Devoted To Ayara: Sacrificing Creatures For Fun And Profit

Casting costs that require three or more of one color often restrict deck building, but for Autumn Burchett, all they need is Swamps! Could Ayara, First of Locthwain make Mono-Black viable in Throne of Eldraine Standard?

I am very excited to see what form black decks take inThrone of Eldraine Standard.
The Orzhov and Rakdos guilds from Ravnica Allegiance both present a bunch of compelling
sacrifice-orientated synergies, meanwhile Murderous Rider helps make more
midrangey black decks an incredibly appealing prospect too. Among all this,
Ayara, First of Locthwain presents herself as a powerful tool, albeit one
that asks for very real sacrifices with her harsh mana cost.

Two things were very immediately striking about this card when I first saw
her. The first is that for a deck with a sacrifice theme, Ayara serves as a
potent self-contained engine. You sacrifice whatever extra bodies you have
lying around in order to draw cards, which draws you towards more creatures
that will trigger Ayara’s first ability when they enter the battlefield.
These triggers gain you life and in doing so keep you alive long enough to
continue getting value drawing cards with her activated ability. If you
keep this going long enough, the damage dealt to your opponent with the
first ability will stack up so much that, supposedly, they will die.
Provided your deck has many black creatures in it, Ayara will get to keep
doing her thing, grinding away until she ensures your victory.

The second thing that stands out about Ayara is that she really wants you
to have Swamps in your deck. Not only is her triple-black mana-cost harsh
to cast, but Ayara actively wants to be on the battlefield as soon as
possible so that you can take advantage of your other creatures triggering
her first ability. Anyone who has played with Goblin Chainwhirler in the
last year will be familiar with the notion that playing even a handful of
non-red sources in your deck with that card can have dire consequences, but
that principle is even more pronounced for Ayara and her black sources
since casting her is much better on the third turn of the game than on any
other. Ayara’s devotion to black is even more pronounced by the first
ability only triggering off your black creatures, compelling you even
further to make your deck as black as possible. Of note, if Theros: Beyond Death features a return of the devotion mechanic or
something similar, these qualities of Ayara could become as much a benefit
as a cost.

If we’re looking to make Ayara’s effect as redundant as possible in a deck,
the card I really want to pair her with is Priest of Forgotten Gods. Priest
works similarly to Ayara in terms of being a self-contained engine,
sacrificing creatures to draw you towards more sacrifice fodder all whilst
killing your opponent. The biggest difference here is that whilst Ayara
gains you life, and in doing so buys you more time to take advantage of
your engine, Priest makes mana whilst sacrificing creatures thus speeding
up your deck in the process. Ayara and Priest together both offer
redundancy of an important effect whilst also complimenting each other –
Ayara’s life gain gives you more time to take advantage of the Priest’s
ability, whilst Priest’s mana generation helps speed up the rate at which
all your other cogs can revolve around Ayara.

This is the most obvious direction to take a sacrifice-theme Ayara deck in.
Cards like Gutterbones, Knight of the Ebon Legion, and Footlight Fiend help
push early damage which both makes the life that you drain from your
opponent later in the game more impactful whilst also setting up some cheap
Blade Jugglers too. There’s a collection of creatures here that are happy
to be sacrificed either due to them bringing other bodies with them or
pinging things when they die, and Midnight Reaper amplifies these benefits
helping make sure you never run out of cards. The amount of card advantage
and things you have to do with your mana in this deck borders on absurd for
a low-curve and reasonably aggressive deck like this which is very
compelling to me.

It’s not particularly obvious which two-drops you want in this deck. I went
with Orzhov Enforcer and Lazotep Reaver to push hard in the direction of
making as many throw-away bodies as possible to sacrifice to Priest and
Ayara, with the fact that Lazotep triggers Ayara’s drain ability twice
being particularly appealing. That said, Lazotep Reaver is a very low
impact card when you don’t assemble the deck’s sacrifice synergies, and the
1/1 Zombie Army token it brings plays poorly with Midnight Reaper, so it’s
possible Yarok’s Fenlurker ends up being more appealing with its
enter-the-battlefield effect helping grind out long games against your
opponents whilst still serving as excellent sacrifice fodder. If you want
to go really deep, Order of Midnight is less explicitly good as early-game
sacrifice fodder, but its evasive body is very appealing and if you ever
assemble a pair of this creature in the late-game, they actually loop with
one another providing an unlimited stream of bodies to feed to Ayara.

Okay, I couldn’t resist Order of Midnight loops all article long.

If we want to iterate on the previous list, and go even further down this
rabbit-hole, Gruesome Menagerie goes very well with such a rag-tag band of
cheap creatures that you’re looking to put into your graveyard anyways.
Menagerie may seem hard to cast with such a low land count, but Midnight
Reaper and Ayara dig you towards your land drops whilst Priest lets you
jump up on mana when needed.

Playing Menagerie means that Blade Juggler is no longer appealing since its
mana cost is much higher than the amount of mana you typically pay to get
the card onto the battlefield. No Blade Juggler makes Footlight Fiend in
turn less appealing since we’re not looking to enable spectacle in the same
way anymore. The move towards Gruesome Menagerie means there’s less
pressure on us to play underpowered creatures like Lazotep Reaver simply to
just have throwaway bodies since we’re now a lot better at rebuilding the
battlefield after a few sacrifices have taken place, which in turn opens up
room for Order of Midnight. The combination of Order of Midnight and
Gruesome Menagerie creates this feeling that your opponent can never keep
you from having a sacrifice outlet on the battlefield, making the deck feel
much more insistent.

The most appealing thing about a Gruesome Menagerie build though, is how
well it uses Plaguecrafter. In the right matchup, getting a couple
Plaguecrafter triggers can be truly back-breaking – here’s looking at you
Feather, the Redeemed. In much the same way that Order and Menagerie help
create the feeling that your opponent can never keep your sacrifice outlets
off the battlefield, so too do these cards provide you ready access to that
second Plaguecrafter trigger once you’ve had caused the first to occur.

One big difference between Ayara and Priest is that whilst Priest requires
you go all-in on the sacrifice synergies, Ayara needs less help and is much
happier to sit there on the battlefield slowly grinding out little bits of
value as the game goes on. So, whilst Priest can never go in a midrange
deck, Ayara can slot in to one nicely – with Dread Presence being another
reason to go Mono-Black in Standard, we have the beginnings of one, too.

This deck leaves me longing for Pack Rat. The two-drop slot here is
definitely what excites me the least with less of an emphasis on
sacrificing your creatures, making Orzhov Enforcer much less appealing
though Order of Midnight continues to intrigue me here for its ability to
return Cavalier of Night to your hand.

It’s possible you can push harder on the value lands with more Witch’s
Cottages, this card being yet another way to let you repeatedly tear apart
your opponent’s battlefield with Cavalier of Night triggers. Witch’s
Cottage is also helpful for reassembling Order of Midnight loops should
they be disrupted, too.

Midnight Reaper is a card the world seems to have forgotten about in the
last few months, but the card honestly felt like a terror in the Golgari
Midrange mirrors back in Guilds of Ravnica Standard to the point
that I was playing the full four Midnight Reapers in my 75 when I took that
deck to the World Magic Cup last year. In these midrange mirrors, it makes
engaging in combat in any way nearly impossible for your opponent whilst it
is sat on the battlefield and as a result ends up being a removal magnet,
drawing you a card in the process and meaning that your more expensive
creatures stand more of a chance of surviving. Midnight Reaper is certainly
good in the more aggressive-leaning decks I suggested earlier, but when
your Reaper is drawing you in to the more expensive, powerful cards that a
midrange deck has access to, it is even more potent as a result.
Considering it is also a Knight, and so has relevant tribal synergies in
some decks too, I would be shocked if Midnight Reaper doesn’t see a large
amount of play in new Standard.

Devoted to Ayara

I’d hoped to finish this article off with some builds of Rakdos and Orzhov
sacrifice-based decks in order to show off Ayara’s power in different
decks, but something became clear very quickly when I was attempting to put
these together – without Dragonskull Summit or Isolated Chapel in the
format, making the mana for such decks work feels nearly impossible. To
create a mana base for a Rakdos deck that gets to cast Ayara but also wants
to play red two-drops, you need four copies of Bloodfell Caves, and then
some number of Rakdos Guildgates on top of that. Maybe you get to play a
couple Mountains, but certainly not many. All these taplands make it that
much harder for you to curve one-drop in to two-drop, which eats into your
deck’s ability to be aggressive as a result. Temple of Silence makes Orzhov
more workable.

The mana issues meant that if you want to play Ayara alongside another
color, that second color needs to be only the lightest of splashes. I could
imagine a world where you splash white for Mortify as an answer to
Experimental Frenzy, and in doing so you get access to Seraph of the Scales
too as another card that works well with sacrifice synergies, but trying to
play a card like Hunted Witness in your Ayara deck is a big mistake. Even
the above decklist, stretching for Tithe Taker and Ministrant of
Obligation, feels like it is stretching things too far realistically, and
at the cost of six lands that enter the battlefield tapped too.

Make no mistake, whilst Ayara is a very strong card, she demands that you
be devoted to black and for you to surround yourself with the power of
basic Swamps. I hope, however, that in doing so, you will be appropriately