One of the cards I was most interested in when I saw Magic 2015 spoiled was Obelisk of Urd.
While the average six-drop artifact isn't especially potent in today's world, this one's ability to be discounted via convoke made it more interesting. Considering that the Obelisk's effect directly encourages you to play it alongside a bunch of creatures, I thought it had a good shot at being a deck few people were looking at going into the Pro Tour.
Boss Sligh had been doing well during this era, and playing Akroan Crusader alongside the Obelisk was very exciting to me. Turning your pump spells into threats and mana is a ton of value! The reprinting of Raise the Alarm was additional juice, as this gave the deck a fairly high number of ways to have three creatures in play come turn 3-ideal for dropping a quick Obelisk or attacking with a Boros Elite.
Did I mention all of these cards are Soldiers?
I brewed for a little while, but the deck didn't really come together convincingly. Here's where the deck was when I abandoned it:
I wouldn't say this deck was anywhere near optimized, but there were some interactions I liked:
-The heroic creatures put a fair bit of fear into most Sylvan Caryatid enthusiasts.
-Landing an Obelisk and drawing a Mutavault was a great way to keep up the heat against control decks.
-Anyone who tried to sandbag sweepers in the hopes of a bigger blowout might find an Obelisk in play instead of more creatures, punishing them heavily.
If you were keeping careful track of the Pro Tour, you might've noticed that an Obelisk deck actually did put up one strong performance in Standard, in the hands of Alex Sittner:
- 4 Akroan Crusader
- 4 Boros Elite
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 3 Favored Hoplite
- 4 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
This is a tight little package that Alex wrote about after the Pro Tour. While my list tried to essentially hybridize the tribal payoffs onto Tom's existing shell, Alex went back to square one and rebuilt the deck from the ground up. His deck is maxed out with ways to get three creatures into play on turn 2. Check it out:
-Any three creatures
-Any two creatures and a Launch the Fleet
-Any single creature and a Raise the Alarm
-Akroan Crusader and any two instants, sorceries, or creatures
I'd trimmed down to a miser's Launch the Fleet in my list because it hadn't performed, but that's because it's inherently horrible with all of my enchantments. I also hadn't tried out Dynacharge, which was a whiff for me. Not only is it excellent with Alex's core strategy, but Dynacharge in conjunction with Legion Loyalist became one of the sideboarding strategies against Mono-Blue Devotion for Team Revolution's Rabble Red! Good find by both.
I'd only had an inkling of what I wanted to sideboard, but Alex's seems to be exactly what I'd expect, really. Revoker takes care of Jace, Apparition takes care of Courser, Boros Charm vs. sweepers, Gods' Willing as necessary.
Solid work. Now, while Alex went 8-2 in Standard, I heard that teammate Oscar Jones managed the reverse 2-8. The result of a high variance strategy? Possibly. The result of Oscar being a loose caboose? Also possible.
The Soldier deck essentially got shelved with the advent of Rabble Red, as that deck seemed much more consistent and powerful, and the rest is Standard history.
Literally-the format's over!
I'm sure many of you might expect me to just post an updated list to Soldiers, blah-blah-blah. Well, I could do that, but I'd rather reach for the stars. I've got dreams, you see. Whenever we hit this magical rotation point, I try to comb the spoiler with an eye out especially for cards that just might soup up an old gem. This time around, I spotted one card in particular that drew my eye:
This Ascendancy is underwhelming to look at, I'll give you that. Beyond the obvious payoff of playing well with Raise the Alarm-despite not being able to make double Ashcoat Bear-it's a difficult to cast Anthem that's not even always an Anthem. Its other effect isn't generally going to be in high-demand in decks that want the first one, as board-oriented swarm decks aren't usually in the market for card selection.
However, this particular curve popped into my head...
Turn 1: Akroan Crusader
Turn 2: Raise the Alarm
Turn 3: Jeskai Ascendancy
Turn 4: Target Crusader with anything that costs two or less mana, cast Obelisk of Urd, attack for lethal
Launch the Fleet enables you to make that lethal through most reasonable levels of on-board resistance. Oh yeah, there's also a couple loots in there too. For funsies!
While Akroan Crusader is easily the nut draw, as you've seen above there are a number of decent Soldiers that can make this work out pretty favorably. The largest incentive is certainly that you can just turn 3 Obelisk a startlingly high amount of the time still. The Ascendancy contributes to that plan by providing you with a supplementary anthem that's not redundant in multiples (like Spear) and that keeps you drawing gas if the game begins to drag. It can also make for some very complicated decisions in aggro mirrors...
Is it worth the blue splash in a deck that already can have slightly unstable mana? Honestly, I'm not sure. I do know I'd rather have Jeskai Ascendancy in play than a Spear of Heliod, and the looting ability is at its best in a deck with the potential to essentially "combo finish" the opponent.
I knew I'd want to play a pretty similar mana base to Alex's, so I set out to see how hard that might be. I'd be losing Mutavault, which frees up some slots for colored mana, and ideally my Ascendancy would compensate for the additional risk of flood I would experience as a result. Here's my current draft:
Fourteen sources is generally the bare minimum to have turn 1 access, so I've hit that here on the nose for both red and white. It's possible the fourth Flooded Strand should be a Plains, but since you'll very rarely want to actually draw two Plains I've erred the other way for now. I've got plenty of blue to enable a turn 3 Ascendancy; really it's the white and red balance that concerns me most. To that end, I'm currently playing 21 lands because the Island is basically a blank. I'd like to cut a land-truthfully, I kind of want that land to be Island-but here we are. If the straight R/W version of this deck is better, it'll be because it gets to run as few as eighteen lands, giving it a lot more raw power in the face of attrition and mulligans.
Let's talk about some of the additions.
The Limited sometimes-star might have enough to make it to prime time now that rotation has removed enough of the competition. In decks like Rabble Red or a revamped Boss Sligh, you're certainly better off with Frenzied Goblin or Foundry-Street Denizen, but the payoffs for the Hoplite are pretty fully realized here. I wish we had just a couple more combat tricks-maybe I'll get real bold and trim some lands.
With Return to Ravnica block rotating, I had to adjust some elements of the deck. The largest loss is certainly Legion Loyalist, as he made blocking a nightmare for the opponent. I can only hope Jeskai Ascendancy will make things similarly difficult, but in the event that it doesn't I've added Coordinated Assault. The Assault bridges some of the roles that both Legion Loyalist and Dynacharge possessed, but it has an especially high level of synergy with the twelve heroic one-drops now featured in the main. Each of these creatures is solid against Sylvan Caryatid with the Assault in the mix, although they're all much worse off against Courser if all you have is Assault. Fortunately, the Ascendancy and Obelisk should help you overcome that board state, and with either permanent in play Coordinated Assault returns full efficacy.
Amusingly, with Ascendancy out it can also essentially function as Triton Tactics on defense in racing mirrors.
You could play Titan's Strength in this slot (and indeed, perhaps time will tell that to be correct), but I want to give Coordinated Assault a shot first. I think they're almost exactly neck-and-neck at the moment, with Dragon Mantle and Hammerhand in the distance.
No, he's not a Soldier. He is, however, the only one-drop in the format that can essentially always get through a Caryatid, and by playing Coordinated Assault over Titan's Strength I can also use him to bull past Courser of Kruphix provided I have three mana, two of which is red. If I wind up cutting the Assaults for Titan's Strengths, I'll also be giving Firedrinker Satyr the axe in favor of Mogis's Warhound. The Warhound is great with all the heroic dorks at battling past Courser, and truthfully it could be maindeck material in favor of something else. It's pretty expensive, that's all.
While not in the deck at the moment, Herald of Anafenza could be a decent choice for this slot as well. He goes through Courser if you play with Titan's Strengths and survives Anger if you have an Obelisk. The ability seems like a bit of a pipe dream, but it could be relevant if slower attrition decks become the enemy.
Another option is actually Nyxborn Shieldmate, but let's not.
Moving to the sideboard, we have a few different selections that seem interesting. I'm going to ignore the cards that have already been spotlighted above, and try to focus on some fresh potential.
Stoke the Flames is obviously a powerful card, and I could see it making the maindeck depending on the metagame and how the deck winds up adjusting. I'm mostly annoyed by it being air against Polukranos.
Suppression Suspension Field is way more promising in that regard, as it clears the Hydra and partner in crime Courser of Kruphix as well while costing less than its competitor, Banishing Light. I think Singing Bell Strike is likely just worse than Suppression Suspension Field, but it's technically less narrow.
Arc Lightning is a sick card in mirrors and a reasonable answer to Goblin Rabblemaster in general. Keep in mind that you can zap either of your Hoplites just for counters! I can't imagine I play zero copies of this across my 75, at least in these early days.
Erase is a mediocre answer to Courser but a solid card if constellation strategies pick up in popularity, and I expect them to do so. Doomwake Giant should be too slow to kill you before you land an Obelisk or can trigger Ascendancy, but if they untap with it you're going to be in a dangerous spot. Erase can help make sure that doesn't happen, and is a particularly elegant solution with Ascendancy already in play.
Triton Tactics is a hyper-effective counter to Anger of the Gods, making it likely one of the better reasons to play blue alongside Negate. Theoretically you can also play Stubborn Denial as an anti-control and sweepers kind of card, but you'd have a lot of convincing to do before I buy into a conditional Force Spike.
Act of Treason and Horde Ambusher are similar ways to push through a large blocker. I can see a miser's Act making the cut, but I'd likely never want Ambusher when I could have
Suppression Suspension Field. Icy Blast is a tad more interesting in this regard, as you can use it to buff up your heroic guys and also get attackers through defenses, but it's probably not efficient enough. I could be wrong though...
I don't brew much for Standard in general-that's what Pro Tours and the Open Series are for in my book, as it's rare I have any particular reason to dive in before somebody does the bulk of the work cracking it while I sit in my pajamas. That said, Khans looks pretty spicy, and I find myself combing the spoiler every day for something new that I might've missed. I haven't found many things more promising than Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix into yada yada, but turn 4 kills are one of them!
Suppression Suspension Field? Are you !@#$ing kidding me guys? What's the line on Round 2 deck check corrections for that one over the next couple years?