/ Modern

Embrace the Variance: Soulflayer Surprise Takes GP Lyon By Storm

(First a quick introduction: I'm thrilled to be joining Cardsphere as a resident blogger. I have been streaming MTG on Twitch every weekday for almost eighteen months and have participated in two Streamer Showdowns on that platform. My first game of MTGO was my first stream, and I've streamed 99% of my play as a grand experiment to let the world watch someone learn the Greatest Game Under The Mantle Of The Sky™, and it's been a blast. I hope to help beginning and average players (like me) understand the nuances of the game and think a bit differently about what's going on and what that has to do with the universe and everything. I like playing Tier V jank, cats, and anything involving Panharmonicon. Get your helmets on: it's going to be a bumpy ride.)

When Wizards of the Coast announced that there was going to be a Rivals of Ixalan Pro Tour stop that included Modern, some pros were (rightfully or not) concerned. You see, Modern's a scary place with lots of monsters about. A place where you can't just prepare for the top four decks, pick one of them to play, and let your superior skill get you through. No matter what deck you pick, there are bad matchups out there. But the viewers were thrilled...Modern rewards skill, knowledge of the card pool, and shrewd technique. And what Modern definitely doesn't do is reward Hearthstone-like variance and blind luck.

Well, it USED to be that way.

Then BR Hollow One came, and players with a wicked gleam in their eyes began to Faithless Looting and Goblin Lore everything they could into their graveyards with the hope of firing a couple of 4/4s onto the battlefield by turn 2 and ignoring the rest. This trend continued at GP Lyon, where Andreas Schulte brought out a former janky favorite in Soulflayer, combined it with a new discard engine, and wrecked shop in the first day on the way to seven straight opening wins and a 9-6 finish in the tournament. So how did this deck work, and what can we take from its performance? Should you play it (especially since most of the deck is incredibly cheap by Modern standards)? And what do you need to avoid if you do?

2 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Blooming Marsh
1 Forest
1 Godless Shrine
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
1 Swamp
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodghast
4 Drogskol Reaver
1 Falkenrath Aristocrat
4 Lotleth Troll
4 Soulflayer
3 Spark Elemental
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Zetalpa, Primal Dawn
4 Grisly Salvage
2 Commune With The Gods
4 Faithless Looting
3 Lingering Souls

3 Abrupt Decay
2 Ancient Grudge
3 Collective Brutality
2 Lightning Axe
1 Lingering Souls
3 Savage Summoning
1 Wear // Tear

First, Soulflayer is not a new card. Printed in Fate Reforged, Soulflayer is a Sultai savage that not only delves into play, but takes on every important keyword that is printed on cards that you exile to cast it. (Note: one of the keywords that is does NOT take from exiled cards is defender. That would be a problem.) Back in the day, the number one card that you wanted to exile with Soulflayer was Chromanticore, an enchantment creature from Born of the Gods that included FIVE keywords and turned a Soulflayer into quite the beater. However, the deck quickly disappeared. Andreas' version, however, uses a new Limited powerhouse in the current format, Zetalpa, Primal Dawn:


This substitution does two important things: first, it trades first strike for double strike. This speeds up your clock, which is quite important in a format where there are a lot of exile effects and decks that want to combo off by turn 4-5 consistently. Second, it trades lifelink for indestructible. While lifelink can be useful when you're behind (and make no mistake: you WILL be behind after multiple land-discard-go turns), indestructible makes this a great blocker once it's out and immediately stabilizes the board. So in an ideal situation, Zetalpa is a must-exile when casting your first Soulflayer.

But what else is available? At this point, your monster Soulflayer has two weaknesses: it can easily be Path to Exiled, and it doesn't do anything on the turn it enters the battlefield. We can fix that, however, with a couple of cards that add some keywords that Zetalpa lacks. Both Spark Elemental and Falkenrath Aristocrat have haste, which let us beat down starting on the turn Soulflayer comes into play. Spark Elemental is also a pretty great one-drop since we can play it on turn 1, get three damage in, and its sacrifice effect puts two keywords in the graveyard. Sylvan Caryatid supplies us hexproof (and NOT defender as mentioned above) and keeps our Soulflayer on the board.


The only problem left to solve is how we get these creatures in the graveyard to use them for delving. Soulflayer is a 4BB delver, so in a perfect world we can play it on turn 3 if we can get four cards in the graveyard by then. There's the obvious package of Grisly Salvage and Faithless Looting, and Commune with the Gods has the dual benefit of throwing a bunch of cards into the graveyard and digging for a Soulflayer if we need it. But the unsung hero of the deck is Lotleth Troll. We won't always have a Soulflayer in our opening hand, so we need something to do in the meantime. Lotleth Troll is a reasonable two-power creature for two with trample (another keyword relevant for Soulflayer), but also can give itself +1/+1 counters by discarding creatures from your hand. Often you can discard 2-3 creatures on the turn you play it, which not only fills your graveyard but also makes it a relevant blocker and attacker.


The deck rounds out with Drogskol Reaver (another keyword buffet you will almost never hard cast), Bloodghast (because it's great in discard strategies) and Lingering Souls (because duh Lingering Souls).


On to the FAQ:

What does an ideal hand look like?
In a perfect world, we want at least one Soulflayer, 1-2 discard options, the mana to play the discard spells, and everything else is just gravy. Embrace the RNG, my friend.

What is the best thing we can exile for Soulflayer?
We're looking for a Zetalpa, a source of hexproof and haste. If we get those two things, we're good to go. We'll settle for a Drogskol Reaver instead of a Zetalpa if we have to, but anything less than that and we're risking getting blown out by removal and ending up with an empty board AND an empty yard.

Is this deck budget?
This might be the most difficult question to attempt to answer. The actual cards in the maindeck are certainly budget, with the playset of Bloodghasts being around $16 USD. Much of the deck can be had for under a nickel a card. However, I found it nearly impossible to play the deck without fetchlands. Andreas' build had the usual suspects of Bloodstained Mire and Verdant Catacombs so the manabase is the huge bulk of the cost. I attempted to recreate the deck as a budget build on my stream with a combination of Sunpetal Grove, Scattered Groves, and Dragonskull Summit, and it just didn't work. If your manabase isn't consistent, you're going to be a turn or two slower in a deck where you can't afford to be. So if you have the fetches and shocks already, the deck is incredibly cheap to play. If you don't...well, it's modern. I'll definitely write about some Modern decks that are fun to play with cheap manabases in the future, but this one ain't that.

Darin Keener

Darin Keener

Darin has been a Magic: The Gathering streamer (https://Twitch.tv/FDTerritory) for 18 months and has participated in multiple Streamer Showdowns through WotC. He specializes in Tier V jank and fun.

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