I won't lie; I've been waiting for Sultai Week this whole time. Sultai is my favorite of the five clans. Don't get me wrong—I've drafted and played all of the clans regularly, but if given the choice, I'll take Sultai every time.
I can sum up my love for this clan in one word: Value.
Perhaps an overused term, it's one dear to my heart. On Tarkir, the Sultai brood are the emissaries of value. They just get it. They have access to the best card-draw spells in the format (Bitter Revelation, Treasure Cruise) as well as the best ways to slow the game to a grinding halt.
For the column this week, I decided to get opinions from some friends about Sultai in order to give you different looks at what has turned out to be a deep three-color combination in the format. I've also asked for help highlighting some of the new cards from Fate Reforged that have caught the eye as well.
I'll start with me first, though. I'll be covering my take on the baseline strategy for Sultai. I also chose this because it's my favorite way to play the deck.
Marshall is me. You know me. Hi.
I already mentioned the whole "slowing the game down to a grinding halt" thing. That's the name of the game with your average pile of good Sultai cards. It's pretty simple really: you are the control deck of the format. Your job is simple: live for as long as possible so your powerful late-game spells will take over.
The first question to answer is how to survive for a long time in a format that supports multiple aggressive archetypes. And the answer is pretty straightforward as it turns out: Toughness.
Sultai has at its disposal some of the highest toughness-to-converted-mana-cost creatures in the set.
Here are a few examples:
There are more than that too. The key with these cards is that they help slow down the game, and most of them help stall out the ground game against most decks. That's actually the easy part. The ground will get gummed up. The Sultai have many tools for this, and you can pick them up in the middle part of the pack quite easily. Deathtouch creatures are also great at this, and Sultai gets access to almost all of them.
With the ground safely guarded, we turn our attention to other ways we can lose the game.
There are two main options for our opponent. The first is to go wide—usually with a token strategy, building up enough creatures to attack around our low-power defenses. The second option is to use evasive threats to keep our life total in jeopardy. Flying and unblockable are the main forms of evasion to look out for.
This means that cards like Death Frenzy are much higher picks than you might expect for the deck. With all of our high-toughness creatures littering the battlefield, it's easy to cast Death Frenzy and still keep your whole team of creatures while wiping out an army of your opponents'. It also means that spot removal spells like Debilitating Injury and Throttle must be used more selectively than normal. You'll often want to save those spells for the likes of Mystic of the Hidden Way or Jeskai Scout.
Once we have our ground defended and evasive threats dealt with, it's time for the game to go long, and us to pull ahead with card advantage and powerful late-game plays.
This is where cards like Treasure Cruise, Bitter Revelation, Villainous Wealth, Necropolis Fiend, and Palace Siege truly shine. You have the ability to sit back, be reactive, and then get way ahead in the late game. And that's the plan.
Honestly, my two most common finishers are just that: Common.
You won't need the fancy rares I mentioned above to win with this deck. Cards like Abomination of Gudul and Woolly Loxodon get the job done just fine, and are usually available to draft in the middle part of the pack.
If that's the baseline strategy for Sultai, let's take a look at a couple of other takes on the archetype.
I was traveling down to Grand Prix San Jose to do coverage last weekend, and a pair of my friends were traveling with me.
Well, sort of.
They actually missed their flight and were stuck at the airport waiting for another one. I decided to use the opportunity to pick their brains about my favorite clan.
Kenji "Numotthenummy" Egashira
I asked him how he liked to play Sultai, and he had a more assertive take on the strategy.
Kenji prefers to abuse the delve mechanic in his Sultai decks.
"If you get to do two things in one turn while your opponent only does one, that's the key," he told me.
He described one of his favorite sequences for Sultai: "You play a morph on turn three, then on turn four you play Scout the Borders. This leaves five cards in your graveyard, which actually allows you to play Hooting Mandrills in the same turn."
The cool part about that sequence is that you can use the Scout the Borders to find either the land or the Hooting Mandrills in the case that you are short either of them. It also works with Sultai Scavenger.
I asked Kenji what he wanted as far as delve cards in an average deck. "Four or five delve cards. Maybe two Hooting Mandrills, a Sultai Scavenger, a Treasure Cruise. I'll play a Shambling Remains even."
Kenji also said he loves the blue bounce spells and black removal spells to keep the damage flowing with his Hooting Mandrills. Alongside the 4/4 Apes, he likes cards like Tuskguard Captain and Mer-Ek Nightblade for good value creatures with which to attack and block.
Since Kenji seems to prefer being more proactive with this deck, I asked him about the defensive cards and how they fit into his builds. "Cards like Archers' Parapet are still fine. They can buy you a little time while you play your Scout the Borders and set up your bigger plays."
Last, I asked Kenji to name some of the big bombs that he hopes to open with this deck. "Sagu Mauler; Necropolis Fiend; Torrent Elemental; Thousand Winds; Tasigur, the Golden Fang; Villainous Wealth."
Kenji dreams big.
Woodrow "Woodman Englay" Engle
Woodrow is a friend of mine and was teaming with Kenji for the team Grand Prix in San Jose. (We call him "Woodman Englay" because at GP Portland his name was announced that way a bunch of times and it stuck.) Woodrow plays on Magic Online and will travel for Limited Grand Prix and plays PTQs locally.
Woodrow, Kenji, and their teammate Robin had done a few practice builds as well as the normal slew of drafts and Prereleases before heading down to California to battle in the team Grand Prix.
When I asked Woodrow about how he likes to draft Sultai, the first thing that came to mind was Secret Plans. "I like the Secret Plans strategy because even if you don't draw your Secret Plans, you still have a bunch of sweet morphs to play."
He said that the deck he likes is usually heavily green-blue, with a lighter touch on black. "This lets me cast Secret Plans on turn two as consistently as possible." When asked which cards he looked for to pick up as a priority in the draft, he said, "Secret Plans of course; you have to be willing to take them whenever you see one. Archers' Parapet, Monastery Flock, Heir of the Wilds, Typhoid Rats. Defensive cards mostly."
Woodrow also expressed the desire to have the game go long. The longer the game goes, the better chance you have to take over with Secret Plans. "Morphs with cheap morph costs are very important. They are what let you get the card-draw engine going with Secret Plans."
What about removal? "Murderous Cut, Throttle, Savage Punch, Debilitating Injury. Dead Drop isn't as good in this deck because the idea is to gum up the ground, leaving your opponent with too many good choices. Targeted spot removal is better here."
Which morphs does Woodrow look for primarily? "Icefeather Aven, Glacial Stalker, Abomination of Gudul, Woolly Loxodon, Monastery Flock. Sidisi's Pet isn't that great, but sometimes makes the cut. Dragon's Eye Savants and Ruthless Ripper are nice."
You know Pro Tour historian and certified Limited menace Brian David-Marshall.
While in San Jose, I asked BDM—a true Sultai devotee—what cards caught his eye from Fate Reforged for our favorite strategy.
"Sultai Emissary is one of my favorite cards from the new set. A card that puts a card in the yard, trades with a shocking amount of creatures, and replaces itself. It also has the opportunity to be a huge blowout."
He also said he liked Sultai Skullkeeper as an early-game play that helps set up later-game delve cards.
Write into Being caught BDM's eye as well. "I love scry. I like being able to dig two cards deep while still feeling like you are just playing a morph, but with the upside of deck manipulation and card selection. Especially in Sultai, which can be finicky about when certain cards are drawn and played."
Ethereal Ambush is a card that I personally saw Brian play a lot of over the weekend. "You can sit on mana for Throttle, turning a morph face up, Cancel, whatever. Then you can make two creatures at instant speed while still hiding the other information. You also get to develop your board while filling up your graveyard—something a normal creature doesn't do."
Brian is a sucker for a "Gravedigger," and we got a new one in Fate Reforged—Sibsig Muckdraggers. "I wanted to play Dutiful Returned before because of all the good cards going to the graveyard. Being able to cherry pick the best card is very appealing to me."
What about some bombs to look out for?
"Torrent Elemental is a total bomb for this strategy. Lots of low-power, high-toughness creatures means that you can leverage the tap ability to win in one fell swoop. The synergies with delve give inevitability. You can cast the card more times than your opponent can possibly deal with it."
And what about Tasigur, the Golden Fang?
"I really like that you can cast him for one mana and still have mana left over to activate the ability."
We were both speculating on Ghastly Conscription. I felt like it was too expensive and inconsistent to be considered a bomb.
BDM said, "I don't know if it's any good, but I want to play it."
I expect a call from him in the near future with tales of the ridiculous blowout he administered with the card.
Until next week!