For a while now, Soulflayer Chromanticore has been the coolest strategy that doesn’t quite work. I first encountered it in the Magic Online queues after having heard a few rumors of its existence, and the deck would occasionally do something amazing: after milling itself with Commune with the Gods and Satyr Wayfinder, it would play Soulflayer removing Chromanticore and Sylvan Caryatid to create a 4/4 flying, vigilance, trample, first strike, lifelink, hexproof creature.
There are still answers to that—End Hostilities, Crux of Fate, or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, but other decks are incapable of winning from that point, often even if the Soulflayer deck has little or no followup. If you also remove a God such as Pharika, God of Affliction, only Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Perilous Vault will solve the problem. Otherwise, decks are forced to go over the top, which is very hard to do.
I built the deck and gave it a spin, but concluded that it didn’t have what it takes. The mana was awful, torn between too many requirements, and the control decks made your deck look foolish since you did all this work only to have them counter your Soulflayer and take over the game.
Then there were the games you didn’t have access to Soulflayer. Too many things had to go right and too many things could go wrong. When Tom Ross played the deck at Grand Prix Miami, I was excited to see what his new technology was. It didn’t prove to be enough, but I had a background working knowledge of the deck and kept it in mind as the spoilers for Dragons of Tarkir started coming out.
Like many others, my eyes were immediately drawn to Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor. Deathmist Raptor is a perfectly reasonable creature when cast, and if it dies or is milled from your library, it gets to come back for free every time you flip a Den Protector or another Deathmist Raptor. Thanks to deathtouch, most decks can’t deal with Deathmist Raptor without using a card, so in the long run this will grind them out. Den Protector even gets to attack Elspeth, Sun’s Champion through her tokens.
Right away I thought of Soulflayer, which had a very loose last few cards and had problems both early and late that Raptor and Protector looked to fix. You mill a ton of cards, so you both get to mill copies of Deathmist Raptor to get back for free, making up for the tempo loss of investing time to mill yourself, and you get to find the card you need to set up your engine. Sometimes that’s Soulflayer, sometimes that’s a Chromanticore you can bestow or cast, and sometimes that’s Commune with the Gods to keep searching. Against control, the best target for Den Protector is often Den Protector because that lets you keep the Raptors and Protectors coming until they come up with a permanent answer.
When I first built the deck, I didn’t expect it to be good, but it started winning against a variety of decks and I grew more interested. The Raptor engine proved capable of beating even Ugin, the Spirit Dragon reasonably often, and with seven new green cards in your deck your mana requirements were far more reasonable. As long as you had black and green you could play a reasonable game, and blue was only needed for Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and Chromanticore. There were long discussions about the exact correct mana base, but the basic mix of tri-lands, temples, painlands, fetchlands, basics, Mana Confluence, and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth remained stable from the beginning.
The sideboard gives you traditional Sultai answers to a variety of problems, with access to more removal, Thoughtseize, Sultai Charm for enchantments, and Torrent Elemental as an additional creature that won’t stay dead. When indestructible is important, you can bring in an additional God. With Den Protector and a lot of milling, you have a good shot to find the sideboard cards you need. Over-sideboarding is a serious risk, so you need to keep in mind what will be enough to win and what you can afford to sacrifice.
Before I arrived at the house, everyone thought Soulflayer was a joke, but once I convinced them to give it a shot it impressed, and several others jumped on board. Reid Duke was instrumental in making the late upgrades I was blind to, drawing upon his extensive experience with similar Sultai Whip decks. A second Pharika replaced a Tasigur, and Sagu Mauler became Silumgar, the Drifting Death, which was a huge improvement across the board. The sideboard improved and we picked up a third maindeck Murderous Cut.
In testing the deck has proven especially strong against Red/Green Monsters and Abzan Control, two decks we expect to face in numbers at the Pro Tour. We have strong game across the board, and expect to gain a lot of advantage from opponents not knowing how to combat our plans while we know exactly what we must do to beat them. And at the end of the day, win or lose, we know we’ll have one hell of a great story to tell.
As of writing, here is the deck list I am expecting to run, which will likely change by a few cards over the course of the day. Additional sideboard considerations include Duress, the second Torrent Elemental, the fourth Den Protector, perhaps a Dragonlord Silumgar, Courser of Kruphix, Hidden Dragonslayer, Child of Night, or Dragonlord Dromoka: