21, May, 24

Mediocre Delve Demon Shines with Thunder Junction Additions!

Article at a Glance

Since the release of Outlaws of Thunder Junction, there’s been a notable increase in innovation in Pioneer. While Abzan Amalia combo, Izzet Phoenix, and Rakdos Vampires remain powerful archetypes, a lot of other strategies have improved significantly over the last month.

Niv to Light, for example, got a massive upgrade in Pillage the Bog. Similarly, red aggressive decks gained a great deal of traction with the printing of Slickshot Show-Off. Even some off-the-wall strategies like Golgari Insidious Roots combo have been putting up results (in this case, Forsaken Miner proved to be a huge inclusion).

Today, we’re going to focus on one graveyard-centric deck that may be in for a bit of a resurgence. Barely missing out on top eight of a recent Magic Online Pioneer Challenge, a unique Soulflayer deck put up a solid performance. The deck’s overall composition hasn’t changed too much, but a couple Thunder Junction cards have made their presences felt. Soulflayer still remains the star of the show, so it’s important to familiarize ourselves with exactly what this deck is trying to accomplish.

Soulflayer and Keywords


Unsurprisingly, for a deck centered around Soulflayer, the goal is to Delve away a bunch of Creatures with impactful abilities. With this in mind, this deck is chock full of Creatures with tons of keywords and ways to get those Creatures into the graveyard. By far, the two most important Creatures to Delve away with Soulflayer are Striped Riverwinder and Zetalpa, Primal Dawn.

Striped Riverwinder is an essential piece of the puzzle because it ensures that your Soulflayer can’t be targeted by removal spells. Even though Zetalpa provides Indestructible, exile effects like Leyline Binding are prevalent enough that Hexproof ends up playing a major role.

Part of what makes Striped Riverwinder so synergistic with Soulflayer is that it is incredibly easy to get into your graveyard. It has an incredibly efficient Cycling ability, something other Creatures in this deck lack. In the case of Zetalpa, though, you need to put in a bit more effort. Fortunately, as we will see in the next section, this deck has ample discard outlets and ways to fill the graveyard.

If you manage to exile Striped Riverwinder and Zetalpa with Soulflayer upon casting, it becomes nearly impossible to remove. Throw in Goldvein Hydra and you have the luxury of attacking right away. Add Deep-Cavern Bat to the mix and your Soulflayer becomes difficult to race.

What’s nice about both these cards, too, is that they are perfectly reasonable to cast. Deep-Cavern Bat can help pave the way for Soulflayer, while Goldvein Hydra can add some needed pressure and protect your future Soulflayer from Sheoldred’s Edict effects. If Goldvein Hydra dies, hard-casting Samut, Voice of Dissent or even Zetalpa is not out of the question.

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Enabling Soulflayer and Urborg Scavengers

Urborg Scavengers

Of note, this deck does play a few copies of Urborg Scavengers as backup win conditions to Soulflayer. Scavenger is definitely worse, especially because the opponent can remove Scavenger with the enters-the -battlefield trigger on the stack. Nonetheless, Urborg Scavengers can close games all the same with enough graveyard fuel. It’s vital in either case to get your keyword monsters into the graveyard.

In this deck, Thoughtseize works double duty. In most cases, you will simply use the card as intended and disrupt the opponent’s gameplan. Sometimes, though, you can target yourself with Thoughtseize. Then, you get to discard a copy of Zetalpa that was rotting in your hand and follow up with Soulflayer or Scavenger. Collective Brutality is less efficient than Thoughtseize, but acts as a discard outlet and a form of interaction at the same time thanks to Escalate.

Beyond getting Creatures from your hand into your graveyard, this deck utilizes multiple ways to put Creatures from your library into your graveyard. Both Grisly Salvage and Otherworldly Gaze work wonders here. Grisly Salvage can enable Soulflayer singlehandedly, while digging five cards deep for the namesake card. Otherworldly Gaze helps mill you while setting up your draws at the same time. If you’re lucky, you can Surveil three huge monsters into the bin turn one and cast your win condition turn two!

Definitely a tertiary option but a nice addition either way, Smuggler’s Surprise is a cool piece of technology from Thunder Junction. At its base, you get to dig for Soulflayer and mill some cards with the first ability. However, the other abilities have the potential to be quite useful.

Once Soulflayer’s in play, if you weren’t fortunate enough to give it Hexproof or Indestructible, Smuggler’s Surprise can protect it from a sweeper or Leyline Binding for two mana. If you get all the way to six mana (which Goldvein Hydra can potentially contribute to), you can use Smuggler’s Surprise to cheat Zetalpa from your hand into play. Given the versatility of both of these cards, I’m a bit surprised to not see more copies of either in the decklist. There’s certainly room for exploration within this shell.

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Playing Around Hate Pieces

Unlicensed Hearse

At the end of the day, Sultai Soulflayer is a really cool deck with some neat Thunder Junction inclusions. The problem is that the deck’s core objective is a bit easy to mess with. First and foremost, if you’re going to play this deck, you need to be prepared to navigate through graveyard hate.

In the face of Unlicensed Hearse, it’s often worth trying to fill your graveyard and set up a Soulflayer on the same turn. For example, if you get to four mana, you can cast Grisly Salvage, mill some big Creatures, then cast Soulflayer Delving away those Creatures before your opponent gets a window to exile them with Hearse. Things get a lot harder in the face of Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void, unfortunately.

Once in play, these cards completely shut your deck down. You can’t even Thoughtseize away a turn-zero Leyline. Given the popularity of graveyard hate in the format to combat Treasure Cruise, I’d definitely advise increasing the number of Pick Your Poison in the sideboard of this deck. Pick Your Poison can answer bombs like Vein Ripper, too.

Speaking of which, this deck is also vulnerable to cards like Pick Your Poison, Liliana of the Veil, and Blot Out. Once again, these cards are quite popular in the current metagame. Stubborn Denial is a sweet piece of counterplay out of the sideboard for these cards, so feel free to add more copies if concerned.

Sultai Soulflayer is a sweet archetype and it’s nice to see the deck getting some love. Even if the deck isn’t necessarily the best positioned, it’s incredibly fun and unique. Most decks, especially those that rely on winning through Creature combat, will simply fold once an Indestructible Soulflayer with Hexproof and Lifelink hits the board. If you’re looking for something a little different to bring to your local game store, this shell could be right up your alley.

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