With Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths’ spoiler season underway and the new mutate mechanic finally being revealed, I thought it appropriate to cover this deck as it was probably the closest thing we had to mutate until now. If you haven’t heard, mutate allows you to cast a creature for its mutate cost and target another creature. You can either play that card on top of or beneath the targeted creature. If you play it on top, the name, stats, and creature type are the new features that have been added to the card beneath it. It also retains any abilities that the old creature had in addition to any abilities that the mutate creature has. If you play that card on the bottom, the name, stats, and creature type all stay the same, but it still gains any ability that the mutate creature has. Anyway, the card that is the namesake of the deck, Soulflayer, can have abilities stacked on top of it to make it better. Soulflayer is a 4/4 demon that costs 4 generic and 2 black mana. It also has delve which allows you to exile cards from your graveyard to reduce the mana that you would have to pay for it. It also says that if you exile a creature with flying, first strike, double strike, deathtouch, haste, hexproof, indestructible, lifelink, reach, trample, and/or vigilance, then Soulflayer also gains those abilities. A 4/4 is already a decent threat, but then you start tacking on all those abilities and it becomes a nightmare to deal with.
You can probably guess that the strategy here is to run a lot of creatures in the deck that have a good number of the abilities mentioned on Soulflayer and get them into the graveyard. The more abilities these creature have, the better. Questing Beast is a good card in its own right, a 4/4 for 4 mana that has the following features: deals damage to planeswalkers when it gets an attack on the opponent, can’t be blocked by creatures that have power 2 or less, combat damage from your creatures can’t be prevented, and has vigilance, deathtouch and haste. Did I miss anything in that massive text box? Of course Soulflayer can’t have that whole text box, but vigilance, deathtouch, and haste are just fine. Questing Beast also functions to cripple any planeswalkers that you come across. The next creature may have a smaller text box, but it still has a lot of abilities on it. Zetalpa, Primal Dawn is a 4/8 for 8 mana, which shouldn’t really bother you because you will never cast it, that has flying, double strike, vigilance, trample, and indestructible. These are the big two that grant a ton of abilities to your Soulflayer, but you also need some smaller creatures to help you stabilize in the early game. Sylvan Caryatid not only fixes your mana but also comes with hexproof for Soulflayer should a copy find its way into the graveyard. Gifted Aetherborn is a 2/3 for 2 with deathtouch and lifelink that makes a great early blocker. Lotleth Troll is a card that can help you fight back if you’re not able to get a Soulflayer in time. You can discard a creature card to give it a +1/+1 counter, pay 1 black to regenerate it, and it has trample. Of course these aren’t the only creatures you can run in this deck.
The secondary part of this deck is cards that allow you to mill yourself: Grisly Salvage, Gather the Pack, and Glowspore Shaman. At 2 mana each, these will allow you to get through your deck much faster and they allow you to return some cards that may be useful to your hand or the top of your library, but they all use the word may so you can decide if you want a card or not. Like those creatures above, there are others that you can run if you want more of these effects, but I think 3 to 4 copies of these three should be just about right. Stitcher’s Supplier can also be used here. Although it doesn’t give you a card back, you can get 7 cards, including itself when it dies, into the graveyard for 1 mana.
Let’s talk removal for a moment. One of the best removal spells in black and green to come out of standard in recent years is Assassin’s Trophy. It can exile any permanent that you need it to, but at the cost of you opponent getting to ramp. This is a card you want to be careful with. Abrupt Decay costs the same, but can only target permanents that have cmc 3 or less which is rather limited if you ask me. Fatal Push can target a creature with cmc 4 or less which is still pretty limited, plus you have to trigger revolt and since this is a format without fetch lands, that’s a little harder to do. Drag to the Underworld is a new card from Theros: Beyond Death. If you have enough devotion to black, you can cast it for 2 mana. Having a single Gifted Aetherborn or Soulflayer on the battlefield would be enough, but don’t forget Glowspore Shaman and Lotleth Troll as both of those creatures are half black. The last one I want to mention is Murderous Rider. This card is not as good as it seems. Sure Swift End can hit planeswalkers, but it still costs 2 life and normally I wouldn’t complain about that, but I have seen people forget about that part and it’s cost them the game. Yes, you can play the creature and gain that 2 life back, but ‘Ive often found that the creature side of adventure spells gets overlooked as an option when playing a game and I think most of the time this is due to having a better card in hand. If Murderous Rider dies, you put it on the bottom of your library which means that you will always have a removal spell as long as you can shuffle your library enough. However, in this particular deck it’s even worse. Since it doesn’t go to the graveyard, you can’t delve it to Soulflayer unless Grisly Salvage, Gather the Pack, or Glowspore Shaman puts it there. I won’t tell you which ones you should run and which ones you shouldn’t. Since they all have their pros and cons, I’ll leave that up to you. You may not want to run any at all.
The basic shell of a Soulflayer deck should look something like the following:
Questing Beast x3-4
Zetalpa, Primal Dawn x3-4
Sylvan Caryatid x3-4
Gifted Aetherborn x3-4
Lotleth Troll x3-4
Grisly Salvage x3-4
Gather the Pack x3-4
Stitcher’s Supplier x3-4
This deck can be put together for a very cheap price. The most expensive cards are some of the creatures and any premium lands that you want to use for the mana base. However since this is only a 2-color deck, you can cut some corners when it comes to the lands, not that the best ones are too expensive right now, but looking at Wizards of the Coast’s track record for reprinting certain land cycles, cough *enemy fetch lands* cough, that could change in the future and they could go up to $20+ each.
Soulflayer is a pretty good card that a few players have tried to make work into modern, but it just falls short like so many other cards out there. This is one of the reasons I think the pioneer format is a good idea. There are so many cards coming out of standard that are borderline playable in eternal formats, but they just aren’t quite good enough. Pioneer makes room for those cards to finally be good in a nonstandard environment. What deck do you want to see next? Let me know in the comments below.