It's a Wonderful Life

Posted in NEWS on July 8, 2014

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Ah, it's that wonderful time of year again. Magic 2015 is fully known but not quite released, making the next couple weeks a deck builder's paradise, as card slingers worldwide toil with the new cards to see how this set will shake things up.

What are we going to look at today? Well, it's time to take a peek at an archetype that has slowly been coming together over the course of many sets. And now, just before Standard rotates, Magic 2015 finally provides the last few pieces this particular deck needs to give it a few shining months of glory before completely disappearing.

Some ideas of what this deck with a few missing pieces may pop into your head. Slivers? Goblins? Planeswalker control?

Ajani's Pridemate | Art by Svetlin Velinov

All nice guesses, but not quite.

Today, it's time for aggro lifegain!

...Huh?

Yes, you heard me right:

Alvaro's Voracious Pridemates

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The Battle Plan

Often, the best stories are the ones you don't see coming.

The pieces for this deck have been scattered throughout sets for the past couple years—and now it's finally time to bring them together. You got a hint of this deck last year when Magic 2014 introduced Voracious Wurm, Archangel of Thune, Path of Bravery, and a couple others, but it still wasn't quite all there. With Magic 2015, it's time to put together the pieces of the puzzle.

Four years ago, I played a then-new deck called Soul Sisters at US Nationals. Using Ajani's Pridemate and a few other lifegain-matters cards to create huge creatures and attack the opponent, the crazy deck from the mind of Conley Woods was one of the talks of the tournament. Many Standard decks have attempted to try and recapture that kind of archetype, but I don't think many have really succeeded.

Until now.

Ajani's Pridemate has returned to Standardtown, and it's time to get the band back together. So, how does this deck work exactly? I mean, isn't lifegain supposed to be "bad?"

Well, it's essentially a two-pronged attack driven by synergy. You have a number of cards that gain you life and a number of aggressively costed creatures that become better as you gain life. By pairing the lifegain with these unique creatures, you can create some pretty huge monsters. It's actually not that hard to summon a 5/5 Voracious Wurm on turn two with this deck!

While pure lifegain generally isn't good on its own, when it's enabling all of your other cards, that suddenly changes the equation. To draw a parallel, you shouldn't play Elvish Champion in your deck if you have no other Elves—but with Elves it becomes very strong. Similarly, I wouldn't really recommend playing Soulmender on its own—but when you have Ajani's Pridemate in your deck, it can become a very scary one-drop.

The lifegain also has the side benefit of causing opposing beatdown decks major headaches. They not only have to deal with your huge creatures, but also combat the fact that you have gained a bunch of extra life.

So, what makes this deck tick? Let's hop right into it!

Deck Breakdown

Which cards are worth keeping and which ones should run for their lives? Let's go through the deck card by card and see what can stay and what can go!

Ajani's Pridemate and Voracious Wurm

This eight-pack of creatures is part of what makes the deck function so beautifully. This is what lets you have some truly aggressive starts—especially if you add in a couple missing cards

Ajani's Pridemate never stays as a 2/2 for very long. In most games, he will quickly become a 3/3 or 4/4. A fairly scary curve is turn-one Soulmender—yes, Soulmender!—into the Pridemate. That makes him a 3/3 right away, and will only tick up further over time. Follow that up with something like Courser of Kruphix and your opponent is going to quickly have a problem that's growing out of control. In the midgame, he grows along with your Scavenging Ooze as it eats creatures.

And speaking of Soulmender-powered starts, Voracious Wurm can probably create some of the scariest starts your opponent has seen in a while.

Imagine this sequence:

Turn one: Temple Garden, Soulmender.

Turn two: Tap Soulmender to gain 1 life, Radiant Fountain to gain 2 life, cast Voracious Wurm as a 5/5.

Radiant Fountain hadn't yet been previewed when Alvaro sent me the original decklist, but that's a crucial piece of this deck I'm certainly adding in four copies of. Even without the Soulmender, it still makes 4/4 Voracious Wurms on turn two easy to set up—and also pumps your Pridemates.

These eight creatures are crucial to this deck and I'm definitely not cutting any of them. I also want to make sure they have the right support—four Soulmenders and four Radiant Fountains it is!

Courser of Kruphix

The Courser has certainly proven its worth over the past couple months, showing up in formats ranging from Block Constructed all the way to Modern! Its ability to clear lands out of the way is no less useful here, of course—but the lifegain is more relevant than ever.

In many other decks that play the Courser, the bit of lifegain is just a nice bonus. Here, that one life means a lot: whether ensuring an extra counter on all of your Ajani's Pridemates or triggering your Archangel of Thune, that life bonus becomes even better. Its strength as a card and in this particular deck makes me want to keep all four.

Fiendslayer Paladin

Fiendslayer Paladin's allure is as a tricky-to-deal-with threat that consistently gains you some life. While it's definitely a good sideboard card, in a lot of matchups it's just going to be a 2/2 first strike lifelinker—which, while not bad, isn't great either.

Additionally, it puts a lot of pressure on your mana base (especially with 4 Radiant Fountains in your deck); trying to make sure you consistently have and on turn three for either Courser of Kruphix or Fiendslayer Paladin is going to lead you down a path of playing cards like Mana Confluence. There are enough other cards I'm happy to have that I don't mind losing all four copies of the Paladin here. It'd be a fine sideboard card, but I don't need it in my main deck.

There are a few other cards you could consider here. If you just wanted an aggressive creature you could look at something like Loxodon Smiter. Path of Bravery fits the lifegain theme well. However, what I'd like to play a couple copies of is Centaur Healer. It's a stopgap creature that's also on theme. I just want a couple extra three-drops in addition to my Coursers, and Healer is a good fit.

Nyx-Fleece Ram

At its core, Nyx-Fleece Ram is a two-mana Soulmender that's a little better at blocking. It serves a very similar role to the 'mender.

However, that one mana makes a gigantic difference. Soulmender can come out in advance of your Pridemate or Wurm, whereas Mr. Ram sits right on top of that mana cost. This deck has so many two-drops it wants already—Pridemate, Wurm, Scavenging Ooze—that it doesn't really have a place for this guy. Other spots on the curve need to be filled out. This Ram looks great for a deck like this, but in reality, he doesn't fit so well. I'm going to cut all of them.

Archangel of Thune

This Angel is your top-end threat. At five mana, Archangel of Thune comes down and can threaten to end the game pretty easily. Already have a Soulmender on the battlefield? Great! That means Archangel of Thune instantly pumps up everybody. Have a Scavenging Ooze ready to go? Even better: that's an easy way to overrun your team and end the game. Archangel of Thune is a combination of strong on her own and strong with all of your synergies, making her a great fit for this deck. She's a little expensive to cast, but she's so strong that I'm happy with all four copies.

Scavenging Ooze

Strong on its own? Check! Good on theme? Check! Despite being a two-drop, the Ooze fits very well into this deck and slides right into a spot among your other cards. You don't really normally want to cast one on turn two, but after some of the initial bloodbath has happened there are few cards I'd rather have in this deck.

With all that said, two is the right number to me: you don't really want to draw multiples, and you don't really want to cast it on turn two. It's the kind of card you want to naturally draw rather than have in your opener. I could see sideboarding a third for attrition-heavy matchups, but as-is, I'd only like two.

Trostani, Selesnya's Voice

At first blush, Trostani sounds like an exciting inclusion. After all, she does give you tons of added life.

However, when you think about it, there are a few problems with her here. First of all, you have no tokens to populate with, so her populate ability isn't doing anything for you. Secondly, she doesn't gain you life on her own: you have to cast another creature after her to do anything. So, for you get a 2/5 that doesn't do anything until you cast another creature. That isn't going to be good enough here: I'd rather just have a card that's stronger on its own.

Banishing Light

Removal is important to letting this deck punch through, and Banishing Light is a marquee removal spell that can deal with any threat your opponent might have. I definitely want to keep these three and add in the fourth.

Bow of Nylea

Repeatable lifegain is exciting, since it works well with your engine, plus the Bow provides a plethora of other options. However, at five mana before you get anything out of it and the fact that it doesn't add a lot to the board on its own makes it a little less than what I'm looking for. I want most of my cards to do something for me when I cast them, and the Bow takes a while to start being worth having.

Blind Obedience

This deck is already chock-full of two-drops, so I won't be playing this on turn two often. But on the other hand, I don't really want to spend my third turn doing this either. So when am I planning to actually cast it? I don't really want to cast this over another threat in my deck. While the draining is nice alongside Ajani's Pridemate, I would rather just have more threats in my deck than this.

Ajani, Mentor of Heroes

Here's the other five-drop you can pull out at the top of your curve—and he's plenty strong to make up for the cost! Often, the board will turn into a stall with a deck like this, as you mount huge creatures and your opponents mount plenty of blockers. Ajani turns that stall in your favor, giving you plenty to do in the way of helping send your creatures through or loading up on gas. I don't want more than two since there are already four Archangel of Thunes, but I'm happy with two.

Plus, you have to ultimate Ajani and cast Voracious Wurm at least once in your life.

There are two last additions I'd like to make.

The first is three copies of Unflinching Courage. Playing Auras can be dangerous because of the two-for-one potential, which is why there's three and not four, but Force is definitely one of the strongest offerings for this deck. Not only does it gain you life, but it also makes your huge creatures evasive with trample, which is very important. It's easy for your opponent to just chump block a huge Pridemate over and over, and Force helps stop this problem.

Second, I'd like three copies of Gods Willing. In addition to having the aforementioned huge creatures that need to get through, which Gods Willing helps with, it's also important you can protect them. If you put a bunch of effort into building a huge Voracious Wurm on turn two only for it to meet a Hero's Downfall, then all of your work will have been wasted. Gods Willing serves the role of both sending your creature through and also protecting it from whatever your opponents might have up their sleeves.

With all of those changes in mind, that brings our final decklist to:

Gavin Verhey's Soul Wurms

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This deck is capable of some truly gigantic threats early on. Most beatdown matchups are good for you thanks to the combination of huge creatures and lifegain.

If you want to go further down the lifegain rabbit hole, you could look into Path of Bravery as a potential option. The more likely case is that you may want to try swinging the pendulum back toward normal cards and keeping a few of the lifegain-centric pieces, in which case Voice of Resurgence; Brimaz, King of Oreskos; Ajani, Caller of the Pride; and Loxodon Smiter are all cards to keep in mind.

No matter which path you choose, have fun with this one! There's nothing else quite like it in Standard.


Honorable Mentions

What are some of our other first looks at Magic 2015 decklists? Let's take a peek!

Toyoharu Sonohara's Planeswalker's Inn

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Aaron F.'s Devoted Genesis

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Nick Frega's Battlefield Now

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Qoarl's Apostle of Urd

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Sorcery (2)
2 Immortal Servitude
Artifact (6)
4 Obelisk of Urd 2 Hall of Triumph
Land (20)
20 Swamp
60 Cards

Kento Hatao's The Beast Below

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Tanaka Kazutoshi's Grixis Mega-Hand-Destruction Deck.

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Jetse's Zameck Squidmage

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Trivmvirate's Infinite Mill Combo

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Modern Magic 2015

There's plenty to look at with Magic 2015—and I'm excited to see what can be done in Modern with it!

Here's what you should send me for next week's challenge:

Format: Modern.
Restrictions: You must use at least one previously not Modern-legal card from Magic 2015
Deadline: July 14, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.

Submit all decklists by emailing me at reconstructeddecks@gmail.com. Please submit decklists using the following template. (The specific numbers below are arbitrary, so please don't feel a need to use them—it's just how an example of how a decklist should look when laid out.)

Yourname's Deckname
Standard
20 Land
20 Land
4 Creature
4 Creature
4 Other Spell
4 Other Spell
4 Planeswalker

Also, take note that for this week, please send your decks to reconstructeddecks@gmail.com. There is currently a bug that is causing difficulty with me seeing your decklists sent to my Wizards address.

So, what will be the Magic 2015 additions to Modern? I don't know—but I'm interested to find out what you all think!

In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this article! If you have any thoughts or comments, feel free to send me a tweet about it or ask me a question on my Tumblr and I'll be sure to take a look.

Have fun at the Magic 2015 Prerelease this weekend, no matter where out there in time or space you may be! The oversized Garruk card you'll find in your box was something I put a lot of work into—I hope you enjoy giving it a try. Let me know what you think afterward!

I'll be back next week with a look at some of the outside-designer cards in Magic 2015. Talk with you again then!

Gavin
@GavinVerhey
GavInsight