Eternal Pilgrim

Posted in Serious Fun on December 29, 2015

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

When religious belief turns into religious fervor, things get problematic—particularly on Zendikar. When the Eldrazi were originally imprisoned, stories were told to ensure no one would try to release them. The Zendikari knew the awesome power of the Eldrazi, but as generations passed, the stories shifted, and the Eldrazi became gods similar to the Greek or Norse gods we know. Zendikari people saw them as powerful entities with feelings and attitudes similar to their own. The gods fought with each other, played tricks, occasionally helped when asked, and often acted with complete disregard for the mortals who lived out their lives on Zendikar.

The belief in these gods gradually faded over time. There were few signs that these gods ever existed, and no signs that they interacted with current Zendikar at all. When you live on a plane where the ground often shifts, seeing this shifting as an act of a god lost its luster.

Some on Zendikar, though, continued to keep the faith. On our first trip to Zendikar, we were introduced to Ayli, Kamsa cleric. Her faith never wavered; she didn't need to see their actions to believe. "Gods don't die, they merely slumber." While Eldrazi Monument suggests Ayli was simply about ritual sacrifice for short-term gain, that really didn't provide the full story. On Landbind Ritual, we see the cleric's connection to the land, and how she valued life as well. "Honor this place, for our children's children will stand here and speak these same words again." Whether Ayli's children's children will truly stand in the same place, however, remains to be seen.

Ayli didn't understand the true nature of the gods she revered. When the Eldrazi were released, she said, "I believed in a beautiful god. But this is the true face of the divine." The quote isn't clear; we are left to wonder if Ayli's faith was set aside upon seeing the Eldrazi. They were not beautiful, but did she still revere them, in spite of how they appeared?

It seemed unlikely. On Curse of Wizardry, Ayli said, "We must all push through the pain to heal our world." This strongly implied that the pain was caused by the Eldrazi, and the folks on Zendikar needed to persevere to heal the world. On Last Kiss, she said, "Romanticize it, glamorize it, call it what you will. To me, it will always be carnal, bloody murder." The image on the card suggests she is talking about vampirism, but when tied to her quote on Curse of Wizardry, it suggests she moved away from a loyalty to the gods and the idea of sacrificing people to them.

Then Ayli was seen again in our current visit to Zendikar, and her true intentions became clear. She drew Jace and Jori into a trap, with the intention of offering them as a sacrifice to Ulamog. While the trap ultimately failed, we saw that Ayli's faith did not in fact change. While the Eldrazi weren't what she imagined, they were still gods, and ritual sacrifice was still required. Perhaps the chalklike dust the Eldrazi left behind was seen as the true world by Ayli and others who shared her faith.

And now, Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim lives on with her own card:

Ayli (the card) lays out what we have already seen from Ayli in the past. With Eldrazi Monument, we discovered Ayli's beliefs involved ritual sacrifice. Through both of Ayli's activated abilities, we see that belief continues. Ayli draws strength from the deaths of others.

Landbind Ritual showed us Ayli's affinity for life gain. We see that in her first activated ability, gaining life equal to a sacrificed creature's toughness. In these ways, Alyi, Kamsa cleric is very similar to what she becomes as Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim.

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim showcases features we hadn't seen before. We knew Ayli could be dangerous, but not in a deathtouch sort of way. Deathtouch implies some talent or ruthlessness in combat, or some kind of poisoning ability. This isn't the case for Ayli. However, deathtouch can represent her dogged devotion—an obeisance to a god that goes beyond what is logical in the world that can be seen, touched, and heard on Zendikar.

What really excites the imagination with Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim lies with her second ability. The ability to exile a nonland permanent makes Ayli a legendary creature, in the Vorthos sense of the word. Is the creature indestructible? No problem. Enchantment getting you down? Consider it dealt with. Ayli does it all.

When you realize Ayli is one of the best ways to eliminate an Eldrazi, the ability gets a little confusing. Ayli's strength lies in her devotion to the gods. It does seem bizarre that she may be the best way to eliminate them.

How She Fits into Your Nefarious Schemes

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is a great Vorthos card that helps to tie Zendikar block with Battle for Zendikar block, but is it a great card?

Ayli is a 2/3 with deathtouch for two mana: one white and one black. While it can be difficult to get exactly those two mana for turn two, suggesting that you won't get one mana of each in a reasonable time if you build your deck correctly is disingenuous. You'll see Ayli on the battlefield by turn four, assuming you want her out there that fast. With just these stats, Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is a solid card, but not likely anything you are going to add to your casual decks, whether you're fielding 60 cards or 100.

Ayli's strength is going to lie in her abilities. The first ability is useful. There are plenty of times when you'll want to be able to sacrifice your creatures. Between opponents using mass removal, surprises in combat, and theft of your creatures, there are plenty of situations where sacrificing your creatures for a benefit would be useful. Having to pay a mana to activate the ability can be annoying, but in most games, one mana shouldn't be too hard to find. In fact, the single-mana cost should be cheap enough to allow you to sacrifice multiple creatures in the same turn if need be.

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim | Art by Cynthia Sheppard

While life gain isn't a particularly unique or strong result, we'll take it, particularly when you consider the second ability. It should also be remembered that life gain is far better in multiplayer games than in one-against-one games. The threat of gaining life can often make attacks against you appear pointless, leaving opponents to look elsewhere. In spite of this, Ayli's first ability is a nice add-on but not enough to make her an all-star.

The second ability is really the make-or-break for the card. Three mana and a creature to exile a nonland permanent. Creatures, enchantments, artifacts, and even planeswalkers will all cower before this ability. It can be cast at instant speed. You are only going to run it in a deck that will have a creature or two to sacrifice (and possibly a Butcher of Malakir or Dictate of Erebos for good measure), so that won't be difficult either. It is particularly beneficial that it exiles the permanents. You won't have to worry about those darn Golgari decks bringing their permanents back out of the graveyard again and again. Graveyard recursion is a common issue with many playgroups, as everyone tries to get as much value as possible from every card. Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim slams that door shut. Ayli also offers another option for the Processors that you've been thinking about running, but just weren't sure if they'd be worth it. This second ability will take over games and crush opponents.

There's just that little "10 life more than your starting life total" issue.

White and black are rife with ways to gain life, but you'll need to be sure to make it happen. Whether you choose extort, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, creatures with lifelink, or going old-school with Congregate, there are plenty of ways to gain life. The question becomes whether your metagame will target you just because of your life total. Does everyone in your group decide who the dominant player is based on life total? Are there players who love Marchesa, the Black Rose and/or the dethrone mechanic? It may prove very difficult for you to really abuse this ability in your group.

But not in mine!

My group certainly looks at life totals, but not overwhelmingly. The board state, graveyards, and cards in hand all play a part in determining who is in the strongest position. Ayli looks at board position, rubs her hands together with glee, and says to you, "Where do you want to begin?"

The joy of Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim lies in another card that was just recently released. Karlov of the Ghost Council is a white-black creature with a low casting cost that exiles things when you gain life. The cards work slightly differently, but will fit into decks together wonderfully. Sean Whatson of the Commanderin podcast put together a Karlov of the Ghost Council deck soon after it was released in the Commander (2015 Edition) decks. I used his deck and made a few small changes:

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim, with Thanks to Sean

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COMMANDER: Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim

I added a few ways to get some token creatures on the board, to better have sacrifices ready and available for Ayli. Sean has so many sources of life gain in the deck that there is almost no way you'll not find yourself gaining life by the time you consider putting Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim into play. With the life gain and the ability to take out pretty much any troublesome permanent, this controlling deck promises to bring pain, suffering, and angst to all those who play against it!

Bruce Richard


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