If Beauty and the Beast took place in Innistrad

Some time ago, shortly after the release of Avacyn Restored, I came across Mike Cannon’s article about soul bonding creatures. It was a nice look into what the mechanic was capable of, with neat trick such as using Mortarpod paired with Nightshade Peddler to pick off larger targets and making small creatures like Elite Vanguard into larger threats with the bonded might of Trusted Forcemage, Druid’s Familiar, and of course, Wolfir Silverheart. It was great basis to go off of.

However, I hate completely copying people’s decks cause that takes out half the fun of deck building. So my first instinct was to look over Cannon’s deck and ponder ‘What could be used to improve upon it?’ And thus, the first iteration of Soul(bond) Train was commenced

 

2 Wolfir Silverheart
3 Druid’s Familiar
3 Nearheath Pilgrim
3 Nightshade Peddler
3 Champion of Lambholt
4 Silverblade Paladin
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Ulvenwald Tracker
3 Fiend Hunter
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Joint Assault
4 Cavern of Souls
 4 Plains
4 Forest
4 Razorverge Thicket
 2 Gavony Township
4 Sunpetal Grove
 
Sideboard 
3 Naturalize
2 Grand Abolisher
3 Grafidigger’s Cage
3 Celestial Purge
4 Righteous Blow

Deck Change Breakdown

Champion of the Parish
Elite Vanguard is strong and everything, being a 2/1 for a W. It’s a nice strong creature. When running so many humans though, while not run Champion of the Parish who constantly gets stronger and stronger as his allies enter the battlefield for the same cost?

Champion of Lambholt
I see a lot of value in this card, if only because most people seem to underestimate how strong it can be. Even after stronger creatures in the form of Titans and growing Vampires. If you have a plan to get this creature very big, very quickly, you can potentially swing for the kill. However, being a 1/1 on entry becomes an issue on turn 3. More on that later.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
I won’t deny that when it comes to deck building I have a fondness for creature based deck as opposed to spells and when up against decks that rely on spells, Thalia ruins anyone’s day. When that 2 costing  counter/kill spell becomes three costing, that’s practically an entire turn spent to get rid of one creature. That’s huge early game while setting up your army for the finish.

Fiend Hunter
When running Thalia, spells like Oblivion Ring also become more expensive to run. Henceforth, logic suggests running a creature spell with very similar effect for roughly the same cost.

Joint Assault
Lets do some basic math. Champion of the Parish backed with say… two humans entering the battlefield and swinging for 3 damage is… a nice bit of damage. Having one of those humans be a Silverblade Paladin, pairing with said Champion of the Parish, allowing him to swing for 6 damage is even better damage. Now having both of those creatures swing and popping a spell that gives both of them +2/+2, equating in 18 damage total (3+2=5 Double Strike for Champion, and 2+2=4 Double Strike for Paladin) is pretty brutal, especially since that jump in damage only costs a G.

Cavern of Souls
In a creature heavy deck, why NOT run this?

Naturalize
With the threat of Swords and other nasty artifacts lingering around from Scars, Naturalize seemed to cover both cases of enchantments and artifacts that Ray of Revelations does not. However, losing the flashback ability does may one gamble on top deck more than anything, so it’s a tough choice regardless. When Scars does phase out, Ray of Revelation might retake its spot.

Grand Abolisher
Being a 2/2 for 2 is already a fairly nice value, but having a ability that gives the turn all to yourself is what really brings out the value of this card. Not every deck plays instant spells like Go for the Throat, Tragic Slip, Shock, Brimstone Volley and so on, but when recognizing this decks, having a few of these guys in to stop that hate and forcing opponents to use their mana on their turns is worth it.

Grafdigger’s Cage
Having fought enough Solar Flare decks to know their threat, Grafdigger’s cage helps to shut down most decks like it or ones that rely on the graveyard. However, there is a number of flaws with the cage, but we’ll get to that in the next section.

The Playtest
Initial games with this deck were fairly positive, they were able to answer against most opponent’s tricks and even simple burn were met with the issue of buff bonds (Druid’s Familiar and Silverheart). The deck went to win several small tourneys, but when it came to a more serious crowd, the decks flaws began to reveal itself.

The main issue stems from an over reliance of Soul Bonding. It’s not that it’s bad, but if that bond is broken and you can’t blink the soul bonded creature, then you’re left in a very difficult situation that leaves you in a general disadvantage. The deck has no answers to removal and when you lose your strongest creature for 2-3 turns mid game due to a Day is a 1/1, then your chance of winning have gone from decent to unlikely.

Needless to say, this got me thinking about two things “How to protect my creatures from Removal?” and “How can I get my creatures really big really fast?” And as I fiddled and tweaked the deck, I saw how the deck went from a Soulbond Train deck to a Soulless Deck.

Get a little Captain in your deck.

4 Mayor of Avabruck
3 Hamlet Captain
4 Champion of Lambholt
4 Silverblade Paladin
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
3 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Champion of the Parish
2 Strangleroot Geist
2 Angel of Jubilation
2 Riders of Gavony
3 Joint Assault
3 Oblivion Ring
3 Cloudshift
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Plains
3 Forest
4 Razorverge Thicket
2 Gavony Township
4 Sunpetal Grove
 
Sideboard
3 Naturalize
2 Grand Abolisher
3 Nihil Spellbomb
4 Celestial Purge
1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
2 Strangleroot Geist

Notable Changes

Obviously a great number of soulbond creatures were removed from the deck and in their place were creatures that benefited the group as a whole, rather than just buff up one single guy (while that still ends up being viable in some respects).

Avacyn’s Pilgrim
One issue I always seem to have is having mana to bring out my forces en masse. And while Birds of Paradise is better for its flexibility, I ultimately chose the Pilgrim because it’s human and in the cases that I need just a tiny bit more damage, his buffed self will be able to help in the fight. Also, being human buffs up the Champion of the Parish.

Mayor of Avabruck
I’m actually surprised I didn’t think of this guy initially as he’s one of my favorite cards from the Innistrad Set, if not the Innistrad Block. The advantage of the Mayor is that when not transformed, he buffs all other humans, including the Champion of Lambholt, which can lead to some devastating unblockable scenarios, and when he is transformed, they you have a 3/3 beater than generates 2/2 blockers/future attackers at the end of turn, which also goes towards further strengthening Champion of Lambholt.

Hamlet Captain
All for the greater good, is the general theme behind this guy. Being a 2/2 for 2 is pretty nice as it is, but every time he swings, he makes all other humans more powerful? Pretty awesome, actually and has lead to the defeat of many opponents. But when he’s the among the only human out there, his effect isn’t as effective. In fact, it becomes rather difficult when you have him and another potential two drop as in one hand, he’s a 2/2 and buffs up humans, but in the other hand, that buff only comes when he attacks or blocks, so it very debatable if he’s even worth it.

Strangleroot Geist
What do you do when you have issues with people removing your creatures? Get a creature that comes back after dying. Having haste also helps and when you can bring in Silverblade paladin one turn and then pair them with Strangeroot the following turn and both are attack, then your opponent has some pretty devastating damage to deal with. I ran two in the main board for this reason with more in the sideboard in the case of  dealing with a opponent heavily reliant on removal or with board wiping.

Angel of Jubilation
Much like the Mayor, Angel of Jubilation’s benefit is twofold; one is to buff all of my creatures up and the second is the have a flyer on the team. This has actually been the deciding factor in several of my games. There is a probably in hindsight about Jubilation, and that’s the 1WWW cost. It just doesn’t happen as much as I’d like and it can be frustrating to have the Angel in hands, but only have 2 plains, a forest, and a caverns in which you names humans already.

Riders of Gavony
A good card to run when you’re mostly humans as it has also been a deciding factor of whether or not I win a round (When that Phrexian obliterator can’t block my humans, it becomes very sweet). Also being vigilant and a 3/3 is pretty nice for a 4 costing card.

Oblivion Ring
What’s one big issue when dealing with removal and your own removal is creature based? Well, I’ll assume you know what’s wrong with that. Oblivion Ring is not only significantly more difficult to get rid of, but it’s targets are also more varied. It’s a very flexible card. I had initially decided against using this cause of running Thalia, but the pros far outweigh the cons in this case.

Cloudshift
Another answer to removal spells, which can very much change the tide of battle when your opponent thinks they can easily block your Silverblade and hope it’ll not long be a threat, when in fact, they played into your trap, both buffing the Champions, saving your Silverblade and potentially giving an even larger creature double strike.

Nihil Spellbomb
With Grafdigger’s Cage, the effect of the Strangeroot Geists would be rendered null and void, so with the Nihil Spellbomb, you can just blow up your opponent’s graveyard in reaction to them trying to raise something out of it. It works well enough, though combating Solar Flare is a effort of balance and tinkering.

 

Playtests
More positive results this time around, and though those pesky Day of Judgments can still ruin my day, the deck was ultimately more powerful in this form than previously mentioned. However, board wiping was still an issue and with no way to really recovering from such boardwipes and still deal enough damage to lay the hurt on the opponent, especially when they can Bonfire of the Damned me for 1 or 2 and there goes almost my entire force.

This lead to some more theory building and finally, with the recently release of M13, the Soul Train went to Soulless to its final form, the Rise of Thraben!

 

4 Mayor of Avabruck
4 Champion of Lambholt
4 Silverblade Paladin
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
3 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Champion of the Parish
3 Restoration Angel
2 Sigarda, Host of Herons
1 Sublime Archangel
4 Rancor
3 Oblivion Ring
3 Gather the Townsfolk
4 Cavern of Souls
5 Plains
3 Forest
4 Razorverge Thicket
2 Gavony Township
4 Sunpetal Grove
 
Sideboard
1    Tormod’s Crypt
3    Naturalize
2    Celestial Purge
2    Grand Abolisher
3    Strangleroot Geist
2    Grafdigger’s Cage
2    Faith’s Reward

Notable Changes

Restoration Angel
Cloudshift was indeed a valuable asset to combating the forces of removal, but even with a creature briefly blinked from existence does save my buffed up Champions or Silverblade paladins from a board wiper. That’s where Resto-Angel comes in. In the case of kill spells, she blinks and saves that creature. In the case of board wipes, she comes in after the fact to resume the assault, weakened though it may be.

Rancor
Joint Assault is a great card to use in a Soulbond heavy deck, both bonded creatures get a +2/+2 and the damage is fantastic, but the moment is just so fleeting that I just wish that the damage boost was more permanent… also getting blocked alot really sucks. What’s that? Rancor gives that damage boost? And Trample? AND it returns to my hand when it goes to the graveyard from the battlefield? AND it’s the same cost as Joint Assault? I’ll take eight!

Sigarda, Host of Herons
Admittedly, Sigarda is mainly just here to be a heavy hitter. But being a untargetable heavy flying hitter with a Rancor and Silverblade’s Double Strike can and will end a lot of games quickly.

Sublime Archangel
This angel is very strong and very much a threat. Is it as much as threat as Sigarda? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But when she comes out and the opponent can’t deal with her and a creature with Rancor, then they’re in for a world of hurt. For the time being, I only run one cause this is meant to be the power of many over the power of one, but when I need blockers or just another flyer. She’s useful.

Gather the Townsfolk
Hamlet Captain was nice to buff up my humans and combined with Champion of Lambholt, make them all unblockable, but that buff only came when attacking or blocking, so Hamlet’s uses were limited. Gather replaced the good captain due to not only buffing both Champions, but also serving as additionally blockers and with a mayor out, they’re just as good as two Hamlet Captains. Also, potentially five counters is better than just a brief +1/+1.

Faith’s Reward
Simply another answer to Days and other board wipes. When recognizing that it’s my opponents main source of resetting the board in his favor, resetting the reset practically guarantees the match. Combine the fact that if either Champion is among those brought back, then they get a counter for each other human brought back this way, including each other, and you got a lethal setup.

Anti-Graveyard
My current setup for fighting graveyard is two fold, combining the previous two methods into one. It’s at this point I noticed Grafdigger’s cage not only prevents creatures from entering the graveyard, but the library as well. Take THAT Birthing Pod! Tormod’s Crypt (or as I like to call it, Better Spellbomb) is also a nice thing in the case of something in my opponent’s graveyard that benefits them somehow. The balance is 2 Cages, 1 Crypt, experimenting the balance to see what works best.

Sideboard
Instead of main boarding the Strangleroots, I’ve put them in the sideboard for the time being as the focus is the synergy between humans and the aid the angels give them.

Playtesting

Exceptionally well. Capable of dealing massive amounts of damage by turn four, the deck very fast and very powerful and also just very fun. Is it a top tier deck? I hesitate to say so, but it performs exceptionally well and is one of my favorite decks to play. If there is one issue, it is inexperience in what to sideboard against what. Luckily, something like that can be fixed with time and experience against more decks.

 

Final thoughts

I had a lot of fun building this deck and trying out all the different set ups and powerful combinations. Synergy is the name of the name and this deck has it in spades. If there is a weakness is has, it has two names, Devastation Tide and Terminus, but then again, all creature decks have to deal with those threats, and to see those early in the game is simply the luck of the draw (or Ponder, depending how you look at it) and even so, Thalia helps in combating those threats, or at least making them more expensive.

All in all, fast and powerful deck. I look forward to seeing what Ravnica will bring when we return to it and am happy to see Selesnya among the initial guilds we’ll be visiting. Alas, my other main deck, with the colors of red and green will have to take a backseat for the time being until that time. Til then.