Clerics are the flavor of the week right now with Orah, Skyclave Hierophant offering a great new Commander for Cleric tribal builds. Ever the contrarian, I’ve decided to revisit Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim instead. She’s just so damn cool.
Ayli is first and foremost a rewarding play experience, and I think that’s one of the reasons I’m always so drawn to her. Unlike some of the newer value engines we see in the Command Zone, she asks us to jump through some number of hoops in order to achieve our goal.
Once we’re on fifty life or higher, we still need a steady stream of creatures to sacrifice to use her exile mode. There’s no way we can afford to keep free-rolling Utter End and expect to be able to pay for it enough to keep three opponents down, so we also need an actual win condition outside of combat damage.
Orah gives the deck a new angle, and though he isn’t in the Command Zone, we will be dipping our toes into Cleric tribal enough to enjoy both Orah’s free reanimation, and cost reduction from the excellent Edgewalker. We’re also using Relic Vial. In conjunction with Bastion of Remembrance, I like the idea of trying some less fragile versions of the Zulaport Cutthroat effect to see if they can stick around longer.
I’m honestly surprised I’ve not seen anyone talk about breaking Orah yet; a quick think tells me in Esper colors at least he can keep looping with Phantasmal Image and Ashes of the Fallen or Conspiracy. The fact I’ve not seen any deep dives says a lot about how quick the format moves from new card to new card these days!
Before sitting down to jam out a decklist, I decided to look back on the two previous iterations I’ve built to get some ideas. The first list is pretty outdated now, and was focused on a “good stuff” build. It had various ways to win, from looping Kokusho, the Evening Star to making infinite life with Crackdown Construct and Lightning Greaves.
As well as picking out things that I definitely wanted to play again, like Children of Korlis, Revival // Revenge and Authority of the Consuls, I could also look back and decide “hey, I’ve already done this before. Let’s try something new.” Whenever you’re building in a similar space to something you’ve tried before, it’s good to diverge.
The other list I’d built previously was a tokens/aristocrats style build. This was a more relaxed list, and was built around having fun with cards like Divine Visitation and Requiem Angel. I’d really enjoyed playing this list, and it was hard to divorce myself from some of the more fun lines when it came to rebuilding this time around.
The conclusion I came to was to simply build a token deck with the cards that didn’t make the cut. I’m not saying this like it’s some huge revelation, but I think it bears mentioning that this is an option, and one people don’t take nearly often enough. It can make you feel better about cutting fun cards, and makes the cutting process a lot easier because you know that a lot of the cards you cut can find a new home almost immediately.
The final decklist looks a little something like this. We managed to get to a healthy 21 Clerics, and still include some of the best creatures to sacrifice to Ayli, like Archon of Justice and Ashen Rider. Ayli also gives us a readily available sacrifice outlet in the Command Zone, so we’re encouraged to run all of the cards that set up triggers and can be abused to ensure their leaves trigger resolves first — think Leonin Relic-Warder, Skyclave Apparition and Fiend Hunter.
What I’m most excited about running in the deck is undoubtedly the Lithoform Engine. Here it acts as a pure value engine, giving us many ways to double up on all of the effects that the deck enjoys. From Ayli’s exile, to our many ETB and dies triggers, to some of our powerful spells like Revival//Revenge, this thing can do it all. Even copying a Soul Snare or Village Rites will prove profitable, and I can’t wait to play with it more.
Of course, we’re running Illusionist’s Bracers, too, as being able to double up our Commander’s key ability is right where we want to be. On the off chance we can double up our Weathered Wayfarer to fetch both Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth? Gravy. Speaking of those solid lands, we’re running Manascape Refractor to double up on some of our more useful effects, from Phyrexian Tower to Ancient Tomb.
To take advantage of our many trips in and out of the graveyard, we’re using repeatable recursion where possible. Between the on board effects on Orah, Luminous Broodmoth and Athreos, and our repeatable effects like Phyrexian Reclamation, we should in theory struggle to run out of cards provided our graveyard stays intact.
Plenty of our creatures have inbuilt recursion anyway, and where possible, we’ll be trying to refill our hand from their sacrifices anyway. Skullclamp and Village Rites are cheap ways to draw, and Species Specialist can take advantage of the high number of both Clerics and Humans in the deck. Tymna is just solid, and if you can afford to run her, you really should.
Winning the Game
When running a Commander like Ayli, having a solid win condition is essential. Some games we will be able to just smash face with our bigger bodies and take someone out, but more often than not, we will be forced to play a slower and more deliberate game.
We can afford to do so, however, as between our Commander and the nine creatures we run with removal strapped to them, we should be able to keep on top of things by just playing out our bodies.
One of the ways we can take a player out in this build is by using Vito’s ability to ensure the Revenge half of Revival // Revenge is able to instantly knock out a player whose life total is within range. If we’re on twenty, that means we double to forty, and halve an opponent’s life total. Vito then triggers, and wants them to lose an additional twenty life.
Of course, that combo only really deals with one player, unless we get really lucky and manage to use Lithoform Engine to copy it. Our more reliable win conditions are still Command the Dreadhorde and Aetherflux Reservoir.
Command the Dreadhorde can use the life we’ve gained to pick and choose what we’d like to bring back to the battlefield to fight for us by rifling through everybody’s graveyards. As much as I’d have liked to fit a copy of Gideon’s Sacrifice in to make this work even better, I couldn’t quite find a space for it, and especially with me not running any blind tutors, it didn’t seem worth the slot — it’s a good option though, so give it some thought.
Aetherflux Reservoir is now synonymous with lifegain decks, and needs little explanation. It can be both a source of lifegain and a way to use it, and in our deck it serves as a way to get rid of a problem player — and again, if we have Lithoform Engine? Maybe two!
I Ship It
The final card I’d like to mention as being great for this type of deck is Conqueror’s Galleon. On the front side, if we need to, we can crew it and then sacrifice it to Ayli to gain a nice ten life. It’s no Tree of Perdition, but it’s still pretty good.
On the back side, however, we get some action. Being able to loot, draw, or buy back a card from our graveyard is incredibly good in an Orzhov deck, and between our access to big mana with Cabal Coffers, and our ability to have two copies of this land going with Manascape Refractor, I think it’s a really strong pick.
Oh, and with Lithoform Engine? Well, you get it. Card’s good.
The Cutting Room Floor
Of course, beyond the cards I’ve already discussed that didn’t make it, there were a multitude that didn’t make it. Cards like Demonic Tutor and Dictate of Erebos were easy cuts as I wasn’t aiming to go super hard; Tidehollow Sculler, while good with Ayli’s sacrifice outlet, was similarly a little spikey.
Attended Healer, though a good Cleric, fits much better in the tokens build I’m going to try next with Regna, the Redeemer and Krav, the Unredeemed. Likewise, incidental lifegain payoffs like Well of Lost Dreams and Heliod, Sun-Crowned didn’t quite fit in the end either, as I was going for a tribal cleric subtheme rather than a mechanical sub theme.
I also ended up cutting the cheap reanimation spells, as most of my curve is pretty easy to recur through other means, and they’d be best suited to the higher CMC of the tokens deck Commanders I’m hoping to build next. Kaya’s Guile is a card I just really love, and wish people would play more, but it didn’t do enough in this build.
The only card I really feel I’m missing is Starlit Sanctum. I don’t have a copy to hand, but it’ll be going straight into the deck as soon as I get one.
After building Ayli for the third time, I’m still more in love than ever with her design. As well as providing some fun gameplay hoops to jump through, she’s only two mana. Two mana Commanders are some of the most exciting ones out there thanks to the fact you’ll generally get to cast them more often.
I’ve just built a Treasure-themed artifact build with Akiri, Line–Slinger and Silas Renn, Seeker Adept, and being able to cast cheap Commanders just always feels good. When you can reduce their costs with cards like Edgewalker, they get even more exciting. Ayli’s free the first time with Edgewalker, which is bonkers when you think about it. Kor Blimey!
The deckbuilding process this time around also provided me with enough direction to slide straight into another parallel deck, and being able to salvage the cuts into another deck always feels good. Next time you’re struggling to make cuts, give it a go — you might happen upon an idea for another great deck.
Let me know on Twitter how you’re planning on building Clerics, and what your experiences are when making those painful cuts in the deckbuilding process.