Brewing with Soulflayer in Modern

Soulflayer seems like the type of card that can be broken. Let’s make it happen…

Soulflayer

Tasigur and Gurmag have demonstrated the power of delve and function as a black tarmo-style beater in decks running fetches/removal. Soulflayer represents an interesting conundrum because it calls for creatures to be in the yard rather than instants and sorceries like [Serum Visions], [Thought Scour], [Lightning Bolt]. While casting a vanilla 4/4 for BB is a great value, Soulflayer seems to have much more potential…

Let’s start by listing off the 11 keyword abilities that he can acquire from his delve:

1. Flying
2. First Strike
3. Double Strike
4. Deaththouch
5. Haste
6. Hexproof
7. Indestructible
8. Lifelink
9. Reach
10. Trample
11. Vigilance

Boom!  Now, does it fit into a shell that already exists?  Can a shell be modified to a Soulflayer-version?  Which of these words do we already see printed on modern staples? (Examples drawn from MTGTop8’s list of Modern Most Used)

1. Flying: Vendilion Clique, Pestermite, Ornithopter, Birds of Paradise, Restoration Angel, Olivia Voldaren, Kira, Linvala, Archangel of Thune, Faerie Macabre, Flickerwisp, Reveillark, Platinum Angel, Archangel of Tithes, Vault Skirge
2. First Strike: Thalia
3. Double Strike: Mirran Crusader
4. Deaththouch: Wurmcoil Engine
5. Haste: Goblin Guide, Avalanche Riders, Vengevine
6. Hexproof: Geist of Saint Traft, Slippery Boggle, Silhana Ledgewalker
7. Indestructible: Thassa
8. Lifelink: Vault Skirge, Wurmcoil Engine, Griselbrand
9. Reach: Jungle Weaver
10. Trample: Siege Rhino, Primeval Titan, Worldspine Wurm, Lotleth Troll, Ghor-Clan Rampager
11. Vigilance: Elesh Norn, Brimaz

The cards in bold are the ones that are the most appealing either due to their ability to put themselves or others in the graveyard for easy delving or the fact that they represent more than one of the keywords.  A large number of these come from a Living End or Dredge strategy.  Travis Woo takes this sort of direction in his article on his brew, “Soulflayer Vengevine“.

Travis’s deck is based around the early 4/4 double strike + haste (Viashino Slaughterblade + Vengevine/Falkenrath) to close out the game.  I’m going to set my aim on a very different strategy that relies less heavily on Soulflayer while utilizing him as a way to close out a longer game.

ESPER SOULFLAYER
Rather than trying to cram in as many of the 11 keywords as possible, I’d like to focus on just a few of the most important ones…

Flying
While seemingly the easiest to achieve (given our long list above), flying is important for the Soulflayer to jump over an opposing Tarmogoyf, Tasigur, Gurmag Angler, or Siege Rhino.  A 4/4 with flying can outclass nearly all of the most common main deck flying creatures (I’m looking at you Pestermite, Vendilion Clique, Linvala, Restoration Angel).  The problem, however, is that it can be so easily blocked by 1/1 spirits generated from Lingering Souls.  This brings me to the next point…

Trample
Lingering Souls plus flashback means that we get fogged for 4 turns.  Trample makes the difference of 12 damage in this case (as long as there is no quadruple block)

Hexproof
In a format where removal is so efficient, we’ve got to have a plan to protect a creature that we are so heavily invested in.  Hexproof can allow Soulflayer to dodge any targeted removal (most importantly, Path to Exile)

Lifelink
We’ve got to recoup life loss from aggressive decks once we can finally cast our Soulflayer.

These keywords are present on a combination of a few of the nastiest Modern-legal esper creatures:

Baneslayer Geist Sphinx AKROMA Drogskul Iona

Since we are going big, we might as well include the Gifts package…

Gifts unburial

Running a set of Soulflayers and some number of Geist of Saint Traft allows this deck to perform some sort of “stick and protect” strategy with early creatures while maintaining a big late game with a reanimated Iona, Akroma, or Drogskull Reaver.

With blue, we’ve got access to lots of spells that will allow us to guarantee a safe resolution for the Soulflayer (whose cost is light on mana but heavy on resources-don’t want this thing getting remanded)

Dispel Mana Leak Spell Snare

Unfortunately in the testing I’ve done with this deck, I’ve been unable to find a good enough loot effect in Esper.  I’ve looked at the following…

Ideas Unbound Jace

Ideas Unbound requires a discard at the end of the turn.  This was just too slow for us.  Jace needed to stick on the board and can only discard one card at a time…not consistent enough.  What the deck really needed was Faithless Looting.  This means 4 colors which allows for another fun inclusion that has three keywords AND can be hardcast relatively easily; Mantis Rider.

Faithless Looting Mantis

Here’s the admittedly convoluted 4C Gifts list that resulted…

4C SOULFLAYER GIFTS

3 Thought Scour
2 Lingering Souls
3 Gifts Ungiven
1 Unburial Rites
2 Mana Leak
3 Path to Exile
2 Spell Snare
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Supreme Verdict
4 Faithless Looting

3 Soulflayer
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
2 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath

1 Steam Vents
2 Marsh Flats
1 Blood Crypt
2 Celestial Colonnade
1 Creeping Tar Pit
1 Mantis Rider
1 Drogskol Reaver
4 Flooded Strand
1 Godless Shrine
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
2 Plains
4 Polluted Delta
1 Swamp
2 Watery Grave
1 Fetid Heath

SB: 2 Stony Silence
SB: 1 Supreme Verdict
SB: 2 Go for the Throat
SB: 1 Detention Sphere
SB: 1 Path to Exile
SB: 2 Spellskite
SB: 2 Dispel
SB: 3 Thoughtseize
SB: 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

As an alternative, here is my Esper Geist list that is much less “wonky”.  This one employs a strategy where Soulflayer is finisher rather than a focus.  The keyword abilities come from lots of the spells that are already good in this sort of build rather than jamming huge creatures that are much harder to cast on their own.  A few of the notable inclusions are:

Faerie Geist Resto Thassa Vendilion

The deck’s plan is to stick and protect a Geist and uses Soulflayer as plan B.  When the ‘geist-lodging’ strategy falls through, you can just feed it to a blocker and follow up with a Soulflayer delve to get a 4/4 hexproof (and hopefully flying from a Clique, Resto, or Faerie Macabre).  In the off-chance that a Thassa has been Thought Scoured into your graveyard, indestructible might be thrown into the mix.

Though Thassa has a very low chance of reaching devotion, the card helps to even out draws and help a Geist of Saint Traft or Soulflayer become unblockable.

Faerie Macabre appears out of the sideboard for a very surprising answer to Snapcaster Mage or to shrink a Tarmogoyf at instant speed and later, become delve-fodder for a Soulflayer.  I’ve considered one or two maindeck because it is so useful in a lot of different matchups and slots perfectly into the deck.

ESPER GEISTFLAYER

2 Cryptic Command
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Lingering Souls
3 Path to Exile
2 Remand
4 Thought Scour
3 Spell Snare
2 Mana Leak
2 Go for the Throat

3 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Restoration Angel
2 Snapcaster Mage
3 Soulflayer
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Thassa, God of the Sea

1 Sunken Ruins
1 Godless Shrine
2 Creeping Tar Pit
2 Darkslick Shores
4 Flooded Strand
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
2 Marsh Flats
1 Plains
4 Polluted Delta
1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
1 Swamp
1 Watery Grave

SB: 1 Wurmcoil Engine
SB: 2 Timely Reinforcements
SB: 1 Countersquall
SB: 2 Tribute to Hunger
SB: 2 Dispel
SB: 2 Stony Silence
SB: 3 Faerie Macabre
SB: 2 Thoughtseize

This list has been featured in CKL Plays.  See the videos here.

Both lists have some growing to do.  The most common problem is getting creatures that are needed for Flayer’s delve stuck in your hand or getting them stuck in your yard when you don’t have a reanimate/flayer.  In a lot of ways, it seems like a regular Esper Gifts list is just better because it is more consistent, but with decent draws, the Flayer version of the deck has potential to just stick a hexproof-flying-lifelink-haste Soulflayer and close out the game.

The Esper version has potential to do more than an Esper Geist deck running Tasigur if it can hit the right cards with Thought Scour but, otherwise, Soulflayer just becomes a late game threat that takes on the abilities of the creatures who have previously been killed while allowing you extra mana on that turn for counterspell protection or to hold for other removal spells.  The main issue with this version is that many of the removal spells played in modern are Path to Exiles.  Obviously, delving your useful creatures becomes more difficult when they’ve been exiled…

I’ll close with a disclaimer.  These are both very early versions of these lists.  I will post updates as I arrive at them but, for now, I wanted to share these ideas as to open the door for brewing ideas.  Please let me know what you come up with!  There are tons of fun interactions to discover with Soulflayer in Modern’s card pool.

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