Out Of The Wall: Studying Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord

Sorin’s out of his rocky prison and heading to Standard! Brad Nelson, who knows a thing or two about lifegaining, reanimating permanents, has the scoop on Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord!

The Mythic Invitational is over. I tested more for this event than any before it, but sadly that rewarded me with only one win in the entire event. I thought I’d be disappointed with a 1-2 finish in the biggest Magic event in the history of the game, but I wasn’t. I took my swing, missed, and that was that. No sluggish walk back to the hotel or pit-stop for comfort food. I walked back to the player’s lounge and continued watching the action because I was just too excited to be sad.

Magic’s changing. The Mythic Invitational was a huge success, the War of the Spark trailer was beautiful, and the energy at PAX East was vibrant. Who knows what things will look like in the future, as I had no idea the game we love could look like this even three months ago. All I know is I’m excited for the future and love that I get to be a part of it all!

Now that that’s out of the way, we can start talking about War of the Spark. Simply put, this set looks bonkers! We’ve already seen a ton of cool cards get previewed already, but one in particular reminded me of a card I used in my biggest Magic win ever – Whip of Erebos at the Star City Games Players’ Championship. I had to take the day to talk about it and the hidden power of this static ability.

First of all, static abilities on planeswalkers!

It’s so awesome that after 25 years, Wizards of the Coast is still finding cool ways to make the same cards we’ve become accustomed to. I spent an entire article on planeswalker design space in War of the Spark, and never once did I think the mold would get tampered with. It just goes to show that this game is so complex that we may never see it get stagnant.

Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord looks like a pretty innocuous planeswalker on the surface, but we’ve already seen the power of planeswalkers that work well with creatures. Right now, Vivien Reid is dominating Standard thanks to its ability to surround itself with creatures and Sorin is going to do the exact same thing. Obviously planeswalkers don’t need creatures to be successful in Standard, but synergizing with a deck full of them doesn’t hurt either.

That’s where Sorin’s static ability comes into play.

As long as it’s your turn, creatures and planeswalkers you control have lifelink.

Giving your entire team lifelink, even if it’s just on your turn, can really change how a game plays out. This is especially true in a format where you can use upwards of twelve shocklands to play three-color decks. Lifegain really isn’t a broken ability in Magic, but midrange decks can leverage static effects like this to its advantage. It’s already difficult for aggressive decks to punch through midrange, but the huge life swings that Sorin will provide can undo even the biggest of assaults on our life total.

When I played Sultai Whip in the Players’ Championship, the deck was a recursive engine built around its namesake card and the static ability giving all my creatures lifelink was one of the reasons why it was so difficult to actually close the game from other aggressive decks. It might not seem important in the early turns, but the giant life swings in the later turns allowed me to leverage cards in ways I couldn’t without the Whip on the battlefield. Things are just different when you can gain twenty-plus life a turn!

On the surface, two amazing creatures synergize well with Sorin and his static ability.

Ajani’s Pridemate, in particular, is great as you can get a counter before combat thanks to Sorin’s +2 gaining a life right away. We’ll go deeper on that ability soon but that just had to be stated here and now for Ajani’s Pridemate. It’s also good to know that every creature gains an instance of lifelink which means your Ajani’s Pridemate will trigger as many times as creatures gained life (five creatures equal five counters, for example).

While Ajani’s Pridemate cares about any instance of life gain, Resplendent Angel wants exactly five life gained to trigger its end-of-turn ability. This is usually achieved by activating its ability to gain +2/+2 and lifelink, but there are other angles players have tried to get those free 4/4 flying Angel tokens.

One of the more popular routes to victory in best-of-one Standard on Magic Arena is to play Selesnya Angels. This deck dumps creatures on the battlefield and uses lifegain as a way to keep the aggressive decks at bay. Resplendent Angel loves this deck, as it’s filled with lifegain combos like Wildgrowth Walker and Lyra Dawnbringer plus other Angels.

In reality, Selesnya Angels was designed around Resplendent Angel’s needs, and I could see another deck surfacing that pairs it with Sorin.

Adanto Vanguard is another card that might enjoy playing alongside Sorin. Paying four life is never great, but keeping the creature on the battlefield is usually worth the cost. Now, with Sorin on the battlefield, Adanto Vanguard can freely attack and gain back most of the life lost when needing to activate its ability. Not only that, but Sorin’s +2 means Adanto Vanguard is going to be fairly difficult to block!

+2: Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord deals 1 damage to target player or planeswalker.

While on the subject, Sorin’s +2 might look weak, but it feels like it’s going to be a pretty great ability. One damage doesn’t go far, but it’s just enough to take down a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria that entered the battlefield and tucked something. This is where we talk about Sorin’s high loyalty alongside having a +2 ability. Six loyalty that early in the game is just great, especially on a planeswalker that clearly likes games going long. You might not get much out of his +2 each turn, but your goal is playing many turns, which means these activations will add up. They’ll make blocking more difficult for opponents, keep planeswalkers from ultimating, and sometimes drain an opponent out of the game. After all, a clock is still a clock.

X: Return target creature with converted mana cost X from your graveyard to the battlefield. That creature is a Vampire in addition to its other types.

Now this is the ability that really ties Sorin together. Much like Whip of Erebos, Sorin is all about recursion and having a high loyalty uptick allows for quicker activations of its –X ability. Now, Sorin’s not going to create a style of deck that allows you to reanimate giant monsters, as you can only get back creatures with converted mana cost equal to or less than Sorin’s current loyalty, but that’s not really a deal breaker. Sorin’s static ability and even this one as well want you to play dense threats in the early turns that can either gain you adequate life or be returned to the battlefield when Sorin enters the battlefield.

So now that we know Sorin wants to bring creatures back to the battlefield, what do we even do with this information? There are two ways to look at this. First, we can let games of Magic naturally put creatures in our graveyard. This means just normal combat, removal, counters fueling our graveyard. Think back to Selesnya Angels, but with a splash for Sorin.

I love the idea of using Jadelight Ranger to “mill” other cheap creatures for Sorin to reanimate as soon as it enters the battlefield. It’s also nice to think about Sorin surviving a turn to bring back a Wildgrowth Walker right before casting explore creatures. A deck like this could just slice through all the aggressive decks on the Arena best-of-one Standard ladder.

We need to look for cards to add to a deck like this that can help it against Sultai Midrange or Esper Control. Something like this will dominate against aggressive strategies, though, so we don’t have too much work to make Sorin amazing.

Another thing we can do is play cards that place creatures into our graveyard so we can try to turbo out its –X ability. A good example of this is last season’s Golgari Graveyard deck.

This deck used Stitcher’s Supplier and Glowspore Shaman to fuel a graveyard for both Molderhulk and Izoni, Thousand-Eyed. Priest of Forgotten Gods was a sweet inclusion for this deck, as it was nice to give these weaker creatures more utility. Sorin could fit perfectly in a deck like this, as cards like Plaguecrafter can be brought back right away to get any troublesome permanent off the battlefield as soon as the planeswalker enters the battlefield. It can also bring back Stitcher’s Supplier for cheap to fuel the graveyard even more quickly to turbo out the payoffs.

There are a ton of possibilities when it comes to Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord. It might not be as flashy as Liliana, Dreadhorde General or literally as flashy as Teferi, but that doesn’t mean this card won’t find a home in Standard. I’m pretty sure Sorin won’t make its splash until a couple of weeks into War of the Spark Standard, but eventually a midrange deck should emerge surrounding itself with this powerful planeswalker.