Tribal Clerics With Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is quickly becoming one of the most beloved legends in Oath of the Gatewatch. Bennie Smith takes her in a new direction in his newest Commander project!

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<p>When <a href=Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim was first spoiled, she confused a lot of tournament Spikes out there because she looked like a Commander card. That last ability in particular – Ayli’s “quest” reward, if you will – threw people off because lifegain as a focus isn’t generally considered worthy of Tier 1-caliber tournament decks. It didn’t take long, though, before Spikes realized that even if you never get to use that last ability, Ayli is chock full of value. Now multiple copies can be seen in the Four-Color Rally decks that are dominating Standard.

There is no daylight without Ayli.

Make no mistake, though… Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is very much a Commander card! Commander fans instantly saw her purpose, her destiny, the reason why she was created. She was the Commander we’d been looking for to finally pull together the tribal Cleric deck we’ve wanted to make since the beginning of the format. The fact that she was so stuffed with value at such a cheap mana cost meant that she was so worth the wait!

Clerical Skills

Starlit Sanctum, Dark Supplicant, Battlefield Medic, Daru Spiritualist, Cabal Archon, Edgewalker, Master Apothecary, Rotlung Reanimator, Whipgrass Entangler, Akroma’s Devoted, Doubtless One, Vile Deacon, Ancestor’s Prophet, Battletide Alchemist, Celestial Gatekeeper, Gangrenous Goliath, Shieldmage Elder, Scion of Darkness

Way back in 2002-2003, the Onslaught block (Onslaught, Legions, and Scourge) brought creature type “tribal” themes front and center in card set design. One of the tribes supported in the block were Clerics, and these cards were spread out over white and black. Pretty much all the “Clerics matter” tribal cards come from those three sets, with a couple of notable exceptions. The wonderful thing about Ayli is that we can now bring those tribal synergies together under a Commander that can support and benefit from those strategies.

When researching these cards, Daru Spiritualist popped up and reminded me of an “arbitrarily large” lifegain combo from way back in the day involving Daru Spiritualist, Starlit Sanctum, and the equipment card Shuko. Basically, you target Daru Spiritualist with the equip ability of Shuko – which cost zero mana – over and over again, gaining two points of toughness each time, and when you’re done, you sacrifice it to Starlit Sanctum to gain however much life you wanted.

While there are plenty of ways for people to kill you in Commander even if you have a million life, it’s certainly nice to have a way to more or less turn on Ayli’s second activated ability for the rest of the game. Since we already want Daru Spiritualist and Starlit Sanctum in our Cleric deck, I think we can find room for one little piece of equipment for the chance to go nuts.

Rotlung Reanimator does a ton of heavy lifting when feeding Ayli’s first activated ability while also giving you some resistance to sweepers. Battletide Alchemist is a very potent Cleric tribal card printed in Morningtide that does incredible work in the deck. All by itself, you get to shut down any number of 1/1 token creatures that you choose. That’s the real power—you get to choose whether to prevent the damage to a player from any source that’s dealing it.

With enough Clerics on your battlefield, you can really start to control who gets to attack whom. I actually had a Dark Supplicant / Scion of Darkness Standard (or rather, Type 2) deck way back in the day, and I can confirm that powering out Scion of Darkness early feels pretty good, especially if Rotlung Reanimator turns the sacrificial Clerics into 2/2 Zombies.

Being able to recur Gangrenous Goliath was pretty sweet back in the day, but creatures have gotten a lot better since then. I’m not entirely sure he’s worth the mana and the card slot. For Cleric tribal completeness I’m going to give him a shot, but he’s on double secret probation!

Supporting the Mission

Stoneforge Masterwork, Urza’s Incubator, Door of Destinies, Patriarch’s Bidding, Obelisk of Urd

Stoneforge Masterwork is a sweet new piece of equipment for any tribal deck that does extra good work alongside Ayli’s first activated ability. Urza’s Incubator is standard tribal fare, but Clerics get an extra bonus card of this ilk in Edgewalker, which can combine with Urza’s Incubator to make a lot of your deck cost zero mana. I like Door of Destinies quite a bit, but I’m always nervous about including Coat of Arms, since I worry about it helping opponents with token swarm decks more than my own creatures. A few notables are missing, like Adaptive Automaton, which was just a victim of way too many cards at three mana I wanted more, and Brass Herald, which I don’t like too much outside of Golem tribal without more ways of stacking my own library.

Gather the Clergy

Devoted Caretaker, Planar Guide, Weathered Wayfarer, Martyr of Sands, Mother of Runes, Soul Warden, Soul’s Attendant, Auriok Champion, Beacon of Destiny, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, Grand Abolisher, High Priest of Penance, Shaman En-Kor, Skirsdag High Priest, Disciple of Griselbrand, War Priest of Thune, Withered Wretch, Doomed Necromancer, Frontline Medic; Liliana, Heretical Healer; Order of Whiteclay, Fiend Hunter, Scholar of Athreos, Academy Rector, Ancestor’s Chosen

There are a ton of high-quality Cleric creatures that warrant spots in any Commander deck, much less one dedicated to the creature type. What’s particularly nice is how many of these cards gain you life, something that Ayli pays off quite nicely: Martyr of Sands, Soul Warden, Soul’s Attendant, and Auriok Champion. Disciple of Griselbrand even (almost) mimics Ayli’s first activated ability!

I was surprised to find that Eight-and-a-Half-Tails was a Cleric. If you were around when it was Standard-legal, you’ll recall that with enough mana, this card can really do some serious work controlling the battlefield. Skirsdag High Priest is incredible in our Ayli deck, since you’ll be able to turn on morbid pretty much at will and churn out 5/5 flying Demons.

When I saw that Academy Rector was a Cleric, I was curious if there were any enchantments we may want to fetch up, considering that Ayli can sacrifice Academy Rector when needed. One card that seemed like a solid bet would be No Rest for the Wicked, basically making Academy Rector a protector against sweepers. Then I thought about Enduring Renewal, which is powerful but risky. At the cost of any future draws that are creatures, you get to make your current crop of creatures nearly impossible to kill permanently.

Remember how I mentioned Edgewalker with Urza’s Incubator making some of your spells free? With Enduring Renewal, you can seriously fuel all sorts of sacrificial shenanigans, gaining life with Ayli and making zombie tokens with Rotlung Reanimator. You could even use Doomed Necromancer to get back any creatures that get put into the graveyard from Enduring Renewal.

Fiend Hunter is a sweet combo with Ayli since you can play it, put its “enters the battlefield” trigger on the stack, and then sacrifice it to Ayli. This puts its “leaves the battlefield” trigger on the stack first, doing nothing, and then the exile ability resolves letting you permanently exile the target creature.

Two Clerics that really go nicely together are High Priest of Penance and Shaman En-Kor. The en-Kor ability of redirecting one point of damage at a pop can turn High Priest of Penance into a nonland permanent machine gun if you’ve got a way to improve High Priest of Penance’s toughness. Daru Spiritualist, anyone? Or maybe make the High Priest indestructible by attacking with Frontline Medic?

While thinking about this interaction and researching similar cards, I ran across an old card from Alliances called Martyrdom that has very interesting Oracle text:

Until end of turn, target creature you control gains “{0}: The next 1 damage that would be dealt to target creature or player this turn is dealt to this creature instead.” Only you may activate this ability.

While you can’t use Daru Spiritualist to stay ahead of this ability’s activation, you could do some pretty sweet moves if High Priest of Penance is indestructible from Frontline Medic attacking. You could actually turn each point of attacking power into destroying a nonland permanent!

Getting a Life

Miren, the Moaning Well; Vault of the Archangel, Congregate, Exsanguinate

There are a ton of Clerics in the deck that gain life, but since we really want to ensure we reach 50 life and stay there to turn on Ayli’s second activated ability, I’ve added some additional ways to gain life. Miren, the Moaning Well does a pretty good Starlit Sanctum impression, and Vault of the Archangel does double duty by giving a swarm of Clerics lifelink while also making them dangerous to block or be blocked by. If your opponents are playing token swarm strategies, Congregate can turn in a large rush of life out of nowhere, while Exsanguinate is simply one of the premier life-draining spells in the Commander format.

Here’s what I’ve got cooked up for our Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim Cleric tribal Commander deck:

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 02-19-2016
Magic Card Back

The more I look at this deck, the more impressed I am by the design of Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim. It’s very clear she was made specifically to helm a Commander deck like this, while also being a decent card for Constructed tournament decks. I’m very curious to hear what you think of the build and if there are any cards I may have overlooked. Do you think I’m going a bit too far on the Cleric tribal themes and should cut some of it to make room for other cards?

And remember… There is no daylight without Ayli.

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visonary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter (proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)

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