The release of Aether Revolt had me excited. The set seemed to be full of potential with lots of cards looking to be strong enough to find a place in Modern. One card that immediately stood out to me was Renegade Rallier. In a format with fetchlands, triggering revolt seemed rather reliable and having access to one-drop mana creatures meant that Rallier could potentially serve as a potent piece of acceleration in a deck looking to ramp its mana. But what would I want to be ramping toward?
I contemplated various linear ramp strategies working toward some big end-game threat but I didn’t like the idea of putting all my eggs into one basket. In a format like Modern where there are efficient answers to even the largest threats, going all-in in such a fashion seemed dubious. Furthermore, playing Renegade Rallier meant that I wanted to include a significant number of permanents with lower mana costs. So, I settled on a ramp deck that tended towards smaller permanents. In the course of searching Gatherer and ruminating on mana costs and graveyard recursion, I came to Sun Titan. Here was a large threat that could also recur permanents with lower mana costs (including Renegade Rallier itself). That much value had me thoroughly intrigued. Next, something interesting happened…
Aether Revolt brought a true combo to the Standard format in the pairing of Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian. There seemed to be two main versions of the “Copy Cat” deck; a Jeskai control list and a 4-color build that sought out the combo more aggressively. I soon came to the realization that Saheeli was a card that had incredible synergy and even combo potential with Sun Titan. Taking inspiration from the 4-color Standard builds of Copy Cat, I set out to make a Modern deck that could aggressively play Saheeli for value, grind out an attrition game, and present the looming threat of an infinite combo. I arrived at the following:
Saheeli Value Combo
(other considerations include Defense Grid, Meddling Mage, and Reclamation Sage)
As originally planned, Saheeli is here as part of not one, but two combos. Saheeli Rai + Felidar Guardian is the combo most people will know from Standard. Saheeli creates a copy of Felidar Guardian, which blinks Saheeli, resetting her for a new use, allowing you to repeat ad nauseam, each time adding a hasty 1/4 to the battlefield.
The natural question to then ask one’s self is “What’s better than an army of hasty cats?” The answer happens to be a legion of hasty 6/6 vigilant giants. Combining Sun Titan with Saheeli while an additional copy of Saheeli is in your graveyard accomplishes just this.
- You can play Sun Titan, which allows you to return a copy of Saheel from your graveyard to play.
- Saheeli can create a copy of the Titan, which then returns a second copy of Saheeli.
- The “Planeswalker Uniqueness Rule” forces you to place one copy of Saheeli into your graveyard, so you ditch the one that you’ve already used.
- The fresh Saheeli can now copy your Titan again, enabling a loop which results in a desired number of hasty Titans.
As if an arbitrarily large number of Titans wasn’t enough overkill, the fact that attacking with them allows you to return almost your entire graveyard to the battlefield certainly crosses that threshold.
Since Sun Titan has us looking to play powerful cards at mana costs of 3 or less, the combination of Knight of the Reliquary + Retreat to Coralhelm is also included. For the unfamiliar, the Knightfall combo allows you to search a land out of your deck with the Knight. This triggers the Retreat, allowing you to untap and reuse your Knight. This effectively removes the lands from your deck while making your Knight enormous. By searching up fetchlands, you can generate additional Retreat triggers to tap down your opponent’s blockers so your Knight can connect for the win.
The rug really tied the room together…
As cute as the combos are, they’re not the most powerful things you can be doing in Modern. As such, we need a reason to play this deck over other options. The real strength of the deck is that all of the combos are contained within a solid midrange/ramp shell. While each card is reasonable on its own, the card choices are based on synergy. I’ll provide a quick synopsis of the card choices but really, this section could go on and on as each card interacts in unique and potentially powerful ways with so many of the other cards in the list.
- Saheeli Rai is your primary combo card but she is also a source of value via both her scry and copy-generating abilities. As we’re playing ways to recur Saheeli from the graveyard, you can use her -2 ability aggressively.
- Sun Titan is the glue that holds the list together. Aside from the combo potential with Saheeli, Titan can recur every card in the deck save for the set of Path to Exile, the Felidar Guardians, and the single copies of Reveillark, Nahiri, and Gideon Jura.
- Nahiri the Harbinger plays multiple roles. She digs for combo pieces, can put cards into the graveyard for straight-to-play recursion via Titan/Rallier, provides an additional source of removal, and her ultimate can find a Titan, Felidar Guardian, or Knight of the Reliquary to complete a combo.
- Gideon Jura really takes on the role of his namesake character in this deck. He provides defense for your other planeswalkers and is a threat in and of himself.
- Renegade Rallier, the card that actually began this whole amalgam, is included for all of the original stated reasons and ultimately shapes many of the other inclusions.
- Oath of Nissa is your cantrip. It can dig for combo pieces, lands, or value targets and fixes your mana for the purpose of casting planeswalkers in a four color deck. It also serves as a cheap way to enable revolt (as it is easily placed in the graveyard via the legend rule) and is a solid card to return with Rallier/Titan.
- Retreat to Coralhelm provides a whole lot of value aside from its combo potential with Knight of the Reliquary. Given all the added ways to trigger landfall in this deck, Retreat helps fix your draws, protect your planeswalkers, and clear out blockers. Tapping opposing creatures also allows them to be removed with Nahiri or Gideon.
- Seal of Fire is a proactive piece of removal that is useful for triggering revolt and can really throw a wrench into your opponent’s play pattern. It can be sacrificed and recurred with Rallier/Titan to deal four damage to a single target. Sacrificing before combat, then attacking with a Titan to recur the Seal (or a Rallier that then recurs the Seal) and sacrificing it again to clear out blockers is an excellent way to break through.
- Birds of Paradise/Noble Hierarch are your turn one mana accelerants/fixers. I’ve chosen to lean more heavily on Birds, given the inclusion of red. The numbers may not be correct though. Perhaps a 3/2 split would be better as the exalted provided by Hierarch is welcome in any game where you find yourself having to play fair.
- Courser of Kruphix provides a lot of value. Knowing the top card of your library can inform your decisions and the life gained lets you offset the damage accrued while fetching/shocking during the Knight + Retreat combo.
- Eternal Witness can be recurred and flickered for value geting back what Rallier and Titan cannot.
- Felidar Guardian has shown itself to be more impressive than I would have originally thought. Even when you’re not comboing off, Guardian allows you to generate value with most of your creatures and can reset planeswalkers for an additional use.
- Reveillark is a value engine on a relatively large evasive body. While it’s unfortunate that it can’t return Ralliers to play, it can hit most of your other utility creatures including Knight of the Reliquary, which adds more resilience to the Knight + Retreat combo. Flickering Reveillark with Felidar Guardian to return another Guardian and a friend to play only to flicker the ‘Lark again and get two additional bodies is one of the most value-laden plays this deck is capable of.
- Qasali Pridemage, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Selfless Spirit and Wall of Omens are all utility creatures that can be recouped with Rallier/Reveillark/Titan. With the exception of the Wall, they can each reliably enable revolt. Spirit interacts particularly well with Titan, allowing you to attack with an indestructible army each turn. Wall of Omens is a solid defender and always worth copying/flickering when a more powerful option isn’t available.
General notes on the sideboard
As with all sideboards, what is listed is really just a group of suggestions and the specific selections should be made based on the expected metagame. That said, the deck’s themes carry over into the sideboard choices. Specifically, I was looking to include potent options that could be reused with Rallier/Reveillark/Titan or, in the case of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, hard to answer threats that can run away with a game if the opponent is unprepared to meaningfully interact.
What’s the Game Plan?
When piloting this deck, figuring out “Who’s the Beatdown?” is essential. In general, if you’re playing against other creature-based/fair decks, you’ll often take on the control role. The plan in these matches is to grind out the opponent with card advantage. This becomes slightly more difficult if your opponent is also on a midrange strategy, like Jund or Abzan. Against those decks, you need to be ready for a true war of attrition. Be leery of relying too heavily on graveyard recursion as Scavenging Ooze, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and Anafenza, the Foremost can all disrupt that plan. Finding a spot to stick the Copy Cat combo (ideally, both pieces in a single turn) is likely your safest path to victory. Against control decks or things like Faeries, you will typically need to take on the role of the aggressor. Push threats through opposing counterspells and know when to use your utility creatures as an offense. Dedicated combo decks can be tricky to combat. The base level plan is to try to combo off faster. Luckily, as combo decks aren’t generally pressuring your life total, you can fetch your lands aggressively to get all of your colors online ASAP which leaves you open to enacting either the Copy Cat or Knightfall combo as early as possible. If you happen to draw into a relevant piece of disruption, all the more power to you.
Final Thoughts/Areas for Improvement
The deck is a blast to play and has game against the meta at large. Perhaps the greatest strength of the deck, however, may be its weakness as well. Playing such a wide array of utility creatures and threats presents many possible angles of attack and allows you to adapt on the fly, but there is a tradeoff in consistency. While the deck is almost always able to present a powerful line of play, the relevance of those particular lines may vary depending on the matchup in question. It may be correct to play the full four copies of both Saheeli and Felidar Guardian to increase the consistency of that line. Similarly, the inclusion of Knight of the Reliquary and Retreat to Coralhelm may be a bit too much (though I’d honestly miss the Retreat more than the Knight if they were gone). Perhaps some of the sideboard cards should be in the maindeck as well (I’m looking at you, Scavenging Ooze). Including some way to better utilize the deck as a toolbox would be nice, but the available options, specifically Chord of Calling, Collected Company, and Eldritch Evolution all come up a little short, primarily because they don’t interact with planeswalkers. Oath of Nissa is what we’re left with, and it certainly pulls its weight, but having another piece would be helpful. All in all, I think the deck has a place on the fringe of the meta and is something worth keeping in mind going forward, as it really feels like it’s just one or two cards away from becoming much more streamlined and powerful.