Playing Sultai All the Time: BUG in Modern, Part One

I’ve been playing Sultai in every format for years. In some formats—Legacy and Commander—this is a perfectly viable strategy. In others—Standard and Modern—this has led to some turbulent results. In this article, I’m going to break down what the tri-color combination can do for you as a player, and then delve into some of my efforts to push the wedge into Modern, the format where Sultai has the least love.

In Part One of this two-part article, I'll begin by showing you the decklist that started my venture into playing Sultai in Modern. Then I'll go over some common choices for flex slots and cards that rotate in and out of my main deck depending on the meta. In Part Two, I'll review some more recent decklists, discussing relative strengths and weaknesses, and how to play each list optimally.

Let’s start with where I started, Gerard Fabiano’s list that took him to a first-place finish at an SCG Modern Open in February, 2015.

Creatures (11)
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Thragtusk
2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Planeswalkers (3)
2 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
1 Jace, Architect of Thought

Spells (22)
3 Abrupt Decay
2 Cryptic Command
1 Golgari Charm
3 Mana Leak
1 Compulsive Research
2 Damnation
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Maelstrom Pulse
4 Serum Visions
1 Thoughtseize

Lands (24)
1 Forest
2 Island
1 Swamp
2 Breeding Pool
2 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Darkslick Shores
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Overgrown Tomb
2 Polluted Delta
1 Sunken Ruins
3 Verdant Catacombs
1 Watery Grave

Sideboard
2 Spellskite
2 Fulminator Mage
1 Sower of Temptation
3 Disfigure
2 Feed the Clan
1 Nature's Claim
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Night of Souls' Betrayal
1 Damnation
1 Thoughtseize
 

To the uninitiated, Fabiano’s creation looks like it will play a lot like pre-shadow incarnations of Jund. This is true, but I would argue that the list plays closer to UB Ozman control lists. UB Control lists are generally stronger than Sultai Midrange lists at destroying lands, hating the graveyard and killing creatures, but slower at closing out the game and worse at keeping themselves alive against the likes of Burn. Also, UB decks are unable to interact with most enchantments and artifacts outside of Cryptic Command and a two-counter-max Engineered Explosives. Thus, when you choose Sultai over UB control, you’re choosing flexibility over power. This also means that you’ll never feel completely comfortable with any matchup, but never hopeless either.

A few notes on Fabiano’s choices:

1.     When this list was brewed, Fabiano was playing in a meta where Splinter Twin was not yet banned and was subsequently policing the format. This accounts for choices such as three Abrupt Decay and singletons such as Golgari Charm, Night of Souls’ Betrayal and Nature’s Claim, all of which either prevent or blank the Twin combo. Twin’s prevalence also (likely) accounts for the deck’s lack of graveyard hate, as grindy decks like Grixis Shadow and unfair decks like Dredge had not yet been given the change to enter the limelight.

2.     The deck’s primary game plan is to rope-a-dope its opponent with efficient cards. Most of your games involve getting your opponent to overextend, pressuring with a Goyf or Tasigur backed by a Jace, Architect of Thought or an Ashiok, and then punishing them with a Damnation or Cryptic Command. Thragtusk was and still is underplayed in Modern, especially with the more recent decline of Lightning Bolt in the format. The spiciest inclusion (at least to my pallet) is the two maindeck Ashiok, Nightmare Weavers, which Fabiano claims performed very well as win conditions and as pseudo-card advantage engines. I agree, and have often included one or two Ashioks in my own builds, despite the card’s high degree of variance.

3.     Apart from the lack of graveyard hate, the deck sideboards quite well due to its containing a series of unorthodox silver bullets. Spellskite hoses not only Twin (which is not our problem anymore), but also Infect (also not our problem … at least not really), Burn and Boggles (which isn’t prevalent, but very rough to play against if you are unprepared for it). Feed the Clan all but ends the game against Burn, especially with Snapcaster Mage to flash it back. Another card that is sneakily good is Sower of Temptation, which punishes linear decks with little to no removal (you thought your Chameleon Colossus was safe, didn’t you Elves?). Nature’s Claim hits a wide array of things, such as key Affinity and Lantern cards as well as Leylines (and you know how Ad Nauseum players love to side in Leylines of Sanctity post-board).

4.     Fabiano gives a pretty good primer for the deck, whereas I am only touching on his choices, so if you’re interested in the list, I suggest checking out what he has to say in this fantastic article he wrote.

Fabiano plays with the idea of including Tectonic Edges, as aside from Fulminator Mages in the sideboard, the deck doesn’t have any hard answers to creature lands and utility lands.

After seeing the deck, I sleeved this up in 2015 and had great results until the metagame shifted toward more creature land-centric and graveyard-abusing decks. Since then, I’ve been tweaking the list to shore up its weaknesses as the meta shifts. Rather than outline every single tweak, I’ll just run down some of the cards I’ve slotted into this list over time. All of the cards discussed are being discussed in the context of a Modern Sultai deck, so don’t take comments about them as indicative of the cards’ power or playability as a whole.

Lands

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Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter

Sultai is an extremely greedy deck mana-wise. If you want to run the likes of Snapcaster Mage and Mana Leak, you’ll need to have access to at least UU, and games going late (which they almost always will) may require having access to UUUU, to snap back a Cryptic Command. However, you’ll also want access to U and B on turn one to play disruption or Serum Visions, and G and B on turn two to have access to Abrupt Decay. This means that you won’t be able to run too many colorless utility lands without hurting the amount of Abrupt Decays and Cryptic Commands you can run. However, when you want a Tec Edge, you really want a Tec Edge. Thus, running a singleton Tec Edge (I found running two is too greedy) is an upgrade to the deck, as you now have access to a maindeck land destruction effect without compromising your mana. More controlling versions of Modern Sultai are actually less greedy mana-wise because they tend to play even more like UB decks and have just splash green to deal with enchantments and artifacts. In this case, two or three Tec Edges are fine. All versions of Sultai love to grind, and thus I generally don’t like Ghost Quarter. In the late game, Tec Edge is a superior answer to creature lands (and creature lands won’t really be swinging in until at least turn four, unless someone is really leaning on a Mutavault). Furthermore, current builds of Tron and Eldrazi not only run Wastes but also a lot of redundant acceleration via their Sol and Tron lands.

Botanical Sanctum and Blooming Marsh

I tried these out in lower-to-the-ground Sultai builds which utilize leaner threats like Grim Flayer. Although more fastlands are a welcome edition, they aren’t necessary either. Over-reliance on non-fetches and non-basics makes you extremely vulnerable to Blood Moon. I tend to run between nine and eleven fetchlands coupled with four or five shocklands and three or four fastlands. As your turn one plays are most likely either Serum Visions or black cards like Fatal Push, Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize, you should probably opt to run Darkslick Shores over these in your fastland slots. However, running Botanical Sanctum or Blooming Marsh over Darkslick Shores does grant you access to greener cards, such as Scavenging Ooze and Kitchen Finks. Currently, I don’t feel these are that great in the meta, but that could change, and you should adjust your manabase accordingly if you wish to include them.   

Removal

Fatal Push

This was a game changer. Now you can kill activated creature lands and big cheap creatures while still having game against aggro decks. I don’t run this in the maindeck presently (it just replaced Disfigure in the Fabiano build), but I have run a full playset in the main when I expected a lot of aggro. Tweak your deck to have the right tools for what you expect, and keep in mind that Fatal Push is (by far) one of your best tools.

Victim of Night and Go for the Throat

Even with the printing of Fatal Push, Sultai is still wanting for unconditional, instant-speed, removal. That’s where these bad boys come in—they are the next closest thing to Terminate. Presently, I don’t run them, but adding one or two of either can mean the difference between winning and losing to a Reality Smasher (which either of these hit) or a Gurmag Angler (which Go for the Throat hits). Of course, if you expect to see fewer artifact creatures and lots of delve creatures and Eldrazi, make room for at least one Throat. If there’s a lot of Affinity in your meta but not many Zombies, make room for Victim of Night. 

Sultai Charm

This came into Fabiano’s Compulsive Research slot from time to time. Sultai Charm’s flexibility is insane, but its mana cost is super restrictive (three mana for what usually amounts to Ultimate Price is a bad deal). I like this card in the late game, as it hits Ensnaring Bridge and Gurmag Angler, and shuffles through some cards if need be (you can also flash it back with either Snapcaster Mage or Torrential Gearhulk). If your meta is slower, you can put this in and see decent results. Do not think that this will cut it against fast decks though.

Dismember

This comes in when you know you’re going to be staring down lots of Reality Smashers and Gurmag Anglers, but have no idea if you’ll run into Affinity. Dismember is a great card, and there’s no problem with running one or two if you just want to kill stuff dead. The only commonly played creatures this may not kill is Ulamog (and you really should be stopping him with counters, disruption or tap effects) and a big Tarmogoyf, and the latter dies to everything else you’ve got. Slot this into either an Ashiok slot (but make sure you still run some planeswalkers for grinding purposes), or a Compulsive Research slot.

Kefnet’s Last Word

Entering the spice corner, Kefnet’s Last Word is deceptively good. As you tend to grind, you’ll often enter into topdeck wars with most fair opponents, and stealing Anglers, Tasigurs and Eldrazi is a big swing! It’s such a big swing that I say its worth taking a turn off for. Also, unlike Sower of Temptation (which this may replace), this takes things permanently and can be flashed back by Snapcaster. Sower, however, has the upside of dodging Stubborn Denial and adding a body. Presently, I favor this over Sower, but that could change if I expect more negate-like effects in the format and less Walking Ballistas and Kolaghan’s Commands.

Engineered Explosives

This is good as a one-or-two-of inclusion, but not right now. Its too slow for Death’s Shadow decks (which can also remove it with Kolaghan's Command if you can’t activate it right away), and too small for Eldrazi decks. Should aggro become more dominant, consider adding this over Golgari Charm. 

Doomfall

More new tech! I can never justify running more than one of these due to it being sorcery speed and over-costed (and usually in the sideboard), but it exiles in black and gets around hexproof. There is also something to be said for a card that can come in for Ad Nauseam, UB Control and Eldrazi Tron, but then again, so can Liliana of the Veil, so you may just want to be running her instead. Feel free to test this one out, but I’ve found that being able to Snapcaster this back still doesn’t make it as good as Liliana. There may be some situations where you Duress away a Karn and then snap this back to exile a Wurmcoil Engine and be thankful that you ran this card specifically, but this probably won’t happen very often.

Murderous Cut

I really like this card, but I never like more than one. It’s instant speed, and it kills stuff dead. The problem is with cards like this is that if you run this, Tasigur, and Goyf—and let’s say something like Torrential Gearhulk at the top end—you’ll be very weak to graveyard hate. It’s fine to run this with Tasigur and Goyf, but if you do add this, you can’t safely add Logic Knot, other delve creatures, or something like Pulse of Murasa, because an early Rest in Peace, Nihil Spellbomb or Leyline of the Void could really throw a wrench in what your game plan instead of just being mildly annoying.

Devour Flesh

This was once bad, but now it is more justifiable. The reason for this is Death’s Shadow. Technically, this two-mana instant-speed removal hits everything—it just may not hit what you want. Against most decks these days though, that won’t be the case. The absence of mana dorks in most top-tier decks in the format makes Devour Flesh an acceptable singleton (or two-of if you really like it), even in the maindeck.

Counters

Countersquall

One of my favorites. Anytime you want to counter more stuff, run this in the sideboard. I like running two or three, depending on what I expect to see. If you don’t need Negate effects (or just feel that Collective Brutality is going to be generally better), put this back on the bench until it’s needed again.

Dispel

If you don’t like Burn or Ad Nauseam and like winning counter wars, then run this. This isn’t as good as you’d think against Grixis Shadow, however, as they’ll probably disrupt you before running out their Stubborn Denials. Right now, I believe the meta doesn’t warrant that many Dispels, but hey, if your local meta is different, you should definitely make room for this. 

Spell Snare

This was good and now it’s less good. Fatal Push and Death’s Shadow are both one mana and Walking Ballista and Eldrazi aren’t two mana either. There was a time when I ran two of these in my maindeck and it was great, countering Cranial Platings, Goyfs, Remands and Blighted Agents, all for one mana. Most of these cards see considerably less play now, so bench this business until something good in the two mana slot returns to popularity.

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Spell Pierce

My comments about Spell Snare more or less carry over here. Death’s Shadow decks are too efficient and reactive for this to actually counter a lot of stuff, and Eldrazi doesn’t care about this. In this meta Mana Leak is just better. Make room for this if there’s a lot of spell-based combos that need countering. 

Remand

Sometimes I run this over Mana Leak, and sometimes I do a two Mana Leak, two Remand split. I still like Remand a lot, but it’s not good enough against Death’s Shadow (except against their delve creatures, and even then, its not amazing given their Thought Scours), so I’ve benched it for the time being. Board this in if big dumb stuff returns, as you can easily just stick a Goyf and then Remand your way to a tempo-based victory.

Logic Knot

I can get behind this as a singleton. Your graveyard gets pretty plump as games go on, and if you run lots of fetches, you can easily make this into a Counterspell early on without hurting your Goyfs. This can also go in either the Compulsive Research slot, Golgari Charm slot, or the Ashiok slot (or find space for it in the sideboard). Just don’t run this with too many other creatures/spells that rely heavily on the graveyard to be good—not because you’ll be delving everything out, but because over-reliance on the yard can make you more susceptible to hate.

Ceremonious Rejection

Hate Tron (Eldrazi or otherwise) and Affinity? Board this in! Feel those matchups are good enough? Don’t use this, then. This is always a sideboard card, and I feel one is enough, but feel free to use two if your expecting a meta to be lousy with colorless stuff.

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Disdainful Stroke

This is a lot like Ceremonious Rejection in that it hates out Eldrazi and other big colorless stuff, but it’s dead against Affinity and Lantern Control and amazing against decks which lean on four-costed and above planeswalkers and all varieties of Scapeshift. 

 

Planeswalkers

Liliana of the Veil

In a vacuum, this is not only the best planeswalker in Modern, but one of the best cards you could be running period. I play Liliana of the Veil in Legacy, and every time I do I am bowled over by how powerful she is. She’s never bad. Against combo her hand-shredding is especially relevant, and she kills hard-to-hit threats. That said, you need to look at your meta and also the deck you’re piloting before pulling the trigger on this beast. Here’s why: in certain Sultai builds you want card advantage and the ability to hold up Cryptic Commands and removal, and discarding a card every turn puts a damper on this. Trust me, I’ve played with Liliana of the Veil a lot, and I’d rather have cards in my hand (in Modern Sultai, that is. In Legacy, I’d rather see us both hellbent) than taking my opponents worst card every turn. Additionally, there are more Lightning Bolts, Walking Ballista’s and hasty creatures running around in Modern than there are in Legacy, and this means Liliana is worse (she’s still great though) than she is in other formats. Definitely test her out, but don’t be too blinded by her overall power level to not consider cutting her from time to time.

Liliana, the Last Hope

I really love this card in Modern. Like her older incarnation, Liliana, the Last Hope is never a dead card. Unlike her predecessor, she has no drawback, but an ultimately lower power ceiling. Against weenie decks and decks with a lot of dorks she is amazing, ticking up while killing a creature every turn. Against big creature decks (that aren’t constantly exiling your graveyard), she’s a way of buying back Tarmogoyfs, Tasigurs and Snapcasters while periodically ensuring that they win almost all combats (this relates to the Goyfs and Tasigurs anyway). Sometimes she replaces Ashiok outright in my builds and sometimes she’s a singleton in place of Compulsive Research, as she is still a form of card advantage. Anyone who has played with her also knows that her ultimate is a real threat against certain opponents.

Ob Nixilis, Reignited

I had such high hopes for this card because in principle, Ob Nixilis does everything I want him to do. He draws cards, he kills stuff, and he provides an eventual win condition. So, what’s the problem? He’s too slow, for one. A five-mana sorcery-speed kill spell in a world of Death’s Shadows and Stubborn Denials is not good enough, even if there’s a Phyrexian Arena stapled to it.  For two, he runs into the Liliana of the Veil problem (sort of). Here’s the thing; most Sultai builds want their threats to be sticky. Even though you don’t draw a lot of cards (compared to control decks at least), you end up with a form of card advantage by having your opponents waste two or three cards trying to get rid of your one. In many matchups, Jace, Architect of Thought, Thragtusk and even Ashiok are these kinds of sticky cards, whereas Ob Nixilis likely either ticks up and cantrips itself in a board that needs to be impacted, or ticks down and eats a Lightning Bolt, or Kolaghan’s Command, or Walking Ballista. He is to be used only in the most grindy of formats, and even then, I’m pretty sure I’d still prefer a card like Thragtusk over him. 

Creatures

Death’s Shadow

Death’s Shadow is an excellent card and one of the best creatures in Modern, but does this mean he fits into what we’re doing here? So far, my testing has led me to answer a soft no, but the jury is still out. Why? Simply put, although Death’s Shadow is good, it’s better in Grixis and Jund builds because both have access to red, and therefore have access to direct damage, which can finish the game off after a big swing. Death’s Shadow decks are all about grinding while threatening one to two big turns which kill, and Sultai (at least in my experience) doesn’t roll that way. It is very possible that someone will crack some sort of Death’s Shadow/Delver build that ports over from Legacy (maybe with Goyfs and Grim Flayers), and right now people are certainly trying with some success. If you're interested in Sultai Death's Shadow, take a look herehere and here.

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Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Depending on what you expect in the meta, Kalitas is either great or just ok. Anyone familiar with this nasty piece of cardboard knows he can hose entire strategies on his own. Sure, Company decks have moved away from the old sacrifice ad-infinitum combo, but should something like Saffron Olive’s Solemnity strategy take off, you should start running one or two Kalitas, because he ensures they cannot go infinite. He also ruins weenie decks and provides much needed life gain against aggro and Burn. If you have a lot of unconditional removal, he’s also good against Eldrazi decks, especially after he eats one of his own zombies, because suddenly he can trade profitably against everything but Ulamog and the largest of Ballistas. My issues with Kalitas is that his body is unimpressive in the Death’s Shadow matchup (although that can change if you have removal), he’s a little slow, and he has a window where he can be one-for-one’d. He’s actually at his worst when you expect to go up against decks with a lot of removal. Kalitas is a powerful tool and should be used for the right job.

Gurmag Angler

Feel that one more point of power is more relevant than Tasigur’s activated ability? You may want to run this instead. However, the difference in casting cost is more substantial than it first appears, especially if you aren’t running Though Scour. I tend to lean toward Tasigur in most Sultai builds.

Tombstalker

A Gurmag Angler with flying, which is relevant in certain matchups. I would rather run this than Angler, as hitting in the air for five damage a turn is big game against a lot of decks which rely on powerful grounded creatures. 

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Grim Flayer

If you’re playing Delirium Sultai (see below) than this little creeper slots right in. If you’re not, then I wouldn’t recommend him. He’s harder than you’d think to turn on in a deck not dedicated to delirium, which means he’ll usually die to pretty much anything without generating any value. Even if you do get him online, his 4/4 body in a format filled with 5/5s usually doesn’t cut it.

Silumgar, the Drifting Death and Dragonlord Silumgar

Silumgar, the Drifting Death’s hexproof and toughness mean he can block 5/5s for days while staying on the board, and his ability sweeps weenies away every time you attack. However, Drifting Death is also extremely slow and is often not impactful enough to be relevant. Think to yourself, would I rather have this or Grave Titan? Unless you’re staring down Lingering Souls and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion decks with lots of Paths to Exile, you know the answer. Dragonlord Silumgar on the other hand, is harder to evaluate. I’m a sucker for Mind Control effects, and a Sower of Temptation that has a big butt, deathtouch, fatal push immunity and planeswalker stealing capabilities is awesome. Still, there are so many times where this will hit the board and then immediately be answered, meaning you spent six mana with no return. And then there’s the slowness issue again. Sure, Dragonlord Silumgar is better than Sower, but Sower comes down on turn four: the very turn you may want to be stealing a speedy Reality Smasher. You could be dead by the time Silumgar hits the scene, and then all the upgrades to Sower in the world won’t do you any good.

Thrun, the Last Troll

Run this over Silumgar, Drifting Death if you want the king of stickiness. Thrun went from great to just all right with the decline of Mana Leak and the printing of cards like Blessed Alliance. His 4/4 body is also often too little to deal with all the 5/5s running around. Still, Thrun is very hard to kill for most decks, so if you have a player who loves hard counters, Paths and Supreme Verdicts, Thrun can replace your Sower slot in the sideboard in a heartbeat.  

Scavenging Ooze

This is another great card that simply doesn’t work in most standard Sultai midrange builds. As most Sultai decks are essentially UB control, you often won’t have access to more than 1 green mana in the early game and that just isn’t good enough for Ooze, who wants to come down and start eating for value immediately. Graveyard hate is very important, but it needs to be efficient and fast, and Sultai has access to other cards to fill this slot. If your manabase leans more toward green than mine tends to (where green is the splash color), then you could use this in the sideboard or even the maindeck. In my opinion, this card is the third best creature you could be playing for two mana, next to Goyf and Snapcaster, and Snapcaster isn’t really a two mana card.

Kitchen Finks

Finks suffers from the same problem as Ooze: not enough green mana. Most of the time you want this on turn 3, and your lands may not let you cast it. Even if you can play Finks on turn three, it usually comes at the cost of access to Cryptic Command. Finks’ body is also not great in the current meta, as it can either be chumped forever or outclassed. It is also just worse in a fair deck than Scavenging Ooze, so unless you intend to free up a lot of slots in your manabase for it, I wouldn’t recommend Finks. It’s more a traditional Jund card.  

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Grave Titan

Here…we…go. Grave Titan is great right now. Almost no Mana Leaks means he’s not getting countered, and a 6/6 body beats 5/5s all day. What’s more, he generates immediate value and keeps generating more value if he lives. He dodges edict effects, damage effects (to a point) and Fatal Push. Most midrange decks (Death’s Shadow and Eldrazi included) have real trouble with this big boy. I highly endorse this card for Sultai in the current meta. 

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Torrential Gearhulk

Speaking of beating 5/5s, this beats 5/5s. In more controlling versions of Sultai (where you have access to more instants) this can do some work, as flashing back Sultai Charm or Cryptic Command is big game. In Sultai builds that run a lot of sorceries, this is less good, and—yes, I’m going to say it again—still a little slow. I’m willing to forgive Grave Titan’s six-mana expense because Grave Titan is dramatically more powerful than this in almost every circumstance. The other issue is that even if your Gearhulk resolves (which it probably will) it’ll still likely get its Cryptic Command countered by Stubborn Denial or Dispel or even Negate in the Grixis Shadow matchup, and I won’t stand for it! Additionally, this eats it to Kolaghan’s Command and is weak(ish) to graveyard hate, which is a downside that other big threats like Grave Titan and Thragtusk don’t have. Having Tarmogoyfs, Tasigurs, Snapcasters and Gearhulks in the same deck means a Rest in Peace could wreck you, and if you have a weakness that large, you should be playing something faster and more merciless, like Affinity or Dredge.

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The Scarab God

I am lukewarm to this card. In a world of Path to Exiles, he(?) is pretty bad, but everywhere else he’s mediocre unless your opponent lets him take over. In game one, he’s as sticky as sticky can be against Death’s Shadow decks and most midrange decks, but he’s also smaller than powered up Death’s Shadows and Goyfs. He also provides a lot of value after he lives for a few turns, generating an army, mildly hating on graveyards, scrying, and presenting a tradable body with other 5/5s. The question again is: Would you rather be playing this over Thragtusk or Grave Titan (or even Kalitas)? Often, the answer is no, because outside of a dedicated zombie deck where you’re more likely to get value and synergies with the Scarab God, Grave Titan and Thragtusk are just better. However, other times you just want to be real cool and play with cards you like, and if you like the Scarab God, you could do a lot worse. . . just don’t forget that you could also do a lot better.

 

Card Advantage

Ancestral Vision

I played this with no tricks, I’ve played this with lots of tricks like As Foretold and Yahenni’s Expertise, and every time, it was good when it was good, but the variance was too high. I don’t like drawing this in the late game, and right now it’ll often get countered by Stubborn Denial or Warping Wail because your opponents know it is coming. Unlike more controlling decks, Sultai simply doesn’t have the tools to effectively defend this spell from efficient counterspell mana, nor does it have the abundance of removal to survive after topdecking and suspending this in the mid game. Don’t get me wrong, this card is good, but it is something you usually end up trading away when you transition from UB Control to Sultai. You lose stuff like this and you gain stuff like Abrupt Decay and Tarmogoyf.

Blue Sun’s Zenith and Pull from Tomorrow

To be run only as singletons, and even then, I don’t recommend them. Most Sultai builds run between twenty-two and twenty-four mana sources, and these spells want more than that. Sphinx’s Revelation type effects are better suited to controlling decks because they can run multiples, hit their land drops, and defend big swingy spells better than Sultai can. Your card advantage should come from sticky creatures and planeswalkers who grant incremental value and strain your opponents’ resources, not from haymaker card-draw spells like this.

Traverse the Ulvenwald

I tried using this in a “not delirium” Sultai build and—like Grim Flayer—it wasn’t good enough. In any deck that isn’t built around this card, I’d rather be running Serum Visions every time. However, if you do build around this card, there is definitely a lot of power there. See the Jadoth Delirium list in part two of this article to see what I’m talking about.

Pulse of Murasa

I’ve flashed this back with Gearhulk and I’ve used this on its own. The life gain is nice, and buying back a creature or land is flexible enough to always be relevant. There are times when this could get back the Snapcaster, Tarmogoyf, Fulminator Mage, or Tectonic Edge you need to win the game. Here’s the problem: Stubborn Denial. Also, more often than not, players will be bringing in graveyard hate after game one, so when you bring this in it’ll likely already get hated out. The other problem is that even if it isn’t hated out, there are other cards I’d rather be running over this—cards like Liliana, The Last Hope if you want to get creatures back, and cards like Leyline of the Void if you want to mess with Grixis Shadow. Even against Burn, both Spellskite and Feed the Clan work better with what you’re doing. Like many of the cards on this list, Pulse ultimately makes you too committed to the graveyard and is just not as good as other cards.

 

Dedicated Graveyard Hate

Surgical Extraction

Surgical Extraction is very good because it’s zero mana and you can flash it back with Snapcaster. It ruins certain combo decks, plays nicely with disruption, hates on decks that are looking to target specific cards in their graveyard (but NOT decks that use the graveyard as a resource like delve decks), and also combos with land destruction to ruin Tron and Tron-like decks. This is usually enough graveyard hate in most matches (three Surgical Extractions and some Snapcaster Mages in a deck that also usually runs Night of Souls’ Betrayal or Kalitas can get it done against Dredge if you know what you’re doing), but unlike Leyline of the Void, Surgical Extraction should not come in against midrange and control decks. It’s just not high-impact enough in these matchups.

Leyline of the Void

Right now, I prefer this to Surgical Extraction because it hoses delve, flashback, and creatures like Geralf’s Messenger, Kitchen Finks, Eternal Witness, and Voice of Resurgence, in addition to shutting down the same strategies that Surgical Extraction does. The drawback is that you usually want to run the full playset in the sideboard, and that’s a lot of slots. Also, if you don’t draw this in your opening hand, you’ll often want to mulligan until you do (or lose) and this can be problematic. Lastly, drawing into this after you’ve already stuck one for free is often equivalent to a dead draw. Still, I believe this is great right now because it is good against the usual graveyard abusers and sneakily good against Death’s Shadow decks. For one, Death’s Shadow decks often have no ways to remove this, and Delve creatures (and Traverses) are often dead draws with Leyline in play. Additionally, Snapcasters and Kolaghan’s Commands are much worse with no spells and creatures to get back. If you don’t like the idea of drawing into this, I suggest a 2/2 split with Spellbomb, but I run four Leylines and am plenty happy with the power it offers, drawbacks and all. 

Nihil Spellbomb

This is the safest and least flashy of the graveyard-hating options. It draws you a card and exiles your opponents’ graveyards while leaving yours in tact. I would always run this over Relic, because you want a stuffed graveyard for delve spells, Snapcaster and Goyf. Unlike Leyline (and to a lesser extent Surgical Extraction), this is never a dead draw as you can cycle it for two mana if need be. I would run two or three of these if I were to run them, usually in tandem with Leyline of the Void or Surgical Extraction. Don’t run Grafdigger’s Cage. Although Grafdigger’s Cage is a nice silver bullet in Legacy, it hurts Modern Sultai more than it helps, as all the aforementioned graveyard hate cards are better (in Modern Sultai builds) and you don’t really need to be shutting down Company/Chord decks that badly when you have access to Night of Souls’ Betrayal and or Kalitas, or just a bunch of kill spells and some graveyard hate.

I hope you enjoyed going over some of the common (and uncommon) card choices for Modern Sultai in Part One of this two-part article. In Part Two, I will cover some recent decklists and talk briefly about each list. So if you're interested to see what an updated Sultai list looks like, stay tuned for Part Two!

 

Written by Dilan Schulte