Commander Showdown - Ruxa vs Ayula

(Ruxa, Patient Professor by Ilse Gort | Ayula Queen Among Bears by Jesper Ejsing)

The Bear Necessities

Welcome to Commander Showdown, where we compare and contrast two commanders with similar abilities to discover the overlaps, differences, and nuances of their strategies!

Strixhaven has whipped up a whirlwind of deckbuilding. Osgir, the Reconstructor is rumored to be the valedictorian come graduation day, and Veyran, Voice of Duality players are brewing up a storm - literally - to make sure they ace those end-of-year tests. However, there's a commander from this set whose contributions to the academic year perhaps went unnoticed, but rest assured that we have a lot to learn from him.

I was absolutely delighted when readers voted to see this pair for the next Commander Showdown article. Ayula, Queen Among Bears captured our hearts back in Modern Horizons, and with nearly 1,500 decks to her name, she's proven that she's not just a silly Bear meme deck - she's a force to be reckoned with, turning even those random vanilla 2/2s into a serious problem for our opponents. Now, with Ruxa, Patient Professor, there's another Bear commander here to school us all, and teach us not to take textless creatures for granted.

Let's check out how these commanders each manage to harness the power of inconsequential-looking creatures, and force people to take them seriously. Get ready, because we're about to acquire a lot more knowledge that we can truly bear.

Cub Scouts

Let's start with Ayula, Queen Among Bears. Played to wonderful effect by Graham Stark in Game Knights, Ayula has achieved a legendary status few commanders get to enjoy. By playing on the colloquialism of a "bear" in Magic being a 2/2 for two mana, and indeed with so many actual Grizzly Bears out there, this commander was initially received as a bit of a silly meme. However, memetic enjoyment is rarely enough to carry a commander to 1,500 decks, and that's what makes Ayula so enchanting: she's designed with an in-joke in mind, but also packs a huge wallop.

Ironically, I find that two-mana 2/2s are not truly her bread and butter. There are the odd Mother Bear and Ashcoat Bear, but it doesn't take long before the Ayula players appear to gravitate toward some very diverse ursine critters instead. Spirit of the Aldergard rarely has less than 4 power, and Changelings like Chameleon Colossus or Realmwalker can be found hibernating in her data, too.

Since Ayula comes down so early in the game, she also tends to have an opening for damage and disruption that will really disrupt unwary players. It's hard to land that Meren of Clan Nel Toth when Ayula has already suited up to 4 power, dealt 6 commander damage by turn 3, and is fixing to put that Meren back into the command zone when she plays a Bear again next turn.

With that said, while the early game is easily Ayula's strong suit, the biggest trick to her deck is maintaining power into the late game. A single board wipe can set her back immensely compared to our longer-term opponents. So, what's a Bear Queen to do?

There are some clever tricks Ayula's able to pull while she's busy buffing herself and her cubs. Inspiring Call can save a board from devastation, while plenty of powers-matter cards like Return of the Wildspeaker or Overwhelming Stampede are indeed wild and overwhelming. I know Rishkar's Expertise is a bomb nearly anywhere it's played, but it's not unusual for Ayula to be an 8/8 or a 10/10 after just two turns!

Let's check out a list for Ayula before she can cause any panda-monium. After all, we need to check that she has the right koala-fications.

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Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Importantly, while some Changelings like Realmwalker or Masked Vandal can contribute extra-cool effects to the Bear army, I have personally found that too many of them get in the way of our powerhouse cards like Return of the Wildspeaker - they are Bears, but they're also Humans. Additionally, this is a deck whose mana base is inevitably tied to Snow-Covered Forests from now on, given the need for Spirit of the Aldergard.

My younger brother pilots an Ayula deck, and just when I think I've gotten the measure of this commander, a new trick rears its head and takes me by surprise. Rhonas's Monument doesn't just reduce our mana costs, it also gives a super-huge Ayula the evasion to swipe through the final points of commander damage. A silly-looking Pale Bears will become a genuine terror, one that can't be blocked by enemies who smugly thought themselves safe.

I've got a few other gems for Ayula's deck I'd like to share, too, but we've tried Ruxa's patience enough already, and even if his moniker is "Patient Professor", I don't like to be late to class. Let's check in on our other fuzzy friend.

English Major, Business Major, Ursa Major

Ruxa, Patient Professor, like so many cards in Strixhaven, has a lot of rules text, but I'll cut right to the important part. He takes a board full of creatures with no abilities, and not only buffs them up, but guarantees their damage will land where it's supposed to: right on our opponents' faces.

Data shows that 93% of players are using the infamous Muraganda Petroglyphs with Ruxa, which isn't the biggest buff in the world, but just like Bear Umbra in an Ayula deck, it just fits so perfectly. It's not too big, and not too small, it's just right. Ruxa's EDHREC page has also already filled out with a bunch of textless creatures for him to power up: Kalonian Tusker, Swordwise Centaur, Leatherback Baloth... there are lots of ability-less creatures out there who Ruxa can buff up, and his enter-the-battlefield-or-attacks trigger will help invite them back to class if they happened to drop out.

Here's the thing, though: I think this deckbuilding direction is a mistake.

While it sounds nice to have a Quilled Slagwurm always hit someone for 9 damage, it also sounds super slow and unreliable. There are only so many Orazca Frillbacks we'll be happy to play. And even if Ruxa can get our creatures back whenever he attacks, we have no guarantees that he will survive each combat.

The reason I feel this way is because of the basic math. Ruxa gives a +1/+1 buff to each of our creatures, so playing creatures one at a time just feels like we're not taking full advantage of that effect. With the exception of some severe monsters like Gigantosaurus, I think the best direction for Ruxa isn't to focus on creatures with no abilities, but instead to focus on tokens with no abilities.

A single Deep Forest Hermit will create four tokens that Ruxa can power through for 12 damage. Tendershoot Dryad will give us a damage-guaranteed 4/4 on every single turn. Even if Howl of the Night Pack only makes five Wolves, that's 15 unblockable damage. A Paradox Zone or Garruk, Primal Hunter or Sandwurm Convergence aren't as quick as a Terrain Elemental, but they will give us more staying power over a long game, and don't leave us down on card advantage every time we send our noble beasts into battle. While it's nice that the Elvish Warrior's damage will make it through guaranteed, it's still likely to be killed in combat, not to mention it's a very crummy late-game draw. A slew of token-makers will just give us more to work with.

While we have to avoid some of the clever cards out there that can supply us with a ton of bodies (for example, Hornet Queen, Arachnogenesis, or even land-animating effects like Sylvan Awakening), at the end of the day, the output of a random Bestial Menace will deal more damage than a random Vorstclaw, and will do so for less mana.

I've made some lesson plans, so here's my take on Ruxa's ideal semester:

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

The most important part of the deck isn't even the token-makers we use, but actually the buffs we use. These must be carefully selected. Overwhelming Stampede or Triumph of the Hordes give our creatures trample, which negates Ruxa's buff. Maybe some players will say they're powerful enough to be worth it, but others may dislike the nonbo.

I'll also say that I've never been so happy to use Hunter's Insight in a deck. Ruxa guarantees the damage will hit home, so the card draw is a cert. With a pile of tokens, all this deck has to do is build up, little by little, until Ruxa cam come down and give our opponents the worst possible thing in the world: a pop quiz.

This strikes me as a deck whose identity is still being fleshed out, but I'm excited to see its development. While both Ruxa, Patient Professor and Ayula, Queen Among Bears appear at first to make use of small, underrated creatures with little to no text on them, I think Ayula's the proper commander for all those random Bears, and Ruxa can give his students a token of appreciation when he takes them to the next level. They're not quite polar opposites, but they each give us cause to paws and reflect.

Cards to Consider

It's four minutes till class is over, so don't leave just yet! Let's wrap up with some underrated cards for each of these commanders, which deserve a second look while you're brewing.


  • Cauldron of Souls: My #1 recommendation for Ayula. When our Bears die, she can save them, bring them back, and put +1/+1 counters on any of them she likes, which will annihilate the -1/-1 counters, so we can do it all over again!
  • Bonders' Enclave: Our commander is regularly a 4/4. This card advantage can accrue over time. It's minimal, but handy.
  • Temur Sabertooth: A really efficient way to make sure we can play more Bears and fight any problematic creatures in our way. A great blocker, too.
  • Vigor: Ayula says your creature must fight her. Oh, what's that? You dealt damage to Ayula? Well, don't mind me while I pile a bunch more counters onto her....
  • Nissa's Pilgrimage: This isn't specific to Ayula so much as it is a note about mono-green decks. Cultivate and Kodama's Reach appear in 55% and 40% of Ayula decks, respectively. Nissa's Pilgrimage appears in only 24%, even though it's a better card for mono-green. That seems silly.


  • Scale Up: Doesn't give any abilities, just a base power boost. The perfect type of pump for our commander.
  • Heraldic Banner: I'm not a fan of Gaea's Anthem, but I am a huge fan of this card. Mana and a buff is the best of both worlds.
  • Fungal Sprouting: This is just a dang good rate. Even if Ruxa's the only creature we have to use this on, that's a total of 8 damage we'll create for just four mana.
  • Keeper of Fables: Our creatures are guaranteed to get through. The card advantage will be lovely. 
  • Hunting Pack: I'm admittedly still experimenting with this one, but Storm doesn't just count our own spells, it also counts our opponents'. This could become a surprise pack of three or four 4/4s that Ruxa will make very deadly when we cast him on our next turn and move to combat.

Anything is Paw-sible

So, which of these Bears is your favorite? Is Ayula our best friend fur-ever, or are you the teacher's pet in Ruxa's class?

Oh, and which pair should we explore on the next Commander Showdown? 


Til next time!

Joey is the lead editor and content producer for EDHREC. You can find him hosting and creating tons of great videos over at or give him a follow at @JosephMSchultz on Twitter, where he likes to celebrate Commander, coffee, and corgis.