had the pleasure of spending a good deal of this past weekend with the infamous rogue deckbuilder Conley Woods. Conley was happy to show off his latest brew for Standard. I quickly noticed that the list could easily be made into a budget deck if I swapped a few cards in and out. The deck looked unique, fun, and competitive. It seemed like a perfect deck to showcase for the column.
Last summer a few players took U.S. Nationals by storm when they played an aggro life-gain deck known as Soul Sisters. The deck used Soul Warden and Soul's Attendant alongside cards like Serra Ascendant and Ajani's Pridemate. It seems strange, but an aggressive life-gain deck was probably the premier aggro deck of the tournament.
We haven't seen much of Soul Sisters since the rotation of the 2010 Magic Core Set. However, New Phyrexia brings a number of new tools to the table. Suture Priest is actually a huge upgrade over Soul Warden. Sure, Soul Warden is a single mana cheaper, but Suture Priest is usually good for at least 4 or 5 life points if it sticks around.
The most exciting addition adds a whole new element to the deck. Phyrexian Metamorph is one of my favorite cards from New Phyrexia. The ability to cast a Clone or Copy Artifact for three mana, regardless of color, is relatively unfair. The ability to gain "infinite" life, however, is absolutely unfair in every sense of the word.
How do we gain an arbitrarily large amount of life? First we need a Suture Priest or Soul's Attendant alongside a Leonin Relic-Warder on the battlefield. Once we've assembled those two pieces we can cast Phyrexian Metamorph and copy the Leonin Relic-Warder. The Metamorph-Warder's trigger will target itself. (Remember that Phyrexian Metamorph is still an artifact.) As soon as the Metamorph-Warder leaves the battlefield, its other ability will trigger, thus putting Phyrexian Metamorph back onto the battlefield. Simply have it target itself a few billion times, gaining life each time, and it should become very difficult for your opponent to put even the smallest of dents in your life total.
This combo has been discussed at length by amazing deckbuilders like Patrick Chapin. Most people have attempted to put the combo into Birthing Pod decks. However, our deck, like Conley's, is attempting to be as aggressive as we can possibly be. The combo is more of a Plan C. Conveniently, every piece of the combo is an excellent spell entirely on its own.
Inquisitor Exarch serves double duty here. The life-gain ability can actually be used aggressively and the other ability gives white decks reach—in this context, the ability to close out a game even if the opponent stabilizes, something they've never really had access to. Reach usually refers to burn spells in an aggressive strategy. Once your opponent has successfully stabilized after your early creature onslaught they're usually at a very low life total. A card like Inquisitor Exarch allows us to go "over the top" and attack our opponent's life total without getting in the red zone.
Ajani's Pridemate is far and away the best two-drop available here. There are a lot of games where you're swinging with a 5/5 or 6/6 Ajani's Pridemate as early as the third turn. Pridemate has excellent synergy with the entirety of this deck.
Serra Ascendant is also quite ridiculous here. Things get really awkward for your opponent when you have access to one-mana 6/6 lifelink flyers. It may sound unreasonable, but the majority of your hands will be able to achieve this goal as early as the fourth turn.
Squadron Hawk isn't very good in this deck, but I worry about being weak against Inkmoth Nexus. Our deck has the ability to gain an arbitrarily large amount of life, but we can be at ten billion life and still lose to poison counters. Squadron Hawk lets us fight in the air, and it helps prevent us from taking hits from Sword of Feast and Famine.
Divine Offering is another card that helps us when playing against Inkmoth Nexus. It's also an excellent answer to cards like Batterskull, Sword of Feast and Famine, and Sword of War and Peace. Unlike other decks, we can actually put the life gain from Divine Offering to good use.
Phyrexian Metamorph is quite good as a combo piece, but it's also an incredible card in its own right. Most Sword-based decks will be quick to land a Batterskull or Sword of War and Peace to help defend themselves from your super aggressive starts. Phyrexian Metamorph can copy either of these pieces of Equipment and give you an edge in the Equipment war. Phyrexian Metamorph was the promotional giveaway card at Launch Party events around the world, so it shouldn't be difficult to acquire these if you're willing to trade a little bit.
Once we put it all together we end up with the following deck list:
We want our sideboard to be well prepared for Inkmoth Nexus, Slagstorm, Pyroclasm, Phyrexian Crusader, and Gideon Jura. These and Day of Judgment seem to be the worst cards for us. Luckily, most Caw-Blade decks have stopped running Day of Judgment altogether. This gives Soul Sisters a window to stomp the existing metagame.
When fighting against decks with Inkmoth Nexus it's important that we have some extra copies of Divine Offering. I have no problem going up to full four copies of Divine Offering after sideboard against these kinds of decks.
Brave the Elements is one of the best anti-Pyroclasm cards ever printed for White Weenie decks. It's no different here. I want to side in a full playset of Brave the Elements against decks with Slagstorm and/or Pyroclasm.
Dismember may seem to have terrible synergy with the deck, but it really only hinders our Serra Ascendant. In any case, Dismember is the most effective answer available when playing against decks with Phyrexian Crusader. Phyrexian Crusader is probably the best card against us in all of Standard, and I have no problem packing a little bit of heat for it after sideboarding.
Here's the final sideboard.
I played a match with the deck to see how it fared against one of the most popular decks in the current standard format. New Phyrexia isn't quite on Magic Online yet, so getting in a lot of testing games is somewhat difficult.
Before I begin, I'd like to explain why this is such a good match-up. Deceiver Exarch only has 1 power. This means your opponent cannot actually combo you when you have a Soul's Attendant or Suture Priest on the battlefield. Each Deceiver Exarch token that's made will net you a life. Your opponent can make thousands of 1/4s, but you're going to break even on life regardless. If you happen to have a Suture Priest, then your opponents will actually kill themselves if they attempt to combo.
I win the roll and keep 2 Plains, Glimmerpost, Soul's Attendant, 2 Ajani's Pridemate, and Leonin Relic-Warder. I played my Plains, cast Soul's Attendant, and passed the turn. My opponent played a Blackcleave Cliffs, cast Duress, whiffed, and passed the turn. I drew Divine Offering, played a Plains, cast Ajani's Pridemate, triggered my Soul's Attendant, went to 21, made my Pridemate a 3/3, attacked for 1 with the Attendant, and passed the turn. My opponent played a Darkslick Shores and cast a Spellskite before passing back. I went to 22, and my Pridemate became a 4/4.
I drew a Serra Ascendant, cast Ajani's Pridemate, went to 23 and made my first Pridemate a 5/5 and the other a 3/3, then played Glimmerpost, going to 24 and pumping each kitty once more. I attacked with Soul's Attendant and Ajani's Pridemate. Spellskite blocked Soul's Attendant, and my opponent fell to 13 life. My opponent played a Creeping Tar Pit and cast a second Spellskite, and I went to 25 and pumped each kitty. I drew an Ajani Goldmane, cast Divine Offering targeting one of the Spellskites, and went to 28, pumping each Pridemate once more. I cast Serra Ascendant, went to 29, pumped each Pridemate, and attacked with my team. My opponent chump-blocked the larger of the two Pridemates and took 8, dropping down to 5. I passed the turn. My opponent saw the writing on the wall and conceded after his draw step.
I kept Kabira Crossroads, 2 Plains, Glimmerpost, 2 Suture Priest, Leonin Relic-Warder. My opponent played a Creeping Tar Pit and passed the turn. I drew a Serra Ascendant, played my Plains, cast the Serra Ascendant, and passed the turn. My opponent cast an Inquisition of Kozilek, took a Suture Priest, played another Creeping Tar Pit, and passed the turn. I drew Brave the Elements, attacked for 1, played another Plains, cast Suture Priest, and passed the turn. My opponent cast Preordain, left one card on top, played Lavaclaw Reaches, and passed the turn. I drew another Serra Ascendant, cast it, played Kabira Crossroads, and attacked, going up to 26 and putting my opponent at 18. My opponent untapped, cast Preordain, played a Scalding Tarn, cracked it for a Mountain, and cast Slagstorm, I cast Brave the Elements naming red. My opponent passed. I drew an Ajani's Pridemate, cast Suture Priest, played Glimmerpost, cast Ajani's Pridemate, going to 30, making the Pridemate a 4/4, and attacked for 13, knocking my opponent to 5. My opponent had another Slagstorm, but it wasn't enough to deal with the gigantic monsters I had created with my life gain.
This deck is certainly capable of great things. It has an incredibly strong match-up against Darkblade and Grixis Twin. It's at least even against White-Blue Caw-Blade. The deck may struggle with decks like Blue-Red-Green and Valakut, but those decks have become significantly less popular with the rise of Splinter Twin decks that absolutely crush Lotus Cobra–based strategies. Soul Sisters also has an incredible match-up against other aggressive decks. Red and Vampire decks, for example, will have fits trying to deal with all of your lifegain.
This is a pretty good place to be right now. Most Standard tournaments are heavily populated by Caw-Blade, Darkblade, Mono-Red, Vampires, and Splinter Twin combo. The deck is powerful and very interesting. It's quite difficult to play, though, so I recommend playtesting a lot. It's important to learn all the interactions that Soul's Attendant and Suture Priest have with cards like Ajani's Pridemate.
If this type of deck intrigues you to the point where you want to put together a non-budget list, I would recommend the following list, as given to the world by Conley Woods:
Conley's version of the deck really only has problems with Inkmoth Nexus and Mirran Crusader. Conley removes my Ajani Goldmanes and Squadron Hawks to find room for a playset of Stoneforge Mystic and a nice Equipment package. One might think that this plan makes him weak to opposing Squadron Hawks, but having access to Mortarpod makes it much more difficult for your opponent to dump mana into an equip.
Be sure to shoot me an e-mail or hit the forums with comments, feedback, and suggestions for future columns.