Monomania - Nuclear Codes

(Ashling the Pilgrim | Art by Wayne Reynolds)

More Than One Way to Split an Atom

Greetings everyone, and welcome back to Monomania. In this article series we build mono-colored decks as a way to explore ramp and draw packages that are synergistic with our particular deck's strategy. In these articles I try to challenge staples and misconceptions about the color pie.

Today, it's personal. We'll be taking on one of my favorite commanders of all time.

This commander has been covered on EDHREC before in an Underdog’s Corner article by Mason Brantley. This article sparked my love affair with Ashling, and if you haven’t read it, definitely go check it out here. Since then, this has become one of my favorite commanders, and the brewing process broaches a few important topics in terms of mono-colored deckbuilding that are worth examining.

Ashling is very cheap at only two mana. As such, it will most likely be the first general to hit the board, if not the first play of the game. Just look at that juicy ability. This commander scales with the turns and allows us to selectively use its ability to nuke the board when advantageous. On EDHREC, Ashling only leads 388 decks. As a card, it finds a home in 788. It deserves a little more love.

I adore this general because it is spectacularly idiosyncratic and can transition easily during different phases of the game. When we flip Ashling over at most pods, nobody will quite know how its effect functions, what strategies it favors, or how to react. This confusion can enable us to play on our opponents’ expectations and ambush them later in the game.

I’ve built Ashling as a tricksy spellslinger commander with a few interesting considerations for ramp and draw packages.

Unload the Clip

First, let's discuss how we're going to produce the mana to really facilitate our commander's strategies. On Ashling's EDHREC page, Mind Stone and Fire Diamond find homes in 33% of decks. In my opinion, we don't need mana rocks to milk our commander.

Make no mistake, the double-faced cards from Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan are ramp effects. All of them turn into an extra land, and extremely potent lands at that. They are slow ramp effects, but if we have things to do in the early game, as we do with Ashling, they can fill out a ramp package perfectly. Primal Amulet is perhaps the most dynamic among them: it provides ramp on both sides and later Forks our spells. Thaumatic Compass is a card that I think should be a Commander staple. It is colorless ramp, provides light card advantage, and flips into an upgraded Maze of Ith.

Finally, Vance’s Blasting Cannons overperforms in mono-red. Notice that the transform ability is a 'may' trigger. We can choose on any turn in which we cast three or more spells whether we want to keep it sunny-side-up and continue to leverage the card advantage, or ramp a land. I am a huge proponent of these transform cards. Whenever you build a deck, especially outside of green, take a look at the Ixalan transform cards in the deck’s colors and ask whether they fit better than the other ramp effects you’re considering.

Now let’s take a look at a strong suit of mono-red decks: big, fast mana. Braid of Fire sees play in 1,947 decks and it deserves to see play in more. Not only is this card a house in mono-red, but I would consider it in two-color decks as well. Mana Geyser is incredible in multiplayer formats. Never leave home without it.

Brass’s Bounty is underrated in this field, represented in only 1,196 decks on EDHREC. With plentiful Fork effects, this card shines. Not only does it create one explosive turn, it can also help fuel another by sandbagging unused Treasure tokens. It’s no Mana Geyser, but few cards are. In fact, only one is, and it's Mana Geyser.

These colorless effects fit perfectly here. The Sword is extremely good in any deck that will stick on the board fast and swing in a couple times uncontested. Ashling does that, and even grows to the point that it will be able to attack into an opponent’s board without much worry.

Heartstone will allow us to grow Ashling even faster while also developing more on the board. Pyromancer's Goggles is a centerpiece of any red spellslinger deck. This card is inefficient as a mana rock, but it is crucial to enable our strategies.

Finally, there are three lands that can function as ramp in this deck. Zoetic Cavern is a mono-colored staple in my mind. Every draft of a mono-colored deck I make starts with Zoetic Cavern, Wayfarer’s Bauble, Burnished Hart, and Solemn Simulacrum. The Cavern normally earns its keep because of its flexibility. If we need to hit our land drop, it fills that role. If we want a creature on the board, we got it. Ramp? It does that too. Lastly, Drownyard Temple is perfect in any deck that likes to rummage or loot, so it's pretty cozy in this list.

Taking all of this into consideration, let’s see if we can find some draw effects that play well with our strategies.

Keep a Couple in the Chamber

Staff of Nin, my perennial nemesis and scourge of mono-colored deck building, shows up in 34% of Ashling decks on EDHREC. It's not incorrect in every circumstance or for every budget, but there are certainly better, more synergistic card advantage options for our commander and our strategy.

First, let’s examine some rent-before-you-buy-it card advantage effects. This deck has a low curve and can have some explosive turns that create forty mana or more. Commune with Lava is perfect if we’re high on mana and low on cards in hand.

Remember when I said that Vance’s Blasting Cannons overperforms in mono-red? This is why. Outpost Siege sees play in 6,762 decks listed on EDHREC while Vance’s Blasting Cannons only sees play in 1,028. The Cannons, to my sensibilities, is on par with Outpost Siege, even though we can’t hit our land drops with it. Its double function as ramp and draw makes it flexible and efficient for a variety of strategies.

We also have a suite of rummage effects. It is important to notice that while these cards dig through our deck, they do not net us card advantage without further support. With that being said, the discard on all of these cards is an additional cost.

Fork effects copy a spell after all costs have been paid, so if we use Primal Wellspring or Increasing Vengeance to copy Cathartic Reunion, suddenly we’re discarding two cards and drawing six. In this deck, we don’t mind fueling our graveyard and have the Forks to really make these cards sing.

Finally, we have a few effects that play with our opponents’ cards. With one attack trigger off of Etali, we’re up three cards immediately and didn’t waste any mana. Stolen Strategy allows us to pick and choose what we want from our opponents.

Then we have Experimental Frenzy. This card is dangerous, but because of our low curve, we will hopefully be able to chain several cards off the top of our library every turn.

The Deck

Let’s put it all together with a cohesive deck list.

Among the notable inclusions we have Gratuitous Violence, which will double our Ashling damage when we choose to push the button. Shunt and Bolt Bend are deceptively powerful spells that can protect our commander from targeted removal, or turn a spell back on its owner. Even better, they can counter a counterspell.

Magebane Armor, Basilisk Collar, and Batterskull are all incredible when equipped to Ashling. Attaching lifelink to Ashling's text box means we can casually gain twenty or more life when we blow up the board. Deathtouch allows Ashling to take down big creatures outside of its blast radius.

Empty the Warrens and Ignite Memories take advantage of some of the large spell chains we can arrange, often acting as win conditions. Heartless Hidetsugu also plays very well when equipped with lifelink, or it can just one-shot our opponents in conjunction with Gratuitous Violence. Reiterate is a Fork that we can reuse with enough mana, or it can offhandedly produce infinite mana with Mana Geyser or Brass’s Bounty. Price of Progress can also just dome our opponents out of the game.

Finally, I’ve included a powerful two-card combo, Dualcaster Mage and Twinflame, as a safety valve to end the game.

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

I hope this article was useful for you, and makes you consider some cards that weren’t on your radar. What do you all think of Ashling? Are there any cool interactions, combos, or cards that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

Remember to EDHREC responsibly: always dig a little beyond the statistics. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on down the road.

Steven Vincent is an ESL teacher located in Oaxaca, México who uses Magic as a teaching tool. He hasn't introduced his students to Commander yet, but he is inching them toward the format so that he has a play group and can more frequently sate his thirst for EDH.

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