Sisterhood Of The Traveling Parish

Glenn types a sentence he never thought he would type… as he looks at Norin the Wary in a pair of Soul Sisters builds in Modern.

First, a decklist.

Second, a confession: I hate everything about Soul Sisters.

Whenever I lose a match to this deck in Modern — which is quite rare — I get pretty frustrated. “Gaining life” is one of the most mediocre things you can be doing in Modern as a strategy. It’s a trump in perilously few matchups, and your creature base is outright embarrassing without the engine going… and sometimes not even good when you’re going full blast! Considering the amount of assembly required, that’s pretty tough.

I’m aware that some of you might take offense to the above. Maybe you have convinced yourself that Serra Ascendant is an honorable man’s card in the format. A conditional Tarmogoyf — in format with Tarmogoyf — is quite silly to be playing at all, especially when the concessions it requires you to make in deckbuilding are so high. Soul Warden and Soul’s Attendant are at least not horrible with Pridemate — but Martyr of Sands? We’re talking about a two-card combo just to make one into a playable creature!

Yadda, yadda, Proclamation of Rebirth. Please. It is just not worth it, especially considering how good Scavenging Ooze and Deathrite Shaman actually are. The only way to generate value from this spell is to be planning to cast it — the forecast is gravy at best.

The best things in this deck? Honor of the Pure + Spectral Procession and an interesting Ranger of Eos engine. Ranger of Eos is a really sweet card, though, I’ll give you that one. Find a way to make him good and you might have something. Anthems and tokens, however, can be done much better.

Given my intense bias against this “deck” in the Modern format, I’m as surprised as anyone to find myself writing this article. But some decks are just too sweet to skip, and that’s exactly what GFSnl appears to have cooked up.

GFSnl didn’t win his Daily Event, but he presented some seriously interesting food for thought. Obviously, the most eye-catching card to appear in the decklist is Norin the Wary. Norin is one of those cards from the era when Wizards designed cards that were so bad you were supposed to puzzle over all the ways to make them playable. It’s an “aggressively costed” 2/1 for one, but considering he can literally never enter combat in any meaningful way… that’s not saying much.

To be honest, I wonder how much thought actually went into his power and toughness. That must have been a bizarrely silly conversation!

This deck manipulates Norin by pairing him with plenty of enters-the-battlefield triggers. The Soul “sisters” are obviously big life gainers, adding their triggers to each turn that involves a spell and help grow Ajani’s Pridemate… but that’s not really worth including Norin.

No, the real money comes from Champion of the Parish and Genesis Chamber.

After seeing me bash Serra Ascendant, you might find it curious that I like Champion of the Parish here. After all, it is a much more literal interpretation of the conditional Tarmogoyf, given that he keeps to the ground and starts off approximately the same size as Ascendant. The big difference is that Champion of the Parish doesn’t force you to load your deck with nonsense. He pays you off for Ranger of Eos without requiring the Ranger to grab garbage like Martyr of Sands — you can just get more good creatures!

OK, OK, you’ll get Norin the Wary sometimes too. But in this deck, the things you’re doing with Norin are significantly better than gaining 6-15 life in exchange for a card! Champion replaces Ascendant to keep you on the same number of “growers” for the deck.

Proclamation of Rebirth alongside Champion of the Parish is also much more impressive than the Serra Ascendant version. If you can’t get to 30, then Proclamation is pretty pointless in that deck — it is just delaying the inevitable. Champion of the Parish just needs friends! For three mana, you can summon a 3/3 or two on the spot with startling consistency and keep on growing.

Genesis ChamberIt might seem like Genesis Chamber offers another dimension… but does it? Kicking the lifegain into overdrive, Genesis Chamber turns Norin into a Myr-making machine that can gum up the board quickly. Norin protects himself beautifully from any sweeper effects, and with a Genesis Chamber in play you’ll always find yourself untapping with some kind of offense. Everyone loves Young Pyromancer, so it should be easy to understand why this combination merits at least a passing glance.

I don’t like that all it really does is something you already did — I’d much rather add a wild new dimension to the archetype that attacks from a new angle, vs. “more 1/1’s that combo with Soul Warden.” After all, you can just run Spectral Procession for that… everyone else does!

Fortunately, MTGO grinder xMiMx thought exactly the same thing.

GFSnl had a little bit of Blood Moon in his list, but xMiMx has gone the extra mile and jammed it into the maindeck. He popularized “Blood Moon Zoo” last year, a Naya deck that has several descendants in the Modern metagame today, such as Zen Takahasi’s list from Grand Prix Brisbane and Brian Kibler deck in any given Modern event in recent memory.

I feel like xMiMx mostly just tossed this sideboard together to let him test out the deck, for what it’s worth—not that there’s anything wrong with that when you’re just trying to prove your concept with a brew. He has a lot of catch-alls and copies of cards already in his maindeck, and I’m sure that we can figure out some more specific solutions to the deck’s problems. Having only Oblivion Ring to handle Torpor Orb, for example, is more than a little awkward. It’s true that Orb is being played at an all-time low… but I never leave home without one!

By cutting the Genesis Chamber, xMiMx has switched Norin the Wary from an engine into a value machine, making it primarily a singleton for Ranger of Eos that happens to do some work when drawn naturally. We’ve also got a healthy number of free wins coming along for the ride, as Blood Moon is not a card many players are willing to play around in game one. I like the concept of combining Blood Moon with removal capable of handling Deathrite Shaman on the first turn, and you’ll deal a lot of splash damage to Birthing Pod’s mana dorks while gaining edges against all the Overgrown Tomb decks as well.

The construction of this deck appeals to me significantly more than the previous one — it seems focused and purposeful in its attack on the metagame, while GFSnl is really just a variant on an already linear strategy. There are some holes, for example the seemingly ideal singleton Figure of Destiny can’t make the cut for the same reason Spectral Procession has hit the bench (Cavern of Souls).

The major trade-off this archetype has made is Spectral Procession, a loss we owe to Cavern of Souls and the Mountain alongside the loss of Honor. The Anthem is much less good with creatures capable of fighting well on their own, and one of the perks of this variant is an increased reliance on durable creatures and creatures with more significant utility, like Grim Lavamancer.

Could we cut Cavern of Souls? Maybe. It would put a fair bit of strain on the mana and make Ranger of Eos significantly less attractive — jamming him headlong into Mana Leak is a delight with Cavern in play that would turn into a misery without it. I might be more interested in just jamming them in there together, maybe trimming a Cavern along the way. I am definitely not a big fan of Student of Warfare, the third-strong beater in this deck. While castable off Cavern of Souls, he can’t level up with that land and his next-level size isn’t especially impressive — still dying to Bolt and being too small to tangle with the average Tarmogoyf is not a strong selling point.

My biggest concern? The significant reliance on creatures makes Grim Lavamancer a much worse creature than usual, and he’s a very good one in the Modern metagame; I’d love to run more of them. Capable of sizing down Tarmogoyfs and dealing with Deathrite Shaman effectively, he’s excellent… when you can get two cards in the graveyard on turn two. Outside of fetchlands, that’s difficult to do in this deck. We can’t really fix the issue by adding additional burn spells because getting double red on turn two is so difficult that we’ll only frequently accomplish it with a second fetchland anyway… which makes Lavamancer pretty unreliable.

So, we’re stuck with one copy of the little rascal.

As for additions? Oddly enough, I really like Dismember as a supplementary piece of removal. It’s potent against a number of awkwardly good creatures and incidentally paid for by all of our lifegain. When you don’t have to pay the deckbuilding tax on Serra Ascendant, you’ve got a lot more options in this department!

Relic of Progenitus is an attractive card in general within the Modern format, and as a sideboard option you have the ability to trim your Proclamations and Lavamancer for it. Access to this card has been a major selling point for W/B Tokens for quite some time as well, and any deck I think can support it is usually worth a glance.

The surge in Affinity both live and online makes boarding more direct hate for that archetype an interesting proposition. Shatterstorm and Kataki are both serious bruisers against the deck, but it’s a bummer that these cards are so narrow. I’ll likely just stick to Stony Silence and cross my fingers here, although another kind of interesting idea is Wrath of God. Wrath is a much better sideboard card in the Genesis Chamber version, because your Norin combos let you rebuild the board fast, but it’s a nice option either way.

The deck’s engine occupies a fair amount of space, and I wouldn’t want to add a lot of cards that don’t directly assist its central aims. That’s a good way to dilute a linear strategy pretty negatively… if it’s not for a slam dunk like Blood Moon or some basic removal spells, it’s probably not worth considering at all.

Do I think the addition of red makes Soul Sisters a Tier One archetype? Not by a long shot.

Do I think the red is an interesting new avenue to take the deck down? Very.

There could be something here. White offers the best sideboard spells in the format, and red gives you access to Lightning Bolt and some other forms of reach and board control not to mention Norin the Wary.

That is definitely a sentence I never thought I’d type.

I can respect innovation, and seeing some shifts in the basic construction of Soul Sisters has put it back on my radar for now. It’s still a Tier Two deck at best, but there’s enough food for thought in capitalizing on Champion of the Parish that I’m going to have to continue considering how this deck might evolve in the future. In Modern, it’s hard to ask for much more than evolution in action!

Glenn Jones
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