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Budget Magic: $92 Sultai Emerge (Pioneer)


Hey there, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to Pioneer to see if we can emerge with some victories, with the help of Elder Deep-Fiend and Distended Mindbender, with Sultai Emerge! The game plan is to get a three-drop like Fierce Empath or Biolume Egg onto the battlefield as quickly as possible, which then lets us emerge Elder Deep-Fiend or Distended Mindbender into play, hopefully as early as Turn 3! With a bit of luck (and help from cards like Sanctum of Ugin and Fierce Empath), we can potentially chain emerge Eldrazi into play a few turns in a row, keeping our opponent tapped down and stripping their hand of action, while we win by beating down. How good is emerge in Pioneer? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Sultai Emerge

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The Deck

Sultai Emerge is a midrange tempo deck. Its plan is to use sacrificable three-drops to cheat Distended Mindbender and Elder Deep-Fiend into play early in the game and then hopefully ride Eldrazi value and beats to victory! Probably the easiest way to understand the deck is to walk through its ideal curve.

Step 1: The Dorks

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Turn 1 is a setup turn. We're hoping to start the game with one of our eight mana dorks—Elvish Mystic or Llanowar Elves. Either will allow us to cast a three-drop on Turn 2, which is key to our emerge plan.

Step 2: The Sac Fodder

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Assuming we start the game with a mana dork, our ideal follow-up the next turn is one of our sacrificable three-drops, which will set us up to emerge an Eldrazi as early as Turn 3! Fierce Empath is likely the best of the bunch since its enters the battlefield allows us to tutor up either of our emerge Eldrazi to play the following turn, or a Colossal Skyturtle for removal. Biolume Egg is also sneakily powerful in the deck for two reasons. First, when we sacrifice it to emerge, it will come back into play on the next end step as a 4/4, which gives us a ton of power on the battlefield early in the game. If we can play Egg on Turn 2 and emerge it to either Elder Deep-Fiend or Distended Mindbender on Turn 3, we end up with five power of emerge Eldrazi and also a 4/4 Biolume Serpent, which is a pretty impressive board in most matchups. The other trick that Biolume Egg takes advantage of is a rules change from a few years ago that made it so the backside of a double-faced card has the same mana value as the front side, even though there are no mana symbols printed on the back. What this means in practice is that a single Biolume Egg can be used to emerge two creatures into play. For example, we can emerge a Distended Mindbender into play during our turn, sacrificing Biolume Egg. We'll get the Egg back as Biolume Serpent during our end step; then, during our opponent's turn, we can sacrifice Biolume Serpent to emerge an Elder Deep-Fiend onto the battlefield! Finally, Elvish Rejuvenator is mostly a filler three-drop, although it does help fix our mana, which is pretty important since our deck has some oddly strict color requirements, considering that both of our primary finishers are technically colorless. In practice, we need green mana on Turn 1 for our mana dorks and then double blue or black by Turn 3 or four to emerge Elder Deep-Fiend or Distended Mindbender.

Step 3: The Finishers

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Our reward for playing somewhat strange, underpowered three-drops is that they allow us to emerge our finishers—Elder Deep-Fiend and Distended Mindbender—into play as early as Turn 3. Both Eldrazi technically cost eight mana, but thanks to the emerge mechanic, we can often cast them for four (or, in some cases, even two) mana by sacrificing another creature. The emerge on each is seven mana, which means if we sacrifice a three-drop like Biolume Egg or Fierce Empath, we can cast Elder Deep-Fiend or Distended Mindbender for four mana, hopefully on Turn 3 if we start the game with a mana dork.

In general, Elder Deep-Fiend is the more powerful of the two Eldrazi, although both are quite strong. The primary power of Elder Deep-Fiend is flash, which allows us to cast it on our opponent's upkeep and tap down most (or all) of their lands, making Elder Deep-Fiend very similar to a Time Walk that also leaves a 5/6 body on the battlefield since our opponent won't be able to do much on their turn without access to their mana. With the help of Fierce Empath and Sanctum of Ugin to tutor up more copies of Elder Deep-Fiend, we can often do this two or three turns in a row, which is usually enough to win us the game. 

Meanwhile, Distended Mindbender gives us a backup emerge Eldrazi that offers redundancy. Its cast trigger is, at worse, a painless Thoughtseize, allowing us to strip a card from our opponent's hand. If our opponent has a mixture of cheap and expensive cards, it turns into a double Thoughtseize, which is quite powerful. It's also worth mentioning that once we get an Elder Deep-Fiend or Distended Mindbender onto the battlefield, we can always sacrifice them to emerge future copies into play for just two mana. This sometimes means we emerge a Distended Mindbender during our turn to make sure our opponent doesn't have any counters or interaction and then emerge Elder Deep-Fiend on our opponent's upkeep to make them (mostly) skip their turn.

Removal

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As for removal, Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay give us early-game answers to whatever threats our opponent might play. But by far the most interesting removal spell in our deck is Colossal Skyturtle. The idea of Skyturtle is that it gives us a bounce spell that we can tutor up with Fierce Empath. We can then use it as a tempo play to bounce one of our opponent's creatures or as a way to pick up an Elder Deep-Fiend so we can re-emerge it on our opponent's next upkeep and keep them tapped down for another turn. It's also a good way to get copies of our important cards back from the graveyard if they die. (For example, we can play a Fierce Empath to tutor up an emerge Eldrazi; then, after we emerge the Eldrazi into play, we can use Colossal Skyturtle to return Fierce Empath to our hand to tutor up another emerge Eldrazi and start the process over.)

The Mana

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In all honesty, the mana of Sultai Emerge is the clunkiest part of the deck. While we do get a bunch of dual lands, they all come into play tapped (like Opulent Palace), hurt (like Llanowar Wastes and Yavimaya Coast), or aren't really dual lands once they hit the battlefield (like Barkchannel Pathway and Darkbore Pathway). Combine this with the double-blue mana cost of Elder Deep-Fiend, the double-black mana of Distended Mindbender, and the fact that we have four colorless lands in the deck in Sanctum of Ugin, and we do occasionally have issues casting our spells on time. Unfortunately, the good dual lands of Pioneer (shock lands and fast lands) are getting more and more expensive, with many of them in the $20 range each, which means they are simply too expensive to fit in a $100 budget deck. While the current mana base is fine, feel free to upgrade if you happen to have better dual lands in your collection—it will improve the deck. Hopefully, Wizards will reprint some of the top-tier Pioneer duals in the near future to bring prices down a bit.

Wrap-Up

Overall, we finished 3-4 with Sultai Emerge, which isn't as good as I hoped, although it is worth mentioning that a lot of our losses were incredibly close. Our match against UW Control was especially brutal. We had our opponent dead on board and knew our opponent didn't have an answer in hand thanks to Distended Mindbender, only to have our opponent topdeck a Supreme Verdict and steal the win. While budget Sultai Emerge might not be a top-tier deck, it felt competitive, and I think it's probably a bit better than its record suggests.

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I'm not sure there are a ton. The mana base could use an upgrade, but as we discussed a moment ago, the top-tier Pioneer dual lands are getting expensive, so there isn't really a way to improve the mana greatly without adding a decent amount to the budget. The only other card that I could see dropped is Elvish Rejuvenator. While having a critical mass of three-drops to emerge from is important, Elvish Rejuvenator didn't do all that much. On paper, it seems like it should help fix our mana and ramp us into hard-casting our emerge Eldrazi and Colossal Skyturtle. In practice, it whiffed a bit too often, and even with its help, we didn't get enough mana to hard-cast our eight-drops consistently. Adding the fourth copy of Biolume Egg is a good place to start (it was surprisingly strong as a blocker and emerge fodder), and cards like Champion of Wits and Foul Emissary could also be worth testing.

So, should you play Sultai Emerge in Pioneer? I think it's pretty solid as a budget option, and it's super fun to play. Just be warned that the mana isn't ideal, which does lead to some awkward games where we're all set up to start emerging finishers into play but don't have the right colors of mana to make it happen. If you're a fan of casting massive threats on the cheap, as well as of Eldrazi and midrange-y tempo decks, it might just be the perfect budget Pioneer deck for you!

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Getting Sultai Emerge down to the $50 price range isn't difficult, but it does require cutting back even more on the mana base, which is a bit scary, considering how consistency is already an issue with the deck. We drop the pathways for Evolving Wilds and more basic lands, and also turn Abrupt Decay into Tyrant's Scorn. It might look like a strange removal spell to play in Pioneer, but, much like Colossal Skyturtle, the upside of being able to bounce our own emerge Eldrazi to we can reuse their cast trigger makes it better than other two-mana removal options would be in our deck.

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Finally, we get a handful of big upgrades for our non-budget build. First and foremost, we get the tier Pioneer mana base, which does add a lot to the cost of the deck but should also help ensure that we can cast all of our spells on time in most games. We also get a few sideboard improvements, with Thoughtseize replacing Duress and Unlicensed Hearse taking Scavenging Ooze's slot. Last but not least, we get Murderous Rider in the main deck over Elvish Rejuvenator. The adventure three-drop seems perfect for the deck, giving us a bit more removal, which is never a bad thing, while also being another three-drop that we can use to emerge our Eldrazi into play for four mana. Thanks to the adventure mechanic, it can potentially do both things in the same game!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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