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Keyword Questing With Rayami!

Who wants keywords? Rayami, First of the Fallen wants keywords! Bennie Smith builds a spicy Commander list … and provides seven bar charts to back it up!

Commander 2019 has been released into the wild! I picked up all four copies of the deck and got to play with two of them so far. The first deck I tried was Mystic Intellect, but instead of running face commander Sevinne, the Chronoclasm, I wanted to give Elsha of the Infinite a try. The deck was clunky in the beginning, with Elsha giving me almost no free cards from the top of my library. I’m thinking that it might be a mistake to just swap out this deck’s face commander without some additional modifications, the first of which would be to add some library manipulation. I did end up winning the game from three life when I managed to ultimate Ral Zerek and get three extra turns and was finally able to chain together some instants and sorceries from the top of my deck. Guttersnipe was finally able to do some work!

For my second game I played Merciless Rage, and again the deck felt a little clunky in the beginning, though perhaps I should have used my mulligans to ensure at least one madness card in my opening hand instead of just keeping a “playable” hand. Turned out the first madness spell I drew was Call to the Netherworld with no black creature in my graveyard nor on the battlefield (other than Anje Falkenrath). I did eventually get a couple of madness cards to discard to Anje and stuck K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth, which presented some interesting lines of play.

Remember, though, these are precon decks. They aren’t meant to be optimized, so yeah sometimes the draws are going to be clunky. It makes me wonder if Wizards shouldn’t put Temple Bell in each of the decks to help smooth out draws and make for a better play experience right out of the box against each other. That said, both of the decks eventually drew into some really cool plays and did some really cool things! I’m certainly looking forward to making some adjustments to the decks going forward.

I witnessed the Faceless Menace deck, and the face commander Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer is a powerhouse card to lead a morph deck. Getting to cast a morph for free each turn and drawing an extra card, while leaving mana open to reveal a morph creature when the time is ripe, is everything you could possible want for a morph deck. This is definitely the sort of deck you can keep together with minimal adjustments if you want to have a morph commander. But the two non-face commanders in this deck also interest me, in particular Rayami, First of the Fallen.

There’s a lot of stuff going on with Rayami, so it’s wise to keep informed about the specific rulings on the card, which I’ve got below for convenience:

  • Rayami looks at all exiled creature cards with blood counters, not only those exiled with its ability. It even looks at those exiled by an ability of another player’s Rayami, First of the Fallen.
  • If a nontoken creature that isn’t normally a creature (such as a Vehicle) would die, Rayami exiles it with a blood counter on it, although Rayami won’t gain any of its abilities.
  • If an exiled creature card has one or more variants of the listed keywords (for example, protection from black or hexproof from white), Rayami gains those specific variants.
  • If an exiled creature card has one of the listed keywords only if certain conditions are met, the ability granting that keyword doesn’t apply while the card is in exile. Rayami won’t gain that ability from that card.
  • Nontoken creatures that would die at the same time that Rayami leaves the battlefield are exiled with blood counters.
  • If multiple replacement effects try to change where a dying creature would go, the controller of the creature chooses one to apply. If Rayami’s effect doesn’t exile the creature, it won’t have a blood counter on it, even if another effect exiles it. Keep in mind that the effect that allows a player to spare their commander from death is a replacement effect.

When I first read Rayami, it reminded me of another legendary creature from a previous Commander precon—Mairsil, the Pretender.

Cards like Mairsil and Rayami are what I call Quest Commanders because they strongly encourage you to assemble a critical mass of specific cards to really unlock their power. You’ll need time to jump through some number of hoops to really get your commander to pop. When I made and played my Mairsil deck, the deck ended up not being very fun—either I got a bunch of weird cards exiled with cage counters on it and subdued the table pretty aggressively, or my opponents were able to keep Mairsil off the battlefield and I was stuck with a bunch of bad or unplayable cards in my hand and didn’t get to participate in the game. There was almost no middle ground, so I ended up taking the deck apart. I do want to revisit the card someday and try to make a fun and fair version of it.

Rayami does a similar thing by exiling cards with a certain counter on them that your commander can gain benefit from, trading in cage counters for blood counters. What I like about Rayami is that you can just play generally good creatures with the appropriate keywords and benefit from them when they die (assuming Rayami is on the battlefield). So even if Rayami is held in check, you still have a bunch of at least semi-decent creatures to participate in the game with.

One thing to note: there are no creatures playable in Sultai that naturally have double strike, so if you want to notch that ability on Rayami’s belt, you’ll need to cross your fingers and hope to tag an opponent’s creature that has that ability.

While Rayami can certainly do good work as a “good stuff” Sultai commander with lots of removal and just occasionally picking up keywords along the way, my approach to this deck will be to maximize the number of my own creatures that have those keywords to increase the odds of buffing Rayami with tons of abilities. The first thing I wanted to do is think about what abilities would be the most valuable to have on my commander, rank them in order, and then start filling out the decklist with creatures that have those abilities going down the list. Here’s how I ranked them:

  • Hexproof
  • Indestructible
  • Haste
  • Lifelink
  • Vigilance
  • Flying
  • Menace
  • Trample
  • Protection
  • First strike
  • Deathtouch
  • Reach

I’ve hexproof and indestructible at the top of the list since each of them shuts down a whole class of removal and the two of them together pretty well make Rayami an incredibly sticky threat. I’ve got reach at the bottom, since it’s redundant with flying in all but the most corner of cases.

Let’s get brewing!

Keyword Salad

The first thing I kept an eye out for were cards that had three of Rayami’s keywords on them in Sultai, and was pleased to find a fair number of them I wanted to add to the deck. End-Raze Forerunners and Spirit of the Night are a bit costly on the mana, but the others are quite castable.

Let’s see what bases we’ve covered so far.

Wow, a lot of these creatures have flying! We get to check off one creature with hexproof, a few with haste, a couple with trample and deathtouch, and then one of everything else except for indestructible, reach, and of course double strike.

Okay, we need some more hexproof here, so let’s go digging.

Hexproof

We’ve got lots of quality options for hexproof. I particularly like the small creatures because they’re pretty easy to die once you’ve cast Rayami. Silumgar, the Drifting Death even gives us a nice way to clear out small tokens when we attack. Let’s see what our keyword ability count looks like now.

Now that looks much better on the hexproof front! I like getting trample tossed in too with Carnage Tyrant and Sagu Mauler.

Indestructible

Next up, indestructible! These creatures are going to be a little tricky since they are naturally resistant to dying. Thankfully Bontu the Gloried has a built-in sacrifice trigger so you can sacrifice other indestructible creatures, but we’ll probably want some other ways to sacrifice our creatures.

We get some more flying in this batch of creatures, and an extra pip of vigilance, which is nice.

Haste

The reason I like haste so much is because it effectively blunts sorcery-speed ways to contain Rayami, giving you at least one good attack. I really like that Mistcutter Hydra can just be cast for one green mana with Rayami on the battlefield and it immediately dies and exiles with a blood counter, giving Rayami haste and protection from blue. Yahenni provides a nice additional sacrifice outlet for other creatures.

Along with the extra haste we get extra pips of lifelink, trample and protection. Not too shabby!

Lifelink

I like lifelink next on the list because it lets you better race when you’re wanting to smash face with your commander. All of these creatures potentially come down earlier than Rayami, so that’s perfect. I like that Leyline Prowler can even accelerate us on mana.

Another rush of flying checked off here as well as a couple of pips of deathtouch, drawing it on par with trample. Yay! Deathtouch and trample go together like peanut butter and chocolate! Magic rule 702.2b says any nonzero amount of combat damage assigned to a creature by a source with deathtouch is considered to be lethal damage, regardless of that creature’s toughness. This means one point of damage is lethal and all other damage can trample over.

Vigilance

Vigilance is in surprisingly short supply, so I’ve squeezed a few more in. Vigilance is a very popular ability in Commander, so hopefully we can snipe it from an opponent’s creature if we need to.

A little more flying and an extra pip for trample!

Other Abilities

There are a couple more creatures I’d like to add to the mix. Baleful Strix is just a high-quality two-mana creature, so I’m happy to make room for it. Phyrexian Crusader gives us two different protection abilities. And Scourge of Skola Vale gives us another sacrifice outlet while giving us another trample creature.

Here’s how the abilities all stacked up:

The odds look really good for our Vampire commander to have flying, and all is as it should be in the world. Our first four stacks look pretty good too. Trample and deathtouch weren’t super-high on our priority list, but we got a lot of it incidental to other abilities I wanted in the deck, so I’m happy to take it!

Sacrifice Outlets

We definitely want a good number of sacrifice outlets outside of Bontu, Yahenni, and Scourge so I’ve found some more here. I like that flash can be an ability enabler you can use in response to something your opponent is doing to ruin their plans.

I like Blood for Bones here, since it’s a way to get back a creature from the graveyard that might have died when you didn’t have Rayami on the battlefield.

Mana Ramp

We’ve got green in our color identity, so we might as well take advantage of the numerous ramp options to get Rayami onto the battlefield ahead of schedule, and to pay the Commander tax if your opponents figure out ways to deal with Rayami.

Card Draw/Selection

We definitely want some ways to dig into our deck and find the right combination of keyword abilities. Phyrexian Reclamation is another way to bring back previously deceased creatures that you weren’t able to exile with a blood counter yet.

I thought Bribery might be a good inclusion to attempt to find a creature in an opponent’s deck that might have double strike!

Interaction

I’m steering clear of exile removal because I want creatures to die first. Then Rayami takes care of exiling.

Good Stuff

Last but not least, a few fun-of cards. Our commander is a Vampire and wants creatures to die, so Blade of the Bloodchief seems like a slam-dunk inclusion. Blackblade Reforged can turn Rayami into a one-shot player killer when the game has gone on way too long. I like Scroll of Fate as a way to cheat out some of the more expensive creatures or one with indestructible, since a 2/2 face-down creature chump blocks and dies pretty easily.

And of course, why not Helm of the Host? Each nonlegendary copy of Rayami still benefits from the creatures exiled with blood counters!

Sweet deck! Let’s take a look at our mana curve.

Converted Mana Cost

Number of Cards

0-1

10 (including lands that don’t produce mana)

2

15

3

12

4

11

5

5 plus commander

6

4

7+ and X

5

63 total cards plus 37 mana-producing lands equals 100 cards. I wanted to keep the mana curve quite low, especially the creatures, so that the odds would be good that I’d have a couple of keyword creatures on the battlefield when I cast Rayami.

Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:

Commander


What do you think? Are there any cards I’ve overlooked? If you see any new cards from Commander 2019 that should find a home here, let me know!

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I’ve been writing about the Commander format and Magic: The Gathering in general for nearly two decades. Visit the Star City Games article archives for tons of content dating back to January 2000!

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