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Budget Magic: Soulherder Surprise (Modern)


Buiti binafiBudget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to Modern to play a unique twist on one of my favorite cards in the format: Soulherder! Normally, Soulherder decks are value-centric decks looking to grind out card advantage by blinking creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers. And while our deck today—Soulherder Surprise—does have some typical Soulherder shenanigans, it also has...well...a surprise. Can a new build of Soulherder compete in Modern on a budget? What's the surprise? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Soulherder Surprise

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The Deck

Soulherder Surprise is basically a midrange blink deck looking to use cards like Soulherder to blink creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers or surprise the opponent by flipping over a massive morph creature that can win the game in just a few attacks!

Soulherder Blink

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Our namesake Soulherder is our primary blink engine, allowing us to exile one of our creatures and return it to play on our end step while also slowly growing into a massive threat on its own as creatures are exiled and it gains +1/+1 counters. At its most basic level, this allows us to grind out value by blinking creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers, like Wall of Omens or Watcher for Tomorrow to draw cards, Charming Prince to gain life, or Venser, Shaper Savant to bounce a permanent. However, our deck is a bit different than the typical Soulherder brew. Along with our enters-the-battlefield creatures, we also have a surprise—but more on this in a minute.

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Backing up Soulherder are a bunch of additional blink spells. Ephemerate can blink creatures two times (over the course of two turns, thanks to rebound) for just a single mana, which is an absurd deal, often drawing us two cards with Wall of Omens, gaining us six life with Charming Prince, or bouncing two lands with Venser, Shaper Savant. Charming Prince offer the most utility of our blink spells, giving us another way to blink creatures but also being a good blink target, especially against aggressive decks like Burn, where gaining three life (potentially a few times if we can blink it) can help keep us alive and put the game out of the reach of our opponent's Lightning Bolts and Goblin Guides. Finally, Restoration Angel gives us a blink spell that comes attached to a big flying body with flash, making it a good surprise blocker or a way to pressure opposing planeswalkers if we flash it into play on our opponent's end step. Together with Soulherder, these cards give us a ton of ways to exile and return our creatures to play for value.

Normal Soulherder Stuff

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The surprise is coming, I promise. But first, we have some more typical Soulherder cards to get through. Wall of Omens and Watcher for Tomorrow, in conjunction with our blink spells, are our card-advantage engine. While they are worded differently—Wall of Omens with an enters-the-battlefield card-draw trigger and Watcher for Tomorrow giving us a card when it leaves the battlefield, after hiding it away when it comes into play—in reality, they do the same thing. They draw us an extra card if we blink them with one of our blink spells, which keeps us churning through our deck. While any of our blink spells is good with these cards, Soulherder is especially impressive since it can blink each turn, which turns Wall of Omens or Watcher for Tomorrow into a weird personal Howling Mine, drawing us an extra card every turn.

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Next up, we have our removal. While we do have Path to Exile to deal with opposing creatures in the early game, we also have some blinkable removal in Deputy of Detention and Venser, Shaper Savant. Deputy of Detention is somewhat awkward with our blink spells since the permanents it exiles return to play when it leaves the battlefield, but we can still get some extra value by blinking it in some matchups, either by using it to exile a medium threat in the early game to buy us some time and then blinking it to exile a bigger threat later, or against tokens, which go away permanently when they are exiled, freeing us to blink Deputy of Detention and exile something else. Meanwhile, Venser, Shaper Savant is insane in our deck but is unfortunately only a one-of since it's somehow still $10 a copy even after being reprinted a couple of times. Venser's power is that it can bounce any spell or permanent when it enters the battlefield, which means we can use it almost like a counterspell if we need to stop something on the stack or bounce our opponent's lands if there aren't any better targets. Something like Venser, Shaper Savant, bounce a land, into Ephemerate Venser, bounce a land, rebound Ephemerate on Venser, bounce another land can end up being close to a one-sided Armageddon, leaving our opponent without hardly any lands and essentially putting away the game.

Surprise!

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Surprise! The surprise of Soulherder Surprise are three massive morph creatures: Akroma, Angel of Fury, Maelstrom Djinn, and Sagu Mauler. Face up, all of these cards are quite powerful, being big enough to kill the opponent in something like three attacks, evasive with flying and / or trample, and even having some amount of protection, with Sagu Mauler's hexpoof and Akoma's protection from white and blue. The problem is that harnessing this power normally is expensive. Casting these cards faceup will cost us between six and eight mana, and even casting them facedown as morphs and then flipping them up still costs a decent chunk of mana (outside of Maelstrom Djinn, which only costs three mana to unmorph but goes away in a turn thanks to vanishing).

The surprise of our deck is that we can use Soulherder, Ephemerate, and our other blink creatures to flip these creatures faceup after playing them as morphs. This means we can do things like Soulherder on Turn 3, morph on Turn 4, and then, on our end step, end up with a huge Akroma, Angel of Fury, Maelstrom Djinn, or Sagu Mauler to smash our opponent. Apart from the fact that nobody expects to suddenly be staring down an Akroma or Sagu Mauler while playing against a Soulherder deck, the biggest upside of our surprise morph creatures is that they give us a pathway to winning the game quickly. Normally, Soulherder decks take forever to win (if they do), eking out small bits of value turn after turn. Soulherder Surprise can win much, much quicker, flipping up something like Akroma, Angel of Fury and winning with a couple of attacks while still having the ability to grind out slow, blink value with our enters-the-battlefield triggers!

Playing the Deck

Probably the biggest challenge of the deck is figuring out when we're playing for a fast morph-flip surprise kill and when we're playing the long value game. While it might be tempting to hold onto the morph creatures until we can immediately flip them in order to play around removal, especially since Magic players have an irrational fear of morphs and tend to go out of their way to kill them, we have enough surprises in the deck that it's often better to just play our surprises as morphs and hope for the best. The worst outcome is that our opponent spends a removal spell on the morph, which isn't actually all that bad since it means there is one less removal spell to deal with things like Soulherder. Plus, we have a lot of morph creatures in the deck, so odds are we'll find another one before too long.

It's also important to be aware of which morph creature is best in a given matchup since it is sometimes better to try to bait out a removal spell on the morph creature we don't care about so that we can flip a better morph creature. Sagu Mauler has the best form of protection in hexproof but the worst evasion in trample. Against decks with big ground creatures, it isn't all that exciting because it can get stonewalled by Tarmogoyf or Death's Shadow, but it's our best morph against control decks with lots of removal but few blockers. Akroma, Angel of Fury has decent protection (primarily stopping Path to Exile but also things like Cryptic Command bounce) and strong evasion, with both flying and trample. It's our fastest way to close out the game, although it is much weaker against decks with flyers or black-based removal. Maelstrom Djinn is generally our worst morph creature, but it does have a big flying body, making it a good way to close out the game quickly against decks without flying blockers. But normally, if you have to choose a morph to eat removal, it will be Maelstrom Djinn

Finally, Charming Prince can do some cool tricks thanks to it returning the creature it exiles to play at the end of turn, rather than immediately. In conjunction with our other blink effects, we can use Charming Prince to keep one of our creatures exiled during our opponent's turn, which can be relevant if we are worried about a sorcery-speed wrath. For example, we can use Soulherder to blink Charming Prince and, when Charming Prince comes back into play, use it to flicker our Soulherder, which will return during our opponent's end step, so even if our opponent wraths our board, we'll at least have a Soulherder left over to rebuild.

Wrap-Up

Technically, we went 4-1 in our video matches with Soulherder Surprise, although this comes with a bit of an asterisk. First, we played Uro Pile a second time and lost, which dropped our overall record to 4-2—or 4-2.5, if we include an aborted match against Jund, which I'm not sure who would have won if it went to completion. 

In general, the deck felt reasonably competitive. Soulherder blinking card-draw creatures and Venser, Shaper Savant can pick up a lot of wins. More importantly, we had a few really good surprise wins, with the best example being our match against Kiki Chord that we almost assuredly would have lost if we hadn't flipped a fast Akroma, Angel of Fury to jank our opponent out. The surprises really are surprising. None of our opponents seemed to expect our random morph to suddenly end up as a 6/6 hexproof or flying trampler!

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I'm pretty happy with where it landed overall, although I really wish we could have played another Venser, Shaper Savant. Unfortunately we were already a bit over our $100 budget, so sneaking in another $10 card wasn't possible, but Venser, Shaper Savant is really, really good in the deck. If you have an extra $10, cut one Maelstrom Djinn and play Venser in its place.

So, should you play Soulherder Surprise in Modern? While I don't think the deck is top tier or anything crazy like that, it did feel more than competitive enough to win a lot of matches, especially at the FNM level. Plus, when you flip up a surprise Akroma or Maelstrom Djinn on Turn 4, you and your deck will probably be the talk of the tournament! If you like enters-the-battlefield triggers and grindy card-advantage value but want the ability to close out the game quickly in a unique way, give Soulherder Surprise a shot!

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Getting Soulherder Surprise down into the ultra-budget price range is mostly a matter of trimming back on lands and sideboard cards, with more basics replacing Port Town and Glacial Fortress in the mana base and Tormod's Crypt and Dovin's Veto coming in for Rest in Peace and Meddling Mage in the sideboard. Sadly, we also have to cut our Venser, Shaper Savant—$10 is just too much for an ultra-budget deck. Another Deputy of Detention is a fine but way less exciting replacement. These changes get the deck down to $60, which is still a bit higher than I'd like for an ultra-budget build. If you want to cut the last $10 to get down to $50, you can drop Path to Exile for something like Condemn or Declaration in Stone—just be warned that the drop from Path to Exile to the next best white removal spell in Modern is massive.

Non-Budget Soulherder

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As far as the non-budget build, there are basically two paths to take. First, you can play a traditional, surprise-free build of Soulherder like the one that recently took m_joe to a 5-0 finish on Magic Online. While the surprise morph creatures are great in the budget build of the deck, mostly because they greatly increase the deck's power level (although they do add some inconsistency), I'm not sure they are really necessary if budget isn't a concern because you get cards like Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, which are plenty powerful. 

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On the other hand, if you want to directly upgrade Soulherder Surprise, the easiest place to start is with the mana, where Flooded Strand and Hallowed Fountain would go a long way toward making sure that all of our lands come into play untapped. While the mana for the budget build was pretty solid, we did have a game or two where the tappedness of lands like Port Town and Prairie Stream gave us some problems.

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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