Commander Deep Dive: Ao, The Dawn Sky

Ao, the Dawn Sky has Bennie Smith hyped for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. See the best cards to build around the legendary Dragon Spirit in Commander MTG.

Ao, the Dawn Sky, illustrated by Chris Rahn

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty preview season is officially underway, and we’ve got a bunch of cool new cards to digest.  No surprise, there are quite a few goodies for Commander fans, including a cycle of legendary Dragon Spirits that represent new incarnations of the original five legendary Dragon Spirits.  Today I’d like to dive into what might go into a Commander deck built around the new white card in the cycle: Ao, the Dawn Sky!

Ao, the Dawn Sky

Ao is the new incarnation of Yosei, the Morning Star, which was a pretty powerful card back in the day that saw Standard play.  Interestingly, there’s another white Dragon Spirit too: Eternal Dragon.

Yosei, the Morning Star Eternal Dragon

Two Great Choices

Like its previous incarnation, Ao is a large flyer that does something cool when it dies. But the new cycle gives you a choice, and for Ao, it’s choose one:

Look at the top seven cards of your library.  Put any number of nonland permanent cards with total mana value four or less from among them onto the battlefield. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.


Put two +1/+1 counters on each permanent you control that’s a creature or Vehicle.

What’s nice about these two abilities is they’re two sides of a coin that reflect the state of your battlefield. If Ao dies due to a sweeper spell that’s destroying all your creatures, the first choice gives you a chance to rebuild. Looking at seven cards lets you dig pretty deep, but you’ll want to really pay attention to your mana curve and card types you put in your deck. I’d be tempted to play mostly permanents that are four or less because the last thing you want to have happen is for this trigger to miss.

But if you’ve got a decent battlefield presence of creatures and/or Vehicles, then the second choice becomes much more interesting, especially if you’ve got some nice synergies for +1/+1 counters.

Let’s dig deeper!

Sacrifice for Profit

High Market Miren, the Moaning Well Claws of Gix Witch's Oven Spawning Pit Renounce Altar of Dementia Ashnod's Altar Phyrexian Altar Martyr's Cause Blasting Station Animal Boneyard Fanatical Devotion Trading Post By Invitation Only

Creatures die often in Commander, so you’re likely to have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of Ao’s triggered ability without any extra effort.  That said, it’s probably a good idea to have ways to sacrifice Ao on demand.  There are a lot of lands and artifacts that help you accomplish that, and these will also be good for decks built around the other Dragons in the cycle; you definitely want to dust off your copies of High Market and Trading Post!

White has some cool options too!  Martyr’s Cause is particularly nice because it doesn’t require any mana to use, doesn’t have any timing restrictions, and can play especially well if you build in an enchantment subtheme. The modal setting of By Invitation Only lets you potentially just force everyone to sacrifice one creature, so you’ll choose Ao and buff the rest of your team, and maybe force a hard choice for your opponents who only have two or three creatures on the battlefield.

Copy Ao

Mirrorpool Blade of Selves Mirage Mirror Helm of the Host

A tricky way to sacrifice these legendary Dragon Spirits is to make one or more copies, forcing the sacrifice of all but one.  White doesn’t have too good choices outside of lands or artifacts, but I particularly like Blade of Selves since it will typically make three copies of Ao, which will give you three dies triggers!  Mirrorpool and Mirage Mirror are some one-shot ways to copy Ao and get a dies trigger.  Copies from Helm of the Host aren’t legendary, so they won’t trigger, but churning out an extra 5/4 flying creature with vigilance and a potent dies trigger each turn is good clean Commander living!

Death Is Temporary

Nim Deathmantle Angelic Renewal Brought Back Gift of Immortality Loyal Retainers Faith's Reward Cosmic Intervention Sigil of the New Dawn Halvar, God of Battle Cauldron of Souls Adarkar Valkyrie Breathkeeper Seraph

If your plan is to get dies triggers from Ao, it makes sense that you’d want ways to get Ao back to the battlefield without having to cast it again, especially with increasing commander tax.  The first card that jumped to mind is Nim Deathmantle, which will pair particularly well with Ashnod’s Altar—sacrifice Ao for two colorless mana, and you can use that to pay half the death trigger cost of Nim Deathmantle. Those two, plus Cauldron of Souls, I expect to see in most decks built around these new Dragon Spirits.

White has some other nice options. I particularly like Gift of Immortality and Sigil of the New Dawn since they’re both nonland permanents that can be found by the first choice of Ao’s death trigger. I also really like the back side of Halvar, God of BattleSword of the Realms has a pretty cheap equip cost and will bring a dying creature back from the graveyard to your hand.

Nonland Permanents, Mana Value One

Sol Ring Skullclamp Wayfarer's Bauble Sensei's Divining Top Expedition Map Esper Sentinel Shadowspear Mother of Runes Elixir of Immortality Soul-Guide Lantern Reconnaissance Selfless Savior Cleric Class Paladin Class Brainstone Thraben Inspector Land Tax

The more cards we have in our deck that have mana value four or less will make Ao’s first choice on its dies trigger better and better, so it’s a good idea to really load up on lower cost nonland permanents.  It’s usually okay to scrimp on the one-mana slot, but in this case, we’ll want to dig a little deeper. 

Luckily there are all sorts of good choices available in a white deck, like Esper Sentinel, Mother of Runes, Cleric Class, and Paladin ClassLand Tax is a great way to thin your deck and shuffle it up in case there are cards you’ve put on the bottom of your deck that you’ll want to draw eventually; I like to include Lotus Field in my mono-white decks with Land Tax to help ensure you’ll have fewer lands than at least one of your opponents over the course of multiple turns.

Nonland Permanents, Mana Value Two

Arcane Signet Mind Stone Liquimetal Torque Sword of the Animist Blackblade Reforged Scroll Rack Pearl Medallion Grand Abolisher Crashing Drawbridge Selfless Spirit Wall of Omens Remorseful Cleric

Two mana is typically where we include our ramping with Arcane Signet, Mind Stone, Liquimetal Torque, Sword of the Animist, and Pearl Medallion.  I also really like Crashing Drawbridge here since white doesn’t usually have access to too many haste effects. If you’re running Land Tax, don’t forget Scroll Rack, which combines with Land Tax to make a potent draw engine that can also set up the top of your deck for an Ao death trigger.

Nonland Permanents, Mana Value Three

Burnished Hart Worn Powerstone Archaeomancer's Map Sword of Hearth and Home Sword of Light and Shadow Welcoming Vampire Chaos Wand

At three mana, I’d like to shout out how amazing Sword of Hearth and Home is. Not only does it do a great Sword of the Animist impression with its combat damage trigger, its blink ability offers more than just getting another enters-the-battlefield trigger from a creature; you can also use it to get back a creature of yours that has been stolen!  It blows my mind that this mythic rare is still so cheap compared to the other Swords out there. Only Sword of Sinew and Steel is cheaper, and Sword of Hearth and Home is easily the second-best Sword in Commander. 

One card I’m really excited to include in an Ao deck is Chaos Wand. If you can put it on the battlefield for free with Ao’s ability, it’s much more likely you’ll have four mana up to activate it right away. 

Nonland Permanents, Mana Value Four

Solemn Simulacrum Smothering Tithe Thran Dynamo Hedron Archive Mangara, the Diplomat Keeper of the Accord Windborn Muse Angel of Finality

The top of the Ao ability curve, four mana has some sweet choices. Keeper of the Accord can be a nice tool to help rebuild after a sweeper if an opponent deploys a few creatures to the battlefield, as is Mangara, the Diplomat if an opponent casts multiple spells after the sweeper.

+1/+1 Counters Matter

The Ozolith Hopeful Initiate Orzhov Advokist Abzan Battle Priest Citadel Siege Arcbound Reclaimer Arcbound Mouser Arcbound Javelineer Arcbound Prototype Sigarda's Summons

Since Ao can add +1/+1 counters to your team, we could lean into modular creatures if we wanted to. There are plenty of solid ones that are four mana or less. Arcbound Reclaimer is good on its own as a creature with +1/+1 synergies if you’re playing a good number of artifacts you’d be interested in getting back. The Ozolith, Citadel Siege, and Orzhov Advokist can lean further into the +1/+1 counter theme, and I like that Hopeful Initiate can turn extra counters into removal for an artifact or enchantment.


Sram, Senior Edificer Gearshift Ace Peacewalker Colossus Smuggler's Copter Cultivator's Caravan Untethered Express Aethersphere Harvester Dermotaxi Thundering Chariot Surgehacker Mech

The second choice on Ao’s death trigger conspicuously mentions Vehicles as benefitting from the +1/+1 counters, so playing a decent number of Vehicles can help provide some resistance to battlefield sweepers that destroy creatures. Since we’re white, we get to use the incredible Peacewalker Colossus, which can animate other Vehicles for two mana. I know Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty is going to have a fair number of Vehicles, including a Commander precon that appears to be Vehicle-themed, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for ones that cost four or less that I might want to slot in here.

Other Dies Triggers for Profit

Cavalier of Dawn Archon of Justice Icingdeath, Frost Tyrant Reveillark

If we’re building a deck around Ao dying and then coming back, it makes sense to include some other creatures that have sweet dies triggers that we can leverage when we don’t want Ao dying. I particularly like Icingdeath, Frost Tyrant since it drops behind a token Equipment that’s pretty sweet—Icingdeath, Frost Tongue.

Mono-White Reanimation

Emeria, the Sky Ruin Miraculous Recovery Resurrection Late to Dinner Breath of Life Karmic Guide Profound Journey

Outside of the ways we can immediately bring Ao back from dying, white also has a pretty deep suite of reanimation spells. Bringing creatures back from the graveyard isn’t just for black! 

Dragons or Spirits Matter

Haven of the Spirit Dragon Crucible of the Spirit Dragon Dragon's Hoard Scalelord Reckoner Sylvia Brightspear Nikko-Onna Tallowisp

Lastly, Ao’s creature types are two tribes that get decent support in Magic, Dragons and Spirits. In particular, I’ll want to include Dragon’s Hoard as a mana rock for the deck that perfectly ramps up to five mana to cast your commander on Turn 4, assuming you make your land drops, which will give you a gold counter you can cash in for a card later. I also like Scalelord Reckoner as just a solid creature that’s hard to interact with and does the same for your commander. I’m not sure Sylvia Brightspear is worth playing solo without access to her partner, but giving your commander double strike is no joke. Ao has five power and evasion, and that can hit really hard.

We can dip into our previous experiences with Kamigawa with some cards that care about you casting a Spirit.  There are a ton of enchantments in the format that you want to destroy with Nikko-Onna (I’m looking at you, Smothering Tithe and Rhystic Study), and then when you cast your commander, you can return Nikko-Onna to your hand to recast and destroy another enchantment. And I’m all about Tallowisp fetching up an Aura like Gift of Immortality when I cast Ao.

So, what do you think of Ao, the Dawn Sky? Is there anything you would play with it that I didn’t mention above?

Get in Touch

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.  You can also find the lists for my paper decks over on Archidekt if you want to dig into how I put together my own decks and brews. 

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

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