Diggin’ Holes and Herding Souls: 11-3-1 (21st Place) at GP Birmingham with Bant Soulherder. By Scott Mines

“Interestingly, I will also cast a Soulherder…”

A little bit about me:

Well, hello there. My name is Scott Mines, and I am a magic grinder based in the north of the UK. If I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting you before, let me tell you a little bit about me: I’m a 24 year old filmmaker and scriptwriter, and I’ve been playing card games competitively for most of my life – moving primarily to Magic about 6 years ago. In that time, I’ve put up a few decent results, including a few GP cashes and a few near misses for PT qualifications. I’m also part of the lovely team here at Harlequins Gaming – Blackpool and Preston’s premiere gaming venues – if you’re looking for me at an event, just look for the black and purple shirt and come say hi, I’d love to have a chat with you.

Preparation for the GP: Early testing.

I’ve primarily played Humans in Modern since the deck made its breakout appearance at the SCG Tour – I have a soft spot for tribal decks and enjoy the play patterns the deck presents. As a result, my early testing consisted primarily of Humans and the menace that is Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. Based on what I had seen in events around me, I was willing to accept we might be in Hogaak-or-Lose territory, and had to test the deck myself before I felt comfortable not sleeving it up.

There was no doubt Hogaak was ridiculously powerful. The deck played a turn 2 8/8 trampler with frightening consistency. That said, the sideboard games were absolutely MISERABLE. After spending a few leagues playing the “leyline sub game”, I accepted that I personally didn’t feel like Hogaak would allow me to leverage any skill cap I may have in the room, and I didn’t want my GP to live and die with how good I was at drawing Force of Vigor. I put the deck down, and went back to my trusty standby, Humans:

Most of my testing with Humans came in the weeks directly following the Mythic Championship, and as a result, I found myself getting beaten handily by a large amount of Jund players. I just couldn’t seem to buy a win in the matchup, while my record in nearly every other matchup was only middling to slightly favoured. At the time, I firmly believed Jund to be a actively good deck choice, and so I started to look for other deck options for the event. In hindsight, Jund is nowhere near as popular as I thought it would be, and as a result, I think Humans is very possibly a good choice moving forward.

Enter Gabriel Nassif:

That’s where the mastermind that is Magic Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif (@Gabnassif on Twitter and Yellowhat on Twitch, you should follow him if you don’t already) comes in. Gab was streaming a deck he’d been working on for the Mythic Championship, and was going to play in the GP had he not made day 2 – Bant Soulherder.

For those who don’t know, one of the first modern decks I ever played was Shota Yasooka’s Eternal Command list from Worlds 2012 – So all this talk of Eternal Witness value, potentially with Cryptic Command had peaked my interest. I continued enjoy Gab’s content on the deck while beginning work on my own list. I really want to give Gab some serious praise here – I was constantly asking questions in chat and directly to him on Twitter, and he always got back to me promptly with his thoughts and considerations, something I cannot thank him for enough. With these words of wisdom influencing my choices, the final list looked like this just 3 hours before decklists needed to be submitted:

https://my.cfbevents.com/deck/view/65f2d0c3-47dd-48e2-b501-2d42eafedd13

You can find the 1 minute deck tech I did for ChannelFireball right here!

https://twitter.com/ChannelFireball/status/1163088694233972737

So….What does this deck do exactly?

Value. That’s what. The goal is to control the early game though cheap removal, Force of Negation, and 2 drops that draw cards. Once this has been established, you can begin to abuse those ETBs with cards like Ephemerate and Soulherder to gain insurmountable card advantage. Most games end at the hands of a very large Soulherder, pressure from several annoying 1/1s, and occasionally a Jace ultimate.

Unconventional card choices

I wanted to highlight a few cards that I’ve had the most questions about and explain their purpose:

Venser, Shaper Savant: – Venser seems strange when you think about the fact I am not playing Reflector Mage. The truth is, Venser is a much more versatile card in the slot – able to consistently prevent problematic permanents, reset planeswalkers, or hold off Supreme Verdict indefinitely with the help of Ephemerate. Venser is almost as good in the matchups Reflector would be, and shines in spots where it wouldn’t. It pitches to Force, and keeping your opponents off Tron but constantly flickering it to return lands to their hand in the upkeep is a delight. Particularly shines in sideboard games when you can disguise it in the opponents turn with not only Coatl, Force and Path/Ephemerate, but also other countermagic like Rejection and Stroke.

Condemn: – The deck suffers from having no good turn one plays, something that can be a real problem when staring down Monastery Swiftspear. As a result, I wanted a “fifth path” that would also be good in the early game. I initially tested Oust, but unfortunately, putting Hogaak on top of the library is much worse than the bottom. The card really shined against Vengevine, Swiftspear and Arclight Phoenix. It was a solid inclusion, but I would still consider it a flex slot.

No Time Warp:- Those that are familiar with Nassif’s list will know that Time Warp with Eternal Witness and either one of Ephemerate or Soulherder allows you to take infinite turns. While this is obviously powerful, it tends to be a combo you sometimes “stumble into” while enacting your normal gameplan. I found I often had to mulligan hands in which Time Warp was a blank spell, and it was the first spell I often pitched to Force. With all that on board, I chose not to play it. The card might have a place in the deck in the future, but for now, I would still lean toward no Time Warp

Canopy Vista and Prairie Stream:- All the credit for this one needs to go to Nassif. The fetch patterns with this deck are often Tapped Dual/Basic/Basic or Basic/Basic/Dual. In that world, these two lands are often just Tundra and Savannah, and are basically never worse than the shockland counterpart. You have to be mindful that your deck does not contain a Temple Garden, but with that said, the life I saved by not shocking with these lands won me many, many games this weekend. I believe it is a mistake to not play them in your manabase.

Cataclysmic Gearhulk?! :- Ah yes, the big white artillery weapon. In my testing, I was finding Humans and other creature based decks that played well against Path to Exile to be a problem, so I looked for a sideboard card to help sure up those matchups. Flickering this makes me feel all tingly, and it is pretty good vs Humans, Scales, Urza (when they don’t have both foundry and sword already set up) and is even reasonable against Jund. It is definitely a flex slot, and is not required, but I was fairly happy with it – it was especially hilarious in the mirror!

The Tournament:

After collecting my deck from my sponsor, Harlequins Games, and my teammates Thomas Duffy, Pagan Young, Alex Attwaters and Jack Warrington, it was time to get to work:

Round 1/2: BYE

Round 3 – Izzet Phoenix

I had the pleasure of playing this matchup a reasonable amount before the event, and I feel it is a pretty good one. Game 1 involved a massive Soulherder clubbing my opponent to death as he kept attempting to remove my Deputy of Detention, who was very helpfully detaining multiple Things in The Ice. As the Deputy and Things got exiled over and over through Soulherder and Ephemerate flickers, the Soulherder for +4/+4 each time. It did not take long for the 26/26 to close the game.

Game 2 involved 5 castings of the same Celestial Purge. I’ll let you guess who won that one.

3-0

Round 4 – Jund

Ah, Jund. The other fair value deck in the format. This matchup also feels fairly good, as long as you can Force/deal with early copies of the machine that is Wrenn and Six. Game 1 was fairly boring, as my opponent struggled to figure out what was important to discard/remove. Game 2 was a hell of a game however, starting with my opponents expletives when he saw Thragtusk with an IoK. We trade one for one until the swing turns begin, my opponent has a plague engineer naming Snake (which is causing a little bit of a problem) and two 5/6 Tarmogoyfs, who declare their attacks. I path the Engineer, and flash in two Coatls, drawing two cards and trading with both Goyfs. Despite this, my opponent stabilises again with a Bloodbraid into another Engineer. The top of my deck is kind, providing me with an Eternal Witness, which I use to return more witnesses, and pick up my Thragtusk again. My opponent untaps, draws, and sheepishly casts a Leyline of the Void…

… He does not survive the 4th Thragtusk.

4-0

Round 5 – Mono R Prowess

This matchup is fairly difficult, you can steal games by multiple Knight of Autumns/Thragtusks/Celestial Purge effects, but in general, they get out of the gate incredibly fast, and Lava Dart proves to be a real pain in the ass for the deck full of 1/1s. My opponent was a lovely guy, but the few turns the match lasted for are a bit of a blur. The second game involved a creature heavy draw from him, and flipping Lava Dart/Burst Lighting off Light Up the Stage to clear my board as I attempted to stabilize. After a lethal bolt appeared from Bedlam Reveler, I offered the handshake.

4-1

Round 6 – Urza

I think this matchup is favoured, and I didn’t technically lose to it all weekend, but it is tough, long and incredibly grindy. If you’re picking up the deck, and play this matchup, you need to play at an increased pace if you can, you’ll need it. Game 1 involves me using Eternal Witness to recycle Force of Negation, keeping Thopter Foundry off the table. Sai, Master Thopterist buys my opponent a lot of time, but I eventually find the Deputy to deal with the thopters and swing in for lethal. Game 2 was an utter mess – I have a Rest in Peace in play for most of the game, but my opponent continues to generate a mass of card advantage via Urza and Thopter Foundry that I cannot contain. As we reach Turn 3 of Turns, I have my plan in place – Deputy my opponents 14 Thopters on my Turn 4, then Ephemerate the Deputy in turn 5 to not take lethal damage from the thopters he makes EoT. My opponents Urza finds Spine of Ish Sah and destroys all my white sources, resulting in a draw.

4-1-1

Round 6 – Merfolk

I had seen my opponent playing in an earlier round, so knew what was coming – I can’t imagine this matchup is good, as I have islands in my deck. However, I catch a break in Game 1 when my opponent misses their second land after keeping a 1 land and Aether Vial hand. Unfortunately, during this game, I make a block that, during the following turn cycle, my opponent realises I should not have been able to make due to islandwalk being provided by Prairie Stream. The judge tells us too many game actions have taken place and too much information gained since the block happened so we cannot rewind. I am fairly sure that I lose this game if that block doesn’t happen, but do take Game 1 as it plays out. As we shuffle up for sideboarding, both of us make sure the other is okay, and acknowledge that mistakes happen. I write the word “Islandwalk” on the back of the used lifepad paper, placing it in the middle of the battlefield to try to prevent that from happening again. Game 2 is another razor thin affair, which I manage to steal by flickering Deputy of Detention in combat to steal all the islandwalking lords and blocking the rest of the team. My opponent takes the loss extremely well given how the first game played out, and I really want to praise them for that.

5-1-1

Round 7 – Urza

I tend to leave opponents names out of reports like this, in case they wish to remain anonymous, but that’s something I cannot do in this round. Mark Gallacher is a Scottish grinder who came across as an incredibly lovely guy, happy to be doing so well in the GP. The games were a absolute pleasure to play, with a lot of back and forth – but as mentioned in the last Urza match, unreasonably grindy. Games 1 and 2 are largely uneventful, going 1-1 but taking up most of the match clock, and myself and Mark attempted to play game 3 incredibly quickly to avoid knocking us both out of Day 2. Unfortunately, this leads to us both getting sloppy, with me knocking decks over and missing triggers, and Mark accidently cracking a fetch, forgetting he was in his main phase, drawing for turn again, playing an extra land and fetching before realising. As the clock stalled out, I had a Rest in Peace in play but neither player had much going on. Mark graciously acknowledged that his mistake had caused the really long judge call, and he was unsure if he would be able to complete all his day 2 matches before leaving if he had won. As a result of this, Mark concedes to allow me to make Day 2.

Mark Gallacher, sir. You are a gentleman, and a damn good magic player. I still can’t thank you enough for that concession – be on the lookout for this guy, you’ll see him at the top tables soon enough!

6-1-1

Round 8 – Mono G Tron

Big mana is a real problem matchup for this deck, just like most other “fair” decks in modern, and Green Tron is no exception. I steal game 1 by leveraging Venser to keep my opponent of Tron, and land a timely Force of Negation to prevent Ugin from making me a sad panda before attacking for lethal. I feel I’m in fantastic control of Game 2 as well, with my opponent having to Ghost Quarter one of their own Tron lands to find green mana. Sadly, just as I stole game 1, my opponent steals game two by finding the 3rd Karn Liberated, erasing my final white source, and slamming an Ulamog to eat me alive. Game 3 is….not close. I mulligan quite low, and my opponent has a fairly strong hand. It does not take long for my soul to be claimed by the KarnFather once again.

6-2-1

Round 9 – Bant Soulherder

I started my Day 2 off in the best possible fashion. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Morgan Payne (@MorganTheBear32 on Twitter, you should follow him too!) for the last few rounds of Day 1, and we had mutually acknowledged we were the 2 Bant Soulherder players who had made Day 2 on Twitter the night before. So when I saw the pairings and that we’d be the feature match for the round. I couldn’t help but laugh my ass off. You can see a small snippet of the fun we had in this video clip captured by Frank Karsten over on ChannelFireball:

https://twitter.com/ChannelFireball/status/1163017159137792000

This was one of, if not the most fun matchup of the day. I mulliganed to 4 in game one, but due to being under no pressure from my opponent, my two-drops and Soulherders quickly remedied that. The mirrorbreaker proved to be my maindeck Thragtusk, which Morgan did not have. After much grinding and much lifegain, Morgan succumbed to a horde of 3/3 beasts

Game 2, however, Morgan also had Thragtusk. But I had Cataclysmic Gearhulk. And so a game ensued of me clearing the board, Morgan rebuying his Tusk, casting it and flickering it repeatedly. Eventually, I find my own tusk and begin the same process. As our life totals spiral towards 100 and the board becomes overrun by 30-50 feral beasts (in about 4 minutes I’m sure), Morgan agrees he has no way to end the game before time runs out, as his Time Warp is kept in check by Venser. He extends the hand, and we continue laughing. This one, was an absolute blast.

7-2-1

Round 10 – Eldrazi Tron

Seeing an Urza’s Power Plant on Turn 1 is such a rollercoaster affair with this deck – if it’s Green Tron, you have a real uphill battle, but if it’s E-Tron, you’re in very good shape. My heart sinks a little more when the second land is a Mine, but eases up a little when my opponent casts a chalice on 1. The third land is a Ghost Quarter, followed by a Matter Reshaper and I celebrate internally. Knight of autumn quickly mops up the chalice, and then many mind stones as my opponent stumbles on mana. Game 2 ends when my opponent is unable to deal with a large Soulherder early, as his cards are handled by rebought Ceremonious Rejections. A Knight of Autumn is eventually flickered to handle the Ensnaring Bridge, and its lights out.

8-2-1

Round 11 – Hardened Scales.

I had not tested this matchup much, but the games I had played made me feel it has hard, but winnable. You have the lean on Path/Condemn and Knight flickers pretty hard, and Cataclysmic and Rejection help clean up after board. Game 1 is a really close affair. I control my opponent’s aggression through three Path to Exile, but not without taking some poison damage first. As I race to end the game with a Soulherder, My opponents Throne of Geth is proliferating the poison in my bloodstream. Eventually, I fall a little short and succumb to the poison.

Game 2 is less close…I keep a hand that includes my Cataclysmic Gearhulk, and my opponent leads on Ancient Stirrings. He looks at the top card…

…then the second, which he slams on the table.

It’s a Torpor Orb.

My opponent puts three more cards from the top of his library on the bottom without even looking at them as I shake my head in disbelief. My kingdom for a Force of Vigor!

This deck is great, everyone. But you’re not beating a Torpor Orb

8-3-1

Round 12 – Urza

A little disheartened that the Top 8 dream is dead, I attempt to lock my focus back to Magic and focus on making cash. My opponent had lost the last 2 rounds in a row, and that was clearly showing in his mood too. Thankfully, this time this matchup was much easier for me, having the maindeck Knight in my opening hand, and looping disdainful stroke in the second game to keep my opponent of any relevant spells he drew. A Venser on Dead of Winter when my opponent was out of black mana sealed the deal early on in the round.

9-3-1

Round 13- Hogaak

I had somehow dodged the menace that was Hogaak up until this point – I actually think the matchup is reasonable (I would not call you favoured though) – You can set up loops with Path/Ephemerate/Witness to keep pathing Gaak and Carrion Feeder, which gives you a bit of game. That said, game 1 ends on Turn 3 as I take 20 damage after keeping a hand with Paths, but no white on 6.

Game 2 is an interesting affair, I mulligan as my opponent struggles with their 7. I get a read that they are deciding if they should keep a hand that is slow, but heavy on interaction. They do keep, and that leads me to keep a 6 with no graveyard hate, but a proactive start of Wall into Soulherder. I was right, as my opponent double-thoughtseizes my two herders, and tries to beat me down with Gravecrawler and Bloodghast. I land a Jace that I can protect behind two walls, and my opponent decides to Trophy, leaving me to safely resolve the Rest in Peace Jace brainstormed into.

Game 3 is super interesting. I keep a 7 with a Rest in Peace and two drops, and my opponent puts up a turn 2 Gaak, I land a RIP, take a hit, and then Path the Gaak. I begin to stabilize as my opponent topdecks Vengevine in Vengevine to put me under pressure, before Soulherder outgrows them. With 2 cards in hand to my 1, my opponent trophies my RIP, sacs a Stitcher’s Supplier to his Carrion Feeder, untaps and rips a fetch off the top to power out the Gaak that had been stranded in his hand. I look at my in hand Wall of Blossoms.

Draw for turn – land.

Cast Wall – Draw Coatl.

Cast Coatl……

…..Draw Path.

I path the Gaak and push for lethal in a really fun game.

10-3-1

Round 15:- Izzet Phoenix

And we end the day as it started, with Izzet Phoenix. My opponent is in their first GP, and is already overjoyed with his finish. He does not know what I’m on, which my last few opponents had got wind of since the feature match. When he sees the coiling oracle on turn 2, he laughs his ass off too – his friend had wanted to play this deck for the GP and after playing against it he was in love with it too. This was the second, if not the first most enjoyable match of the day – it may not have been close, but my opponent and I laughed and joked all the way through the games, even as I was sealing his fate with Jace. After the match, he asked me to sign his snow-covered basics so he would have a memento to remember the match and GP by – something I was truly honoured to be asked to do. This won’t be the last Day /Cash for this player either, he played great, and our match embodied what magic is all about for me – The Gathering.

11-3-1 – 21st Place – $400.

Sideboarding Information and Tips:

This is something I’ve been asked for a few times now, but I obviously can’t cover every matchup in modern here, I’ll just highlight some of the big ones. If you have questions in the future, feel free to come and contact me in the places at the end of the report and I’ll gladly chat with you.

Gaak –

· In – 2 Purge, 4 RIP, 1 Surgical, 1 Ooze

· Out – 4 Force, 3 Witness, 1 Knight (Can be a Jace if you see Altar)

As I said above, I think the matchup is reasonable. Always side out your witness when you bring in Rest in Peace. As a general rule, try to surgical Vengevine- You have many answers to an in play Gaak, but Vengevine pushes more damage quickly and cannot be celestial purged.

Mono R –

· In – 3 RIP, 2 Purge, 2 Knight, 1 Ooze, 1 Thragtusk

· Out – 4 Force, 3 Witness, 1 Venser, 1 Jace

Prowess and Phoenix are hard. You need RIP vs both versions to turn off Bedlam Reveler and Lava Dart/Looting. Aggressively block with two drops when you don’t have Soulherder, and maximise your Tango-Land manabase in the matchup for the best chance of survival. You can bring in the surgical if you see phoenix, but I’m not sold on that.

Mardu Shadow –

· In – 2 Purge, 1 Ooze, 2 Knight of Autumn, 1 Thragtusk

· Out – 4 Force, 1 Deputy, 1 Venser

I’ve not played this matchup a lot, so more testing is definitely required. I think the extra knights are good because they can shatter Tidehollow Sculler and Hex Parasite, and I feel Ooze is fine to help fight against Unearth. More work to be done here, though.

Humans

· In – 1 Cataclysmic Gearhulk, 1 Purge, 2 Knight, 1 Ooze, 1 Thragtusk

· Out – 4 Force, 2 Jace.

Matchup is slightly favoured for them, but definitely winnable. The one purge helps deal with Mantis Rider, Freebooter and Plague Engineer. Aggressive blocks are fine here when you don’t have Soulherder too, as your goal is just to survive – saving Coatl to block Mantis Riders is defensible in a lot of cases, however.

Urza –

· In – 3 RIP, 2 Stroke, 2 Knight, 1 Ooze, 1 Surgical, 1 Cataclysmic

· Out – 3 Witness, 1 Tusk, 1 Condemn, 1 Path, 4 Wall of Blossoms

This matchup is long but feels favoured, even if only a little. Path needs to deal with Sai or resolved Urza’s, so save them for that – you can always shatter of exile the construct later. RIP is needed to turn off Thopter Foundry, as Thopters blocking your herder forever is how you lose, so lean on Jace and protect it from fliers. Stroke counters all the relevant cards other than Sai and Foundry (Tezz, Urza, and Whir) – Given that RIP is the plan, Gearhulk is the nuts for clearing their board down when they can’t rebuild with sword/foundry. Do not bring in Rejection, it counters nothing that matters.

E-Tron –

· In – 1 Rejection, 2 Stroke, 2 Knight

· Out – 4 Force, 1 Wall of Blossoms

Matchup is good – don’t panic about chalice on 1 much, just shatter it with Knight/Deputy eventually. Shatter mind stones when you can to keep them off mana – Soulherder often outgrows their creatures, and Coatl deals with them well. Be mindful of All is Dust.

Green Tron –

· In – 1 Rejection, 2 Stroke, 2 Knight

· Out – 4 Wall of Blossoms, 1 Jace

Lean of Force of Negation and other countermagic hard while presenting some kind of clock. Otherwise, cross your fingers and pray that the Karnfather doesn’t take you.

Scales –

· In – 1 Cataclysmic, 1 Rejection, 2 Knight, 2 RIP

· Out – 4 Force, 2 Wall of Blossoms.

Wall doesn’t block relevant threats well here, and Force is pretty bad outside of…..you know, Torpor Orb. If you think they have it, leave some in to try and manage it I guess. Matchup feels pretty good otherwise.

Jund –

· In – 2 Purge, 1 Ooze, 1 Thragtusk

· Out – 2 Force, 1 Venser, 1 Deputy

Venser always trades down and Deputy always dies – try to only force on Wrenn or Lily, preferably hardcast to not lose card advantage. Purge the walkers if they resolve, or save them for Plague Engineer if you have pressure. Let Coatl and Path handle Goyf, and rely on your Thragtusks and Jaces to end the game.

Izzet Phoenix:

· In – 2 Purge, 3 RIP, 1 Ooze, 1 Surgical

· Out – 3 Witness, 1 Knight, 1 Wall of Blossoms, 2 Force.

The knights stay in the board because they don’t leave in Aria of Flame. You trim on force, but try to use it on Saheeli or Looting. Wall is a space cut, as it does not block well, but I could see you cutting a Coiling Oracle instead because it dies to Lava Dart/Gut Shot.

Closing Statements

Well, thank you for reading and checking out the deck – I hope you take up the chance to flicker some walls yourself! I just want to say thank you for the overwhelming support over the weekend, it has meant the world, and a huge thank you for my sponsor, Harlequins Games, and my family over there. I wouldn’t be here without their support and sponsorship, so if you want to check them out, head over to www.harlequins-games.co.uk, and because you read this report, I can even let you have 5% off all singles if you use code “HowlingMines1” at Checkout.

If you want chat with me, or ask me any questions about the deck or event, you can follow me over on Twitter at @HowlingMines – feel free to DM or tag me; I’d love to hear your own war stories with the deck. I know I’ll be diggin’ holes and herding souls for some time to come….

Until then, I’ll see you on the battlefield!

Thanks for reading
Scott.

Deck List.
4 Coiling Oracle
1 Deputy of Detention
3 Eternal Witness
4 Ice-Fang Coatl
1 Knight of Autumn
4 Soulherder
1 Thragtusk
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
4 Wall of Blossoms
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Condemn
4 Ephemerate
4 Force of Negation
4 Path to Exile
1 Breeding Pool
1 Canopy Vista
1 Flooded Strand
1 Hallowed Fountain
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Prairie Stream
3 Prismatic Vista
3 Snow-Covered Forest
3 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Plains
3 Windswept Heath

Sideboard:
1 Cataclysmic Gearhulk
2 Celestial Purge
1 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Disdainful Stroke
2 Knight of Autumn
4 Rest in Peace
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Thragtusk