This started out as a silly idea for maximising Alyi's 3rd and least relevant ability. The card would be cube worthy without it and still one of the top three Orzhov cards including Lingering Souls! In the name of testing and doing new things I put this Abzan life deck together and it wasn't at any point looking bad like I expected. It turns out almost all the incidental life cards in cube are pretty good and go pretty well together in a deck. There were a couple more I could ram in but it didn't feel like it needed it at all. There was enough that I should try and use what little space there was left to make this as viable as possible. This was the end result, a fairly typical looking Abzan midrange list. We all know plenty about how this kind of deck performs and what cards are good in it so I will only bother to talk about the new stuff as this was another testing vessel deck.
Birds of Paradise
Swords to Plowshares
Warden of the First Tree
Oath of Nissa
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
Voice of Resurgence
Liliana, Heretical Healer
Courser of Kruphix
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Meren of Clan Nel Toth
(including a greedy 4 man lands)
Sylvan Advocate is not a life card and was basically filler in this list because he is new. Turns out he is pretty good, even in the Tarmogoyf slot. This deck has enough relevant creatures that short of mass removal you are basically never killing the Advocate until it is too late and he is a 4/5 that makes a bunch of your land terrifying. A 5/5 trampling Village and a 4/5 lifelinking Vent that can attack together along with the now 4/5 vigilance Advocate. What seemed like a managable situation gets out of hand somehow without you realising. Stirring Wildwood becomes able to take down Baneslayer and Thundermaw!! Sylvan Advocate held the early game really reliably and then contributed significantly to the end game for no further mana investment. Exactly what you want from that kind of filler, I expect to see more of Advocate and in a relatively wide selection of decks.
Kalitas performed well in this list but didn't face the kinds of decks where he is ruinous. Mostly he made combat really awkward. He forced people into avoiding blocks which essentially leads to trying to race, a poor strategy against lifelink. Between Kalitas and Liliana combat was really uncomfortable against this list. I have already done some extensive segments on Kalitas so I should really just say here that his performace hasn't yet made me want to change my mind about the card. Still a top rate four drop dork.
Oath of Nissa also did roughly what you would expect of the card. That is good because I designed the list with it in mind, without such a card this deck would be slightly land light and a little bloated on the four slot. Oath has performed well against Cyclonic Rift and Crush of Tentacles. Although you mostly want to redevelop a board position after such spells the Oath is so cheap and you have a decent land count that the extra options on better threats is well worth it most of the time. It is a free card and somewhat in the same vein as Kitchen Finks against Wrath effects for the mass bounce that is growing in popularity with the blue mages.
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar has really impressed in the many decks I have used her in. In all she has performed fairly similarly, well but not game breaking. Compared to Liliana of the Veil, Ashiok and even a couple of the other three mana planeswalkers Nissa has not dominated any games. It is hard to describe her as more powerful than such cards. What she is however is very consistent and reliable. She works very well with lots of other cards and is substantially less situational or matuchp dependent than basically all the other three mana walkers. As you have to combine her abilities together for her to be a standalone threat she is inherently a lot slower to become a threat than most other walkers. Despite this need to use her main two abilities together to be a standalone threat both of the abilities are very useful immediately in one of the two main states of the game. Either you are behind and you want to make plants to protect your walkers and your face or you are ahead and you want to push that advantage by powering up your dorks. Nissa always seems to come down, do something useful right away while being much safer than most plansewalkers, certainly the cheap ones. I like how she plays and I like her design, she is very playable but relatively fair as cube cards go. She also gives a strong incentive towards abusing her potential synergies.
Finally we come to Ayli, the center piece of the deck. As a card Ayli fits somewhat into the same category as Sylvan Advocate and Dimensional Infiltrator - decent cheap filler that scales well into the late game. I didn't put much stock in the final ability of the card and rated it mostly just based on the rest of it. In hindsight I think this might have been harsh. In most of the decks where you will play her and against most matchups you will have a decent board of dorks and not take that much damage. That means you don't need that much toughness in play to turn her on so to speak. Anything you chump with or that is killed will usually be turned into some life with Ayli about which means you need to sacrifice less to get to that 30 mark. As everything is instant Ayli is actually quite a problem to play around. The card she felt most like as oddly Soulfire Grandmaster. A fine two drop with a keyword stat and a passive or near passive lifegain mechanic that turns into a lockdown style threat in the super late game. Eight mana, Soulfire Grand Master and a card like Cryptic Command is usually game over and it just makes the card a really dangerous and annoying thing to have to consider. You often end up killing it inefficiently because you are scared of what it might do to you. This is exactly how I felt facing Ayli, I new at any point my opponent could trade in a few dorks for life and then go on a rampage of Vindication on my stuff all at instant speed. You really don't need to overload on lifegain stuff, a bit will certainly improve Ayli but she can do most of the legwork herself if the need arises. Basically, you fail to kill this little 2/3 and she will kill all your stuff sooner than you might anticipate. Better than expected, a staple for any deck in those colours.