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Budget Commander: Ayula, Queen Among Bears | $30, $60, $90, $190


I did some shameless panda-ering to my Twitter followers by asking which Modern Horizons I should first cover on Budget Commander. As predicted, Ayula, Queen Among Bears was crowned the winner, completely embearassing the competition. If Bear Tribal is what you want, then that's what you'll get! Let's get that honey!

Adding Claws to the Meme

Look, I know why you people picked Ayula, Queen Among Bears: you want spicy memes. You want filthy, filthy jank with a big scoop of unbearable puns on top. I get it. I want that too. And I'll give you what you want, you naughty people. But unlike most Ayula decks, I'm not going to just lazily throw together every single card that says "Bear" on it, toss in some Forests, and call it a day. That's not what we do here on Budget Commander. No, I'm gonna take care of the teddy-ous task of researching the crap out of this deck and present to you the highest koalaty Bear Tribal deck I can come up with. Something you can sleeve up and surprise folks with how good it is. Heck, maybe even win some games with it!

It's gonna be tough. The power level of the Bear Tribe is overall ... low. When Grizzly Bears is one of the better Bears available in the tribe, you know it's gonna be a grizzly task to make something good while keeping the spirit of the tribe intact. But it can be done, it will be done, all thanks to the one (and ONLY) official Bear Tribal support card ever printed: Ayula, Queen Among Bears.

Ayula has to bear a heavy load to carry this tribe, but she's the best we could've hoped for: she turns all your Bears into hyper-efficient removal and grows them. All your bad Bears become good. Very importantly, she's only 2cmc, so she comes out early and we can afford to recast her a few times over the course of a game. Our queen basically carries the entire deck. She's literally the sole reason why Bear Tribal has gone from "bearly functional" to "clawsome!"

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Go Tall vs. Go Wide

Bears do one thing very well: mauling people's faces. It's no surprise that our deck is going to win via combat damage, but then the question is: are we going to win with one very big angry Bear, or a sloth of angry Bears? (Yes, that's the correct term for a group of bears. I'm just as confused as you.)

The answer: both!

The Bear Tribe has a few excellent token producers: Ayula's Influence, Words of Wilding, Bearscape, and Grizzly Fate are solid ways that we can fill the board with Bears, triggering Ayula, Queen Among Bears a whole bunch of times making big fightin' Bears. These are some of the best bear-related cards so there's no reason not to run them in any Bear Tribal deck. From there, you can slap down some generic anthems like Adaptive Automaton, Coat of Arms, Vanquisher's Banner and Door of Destinies to turn your army of 2/2's into a force to be reckoned with! This is the route I think most brewers will follow (if there are other masochists like me out there), and it's a good direction to take.

However, I'd argue that the best Ayula decks aren't focused on just Going Wide: in fact, their main way of winning will be to Go Tall, aka Voltron it up!

I'm pawsitive best version of Ayula, Queen Among Bears will be a Voltron route, an archetype she naturally falls into, for two reasons:

  1. Ayula, Queen Among Bears is by far the best Bear Tribal payoff card in our deck. Without her, our Bears are just, well, 2/2 vanilla creatures for the most part. Therefore we must ensure that our queen is protected against removal and stays on the battlefield.
  2. Ayula's fight trigger is better the bigger your fighting Bear is, so it can take on even the biggest creatures your opponents have. Therefore we're encouraged to focus on pumping up a single Bear with Ayula's +1/+1 counters and other pump methods (Become Immense).

We need to protect Ayula at all cost, and we want to pick a single Bear on the battlefield to pump up and fight with, so combining the two goals leads to a simple strategy: pump up Ayula, Queen Among Bears, protect her, attack with her, and maul anything that gets in our way.

So that's the version of Ayula I'll be talking about here: a Bear Tribal list that wins primarily by Going Tall with Ayula, Queen Among Bears, but can also Go Wide with Bear tokens.

You might like the deck if ...

  • You like memes.
  • You like Bears.
  • You like puns.
  • You like surprising people with a powerful deck when they expected just a garbage meme deck.
  • You want a flexible deck that can win by Going Tall and Going Wide

You might NOT like the deck if ...

  • You want to play only the strongest decks available.
  • You don't care for sweet memes.
  • You're a honey bee.
  • You're a park ranger that is regularly outwitted by bears.
  • Your playgroup furbids you from playing Bear Tribal because the puns are unbearable.

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Going Wide: Waking The Bears

If you check for Bear creatures in Scryfall, there aren't a whole lot to work with. We get a few more options to work with if we add Changelings to the mix, which count as Bears (along with everything else). These range from terrible (Razorclaw Bear), to decent (Werebear), to good (Chameleon Colossus) when paired with Ayula, Queen Among Bears. In the end though, all these Bears don't bring much to the deck on their own, just vanilla creatures that get most of their value when Ayula is on the battlefield. Therefore the best Bears are the ones that generate the most Ayula triggers in a mana-efficient way.

The best way to do this is Bear token producers: Ayula's Influence, Bearscape, Caller of the Claw, Grizzly Fate, Kamahl's Summons, Mother Bear, and Words of Wilding give you the most Bears for your buck. If you feel that you have enough of these, then token doublers Parallel Lives, Doubling Season, and Second Harvest become powerful inclusions. As an aside, don't run Volrath's Laboratory; spending 10 mana to make a 2/2 Bear token or 15 for two tokens is absolutely horrible. Just don't.

Here are my favorite Bears for the deck. I don't recommend running a Bear that costs more than 2 mana (Dragon-Scarred Bear) unless it can generate multiple Bears (Caller of the Claw) or brings some useful utility to the deck (Adaptive Automaton).

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Turning Our Wee Cubs Into Big Bears

Our Bears start as 2/2s. That's pretty small in the Commander format. Ayula, Queen Among Bears can make them 4/4's, which is way more threatening, but we can aim even higher with some easy inclusions.

First we've got creature anthems. Two of the best in the deck have to be Adaptive Automaton and Metallic Mimic: both are cheap and enter the battlefield as Bears themselves, so they trigger Ayula and other Bear synergy cards. Gauntlet of Power and Caged Sun are also easy includes since our lands are mostly Forests so we double our mana while pumping our creatures, so it's a double whammy for our deck. Other popular anthems include Door of Destinies, Vanquisher's Banner, Coat of Arms, Muraganda Petroglyphs, and Obelisk of Urd. All of these anthems not only let our Bears swing in for more damage, but also allow them to fight bigger foes with Ayula. And finally, classic finishers like Pathbreaker Ibex, End-Raze Forerunners, and Craterhoof Behemoth can easily put us in a game-winning pawsition.

Here are some of the best options to turn our cubs into big bears:

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Mauling Our Enemies

The most important tip I can give you to play Ayula efficiently is this: treat your Bears as ammo for Ayula. Do not cast them unless Ayula is on the battlefield.

The biggest strength Ayula, Queen Among Bears has over other decks is her built-in repeatable creature removal. Every time another Bear enters the battlefield under your control, you can fight an opposing creature. So your 2cmc Grizzly Bears, the land you discard to Ayula's Presence, they all come into play with a free Prey Upon attached to them. All you need to do is have your cheapo 2cmc commander on the battlefield. That's actually insane. Very few commanders out there offer such ridiculously good, repeatable removal at such a low cost. If used correctly, Ayula bears down on our opponents' board, clearing the battlefield of any opposing creatures and swatting away any future rivals as well.

Maximizing Ayula's fight trigger is simple: play Bears. The more, the better. Play the cheapest ones aka the 2 cmc ones (Grizzly Bears), and the most mana-efficient token producers (Bearscape). That covers most of the way we maximize Ayula. But there are a couple of other tricks.

The bigger our Bears are, the bigger the foes they can take down. Ayula can handle this too by growing your Bears, but anthems (Adaptive Automaton) do this too. You can also give your Bears deathtouch (Nightshade Peddler) to take out bigger foes but I'd rather just focus on making my Bears bigger instead.

The two cards I really like to add here with all this fighting, however, are the two Fight Support cards: Foe-Razer Regent and Vigor. Both grow our Bears whenever they fight. In the case of Vigor, your Bears don't even take damage when fighting -- or any damage, for that matter. It's insanely good.

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Okay, wait. I have some fighting spice for you. Hear me out. We have this repeatable, consistent fight enabler as our commander, right? We'll maul down our creatures, but what if there's no good creatures to kill? What if we want to hunt some more dangerous game and really put our opponents behind? What if we fought our opponents' lands?

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Look. Hold on. Stay with me here! 

Kamahl, Fist of Krosa is an amazing inclusion in our deck. He's a big ol' Overrun on a stick to make our Go Wide strategy lethal, and he acts as a deterrent against board wipes because we can animate our opponents' lands in response to a Wrath of God! But paired with Ayula, Queen Among Bears, if we're feelin' peckish, Kamahl can turn opposing lands into creatures so our Bears can have a little snack. Is that so wrong? Do you want our poor Bears to go hungry??? I'M NOT A MONSTER I SWEAR!

 

+1/+1 Counters

Ayula, Queen Among Bears is an excellent source of +1/+1 counters and can lead us to developing a small +1/+1 counter theme in our deck that's worth exploring. Hardened Scales is a no-brainer, giving us three +1/+1 counters each Ayula trigger instead of two, but there's a couple of other great ones too: Rishkar, Peema Renegade turns our Bears into ramp, Armorcraft Judge draws us cards, and Inspiring Call protects our Bears and draws us cards!

Here are my favorite +1/+1 counter cards for this deck:

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More Triggers!

So the deck is all about triggering Ayula, Queen Among Bears as much as possible, and we do that with Bears. But as you can see, there's not a whole lot of Bears to choose from, and I do not recommend digging deep and running the worst stuff like Razorclaw Bear. To get around this, I recommend adding a couple ways to get more value out of the Bears we do run.

Seth can rejoice, because Panharmonicon works wonders with Ayula, Queen Among Bears, doubling her triggers! Also lil' Strionic Resonator is welcome to join the party too.

The next trick we can use is to bounce/blink our Bears to get more triggers that way. Cloudstone Curio is one of the best options here. Temur Sabertooth is another sweet one that also doubles as protection for your other creatures. Conjurer's Closet is ... fine, if a bit overpriced and slow.

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Going Tall: Ayula Voltron

I think the most successful versions of Ayula, Queen Among Bears will be a primary Voltron plan. It's much easier to deal 21 commander damage by pumping up Ayula than it is by dealing 40+ damage with a random Grizzly Bear. And by focusing on protecting just Ayula and not every random Bear on our battlefield, we're much more likely to have Ayula -- our most important card regardless of whether we Go Wide or Go Tall -- stick around the battlefield to do her thing.

Ayula gets big fast: every Bear that enters the battlefield permanently increases her size by 2. Put one other Bear on the battlefield and she's a 4/4, another and she's 6/6, 8/8, 10/10 ... Once five other Bears enter the battlefield and she's a 12/12 she can 2-shot any opponent with commander damage. That's solid for a 2 cmc commander! But we can do much better once we throw in some Voltron support cards.

We've got a few ways to pump out 21 commander damage. Two sweet tribal options are Alpha Status and Stoneforge Masterwork, both growing Ayula as we add Bears to the battlefield. Since our lands are primarily Forests, Blanchwood Armor, Strata Scythe, and Primal Bellow are amazing lategame pumps. There's also classic options like Berserk, Fireshrieker, and the newcomer God-Eternal Rhonas.

A bunch of our best evasion cards also double as protection:  Nim Deathmantle, Sword of Fire and Ice, and Gaea's Embrace all help us get in for damage while making it harder for our opponents to remove Ayula.

Here are some of my favorite cards to deal lethal damage with Ayula:

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Ramp

Land ramp (Rampant Growth) will form the core of our ramp package. However, there is some spice for this deck that I'd like to highlight.

If you're adding a Voltron strategy, I really like One with Nature. You have to protect the enchanted creature, but once you do it's basically an even better Sword of the Animist, another card I love. Bonus points if you give the creature double strike for double triggers! If you want to go big on the ramp then Traverse the Outlands is perfect.

Since we have +1/+1 counters, Ordeal of Nylea is like a half-priced Explosive Vegetation that also adds a +1/+1 counter to our creature. And the already mentioned Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter are solid as well.

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Card Draw

Another big reason to focus on a Voltron strategy is it allows us to run powerful card draw that can instantly refill our hand: Rishkar's Expertise, Soul's Majesty, Hunter's Prowess are all easily drawing more cards than their mana costs which is a fantastic rate for any card draw spell. If you end up Going Wide, then cards like Regal Force end up drawing a ton of cards as well. If you have 20+ creatures in your deck then incremental draw like Lifecrafter's Bestiary and Beast Whisperer work wonders. Of course, there's also classics like Harmonize and Skullclamp

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Recursion

No secret spice here, just some good card options.

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Removal

Ayula, Queen Among Bears does a great job removing creatures (and lands teehee) but we can't solely rely on her to get rid of creatures. We also still need to remove enchantments/artifacts. Here are some of my favorites.

For spice: Ulvenwald Tracker is an excellent backup Ayula. For enchantments/artifacts, Rampage of the Clans is some sweet budget tech, since we can fight the tokens we give our opponents.

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Tutors

No specific spice here; just good tutors.

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Putting It All Together

Alright, now that we've gone over the card pool we're working with, it's time to talk about how we craft the deck. As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain ratio of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:

  • 50 mana; lands and ramp, usually a 37–13 split
  • 10 sources of "card advantage;" I use this term loosely but am mostly looking for card draw or any spell that nets me 2+ non-land cards in hand / directly into play
  • 6 targeted removal, split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate; because you never forget to add some graveyard hate in your deck, right? Right? Right?!
  • 1 surprise "I Win" card; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup

That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.

 

$30 List

The cheapest list shows off how all the various themes I covered mesh together into a cohesive deck. We're running 14 cards that can produce Bears, but some of the cards, notably Words of Wilding, provide all the Bears we need. To balance out the relatively few Bears in the deck, we're running a lot of card draw to find them (and anything else): 10 total, and most of them draw us a full hand of cards (Hunter's Prowess). We've got a nice +1/+1 Counter package, a Voltron package, lots of protection and interaction. Our main win condition is suiting up her highness, Ayula, Queen Among Bears, smacking someone for lethal commander damage. But if that doesn't work we can still Go Wide, dropping down Bears and beefing them up with Biogenic Upgrade and similar effects.

 

$60 List

The $60 list picks the remaining best "Bears:" Metallic Mimic, Adaptive Automaton, and Chameleon Colossus. Our Fight subtheme picks up the best payoff card, Vigor. Our ramp gets better with inclusions like Nissa, Who Shakes the World, and our card draw is more explosive with Rishkar's Expertise.

 

$90 List

Going up to $90 picks up Kamahl, Fist of Krosa, aka Overrun on a stick that also lets us destroy lands. For added protection we've got Heroic Intervention and Bear Umbra. We can fight creatures with shroud/hexproof with the inclusion of Arcane Lighthouse.

Interestingly, I'm not sold on Bearscape here: I doubt we'll get more than 2-3 Bears out of it unless we're absolutely loaded with fetchlands and self-mill, which we aren't. I'm aware the synergy with Ayula's Influence but that leads into win-more territory. It's basically a bad Grizzly Fate. Ironic, since the card is so expensive now due to speculators.

$190 List

The $190 is how the deck looks if no individual card is over $20. We've picked up Cloudstone Curio and a bunch more sweet upgrades like the best protection spell with Heroic Intervention, another great finisher with Kalonion Hydra, and graveyard hate with Scavenging Ooze. The only other "staple" for this deck would be Doubling Season if you're willing to spend serious cash. And if you can spend ridiculous cash then go for Survival of the Fittest and, I dunno, Gaea's Cradle. Go wild.

That's All, Folks!

I know this meme-ish article is more polarizing than my usual stuff, so thank you to those who stuck around to the end! I'd like to cover a few more Modern Horizons commanders to ride that hype train. After that it's likely I'll go back to updating my oldest articles since there's a demand for that. Thanks for reading!


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