Conditions Allow - Ashling the Pilgrim EDH

Ben Doolittle • March 30, 2021

Ashling the Pilgrim | Art by Wayne Reynolds

Let It Burn

Hello, and welcome back to Conditions Allow, where I take a legendary creature with a drawback and try to turn it into a strength. Today I'm playing with fire to build around Ashling the Pilgrim in EDH.

Ashling the Pilgrim is one of the first meme commanders I ever heard about. All you need for a functioning deck, I was told, is Ashling and 99 Mountains. And this isn't far from the truth, either. Ashling is the sort of commander that does everything you need. Play her, activate her ability to stack +1/+1 counters, and she can keep the board clear and take chunks out of everyone's life totals.

The downside is that to do so, Ashling must die. The third time her ability resolves, she loses all the +1/+1 counters you spent so much mana making, and then deals that much damage to each creature and each player. That includes Ashling herself, who is now a 1/1, guaranteeing her demise. You'll have to invest more time, and more mana, into growing your commander into a respectable threat all over again. Even if Ashling does stick around, thanks to Magebane Armor perhaps, you'll still have to take the time and mana to build her power back up.

Controlled Burning

If you look at Ashling the Pilgrim's EDHREC page, you can see how most players attempt to get around this problem. Damage multipliers make Ashling's ability much more impactful. They cut down the number of counters you need for the initial burst of damage, and make it much easier to rebuild your commander into a serious threat.

I'm not a huge fan of damage multipliers with Ashling the Pilgrim though. They also double the damage being dealt to you, by Ashling and by your opponents. It isn't difficult for your opponents to drop your life total low enough that you can't let Ashling go off without dying yourself, effectively locking yourself out of the game.

I'd much rather play creatures that want to take damage. When I was looking through Ashling the Pilgrim's EDHREC page, I was surprised that Cavalier of Flame only appears in 16% of decks. Ashling already encourages you to play a lot of lands, so the Cavalier can deal a lot of damage to each opponent when it dies. It also synergizes with one of mono-Rred's most popular Themes: Wheels.

Reforge the Soul and Wheel of Misfortune not only dig through our deck to find Cavalier of Flame, they also let us discard as many lands as possible. Cathartic Reunion and Thrill of Possibility further smooth out our draws, and Tectonic Reformation only gets better the more lands you play. I plan on playing roughly 50 lands, to ensure I hit land drops and to be discarding lands to these draw spells as often as possible.

Feeding the Flames

With wheels providing forward velocity through your deck, you don't have to play as many redundant pieces, but a few backups are still worth including. Brash Taunter is very strong with Ashling the Pilgrim, as is Toralf, God of Fury. Toralf is surprisingly flexible, able to point excess damage at your opponents themselves, or at creatures that would otherwise survive Ashling's explosions.

Finally, you can offset the damage Ashling deals to you by giving her lifelink. If Ashling the Pilgrim has lifelink when her ability resolves, we will gain at least three times as much life as we lose. Basilisk Collar is especially great because it means Ashling needs fewer counters to kill big creatures, ensuring we can clear the board exactly when we need to. It also combos nicely with Toralf, God of Fury, ensuring you get to reflect the maximum amount of damage to your opponent's faces.

Fire Safety

In order to do that more than once though, you'll need to keep Toralf, God of Fury alive. Hammer of Nazahn is perfect for this. Not having to equip it the first time we cast it means we have more mana for counters, or other interaction. Magebane Armor and Sanctuary Blade also protect your vital creatures by preventing the damage that Ashling would deal to them.

Stoking the Embers

Of course, the goal is always to get as many +1/+1 counters onto Ashling the Pilgrim as possible. Her EDHREC page includes Blade of the Bloodchief and Ring of Valkas to do that. Those are great options for a deck focused on equipment, but this is really a wheel deck. Plus, your commander can already gain counters through her own ability. You just need as much mana as possible to use that ability. This is where Unwinding Clock comes in. With enough mana rocks, Unwinding Clock is basically a colorless Seedborn Muse, giving us access to extra mana on each opponent's turn.

The idea, of course, is to use that mana to put +1/+1 counters on Ashling the Pilgrim, but it also opens up the potential to play for card advantage rather than damage. Endless Atlas is a staple in mono-colored decks, but we can add Chandra's Regulator and Sunset Pyramid beside it. Tectonic Reformation deserves another shoutout here too. With a total land count near fifty, you will usually have a spare land or two to cycle.

Once you have an engine set up, you will want to be able to protect it. Ashling presents a clear and visible threat, so she's likely to draw at least some removal. Pyroblast is a solid counter spell in mono-red, and Warping Wail will put a stop to most board wipes. Recently, however, single target removal seems to be more popular than board wipes, and red has the perfect answer to those. Why bother stopping a removal spell when you can simply redirect it, protecting your stuff while destroying someone else's best card. Deflecting Swat is great here, and Bolt Bend should just be in more decks.

In terms of removal, I want to be sure to include a couple of cheap burn spells. Wheel decks are fairly popular, based on the data on EDHREC, so chances are you'll run into a Hullbreacher or Notion Thief eventually. Being able to remove them at instant speed is vital for stopping an opponent from hijacking our own game plan.

Add in plenty of ramp and this is what the deck looks like.

Ashling the Pilgrim EDH

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Ashling the Pilgrim is a very flexible commander, which makes putting your own personal spin on her a great chance to explore what you like about Magic. I always appreciate a deck that uses lands in different ways, which led me to focus around Cavalier of Flame and wheels. How would you approach this particular commander? Let me know what cards you think work best with Ashling in the comments, and thanks for reading.


In case you missed it, don't miss Ben's first article for Commander's Herald, a Ghost of Ramirez DePietro and Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder brew.

Ben was introduced to Magic during Seventh Edition and has played on and off ever since. A Simic mage at heart, he loves being given a problem to solve. When not shuffling cards, Ben can be found lost in a book or skiing in the mountains of Vermont.