Decks with a bunch of small creatures and anthem effects have a long history of putting up good results in Standard. You might remember this deck that took Worlds 2011 by storm:
Aggro decks like this one demand that your opponent have a very small subset of answers in order to win against any reasonable hand from your deck. In Tempered Steel's case it was Slagstorm or Day of Judgment, and in the current Standard format we have Drown in Sorrow, Anger of the Gods, Golgari Charm, and less importantly, Supreme Verdict and Bile Blight to contend with.
I was reasonably certain I wanted to play an aggressive deck for Pro Tour Magic 2015. The decks to beat were Mono-Black Devotion, U/W/x Control, and Mono-Blue Devotion, against none of which Drown in Sorrow or Anger of the Gods are particularly good. Furthermore, Pro Tours usually skew toward a Midrange/Control metagame, and I felt that this would lead to even fewer sweepers, and specifically, anti-aggro cards being played.
After testing Mono-Black Aggro for quite a while I found it to be one of the very best game 1 decks in the format, but after sideboarding the huge amount of spot removal fielded by U/W Control, Mono-Black Devotion, and Jund Walkers made these matchups terrible. Anssi Alkio put together a preliminary Mono-White Soldiers deck for our testing group with Precinct Captain, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, and Obelisk of Urd which suffered from many of the same problems. The deck was great in the opening game against most decks, but a critical mass of spot removal usually bought enough time for planeswalkers or Pack Rats to take the game over.
I learned from testing the initial Soldiers deck that Obelisk of Urd was completely insane, and that no amount of spot removal would beat a hand with three or more one-drops. Since all of the removal in Standard costs two or more mana to play, the tempo advantage generated from having to kill one-drops with their two-plus mana removal spells would usually be enough to keep you far enough ahead. Knowing this, I decided to try to take this as far as possible to the point of playing a deck of nothing but one-drop soldiers that would maximize the number of nut draws and free wins.
- 4 Akroan Crusader
- 4 Boros Elite
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 3 Favored Hoplite
- 4 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
This version of the deck sacrifices consistency and resilience to sweepers. The deck has a very narrow range of keepable hands and doesn't mulligan very well since you need to have a critical mass of soldiers to win. You won't be able to beat a two- or three-mana board sweep effect if your opponent has anything to back it up with. You have to be all in, all the time, and if they have exactly the right answer to your hand you just can't win. There aren't too many hard decision points with the deck, but if you choose wrong on playing the correct land or pulling the trigger on a Dynacharge or Launch the Fleet early or late, you often lose on the spot.
On the other hand, if your opponent doesn't have exactly the right answer, most two or three land hands will let you win on turn 4. Spot removal isn't very useful against the deck, and the sheer amount of redundancy in the deck has the added effect of making you very resistant to Thoughtseize. There are 31 one-drop soldiers in the deck if you count Raise the Alarm and Launch the Fleet, nine pump spells and twenty lands. No deck in the format besides U/W Control has the tools to beat an Obelisk of Urd on turn 3, and that deck has a very hard time just beating a bunch of soldiers even with a Supreme Verdict.
Adding red gives this deck the extra power it needed to punch past the other aggressive decks. Whereas Brave the Elements too often didn't push through enough damage to get the job done, Dynacharge plus Legion Loyalist is as effective as ever. Additionally, Akroan Crusader lets you go wider earlier. Loyalist also gives you a great late-game answer to Pack Rat, Master of Waves, and Elspeth, Sun's Champion. The trade-off to adding red is the extremely painful manabase. With four copies each of both Battlefield Forge and Mana Confluence, you often get hands with nothing but painlands that can get you most of the way to death before your opponent has to do anything.
No Limit Soldiers loses to specific cards rather than specific decks, and how good a choice it is to play hinges on specific sideboard card choices you expect to play against. Because of this, each of the board cards in your deck is against specific cards:
I finished 8-2 with this deck in the Pro Tour, beating G/W Aggro, Mono-Black Devotion, Mono-Blue Devotion, U/W Control twice, Jund Walkers, Mono-Green Devotion, and B/W Midrange, with my losses coming from B/W Midrange and G/W Aggro.
Matchups / Sideboarding
VS Mono-Black Devotion
Game 1 of this matchup is very easy unless you have a hand very vulnerable to Thoughtseize. They play no sweepers maindeck (except for Golgari Charm from the versions splashing green) and rely on spot removal to keep you down. Underworld Connections and Pack Rat are virtual blanks against you, and you couldn't possibly care less about Desecration Demon. Post-board the games are nearly the same except that they may have access to two or three sweepers in Drown in Sorrow or Golgari Charm. Gods Willing will help you fight the spot removal (especially Bile Blight) even more efficiently. When playing this deck, you need to play as if they don't have a sweeper unless you have a very strong read; if you hold back at all, it usually gives them enough time to get to their late game that you can't beat. Make sure to play around Bile Blight when possible! It is much more important in this matchup to have a critical mass of soldiers than in most others, making one-landers keepable much of the time.
VS U/W/x Control
Unlike the other decks in the format, U/W Control has sweepers maindeck. It is the only matchup where your gameplan is sometimes to not play everything in your hand as quickly as possible. Usually three color U/W/x decks won't be able to cast Supreme Verdict on turn 4 so you don't have to play around it nearly as much. Jace also threatens to blank your whole board if you don't have a pump spell, but if you do have it, you can usually win through Jace on the turn they play it. Post-board you have to deal with Nyx-Fleece Rams and Archangel of Thunes or other creatures which makes things a bit harder, but in general, this matchup is very favorable unless they have specifically Verdict into Jace.
VS Mono-Blue Devotion
The Mono-Blue Devotion matchup is one of the big reasons to play this deck as it is mostly a bye. None of their creatures are particularly threatening, and they have no real way to deal with a swarm of creatures outside of Master of Waves. If you draw Legion Loyalist or Obelisk of Urd, even Master of Waves doesn't help. Make sure to play around Cyclonic Rift (bouncing your Obelisk) and Negates post-board, but if they stop playing spells to leave up mana there isn't any real way for them to recover the lost tempo anyway.
VS Jund Walkers
This matchup is not great. Not only does Jund usually play some number of Golgari Charms main with more in the board, you also have to deal with other problem cards like Courser of Kruphix, Chandra, Pyromaster, Mizzium Mortars, and sometimes Polukranos and Putrefy for your Obelisks. Without Golgari Charm they have little way to combat your nut draws, but your medium hands aren't usually good enough to get there. Jund Walkers is one of the decks with the most relevant sideboard cards against Soldiers too, with more Golgari Charms, Drown in Sorrow, Anger of the Gods, and lots of spot removal.
VS G/W Aggro
The green aggressive decks are the matchups where your opponent can most reasonably expect to keep up with you in board presence. You really need an Obelisk , Spear of Heliod or Loyalist + Dynacharge to be able to beat through their bigger creatures. In addition, they have answers to your Obelisks in the form of Banishing Light. They usually have some number of Setessan Tactics in the board, but oftentimes you can neutralize that with a timely Dynacharge or getting down an Obelisk before their Tactics turn. This matchup is right around 50/50 in my experience.
VS Mono-Red Aggro
Out (on the play):
In (on the play):
Out (on the draw):
In (on the draw):
Mono-Red Aggro is one of the harder matchups for Soldiers since they can race you, and you usually don't have time to tap out on the draw for an Obelisk. Legion Loyalist is a huge threat against you since none of your creatures are big enough to beat any amount of first strike damage.
VS R/W Burn
The threatening cards in this matchup are Young Pyromancer and Satyr Firedancer. Without either of these, there isn't a good way for R/W Burn to take back tempo from you. They face the same problem as Mono-Black Devotion in that their spot removal doesn't trade favorably with any of your cards but doubly so because they have a little more trouble locking down the game.
The future looks bright for playing a strategy like this going forward in Standard. With only two aggressive decks making Top 8 at the Pro Tour, it's unlikely that the problem cards will see significantly more play than they did before.
The printing of Obelisk of Urd is what lets this deck exist in the first place. This card lets you recover from sweepers, overpower creatures with soldiers that cost half as much or less, and doesn't even slow you down to play it since you can use newly-played creatures to power convoke. I haven't lost many games after casting Obelisk, and I'm very excited to see what other decks people come up with to abuse this powerful card.
Good luck and have fun winning on turn 4 in Standard!