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Budget Magic: $99 Soldiers (Pioneer)

Hey there, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! One of the most exciting aspects of Dominaria United is the new cycle of lords. We've slowly been working our way through all five, playing Elves in Explorer and 8 Whack Goblins and Merfolk in Modern, all featuring new DMU lords. Today, we cross another lord off of our list with $99 budget Soldier Tribal for Pioneer featuring Valiant Veteran! The goal is simple: play as many efficient Soldiers as possible, pump them with Valiant Veteran, and beat our opponent down! How good is Valiant Veteran? Can Soldiers compete in Pioneer on a budget? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Soldiers

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The Deck

Soldiers are an aggro-tribal deck overflowing with cheap Soldiers and ways to pump them into even bigger threats!

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Soldiers are a strange tribe. They have a ton of good one-drops and a bunch of strong tribe members like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Brutal Cathar. But until Valiant Veteran came around, there wasn't really a payoff that pushed players toward running a bunch of Soldiers in the same deck, which is why Valiant Veteran is such a big deal for the tribe, even if it is considered to be one of the worst of the Dominaria United lord cycle. Valiant Veteran is pretty straightforward: it's a Grizzly Bears that pumps all of our Soldiers +1/+1 and then can potentially pump again from the graveyard by exiling itself to put a +1/+1 counter on the squad. While this second ability doesn't come up often, it is a nice upside in case Valiant Veteran dies and the game goes long. While Valiant Veteran is a great reason to run a deck full of Soldiers, we still have a problem: just having a single lord really isn't enough to support a tribal deck. While there isn't another true Soldier lord in Pioneer, we can find a couple of backup payoffs to pump our Soldiers if we dig deep enough.

First, we have Thalia's Lieutenant. While most people think of it as a Human tribal card (which makes sense because its ability puts +1/+1 counters on Humans), it actually works as a pseudo-lord for Soldier tribal as well. It is a Soldier itself, so it benefits from Valiant Veteran, and oddly, every single Solider in our deck outside of Valiant Veteran happens to have the creature type Human Soldier, so Thalia's Lieutenant is almost as good in our Soldier deck as it is in Human tribal! Last but not least, we have Wedding Announcement, which gives us a bit of card advantage and / or token production before flipping around into an anthem to pump our team.

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One of the biggest upsides of Soldiers is the strength of their one-drops, and there are a bunch of good ones. Boros Elite might look like a 1/1, but it's pretty easy for it to be attacking for three early in the game thanks to battalion. Soldier of the Pantheon is mostly a Savannah Lions, although protection from multicolor is relevant in Pioneer, allowing it to stonewall Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, attack through Bloodtithe Harvester and Greasefang, Okiba Boss, and dodge removal like Dreadbore and Kolaghan's Command. Kytheon, Hero of Akros is just a one-of since it's legendary, but a Savannah Lions that can flip into a not-great planeswalker is a pretty solid card. Finally, we have Thraben Inspector, which always overperforms thanks to the card advantage the Clue token it makes generates.

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Further up the curve, we get a bunch more solid Soldiers. Precinct Captain works well with our lords thanks to first strike, and it makes a 1/1 Soldier token if it manages to get in combat damage, which will often really be a 2/2 or even a 3/3 thanks to Valiant Veteran and Wedding Announcement. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben helps slow down our opponent's removal and sweepers, which is super important since our deck isn't great at rebuilding after a wrath. Big Thalia is just a one-of, but it does offer another way to slow down the opponent by taxing their non-basic lands and creatures. Finally, Brutal Cathar gives us an on-tribe removal spell, getting a blocker out of the way while also adding another Soldier body to the battlefield.

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The last non-land in our main deck is a single copy of Brave the Elements, which is so strong in the deck that I'm tempted to move another copy or two from the sideboard into the main. For just one mana, it gives our entire team (since all of our creatures are white) protection from a color of our choice, which lets us fizzle targeted removal spells on an important Soldier, protects our team from damage-based sweepers like Anger of the Gods, and helps us alpha strike by giving our battalion protection from whatever color most of our opponent's blockers happen to be. The only downside of Brave the Elements is that it doesn't really do much of anything without a board full of creatures—drawing it off the top of the deck hurts when we really need a threat to finish the game. But it offers so much power and flexibility for just one mana that I think two or maybe even three copies in the main deck probably would be worthwhile. We had a few games where it was the card we wanted to draw most since it would allow us to kill our opponent immediately with a massive attack!


Record-wise, we finished 3-4 with Soldiers overall, which is a fine record, if unexciting. In general, the deck felt like a solid tribal-aggro deck, and it is really cool to see Soldiers getting some love. But from a more competitive perspective, Soldiers have one big problem: they are mostly just bad Humans. Because we need to focus on Human Soldiers so we can play Thalia's Lieutenant as a backup lord, our deck ends up looking like a weird Human tribal deck that plays Valiant Veteran instead of things like Adeline, Resplendent Cathar and Luminarch Aspirant. As sweet as Valiant Veteran is, it sort of feels like Soldiers are Humans on hard mode.

Of course, Magic isn't about playing the best possible deck all of the time. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and it's really sweet that, thanks to Dominaria United, there is now at least some reason to play Soldiers in Pioneer when there wasn't really any reason to at all a few months ago.

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck now that we've played some games with it, the biggest one is more copies of Brave the Elements. I'd probably cut three-mana Thalia, Heretic Cathar and maybe a Precinct Captain to get at least three copies in the main deck. It's that good. Otherwise, I'm not sure I'd make any big changes. While there is some potential to turn Soldiers into a two- or three-color deck, this would end up increasing the budget quite a bit, which probably means it's more of a non-budget upgrade plan.

So, should you play Soldiers in Pioneer? From a competitive perspective, the answer is probably not. If your goal is to win a tournament, Humans are likely just better Soldiers, even accounting for the power of Valiant Veteran. On the other hand, from the perspective of someone who likes playing fun, rogue decks, Humans are pretty played out and boring. Soldiers are a lot spicier and more interesting, and still good enough to win a lot of games on a $100 budget. So if you aren't super worried about playing the spikiest, tip-toppiest-tier deck possible and like playing aggressive tribal decks, keep Pioneer Soldiers in mind!

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Getting Soldiers down near $50 is pretty easy: we trim the mana back as much as possible and drop Wedding Announcement (which is oddly expensive because of Standard) for more copies of Brave the Elements in the main deck. Toss in a few sideboard changes (like Portable Hole becoming Baffling End), and we're good to go!

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Finally, for our non-budget build this week, we go three colors for Naya Soldiers, which offers some sweet upgrades. Going into green gives us King Darien XLVIII as another lord and Torens, Fist of the Angels, which not only is a Soldier but also makes a ton of Soldier tokens. Speaking of tokens, going into red gives us Heroic Reinforcements, which isn't exactly a lord, but it is a great way to close out the game by adding four power of hasty Soldier tokens to the battlefield and pumping the rest of the team! The end result is a more token-focused version of Soldiers that should be able to go super wide and hopefully pick up some fast wins!


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

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