This entry is part 4 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

By SINIS aka IMSHAN
So far in the Ascendant article series, we’ve looked at Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant and Homura, Human Ascendant.  The first deck is a mechanical mix of life gain, Auras, and a narrow set of ways to abuse the commander, while the second is an intensely thematic deck based on Obi-Wan Kenobi and his travels.  This instalment of the Ascendant article series seeks to tackle the most problematic from the cycle.  Erayo reserves a special place of infamy for Commander players as one of the most ‘unfun’ and until recently, unbanned generals, and arguably the most recognizable from the Ascendant cycle.  In fact, it was near the completion of this very article that Erayo had found her way to the banned list.  Of the people I spoke to, most of those who knew of flip creatures from Kamigawa block immediately knew who Erayo was, but had very little idea of what the other Ascendants did.  For those who don’t know, Erayo, Soratami Ascendant is a 1/1 Legendary Moonfolk Monk with flying that costs 1U and reads “Whenever the fourth spell of a turn is cast, flip Erayo, Soratami Ascendant.”  The flip side of this card is Erayo’s Essence, a Legendary Enchantment which reads “Whenever an opponent casts a spell for the first time in a turn, counter that spell.”

Traditional deck construction for Erayo is well-trodden territory; the people who typically played Erayo prior to its banning either played in high-powered circles where prison, greased lightning combo and heavy control are the norm, and as a result had decks with the express intention of casting Erayo, followed shortly by a game plan to flip in a hurry in order to start taxing their opponents one spell at a time.  A list with that sort of goal might look like my own from before the banning:

General:
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant

Creatures:
Cloud of Faeries
Clone
Phyrexian Metamorph
Trinket Mage
Shrieking Drake
Tidespout Tyrant
Palinchron
Drift of Phantasms
Mulldrifter

Enchantments:
Power Artifact
Treachery
Arcane Laboratory
Seal of Removal

Artifacts:
Sol Ring
Mana Crypt
Mana Vault
Chrome Mox
Mox Diamond
Lotus Petal
Grim Monolith
Basalt Monolith
Voltaic Key
Sapphire Medallion
Mishra’s Bauble
Urza’s Bauble
Lodestone Bauble
Chimeric Mass
Sigil of Distinction
AEther Spellbomb
Pithing Needle
Brittle Effigy
Grafted Exoskeleton

Sorceries:
Gitaxian Probe
Ponder
Mystic Speculation
Merchant Scroll
Fabricate
Braingeyser
Timetwister
Time Spiral

Instants:
Snap
Frantic Search
Gush
High Tide
Turn Aside
Counterspell
Force of Will
Commandeer
Foil
Thwart
Misdirection
Spell Crumple
Hinder
Muddle the Mixture
Mystical Tutor
Repeal
Evacuation
Curfew
Into the Roil
Pongify
Fact or Fiction
Thirst For Knowledge
Blue Sun’s Zenith

Lands:
Academy Ruins
Ancient Tomb
Remote Isle
Lonely Sandbar
Strip Mine
Reliquary Tower
Tolaria West
29 Island

Is this the same person who made the Obi-Wan themed Homura deck?  Why would I build and play a deck like this?  For a number of reasons.  Firstly, in addition to theme decks I like to build highly competitive decks, agonizing over the most flexible card slots to create crazy combos, fast lockouts, and then play them against decks with the same level of cutthroat design.  I like the fact that for some decks, I should look at Muddle the Mixture as a counterspell, a tutor for Grim Monolith or Power Artifact or Braingeyser.  This is not the analysis I go through for cards in every deck; in other decks I look for style and theme considerations ahead of cutthroat optimality, but for this, nothing but the mechanically optimal will do.  This deck was meant to battle others of its kind; there are people who want to engage in very serious decision trees and analyses about what to actually make their opponent discard with a turn one Duress.  It isn’t for everyone, but for some set of people, this is a great deal of fun.

Of course, it turns out that for the vast majority of people this is definitely not fun, so I don’t actually get to bust this one out very often.  Now, I really like Erayo, despite the massive negative associations that come with playing her; I think the flip mechanic is an interesting one, and it’s a shame that one of the few generals with that mechanic must be restricted to more competitive play, or relegated to the ban list.

But, must it?

There are decklists, articles and forum posts abound about suboptimal builds for powerful generals.  You may have heard of the Sharuum non-combo deck, the Scion of the Ur-Dragon deck without Nicol Bolas or Dragon Tyrant, or the Azusa deck that powers out Khalni Hydra, Primalcrux and other colour intensive cards like Niall Sylvain for a different speed and flavour from Eldrazi.  There are even whispers of a Zur deck that has a ‘sideboard’ of a great many enchantments with a converted mana cost of less than three, which the Zur player shuffles up before the game, and then a set number of slots in the deck are filled with randomly selected enchantments from this sideboard.  Additionally, people play banned cards in local groups all the time; Kokusho is all but unbanned in at least one group I play with.

The same can be done for Erayo; despite what the justification for the recent banning was, any general can be made relatively fun or at least less than cutthroat-competitive (though, I think perhaps the rules committee was making a claim about how Erayo was typically built, rather than how it can be built).  Part of the reason Erayo was so problematic is that she often hit the table and flipped before anyone could do anything at all.  When faced with Erayo deck, people would look at their Cultivate on turn three and despair.  For those in an environment where fun is paramount, and winning is secondary, the deck needs to be radically different.  Early and reliable Erayo flips are perhaps uncalled for, infinite combos may be met with groans, and the general I-really-want-to-win nature of typical Erayo deck design needs to change.  So, the starting point for the casual metagame version of Erayo is a basic blue shell with some mana rocks, card draw, and permission:

General:
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant

Creatures:
Trinket Mage
Mulldrifter

Enchantments:
Seal of Removal

Artifacts:
Sol Ring
Mana Vault
Sapphire Medallion
Pithing Needle
Brittle Effigy

Sorceries:
Mystic Speculation
Merchant Scroll
Timetwister
Time Spiral

Instants:
Turn Aside
Counterspell
Force of Will
Commandeer
Foil
Misdirection
Spell Crumple
Hinder
Repeal
Evacuation
Fact or Fiction
Thirst For Knowledge
Mystical Tutor

If the handful of mana rocks justify a 38 land mana base, this deck is only half complete; 26 slots are taken, and 26 slots are empty.  How is playing Erayo without the free stuff and silly combos going to work?  A quick trip to the comprehensive rulebook and the Time Spiral block returns an answer that I find very exciting and interesting: cards with Suspend.  The salient part of this is that when a card with suspend and time counters loses its last counter, you actually ‘cast’ the spell (or ‘play’ the land, if you’re really boring) even though you don’t pay the mana cost.  For Erayo, that means exactly one thing: It counts as a spell that was cast.  So, if at least a few spells can be wrangled into landing at the same time, Erayo becomes an easy flip without cards with ‘bauble’ in the title.  For the fun factor of everyone else, suspend times tend to be fairly long (at least, long as the competitive Erayo deck counts time), so there will be no turn three shenanigans that result in sad faces.  Opponents will be able to play their ramp and such, because an early flip is extremely unlikely.  Moreover, this can turn into a fun time-themed deck, where the emphasis is more on time, and clock related things than lock pieces.

A quick search of the Time Spiral block reveals a multitude of cards from a variety of card types, nearly all of which are playable.  At the top of the list is Aeon Chronicler who serves as a fat beater and card draw.  Ancestral Vision is time honoured card draw.  Deep-Sea Kraken is a fat beater and a win condition, but will definitely require some handling to appear at the proper moment to flip Erayo.  Similarly, Epochrasite will require a bit of chump blocking or sacrificing to help out with the flip condition if it isn’t being hard cast on the same turn.  Lotus Bloom will be of utmost importance: not only is it a pretend Black Lotus making it pretty damn cool, but it will help flip Erayo by ‘being cast’, and then creating some mana to pay for other spells.  Reality Strobe reserves a special place in this deck.  It not only has suspend and performs a useful function, but it repeatedly does so, creating more opportunities to flip Erayo.

The other cards with suspend options?  They’re not spectacular, but that isn’t the point.  Errant Ephemeron, Infiltrator il-Kor, Riftwing Cloudskate, Veiling Oddity, and Viscerid Deepwalker are all creatures that can serve as win conditions, even if they’re vanilla beaters (or, just vanilla).  They also tend to work well with each other; since creatures that come into play from suspension gain haste, Veiling Oddity can make your creatures unblockable on the turn Erayo flips.  In the best universe, Viscerid Deepwalker hits for a bucketful once Riftwing Cloudskate or Veiling Oddity create an opportunity to swing through unblocked.

To get these spells to land at the same time, it’s going to take some wrangling.  You wont always be able to suspend Viscerid Deepwalker or Ancestral Vision on turn one, cast Erayo on turn two, and then suspend Infiltrator il-Kor on turn three, lining up their time counters perfectly with Erayo waiting to catch it all.  This is especially the case for Deep-Sea Kraken, which hastens its arrival the more your opponents do stuff.  To this end, the time manipulators that get called in (and I don’t mean Jhoira of the Ghitu).  Clockspinning, Jhoira’s Timebug and Timebender all get the nod to help manage the future turn where a pack of cards arrive and Erayo flips.  In fact, with these it’s possible to flip on someone else’s turn; a spell of their’s might trigger the last token on Deep-Sea Kraken, leaving you to Clockspinning a spell with one time counter (casting it also), making four spells for the turn.  Finally, Paradox Haze can speed the whole process up a little bit, making it a little bit more likely to win.  Even though there are only a handful of cards with suspend, a single one can go a long way toward flipping Erayo.

This covers a little over half the slots.  The remaining slots are cards that will cover the weaknesses of blue in general, like removal in the form of Duplicant, Phyrexian Ingester.  Since this Erayo build is not a soul-crushing denial engine, space is also needed for blunting creature attacks, like Propaganda.  Suspend as the main mechanic also lends this deck to time or time counter themed cards like Delay, the clockwork creatures printed over the years, or Time Walk effects (though, perhaps not too many of those) are also welcome.  Additionally, with a few suspended spells that land at the same time, storm cards like Mind’s Desire and Temporal Fissure could reasonably make an appearance without having the usual negative play experience associated with them present.  The main thrust of this is that even though Erayo is banned, and someone on the internet said that all Erayo lists are linear, boring, and distastefully similar, something different, themed and non-linear can be made out of it, and if your opponents are at all reasonable, they probably wont mind you playing it anyway.  Is this deck spectacular?  No.  Is it going to win every game?  Definitely not.  But, it was fun to build, and as it replaces my competitive Erayo, I’m certain it will be fun to play and tinker with (so long as I keep out the free cantrips or modern moxen).

Can Erayo be placed in a fun time-themed deck without being a huge negative play experience?  I’ll let you, the reader, decide.

General:
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant

Creatures:
Trinket Mage
Mulldrifter
Aeon Chronicler
Deep-Sea Kraken
Epochrasite
Errant Ephemeron
Infiltrator il-Kor
Riftwing Cloudskate
Veiling Oddity
Viscerid Deepwalker
Jhoira’s Timebug
Timebender
Duplicant
Phyrexian Ingester
Clockwork Dragon
Time Elemental
Temporal Adept
Magus of the Future
Maelstrom Djinn
Tidewalker

Enchantments:
Seal of Removal
Paradox Haze
Future Sight

Artifacts:
Sol Ring
Mana Vault
Sapphire Medallion
Pithing Needle
Brittle Effigy
Relic of Progenitus
Oblivion Stone
Lotus Bloom
Armageddon Clock
Infinite Hourglass
Timesifter
Temporal Aperture

Sorceries:
Mystic Speculation
Merchant Scroll
Timetwister
Time Spiral
Ancestral Vision
Time Warp
Time Stretch
Temporal Cascade
Temporal Fissure
Mind’s Desire

Instants:
Turn Aside
Counterspell
Force of Will
Commandeer
Foil
Misdirection
Spell Crumple
Hinder
Repeal
Evacuation
Fact or Fiction
Thirst For Knowledge
Mystical Tutor
Clockspinning
Delay
Time Stop

Lands:
Academy Ruins
Ancient Tomb
Remote Isle
Lonely Sandbar
Strip Mine
Reliquary Tower
Tolaria West
31 Island

E-mail: ipoolar@hotmail.com
Twitter: @generalspeak

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