Ain’t Got No Soul

Jim Davis takes us through an M15 critique! Keeping in mind the powerful titans of yesteryear, he gives us a comparable study of M15’s mythic monster counterparts: the Soul cycle!

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Last time there was a cycle of six mana mythic creatures in the core set, we bore witness to some of the most powerful six drops ever printed.

Sun Titan Frost Titan Grave Titan Inferno Titan Primeval Titan

For as long as they were legal, it was a titan’s world and we were just living in it. The titans completely outclassed basically every other finisher in the format, and obsoleted a bunch of potentially cool cards because they just couldn’t compete on a raw power level.

It seems like Wizards has learned their lesson.

Soul of Theros Soul of Ravnica Soul of Innistrad Soul of Shandalar Soul of Zendikar Soul of New Phyrexia

M15 has given us a six card cycle of avatars, which like their titan counterparts are also six mana 6/6 creatures with abilities and some value if they are killed right away. For anyone used to the titans, it seems like a very easy comparison to make; we’ve got some new titans!

However, the souls lack the most important thing that the titan’s possessed: efficiency.

Put mildly, the souls are expensive.

While the initial cost of them is the same as the titans, if you actually want to use them as anything more than glorified Craw Wurms, you are going to need to pump some serious mana into them. The titan’s abilities require between five and seven mana, and while you can reuse them over and over again, the mana investment is astronomical. Even with the least expensive abilities we are looking at a double-digit mana investment to start using the souls to their full potential.

The danger is also that they will just be killed before you will ever get a chance to even use their abilities. Even if your Grave Titan bit the dust within a phase of casting it, you still have four power of creatures leftover from the deal. While the souls have ‘death insurance,’ the mana cost is just as steep as trying to use their abilities from play. The only major upside to this is if you can manage to get them into your graveyard in a profitable or convenient way, you can get the value of their abilities without having to actually use a card from your hand. However, this makes them much more difficult to use.

Because the souls are so expensive, it is likely that even if we are able to get one going, our opponents are just going to tempo us out of the game while we durdle and try to grind out some super slow card advantage.

These are not just cards we are going to be jamming into any deck and calling it a day. The souls require one of two things to be worth the trouble: tons of mana, or a way to consistently put them into the graveyard with very little trouble or card disadvantage.

While using random singleton soul as a mana intensive, late-game finisher here or there seems somewhat reasonable, Standard definitely has one excellent way to make a bunch of mana: Nyxthos, Shrine to Nyx. One of the more reasonable uses for the souls seems to be in devotion decks based around Nyxthos. With Nyxthos we can hopefully make the mana necessary to fuel their expensive abilities, and when we don’t have Nyxthos we at least still get a reasonable sized creature.

Soul of Theros is the most obviously powerful soul and could slot very nicely into an aggressive white devotion deck. Let’s take a crack at it:

White Devotion is definitely a deck that has never really gotten off the ground, and perhaps it is a good home for Soul of Theros. With its solid creature core that both provides for maximum devotion and creates a good number of tokens, we can look to really take advantage of Soul of Theros’s big lifelink+pump ability. It’s not hard to see that one solid attack with the ability active is a huge swing in the game, and any more than one huge lifelinked attack will likely end the game in your favor.

This deck features a number of powerful but underutilized Standard cards, as white has mostly been relegated to a support role in the current format. Precinct Captain and Brimaz can both get small armies going, while Soldier of the Pantheon is the best one-drop in the format. Boros Reckoner has lost a bit of its luster with all the spot removal going around, but is still a fantastic threat and defender.

We also get to play both sides of the enchantment coin, with Keening Apparition to deal with the formats many enchantments and Banishing Light to give us access to one of the more powerful removal effects in the format.

Lastly, we can combine the pump effect of Soul of Theros with that of Spear of Heliod and Dictate of Heliod to try and push all the way through to the other side. Aside from the pump, all of these permanents provide two hard-to-remove devotion for Nyxthos and Heliod.

Talk about expensive. Soul of Ravnica costs an astounding thirteen mana before you get anything more out of it than Mahamoti Djinn. It is also extremely difficult to use, as you must provide at least three different colored permanents in play to even have it come close to being worth the cost. While flying is the best French-vanilla ability of the group, Soul of Ravnica is embarrassingly bad. Even if you could get it into the graveyard easily and have a few colors of permanents in play, it still looks pretty bad alongside Opportunity. This one is likely for casual/commander play only.

While probably the least exciting, Soul of Innistrad has a good chance to see some play – even if it is just a sideboard one-of for attrition based matchups that need a late-game gamebreaker. Even if its ability is somewhat ‘cheap’ at five mana, you still have to recast all the creatures as well, making this an insanely expensive investment. If you have time to actually do all that in an extremely long and drawn out game, it could definitely swing the game in your favor, but that’s a lot of “if”s.

Like Soul of Theros, Soul of Shandalar seems to have some potential in a red devotion build utilizing Nyxthos.

The biggest advantage that both red and green devotion decks have over the white devotion deck is that they can both make use of Burning-Tree Emissary, one of the best Nyxthos enablers available. Soul of Shandalar could slot into a red devotion build, as giving it haste with Hammer of Purphorous is a pretty real thing. If killed, Punish the Enemy is not a completely embarrassing card, and if it lives, you should be in good shape as well.

Soul of Zendikar was the soul that got me the most excited, as being able to play an instant speed, five mana, uncounterable Elephant Ambush that doesn’t cost a card (assuming you got it into your graveyard in an efficient way) is actually pretty sweet. The problem is how hopelessly awkward it is. There are very few good ways to get it into your graveyard that don’t belong in a dedicated graveyard deck, and once you’ve committed yourself to being a dedicated graveyard deck there are cards with much higher payoffs like Nemesis of Mortals and Nighthowler.

This ends up being the problem with all of the souls really. Wizards learned their lessons from the titans and from dredge, so they made sure that both sides of the souls were extremely inefficient to prevent any shenanigans. If the Flashback on Soul of Zendikar was four, or the Flashback on Soul of Shandalar was just a Lightning Strike for three or four mana, it could have been reasonable to try and dump them into the yard and use them as a method of card advantage that could be a finisher later, but they are just so damn inefficient.

Because of this, Soul of Zendikar is again back to being a use for Nykthos in a green devotion deck or just a late game mana sink.

Unless the fall set has some serious artifact synergies in it, Soul of New Phyrexia is embarrassing.

This is Mother of Runes, probably the greatest protection creature of all time. Mother of Runes does an amazing job of protecting your creatures because it is extremely efficient. It only costs one mana. Once active, it can protect your creatures for free for the rest of the game and make the game extremely annoying for your opponent.

It asks for nothing more than a one mana investment to do some amazing work.

Soul of New Phyrexia asks for six mana up front, and then five mana at all times for the rest of the game. You also have to buy it dinner, shoes, expensive jewelry on each monthly anniversary, and never look at another six drop ever again (not even if you just happened to be glancing in that direction). If you can accomplish all of these things, it might actually go about saving a few of your permanents from dying.

I got 99 problems but a soul ain’t one.

Honestly though, it’s probably for the better that the souls are relatively underpowered. I’m sure they are a hoot and a holler for Commander players, and if they do end up making any sort of impact on Standard, it is doubtful they will be oppressive at all. It is much more likely they will require some deckbuilding ingenuity, and that is much more fun dying to a Grave Titan in two turns.

What do you guys think? Will the Souls see any play at all? And if so, what deck or decks will want them?