White lifegain is not a joke. Within the context of the deck it plays the most efficient creatures ever printed. Ajani’s Pridemate gets arbitrarily large oftentimes (like 33/33 etc.) and a 6/6 lifelink flyer for 1 mana by far is the pound-for-pound champion. Seriously, it's like a double Wild Nacatl with 2 abilities! Sure, 8 Soul Wardens make the deck look n00bish, but with the big push for a creature-heavy Standard environment they pull more than their weight.
This Nationals was the most fun I’ve ever had at a Magic trip. The Marquette Place Apartments where we stayed had an insane 35th floor on the roof that was the perfect spot for playtesting, partying, cubing, drafting, and beer ponging.
Our car featuring Brad Nelson, Corey Baumeister, and me all cashed at the main event finishing top 8, 10th, and 19th respectively. Brian Hellevang, a level 2 judge, provided great technical and rules advice in addition to topping off our vehicle. Brian informed me of a couple key rules interactions to remember:
Casting a Solemn Offering on Leyline of Punishment will still net you 4 life.
If you put a Serra Acendant into combat while you’re at 29 life it will have 6 toughness afterwards and will survive most situations.
Relic of Progenitus must be used before a Pyromancer Ascension player casts their spell or else they’ll gain a counter on their enchantment.
No one seemed to have confidence in their deck choices. The format was full of archetypes to suit everyone's personal flavor. The designers and developers at Wizards had most definitely done their jobs because the format looked unbreakable in the eyes of every pro I knew. Everyone I talked to was on a different deck, ranging from Jund, to Pyromancer, Naya, Next-Next Level Bant with Squadron Hawk, Dredgevine, and mono-white lifegain. The only real hope was to pick a deck that one could pilot competendly and could do well against the expected metagame while being a bit off the radar. I felt like lifegain would give me enough power and surprise factor to give me a good shot at winning the whole thing. Brad Nelson and David Ochoa took a similar approach with Dredgevine and both did very well.
I saw Kyle Sanchez’s list on Facebook 3 days before Nationals, proxied it up with spare unplayable commons, and immediately got to work. I expected to be one of a handful, if not the only player in the room running Soul’s Attendants and friends in the 75. Lifegain has never been an archetype that has been successful in the past, barring infinite lifegain combos and Martyr of Sands decks.
Conley Woods came across the deck as well and did a video deck tech at Nationals. He does a good job explaining the fundamentals of the deck here.
I don’t know where the name Soul Sisters came from but I suppose it could have a worse name.
Testing went incredibly well. Naysayers would speak of how “fun police” cards like Pyroclasm and Cunning Sparkmage would give me nightmares, but the deck has pretty good resistance to those cards with Brave the Elements and sideboard Mark of Asylum. Sparkmage is actually tougher for a Naya, Bant, Dregevine, or Boros deck to beat than for this lifegain deck.
Why I didn’t play Naya
I tried more than my share of Vengevine/Fauna Shaman builds with a light toolbox of Inferno Titan and Stoneforge Mystic but always wanted more consistency. Draws tended to be awkward and the mana-base still had the same issues as before, even without the requirement of Mountain and Plains for Wild Nacatl. Playing Naya I always wanted more Lightning Bolts and other spells in general which conflicted with triggering Vengevines.
Naya used Noble Hierarch and Birds and Cobra to create the resources for big drops like Baneslayer Angel and equipping Behemoth Sledge. Lifegain creatures up your life resource which allows Survival Cache, Ajani’s Pridemate, and Serra Ascendant to be efficient. Its really surprisingly similar, just without the mana problems· So we have the Soul Wardens and Soul’s Attendents as the Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarchs of the deck while the Lone Missionaries are the Lotus Cobras. Instead of ramping to 5 to cast a turn 3 Baneslayer Angel you’re casting an active Serra Ascendant for 1.
As much as I love Wild Nacatl, its value has significantly dropped since the introduction of Wall of Omens in Rise of the Eldrazi.
My Nationals decklist:
This is exactly what I wanted to play and would run it again in a heartbeat.
How good or bad a given matchup is for the deck can’t be understood without playing the matchups. For instance, it looks like mono-red is 100% unloseable while something like U/W control is unwinnable. Yes, mono-red is easier than U/W but the numbers aren’t as extreme as at first glance.
Kargan Dragonlord will singlehandedly beat you if it's not removed; Serra Ascedant never gets active, and often Survival Cache often won’t draw you cards. I’ve never played against a Leyline of Punishment but I imagine things could get ugly quick if its not Oblivion Ringed on turn 3. War Priest of Thune and Solemn Offering offer additional answers but it's a gamble to side them in the dark.
On the flip side, U/W’s Day of Judgments don’t hurt as much versus Mono-white as they do against say Naya or Bant. Imagine losing something like a Noble Hierach, Lotus Cobra, and Knight of the Reliquary to Day of Judgment. You’re losing the ability to cast your gamebreaking spells whether they be Baneslayer Angel or Sovereigns of Lost Alara or Realm Razer. On other hand imagine losing Soul Warden, Ajani’s Pridemate, and Lone Missionary. You should be around 28-30 life by this time and your game-winners are still live draws.
This seems like another bad matchup. Conley metagamed against Jund with 4 Kor Firewalker main, which isn’t a bad call at all. I left my Firewalkers in the sideboard and feel like game 1 is around 50/50. The matchup revolves around staying at a high life total and I recommend typically grabbing 1 Soul Warden and 1 Soul’s Attendant when you cast Ranger of Eos. Sometimes a Ajani’s Pridemate can go unchecked and the game will end quickly while other times Survival Cache and Ranger of Eos provide tools to combat their attrition. After sideboarding, Mark of Asylum blanks their Lightning Bolts, Siege-gang Commanders, Bituminous Blasts, and Pyroclasms for the most part.
I’m staying another week in Minnesota with Brad Nelson in order to hit up the Starcitygames 10k in Minneapolis this weekend. I have my mindset entirely on Extended and M11 drafting in preparation for PT Amsterdam so I’m concrete in my choices of Soul Sisters and Zoo for the Standard and Legacy events there.
Here’s the version I’m working on currently:
Get in some practice if you plan to play the deck. It's fairly straightforward to play but there are a lot of triggers to remember. Even solitairing by running out hands will help get you into the groove of Pridemate and Soul Sisters’ triggers so its not overwhelming once you get to a tournament environment. Round 2 I missed a Survival Cache rebound that likely cost me the tournament. Between Warden, Pridemate, rebound, and lifelink triggers you gotta stay on your toes.
For moment I’d like to talk about a sweet M11 draft archtype I happened across during the day 2 draft at National. Inspired by my constructed deck, I focused on finding synergies within the packs to build something a little outside of the box. Alexander West stated that its one of the most elegant draft decks he’d ever seen and I can’t explain how fun it was running it. I’ve never seen Elixir of Immortality have more value. Try to find all the subtle interactions.
Brian Kibler asked me after the tournament how much life I gained. After a few moments of thought I said 1000, and although I didn’t keep a precise count, it's very close to the correct number.
Overall I was very satisfied with the deck, enough to continue running it in whatever upcoming Standard events I play in. I’d been wanting to play a deck that maximized the value of Tectonic Edge for a while, as a timely Edging will often throw a big enough wrench in their plans to seal the deal.
To close, I’d like to give props where they’re due:
Israel Rivera for being the coolest vendor in Magic. He’s a southern guy like myself and he makes sure to take care of his people.
Brad Nelson for both Top8’ing 4 events in a row and for his endless hospitality in letting me stay at his place for the last 3 weeks for the up until Nationals and the 10k.
Matt Stamnus for hooking up such a sweet place to stay in Minneapolis.
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