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Budget Magic: $96 (35 tix) Ajani Sisters (Modern, Magic Online)


Haminat, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Soul Sisters is a classic budget archetype in Modern, with the plan of gaining a bunch of life and use our lifegain to grow undercosted creatures into massive threats being a good way to jank unexpecting top-tier decks out of the game. Thanks to the recent bannings in Modern, Burn has found itself near the top of the meta, which makes gaining a bunch of life even more appealing than normal. More importantly, in Core Set 2020, we got the perfect Soul Sisters planeswalker in Ajani, Strength of the Pride, which seems like it was almost printed with the deck in mind, with its combination of gaining life, making Ajani's Pridemate tokens, and having a potentially devastating Plague Wind–esque ultimate to close out the game. Does the combination of a powerful new planeswalker and a Burn-heavy meta mean it's time for budget Soul Sisters (or more specifically, Ajani Sisters) to rise to the top of Modern? Let's gBreet to the video and find out; then, we can talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Ajani Sisters (Modern)

The Deck

Ajani Sisters is a variant of Soul Sisters looking to take advantage of Ajani, Strength of the Pride as a combination lifegainer and finisher. It's actually pretty hard to call the deck either aggro or control since how it plays mostly depends on the matchup. Against unfair decks, we're usually the aggro, trying to build a big threat or two and kill our opponent before they assemble their combo. On the other hand, we often end up in the control role against some aggro decks, stalling out with our lifegain until we can find something like Ajani, Strength of the Pride to steal the victory. 

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Not only is Ajani, Strength of the Pride the most powerful new addition to our deck, but it's also emblematic of everything that Soul Sisters is about, with a +1 that gains life, a 2 that offers payoffs for gaining life in the form of Ajani's Pridemate tokens, and an ultimate (that can happen immediately if we have a high enough life total) that cleans up our opponent's side of the battlefield and often lets us win the game with just one or two big attacks. How we use Ajani mostly depends on the matchup. The 0 ability is by far the most powerful against creature decks or random artifact decks like Urza, Lord High Artificer or Lantern Control. But in other matchups, we often make a couple of Ajani's Pridemates to get in for damage or just gain a bunch of life to support the rest of our cards. All around, Ajani, Strength of the Pride is perfect for what Ajani Sisters is trying to do, to the point that it's the reason we're playing the deck.

Lifegain

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Apart from Ajani, Strength of the Pride, we have two primary lifegain engines. While both are just one mana, they work very differently. Soul Warden gains us little chunks of life each turn as creatures enter the battlefield, making it the perfect way to grow our Ajani's Pridemates. Meanwhile, Martyr of Sands takes advantage of the fact that our deck is stuffed full of white cards to gain us one huge chunk of life on the way to the graveyard, making it our best way to get to 35 life to activate Ajani, Strength of the Pride's 0 ability or to grow Serra Ascendant into a one-mana 6/6 flying lifelinker.

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To support our Soul Wardens and Martyr of Sands, we have Squadron Hawk and Spectral Procession. While both cards are fine on their own, putting multiple 1/1 fliers on the battlefield—which makes them solid on defense as chump blockers while we are stalling out to gain life and (eventually) evasive threats to close out the game—they also are strangely synergistic with our lifegain engines. By tutoring up a bunch of friends, Squadron Hawk offers us three white cards in hand to reveal to Martyr of Sands, which by themselves represent nine life gained and, with another white card or two in hand, can gain us 15 life with one Martyr of Sands (enough to immediately ultimate Ajani, Strength of the Pride). Meanwhile, since our mana base is mono-white, we can almost always cast Spectral Procession for three mana, making three 1/1 fliers and getting three lifegain triggers from Soul Warden. This allows for some incredibly explosive starts. For example, Turn 1 Soul Warden, Turn 2 Ajani's Pridemate, into Turn 3 Spectral Procession grows our Ajani's Pridemate into a two-mana 6/6 while also leaving us three 1/1 fliers to chip in for damage in the air.

Finishers

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When it comes to actually killing our opponent, we have a couple of different options. First, to go along with our Ajani's Pridemate tokens from Ajani, Strength of the Pride, we have some non-token Ajani's Pridemates as well. With the help of Soul Warden generating little bits of life each turn as creatures come into play, Ajani's Pridemate quickly grows from being a Grizzly Bears to the biggest creature on the battlefield. With a good start, we can be attacking for six with Ajani's Pridemate as early as Turn 3. And as the game goes along (if our opponent can't find removal), it's very possible that Ajani's Pridemate will end up with 10 or even 20 power!

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While Soul Warden is our best way to grow a huge Ajani's Pridemate, the big one-shot burst of life from Martyr of Sands can be used to grow a massive, undercosted threat as well. Serra Ascendant starts off as a one-mana 1/1 with lifelink, but if we can get above 30 life, it turns into a 6/6 flying lifelinker, which is an absurdly powerful threat. In theory, we can be attacking with a 6/6 Serra Ascendant as early as Turn 2. If we play Serra Ascendant on Turn 1 and follow it up by playing and activating Martyr of Sands on Turn 2 (revealing at least four white cards), we can immediately jump over 30 life and start the beats. This is one of our best plans for beating unfair decks as a 6/6 flier is sometimes enough to race the Trons and Storms of the world. Meanwhile, Ranger of Eos does a bit of everything in our deck. If we're at a high life total, it can tutor up two Serra Ascendants to close out the game; if we need some life for Ajani, Strength of the Pride or Serra Ascendant, it can find Martyr of Sands; and if we have some Ajani's Pridemates on the battlefield that we want to grow, it can tutor up some Soul Wardens. 

Other Stuff

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Winds of Abandon is extremely impressive in Ajani Sisters. While it started out as a budget replacement for Path to Exile, it might actually be better than Path to Exile in the deck. Ajani Sisters is really good at stalling out the game with lifegain and chump blockers, which means we eventually get to six mana, Plague Wind away our opponent's board, and often close out the game with just an attack or two before our opponent has a chance to rebuild. Of course, we can also use it as an expensive sorcery-speed Path to Exile to answer a single creature in the early game.

As for Honor of the Pure, the main reason we have two copies in the deck is to avoid getting blown out by Wrenn and Six. Apart from Ranger of Eos and Ajani's Pridemate, all of our creatures are 1/1s (or at least start out as 1/1s), which means Wrenn and Six is often a slow two-mana Wrath of God against our deck. Honor of the Pure gives everything an extra power and toughness, allowing us to play our creatures even with a Wrenn and Six on board. It's also a nice backup plan. If everything else goes wrong, we can sometimes win a game by playing some Squadron Hawks and maybe a Spectral Procession or two, using Honor of the Pure to turn all of our flyers into 2/2s, and beating our opponent down in the air.

The Mana

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The mana base of Ajani sisters is pretty simple, but there are a couple of non-basics I wanted to mention. Emeria, the Sky Ruin isn't a key part of our deck (you can easily play without it), but we had enough room in the budget for a single copy. And since we're playing almost all Plains, it offers some nice late-game value. Something like Martyr of Sands and Emeria, the Sky Ruin can be almost unbeatable for some aggro decks since we can just reanimate and sacrifice Martyr of Sands each turn to gain a bunch of life and stay out of the danger zone. Meanwhile, Mistveil Plains works really well with Squadron Hawk. As long as we keep at least one Squadron Hawk in hand, we can use our Squadron Hawks to chump block, put them back on the bottom of our deck with Mistveil Plains, and then use the Squadron Hawk from hand to tutor them back up, giving us an infinite stream of 1/1 flying blockers to keep our opponent's big attackers at bay. While this doesn't come up that often, the drawback of playing a couple of Plains that enter the battlefield tapped is low enough that it's worth running a couple of copies of Mistveil Plains in our deck.

Wrap Up

All in all, we finished 3-2 with Ajani Sisters, and the matches broke down in a pretty predicable way: we crushed fair decks like Bant Soulherder and Bant Stoneforge and somehow sneaked out a win against Amulet Titan, but we struggled against unfair decks like Titan Shift and Grixis Free Spells, which were simply too fast for our slow, grindly lifegain plan. While mono-white decks have some really good sideboard cards for fighting unfair combo decks (like Stony Silence and Rest in Peace), they are sadly a bit too expensive for the budget.

The good news is that Ajani, Strength of the Pride was absurd, especially against the fair decks. It was pretty easy to get enough life to ultimate it immediately, and being able to wrath away not just all of our opponent's creatures but their artifacts as well was key to several of our wins. The best example was against the Bant Stoneforge deck, where our opponent had ultimated a Tamiyo, Field Researcher to get an Omniscience emblem and had four copies of Knight of the Reliquary along with some Swords, a Batterskull, and a bunch of other stuff, and a timely Ajani, Strength of the Pride managed to steal what felt like a mostly unwinnable game!

Sadly, we didn't get to play against Urza or Burn, which are two decks that I really wanted to run into with Ajani Sisters. Burn should be a laughably good matchup thanks to our endless lifegain, while Ajani, Strength of the Pride's ability to exile all artifacts seems really good against various Urza- and Whir Prison–style decks, which tend to flood the board with artifacts but often don't put up enough of a clock to keep our life total under 35 and prevent us from ruining their day with Ajani, Strength of the Pride.

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I'm not sure there are many. As we talked about before, the biggest problem with the deck is finding a way to beat the unfair decks of the format, and I'm not really sure what options we have that are both mono-white and on a budget. There are several options for non-budget builds, both in adding staple white sideboard cards like Rest in Peace and Stony Silence and in splashing a second color (with red for Blood Moon or blue for counterspells being especially appealing). If you run into an unfair deck with the budget build, the best thing to do is to try to make sure you are the aggro deck in the matchup. Simply grinding out lifegain isn't likely to be enough. Try to mulligan aggressively into a hand that can make a big Serra Ascendant or Ajani's Pridemate early in the game and hope for the best!

All in all, Ajani Sisters felt like a solid budget option, especially if people are mostly playing Burn, Urza, or fair-ish creature decks in your local meta. If you like gaining life, growing huge threats, and taking advantage of powerful but underplayed planeswalkers, give Ajani Sisters a shot. I don't think you'll be disappointed! 

Getting Ajani Sisters down under $60 requires some painful cuts. Apart from stripping away all of our non-basic lands (which isn't the end of the world, although losing Ghost Quarter hurts against Tron specifically) we have two semi-expensive cards in our deck: Ajani, Strength of the Pride and Serra Ascendant. To get the deck into the ultra-budget price range, we need to cut one of the two. Since the main goal of the deck was to take advantage of Ajani, Strength of the Pride, Serra Ascendant gets the ax and is replaced by Soul's Attendant for more repeatable lifegain to support Ajani's Pridemate, which now becomes our primary finisher. While the ultra-budget build should still be good against decks like Burn and still be able to grind against fair creature decks, losing Serra Ascendant does make the unfair matchups even worse since we no longer have the ability to jank our opponent out by making a 6/6 flying lifelinker on Turn 2. Still, if you want to play Ajani Sisters for as cheaply as possible, this seems like a good starting point, even if the bad matchups will make it hard to compete on a more competitive level.

Our non-budget build this week keeps the same basic structure of the budget build but gets a handful of really powerful additions, both to the main deck and sideboard. In the main deck, the biggest upgrade is the package of Stoneforge Mystic, Batterskull, and Sword of Light and Shadow. Apart from giving us an additional line of attack by turning our small creatures into bigger threats with equipment, both equipment also gain us life, making them sneaky ways of turning our Serra Ascendant into a 6/6 and grow our Ajani's Pridemate. Meanwhile, our sideboard is full of cards designed to help fight unfair decks. Crucible of Worlds and Damping Sphere help us grind out Tron and Storm-style combo decks; Stony Silence fights Urza, Tron, and Affinity / Hardened Scales; Leyline of Sanctity helps yo prevent various Ad Nauseam kills, Storm damage, and even Conflagrate to the face from Dredge; and Surgical Extraction fights graveyard decks and can also help against decks like Titan Shift and Tron, in conjunction with Field of Ruin, Ghost Quarter, and Generous Gift getting Tron lands or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in the graveyard. While the upgrades are expensive, they do go a long way toward fixing the deck's weaknesses against unfair decks. If you're looking for a more mid-tier upgrade, considering playing the same main deck from the videos by upgrading the lands and sideboard to the non-budget build. 

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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