Fresh off a successful run with 4-Color Rally the Ancestors, one card in particular caught my eye from Oath of the Gatewatch.
In Standard, the rewards for sacrificing creatures are large.
But ways to cheaply, repeatedly, and reliably sacrifice creatures are hard to come by.
There’s a lot going on with Ayli. She has a built-in life gain theme, and can potentially grow to dominate the late game if you can successfully get to 30 life. Zulaport Cutthroat (and Ayli herself) can help you achieve that goal, but also keep an eye on Blighted Steppe for any kind of token deck that winds up featuring Ayli.
The most exciting thing about the card, at least for me, is that she has impressive combat stats in her own right! From my experience, synergy-based decks like Rally the Ancestors will comfortably win the late game, provided they don’t get run over right away. Ayli is exactly the 2-drop that these decks were looking for. She can brick wall an army of Goblin tokens, and can trade with just about any creature at any time, which is particularly nice if you have a redundant copy of the legend in your hand.
Ayli is simply a strong card that any creature deck with black and white mana should pay attention to, including traditional versions of Abzan Aggro. For today, though, I’m going to focus on two builds of Abzan “sacrifice” decks.
Abzan Rally w/ Collected Company
I’d worked on Abzan Rally quite a lot in preparation for GP Oakland. It’s a multi-dimensional deck chock-full of Standard’s best cards. It can operate as a normal midrange deck—especially since Anafenza, the Foremost is already in the sideboard anyway—or it can use sacrifice synergies to dominate the board and cycle through its library. If the game drags out, finding a copy of Rally the Ancestors should guarantee a win no matter how far behind you have fallen.
Compared to 4-Color Rally, you lose Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, but having a mana base capable of supporting Ayli might make that a price worth paying. You can more easily support the double-black Liliana, Heretical Healer, and you get to play a healthy suite of manlands, including the new Hissing Quagmire.
Historically, Collected Company is one of the absolute best cards in these Rally the Ancestors decks. However, if you don’t want to be shackled by the extreme deckbuilding and sideboarding restrictions it imposes, you can cut Collected Company in exchange for a handful of different tools.
Abzan Rally w/o Collected Company
Smothering Abomination and Sifter of Skulls don’t work well with Collected Company, but they are outrageously powerful 4-drop options for a deck like this. In any kind of stalled board, getting one or the other in play (heaven forbid both at the same time!) will bury your opponent.
Finally, when you don’t have to agonize over your creature density, you’re free to round your deck out with singletons like Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Evolutionary Leap, and Abzan Ascendancy, all of which are great additions to a token/sacrifice deck.
I see Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim as one of the flagship cards of Oath of the Gatewatch. I predict that she’ll see play across multiple formats, in a wide variety of decks. Her raw power level means that you need not go far out of your way to make her good. However, her utility and complexity mean that if you want to build around her, there are plenty of great ways to do so. Enjoy!