One of the decks that I almost played at Players Tour Brussels was Izzet Ensoul. In the end it seemed like everyone was on Fatal Push + Thoughtseize, so I went with Inverter instead, but at the Grand Prix in Japan on the same weekend, this deck made up a whopping 50% of the entire Top 8.
Blue-Red Ensoul - Pioneer
How does U/R Ensoul work?
This is an aggro deck that uses cheap artifact creatures combined with Ghostfire Blade, Ensoul Artifact, and Skilled Animator to put fast pressure on your opponent. You have Shrapnel Blast to finish them off and Metallic Rebuke to defend your creatures from removal or yourself from combo decks. You can play a longer game with Emry, Lurker of the Loch, but usually you are hoping to close out the game by turn 4 or 5. Cards like Gingerbrute and Hope of Ghirapur aren’t ones you would normally put into an aggressive deck, but attacking with them for 5 damage on turn 2 puts your opponent on a very fast clock.
What are you looking for in an opening hand?
Ideally you want to play an artifact on turn 1 and Ensoul it on turn 2 and attack for 5. If you don’t have Ensoul, simply curving Bomat into Ghostfire Blade and equip + attack is a good start as well. I mulligan hands with too many lands (4 is about as many as I’m willing to keep) or too many Ensoul effects without enough artifacts. The rest depends on the matchup, but in general you don’t want to mulligan too much against Thoughtseize decks.
There are eight flex slots in the deck that you can change to your liking based on the metagame: two Emry, one Hangarback, one Wild Slash, one Shadowspear, three Metallic Rebuke. I have a little bit of everything, but if I were bringing this deck to a tournament next weekend, this would be my thought process on how to choose the correct numbers for everything:
Wild Slash: This card is good if there is a lot of Mono-Black, Spirits, and Mono-Red, where using one mana to get rid of Soul-Scar Mage is a great tempo play, but it’s really bad against decks like Inverter and Lotus Breach.
Shadowspear: I’m usually not a big fan of this card because it has similar issues like Wild Slash, but it essentially gives you mana for Metallic Rebuke and Emry and you can always make it into a 5/5 on turn 2.
Emry: I like a few copies of Emry because it helps you find Ghostfire Blade, which is one of the most important cards of the deck. It also acts as a lightning rod before you play your Ensoul or Skilled Animator.
Metallic Rebuke: I like Rebuke the most of all the available counters. Stubborn Denial, Dive Down, Essence Scatter, and Spell Pierce (which I think is a better Stubborn) are all just way too situational. I want to be able to counter a Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, Sylvan Scrying, and Inverter of Truth, and Rebuke does that. At this time I wouldn’t even mind playing four and ditch the one Wild Slash, as the metagame seems to revolve mostly around combo decks right now.
Hangarback Walker: This card can be too slow against combo as well, but it’s really good against other creature decks and decks with a lot of removal. You can also keep replaying it from your graveyard with Emry.
The other 52 cards I wouldn’t touch. I was pretty surprised to see a lot of lists without the full four Mutavault, which I think is a big mistake because it helps you mitigate flood and you can also just equip it with Ghostfire Blade and attack for 4.
I don’t think you should run one basic Island or Mountain either, the mana can already be a bit awkward sometimes as is and Field of Ruin is only played in U/W Control.
The Royal Scions: As cool as this card looks, it just doesn’t do enough. It doesn’t protect itself, doesn’t add to the board, is hard to cast, and you can’t even target your own Stonecoil Serpent with it.
Another interesting option is Steel Overseer. If you want to make the deck more streamlined and cut stuff like Emry or Wild Slash, then Overseer is a good replacement. I also tried Pia Nalaar, and it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t spectacular either.
Damping Sphere: Best hate card against the Lotus Breach combo.
Rending Volley: Against Spirits and White Devotion decks.
Aethersphere Harvester: I thought this card was too expensive for the main deck, but I like it out of the sideboard against red and black creature decks.
Ceremonious Rejection: Potential answer to Inverter, but a bit too situational.
Experimental Frenzy: I like Frenzy in grindy matchups and against decks that bring in additional removal against you.
Tips and Tricks
• Emry lets you do a lot of cool tricks:
- Emry + Ghirapur locks your opponent out from casting noncreature spells.
- Emry + Gingerbrute lets you block and gain 3 every turn.
- Emry + Hangarback is an infinite blocker that also gives you extra flying tokens when it dies.
• Stonecoil Serpent’s protection from multicolor is surprisingly very relevant, especially against a deck like Niv to Light or U/W Control that can’t use Teferi or Azorius Charm on it.
• Correctly sequencing your lands is very important. For example, you should usually play Darksteel Citadel on turns 1 or 2 because you can draw Ensoul Artifact on turn 3 and you want to be able to attack right away. Sometimes you will want to play Mutavault to make sure you can attack with it only to realize that if you do, your Spirebluff Canal will come into play next turn and all of a sudden you have to choose between one of the two options. Look at your opening hand and think of all the options before you play your first couple of lands so this doesn’t happen to you.
• Decks with Fatal Push have a really hard time dealing with Ensoul Artifact on a Darksteel Citadel. If I have access to both, I’ll usually play both on turn 2 to try to protect it from Thoughtseize, even if that means that I can’t attack or do anything else that turn.
• If you have multiple loaded Bomat Couriers that you want to get cards from, you can crack both by putting the first one’s ability on the stack and responding with the second, resulting with you discarding whatever you currently have in your hand and then putting all the cards under both Couriers into your hand.
• Against decks with Fatal Push, it’s usually a good idea to save your Ensoul and Animator as long as possible and try to force them to use their removal by pressuring them with smaller creatures with Ghostfire Blade instead.
• Keep in mind that your Stonecoil Serpent still counts its counters over the base 5/5 stats from Ensoul or Animator, making it a perfect target for either because of trample. Another important thing to keep in mind is that Stonecoil has reach, which usually never matters until your opponent attacks their Spell Queller into it.
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