Soldiers are probably white’s strongest tribe. For raw power Angels and Knights dominate, and Clerics often show the most utility, but Soldiers, Soldiers are consistent. They’re the first ones on the battlefield, and the last to leave. When you need to defend the castle, you don’t call on Goblins or Zombies or even Angels. You call on the Soldiers. Soldiers are a subtype that have been sprinkled throughout Magic sets, with a number of lords, and across a number of different creature creature types. There are Human Soldiers, Merfolk Soldiers, Kithkin Soldiers, Bird Soldiers, Elf Soldiers and so on. A few of these types of Soldiers (for example Kithkin, Birds and Merfolk) may get minor bonuses from other cards for their main creature types. The white tribes for Lorwyn block were Kithkin and Elves with a tiny bit for Soldiers, M10 had a few decent Soldier effects, but with Innistrad’s Human component (namely Champion of the Parish), building Human Soldiers seems like the place to be. Innistrad has a few other ok soldiers (Elite Inquitor, Slayer of the Wicked), but Champion of the Parish is definitely the man. This guy is sweet. He comes down on turn 1 as a 1/1, like nothing is happening, and then just ticks up from there. It doesn’t take this guy long to become a huge threat. Champion of the Parish, Mentor of the Meek, and Ranger of Eos all have great card advantage synergy.
Back when M10 and Lorwyn/Morningtide were still fresh, I had a Soldier deck that I was pretty happy with. Then I had been playing for about a year, give or take. I like to think I know at least a little more now than I did then. Here’s a Soldier list that I’d make today:
This deck is a somewhat typical “White Weenie” strategy. Get a bunch of guys out, make them bigger, and swing hard with them. Every one of the creatures is a good Soldier, and represents a threat to the opponent. Elite Vanguard is a just a big dude for 1 Mana. Champion of the Parish gets bigger from every creature but Preeminent Captain entering play. That’s the end of Preeminent Captain’s drawback. This guy is awesome. With First Strike, he deals his damage first, cool. BUT, when he’s declared as an attacker, you get to drop a soldier into play from your hand. SO, imagine this scenario: you attack with Preeminent Captain and Champion of the Parish. Preminent Captain’s ability triggers, and you put a Veteran Swordsmith from your hand into play, triggering Champion of the Parish’s ability and giving him a counter. The Captain and Champion of the Parish are dealing damage as 3/2’s! Now imagine that Captain of the Watch was in your hand instead of Veteran Swordsmith! Sure, the Soldier tokens aren’t human and don’t trigger Champion, but the Captain still pumps him twice (once with a +1/+1 counter, then with its own ability) AND you get 4 untapped blockers! Pretty sweet. Ranger of Eos gains some card advantage, with two different aggressive creature options to fetch, and with a Preeminent Captain out, he gives you more things to play for free. And speaking of card advantage, Mentor of the Meek can grant that like it’s his job. In fact, it is his job. Brave the Elements is versatile in that it can be played defensively to save your guys, or offensively to ensure they get through.
Windbrisk Heights is a great trick that this and other “White Weenie” decks from its era utilize. The best use is to “hideaway” something that pumps creatures, like Honor of the Pure, Veteran Armorsmith, or Captain of the Watch, or Armored Ascension. This way, when you attack with three creatures, you can activate Windbrisk Heights after blockers have been declared as a combat trick. Armored Ascension can be extremely powerful. It’s the kind of card that can win the game on its own. Why only two copies, then? Well, Armored Ascension is also an Aura, which looks like such a good idea to drop on turn three and swing in for big beats, but it is often met with a Doom Blade, in what we call a ‘two-for-one’. It may be good, but it pays to use some caution along with it.
Since, like Zombies, Soldiers is such a deep tribe throughout Magic’s history, I decided to attempt a “Zombie Horde” style Soldier deck for multiplayer Commander. I made a list more or less on the fly, using the Zombie Horde list as something of a template. Remember, one of the main criteria for inclusion was cards that don’t require the deck to make decisions, so it can “play itself”. This is what I came up with (the list was refined, so keep reading after to see the changes):
51 Soldier Tokens
6 Bird Soldier Tokens
Later that night, myself, my roommate Josh, and coworker Ryan tested out the deck. As with the Zombie Horde, each player had 2 turns to set up, and have a shared life total. Then on the Soldier turn, cards from the deck are revealed until a non-token card is revealed. Then all tokens enter the battlefield and the non-token spell resolves. Damage is dealt to the Horde deck in the form of cards from the top of the library being “milled” into the graveyard. To be brief, we slaughtered it.
Game 1: We played with the Soldiers not having Haste, to give a more “guarding-the-castle” feel. However, I got an early Rafiq enchanted with Steel of the Godhead, and Rafiq proceeded to cut through the deck like a hot knife (or a hot magical god-sword).
Game 2: We tried giving the Soldier tokens Vigilance for more blocking capability. Ryan got Sheoldred, Whispering One in his graveyard early, then cast Body Snatcher, discarding Geth, Lord of the Vault. A sweep flipped from the Soldier deck brought back Sheoldred, who brought back Geth on our turn. Things when downhill for the Soldiers from there. Ryan was dealing a lot of damage every turn, and giving Geth a full graveyard to pick from.
Game 3: Soldier tokens now get Vigilance and Haste to compensate for their unimposing size. We took a couple big hits thanks to some enchantments pumping Soldiers. We dealt some damage, milling Captain of the Watch, who Josh reanimated to fight for his side with Coffin Queen. Since Captain of the Watch gives 3 tokens, and +1/+1 to them, Josh’s tokens are always 1 power and toughness bigger than the deck’s tokens. The Soldiers never come back, Captain and her Watch were impenetrable.
What went wrong? Well, for one, as Adam Styborski suggests in this article, our decks were too strong and the Horde was too weak. Since we weren’t going to neuter our decks to play (having powerful decks is half the fun, right?) we needed to focus on ways to make the Soldier deck stronger. Cards like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite were probably a good place to start, but what were the odds she’d be flipped? I decided one big area we could beef up the soldier deck was more Bird Soldier tokens. A LOT more. We only used 6 because honesty, I could only find 6. I wanted to make the tokens at least half Bird Soldiers. I just wrote “BIRD” on about half of the soldier tokens, and later played about 6 or so more games.
I played with friends Brian and Jake who showed up for our Tuesday Night Commander event. We started out with Brian, Jake, and I playing Commanders Teysa, Orvzhov Scion (or as I refer to her, “my girl”), Commander Eesha, and Rafiq of the Many, respectively. Remembering the slaughter that occurred in previous battles with the Soldier, I wanted to try and give them a better start. I decided that we would take the first turn, but get no extra turns to set up, start at 30 life, and give all the soldiers haste. Game one, 1 Soldier token and Captain of the Watch were flipped. We took 11 points of damage. The next turn, Nomad’s Assembly was flipped. I was ecstatic. I reveled in our crushing defeat as the Soldiers layed waste to our collective capital. All it took is a good number of token flips and an Anthem/Battlecry effect. We played another game, with similar results. A third game we stabilized, got a couple lucky flips, and eeked it out. Having not played Commander in a while, Brian and Jake were eager to switch up decks, Brian called on Ghave, Guru of Spores (“he’s not as powerful as the Teysa deck.” Brian told me) and Jake called on his most trusted champion, Patron of the Orochi. Since the first games were skewed so heavily in the Soldier’s favor (we lost about 4 castles to the siege) I decided to try giving the defending team the extra turn to set up. We lost the first game, after only putting lands into play on our opening turns. But after that, we hit our stride, and began dispatching the onslaught of enemy Soldiers in couple successive games.
What made the difference? For one, blockers. Though always reluctant to throw our Commanders or beloved creatures under the bus, having blockers to defend and make favorable trades (taking out a Lord, for instance) makes a HUGE difference. Another factor is Lifelink. An extra life buffer can have a huge impact. This is why I love Everlasting Torment in the Zombie Horde deck. Steel of the Godhead, as previously mentioned, is basically unbeatable for a Horde style deck. I like the deck a lot. I prefer playing with no extra turns (I prefer the uphill battle) and would still make some changes for the Soldier deck:
-1 Crescendo of War. We included this because the original plan was to have Soldiers blocking. This really only served in thinning out their ranks, so we moved on from that idea. Without blocking, Crescendo of War helps the defending players too much.
-1 Longbow Archer. Just not good
-1 Intangible Virtue. Again, the blocking thing. It’s a cool concept, but determining blockers for the Horde is just messy, so we abandoned it, Virtue was replaced by Door of Destinies, a much stronger Anthem.
-1 Veteran Armorsmith. Toughness is ok, but he doesn’t do enough.
-1 Serra Angel. She’s a nostalgic pick, but again, not good enough.
-1 Aven Fleetwing. Very “meh”.
-1 Benalish Veteran (See above)
+1 Retribution of the Meek. I think this would be a delicious blowout in the Soldiers’ favor.
+ Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite (See above)
+1 Door of Destinies (See above)
+1 Blinding Angel. I love this card. I took it out of Rafiq because it makes you huge a target. The Horde is already the target, so in she goes!
+1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Hard hitting, shuffles graveyard. Probably won’t give him the extra turn.
I’d also like to add more graveyard recycling. Possibly Wheel of Sun and Moon (despite the fact that it doesn’t shuffle). Also possibly Lich’s Mirror (I like that it gives the Soldier deck a life total, too).
Cards we liked:
Chronomantic Escape. This card is just plain sweet. It helps the Soldiers out, but everyone loves to see this card flipped. It’s just so COOL!
Sigil Captain. This guy is hands down my favorite card from Alara Reborn that isn’t Finest Hour. His power level in the deck is massive. Pray that Bird Soldiers aren’t flipped along with him.
Sunblast Angel. Awesome sweeper, allows the Soldiers to stabilize and rebuild their forces. Really punishes players for loose attacks.
I had a blast building and testing the Soldier deck. I was pretty bummed after its original lousy showing, but after the last testing and new additions, I’m excited to defend against the siege some more!
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