and have all the pieces assembled to strike with a power play. With this deck, you wait until you can put all your pieces into action at once, rather than playing them one at a time and finding them removed before your other pieces are available. This Ayli build encourages thoughtfulness beyond some Cleric tribal or life gain deck. Learning the best time to play cards is important, such as not casting Entomb to find your last combo piece until the End Step of the opponent's turn before it becomes yours, so you don't become the target of an untimely Bojuka Bog or Rest in Peace. If you telegraph your plays, you'll be taken out before you make your plays! Even once your usual crowd gets an idea of what Ayli can do, this build will keep them forever on their toes unsure of what angle you'll be coming from.
As an example, Sun Titan is a good card to get out and you can get it back easy later if it's removed and it accrues value. But Angelic Renewal and Ashnod's Altar that combo with him aren't necessarily the best thing to have out before you have all of those combo pieces available.
In the late game when the chips are down, the politics are out the window and everyone is batting at each other, an Ayli player piloting this build should be in a position to neutralize any threats to themself while having access to enough combo pieces and synergies to close the game. So many cards in the deck work with each other that you'll often find you're one tutor away from putting the game away!
Get to mana fixing. Hopefully you have some mana rocks to play to help with color fixing as the game progresses. When you start trying to buyback Corpse Dance for multiple casts, or bring back Reassembling Skeleton via it's ability to keep Skullclamping it, you'll want to be able to filter mana into Black or combinations of Black/White. To this end, Weathered Wayfarer is an amazing early game play to look for. Basically all recursion in the deck is begging for Black mana, so when searching for basics or given the option, you want a dual land of some kind, or a 2:1 ratio of Black to White mana to prepare for the mid and late game.
What are your opponents playing? This is the other part of the equation when setting up in the early game. If they're playing aggressive Commander damage oriented decks or wanting to swing out at you with Blightsteel Colossus, you're going to want to find Maze of Ith first, and probably find a way to exile it ASAP so they can't cast Chandra's Ignition targeting it. Kor Haven is nice, but requires mana you don't want to have to be spending, yet. If you have to find Maze of Ith, then make finding Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth your next priority so you can tap it for mana when you don't need to stop an attacker. In general, Urborg is a priority early on because it helps immensely with recursion tactics for the rest of the game.
Bring out your less obvious sac outlets. With any luck, you may have opened the game with Viscera Seer or Spawning Pit in your opening hand. These are two of the best sac outlets to play early because their effects aren't splashy. Most people won't look twice at Spawning Pit when they see how much work goes into making a Spawn creature token with it. Viscera Seer won't raise many eyebrows with it's small body and effect. You may be thinking, "But I already have Ayli!", and while that's true, the importance of a sac outlet that costs no mana to activate cannot be stressed enough.
Don't reanimate big. Or at all, really. As I've said many times up until now, drawing attention to yourself is a bad thing. You may be unstoppable in the late game, but if you're hounded from the start then you're going to have a bad time. And if you reanimate a fatty, you're doing so for what? Ayli is not an aggressive deck, and most of the effects of the creatures are not great by themselves without other effects ormana you'll only be able to fully take advantage of in the late game. Casting Entomb on Turn 1 then Necromancy on Turn 3 to drop a Sheoldred, Whispering One or Ashen Rider on the table does very little other than demand unwanted attention.
Turn 1 Entomb guarantees they're going to look for graveyard hate to target you with at the worst possible time because it's now at the forefront of their threat assessement, and Sheoldred has nothing to reanimate herself and only insignificant prattlers to kill so early on. The only exception to this can be when you know you're playing against something like Narset, Enlightened Master, Purphoros, God of the Forge and other super aggressive early decks where exiling a key target or forcing a sacrifice is key.
Lastly, get your draw on. Turn 3-4 is an ideal time to have your Phyrexian Arena, Necropotence and Skullclamp out and you can even use Recruiter of the Guard to find a lot of utility creatures. While Skullclamp may draw some eyes, it can actually be further deterrent from attacking you when equipped to Ayli until you find a Reassembling Skeleton to repeatedly draw off of killing with it. Once you have some stuff to give you fuel, you're ready for the mid game.
Rip and tear. Removal is plentiful and this is when pieces start to show up that don't seem bad at first, but help things get out of control as the game goes on; or, certain accrue massive value over the course of the game if left unchecked and can get to the point of no return. You almost never want to let a Planeswalker go unanswered. If you can't remove the Planeswalker itself, remove anything else in the way of attacking it with Ayli or another decent sized creature. Many of the 4-5 drops employed in the deck are reasonably sized, have Flying and will be able to take a Planeswalker out on their own when they can get through. Also make sure to pay attention to your opponents's strategy.
If you're an experienced player and are familiar with resources like EDHREC, you probably know many of the most common tricks and targets. Don't simply remove things on a whim. If you had a choice between removing Hammer of Purphoros or Cathar's Crusade, you go for the Hammer first. It enables huge swings out of nowhere, while you can find a board wipe to deal with creatures buffed up from the Crusade while they have summoning sickness. They're both dangerous in their own right, but learn to prioritize. Similarly, Survival of the Fittest is way worse than that Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Both have reputations, but one is going to end the game while the other is good card advantage with a reputation.
In this stage, you're about to start some reanimator shenanigans. The mid game is when you want to start casting Archon of Justice and other mid-sized creatures to get threats on the board as further deterrents, while also being ready to sacrifice them if needed for their effect. You can cast your Puppeteer Clique, Kokusho, the Evening Star, Sun Titan or Karmic Guide and have their effects available and swing or block here and there and feel safe as long as you have a sac outlet on the board to respond to any exile effects. Their effects are great or threatening by themselves, but they're also part of bigger combos. Nim Deathmantle begins to shine at this point as even just repeating many effects once can really impact the game. You know you can get it back later if it gets destroyed, but it makes that Archon of Justice or Fiend Hunter that much more potent.
However, you don't want to have an entire combo suite out quite yet. It's very typical that you either won't have enough creatures to reanimate from your opponent's graveyards, or enough mana to activate that Vizkopa Guildmage a couple times in addition to the mana for your recursion engine. You probably don't have that Exsanguinate or Reveillark yet. Don't be afraid to use combo pieces for their individual effects if they're valuable to you at the time! But do make sure not to telegraph what you're trying to set up to do in the end game. Sacrificing Archon of Justice to remove something, reanimating it with Necromancy, then sacrificing it again, later playing Sun Titan and targeting the Necromancy to bring the Archon back is just straight up value, can be repeated and an example of the silliness the deck can do. The same can be said for Sidisi, Undead Vizier for tutoring, etc. This is also the best time to find Volrath's Stronghold, Mistveil Plains and other utility to help create inevitability and make you very hard to stop in the late game.
Tutor and tutor well. Early game isn't the time to use your tutors unless you're in dire straits. More than likely your opponents aren't doing anything so crazy to need to tutor for a removal spell, and if you tutor early on, they're going to assume you're looking for a combo piece and be thinking about what you tutored for. The mid game is when you want to go find a combo set piece to go with another part of the set in your hand, graveyard or on the battlefield. Preferably, you're tutoring in a way that doesn't make you reveal what you searched for. If you're stuck using Enlightened Tutor or Vampiric Tutor, try to hold off until you're close to ready to combo off so that your opponents have less time to prepare and plan for obvious tells such as revealing Ashnod's Altar. Some scenarios might force your hand - it happens. But, keep these things in mind!
At this point is when you want to play that Vizkopa Guildmage, because between lands and mana rocks, you can probably activate it twice with Kokusho, the Evening Star on the board and sacrifice him in one way or another and either win the game or get close. Sacrificing the various beefy Archons to Ayli to to remove key targets and keep opponents in check is another way that Vizkopa Guildmage can cause a massive amount of life loss. There's also probably enough creatures in your opponent's graveyards that you can consider comboing with Puppeteer Clique and Nim Deathmantle, or reanimating Sepulchral Primordial a few times to make an army. This is also when playing Ashnod's Altar, Blasting Station[card] and [card]Angelic Renewal are best, because they're very obviously combo pieces from the get-go that will have opponents gunning for them if you play them earlier on.
In the late game, between all the card draw and Tutors early on and in the mid game, you should be able to find all the pieces for one of the combos necessary to close the game and have them one card away from activating that KILL! button. You have enough resources that you can start chaining spells after a Yawgmoth's Will; be casting Corpse Dance and buying it back to reanimate and sacrifice Plaguecrafter, Angel of Serenity and so on to keep your opponents on lockdown; or follow up aboard wipe with a huge Torment of Hailfire that leaves your opponents little options other than just dying. Many combo pieces are great to use early on to help your defenses while not becoming an obvious threat so that they're less likely to be removed, but become something far more in concert with other effects at this point. While defending against aggressors in the mid game with board wipes, some opponents will recover and come out swinging drawing the attention back to them and easing the recently earned ire from your other opponents. While it depends on the deck and the player, right now it usually becomes a struggle for others to recover from your assault of control spells and continuous stream of reanimated creatures, because very few decks are equipped to win a game of attrition like this.
The following synergies are what you'll ride to victory while playing this Ayli build. Part of what makes the deck so effective is that each card stands on it's own as powerful and useful in it's own right, letting you combine each piece to great effect in some way. Over the years, the creatures selected have proven to be the best value and utility available, allowing a huge range of responses and possible solutions and lines of play to victory.
One thing to note is that your artifact engines need to be handled with greater care than your creatures. It's easy to have a sac outlet and protect a creature from being exiled by sending it to your graveyard. It's not so easy to do that with Artifacts, and they're certainly harder to reanimate or recover than creatures. Make sure before you play them that you have fuel for that engine - that is, a good creature set up or recursion engine to power them.
Exiling Machine Guns: ETB Removal Effects + Sac Engine + Reanimation
Combine the following with any sac outlet and a recursion engine such as Nim Deathmantle or Corpse Dance, and you can shoot down numerous permanents.
Removal Machine Guns:
Angel of Serenity
Archon of Justice
On Angel of Serenity, Fiend Hunter and Magara of Corondor:
This combo takes advantage of the stack and permanently exiles a few creatures.
When Angel or Fiend Hunter enter the battlefield, their triggered abilities go onto the stack as you choose your targets. In response to their ETB triggered ability going onto the stack, you sacrifice them as part of the activation cost to anything that let's you sacrifice a creature. Because you sacrifice them as part of the cost, they are no longer in play when their first ability resolves. Their second ability never gets to check if they leave play, and their targets are permanently exiled. Similarly, you can activate Leonin Relic-Warder can take out early Enchantments and Artifacts that are sure to be problematic. Corpse Dance is especially useful here to give them Haste, and goes far when your sac outlet is Ashnod's Altar for extra mana.
In a 4-player pod, this can be a game ending combo.
Vizkopa Guildmage's second activated ability stacks for each time you activate it, ie. activating it twice makes each opponent lose 2 life for every 1 life you gain that turn. By sacrificing Kokusho, each opponent will lose 5 life and you'll gain 5 * however many opponents you have. 15 life in a 4-player pod. If you activate Vizkopa Guildmage, each opponent will lose 15 life. If you activate the Guildmage twice, each opponent will lose 30 life, etc. If you sacrifice Kokusho to Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim, it's a square 20, 40, 60 life loss etc for your opponents (because you gain 5 additional life from sacrificing him to Ayli).
Create a massive alpha strike with this combo using your opponent's creatures! With Puppeteer Clique on the battlefield, sacrifice it to Ashnod's Altar for :2mana:. Persist will trigger bringing Puppeteer Clique back to reanimate another of an opponent's creatures, then again sacrifice it to Ashnod's Altar for :2mana: and spend the :4mana: you've generated to use Nim Deathmantle's triggered ability to bring Puppeteer Clique back and start all over again. This is also an infinite death trigger loop if you choose to run Blood Artist or Zulaport Cutthroat.
One of the most abusive card draw combos in the deck is Reassembling Skeleton with Skullclamp. Together, they effectively read " : Draw two cards". The skeleton is also great with Viscera Seer for large amounts of Scrying, or Blasting Station for some light pinging.
Lark+Guide Loop: Reveillark + Karmic Guide + Sac Engine (+Finisher)
Reveillark and Karmic Guide create an infinite loop when combined with any sac engine. As long as you have one on the battlefield or in your graveyard and at least one sac outlet, you use Karmic Guide to bring Reveillark back, then sacrifice Karmic Guide, then sacrifice Reveillark to bring back Karmic Guide, targeting Reveillark and repeating. Pay careful attention to your order in case of rules-lawyery players who dislike your combo. It's advisable to practice the movement of your cards, especially when adding some of the combo engines below.
Blasting Station - Clear or kill the board.
Ashnod's Altar - Generate infinite mana to kill the board with Exsanguinate, or one player with Profane Command (the second mode being whatever suits you at the time).
Bitter Ordeal - Exile your opponent's libraries.
Viscera Seer - Infinite Scry.
Ideally, you want to put the play together all at once without it being obvious so your sac engine doesn't get removed before you can start the combo. Don't put them in your graveyard if you intend to start the combo that way until you're ready to do it, such as with Entomb at the end of the opponent's turn before yours. Graveyard hate isn't uncommon!
Sun Titan Loops: Sun Titan + Angelic Renewal OR Fiend Hunter + Sac Engine Loop
Have a sac outlet out, Angelic Renewal in your graveyard or on the battlefield, then bring Sun Titan onto the battlefield by whatever means available. Sacrifice the Sun Titan to your outlet, triggering Angelic Renewal. Sacrifice Angelic Renewal, bringing back Sun Titan, using his ETB ability to target Angelic Renewal and repeat. For examples of what you can do with an infinite sac combo, see the Reveillark + Karmic Guide + Sac Engine section above.
Sun Titan also combos with Fiend Hunter and a sac engine for an loop, as well. Target Sun Titan with Fiend Hunter to exile Sun Titan. Then, sacrifice Fiend Hunter to your sac engine. When Sun Titan comes back into play, target the Fiend Hunter to bring it back. Repeat this process!
Sacrifice Wurmcoil Engine to Ashnod's Altar for :2mana: then use that mana and pay :2mana: more to use Nim Deathmantle's triggered ability. You'll have your Wurmcoil Engine back, plus two 3/3 Wurms. Now you can sacrifice one of your tokens for :2mana: and your Wurmcoil Engine for :2mana: leaving one token on the battlefield, paying the entire cost of Nim Deathmantle's triggered ability and have a net gain of a 3/3 Wurm with each loop.
With a sac engine + Sheoldred, Whispering One you can lock out one opponent for the entire game. With Nim Deathmantle and a sac engine, you can lock down the entire table for the rest of the game for 12 mana per turn (6 mana if your sac Engine is Ashnod's Altar). With Corpse Dance and a sac Engine, you can pay a total of to lock down an opponent for the rest of the game, or to lock all opponents in a 4-player pod for the rest of the game. Again, if Ashnod's Altar is your sac engine, then the cost is significantly cheaper, as Ashnod's Altar effectively pays your Buyback cost on Corpse Dance every time you sacrifice Yosei.
Note: This is one of the most range-inducing ways to win, and it is ill-advised to use it frequently. It's a very good way to keep a player on a nonexistent leash who has gotten too far out of control, but no matter who you use this against, there's a good chance they'll be rather unhappy.
One of the most powerful reanimation effects in the deck is Corpse Dance with it being Instant-speed, but it's also slightly tricky. It can only target the top creature in your graveyard, so it is especially important to keep that in mind while setting up to use it. Because of this, it is super important to make sure if your opponents look at your graveyard, that it is placed back in the order that it was when they picked it up. This goes for you as well, as you're looking through it for targets for other reanimation effects.
Reveillark or Karmic Guide = Super Recursion
Archon of Justice = Destroy any permanent every turn.
Yosei, the Morning Star = Lock down as many players as you can afford to.
Wurmcoil Engine = Big Hasty Deathtouching, Lifelinking suicide beater that leaves behind two (or more) tokens to keep.
Fleshbag Marauder = A sweep if you have the mana for multiples.
Fiend Hunter - Creature Exiling Machine Gun.
Kokusho, the Evening Star - Bleed everyone dry while boosting your own life.
The choke can be applied easily with one card in each of 3 categories (hence, "triangle"), they are all somewhat interchangeable, and become even stronger with Grave Pact, Martyr's Bond, Dictate of Erebos or Butcher of Malakir in play should you choose to play them. Of course, Skullclamp helps get some extra profit from this too.
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
Krav, the Unredeemed
The Recursion Engine:
Sheoldred, Whispering One
Karmic Guide (on Nim Deathmantle)
Corpse Dance (with buyback)
The ETB/LTB Creature:
Yosei, the Morning Star
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Angel of Serenity
Archon of Justice
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Most of the cards found in this build have been gone over in the sections preceding this point, but because it's impossible to detail every single possible interaction or point of interest in the confines of this thread, below I'll be going over each card in the deck, providing at least a small blurb. This section will be updated as the list continues to be refined and cards enter or fall out of favor.
- Angel of Serenity - Spot removal chaingun with sac outlet, as well as graveyard protection!
- Archon of Justice - Supert spot removal, especially with recursion. Makes opponents think twice about earning your ire!
- Ashen Rider - Bigger, badder Archon of Justice. Your best friend when there's multiple permanents on the board that just have to go.
- False Prophet - Really great rattlesnake, mass removal and political card.
- Fiend Hunter - Nice spot removal and even better with a sac outlet + recursion.
- Gray Merchant of Asphodel - Massive life drain and partner in crime with Vizkopa Guildmage. Ender of games.
- Karmic Guide - Recursion all star, able to start a chain of reanimation bringing you right back into the game after opponents think you're being kept under control.
- Kokusho, the Evening Star - Flying, game ending beat stick that cleaves when it dies.
- Krav, the Unredeemed - Sac outlet all-star. Helps negate life loss and can draw massive amounts of cards.
- Leonin Relic-Warder - One of the best and cheapest ways of handling Artifacts and Enchantments in the deck.
- Plaguecrafter - Removal that gets around Indestructible and Hexproof.
- Puppeteer Clique - Hard to kill and easy reanimation. Throw your opponent's own dudes at them!
- Razaketh, the Foulblooded - As long as you have fodder, which is easy to get, you can rapidly tutor up everything you need to close the game within the next turn or two. If he lasts long enough, using him just before it's time for your turn again leaves opponents quite helpless to stop you. His ability can be done in Instant speed, meaning even if you don't get to keep his 8/8 Flying, Trample body, you can almost always get extreme value out of him even as he's about to die.
- Reassembling Skeleton - Great for sac fodder, opponent's Fleshbag Marauders, and Skullclamping for 2 cards every turn.
- Recruiter of the Guard - Able to find many of the best creatures that allow recursion or combos. Can retrieve False Prophet, Karmic Guide, Knight-Captain of Eos, Leonin Relic-Warder, Plaguecrafter, Puppeteer Clique, Reassembling Skeleton, Solemn Simulacrum, Viscera Seer, Vizkopa Guildmage, Weathered Wayfarer and Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed.
- Reveillark - Another recursion all star. Second part of the Karmric Guilde + Reveillark combo. Mostly here for that.
- Rune-Scarred Demon - A nice flying beat stick with a Demonic Tutor attached. Can easily recur or blink with to fire off multiple tutor effects to find pieces you need to end the game.
- Sepulchral Primordial - Easily able to finish the game after a game full of board wipes. If the three initial targets aren't valuable enough to end the game, reanimating him another couple times is sure to put you too far ahead for opponents to overcome.
- Sheoldred, Whispering One - Absolutely backbreaking after a board wipe, or early on in game when opponents are still setting up their board state. If you get her down early on and she isn't dealt with, opponents generally can't recover.
- Sidisi, Undead Vizier - 4/6 Deathtouch body that lets you sac another creature for a tutor. Another tutor on a creature you can easily recur! Just requires easily obtained fodder.
- Solemn Simulacrum - Obligatory valuetown bot. Obviously blinking and recurring him nets a lot of lands and cards.
- Sun Titan - Can get your utility lands back if they get destroyed; infinite loop with Angelic Renewal; hits the majority of important sac outlets if they've been destroyed, as well as some value creatures.
- Viscera Seer - Combine with recurable creature to put those cards at the bottom of your deck you don't want until you feel like tutoring for them later, anyway.
- Vizkopa Guildmage - Turn your beats into lifedraining beaters. Give something Lifelink, then activate her second ability as many times as you like - it stacks! Combos well with Kokusho and any sac outlet + recursion.
- Weathered Wayfarer - Your best friend in the early game. If you get him in your opening hand, you're set. Go find your Maze of Ith, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Volrath's Stronghold and whatever else you may need. You'll be tempted to sac him but you can keep him on the field to make sure you don't need Homeward Bound or Cavern of Souls later on. Ayli doesn't land ramp much as it's not an aggro deck, so you'll almost always be able to use his ability.
- Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed - One of the best cards in the deck. Can retrieve the majority of the deck from the graveyard and is his own sac outlet for himself, which makes him very hard to get rid of. Recurring Demonic Tutor and Merciless Eviction is absolutely bonkers.
- Wurmcoil Engine - Probably the king of rattlesnakes. Combos with Ashnod's Altar and Nim Deathmantle for infinite Wurms of the flavor of your choosing.
- Yosei, the Morning Star - One of the meaner ways to put games down. Many ways to lock an opponent out for the rest of the game. Can easily find ways to lock everyone out using Nim Deathmantle or Sheoldred.
- Angelic Renewal - Combos with Sun Titan and any sac outlet for an infinite ETB/LTB loop. Great for the untimely destruction of important creatures. Opponents familiar with the deck will feel forced to spend a removal spell on
- Gift of Immortality - Recurring reanimation effect that can create an infinite loop when attached to Fiend Hunter, Leonin Relic-Warder, or Sun Titan.
- Necromancy - Reanimate any creature in any graveyard, and at instant speed if necessary!
- Necropotence - The infamous card draw engine to end all card draw engines. Make sure you have a way to get rid of it if you find that you need to discard something important, or you're running low on life. Having Reliquary Tower is obviously a huge boon. Don't be afraid to use a ton of life. There's plenty of ways to gain it back, while putting the game away simultaneously. Works best with the Phyerxian Arena or Skullclamp combos to help balance life loss and skipping your draw step.
- Phyrexian Arena - The best card draw enchantment since Necropotence. Smart opponents will see how efficient it is and try to remove it. Less observant players will let you draw two cards every turn at the negligible cost of one life.
- Anguished Unmaking - An Instant-speed Vindicate that can Exile. Only down side is the inability to target lands, but between the Archons, Strip Mind and Vindicate itself, there's plenty of that availble!
- Argivian Find - If you jump the gun and get an important artifact like Ashnod's Altar destroyed, this is one of the few ways to bring it back. Many of the loops and game ending plays are off of the back of several Artifacts in the deck.
- Corpse Dance - One of the most abusive Instant speed recursion spells in the game. Super important to make sure your graveyard is always in the correct order after your or an opponent has looked at it!
- Enlightened Tutor - As with Argivian Find, this is one of the more important cards in the deck as it finds you key pieces to many, many combos and can be done at the end of the turn prior to your next turn.
- Entomb - Instant speed card that is effectively a tutor in this deck because of how much you pull stuff back onto the battlefield from your graveyard. Play this at the end of the opponent's turn before you so opponents don't get the chance to hit you with Bojuka Bogs, Rest in Peace or other graveyard hate that they can only enact on their turns. Or, play it in response to a threat swinging at you, then use your instant-speed Necromancy to throw a Yosei, ]Kokusho, Ashen Rider, or whatever suits the scenario in the way of an attacker and ride that train all the way to Valuetown.
- Swords to Plowshares - The best spot removal in EDH, because Path to Exile ramps people's mana and that's a bad idea in the early game. In a deck like this, opponents gaining life is largely negligible.
- Utter End - If you don't like the thing, then exile the thing!
- Vampiric Tutor - One of the best tutors in the deck, as it is not limited to finding a specific card type.
- Ashnod's Altar - The all-star mana generator and sac engine that you want to protect more than anything. Never play it until you can abuse it, because your opponent's won't let you have it for long. Combos with a ton of stuff; see the next section.
- Blasting Station - Easy way to ping some mana dorks or players and abuse LTB/Dying triggers. Combos with Reveillark + Karmic Guide or Sun Titan + Angelic Renewal to wipe out the board, or your opponents.
- Coalition Relic - One of the best colored-adding mana rocks in the game. If you don't to use it, don't be shy about playing it and adding a charge counter on an opponent's turn so that you can be ahead an extra mana on your next turn's first Main Phase.
- Expedition Map - Find the utility land you need when you need it, or preferably before. If you can't find your Weathered Wayfarer, this is your next best bet to get your toolkit ready. Sun Titan is Expedition Map's best friend.
- Fellwar Stone - More colored mana because you want more colored mana.
- Nim Deathmantle - Abusive and you shouldn't feel bad. The majority of ways it can be busted are mentioned in the Synergies section above, but basically add this and anything with an ETB or death trigger and make all the things happen!
- Orzhov Signet - Simply more great colored mana fixing!
- Scroll Rack - Incredible hand fixing card that helps you when you're in a tight spot being available to activate at Instant-speed. If your hand isn't doing much for you, toss it back. Do something that makes you shuffle your deck, and next time you activate it you get yet another new hand. It's fantastic to use after tutors like Vampiric Tutor and Enlightened Tutor to get a card into your hand right then and there. Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed can help fill up your hand with reanimation manipulations to help you dig as deep as possible. Later in a game when you've been hitting up Necropotence and have Reliquary Tower with a very large hand, it gets crazy! It's also a good response to Wheel of Fortune effects when you need what's in your hand but you would otherwise be forced to discard it.
- Skullclamp - If you're going to sacrifice a creature and have extra mana to spare, why not draw a good chunk of your library in the process? Absurd with Reassembling Skeleton.
- Sol Ring - It's everyone's favorite scapegoat! And a great source of mana early game.
- Spawning Pit - A low cost sac outlet that will sit low on the radar. It doesn't do anything absurd by itself and isn't as easy to abuse as Ashnod's Altar, but in a mana-hungry deck like Ayli gets to be in the late game, it's a free activation sac outlet! You can eventually get infinite 2/2 Spawn tokens with it, but it's mostly here to enable recursion shenanigans on the cheap.
- Wayfarer's Bauble - Sometimes you need to find some basic lands. It's not the most epic card in the game, but it does it's job. It's especially useful if you may face down Magus of the Moon and Blood Moon in your meta.
- Austere Command - Easily one of the most versatile sweeper spells in the game. The available modes enable you to make a precision strike against troublesome permanents threatening to get out of hand. Enchantments and Artifacts can get out of control at any point in the game, while the Creature removal modes
- Beacon of Unrest - The second best way to get an Artifact back from your graveyard besides Argivian Find, and it's a great recursion spell. It targets any graveyard then goes back into your library to be found later.
- Damnation - Don't like the things? Kill all the things! You can easily switch this with Wrath of God for the same effect. I've chosen Damnation simply because I often have more Black mana thanks to Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. It fits more, from a flavor perspective too!
- Demonic Tutor - You're never unhappy to see this card, because it's every card you've ever wanted (within the limits of the deck, of course). It's the quintessential tutor, the original!
- Exsanguinate - Dip too low with Necropotence? Have infinite mana and want to finish the game? Vizkopa Guildmage on the table? While it's not a spell you want to cast on a whim, when you want it, you really want it.
- Merciless Eviction - When you really don't like the things, and want to make sure you never see them again. This is one of the deck's best way to deal with Planeswalkers and those disgusting Superfriend archetypes. It's also able to be brought back by Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed for extra persistent opponents.
- Vindicate - There's a lot of utility lands you don't want your opponents to have. Sometimes Enchantments or Artifacts. Or Planeswalkers. This is an answer to questions you don't like.
- Yawgmoth's Will - Tell your opponents to wake up and smell the ashes. One of the ultimate late game cards in the deck, it asks you to have a lot of mana to spend to get the best from it. It seems underwhelming until you're casting recursion spells left and right from your graveyard, or simply casting permanents that don't have to get exiled like Instants and Sorceries do. It's best to hold it to your chest until really need it, as it's effect of exiling everything put into your graveyard until the end of the turn you play it could ruin your late game if played at the wrong time.
- Bojuka Bog - There's always someone else trying to show you up with how pretty their graveyard is. Wipe that smirk off their face.
- Boseiju, Who Shelters All - If they're playing Blue, you need to find this ASAP.
- Cavern of Souls - Quite a bit less important since most of your creatures enter the battlefield from the graveyard, but if you're in a heavy Blue meta it can be a great tool to make sure you stick those Archons, Demons, Humans or Spirits (easily the four most important Creature types in the deck).
- Command Tower - Best multicolor color producing land in the game for EDH/Commander!
- Concealed Courtyard - Even though it may enter tapped most of the time, but has potential to enter untapped which puts it ahead of the many lands that always come into play tapped. Technically speaking, it's better than Orzhov Guildgate or Forsaken Sanctuary.
- Fetid Heath - You'll use this a lot, because many of the best spells and intreactions in the deck demand a lot of double and triple colored mana!
- Geier Reach Sanitarium - Let's draw! And then discard that creature you want to reanimate that is stuck in your hand. Most of the time digging or discarding a reanimation target overshadows letting your opponents draw and discard, as well.
- Godless Shrine - Obligatory Shockland that you can fetch with Fetchlands!
- High Market - A convenient sac outlet for when they try to exile your vaulable creature, or they won't let you have your toys (that is to say, other sac outlets).
- Homeward Path - Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Everyone has seen Reins of Power and Insurrection at inopportune times, or even cards such as Thada Adel take your most important combo pieces. What everyone hasn't seen is a deck running Horobi, Death's Wail at the helm with Grave Betrayal and Dauthi Embrace. True story. Homeward Path is worth it.
- Isolated Chapel - Not quite a dual or Shockland but still pretty good colored mana generator.
- Kor Haven - A weaker Maze of Ith that can tap for :cmana: but still invaluable asset against Commander damage-driven decks.
- Marsh Flats - It can fetch a Swamp, so here it is. One less land to draw later on when you wish it were something else.
- Maze of Ith - Your cardboard restraining order against people who won't take no for an answer. Also a funny tool in Commander Leagues with point systems where you get points for saving an opponent for dying. I've gotten so many points from doing that with this.
- Mistveil Plains - The condition in the activated ability is easy to meet to allow this to protect key cards in your graveyard.
- Phyrexian Tower - Great sac outlet and mana acceleration when you have fodder that you'd rather be more mana!
- Reliquary Tower - You have the potential to draw a lot of cards. And you want to hold on to your combo pieces until you can make use of them all in the same turn, or at least relatively quickly. This makes that easier and makes Necropotence that much better.
- Shizo, Death's Storehouse - There's a lot of Legendary creatures in the deck. At worst it's a fancy Swamp. At best, your Krav, the Unredeemed can connect with a player's face and do some damage if they don't control any Black or Artifact creatures. The deck doesn't always swing into the red zone, but when it does it's mostly a Legendary creature.
- Strip Mine - This is basically the EDH equivalent of a spanking paddle. Honor compels you to not use it on their basic lands and to save it for utility lands that may prove to be a threat. But sometimes people are really, really bad. Also, it's always great to blow up someone's $300 Gaea's Cradle with your $5.00 Land.
- Temple of Silence - It may enter tapped, but I like to Scry. You should, too. Still better than a Guildgate.
- Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth - Fancy Swamp that makes sure you never lack :symb: mana. Makes Maze of Ith able to produce mana, which is nice, because if you're like me you occasionally forget that it doesn't at least tap for a :cmana: or something. I don't run Cabal Coffers for reasons stated in a section below, but access to Black mana is more important than any other mana type for the deck.
- Volrath's Stronghold - Protects valuable targets in your graveyard from graveyard hate and allows you to get those targets back if you're at lack for a recursion spell or tutor to find one at the time. If you have a good draw engine going, use it to recur creatures like Fleshbag Marauder to slowly grind down your opponent's board state.
Many players know that they could optimize their deck just a little bit more with the inclusion of some rare or expensive cards that are out of reach. The following cards are a list of cards I would like to fit into the deck in the future if I am able to acquire them at some point in time. It is worth noting that including most of them will not make the deck run in any spectacular or new fashion - they are just nice to have, if you have them.
- Flagstones of Trokair - Seems like an obvious include in any deck playing :symw: . I have yet to get one because it's price tag for it's effect in EDH/Commander isn't worth the corner cases where it's more than a fancy Plains. It's great in metas where land destruction is a reality. I've only played one person ever running it in my meta so far, and it would have been useful at the time to be ahead by a land while everyone else was recovering. Will probably be the last thing I get for the deck, even after...
- Imperial Seal is another great tutor to have and with the Judge Promo printings is coming into a relatively more reasonable price range. Some day I hope to add this to the deck.
- Scrubland is pretty self explanatory. The land base is a toolkit to the extreme and still tends to offer enough colored mana when you need it. But, Scrubland will eventually find it's way into the deck when most other priorities have been resolved.
As players visit and discuss their ideas and experiences in the thread, I am quite often asked what I think or feel about certain cards or why I don't run something. Some of them are cards I have tried in the past, which have exited the deck for various reasons including optimization and just not aligning with the deck's goals. Others are at times seemingly obvious includes for these colors, that in practice I actually feel are overrated or don't necessarily belong here for some reason or another.
- Academy Rector - wonderful for finding Necropotence to let you draw massive amounts of cards, or Angelic Renewal, freeing up other tutors to find Sun Titan for a combo. If you choose to play Martyr's Bond, Grave Pact or Dictate of Erebos she becomes invaluable. However, because I have so many ways to clear the board, over time and a lot of testing I have removed cards such as Grave Pact from the deck, leaving me with only four enchantments (only three of which matter much in the mid to late game). Because it has so few targets, I wanted to put something more fun and meaningful in it's spot.
- Cabal Coffers - Obviously is a powerful land, but suffers outside of Mono- :symb: decks. While I do run Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, you require 4x Swamp to net profit from Cabal Coffers without Urborg. If you draw Cabal Coffers early on in the game without Urborg, it's basically a dead draw. If you make an effort to get both Urborg and Cabal Coffers on the battlefield, you spent effort to find those instead of important utility lands like Maze of Ith and Kor Haven to protect against Commander damage; or Volrath's Stronghold to protect against graveyard hate. Ultimately, by the time Cabal Coffers should be of any value to you in this deck, you should be approaching the point of putting the game away, anyway. In general, Cabal Coffers is just not worth the risk of sitting on your field as a dead land when it could be something else.
- Emeria, the Sky Ruin - Is pretty powerful, but you will more than likely never have the required 7 Plains on the battlefield to warrant playing it. I have not found this to be better than any of the utility lands, and it is also slow to tap for only :wmana: mana as it comes into play tapped.
- Grave Pact - And similar effects such as Martyr's Bond, Dictate of Erebos and Butcher of Malakir. I used to run these, and there's no doubt they can be powerful. The problem is that as soon as any of these hit the battlefield, you're Public Enemy #1. If an opponent is running spot removal for Enchantments (or permanents in general), it doesn't last very long. This card is by and far political suicide to play, and is the most valuable when you can constantly be sacrificing creatures to chain trigger it's effect. Another issue, though, is that it gives your opponents a choice that you generally want to reserve for yourself. You often find yourself wanting to choose which creatures they control die, because more often than not hey have creature with their own ramifications for dying. Maybe you don't want them to go back in the graveyard and end up helping them comboing off or advancing their board state.
- Knight of the White Orchid - A 2-drop it may be, but being a deck that needs far more Black mana than White mana, I'd much rather be putting mana into Weathered Wayfarer to find any land. Sure the Plains the Knight fetches doesn't come into play tapped, but if I really wanted to go that route and were worried about finding basic lands, I'd go with Kor Cartographer, instead. Even so, the deck runs a rather small amount of basic lands. To get the most out of him you have to sacrifice him and reanimate him later in the game when opponents may well have more lands than you. Weathered Wayfarer and Kor Cartographer are both much better at getting the right lands on the battlefield.
- Magus of the Will - As excited as many players were when it was first shown because it's only the second time the Yawgmoth's Will effect has been put on a card, it's simply too fragile, too mana intensive and too slow. As it sits on the table with a paltry body waiting a turn to activate, it's easily picked off. If you happen to put it onto the battlefield via Corpse Dance or Necromancy at Instant-speed, you've already paid and still have to pay another to activate it before even casting any spells with it. Many look at Yawg's Will and don't realize it's value or effectiveness because it exiles Instants or Sorceries, but even more so consider the amount of mana required to make it really useful. Yawg's Will is amazing and absolutely worth it in the end game, but taking more away than you would normally have to cast spells to give it Haste and to hope it sticks on the board otherwise simply isn't realistic or great in almost any deck.
- Oblivion Ring - O-Ring has a tendency to bring back it's targets to haunt us later. When casting Austere Command or Merciless Eviction and really needing to activate the Enchantment removal mode, having an O-Ring removed only to bring back an important something you exiled with it earlier in the game is no good. Faith's Fetters was substituted in for O-Ring for a time, because Fetters deals with the problem by rendering it inert. Faith's Fetters can also target utility lands such as Maze of Ith or result in Planeswalkers coming back with refreshed Loyalty. However an increase in good spot removal has rendered both obsolete.
Below are cards that were in the main list at one point but were cut due to obsolescence, or cards that have been tested at one time that had potential but weren't quite as good as other available options.
- Eldrazi Displacer - While he was exciting at a glance and enabled bouncing Karmic Guide a few times, it more often than not ended sitting in hand waiting for a good target, or; the Colorless mana requirement made it worse than anticipated. Most of the Colorless mana in the deck comes from utility lands, which are better being used for said utility.
- Kaya, Ghost Assassin - Being one of our only Orzhov Planeswalkers, I was quite excited. She had built in evasion and long term card advantage. Unfortunately there is just so many other things I'd rather cast when I have her that over time it became obvious she wasn't quite up to par. The deck doesn't particularly care about making opponents discard cards and it draws negative attention, and small life drain is too small to take advantage of with Vizkopa Guildmage. The deck wants to be a giant puzzle with pieces that can interlock any which way, and Kaya sadly just doesn't fit into that plan.
- Sorin, Grim Nemesis - A recent cut from the main deck, this is still one of the best Planeswalkers available to the deck. Ultimately Sorin was cut to make room for Razaketh, the Foulblooded because while he provided card draw and inevitability, Razaketh just flat out finds combo pieces to win. The other options to take out were simply more effective to what the deck wants to do than Sorin. He's a very cheap Planeswalker, however, and superb for those building on a budget!
- Ugin, the Spirit Dragon - Currently I've started to run Austere Command in his place, once again. Many games were won off of the back of Ugin during the time which I was playing him. He may yet find his way back into the deck. He can almost immediately rein in a degenerate board state against most decks, while you sacrifice any important Colored creatures so they don't get exiled by his -X, as well.
- Mana Crypt - Excitement from it being reprinted in Eternal Masters found me sliding it into the main deck for a while, but the truth is that in the early game the Colorless mana just doesn't help that much. In the mid and late game, we have access to plentiful colorless mana due to various synergies and effects. Mana Crypt is best in aggressive decks, which this is not. Sure, some god-hand including Mana Crypt can lend you to dropping a Sheoldred, Whispering One on Turn 1 or 2 via reanimation. But what are you even doing with most of the cards in the deck that early anyway? Just losing political points, really. It's a good card, but the wrong deck.
- Sensei's Divining Top - When Sorin, Grim Nemesis was in the deck for a while, it was great synergy with him and Volrath's Stronghold. However, outside of those and Enlightened Tutor and Vampiric Tutor, it is very limited in scope in how much it helps the deck run. Scroll Rack is simply better for the deck, and with the main synergy and reason to run it being a card no longer in the deck, it was time to take it out. Ultimately it just adds to turn time and helps slow down games that are already often long and grindy due to the nature of playing this version of Ayli.
- Approach of the Second Sun - It's seldom that alternative win conditions can slide right into a deck without thinking about it. That is the case with Ayli and Approach, but ultimately I took it out and put Sepulchral Primordial back in the deck. Sepulchral does what Ayli wants to do, while Approach gains some life and you sit around waiting to know it won't be countered or lost. In the time that I tested it, I never actually won the game with it because I had Ayli's typical lines of play in front of me and it would have been foolish to disrupt that for a cutesy maybe win off of it. I think it's a fun card that could be great in a budget build that can't afford some of the win conditions in the normal deck. But that's as far as it shall go.
- Magister of Worth - I love everything about this card. The artwork, the fun moments it creates. But it was truly a card that I had an extremely hard time finding the right time to put on the battlefield. The very few times that I've used it, the answer was pretty clear and in the favor of prolonging the game. Very little did it seem that there was any need to mull over how to vote. I'm sad that my foil, signed one is now sitting in my binder unplayed, but given how little it's effect caused a real splash, I haven't been able to justify replacing anything with it. I'm still on the lookout for a reason to justify pushing it back into the primary list. It can be an incredibly fun card. My meta and usuals just don't allow for many of those moments.
- Panharmonicon - Here is a card that seems like it should be an obvious include in a deck like Ayli, but like many retirees or honorable mentions, it simply ended up being a "Win More" card. It's not necessary, and doesn't even necessarily make it easier. It's effectiveness is hampered by the fact that the cards it works the best with are cards that you can already easily abuse, and by the time those cards come online and you're ready to get on that train the game is quickly approaching it's terminus. Many recursion pieces are getting costly to buy, which does make Panharmonicon great for the budget build to give it some more oomph.
- Tree of Perdition - It seems like an obvious inclusion with it's big butt that can gain Ayli a ton of health (and even more so after having activated it on a player), but it is very limited in it's ability to stay around long enough to be effective due to not having Haste and being an obvious target to remove. Ideally I wanted to activate Vizkopa Guildmage's second ability, activate Tree of Perdition to make it's toughness incredibly high, then sacrifice it to Ayli to gain gain a ton of life and basically kill the table. Unfortunately it's far too slow and it's synergy with the rest of the deck is very minimal. It's still a neat card, to be sure.
- Profane Command - At one time this was a secondary finisher to Exsanguiinate, but with better reanimation and removal effects out there it simply became obsolete. It only targets one player, which is an issue in itself. It's reanimation mode is too costly to consider, and giving creatures Fear and a single creature -X/-X until end of turn is below average at best in a format of giants and going wide. There's a few X-cost spells that could effectively be finishers, but over time I've simply found Profane Command to be less and less impressive.
- Black Sun's Zenith - My sweeper package has always been rather flexible and changes as my meta evolves. BSZ finds it's way into the deck for long stretches of time, and is only sitting on the bench because my current suite of sweepers is the best for me personally at the moment!
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim EDH Playlist
"Momma Sed", by Puscifer
"Forsaken", by David Draiman of Disturbed
"I Am Dust", by Gary Numan
"And The Sky Began To Scream", by How To Destroy Angels
"The Wretched", by Nine Inch Nails
"A Place In The Dirt", by Marilyn Manson
"Antistar", by Massive Attack
"Beware", by Deftones
June 16th 2016
+Sensei's Divining Top
Been wanting to put in SDT since I put Sorin, Grim Nemesis in. Imp's Mischief has only been used in very few corner cases, and they were generally not a big impact. SDT will allow more control of the draw and what Sorin draws with his +1, in addition to the synergy Sorin has with Volrath's Stronghold.
June 22nd 2016
-Kozilek, the Great Distortion
+Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed
It finally happened! I was finally able to get my hands on Xiahou Dun. Kozilek was in testing and on the chopping block after finding that he was far too situational for the deck. Xiahou will enable much more abusive plays being his own sac outlet and having the ability to return any Black card from the graveyard to your hand. Adjusted the lists above accordingly.
July 26th 2016
Praetor's Grasp was put into the deck during a time when I was playing in a meta wherein fast combo decks were out of control. Against anything else, the card becomes a pain as I spend so long searching through other player's decks. I've been looking for room to include Anguished Unmaking as an additional source of spot removal for permanents, and this was the obvious choice. Currently looking to make room for Tree of Perdition, and may be cutting a land to do so.
July 30th 2016
+Tree of Perdition
While searching for a permanent spot for Tree of Perdition, the most obvious choice based on testing had been Eldrazi Displacer. The reason for this is that while it's great for abusing ETB effects, seldom is it something I go out of my way to find or play over another creature or effect. Another issue is that many of the same lands that tap for :symc: are the same utility lands with abilities I prefer to keep open for when I need them. While a few games have resulted in being able to abuse Eldrazi Displacer to great effect, the majority of time I err on the side of caution and don't play him because the :symc: mana available is on lands such as Cavern of Souls, Volrath's Stronghold, Phyrexian Tower etc. For this reason, I've chosen to bench Eldrazi Placer to bring in Tree of Perdition full time.
Tree of Perdition has proven to be an amazingly fun political card, as well as offer plentiful combo opportunities. It is extremely effective as soon as it is able to use it's activated ability, and I will be adding a combo that includes Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim + Vizkopa Guildmage + Tree of Perdition to Part 04: Card Interactions and Combos. With Ayli on the board, if you do not get to activate the Tree before it is targeted with removal, you can sacrifice it for a significant life gain of 13. This puts Ayli above the threshold to activate her ability. It is hard to kill without direct creature removal, and because it must be responded to, it encourages opponents to use their targeted removal early in the game for fear of being the target of the Tree's activated ability. While some compare it to Sorin Markov, it is worth noting that it is easier to remove and cannot activate the turn it comes into play without Haste effects, which I currently do not employ in my list because Ayli is so easy to bring back and I just sacrifice everything for benefit if it's targeted by removal, anyway.
September 26th, 2016
-Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
-Magister of Worth
+Geier Reach Sanitarium
+Demon of Dark Schemes
Mikokoro/Geier Reach Sanitarium: One thing the list has lacked is ways to discard cards in your hand when there are often times you'd rather have them in your graveyard. Geier Reach Sanitarium is nearly functionally the same as Mikokoro, Center of the Sea, except that it loots instead of plainly draws a card. That is to say, you draw a card and then discard a card. The bonus is that while discarding benefits you, it also requires opponents who draw to discard a card as well. This means they could be discarding lands, or they could be discarding answers or valuable reanimation targets. This is a change I would recommend for any build, especially a Stax package that runs Waste Not for value.
Orzhov Guildgate/Concealed Courtyard: The Orzhov Guildgate fits thematically, but so does the Concealed Courtyard. More importantly, though, is that one is slightly better than the other. Concealed Courtyard has the potential to enter the battlefield untapped, even though the majority of the time it will enter tapped. This is opposed to the Orzhov Guildgate which will always enter tapped and lacks that potential. For the sake of inking out every bit of efficiency, I'll be replacing Orzhov Guildgate with Concealed Courtyard.
Bitter Ordeal/Panharmonicon: Making changes and updating the list is becoming increasingly difficult as new sets come out. One of the biggest things I look at is how often I have to wait to use a card or how useful it will be by itself while not being part of a combo. Bitter Ordeal made it into the deck because of Combo being huge in a shop I was playing at. It was a meta call. That meta has since shifted. It was also a win condition with any infinite recursion loop. Unlike Profane Command or Exanguinate, Bitter Ordeal has been very limited in what it can do and often sits in my hand. With that in mind, I've decided to try Panharmonicon in it's place. The deck operates off of ETB triggers, and doubling them should prove to be extremely powerful. Panharmonicon effects everyone and as such is somewhat of a group hug card, meaning that instead of political suicide, it may get passed over as others may want to try to abuse it and use it against you. This is an experimental change and I'll be posting an updates as I test the effectiveness of this card.
Magister of Worth/Demon of Dark Schemes: As with finding a spot for Panharmonicon, this too was a very painful decision to make. I love my release promo Magister of Worth, but I have never found myself wanting to tutor for it, and it is one of those creatures that sits in my hand waiting for an excuse to play it. It is a personal flex slot in the deck that I'm now filling with Demon of Dark Schemes. The Demon has an immediate effect as soon as he enters the battlefield, wiping out mana dorks, tokens, most Elves and a lot of other stuff, too. He rewards you with Energy for doing so, which you can then use to pull your opponent's creatures from their graveyard to play with under your own control. He serves four purposes: A mini-boardwipe; a big flying beatstick; easy Energy generation; and reanimation. While Magister of Worth can create fun moments, she more often than not sits in your hand waiting to be worth being played. Demon of Dark Schemes provides immediate value and fun, and can even create infinite Energy generation when present after setting off an infinite recursion loop.
Other Current Considerations for Inclusion:
Angel of Invention, Marionette Master, Thalia's Lancers
Both the Angel of Invention and Marionette Master can go infinite in the deck and provide a lot of triggers. The biggest consideration is that they don't do anything by themselves, which means they probably won't be granted a spot. Thalia's Lancers is a card that can search for several key utility cards including Creatures and Lands. The biggest issue with finding a spot is that without recursion, it simply sits on the battlefield. All three cards are excellent, but after the rest of the changes today, I do not feel there is anything to be cut from the deck. The only possible cuts are Sorin, Grim Nemesis and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, but their impact upon hitting the battlefield is so strong that it is impossible to consider removing them for any of these three creatures.
Dec 29th, 2016
-Demon of Dark Schemes
+Magus of the Will
+Recruiter of the Guard
Discussion about these changes can be found here: http://www.mtgsalvation.com/forums/the- ... omment=102
Dec 29th, 2016
-Magus of the Will
Discussion about these changes can be found here: http://www.mtgsalvation.com/forums/the- ... omment=120
+Kaya, Ghost Assassin
After a long time, I was finally able to get a Kaya. Every time I've played her I've loved her and I see her being another card advantage engine in the deck. I'm not sure exactly at what point I made this change, but I recall cutting Exquisite Archangel for something and the only thing I can think of that I would have replaced it with is her. So, that is that!
April 24th, 2017
+Knight-Captain of Eos
Discussion about these changes can be found here: http://www.mtgsalvation.com/forums/the- ... omment=177
June 12th, 2017 - Hour of Devastation Changes
-Tree of Perdition
+Sidisi, Undead Vizier
Notes and discussion of changes here: http://www.mtgsalvation.com/forums/the- ... omment=223
December 8th, 2017 - Hour of Devastation Changes
-Sorin, Grim Nemesis
-Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
-Approach of the Second Sun
-Sense's Divining Top
+Razaketh, the Foulblooded
These changes overall were made to get the deck more back to it's roots to focus on having many options and being focused on a reanimator aspect. The hardest to cut here was Sorin because his effects are pretty great, but I knew I was taking Ugin out for Austere Command again to have another modal sweeper spell. That left Sorin at around the same mana cost bracket and in the same spirit of card advantage. Razaketh's tutoring ability is too good to pass up, as he can easily find every single combo piece the deck ever needs. With Sorin going out, Sensei's Divining Top made far less sense as it's synergy was mainly the best with him. Lastly, as fun and cute as Approach of the Second sun is, I ultimately decided it just doesn't fit into the grand scheme of how the deck wants to win. In it's place, I returned Toxic Deluge due to recent involvement in a local Commander League. My sweeper suite, as always, is adjusted for the needs of my meta or current activities with the deck. Ugin could very well find his way back at a later date
December 5th, 2018 - Guilds of Ravnica Changes
-Mangara of Corondor
-Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
+Gift of Immortality
+Gray Merchant of Asphodel
+Krav, the Unredeemed
It's been quite a long time since I've committed any changed to my list, but after some lengthy testing I'm ready to announce a few cuts and additions!
1. Mangara of Corondor OUT; Leonin Relic-Warder IN
For quite a while, I haven't felt great about drawing Mangara. While they has been the occasion where I've been able to machine-gun down permanents by combining Mangara with combo pieces, the turn it takes to make him active has too often resulted in him being removed or no longer around to do his job. Enter Leonin Relic-Warder. The deck has plenty of ways to deal with Creatures, but only a small number of ways of dealing with Artifacts and Enchantments. He can use the Fiend Hunter trick to exile his targets permanently, but also comes down for allowing you to put a giant wrench in the gears of decks that use Mana Crypt and such to ramp ahead fast. He is also an infinite loop with Necromancy or Gift of Immortality and a sac outlet.
2. Nezumi Graverobber OUT; Gift of Immortality IN
The Graverobber has been a long time patron of the deck since it's inception. However, he has lost favor over time with his mana intensive ability and the difficulty of getting him to flip outside of Turn 1-3. His reanimation ability is fantastic, but ultimately the problem is that the format has sped up since the days he made it into the list. The format has become extremely popular since the early days of this deck, and so more and more content creators and players are pushing optimized decks. More "tier" decks and "competitive" lists means being unable to afford such a large mana investment that looks uncertain, now. Hell's Caretaker was up for consideration for it's place, but ultimately Gift of Immortality felt the best in testing. It combos with Sun Titan, Fiend Hunter and the newly added Leonin Relic-Warder, and is great for recovering from a board wipe, and costs little mana to do so.
3. Faith's Fetters OUT; Grey Merchant of Asphodel IN
"Gary" has long been a consideration for the deck, but it's always been a matter of what to take out for him. Over time with the addition of Anguished Unmaking and Utter End, I've increased the total single target removal that can hit any problem permanents. Occasionally Faith's Fetters would come in handy, particularly in niche cases where I didn't want whatever the permanent was to die. This scenario has become so few and far in between, however, that it finally made sense to take it out and bring in Gary, especially because life drain has become more important. As mentioned in the case of Nezumi Graverobber above, the speed of decks in Commander has been on the rise. Not only is Gary often times a win condition in himself with reanimation shenanigans, but the life drain can offset hits taken early in the game or the use of Necropotence and Toxic Deluge.
4. Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter OUT; Krav, the Unredeemed IN
Another part of the speed of the format rising is attempting to shed large expensive cards that don't do much by themselves, as well as finding more card draw. Vish Kal has been a staple sac outlet in the deck since very early on, but in truth has aged poorly. He is neat and flavorful, but Krav has come to replace him as not only a sac outlet, but life gain and card draw, for significantly cheaper mana investment. I have been very impressed with Krav. I have no plans to run his partner.