Primer Highlight: Kelzam's Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim

Welcome readers, this is a summary snapshot of Kelzam's Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim primer. For the purpose of keeping this article as more of a summary rather than a copy of the primer itself I have trimmed it down to a brief glance at the list rather than copying the entire primer for this article. If you are interested in reading more into the intricacies of this list or please visit the primer for the full details. This article will not be updated as time passes so please refer to the primer to see the most up to date version. Comments for this article will be disabled in an attempt to keep all questions and discussion about this list within the primer.

If you have any input or questions please feel free to follow up with Kelzam in the primer.

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die”

—H.P. Lovecraft, The Nameless City

Section 1.0: Introduction

Who Is Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim?

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 millennia, 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 unravelled 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 Mangara of Corondor 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.

Section 2.0: About Me!

Hey there! I'm Kelzam - formerly known as Xenphire - and I've been playing since roughly Urza's Saga, then eventually went on to create MTG Salvation back in 2005! My first real collection came to me when a friend in middle school became disinterested and handed me a pile of 300 or so various black mana red mana and green mana cards he called his deck. It was a pile of random cards from Mercadian Masques and prior, and the visual aspects really pulled me in. I'll always remember Frozen Shade, Mind Swords, Death Spark, Avatar of Woe, Masticore and in general the artwork from Ice Age through Masques mixed with the aesthetic of the old card frames that really got me attached to the game.

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 white mana black mana . 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.

Section 3.0: So, Why Ayli?

This deck was formerly inspired by Blackjack68's Ghost Council of Orzhova primer. Sadly, Blackjack has not been seen in a very long time, which is sad thing for all of us as he a valued part of our community. Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim came about with Oath of the Gatewatch, and is the only other Legendary Creature in the Orzhov's colors that fits a similar role. While tradition and respect to Blackjack compelled me to leave Ghost Council of Orzhova at the helm, testing has shown there are many benefits to playing Ayli in their place.

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 white mana black mana as opposed to Ghost Council's white mana white manablack manablack mana 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.

Section 4.0: You'll Like (or Dislike) Ayli if...

You'll Enjoy Ayli If:

  • 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 Won't Enjoy Ayli If:

  • 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.

Many decks have a very A-B-C plan, where it's clear cut what the next step should be. The truth is that this Ayli deck is not at all visiting linear points to arrive to your destination, but traveling between various possible points on a network. There are specific combo pieces or synergies, most of which are discussed later on, but it's easy to miss a line off play due to how easily things mesh together. You may have lost a combo piece, find yourself using a part of another combo piece to get the one you lost back, then very well finish the game on a hodgepodge of different synergistic interactions because so many effects play well off of one another.

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.

Section 5.0 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 finfding 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.

Section 6.0: The Deck Itself

Kelzam's Ayli, Eternal PilgrimMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim

Mana Fixing Lands
1 Command Tower
1 Concealed Courtyard
1 Fetid Heath
1 Godless Shrine
1 Isolated Chapel
1 Marsh Flats
7 Plains
7 Swamp
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Utility Lands
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Boseiju Who Shelters All
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Geier Reach Sanitarium
1 High Marke
1 Homeward Path
1 Kor Haven
1 Maze of Ith
1 Mistveil Plains
1 Phyrexian Tower
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Shizo, Death's Storehouse
1 Strip Mine
1 Temple of Silence
1 Volrath's Stronghold

Mana Fixing & Ramp
1 Coalition Relic
1 Expedition Map
1 Fellwar Stone
1 Orzhov Signet
1 Sol Ring
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Wayfarer's Bauble
1 Weathered Wayfarer

1 Demonic Tutor
1 Enlightened Tutor
1 Entomb
1 Recruiter of the Guard
1 Razaketh, the Foulblooded
1 Rune-Scarred Demon
1 Sidisi, Undead Vizier
1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Angelic Renewal
1 Argivian Find
1 Beacon of Unrest
1 Corpse Dance
1 Karmic Guide
1 Necromancy
1 Nezumi Graverobber
1 Nim Deathmantle
1 Puppeteer Clique
1 Reveillark
1 Sepulchral Primordial
1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
1 Sun Titan
1 Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed
1 Yawgmoth's Will

Sac Outlets
1 Ashnod's Altar
1 Blasting Station
1 Spawning Pit
1 Viscera Seer
1 Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter

Additional Draw
1 Necropotence
1 Phyrexian Arena
1 Scroll Rack
1 Skullclamp

Spot Removal
1 Angel of Serenity
1 Anguished Unmaking
1 Archon of Justice
1 Ashen Rider
1 Fiend Hunter
1 Faith's Fetters
1 Mangara of Corondor
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Utter End
1 Vindicate

1 Austere Command
1 Damnation
1 False Prophet
1 Merciless Eviction
1 Toxic Deluge

Utility Creatures
1 Knight-Captain of Eos
1 Merciless Executioner
1 Resassembling Skeleton
1 Vizkopa Guildmage
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Yosei, the Morning Star

1 Exsanguinate
1 Kokusho, the Evening Star

Section 6.1: Playing Stats

Average CMC: 3.53

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.

Want more? The primer thread goes on for an in depth strategy guide to playing the deck. Visit the primer for a plethora of more information, as well as to add any questions or comments. All credit for the above content goes to Kelzam. Many thanks to him, and thanks to you for reading!