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Ajani, Nacatl Pariah in Commander

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Today I'm going to take a dive into another Modern Horizons 3 legendary creature. This set released a lot of really exciting cards and among them is a handful of "cycles." A cycle is a set of cards that represent all five colors, or in some cases every possible two- or three-color pairing.

The legendary creature I'll be building around is the White entry in a cycle of legendary creatures that are double faced and can transform to become a planeswalker. The full five-card cycle includes Ajani, Nacatl Pariah, Tamiyo, Inquisitive Student, Sorin of House Markov, Ral, Monsoon Sage and Grist, Voracious Larva. Each of those cards has a front side that is one color and planeswalker side that is two colors, and which cares about that second color in some way. That means this seemingly White commander actually lets us build in Boros colors.

Ajani, Nacatl Pariah // Ajani, Nacatl Avenger

Ajani, Nacatl Pariah might not seem like much at first glance. He's a legendary Cat Warrior that creates a 2/1 White Cat Warrior creature token when he comes into play. All of the cards in this cycle have a trigger that causes them to transform into the planeswalker on their back side. You can't just choose to cast them as a planeswalker. For Ajani, that trigger is optional and only occurs when one or more other Cats you control die.

As a cat lover, I'm not super eager to start killing my kitties, but these aren't just adorable little fluff balls. Look at the abs on Ajani. You might secretly call him Mister Meow Meow, but he and his tribe are far from housecats. If you can't quite make out how ripped Ajani is, just let one of your Cats die and transform him into Ajani, Nacatl Avenger. Mister Meow Meow has been to the gym and is ready to throw down.

If Pariah, his front side, is a little underwhelming, Avenger somewhat makes up for that, but I still don't think this is more than a mid-powered deck. He starts with three loyalty counters and puts us into red and White. His first planeswalker ability adds two loyalty counters and puts a +1/+1 counter on each cat I control, and that further pushes us towards building this as a Cats typal deck.

Avenger's middle ability creates a 2/1 White Cat Warrior creature token, and then if I control a red permanent other than Ajani, he'll deal damage equal to the number of creatures I control to any target. This ability is the only reference to red on the card, and it's a "+0" so we won't add or remove loyalty counters if we choose to activate it. While we have been incentivized towards running Cats, there aren't many red Cats worth running in EDH. If I chose to build this in two colors, I could run support creatures like Ogre Battledriver and other permanents like Mana Echoes or even the first Boros Ajani planeswalker, Ajani Vengeant.

Ajani, Nacatl Avenger's final ability, often called its "ult" or "limit break", is well worth the price of admission. It's a -4, so I'd be able to use it on the turn after I transformed Ajani if I had previously used his +2 to put counters on all of my Cats and he didn't take any damage in the following turn cycle. This final ability has each of my opponents choose an artifact, a creature, an enchantment, and a planeswalker from among the nonland permanents they control and then sacrifice the rest.

Wowza!

That gets past hexproof and deals with indestructible boardstates. It gets past regenerate, as a sacrificed permanent cannot be regenerated.

While there may be some players who won't lose that much, it represents a brutal setback that could then keep happening every third turn for as long as I'm able to keep and protect my planeswalker.

Anyone not playing Sigarda, Host of Herons, a legendary Angel which prevents you from being forced to sacrifice permanents, is going to have to figure out how to overcome a deck that is capable of pumping up its own favorite creature type and knocking everyone else back into the stone again and again and again.

I don't like decks that are too oppressive, but Ajani, Nacatl Avenger does give the table a little breathing room. Your army can always get wiped out by wraths, and Boros Cats isn't a traditionally powerful combination, but before we get to deckbuilding I've got to make a decision.

Do I really want to build this deck in two colors?

Paths Not Traveled

One of my favorite legendary creatures ever printed is Ramos, Dragon Engine. Ramos is a 5/c artifact creature that costs 6 generic mana to cast. You can build Ramos in any combination of colors, even as a mono-colored deck. The color identity comes from the mana Ramos can give you, so a mono-White Ramos deck could be an interesting, fun, viable and legal Commander deck.

Similarly, Ajani, Nacatl Pariah could also be built as a mono-White deck. The only thing I'd be losing out on is the ability to create another Cat Warrior token and push out a little damage with his +0 ability. That damage ability cares about the number of creatures I control, so I could pivot away from cats if I wanted to.

Impact Tremors
Aggravated Assault
Firecat Blitz

If I went mono-White, I'd be missing out on damage sources like Impact Tremors, and extra combat steps from cards like Moraug, Fury of Akoum and Aggravated Assault. Red is uniquely good at cards that push out damage when creatures enter the battlefield. Purphoros, God of the Forge and Witty Roastmaster could round out a set of cards that can work with our creature-based strategy to push my tablemates' life totals down. Moraug, Fury of Akoum, Hexplate Wallbreaker and sorceries like Waves of Aggression and World at war could let me load up on extra combats to try to push out lethal damage after forcing everyone to sacrifice most of their nonland permanents.

Mono-White would also see me miss out on a spiffy old Red Cat token generator from Judgment called Firecat Blitz. This sorcery puts X 1/1 red Cat creature tokens into play, but you'll exile them at the end of turn. It has flashback, but at the hefty cost of sacrificing X mountains to make another X 1/1 Red Cat creature tokens. In a two-colored deck, that X might not amount to much, but this would be a cute way to make a few red Cats for a Boros Cats deck.

I did go through the exercise of seeing what I would have to take out of my first draft of this deck to make room for a handful of red cards. I wanted to keep my focus on Cats but after I pulled out all of my non-Cats I saw that I was pulling out a lot of important cards for the deck to play smoothly.

I wanted my Alms Collector and my Lion Sash, but I also wanted my Esper Sentinel and Archivist of Oghma card draw and the lands I'd get from Solemn Simulacrum, Skittering Surveyor and Pilgrim's Eye. In the end I felt it would be too weakened by losing all those White staples so I decided to stay with my first draft, which was a mono-White Ajani, Nacatl Pariah.

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Cats Cats Cats

While I decided I wanted to run important cards like Esper Sentinel and Archivist of Oghma, and staples like Solemn Simulacrum, I was also able to load up my deck with Cats that provide important abilities that help the deck to function.

Felidar Cub
Skyhunter Prowler
Highcliff Felidar

A creature like Felidar Cub provides a nice rattlesnake effect for any opponent who might play an important enchantment. Food Chain isn't going to hit the table as long as Felidar Cub is standing guard. If I want to sacrifice him to let me flip my commander I can probably find a target in a four player game of commander. Even a little land aura like Fertile Ground could become victim to Felidar Cub if I need to gain access to Ajani's back: Ajani, Nacatl Avenger.

Any deck with planeswalkers needs to be able to protect them from attackers, and one of the best ways to keep them alive is to play good blockers. Deathtouch blockers are ideal, but one of the biggest threats to planeswalkers are often flying attackers. Armored Skyhunter, Leonin Skyhunter, Skyhunter Patrol, Skyhunter Prowler and Skyhunter Skirmisher will help me clutter up the skies, in addition an old favorite of mine, Pilgrim's Eye, which tutors a land to my hand to help me hit my land drops.

Highcliff Felidar costs a whopping 7 mana, but if I'm able to get to the late game and use Ajani, Nacatl Avenger's final ability to force my opponents to sacrifice all but one of their creatures, this Cat Beast will finish the job quite nicely. Filling up some of the removal slots in my deck with Cats that have removal tacked onto them helps me stay strong on my creature type theme without sacrificing functionality. Leonin Relic-Warden lets me exile target artifact or enchantment until it leaves the battlefield. It might not be as flexible as Oblivion Ring, but I'll be happy to be able to put +1/+1 counters on it and send it into battle.

Kemba, Kha Regent
Ajani, Strength of the Pride
Jazal Goldmane

I ended up running a handful of equipment, as Cats don't always get big enough to matter. Strata Scythe and Blackblade Reforged can both make a creature much, much bigger and Skullclamp is so good a source of card draw, it's got me thinking about running artifact tutors just to fetch it up. Running equipment opened the door for a card like Kemba, Kha Regent, which can help to push out more Cat tokens.

Ajani, Strength of the Pride can also pump out Cat tokens, but it is more likely to help me gain life and then serve as a one-sided board wipe if I can gain enough life. Cats like Healer of the Pride, Leonin Elder and Regal Caracal can help with that, and also help me have a big enough Cat army to matter.

Jazal Goldmane isn't the only finisher in this list. Cathars' Crusade and Moonshaker Cavalry can both set me up to close out a game, but Jazal is a cat so he gets the spotlight. He's a 4/4 Cat Warrior with a five-mana ability to give attacking creatures I control +X/+X where X is the number of attacking creatures. If it's the late game and I'm able to produce 10 mana, even a modest army could let me kill a tablemate or two with two activations.

Flippin' Ajani

While my deck is loaded up with Cats, this deck's chances of winning games may hinge on my ability to play, flip, protect, and use the planeswalker side of my commander. A commander that can pump up my Cats and force my opponents to sacrifice most of their permanents has a ton of potential, but the reality is that this game plan is pretty slow. Slow means easier to interact with, and that in turn means this will probably have trouble at higher powered tables.

I don't know that moving into two colors would make this list more powerful. There isn't a lot of red support for Cats and you'd be faced with some tough decisions. I couldn't bring myself to take that step, but I can see the argument that when a commander gives you access to another color you should probably play some of the cards that are now available to you. There's also an argument that keeping in mono-White keeps things simple and lets you focus on your tribe, rather than adding in extra bodies that won't work with Ajani, Nacatl Avenger's +1/+1 counter ability.

My deck ended up being a very Cat focused mono-White Ajani, Nacatl Pariah list. I think it'll be fun to play and should work well in lower powered games.

To push for a higher-powered build, there are a lot of changes you could make. You could abandon the cat theme and rely upon Ajani, Nacatl Pariah's ability to produce a cat token when it enters the battlefield. From there, you could do pretty much anything in red and White that suits you.

Final Thoughts

I definitely have some regrets about not exploring a two color deck, but I like what we used to call "tribal" builds, and I simply didn't want this to not be a Cats deck. Staying in White gave me an excuse to run some extra ways to try to keep my planeswalkers alive. Vow of Duty and Sphere of Safety can both help keep my planeswalkers from being attacked, but Ghostly Prison didn't make the cut, as it only taxes them for attacking me. I love fog effects, so Holy Day and Dawn Charm were last minute adds. Preventing combat damage will keep my walkers safe, though it only lets me dodge one turn's combat. If a table is dead set on killing Ajani, Nacatl Avenger.

If you're looking to build a two-color Cats deck, Selesnya is probably still your best bet. You've got more options for your commander and they're arguably better than Ajani. In 2017 the Feline Ferocity precon deck gave us Arahbo, Roar of the Wild and Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith, both of which are great Cat commanders. There are a few legendary cats in other two-color pairings and if you wanted to go into three colors you'd probably be building in Naya. Not all of these Cats care about their tribe, but I like having my commander match the creature type of a typal deck. If you decided you wanted no limits, Morophon, the Boundless is a shapeshifter that will put you in five colors and could provide an anthem effect and a discount on casting your Cats.

If you end up building Mister Meow Meow... er... Ajani, Nacatl Pariah, whether you build in White or in Red and White, I hope you have fun with him, but also play at the right tables for it to be able to keep up. I don't think his ceiling is particularly high so if you are in a really competitive meta you might have better options. It's also possible I missed some amazing synergy or combo that works perfectly with this card, so don't let me discourage you from brewing some spicy new Ajani deck that I wasn't able to find.

That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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