Sultai In Modern: Why It Hasn’t Happened And Why It’s Going To

It seems like every color combination has gotten a shot at the Modern big time at some point. So why hasn’t this one, especially with the help of Thoughtseize and friends, not made it to the top of the standings? The answer is simple, and Stevens wouldn’t be surprised if someone found it at SCG Regionals.

With only a couple of days left until Pro Tour Ixalan there is
hope that new Standard archetypes will break out and be able to fight
against Temur Energy, but unfortunately I think it’s a long shot. The
Standard format as a whole is more solved than I’ve ever seen before a Pro
Tour in my brief Magic career, but to be fair this is also the first time
the Pro Tour didn’t occur right after the set’s release.

Even the Limited format has been solved somewhat (Ryan Saxe might be to blame…)
with people realizing the enchantments in Ixalan are much better
than originally thought. Previews for the next set, Rivals of Ixalan, have started to be released and we haven’t even
had the Pro Tour yet! This is definitely going to be a different Pro Tour
than we’re used to, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less excited to watch it.

Pro Tour Ixalan isn’t the only event happening this weekend
though, as there are still #SCGRegionals
happening around the country, and they are all Modern. I’m not sure whether
or not I’ll be able to make it to one of the eleven #SCGRegionals
locations–most likely North Carolina–but if I do there’s no secret to
what I’ll be playing.

G/W Company is still my deck of choice even though I know it’s not the deck
for everyone. It’s very hard to play and isn’t exactly inherently powerful,
but I just really enjoy playing it.

I’ve already written plenty about G/W Company in the past though, so what I
want to do today is brew up some fun Sultai decks, which is one of the
least played color combinations in Modern. Let’s change that.

Let’s Give It a Sul-Try

There are all sorts of different three color decks in Modern, but for some
reason or another Sultai decks haven’t found their home yet. It’s not for a
lack of good cards; we just haven’t found to the right shell yet. I’m going
to go through five different Sultai decks in Modern today that have had
various amounts of testing, and they are a good place to start when looking
for a breakout Sultai deck.

Let’s start with the easiest one: Sultai Death’s Shadow. When Death’s
Shadow decks became popular earlier in the year every three color
combination was tried as people looked for the best Death’s Shadow shell,
with the majority of people ending up on Grixis. That said, playing Sultai
does have it’s advantages.

With delirium enabled, Traverse the Ulvenwald is an incredible threat in
Death’s Shadow decks as it allows you to essentially play more copies of
the deck’s namesake card. Combine this with Snapcaster Mage, which can
either rebuy your Traverse the Ulvenwald or even just be a quality target
for it in the first place, and you can get a lot of value out of your one
mana sorcery. For the most part though, this deck is pretty
self-explanatory with the abundance of Death’s Shadow in the metagame
throughout the year.

Let’s move on.

This is a Sultai midrange deck that is modeled after a traditional Jund
deck. Switching red out for blue makes the deck more controlling in nature,
but there is still plenty to like with what’s going on. At the core of the
deck we still have Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, and Liliana of the Veil,
which have been the backbone of many B/G/x decks in multiple formats. Blue
gives the deck access to Snapcaster Mage in the maindeck, one of the
strongest cards in the format, and complements the strategy quite nicely.

The real prize to playing blue over red, however, is the countermagic in
the sideboard. Big mana strategies have always been the weakness of B/G/x
decks, and having access to cheap counterspells is one of the best ways to
fight decks filled with expensive cards. There’s plenty of removal that
would need to be sideboarded out against decks like TitanShift or Tron;
therefore, I have plenty of counterspells in the sideboard. Honestly, it’s
entirely possible that there should simply be some number of counterspells
in the maindeck as well here. Even though the maindeck of Sultai doesn’t
have the power that Jund or Abzan present, having access to counterspells
in the sideboard is incredibly enticing.

Up next is a fun one. This is another deck looking to abuse Traverse the
Ulvenwald, except instead of finding one mana 10/10s, this deck is looking
to use card advantage against its opponents.

Grim Flayer does a little bit of everything here. It sets up your draw
steps, fills your graveyard, and is a fast clock. It even has wonderful
small synergies with plenty of cards. For example it not only fills up the
graveyard for Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, which allows him to transform, but then
Jace can cast one of the spells you put in the graveyard from Grim Flayer.
Also when you have a Courser of Kruphix, Grim Flayer allows you to easily
reset the top of your library and put a land on top to get for free from

Search for Azcanta is another nice way to fill the graveyard as well as
being paid off for doing so. It’s notable that you can reveal any
noncreature, nonland card with Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, so planeswalkers
and Mishra’s Bauble are fair game as well as instants and sorceries. If you
find Traverse the Ulvenwald, it can be just like drawing a creature anyway!

Although not for this deck, I have Search for Azcanta in the other
decklists as well to work nicely with Dark Confidant, helping you take
minimal damage.

This deck is exactly the kind of deck I like to play, as there are plenty
of different lines to take each turn and there are plenty of cards that can
generate card advantage. That being said though, there are also tons of
options for cards that could be in this deck, especially with Traverse the
Ulvenwald, and therefore the decklist overall is still pretty rough. Sultai
Delirium has plenty of potential, and I’m excited to continue to work on
this deck over the winter.

Another deck in which I’m incredibly excited about its future is Sultai
Eternal Command. If I had to register one of these five decks on the SCG
Tour, tomorrow it would be this one.

The goal of the deck is to lock the opponent out by chaining Cryptic
Command every turn to either counter a spell or tap the opponent’s
creatures. Eternal Witness allows you to rebuy the Cryptic Command, which
then bounces the Eternal Witness with one of the two modes, and thus a loop
forms. Aether Vial allows you to play the Eternal Witness for free, so the
loop only costs four mana each time you do it.

I’ve been very pleased with this deck so far with the Magic Online leagues
I’ve put into it, and a lot of the success can be attributed to Aether
Vial. We’ve seen Aether Vial all over Modern these days, with four decks in
the top 8 of #SCGCIN
being a different Aether Vial deck. Having access to mana to cast your
spells is the most common bottleneck in a game of Magic, and Aether Vial
has the ability to produce an enormous amount of mana for an incredibly
small investment. Even in a deck like this that only has fourteen
creatures, being able to use Aether Vial your creatures while still using
your available mana for other cards like Cryptic Command is amazing.

If we’re going to be abusing Aether Vial, is there a better card to do that
than Hostage Taker? Usually if you’d cast Hostage Taker and exile your
opponent’s creature, you’d have to wait until the following turn to use
your mana again to cast the creature. By using Aether Vial, you can
immediately use your mana to cast the creature right away. Also don’t
forget Hostage Taker can exile artifacts as well, so if your opponent is
playing Aether Vials of their own, you can take them hostage as well!

Humans is becoming one of the most played decks in Modern right now. And
yeah, it’s strong. Hostage Taker is a perfect card to fight Humans,
especially when you have the ability to Aether Vial it in. There are plenty
of good options to exile in the matchup, anything from Meddling Mage to
Reflector Mage. All your creatures except Tarmogoyf are Humans also! I
wouldn’t be surprised if people started to realize how good Hostage Taker
is against Humans and started putting it in their sideboard for the mirror,
instead of Fiend Hunter. Sure there is some awkwardness of putting an
Aether Vial up to four in that deck, but maybe having more fours like
Huntmaster of the Fells could make it worth it…

The last deck I have is a fun one. The goal here is to reliably play a
planeswalker on turn 2. Then you simply pull way ahead of the game. Overall
it looks a lot like the Sultai (midrange) deck from earlier, but with eight
mana creatures that allow you to go straight into casting a planeswalker on
turn two.

There isn’t a better three-mana planeswalker in the entire format than
Liliana of the Veil, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
Casting it with help of a Noble Hierarch can be slightly difficult, or at
the very least, painful. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver on the other hand…

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for the Dimir planeswalker, and I certainly
overrate the card for what it actually is. Still though, I like it enough
to build around it, especially with decks like Humans that have plenty of
good creatures to exile with it. There are also plenty of Modern decks that
don’t have many win conditions, and a turn 2 Ashiok threatens to empty

Our other planeswalkers in the deck are both Nissas. Nissa, Voice of
Zendikar can either help protect our planeswalkers with chump blockers or
turn our mana creatures into real threats. Nissa, Steward of Elements helps
us scry through our deck, which is particularly useful in conjunction with
Dark Confidant.

It’s Only a Matter of Time

Even though these decks are new and need more work, they all have powerful
things going on in them, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see any one of them
do well with some tuning. There’s a lot of potential here. It’s always
important to be thinking of (and familiar with) different ideas in Modern.
You never know when the metagame will shift and allow a new deck to be in a
favorable spot. It only takes one person to figure out the right
combination of cards to break it wide open, and I’m going to try to do
exactly that.