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Breaking Through – A Matter of Life

Prior to Pro Tour M15, there were a lot of decks I wanted to explore. Some of them made it to further stages of development than others, but this was usually based on light playtesting and theorycrafting. In other words, there is almost always room for improvement, even on those lists that were ultimately rejected for the Pro Tour.

I had already written about the idea of Soul Sisters coming back to Standard with the release of M15. “Soul Sisters” is a throwback name to a Mono-White aggressive life gain deck that myself and others played some 4 or 5 years ago. Marquee cards in the deck included Martyr of Sands, Ajani’s Pridemate, and Soul Warden. Today, a tier 2 or 3 strategy exists in Modern that has adapted the name, mostly because it is the same cards and concept, only with new bells and whistles attached. The actual name was made by Gavin Verhey in reference to Soul Warden and Soul’s Attendant, which were crucial to the success of the deck.

In the case of Standard, any semi-aggressive white deck built around gaining life to power up its creatures is good enough for me.

White + Other Stuff = Deck

If you read my articles on the deck a little while back, I focused primarily on white/black synergies for the archetype. Even before M15 came out, I thought the archetype had a chance with cards like Ordeal of Heliod combining nicely with Vizkopa Guildmage for some very early wins and some nice life cushioning against opposing aggro decks.

In that exploration though, I managed to avoid looking at one of the biggest incentives for life gain in the format: Voracious Wurm. Because the little-but-hopefully-big guy was green, he did not even show up on my radar. That said, even though he is not a conventional 2-drop, he can apply a ton of pressure very quickly. Once Radiant Fountain was spoiled, I knew I had to try the Wurm out. Just Fountain into Wurm made for a 4/4 on turn 2 without much work.

Another card that had me excited at the same time was Return to the Ranks. I was very excited about the card even before realizing that it had convoke. I was happy to pay four or five mana to resurrect my guys, but knowing that I could do so at a discount just made me want to build around it. I started off with a rather poor build that tried to combine the life gain aspects I have been talking about with Return to the Ranks. This was that deck:

Right away, it is pretty easy to see some of the flaws here. The mana is basically the worst. Radiant Fountain is amazing at setting up Voracious Wurm, but when you have a hand with Voice of Resurgence or Fleecemane Lion, things look pretty awkward. A big burst of life from Unflinching Courage or Path of Bravery was really strong when coupled with Voracious Wurm though.

Path was quite strong when combined with Return to the Ranks as it just gave the anthem extra chances to matter and it meant that even a small Pridemate coming back could quickly gain a little size and compete with the big boys.

Return to the Ranks actually felt highly abusive in this list, and most games I won with it involved convoking out a Return for anywhere between 3 to 5 creatures. This was able to recover me from sweepers, reestablish broken combo or synergy chains, and allowed me to mount enough of a board presence to attack past other creature decks.

Ultimately, I figured this particular shell was trying to play things too safe by working things into a traditional green/white aggressive shell, but in the process, all I did was weaken the strengths of both archetypes. I wanted to try a version less focused on Return to the Ranks so that my mana could improve and I could tap into more synergy with my life gain options.

Right away I realized my mistake in not having Mana Confluence in the first list. The ability to fix your mana early for any of your many 2-drops was crucial and I may have been able to get away with a Radiant Fountain or two if I had some number of Mana Confluence at my disposal.

The biggest addition to this bigger version of the deck isCourser of Kruphix. Courser basically guarantees that you are going to have a life gain trigger every turn and even though it does not play all that well with Voracious Wurm due to the life coming in small increments, it does work wonders with both Pridemate and Archangel of Thune—who just so happens to be a Pridemate for your entire team, which is sweet.

The fact that we don’t rely on Return to the Ranks means that we can diversify mana costs, and as a result play more removal than our previous version. It also means we can run more copies of Scavenging Ooze, as hitting our own creatures is no longer detrimental to our core plan.

It’s entirely possible that we want a card like Voice of Resurgence back, or at least in the board, but I think that overall this deck has a more focused plan while being more flexible at the same time. I don’t want to just move away from Return to the Ranks entirely, as I think that card is very powerful, even if the above shell was worse with it. It’s possible that our mana could end up better than the first list while expanding our options if we revisit black. We could lose a couple of those G/W cards and correctly add Mana Confluence to the deck to try something a little more radical where Return to the Ranks becomes an absolute beating.

The mana in this might be too aggressive and Radiant Fountain might ultimately just need to make room for more painlands, of which we do have 7 more available. Ignoring the mana for now, how does our spell base look?

Return to the Ranks is significantly more sexy with Ajani’s Pridemate in this deck thanks to Underworld Coinsmith, which will generate triggers immediately for the Cat, allowing it to be gigantic that much faster.

We might want to go even further on the enchantment theme as there are cards like Gnarled Scarhide which would work well with Tormented Hero and Underworld Coinsmith and yet we find no room for it here. That makes me want to take a second look at the list and figure out exactly what we get from green. The biggest takeaways are Voracious Wurm and Unflinching Courage with nothing else essential.

If we desire the Unflinching Courage effect, we can get the same thing from Gift of Orzhova, or at least very similar. While we might take a small hit in power level, flying actually is a big bonus against many of the decks in the format, like Jund. An extra +1/+1 is not getting you past Polukranos without help, but flying sure as heck will! At that point, we would only be missing Voracious Wurm.

Because Ajani’s Pridemate asks for as many life gain triggers as possible, you generally pair him with small but cheap life gain. These can be repeated, and as long as even 1 life is gained, Ajani’s Pridemate is happy. Voracious Wurm would rather see big bursts of life gain, such as an attack from something wearing Unflinching Courage, or a triggered Ordeal of Heliod. And while impressive with Wurm, those cards still just give Pridemate a single counter. In a way then, these two cards work against each other despite asking for the same thing… sort of.

If we can go back to the deck without green, perhaps we can get to a point where consistency and synergy meet in the perfect place, as opposed to some of the lists we have already looked at. Gaining consistent access to Underworld Coinsmith is exciting, if nothing else. I have been in love with that card recently and this is just another neat shell to try it out.

This list seemed like it might be the most competitive, so I included a sideboard along with it. The bigger green/white list is probably the second most attractive option here and could very well end up being solid, so I want to experiment with both lists this week.

Wrap-Up

With rotation just a couple of months away, I feel like there are a lot of cards that never got the chance to really shine despite their potential. Voracious Wurm is certainly one of those cards, which is partly what fueled my interest here. Cards like Tithe Drinker seem very solid and have not seen any play in two years. Obviously we cannot be sure of what is around the corner in Khans, so we might as well enjoy the toys we have right now.

There is always more brewing to be done and there is always something new to be discovered. Take some time to look through Return to Ravnica block and M14, and get some use out of all of those cards you were so excited about when they were first spoiled. You’ll have some fun, I promise! Thanks for reading!

Conley Woods

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