Epic Experiment - Rayami Control
(Rayami, First of the Fallen | Art by Kieran Yanner)
Hello, EDHREC fans! I’m Bernardo Melibeu, and this is Epic Experiment, a series where we throw all common sense aside and experiment with some unusual strategies, changing how we normally build our deck. Is it going to work? Who knows?! We’re making science here. When you’re an Izzet mage, blowing things up is half the fun.
Let's finish off our Commander 2019 arc with Rayami, First of the Fallen
If a nontoken creature would die, exile that creature with a blood counter on it instead.
As long as an exiled creature card with a blood counter on it has flying, Rayami, First of the Fallen has flying. The same is true for first strike, double strike, deathtouch, haste, hexproof, indestructible, lifelink, menace, protection, reach, trample, and vigilance.
There's always a fine line where the inevitability of a commander makes it broken; I like to call it the "Prossh line". Rayami seems pretty fairly balanced because he needs some support to grow.
Keyword soup in a non-white combination definitely loses some of the power. However, having the ability to gain both hexproof and indestructible is good enough to stand against most forms of removal, and Sultai does have ways to grind out a game to make use of a near-unremovable creature.
Rayami's exile clause is great against recursion decks that abuse sacrifice triggers, like Meren of Clan Nel Toth.
There're some Eldrazi from the Battle for Zendikar block (Eldrazi Processors) that can use exiled cards. Trying to use them with Rayami is kind of clunky, though, because they aren't all that powerful to begin with, and they don't really fit into a consistent game plan.
One tough thing about Rayami is that he needs to see the creature dying, which means he leads to somewhat predictable play patterns.
The most important of these abilities, indestructible, is hard to achieve.
The Old Formula
Here's what we see on Rayami's EDHREC page so far:
I don't really like to say that something is being built wrong. Don't get me wrong, having a bunch of creatures with different keywords does help Rayami grow more powerful. However, unless we also add many sacrifice outlets, Rayami will only acquire the keywords from those creatures when either we or another player use something like a board wipe, which would also, sadly, hit our commander, forcing us to recast him at an inflated rate. This is even trickier for some of the cards like Rhonas, the Indomitable, which has indestructible, and therefore is more likely to be exiled than put into the graveyard. We can't always rely upon effects like Tragic Slip to get these creatures to actually kick the bucket. Creatures with good keywords and relevant abilities, like Baleful Strix, are always welcome; we just need a way to reliably give Rayami access to their abilities.
The Epic Ingredients
In recursion-heavy metas, Rayami, First of the Fallen's graveyard-hosing ability is a great way to give control decks a fighting chance against those strategies. This way, Rayami can work as an early/mid-game hate and late-game finisher.
To become an effective finisher, graveyard hoser, and overall nightmare for our enemies, we need to have a bunch of creature removal. This can be extremely inefficient in terms of card advantage, and because of that, we need to have a reusable form of removal. Planeswalkers fit this role perfectly: many of them have loyalty abilities that remove creatures, and they most often will stick around after to provide further value.
Garruk Relentless is an interesting addition to the list, since his 0 ability can snipe a random mana dork, and on his other side his -1 gives us a Diabolic Intent, which is a great way to get a specific keyword for our commander. Oko, Thief of Crowns is an annoying planeswalker (for everyone else but us) who can do a lot of tricks that are all high on the salt scale. Be aware: even if he turns another keyword-heavy creature into a useless 3/3 Elk with no abilities, when that creature dies and gets exiled by Rayami, the card in exile will have those keywords again, so Oko doesn't get in the way of Rayami's plans by negating abilities on the battlefield! Ob Nixilis Reignited might be a cliche planeswalker, but there's a reason why cliches are used. Having a source of constant card draw and occasional removal is very strong, especially in a deck that is building to take advantage of those incremental advantages.
For our creature suite, we focus on two keywords: indestructible and hexproof. Our indestructible creatures are mostly Gods, like Kefnet the Mindful and Erebos, God of the Dead. They are hard to feed to our commander, but when we get there, the game becomes way easier for us. We don't have all that many hexproof creatures, but staples like Lightning Greaves help to cover that. Rankle, Master of Pranks has two relevant keywords, and he gets even better considering his damage-triggered ability allows us to sacrifice our indestructible creatures.
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The list is on the heavy side of the mana curve, so to be able to get to the point of droping bombs on the table, we're playing a mostly blue-green shell that lets us get to that big stage of the game as early as possible while also allowing us to interact with our opponents.
Our removal suite (not including the planeswalkers) bears discussion, given that it enables Rayami to function. Beast Within, Assassin's Trophy, and Windgrace's Judgment are each all-around versatile removal. Nevinyrral's Disk and Pernicious Deed are delayed global removal that play well with our deck since we don't really have all that many relevant permanents that die to them, especially once Rayami becomes indestructible. We are also playing the combination of Damnation, In Garruk's Wake, and Toxic Deluge, which might seem a little bit excessive, considering all of the other creature-based removal that we're running, but Rayami appreciates a good board wipe, and planeswalkers appreciate them even more.
For our opening hand, we're looking mostly for ramp. A card draw spell or two can go a long way, and anything past that point is just luxury. We need to get settled before we can even cast Rayami, First of the Fallen, and casting him at the right moment is crucial. We need to maximize his potential by looking for opportunities to get good keywords without slowing us down in case things go wrong. It's very easy for Rayami to die without gaining any value, which is especially bad if we're facing a graveyard-based deck. We'll spend the early game getting our essentials together while we're waiting for the rest of the board to develop.
Speaking of timing, when we hit the mid-game, we should be looking for a chance to play a planeswalker. The best time is usually right after a board wipe. Once we have one down, it becomes easier to slow down the game since the rest of the table will have to split the focus between us and our walkers.
Alternatively, this is the perfect time to start setting up our commander. Once we have our essentials together, like a steady amount of ramp or a source of card advantage, and once other players have dared to put other creatures into play, Rayami will be bold enough to enter play and witness their demise.
In the late game we should be all set; the combination of a late planeswalker, or Rayami if we got the keywords along the way, can be quite difficult to deal with. On the off chance that this is not enough, we also have two big X spells that can be powered out with the Cabal Coffers + Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth combo.
This brew is quite light on creatures, but heavy on control. Rayami isn't just here to steal keywords, he's here to steal your opponents' hopes and dreams, too. All he needs are a few essential keywords, and then this singular threat can carry you to victory, aided with a suite of very dastardly control spells. It may not look like the typical Rayami deck, but it is certainly more powerful than it looks.
If you'd like to adapt this list further, there are a few other directions one might be able to take it to increase its control over the board.
For example, the planeswalker suite. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is an expensive addition that can be quite effective on a higher budget, for instance. Ashiok, Dream Render double downs on the graveyard hate, and can also help against many other strategies. Leaning a bit harder into Proliferate effects could also be effective, although they can feel a little bit 'win more.' If going for this build, it's probably best to add more cards that benefit from those effects, such as more planeswalkers, which your soon-to-be indestructible commander will be happy to defend.
If your meta is okay with a few extra turn spells, like Time Warp, you might be able to seal the deal a bit faster. They're especially good in a deck that tries to have a bunch of planeswalkers in play, and we do have the mana to play them. We just need to be careful to not overdo it since the list can get pretty crowded with high-CMC cards.
That’s it for this Epic Experiment! What do you think about this list? Are the necromancers in your meta mad? Do you have any questions about the deck? Which cards did you like? Which didn’t you? Was the Epic Experiment a success? Please let me know in the comments below!