The Winter Soldiers

Posted in Reconstructed on November 11, 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.

Attentioooooon! And welcome to a budget week of ReConstructed!

This week, it's time to see how many soldier-based pop-culture references and puns I can fit into one ReConstructed article. Oh, and work on a pretty cool budget deck too.

Which deck? Oh yes. You absolutely read that right. Soldiers.

Assemble the Legion | Art by Eric Deschamps

It's time to crank it like Soulja Boy, as we take a look at building a pretty neat, fun, and budget Standard deck.

Clamoring to see what we have to work with? All right...chin up, shoulders back. Let's see what we're made of!

Kevin McHenry's Preeminent Soldiers

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Budget Rules

Ready to rush into the decklist? At ease, Soldier! First, let's cover my rules for building on a budget so we're all clear about what I'll be working on today.

Let's take a quick look at my general rules for budget deck building:

  • I will not add any new rares or mythic rares to the decklist. I'd rather make the deck extra budget-y and then let you season to taste with delicious rares than cook it so rare you won't eat it at all.
  • The one exception to the above is mana fixing. You'll get a lot of mileage out of acquiring a mana base: lands can go in many decks and are one of the crucial elements. Your cards probably aren't going to help you if you can't cast them!
  • I try not to make substitutions. Budget doesn't need to mean making a worse version of a current deck—it just means building toward an archetype that has easier-to-obtain cards. Cards like Master of Waves and Jeskai Ascendancy simply can't be replaced in decks that need them.
  • Budget doesn't mean bad. I'm not setting out to make a deck we know will be suboptimal through this process. There have been plenty of highly successful low-rare decks throughout Magic's history, and there are certainly ways to follow in their footsteps.

If you want more explanation on any of those points, check out the beginning of my first budget article.

Now, with that down, it's time to move on...just like anybody thinking about making another Rambo movie. Let's roll out!

The Battle Plan

So, what is going on here?

This deck is an aggressive White Weenie strategy at its core, augmented by some light green touches like Hardened Scales. It aims to hit hard and finish off the opponent before he or she can get too much rolling.

But a real interesting part of this deck is the Soldier subtheme. It takes advantage of Preeminent Captain. There aren't exactly a lot of Soldier tribal cards in Standard (if I was adding more rares, I would also consider Obelisk of Urd)—but this one packs a punch. Any time you can put free creatures onto the battlefield and let them attack right away, that's something to pay attention to! It's time to wipe some dirt off your Soldiers.

There isn't a lot of subtlety here—and that's okay. There are still places to reevaluate and tweak.

The keys to improving this deck are going to be finding the best Soldiers for it to play with and reevaluating its spell mix. Are those spells the kind of thing that this deck wants?

Well, I suppose it's time to march on toward working on the deck. Let's go!

Deck Breakdown

Which cards are worth bringing into the platoon and which are going to get cut from the squad? Let's run through each card, one by one, and determine what's worth keeping around.

Preeminent Captain

As just described, this is our Soldier tribal enabler. While there aren't any Emrakul-sized Soldiers hanging out to just slam onto the battlefield, this deck plays out like a beatdown deck. And any extra speed, or what essentially amounts to "mana generation," is going to be quite welcome. We're definitely going to want to keep all of the copies of the soldier man...err, Kithkin here.

Abzan Falconer

It's not a Warrior for all of those Warrior decks you've drafted in Khans of Tarkir—but your Limited deck's loss is our gain, as Abzan Falconer being a Soldier finally pays off!

The Falconer hits three key axes of our deck: it's a Soldier, it interacts well with +1/+1 counters, and it's a useful creature on its own. Sending your creatures to the air is excellent in a deck mostly focused on the ground like this one, and slinging it down off of a Preeminent Captain trigger provides quite the falcon punch! I definitely want to keep all four of these.

Phalanx Leader

This is a defining card for this deck. Whether or not you want to play Phalanx Leader is a deceptively huge question.

On one hand, Phalanx Leader provides this deck some of its craziest draws. You can kill on turn four with the Leader if you curve out and have Hardened Scales and enough ways to target the Leader. And if you have Abzan Falconer it even sends your team to the skies! That's pretty potent.

On the other hand, playing Phalanx Leader commits you to a bunch of other cards. If you put the Leader in your deck, suddenly you need a bunch of cheap spells to target him. Before you know it, you're knee deep in sixteen one- and two-mana tricks.

The question really isn't solely is Phalanx Leader good?—because in your good draws, he is quite good. The question is also is supporting the Leader worthwhile?

I could definitely see building it either way. But, in general, I would err on the side away from Leader. It really forces you to play a bunch of cards that are only okay instead of just more creatures to help with your curve. Let's go for not following the Leader here.

Instead, there is another card that makes for a pretty good fit.

In a world with dual lands that gain you life and Radiant Fountain, Ajani's Pridemate suddenly looks a lot more attractive. Pair that with Hardened Scales to make him double-jump in size each time you gain life, and you really start getting somewhere! (Although it's not for this deck, you should see what happens when you have Pridemate and Courser of Kruphix rolling!)

While the Pridemate also takes synergies to get him to work, his synergies can come from lands in the deck—which doesn't eat into our spell slots, unlike Phalanx Leader. That makes me a lot happier looking at the big picture of our deck.

Conveniently a Soldier with 2/2 stats and room to grow, I'm going to for four Ajani's Pridemates.

Paragon of New Dawns

This is a pretty unique fit for this deck—you don't exactly see Paragon of New Dawns running around Standard tables everywhere—but it actually accomplishes a few nice goals.

For one, it's a Soldier. Nice and on theme! It can snap right onto the battlefield with Preeminent Captain. And it's great you can do that, too, because this is an "anthem" effect that pumps your entire team! All of the creatures in this deck are white, meaning this makes all of your creatures better so you can hit extra hard. Although it does cost four mana, this is a good fit for this deck. I'd actually like to move up to the full four copies.

Archetype of Courage

As a 2-power first striker that makes your team better and is a Soldier, the Archetype is at least worth looking at. It's a little below the curve at its stats, but if it's going to win fights it could be worth it.

However, looking at this deck's creatures, I get less and less excited by the Archetype. Falconer can already fly pretty easily, and Captain has first strike already. While making your opponent's creatures lose first strike isn't useless, there isn't enough first strike to really say that's meaningful.

Instead, I'd rather trade Archetype of Courage for something with better stats that also works better with our curve: Ainok Bond-Kin. Like Abzan Falconer, it's also a Soldier in a world of Warriors, and Bond-Kin's ability grants a group of your creatures first strike. The Bond-Kin can also grow and works well with Hardened Scales. That makes cutting the Archetypes and playing the full four Hounds a pretty easy switch for me. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there.

Hardened Scales

Although it isn't as maximized in this deck as in a really counter-heavy Abzan deck, the Scales are still put to good use. Hardened Scales, well...scales well the more you have, making extra copies non-redundant. And in conjunction with something like Ajani's Pridemate, it can really make your creatures out of control.

Also: It's just a really fun card.

I'm happy to stick with four here.

Ajani's Presence, Defiant Strike, Feat of Resistance, and Ranger's Guile

With Phalanx Leader gone, suddenly the deck doesn't really need any of these cheap, middling tricks. It can focus on playing one stronger card instead a bunch of these cards.

The one card that jumps out at me is Reap What Is Sown. This spreads three counters, both pumping your team in combat and also turning on your Ainok Bond-Kin and Abzan Falconer...and, oh yeah, being strong with Hardened Scales too. I'm happy to play four of those.

After that, I just want to plug gaps in what the deck is trying to do. I'm going to add in four copies of Banishing Light as an answer to anything troublesome, and so you can just keep punching through. One of the big benefits of Preeminent Captain is that it lets you tap out to kill your opponent's creature and still add pressure to the board. These kinds of cards take advantage of that. I'd rather have the versatility of Banishing Light than Devouring Light, especially considering you can Banishing Light to remove blockers before they can block and soak up some damage.

After that, I just want to fill a few spots on the creature side. There are enough counters floating around to make Chronicler of Heroes a card you can play. You don't want a ton of it, but when it "cantrips" (meaning it draws you a card) it's good and keeps your hand stocked for the Captain.

The final card I want is two copies of Loyal Pegasus. This deck is just missing a one-drop, and although Sunblade Elf is an option, I don't plan on playing that many ways to play it on the first turn, and I also want my creatures to be white to take full advantage of Paragon of New Dawns. It's got soul, even if it's not a Soldier.

With all of those changes made, that brings the decklist to:

Gavin Verhey's Keep Calm and Soldier On

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Boom! And there you have it: a fun, budget, aggressive Soldier deck for Standard.

While they probably aren't going to take down a Grand Prix any time soon, these little Soldier boys and girls make for an enjoyable deck to play at FNM and will definitely get some people to turn their heads and check out what you're doing.

If I was to de-budgetize it, I would look into both Obelisk of Urd as a way to pump up most of your creatures (especially if you also want to add Raise the Alarm!), and also—although very obvious—Brimaz, King of Oreskos. You could also potentially go back to the more heroic route with Fabled Hero at your side. (And Fabled Hero in a deck with Obelisk of Urd is a beating!)

Another route to consider is to add in black and begin to go Abzan. Anafenza is, conveniently, a Soldier, and that lets you look at some black removal and other options.

Regardless of whatever route you take, though, there's plenty of fun to be had here. Enjoy!

Honorable Mentions

What are some of the decks that were nearly featured this week and have a bit of a chip on their Soldier? Let's take a look!

Toyoharu Sonohara's Chromorph

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Tony Youssef's Peasant Sultai Control

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Adam Thomas's Howl Blast

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Frank Piringer's Outlasting Heroes

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Josh Wood's Hardened Heroes

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CKY's Howling Red

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Mark Ian Alloso's Devotion to Black

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Warren's Sunny Day

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Caleb Yarbrough's Charming Control

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George Wolfe's Rabble of Monks

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Lukas T's Raiders' Life

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Yvo Warner's Nightmare Horde

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Ikuya Fujita's UR Aggro

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Soldiering On

I'll admit: I didn't expect to write an article about a deck with Preeminent Captain. And yet, here we are. I love these budget weeks!

...And hopefully, you do as well. If you have any comments at all, I'd love to hear them. Feel free to send me a tweet or a question on my Tumblr and I'll be sure to see it. It's great to know if this kind of format of working on budget decks is working for you all. Let me know!

There's no challenge this week, as in two weeks I'll be back with something a little less usual. But keep on building and having fun!

And of course, I'll return next week with a take on Standard Mardu for Mardu Week! I wouldn't let the speed of the dragon slip by me like that.

Have fun playing this week, and I'll talk with you again next week!

Gavin
@GavinVerhey
GavInsight

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