Breaking Through – Sister Souljah Moments

Last year at Nationals, I managed to do the unthinkable. While the end result may have been piloting Soul Sisters to a top 16 finish, the real shocker was putting aside the[card] Acidic Slime[/card]s and [card]Abyssal Persecutor[/card]s for a tournament. Bucket list and etc. I did my best to avoid that for the last 10 months, but alas, a new sister has seen print, and she needed uniting with her older, more pure sister.

Since the spoiling of [card]Suture Priest[/card], pretty much its only Constructed buzz has been around the refurbishing of the old Soul Sisters archetype from last year. I guess gaining life is kind of like Mono-Black in that everyone has some secret fantasy of doing so in a competitive tourney and going the distance with said strategy. The problem with these nostalgia-based strategies, is that everyone always wants to see them recreated in the same form, over and over again. The reality of the situation though, is that times change.

Not only is the card pool significantly different than when the original Soul Sisters first was given life (and subsequently gave a lot more life in return), but the metagame is also different. You cannot expect carbon copies of a deck to do well in a different time. Imagine if the T-Rex was magically born again today. Despite Jurassic Park doing its best job to convince you it would go all Freddy Krueger on us, in reality, it would be caged and capture fairly easily and would never see a return to dominance like it had so many years ago (13,000 of them obviously…). Magic decks are very much the same way. Even if all of the cards that made Soul Sisters good were reprinted (and they most certainly aren’t), the environment it is entering into is too different from the original to expect the same results.

On the other hand though, completely dismissing an archetype simply because it cannot exist in its former form is a bit loose as well. So, to rectify the situation, we need to look at the middle ground; Rebirthing the archetype while simultaneously retooling it to interact better with the metagame and card pool it is entering into.

I had anticipated doing just that and taking the archetype for a test drive at the SCG Open in Louisville, but some tragic travel mishaps kept me from competing on day 1 of the event, so instead I was only able to sit back and watch the event transpire, eventually leading to a very similar list to my own coming in 9th place on breakers, which we will discuss a little later.

So, where do we begin to differentiate a new Soul Sisters from the old one? The answer lies in an overall tactical shift. Previously, the deck had a very explosive draw that almost no deck could beat. This was provided, in part, due to the additional 1-drop [card]Soul Warden[/card] and the consistency of [card]Ranger of Eos[/card]/[card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card] that would keep the deck pointed north even during times of turmoil. Some of that consistency has been lost with the mana costs of the deck shifting around though, causing you to move a little away from the traditional explosive life gain and into a deck that can better grind out a game regardless of what life you are actually at.

For example, before [card]Serra’s Ascendant[/card] was the actual nuts – it was typically able to get big by its attack on turn 4, ending most games right there. Now while it is still capable of doing just that, it does so much less frequently. This is mostly due to the loss of Soul Warden, which was cheaper than Suture Priest and gained you life from both sides of the battlefield. Your [card]Ajani’s Pridemate[/card]s are also a tad slower because of this fact, but so long as they manage to get out of [card]Pyroclasm[/card] and/or [card]Slagstorm[/card] range, that is all you really want.

So, if the deck became a less explosive deck in the life gain department, where did it gain? That my friends, is the key. At Nationals, the deck had one real form of reach, and that was Elspeth, Knight-Errant. Granted, she was an excellent form of reach as she also provided you with an anti-Wrath protection, but she could hardly do the job by her lonesome, especially at 4 mana. Here then, is the list I would have played this weekend, to provide an example of some of that reach:

[deck]4 Souls Attendant
4 Serra Ascendant
4 Ajanis Pridemate
4 Suture Priest
4 Inquisitor Exarch
4 Leonin Relic Warder
4 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Batterskull
1 Sword of War and Peace
1 Sword of Body and Mind
1 Mortarpod
4 Phyrexian Metamorph
2 Glimmerpoint Stag
4 Glimmerpost
2 Kabira Crossroads
16 Plains
2 Gideon Jura
2 Divine Offering
3 Shrine of Loyal Legions
3 Brave the Elements
3 Celestial Purge
2 Refraction Trap[/deck]

While I was not able to play in the event, Brandon Large was kind (read: foolish) enough to play guinea pig for me and pilot the list in an attempt to gather some data for me. I had no anticipation of the deck breaking Standard or anything, especially just yet, but I did want some real world experience with the deck to prepare for the upcoming GP in Singapore and just get a feel for what was going on exactly. Of course, as intended, there are a few areas that I think that list needed improvement in, but before we get to that, back to that issue of reach.

Again, Elspeth, as a 3-of, was the only reach we had going for us before. You could be liberal and claim that [card]Brave the Elements[/card] provided some reach, but even with that loose definition, you are still at between 6 and 7 cards total. This, backed us into a corner where we had no choice but to be the most aggressive we would be and get Serra’s Ascendant big, and fast. Now, lets look at the ways we have to end a game with a less impressive board or with Serra Ascendant sitting there as a lowly 1/1.

[deck]4 Inquisitor Exarch
4 Suture Priest
4 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Batterskull
1 Sword of War and Peace
1 Sword of Body and Mind
1 Mortarpod
4 Phyrexian Metamorph
2 Glimmerpoint Stag
4 Leonin Relic-Warder[/deck]

Now while the Metamorph and Stags depend on the board state in order to really be classified as giving you reach, with any of the cards listed above them, or with a sufficient threat on the opponent’s side of the board, like say, an Inferno Titan, or Stoneforge Mystic, they can both turn into very swingy effects.. Similarly, the Relic Warder only provides you reach when you happen to be comboing off, but to ignore that facet of the deck altogether is pretty foolish.

Speaking of said combo, for those not in the know, here is how that bad boy works. Basically, you just get out a Soul Sister of some sort (or some other card that grants a bonus whenever a creature or artifact enters play, like [card]Leyline of Vitality[/card]). At that point, a Relic-Warder imprinting anything, or nothing is required. Finally, you need to play a [card]Phyrexian Metamorph[/card] as a Leonin Relic Warder and then use the trigger granted from the Relic Warder to target the Metamorph itself. At this point, the Metamorph will blink itself over and over until you gain some absurd amount of life.

The beauty behind such a combo when you put it into the context of this deck, is it is almost free. None of the cards that make it work are considered bad cards, at least once you resign yourself to a Soul Sisters shell. The combo specifically adds both a sort of inevitability to your deck while also giving you a legitimate nut draw that shores up bad match ups, like Valakut. Even if you only assemble the combo in 15-20% of your games, those are still games you otherwise would not have won against Valakut before.

Beyond the combo though, the threat of the drain life effects from the Exarchs, Priests, and [card]Mortarpod[/card] and reuse of them via Metamorph or Stag can really add up over the course of a game. I like that when the life gain is relevant, Exarch acts like a half [card]Lone Missionary[/card], but when you just want to [card]Ember Hauler[/card] someone, he swings that way as well.

We all know the power of [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] by now, and in this deck, she can certainly do some of his dirtiest things. Because you have the ability to produce such a large threat in Pridemate, giving it protection of the appropriate colors before smashing your opponent over the head is just like Elspeth used to do. Meanwhile, [card]Batterskull[/card] performs at a very high level in this deck due to the deck wanting a Wrath-proof threat, and the life gain from it. [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] serves similar double duty, as once again, the “bad” half of the card becomes extra relevant. [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] is left out of the deck for the same reasons it never made it big in Boros and that is because the untap clause is mostly irrelevant due to your cheap threats and not wanting to overextend.

As for those [card]Glimmerpoint Stag[/card]s, those can be a bit tricky. Their inclusion is for one main problem card, [card]Gideon Jura[/card], but they serve a lot of purpose outside of that. While blinking Mr. Jura during the opponent’s safe turn is quite satisfying, and usually wins you the game, the utility he provides in just about every match up is undeniable. He can reset a Relic Warder or Mortarpod, giving you value just like you have in Scars Block Limited. Meanwhile, he is also able to reset your combo if you were forced to play it out of order or without a Soul Warden in play. This might not seem too relevant, but you opponent now has to worry about 5 cards to top deck in such a situation as opposed to just 3 Metamorphs, and the percentages definitely add up. And again, he can just be a shock to the face or a bit of life gain if you have a Warden or Exarch in play. Most often though, I think you tend to remove a troublesome blocker or Gideon for a turn as you crash in for lethal, or near it.

The list that took 9th branched into [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] territory, but I really don’t like that. A 1/1 flying card advantage engine is awesome when he follows suit with your decks primary engine. In CawBlade, that engine is Jace and Stoneforge Mystic, but in Soul Sisters, Stoneforge Mystic is the secondary plan and Squadron Hawk does not do much for our primary plan. If Batterskull was not printed, there would be some value in having Wrath protection, but Hawk is just the worst of those options for this deck, at least in the main deck

This biggest consideration in the main deck is most certainly the Glimmerpoint Stag slot. I could see just straight up running Gideon Jura or [card]Elspeth Tirel[/card] in this slot, as both offer a little bit of what the Stag does. The downside of course is the 5 in the upper right hand corner of the card, which would probably warrant an additional land in the main deck On that note, because Gideon is in the sideboard, there probably needs to be a 3rd [card]Kabira Crossroads[/card] in the sideboard that you bring in when you bring him in, just to make casting him a little more realistic. You could turn to Tectonic Edge for a little additional help against Valakut if you feel the need.

The other option, to really help out against Valakut, would be to slam 2 [card]Teetering Peaks[/card] into the sideboard and then make room for 2 to 3 [card]Act of Aggression[/card]. This switch improves your match up in a big way. I somewhat ignored the matchup for Louisville because I did not expect it to show up en masse, but for your local PTQs, supporting the Valakut match up is not a bad idea if it happens to be heavy in your area.

Your CawBlade and SplinterTwin match ups are both pretty solid due to a lack of ways for them to interact with you (if they have [card]Day of Judgment[/card], it gets worse) and a natural deterrent to the SplinterTwin combo as both Soul’s Attendant and Suture Priest stop it cold just by being in play. Obviously the aggro match ups are pretty good as well, even if they are scarce. This makes Valakut public enemy number 1, with RUG being a dogfight as well, although very winnable.

The shell for this archetype is certainly there. Over the next few weeks, I anticipate seeing a bunch of small tweaks and changes that push this into the metagame a little farther each time. If nothing else, it is my top consideration for Singapore as of right now. Thanks for reading!

Conley Woods

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