Given that we always play such Serious Magic for Winners, we made a conscious decision this week to reach out towards a more casual audience. We’ve obviously already nailed down the hardcore, spiky grinder–they come to the Arena Boys week in and week out for the latest bleeding-edge competitive tech–but it’s time for us to diversify and bring on board some filthy casuals.
And what screams filthy casual, I ask you, more than a dedicated lifegain deck? We’re all-in on Ajani’s Welcome this week, and I can tell you we were actually quite surprised by just how much game this list had against the best-of-one field.
If you’re on the market for enormously large Ajani’s Pridemates, or if you’re interested in doubling your life total and ultimating Ajani, Strength of the Pride – read on, because you might just be the kind of casual, kitchen-table scrub we’re hoping to introduce to some Serious Magic for Winners.
6 Plains 2 Swamp 1 Temple of Silence 2 Memorial to Folly 4 Godless Shrine 4 Scoured Barrens 4 Isolated Chapel 4 Angel of Vitality 4 Dusk Legion Zealot 4 Ajani's Pridemate 2 Resplendent Angel 3 Bloodthirsty Aerialist 4 Ajani's Welcome 1 Dawn of Hope 1 Nightmare's Thirst 4 Scoured Barrens 4 Fountain of Renewal 2 Vraska's Contempt 1 Gideon Blackblade 3 Ajani, Strength of the Pride 1 Arguel's Blood Fast/Temple of Aclazotz 1 Moment of Craving 2 Revival/Revenge
As mentioned in the video, every single nonland card in this list references life, usually gaining it, sometimes paying it. Life is an incredibly important resource in Magic (and in, er, real life, I suppose), and this deck really looks to make the most of this resource with the cards it plays.
Having consistent ways to gain life–preferably in small, repeatable increments rather than great big one-off hits–maximizes the payoffs this deck plays. Cards like Ajani’s Welcome and Fountain of Renewal are perfect for this, while the removal suite provides additional lifegain utility in addition to managing the board.
Speaking of utility, cards like Angel of Vitality and Dusk Legion Zealot are unexciting creatures that provide upside in a lifegain deck. The Zealot keeps cards flowing and triggers Ajani’s Welcome, and one life is a negligible cost to pay for an extra card. Angel of Vitality was a little underwhelming, even with its lifegain ability, and was rarely more than a Wind Drake. We can probably do better.
There are a few other “payoff” cards that can help in the late game, but they also hybridize as utility and engine cards. Gideon contests the board and can provide huge life swings with his lifelink ability, while Revival can bring back any creature in the list (Revenge can also get you to a truly silly life total!). Dawn of Hope is another way to go long, working exceptionally well with both Ajani’s Welcome and Fountain of Renewal.
Finally, the most obvious and most powerful payoff in this deck is of course the Ajani’s Pridemate plan–not only is there the Pridemate itself, but also Bloodthirsty Aeralist to take to the skies, and Ajani, Strength of the Pride to churn out more Pridemate tokens. Ajani is the marquee payoff in this deck, as it’s often trivial to be able to activate his ultimate.
This deck is surprisingly flexible in how it can drive towards victory. The wide variety of payoff cards open up many angles of attack–and angles of defense–so you can pick the posture you want to adopt in any given matchup. Against fast aggro decks, you have a significant edge as you can turtle up and gain a squillion life, while against slower decks you can pile counters onto a Pridemate-type card and beat down.
That’s not to say you must take this approach. Despite being a creature-oriented deck, you can beat removal-heavy opponents by going long with planeswalkers and cards such as Arguel’s Blood Fast and Dawn of Hope. Your lategame is actually very strong, and the key is to ensure you don’t overcommit. Don’t allow them to use sweepers effectively–try instead to ride a single threat to victory, then reload with one more when they deal with it.
Midrange decks pose a bit of a problem as they can leverage removal to dominate the board, while pressuring you meaningfully with their threats. As a result, you’ll have to rely on your enhanced lifegain capabilities to weather the storm and generate threats of your own, typically with the assistance of a utility card. This deck can, once set up, invest small amounts of mana in very large threats–for example, with two copies of Ajani’s Welcome out, you can spend five mana on a Pridemate and an Aerialist to generate ten power across two creatures!
Finally, with aggro decks always a mainstay fixture of the best-of-one queues on Arena, this deck isn’t a bad choice to grind the ladder. It’s a nightmare matchup for Mono-Red, who more or less have to have Frenzy plus several Steam-Kins to keep up with your capacity to gain so much life as the game goes long. Land a few Fountains or Welcomes and watch the life roll in–and you’ll leave aggro decks in the dust.
We were pretty close with this list, but there are a few small changes to be made to help the deck operate at peak efficiency. Angel of Vitality underperformed and so gets the chop, which gives us the opportunity to beef up our suite of interaction. After playing around with the numbers of other cards to find a better balance between utility and payoff, we end up with this.
6 Plains 2 Swamp 2 Memorial to Folly 4 Godless Shrine 4 Isolated Chapel 4 Scoured Barrens 1 Temple of Silence 4 Ajani's Pridemate 2 Resplendent Angel 4 Bloodthirsty Aerialist 4 Dusk Legion Zealot 4 Ajani's Welcome 2 Dawn of Hope 1 Mortify 4 Fountain of Renewal 2 Vraska's Contempt 2 Gideon Blackblade 3 Ajani, Strength of the Pride 3 Moment of Craving 2 Revival/Revenge
With Angel of Vitality freeing up four slots, we can play more removal and maximize on our best threats. It was a mistake not to play as many Bloodthirsty Aerialists as possible–it’s an absolute beating–and so we go to the full four there. A few more copies of Moment of Craving are very useful, considering that their worst-case use is as a way to put an extra counter on a Pridemate.
Gideon Blackblade helps with big lifelink swings, so we find room for another copy. Arguel’s Blood Fast is replaced by Dawn of Hope, which synergizes much better with Ajani’s Welcome and still draws plenty of cards. Nightmare’s Thirst hits the bin in favor of Mortify, to provide a flexible (if non-synergistic) answer to problem cards such as Experimental Frenzy.
We play some pretty silly decks on Arena Boys, but this is one I wholeheartedly recommend you put to use in grinding the ladder. Your insane aggro matchup gives you a significant edge against the field, and even against slower decks you’re not dead in the water (particularly as there are no sideboarded Disenchants). This deck is a ton of fun and will win you a lot of best-of-one games!
Next week, we’ve got a wild Arena Boys brew featuring Leyline of Abundance–once again it’ll be time to go big or go home! Or, quite possibly, both.