Forgotten Harvest - Ayara and Her Minions
(Maalfeld Twins | Art by Mike Sass)
The Shadow Queen's Army
At long last, we return to another Forgotten Harvest, where we take a closer look at cards that see play in 300 decks or less on EDHREC, and using them to construct an interesting deck. This week, we're taking a deep dive into the darkness with a mono-black build based around Ayara, First of Locthwain.
As you could probably guess from the card, this deck is going to focus heavily on getting black creatures into play and leeching our opponents dry with Ayara's first ability. Additionally, the deck is going to have some ways to get creatures back from the graveyard to make them targets to sacrifice for Ayara's second ability, which draws us cards... which finds us was to get our creatures back... to sacrifice for more cards! This deck will play slowly, constantly pecking away at life totals until we're finally victorious! I also snuck in some great goodies which you can really only play in mono-black.
In order to maximize the options for cards with small deck counts, I intentionally stayed away from any tribal synergies; however, if you find tribal decks appealing, I would highly recommend settling on either Zombies or Rat theme, as there are plenty more support cards.
A Token of My Appreciation
First, we should talk about the most efficient method for getting creatures into play: generating tokens.
First up in the token-makers category are the pair Maalfeld Twins and Grixis Slavedriver (147 and 102 decks, respectively). It's obvious that we're going to be sacrificing a lot of creatures to Ayara to replenish our hand, so getting some tokens out of it (and some more life from our opponents) is ideal. Maalfeld Twins allows us two extra for the price of one, and the Slavedriver can also come back in a pinch using its Unearth ability. Also note that Grixis Slavedriver triggers on leaving the battlefield, not dying. That can definitely make a Cyclonic Rift not as bad!
Speaking of sacrificing creatures, Wakedancer can get us an extra body if there's been some of that the turn it hits play. Found in 83 decks, this card is a cheap way to produce a token in black. Given the high mana cost of other black body-makers, she's a welcome addition that won't require a Charcoal Diamond or Jet Medallion to get out early. Plus, triggering upon entering the battlefield also works well when playing against bounce effects.
Nested Ghoul provides a third flavor of black token production, creating a 2/2 Zombie whenever it takes damage. While this isn't exactly ideal, given the sacrifice theme of this deck, Nested Ghoul is content to hit the bin the old-fashioned way, through combat damage. This should mean it replaces itself, at worst. Maybe it's even a reason to run Pestilence-type cards in the deck, to maximize token generation. The Ghoul is currently in 55 decks on EDHREC.
Creatures aren't the only way black can make tokens. It can instead use a card like Carrion from Mirage. Played in 177 decks, this card serves as the inspiration for this deck. I've been waiting for a commander to provide Carrion a happy home, and Ayara does just that! Imagine sacrificing your Maalfeld Twins and netting six tokens and a six-point life swing at the table! Being an instant just makes this card even better, and I like it in any black deck that cares about getting creatures into play. Teysa Karlov probably likes it as well!
Back in Stronghold, we saw the original version of Recruit the Worthy. It's a black card by the name of Lab Rats, and it sees play in only 173 decks. This card is a staple for me when I need endless chump-blockers or when I'm going Rat tribal. In this deck, it's a great repeatable way to trigger Ayara and provide her some fodder for card draw turn after turn. This card is a favorite of mine, and I feel like it's not seeing enough play for for its power level. Please consider it so that it winds up in more than 300 decks and I don't get to write about it anymore.
Already, there are several token-making cards that are becoming staples for Ayara, First of Locthwain decks, including Plague of Vermin and Tombstone Stairwell. But I think Infernal Genesis (203 decks) is also doing what these cards are doing, and is worth taking a look at. Adding recursion options to your graveyard while (hopefully) making a boatload of Minion tokens that trigger Ayara is exactly what we want! I'm not going to argue that Plague of Vermin isn't better, because that card is exactly what Ayara is looking for. However, I will say that Infernal Genesis should still make your list.
My love of Cellar Door is tough to contain. While I prefer it in Grenzo, Dungeon Warden builds or those containing Reito Lantern, it's also a great option here to either mill yourself or an opponent and have a chance a token that triggers Ayara. It only sees play in 257 decks, but I sincerely believe that number should be over 1,000 given the strength and versatility displayed on Cellar Door. Please keep it on your radar in the future!
Lastly for the token-makers, we have Thrull generator Breeding Pit. While I'm not crazy about the constant cost to keep it on the field, this is about as close as I can find to a second copy of Ophiomancer for the deck, and you all know how I love deck redundancy! Eventually, I'd like to try a Thrull tribal deck, and this card will be an immediate addition to it. For now, though, it just sees play in 187 decks.
Now that we've covered how we're going to make all of Ayara's minions, let's talk about how we can put those minions to work. The name of the game is going to be "sacrifice". Much like Ayara, First of Locthwain's second ability, we want to have ways to turn these tokens into some card advantage. Malevolent Awakening can provide that by allowing us to trade a creature in play for a creature back in hand. Played in 196 decks, this is one of the staple recursion options I use in my Commander brews. I remember sticking this in decks as a kid when Oversold Cemetery was too far outside of my budget.
Another sacrifice option from Odyssey is Cabal Patriarch. While expensive to cast, this card provides a sizable body and a repeatable creature removal for a fair cost. The ability to turn creatures in your graveyard into further removal is really what sells it for me. I'm surprised it's only in 44 decks, either as the commander or in the 99.
While not actually a sacrifice outlet, Dross Harvester plays well with those cards that do cause loss of creatures. Despite the four life lost each time around the table, with enchantments like Grave Pact and Dictate of Erebos in play, you'll be able to get that life back and then some. I think 268 decks is far too few for this underplayed all-star!
Supporting Cards for Mono Black
We have two cards that don't really fit in with the sections above, but are still deserving of some attention. Sengir Nosferatu is a token generator and sacrifice outlet all in one! Played in only 105 decks, this Vampire can transform into a Bat token for 1B, then back into a Vamp for another 1B, allowing for two triggers on Ayara. This ability can be cycled as much as needed with the commander in play, and provides a two-card mana sink to drain down your opponents. Black Market only adds to the fun! Add in the blocking shenanigans which this enables, and you end up with an excellent card to slot into this deck.
Lastly, I've been trying to find a good deck in which to slot Gravestorm, but the three black pips in its casting cost has made that difficult. Depending on your meta, please consider this enchantment for some ever-present graveyard hate which really turns on once someone's 'yard goes dry. It's especially great after a well-timed Bojuka Bog.
Let's take a gander at this mono-black beast.
Legion of the Shadow QueenView on Archidekt
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Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Thanks for digging into all the hyper-underplayed, token-centric options available to black. Any questions, comments, or snide remarks? You know where to leave them below. I'll be around to discuss just how good making this deck tribal can be, alternatives for some of the more expensive cards that made my list, or all the fun I had at the Seattle Lego convention a few weeks ago. Until next time, may your devotion to black remain strong!