Hello and welcome to the first article in the Duels Without Duals series. The aim of this series of articles is to provide some budget options to what I consider the best Magic: The Gathering format, Legacy. I hope to cover many of the budget or fringe strategies that people interested in the format might be able to buy or trade into for minimal cost. Although the series is called "duels without duals", I will likely cover some budget options that run a minimal number of dual lands while still being affordable (affordable being a relative term).
In keeping with this, it should be noted that Legacy is an inherently expensive format to buy into. Even a budget deck by Legacy standards can run you up to a thousand dollars or more. The upside is that once you have the cards, you will be able to play them forever, and that's a huge upside. I know the same argument could potentially be made for Modern, but that's an argument that doesn't hold much sway in my mind for a couple of reasons. First, Modern is more turbulent than Legacy. The metagame changes much more frequently, and furthermore, these metagame changes can easily render your deck completely obsolete. Historically, there has also been the issue of building into tier one decks only to have them banned out from underneath you. This won't happen (or at least, will rarely happen) in Legacy. Plus, Legacy is a kickass format, and the community is amazing. Anyway, enough about that. I assume that if you're reading this, you don't need convincing on the merits of playing Legacy. So let's begin. Today we are going to look at a really sweet deck: Mono White Soldier Stompy.
This deck wasn't on my radar at all until sometime last year when BR Reanimator was starting to get popular [side note: I plan to cover BR reanimator in this series, so check back if you are interested in that pile of degeneracy]. I had a lot of the cards for Reanimator, and finished putting the deck together to run it through its paces. At the time, Reanimator was putting up serious results; it was the new kid on the block, and people hadn't yet figured out how to beat it. Rest in Peace was still played (which is usually too slow when played on turn two), and people were slow to adopt cards such as Faerie Macabre and run more Surgical Extractions. I was winning a lot of games on turn one or two, and felt pretty confident when a good friend of mine suggested that I playtest against his Mono White (non Death and Taxes) deck.
Soldiers: not bad
The deck looked like a pile of hot garbage on paper, but man did it thrash me. I say "pile of hot garbage" in the most endearing way; I have since made up the deck and played a bunch of matches with it. I absolutely loved every second of it, and also maintained quite a ridiculous win rate with it while I was testing. In this article, I'm going to show you the decklist that I played, discuss some of the card choices, and finally present a cheaper (but not weaker) alternative version of the deck. Without further ado, here is the list I played:
Mono White Soldier Stompy
So, this deck is honest-to-god soldier tribal in Legacy. If you're not already pumped by this, I don't know what to say. But I will attempt to convince you that the deck is much better than it looks on paper. Traditionally, fair decks without Force of Will in Legacy have a lot of explaining to do.
First, let's discuss the strategy. Soldiers often feels like a strange hybrid of Stompy, Prison, Death and Taxes, and Tempo. There will be games where you completely lock your opponents out and beat them to death with whatever dorks you have on the board. There will be games where you land a turn one threat and ride it to victory while keeping your opponent on the back foot long enough to chip away at them for lethal. And yes, there will be games where you have turn one Preeminent Captain and cheat in Captain of the Watch on turn two. Needless to say, those starts are...disgusting.
Yeah...Preeminent Captain brings friends to the party.
Interested yet? Good. Let's break down some of the card choices.
Soldiers attempts to cheat on mana, playing seven Sol lands and the full set of Chrome Mox (which is currently fairly priced at around $15 each). This allows us to skip playing one drops entirely while locking our opponents out with Chalice of the Void, which can be played on turn one. Many of the threats in the deck require only a single White mana to cast, which is ideal for decks with a ton of Sol lands. Speaking of which, Ancient Tomb is also quite reasonably priced at around $30 currently. City of Traitors is a tough pill to swallow at $125, but it's honestly optional. You have the super budget option of Crystal Vein, which is less than a dollar, or you could just run more Plains (which is recommended). The version of the deck that my friend stomped me with ran zero City of Traitors, and that list is arguably better than mine. The Chalice of the Voids are necessary, though, and are getting quite expensive. On the plus side, they are a) very playable in both Modern and Legacy, and b) guaranteed to be reprinted in the future, which will drop their price, should you choose to wait.
Anyway, all the fast mana in the deck allows us some very strong turn one plays: Chalice of the Void, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, and notably, Suppression Field. These cards do serious work, taxing our opponents and punishing greedy manabases that have a lot of fetchlands and dual lands Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a known quantity in Legacy, and is incredible against combo and fair Blue decks with counterspells and cantrips. Thalia, Heretic Cathar adds to the disruption, giving us a bunch of tempo vs fetchland-heavy decks with few (or no) basics, and decks running lots of creatures, allowing us precious time to attack while potential blockers are tapped. She also shuts off Sneak Attack and laughs at Reality Smasher, which is not irrelevant. Together, the Thalias provide White Stompy decks with a ton of disruption that can be played early and steal games on their own, as I already covered in another article. Chalice of the Void is incredible as ever in Legacy, giving you the ability to completely lock certain decks out of the game as early as turn one. But the real MVP I want to talk about today is Suppression Field. This card is the nuts.
Suppression Field may not look like much at first, but consider how many activated abilities there are in the format. First, take the prominence of fetchlands; most decks run them, and many decks run upwards of eight. Casting Suppression Field on turn one can literally win you games on the spot in this format, and is on par with (or better than) casting Chalice of the Void on one in many matchups. Nice $2,000 fetch-dual manabase, bro. Second, consider how prevalent Deathrite Shaman is in Legacy right now. It's the most played creature in the format (and for good reason), and the eighth most played CARD in the entire format currently, appearing in a whopping 42% of decks. Wrap your head around that. This is important for two reasons. 1) Deathrite Shaman's mana-producing ability is NOT a mana ability. Want to tap it for mana? That'll cost you two. 2) Decks that run Deathrite Shaman have greedy (often four-color) manabases with a ton of fetchlands. As noted, Suppression Field is great against fetchlands (as is Thalia, Heretic Cathar). In one of my games against Esper Deathblade, I cast Suppression Field into my opponent's Deathrite Shaman, and their second land was a fetchland. Needless to say, I won that game (and the match). Third, Death and Taxes is one of the more popular decks in paper Legacy, and Suppression Field is the nuts against them. Not only does it hit Aether Vial, it also stops Wasteland and Rishadan Port, nullifying their whole gameplan of cheating on mana while using their land drops to disrupt you. It also happens to be amazing against Mother of Runes, Stoneforge Mystic, and equipment (Batterskull isn't as much of a threat as Umezawa's Jitte or Sword of Fire and Ice). A single Suppression Field can shut down their entire deck and allow you to build a board that they can't deal with. Finally, as previously mentioned, Suppression Field protects you from Wasteland, which is super important in a mana hungry deck running Sol lands. Seriously, this card is great.
Once you have some disruption in play, Preeminent Captain and Daru Warchief help you continue to cheat on mana. Preeminent Captain is often safe behind Chalice on one, and the "lord buff" from Daru Warchief stacks, quickly allowing your team to outsize your opponent's. On the topic of lords, Captain of the Watch is often a game-ending threat; many decks in the format just can't deal with that much value. In fact, the number of games that I have lost in which I got a Captain of the Watch on the board totals exactly zero. Preeminent Captain is actually insane in this deck if it survives even one turn. It doesn't even need to connect in combat to trigger, and can be cast on turn one with a Sol land Chrome Mox hand. Daru Warchief is often pitched to Chrome Mox (moreso than any other card, in my games), but it's excellent in the mid-game when you are trying to establish a board that goes bigger than your opponent's.
Rounding out our creatures, we have our "removal" suite of Fairgrounds Warden and Palace Jailer. I like the split due to the different casting costs; Palace Jailer is more difficult to cast, but can be tutored for with Recruiter of the Guard. It's necessary to have some kind of creature removal in the deck to deal with fliers and other troublesome threats. As a bonus, both Fairgrounds Warden and Palace Jailer are great against Show and Tell. I've written about how good Palace Jailer is in this archetype before, but let me quickly recap: Having a tutorable card draw engine that doubles as removal is insane. It also helps that it can be cheated in by Preeminent Captain and cast off Cavern of Souls (on soldier, of course), making it uncounterable. It's also good to note that you don't need to exile an opponent's creature to become the monarch and start drawing cards. I sometimes found myself cheating in Recruiter of the Guard with Preeminent Captain during combat just to tutor for Palace Jailer, casting it post-combat to get the engine started.
Finally, we have our second card advantage engine, Enlistment Officer. This card is the Goblin Ringleader of the soldier tribe, and is necessary to help mitigate the card disadvantage of running a full set of Chrome Mox. Often you'll just run threats into countermagic until your opponent is out, and then you'll re-stock with Enlistment Officer and go to town. Unfortunately it can't be tutored for with Recruiter of the Guard, but it still pulls its weight. With eight ways to get around counterspells (Cavern of Souls and Preeminent Captain), Enlistment Officer helps a ton in control matchups.
Finally, the deck runs the full set of Cavern of Souls, for obvious reasons. I also opted to run two Karakas, although running one is totally fine (and can shave $50 off the price of the deck). Karakas helps against Reanimator, Sneak and Show, RG Lands (and other Dark Depths based combo decks), and Death and Taxes. It also pulls weight saving your Thalias from opponents' removal, but there are some games where having the second copy hurts more than it helps.
Much of the sideboard should be fairly obvious. Containment Priest comes in against Sneak and Show, Elves, and Reanimator. Holy Light is for True-Name Nemesis, but can also come in vs. Young Pyromancer decks and Elves. Rest in Peace is for graveyard dependant decks like RG Lands and Reanimator. Rest in Peace is often fast enough in this deck vs. BR Reanimator, due to us being able to cast it on turn one, but feel free to add some number of Faerie Macabre if you like (that card is a complete blowout against Exhume). Swords to Plowshares comes in vs. Delver decks, even though we leave in Chalice of the Void in these matchups (it's rarely the case that we lock ourself out from casting Swords, and if we do, we are likely winning anyway). Disenchant is just a catch-all for enchantments and artifacts (I won a game by boarding it in, suspicious that my opponent was going to side in Ensnaring Bridge). As soon as WotC prints a 2/2 dork with a (permanent) disenchant effect, preferably at the casting cost of 1W, I will jump all over that business. Until then, Disenchant does the trick. Phyrexian Revoker adds to our disruptive creature suite, and isn't all that exciting. The real spice here is Selfless Squire, which comes in against Eldrazi and RG Lands. You haven't lived until you've flashed in a Selfless Squire during a combat step in which you are being attacked by a 20/20 Marit Lage; I highly recommend it.
Mono White Soldier Stompy has a lot raw power and synergy, but like all Stompy decks, is heavily reliant on its opening hand. Knowing which hands to keep and which ones to throw back is a very important skill to develop, as is sequencing your threats properly. You have the tools to beat all of the top tiered decks in the format, but it will take a bunch of reps with the deck before you know how to play all of the matchups. Other times, a brute force approach of playing good stuff early and on curve will just win you games. I had a bunch of fun playing this deck for around a week straight. Actually, it was literally the only legacy deck I wanted to play that week, partially due to how much fun I was having, and partially due to the fact that I was literally just stomping everyone; like I said earlier, I had quite a ridiculous win rate during testing.
Is it the best deck in Legacy? No. But is it the best deck that no one is playing? Maybe.
The expensive cards in the deck are: Chalice of the Void, Cavern of Souls, Ancient Tomb, and Karakas. Chrome Mox and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben aren't "cheap" but they're not going to break the bank. The City of Traitors is entirely optional. All the other cards can be had for very little. If you already have Chalice of the Void and Cavern of Souls (maybe you play Eldrazi Tron in Modern), you can build this deck for a very minimal investment, knowing that you have something you'll be able to play in Legacy (and win with) for a good while. Having the expensive pieces for this deck also allows you to build into various other Prison / Chalice decks, like Dragon Stompy (why is it still called that?) if you pick up Blood Moon etc., Eldrazi Stompy, or MUD.
If you're interested in this archetype, head over to the thread on The Source. There are a bunch of people working on it, and they are an enthusiastic bunch. Finally, I have to say, the deck got some really great new tools in recent sets.
Here are some other cards for consideration that I wanted to test, but didn't get around to:
Winter Orb is a great card vs. RG Lands and other mana hungry decks, like Miracles and 4c Control. Given that our deck also needs a lot of mana to operate, I don't think this slots into the build I was playing. Other builds of Soldier Stompy, however, opt to run a set of Ballyrush Banneret to capitalize on cost reduction effects and further cheat on mana. I can definitely see running Winter Orb in these builds.
Thorn of Amethyst is a fantastic sideboard card vs. combo decks. It is another "sphere" effect post-sideboard alongside Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, which increases our chances of having something hateful to play on turn one.
Damping Matrix is a great compliment to Suppression Field, and should be the final nail in the coffin vs. decks that rely on equipment (like Death and Taxes) or utility creatures such as Deathrite Shaman and Knight of the Reliquary. It is preferable to run Damping Matrix over Null Rod, which shuts off our Chrome Moxes.
Tsaboo's Web hoses RG Lands, and hoses it good. It's also great vs. utility lands like Wasteland and Rishadan Port (but has the unfortunate effect of preventing our own Karakas from untapping). The main benefit of this card is that it plays incredibly well with Thalia, Heretic Cathar. With Thalia in play, our opponents' fetchlands and utility lands will come into play tapped, and if we also control Tsabo's Web, they will come into play tapped and never untap. That's just nasty.
Crackdown is effectively a one-sided Meekstone in this deck, and provides a great answer to a great many creature-based strategies. It's also super nasty with Thalia, Heretic Cathar in the same way Tsabo's Web is. Thinking about it now, I don't know why I never jammed this card in my sideboard. I definitely recommend testing it.
Leonin Relic-Warder is a tutorable Disenchant effect, but the double white in the casting cost turned me off the idea of it. Still, it could be good as a one-of.
Finally, I'll leave you with a cheaper (and probably more optimised) version of Soldier Stompy. I haven't played this exact list, but I have been crushed by it. I'll leave building the sideboard up to you.
Mono White Soldier Stompy 2
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
4 Ballyrush Banneret
4 Preeminent Captain
3 Daru Warchief
4 Enlistment Officer
2 Recruiter of the Guard
2 Fairgrounds Warden
2 Palace Jailer
2 Captain of the Watch
I hope you enjoyed the first in the Duels Without Duals series! Let me know what you think of the deck, or if you have any suggestions of decks I should cover in the future, let me know! Stay tuned for more great budget Legacy options.