I talked a bit about the deck and its genesis in my last article.
While I wouldn’t recommend playing the deck if your only goal is to win, it’s been competitive and I don’t think it’s unfair to say the deck is tier 2. Most important of all, it’s the most fun I’ve had playing Magic in a while.
I’ve experimented with a few different versions and tried most of the reasonable cards in the flex slots since my PT Barcelona testing, but my current list hasn’t changed that much.
I’m going to walk you through the card choices, the cards I believe aren’t quite good enough or are too gimmicky to make the cut, and the different matchups with sideboarding suggestions. I’ll also try to predict how the archetype will fare after the very likely Hogaak ban on August 26.
Here is my current deck list:
1 Canopy Vista 1 Prairie Stream 3 Snow-Covered Forest 3 Snow-Covered Island 2 Snow-Covered Plains 2 Windswept Heath 4 Misty Rainforest 3 Prismatic Vista 1 Breeding Pool 2 Flooded Strand 4 Soulherder 3 Eternal Witness 4 Coiling Oracle 4 Wall of Blossoms 1 Stonehorn Dignitary 4 Ice-Fang Coatl 1 Knight of Autumn 1 Thragtusk 1 Deputy of Detention 1 Wall of Omens 4 Path to Exile 4 Force of Negation 4 Ephemerate 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 1 Time Warp Sideboard 2 Knight of Autumn 1 Scavenging Ooze 2 Ceremonious Rejection 2 Disdainful Stroke 2 Celestial Purge 1 Thragtusk 4 Rest in Peace 1 Stonehorn Dignitary
The two cards I’m the least confident about are the main-deck Wall of Omens and Stonehorn Dignitary. Any of the following replacements could be correct : Blade Splicer (the 3/3 first strike token lines up nicely against Vengevine), Teferi, Time Raveler, Venser, Shaper Savant, Jace #2, Watcher for Tomorrow, Deputy #2, or land #23.
I don’t have my exact stats with the deck because Magic Online only saves your matches locally, and I’m on vacation playing on my laptop, but full disclaimer: I’m 14-17 in my last 31 matches with the deck even though this includes a lot of matches with a subpar version. I’d guess my win percentage with the close-to-optimal build is between 55% and 60%, which isn’t great but not terrible either given that I’ve gotten paired versus mostly tier 1 decks (Hogaak, Mono-Red Prowess, Tron, Burn, and Humans).
Why Prairie Stream and Canopy Vista?
Given the deck’s unique curve and the way it plays out, I decided to give the battle lands a try in an attempt to save a few precious life points in a format where aggressive decks are top tier. You basically don’t have one drops since there are very few scenarios in which you want to cast Path to Exile on turn 1, so you can either play/fetch them tapped on turn one or lead with a couple of basics (usually Island + Forest) and have them come in untapped on turn 3+.
One common scenario in which you’ll get punished for not having Temple Garden or Hallowed Fountain in your deck is when you want to Path on turn 1 on the draw versus a turn-2 Hogaak. Another is on the draw against the red decks when facing an Eidolon of the Great Revel, a large prowess creature, or an Ephemerate when you want to follow it up with a Coiling Oracle or an Ice-Fang Coatl.
So far, I’ve been happy with the switch, and I feel like the “life gain” being relevant has come up a lot given how few matches I’ve played with the new mana base, but I could also see playing either a Temple Garden or a Hallowed Fountain in addition to be able to play turn 1 Path followed by one of the UG creatures.
You’ll also notice I’m playing a healthy amount of basics, once again trying to play as few fetchlands and shocklands as possible. You do sometimes get punished for it, however. Basic Plains isn’t great in the Oracle/Coatl deck and it’s possible the second one should be cut for another check land or shock land.
Having your lands come into play untapped later in the game is important, so I don’t think you want to play any of the fast lands (e.g. Botanical Sanctum, etc.). Any non-basic also obviously becomes much worse once you’re playing Prairie Stream and Canopy Vista.
Playing a land like Gavony Township is tempting, but I don’t think it’s reasonable in a format that is as fast and punishing as ever. I wouldn’t mind a 23rd land in the deck, in which case Township might be a decent candidate.
The land searching isn’t particularly tricky, but one of the tough spots is knowing when to go for snow-covered lands for Coatl and when to go for dual lands for better mana. As usual, there’s no set rule, but I usually go for the duals to make sure I’ll be able to cast two spells on turn four, whether it’s double 2-drop or Soulherder + Ephemerate/Path.
The initial list had four Watcher for Tomorrow, but they were slowly but surely replaced by Wall of Blossoms as the drawback of coming into play tapped and being a poor blocker in a world of Bloodghasts and Monastery Swiftspears was too big. Watcher is also very bad against cheap spot removal (Fatal Push, Gut Shot, Lava Dart) as you don’t even get a card if they kill it with the hideaway trigger on the stack. The matchup where you really miss not having Watcher is UW Control, but the deck has dipped in popularity given its poor Hogaak matchup. Of course, that might change very soon.
I’ve experimented with more Walls over copies of Coatl/Oracle in an attempt to have more creatures that could efficiently block the cheap creatures out of Hogaak and Mono-Red Prowess, but ultimately I think the upside of both 1/1’s is too high to not max out on them. I even tried a version with eight Walls and Arcades, the Strategist, but it gave the deck less play and versatility and the dragon felt like a win-more card.
Right now, I would play 13 2-drops even though I’ve played with 12 for most of my testing and tuning.
Soulherder is the engine of the deck and should most likely be a 4-of. Actually, I think the playset of Soulherder was the only constant between the different versions I tested. As a rule of thumb, I usually just play it on turn 3 if I have a 2-drop out and my opponent is tapped out even though there is a good chance it will die the following turn. If you have another two drop and an Ephemerate, you also might want to think about just playing a 2-drop and waiting until turn four to have Soulherder with Ephemerate to protect it.
A common dilemma that comes up in the current meta is what to do in the face of a turn 2 Hogaak from your opponent. Do you play Soulherder, using your mana efficiently and getting value, and take a big hit? Or do you just spend the turn playing a Path to Exile, effectively wasting two mana? There isn’t a clear answer, and it depends on the rest of their board/graveyard as well as your hand. Overall, the matchup is bad game 1, so I tend to go with the higher upside line which is usually just slam Soulherder and prey you can stabilize at a low life total.
Eternal Witness is a key part of your deck, especially pre-board, and is the best card in combination with Ephemerate in the mid-game. You don’t want to go too many turns without seeing a copy, but it’s also not the greatest turn 3 play, so I think playing three copies makes sense.
Deputy of Detention and Knight of Autumn are unexciting but versatile, and the deck needs a few copies of those cards in the main. An unanswered Chalice of the Void can be tough to beat, and they’re also additional pieces of removal for Walking Ballista which is one of the most annoying cards you can face. It’s possible you just want two Deputies main and no Knights as the life gain mode isn’t even that exciting against the Mono Red Prowess, and blue cards are more valuable because of Force of Negation. Also, if you play Thragtusk, Knights become much less necessary.
The Noncreature Spells
Right now, I’m very sold on four copies each of Ephemerate, Path to Exile, and Force of Negation (the blue counterspell being the one I’m most likely to trim). The deck is a bit slow out of the gates, and these three cheap spells act as your comeback mechanism.
Force isn’t the greatest in a lot of matchups and gets sided out a lot, but it’s a very solid game one card and maybe the only card you can play in this deck that gives you a shot against some of your opponent’s nut draws (turn 1 Faithless Looting, turn 3 Karn etc.)
Path to Exile is an all-star and does some heavy lifting in combination with Eternal Witness in most matchups.
Ephemerate was a card I had overlooked at first, but it’s the glue that holds the deck together as well as your rebuild mechanism with Eternal Witness (yes, there is a pattern; all three non-creature spells are great Witness targets depending on the situation).
The Flex Slots (and the cards that didn’t make the cut)
It’s not easy to get a feel for the last few slots since these are cards you usually play as 1- or 2-ofs, so you’re not going to draw them as often.
My favorite cards to round out the deck right now are Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Thragtusk, and Time Warp. Jace seems to be one of my most controversial choices, and some of the players who dislike Jace seem to prefer Teferi, Time Raveler (which is maybe the one potentially good card I haven’t tried yet).
Thragtusk is probably the best value 5-drop, and it really comes in handy to have few sources of life gain in the deck. Reveillark is decent as well, and I wouldn’t fault anyone for playing one copy. Deep Forest Hermit has been suggested, but I don’t see it, though I wonder if Trostani Discordant and its potential life gain wouldn’t just be better if you wanted to go down that road.
Time Warp is sometimes going to be a free Explore, sometimes going to provide you that little extra value you need to take over the game, and sometimes going to just straight up win you the game letting you take all the turns in combination with Soulherder + Witness or Witness + Ephemerate.
Venser, Shaper Savant a card I usually loathe, was actually solid when I tried it and I could see playing a singleton.
Stonehorn Dignitary as an anti-Hogaak card has been more than just gimmicky and will usually “do something at some point” even in matchups where it is suppose to be bad. Note that its trigger stacks, meaning that if you play it with Soulherder out and blink it right away, your opponent will skip their next two attack steps regardless of what removal they find to break up your combo.
I’ve tried Collected Company multiple times, sometimes as a 1- or 2-of, sometimes as a 4-of trimming noncreature spells to up the hit count, but I was always disappointed. I know one of the only 5-0 lists was running three CoCo alongside Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch, but I’m fairly positive that version is worse.
Speaking of Birds and Hierarch, I don’t believe this deck needs them. It makes you even more vulnerable to removal and Wrenn and Six, and you’re not really trying to ramp into your 3-drops anyways. The exalted trigger of Hierarch is also mostly wasted as you’re not a beatdown deck, and the only time it seemed to matter was when I was trying to get rid of a planeswalker.
Aether Vial is also a card I’ve tried several times but overall it felt like the artifact was just a trap (the card is also really bad against Karn, the Great Creator). It’s possible I didn’t build around it enough, not adding Horizon Canopy or Waterlogged Grove to my mana base and forgoing cards like Cryptic Command or even Familiar’s Ruse. I actually didn’t try Cryptic Command at all as I assumed it would be rough on the mana and would act as a slightly worse Time Warp, but this could be another oversight. I was worried I would get in spots in which I’d be able to cast a Command every turn but still lose to any deck that has “reach” (cards like Creeping Chill, top-decked burn spells, or an Ulamog trigger).
One of the most suggested additions was Flickerwisp, but once again I didn’t bother trying it. I think the card loses a lot of value when you can’t Vial it into play and when your game plan doesn’t involve pressuring your opponent’s life total. The double white in the casting cost is another strike against it.
Yet another card that has been frequently brought up was Reflector Mage, but this card just seems worse than Deputy of Detention as the extra point of power and the creature type are why the card shines in Humans.
The Matchups and Sideboard Plans
The archetype is probably not going to be around much longer, but hopefully this can still be useful in the future.
Game 1 is bad overall.
The Jund version, which also seems to be the most popular, is probably the most manageable pre-board. You’re trying to buy some time with Wall of Blossoms until you can start looping Path to Exile and build up a board presence with Soulherder and card advantage. Of course, if you’re running Stonehorn Dignitary, finding it can be huge.
The Hedron Crab version is tougher to beat as you have limited removal for the blue 1-drop, and they’re able to produce threats in a more sustainable way than the Jund version.
The dredge version is probably almost impossible to beat pre-board unless they fizzle hard or you get them with Force of Negation on Faithless Looting. Your clock is really slow, and the Path to Exile plan is close to worthless so you can’t really stop them. You probably have a tiny chance of going off with Time Warp before they kill you.
Eternal Witness is crucial in game 1, and Force can help you steal a game and fight off removal post board, but something has to go. It’s possible there is a more elegant sideboard plan including cards like Reflector Mage, Tormod’s Crypt, or a Ravenous Trap you can rebuy with Witness etc., but I’m not sure. And even though they will be ready with Force of Vigor and Assassin’s Trophy, I’ve found Rest in Peace to still be the best hate card by a decent bit. Scavenging Ooze complements it nicely and is especially effective when they give you an extra land with Trophy, so if you do draw it make sure to search out lands accordingly.
Surgical Extraction is extremely mediocre, and Tormod Crypt’s doesn’t do enough and can be awkward in combination with Rest In Peace against Force of Vigor. You usually want to play RIP as soon as possible and most likely don’t want to have two targets in play at the same time because of Force of Vigor.
This matchup has been extremely close, and I would give Mono-Red Prowess a slight edge.
I think bringing in Rest in Peace in this matchup is correct. They have Faithless Looting, Arclight Phoenix, usually two Bedlam Reveler, and a Finale of Promise as well as four Lava Dart. Even with a good draw, it can be hard to turn the corner if you let them play unfair Magic. Be aware that they might bring in Blood Moon, especially if they’re on the play. Knight of Autumn is okay versus them, but it’s possible Stonehorn Dignitary is better.
I actually can’t remember the last time I played against Izzet Phoenix online. I’m assuming the matchup should be fine as you have the tools to deal with all their threats and flipping Thing in the Ice can even be a liability for them if you have a few creatures in play (especially Coatl).
Havent played the matchup much, I’m not sure if you want to keep in Force of Negation or have cards like Thragtusk and Scavenging Ooze instead. I think you should do okay in the longer games and want to make sure you don’t get out-tempo’d.
Eldrazi Tron doesn’t seem to be as popular as it was a few weeks ago. My current list is a tiny bit light on ways to remove a Chalice of the Void in game 1, but you still have Force of Negation to deal with it if need be as well. I felt like the matchup was slightly favorable, and that was before I added two Ceremonious Rejection to the sideboard. I also didn’t always have Thragtusk, and the Beast should be key versus them as well.
I’m not sure what the last cut should be, but I don’t hate trimming a Path as a way to hedge against Chalice on 1. Even if they play Cavern of Souls, Rejection and Stroke will still have some great targets: Walking Ballista, Chalice of the Void, and All is Dust.
When they have turn 2 Wrenn and Six, the game is hard but not impossible to navigate if your draw allows it. When they don’t, it goes much better for you. Overall, the matchup has felt slightly favored. Of course (and this is true in general), it’s possible it’s tricky to play from their side and I was benefiting from the rogue factor.
I usually don’t like keeping in Force of Negation in the grindy matchups, but I think a few copies might be better than the very mopey Knight of Autumn. I don’t think Rest in Peace is worth bringing in, but if you ever see Leyline of the Void in game 2, I would swap them for Eternal Witness if there is a game 3.
Humans has felt slightly unfavored. They can out-tempo you, they can lock you out with Meddling Mage, and they can even sometimes beat you at your own game with Phantasmal Image copying Soulherder paired with Reflector Mage, so try and keep that in mind when deciding between different lines of play.
Kitesail Freebooter and Mantis Rider are both worth dealing with, but I could see only bringing in one copy of Celestial Purge to reduce the chances of drawing a dead one. Next in line to bring in would be Knight of Autumn, and you could also maybe cut Time Warp. I’ve got close to no experience with Dignitary versus Humans, but I’m assuming it has to be better than Knight as well.
I’ve done alright against it, but I’m assuming this version of Soulherder is an underdog. Force of Negation is key as the deck really struggles to kill planeswalkers. Teferi, Time Raveler stops you from rebounding Ephemerate, and Walls are pathetic in the face of Narset, Parter of Veils. This is definitely the matchup where you pay for having Wall of Blossoms over Watcher for Tomorrow.
Sideboarding is a bit tricky and depends on their exact list, but I think you need to keep in most if not all of your Paths as Monastery Mentor is a nightmare. Mentor is also the reason why I would keep in Deputy of Detention, a card notoriously bad against control. Even though Walls are awful against Narset, I don’t think you can trim too many as the deck doesn’t really function without a 2-drop.
It’s possible I underestimate Force in this matchup (as well as in general in post-board games), but I doubt 2-for-1-ing yourself on a Bolt is a winning proposition, especially since the cards you care most about countering, Boros Charm and Skullcrack, are usually going to be cast on your turn while you’re tapped out.
I’ve played this matchup a decent bit, and it has felt slightly favored even without Ceremonious Rejection in the board. In some ways, Bant Soulherder plays similarly to UW Control against Tron as your goal is to just get far enough ahead with Coiling Oracle and card advantage in general, so their casting an Ulamog doesn’t even matter that much. Their scariest card game 1 is probably Walking Ballista because you don’t deal well with it, and they usually get to kill your board even if you have a Path. A resolved Karn Liberated or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is even more devastating, but you at least have Force of Negation to stop them from hitting the battlefield. Force is one of your most important cards, and I think I almost always counter a turn one Expedition Map or turn two Sylvan Scrying if I can.
Since you have more answers to Walking Ballista, I think you can trim some of your Paths. I had a lot of people suggest Acidic Slime, but I’m worried about the first few turns and I would much rather have Ceremonious Rejection or Disdainful Stroke for this matchup. Acidic Slime isn’t even that great in any other matchups (except maybe Scapeshift), and Rejection as a cheap counterspell combines fantastically with Witness.
I’ve only played a couple of times versus Urza, but lost pretty badly both times. It seems like you should have the tools to deal with their game plan, so maybe it was just a fluke.
I think the builds vary, so take this one with an extra grain of salt. It’s possible you don’t want Rest in Peace, and you can also trim on Path, but Urza itself was terrifying when I played the matchup.
Post Hogaak (and what it means for the archetype)
It’s pretty much a given Hogaak is going to get banned on August 26th (or the archetype is going to be heavily nerfed), but it will be interesting to see if anything else gets the banhammer. I wouldn’t mind saying goodbye to Creeping Chill as well since Dredge was one of the most dominant archetypes pre-MH1, and I don’t love the idea of a graveyard deck being the best deck in Modern. They are usually very hard to defeat game 1, and you need to pack specific hate in decent amounts to make up for losing game 1 a huge percentage of the time.
UW Control will probably end up being one of the big winners, which means that you might want to play Watcher for Tomorrow over the Walls, a change that might be enough to make the matchup favorable. Hopefully, you’ll be able to trim on some of the graveyard hate as well as cut Dignitary, Scavenging Ooze, and the like. The sideboard options are pretty much endless: Stony Silence, Collector Ouphe, Force of Vigor, Reflector Mage, Deputy of Detention, Veil of Summer, Spell Snare, Winds of Abandon, Dismember, etc.
Even though the disappearance of the Hogaak variants should be beneficial for Bant Soulherder, I’m guessing it will stay a tier 2ish deck for the foreseeable future, albeit a really fun one to play.
As usual, I’ve tried to cover as much ground as possible but let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.