Ajani, Strength of the Pride
– Core Set 2020
July 29, 2019
Commander [EDH]: 4.25
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
Another core set, another Ajani, albeit not without a twist. With Gideon having met with an unfortunate death experience, it falls on everyone’s favorite white kitty to be the mono-white planeswalker. The twist comes in his ultimate, which is a lot weirder than most planeswalker ultimates.
Let’s start with that, since his ultimate costs zero loyalty. It’s more or less a one-sided Final Judgment that takes out Ajani and your opponent’s artifacts. Four mana to nuke the board is extremely powerful, particularly with it being an exile effect. The catch is that it only happens if you have 15 life above your starting life total, and that’s what the rest of Ajani is meant to do.
His -2 makes…Ajani’s Pridemate, an extant creature who now gets a token copy of it. Being able to make 2/2 bodies that benefit from his +1 (which gives you a bit of extra life) is a nice touch; his +1 will almost always give you at least 1 life, but it pairs well with white’s ability to go wide. His starting loyalty is high enough to buffer him in case he comes under fire (and he doesn’t need much to pop his board-wipe ultimate).
As always, life gain is not well-regarded, and for good reason; it’s a way to lose more slowly, rarely a means to win the game. But nuking opponents’ boards is a very good way to push yourself ahead, and a four-mana board wipe with utility outside of that is almost reason enough to run enough lifegain to get the big kitty going.
When Magic’s been around for as long as it has, you start to think that it has nothing left to surprise you. And then they reveal a painting of Rowan Kenrith dressed to visit her grandmother in the Forest Sauvage, and give us a planeswalker whose ultimate can be activated the moment they come into play. Let’s be clear: it’s not quite as easy to get to fifteen points above your starting life total as Ajani makes it sound. If people think there’s even a chance you might have him, they’re going to go all out to make sure you get no more than 14 points above your starting life, because it’s hard to come back from his ultimate. But there will be matchups your opponent is both too slow to reliably stop him and too fragile to ignore him; not to mention the other matchups where a couple of almost-free 2/2 Pridemates will turn the tide. Note the synergy between Ajani’s Pridemate – either the kind created by this card or the general version – and his +1, as well.
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