The Return of Saheeli? Brewing Online!

When it comes to MTG, it’s no secret that I love a good blue control deck. But, I also really love toolbox decks and combo decks. Two of my favorite standard decks over the last couple years were Joe Lossett’s 5-color Bring to Light from BFZ and Jeskai Saheeli Rai from AER. Last year, I cashed SCG Richmond playing Kiki Chord in modern, a combination of the two styles. The combination of tutorable-hate cards, value-town creatures, and a combo kill enabled a pretty fantastic weekend. But, now let’s look at another way to play this style of deck. I unfortunately haven’t had much chance to play modern in paper lately, but I’ve been able to play this deck online a lot, and it’s been kicking some serious butt.

I present to you a modern 4-color Saheeli deck:

Maindeck

(60)
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Oath of Nissa
Coiling Oracle
Scavenging Ooze
Meddling Mage
Voice of Resurgence
Qasali Pridemage
Reflector Mage
Kitchen Finks
Eternal Witness
Eldritch Evolution
Saheeli Rai
Bloodbraid Elf
Felidar Guardian
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Bring to Light
Windswept Heath
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest
Breeding Pool
Temple Garden
Stomping Ground
Hallowed Fountain
Sacred Foundry
Botanical Sanctum
Seachrome Coast
Horizon Canopy
Forest
Plains
Island

Sideboard

(15)
Harsh Mentor
Lone Missionary
Kataki, War’s Wage
Kor Firewalker
Phyrexian Revoker
Scavenging Ooze
Spreading Seas
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Reclamation Sage
Reflector Mage
Crumble to Dust
Thragtusk
Sigarda, Heron’s Grace

So, let me start with how this came about. Obviously, the deck is my style. It’s similar to Kiki Chord in many ways. There’s a little less ability to search for specific answers, but the occasional ability to luck into the right card with Bloodbraid Elf. Even though the combo takes up more space, the individual pieces are still very useful when you draw them. Saheeli is much easier to cast than Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and faster. She also helps you find the other half of the combo. It also gave me an excuse to play both Bloodbraid and Jace, the Mind Sculptor together, which I wanted to find a way to do. The biggest issue to me in this deck and in Kiki-Chord was the slot normally filled by Wall of Omens – a two drop that would help get you further into your deck. I had tried Merfolk Branchwalker, but never really liked it. Gerry Thompson wrote one of his round-ups of 5-0 decks in March featuring this deck. It turns out that Coiling Oracle is a hero.

So, let’s break down how the deck works, starting with…

The Combo

Most people have been playing standard long enough to know how it works. But, for those that missed it, you use Saheeli’s -2 ability to copy Felidar Guardian. This makes an artifact copy of the cat for the turn and gives it haste. You use the copy’s triggered ability to blink Saheeli. Repeat until you have enough to kill them. Or, get cocky and say “one million” before your opponent shows you Rakdos Charm. Do what you want. I’m not your dad.

But, the beauty of the combo in this deck is that you can get to it very quickly before your opponent has gotten a lot going. With either Bird of Paradise or Noble Hierarch on turn one, you can play Saheeli on turn two and use her plus to look for the cat if you don’t have it. On turn three, you don’t even need a land, because you can use her ability to copy the mana dork and then play the Guardian. I recommend doing this even if you do have the land in hand, simply because it’s a nice way to bait out a Fatal Push or Path to Exile. If they use their removal, you float a white, play your land, and turn your planeswalker into Xerox machine. You can also do the combo all in one turn with 6 mana. The Felidar Guardian can be used to untap a land. If one of your six mana is a mana dork, you can play either card first, because Saheeli will copy the dork before the cat resets her.

Value Town

One of the most important parts of playing Copycat is being able to get value out of each piece when you don’t have both together. The old standard deck played cards like Rogue Refiner and Cloudblazer to this effect. Using Saheeli to copy Coiling Oracle or Eternal Witness turns her -2 into a better version of “draw a card”, which is already a fine ability on a Planeswalker. Blinking both with Felidar Guardian to blink any of them immediately turns it into a 2-for-1, but that’s not where the potential stops. Playing Bloodbraid Elf also means wanting a high number of valuable hits for its cast trigger. Hitting the Oracle or Witness off of the cascade turns it into a 3-for-1 play that gives you two bodies and a card for 4 mana.

The other creatures are all value-oriented. Being able to re-use Reflector Mage repeatedly can by itself win you the game against creature decks. It’s also a nasty combo with Meddling Mage. Putting  Tarmogoyf back in their hands and making it forever uncastable is pretty sweet. The mage also starts the series of main deck hate cards, combined with Qasali Pridemage and Scavenging Ooze. They’re great, multi-purpose cards that can all do amazing work against a variety of decks. Being able to name Grapeshot or Ad Nauseum is usually enough to win game one. Sometimes naming Lightning Bolt to protect the combo is all you need as well. Being able to hit artifacts and enchantments can be huge, and eating the graveyard is always great.

Playing these guys as well feels great. They’re both individually fantastic cards. They’re great against removal-heavy decks, something a Liliana of the Veil can’t get rid of on her own. They’re also good against aggressive decks like burn for buying more by replacing themselves after blocking. The life gain from the Finks is fantastic and can offset the damage from the mana base. But, using the Guardian after getting the Persist trigger is just fantastic. 8 Life and 3 blocks is pretty sweet. But, the real synergy comes from…

The Search Engine

Eldritch Evolution is a card I love dearly. Having to give up a creature isn’t that bad here, because most of the creatures provided value just by entering the battlefield. In the case of Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence, though, you get value out of the sacrifice as well. Gaining two more life and keeping the creature is fine. At a minimum, the token from Voice will be a 2/2, but often it will be even larger. The only downside to this card is that sometimes it really sucks to get countered, but being able to recycle the 1/1 body of the Coiling Oracle that already helped to dig into the deck a bit into Felidar Guardian to finish the combo is fantastic. And that’s the real benefit of this card – anything other than a mana dork turns into the combo piece. This means it’s possible to combo off of 5 mana instead of the normal 6. It’s possible to surprise an opponent by playing a mana dork on turn one, another mana dork plus a 2-drop on turn 2, and then killing them on turn three from not having any combo pieces on the board.

Bring to Light is also pretty sweet, as it’s castable (and a house) even when we’re top decking. Like Eldritch Evolution, it unfortunately can’t find Saheeli, but finding the cat is still often big when we have a good target on the field, either the Oath of Nissa or Coiling Oracle. Post-board, it can find anything we really want. We may not have any black lands, but Birds of Paradise can fill in the 5th mana from time to time if we want to go searching for one of the two 5-drops in the board. BTL can also find Crumble to Dust against Tron, making it a second copy of the card. Combined with the two Evolution, all of the creatures in the sideboard basically give us 4 copies of a nail-in-the-coffin sideboard card for only one slot in the sideboard.

Let’s Talk Jace

So, why Jace? Jace is definitely an interesting card. Unlike a lot control decks, his role isn’t generally to win the game. It does happen occasionally, but really he’s there to support the preexisting plan. Jace is best when you’re ahead on board, and it’s not hard for this deck to get there.  Jace helps find combo pieces. He bounces opposing blockers back to the opponent’s hand. He sets up Coiling Oracle and Bloodbraid Elf. Sometimes he just keeps the opponent from top decking an out when they’re behind. Jace does basically everything this deck could want from a support card, and curving into him in the early game is really good.

Let’s Talk Sideboard

The sideboard is packed with cards that are all high impact when they’re brought in, and again, the extra ways to search for them makes every card feel like it’s really a 3- or 4-of, except Crumble to Dust. Let’s start with some of them.

Lone Missionary and Kor Firewalker are good against burn. The former is also fine when we just need to race another deck, as the life gain is good and the 2/1 better than the 1/1 body of a Coiling OracleThragtusk and Sigarda, Heron’s Grace are also great cards against burn. For some races, Sigarda might be a bit slow, but Thragtusk is worth its weight in gold, especially if you get to copy or blink it. And of course, Reflector Mage is just about the best thing you can do with three mana against creature decks.

Against Tron, the Spreading Seas eat up a lot of space in the sideboard, but they’re important. Since red is practically a splash color, playing Fulminator Mage is out of the question. That leaves Spreading Seas as the next best thing for an early speed bump. They can’t be tutored, but there’s always a chance that Bloodbraid Elf can find them. There’s a secret bonus interaction here that needs to be pointed out. If your opponent plays Urza’s Tower and you turn it into an island, and they then find a second Tower, you can use Felidar Guardian to swap the enchantment over to their Urza’s Mine instead, making it just a little harder to beat the early disruption. They’re really there to buy a little time until Crumble to Dust. Unlike some decks, this one has no problem finishing the game after Crumble.

This card is really good against a variety of decks and situations. It’s important to remember that it also turns off mana abilities. A short list of cards I’m happy to name with this include: Krark-Clan IronworksMox OpalCodex ShredderArcbound RavegerCranial PlatingLightning Storm (or Pentad Prison/Lotus Bloom), Liliana of the VeilExpedition MapArbor Elf, Aether Vial[/mtgcard], [mtg_card]Oblivion Stone, and the list goes on and on. I love this card enough, I kind of want to find a slot for a second copy. It’s just too relevant.

Also good at punishing abilities is Harsh Mentor. Sometimes the opponent is playing a deck with too many different abilities for the Revoker to deal with, and it’s always nice to watch the opponent take themselves out of the game. Playing this card against Lantern Control demands they find removal or they end up being the ones locked out of playing. Anyone trying to play the Devoted Druid/Vizier of Remedies combo has to remove it before they kill themselves. Sometimes it’s also fine to just make the opponent eat an extra 2 life for every fetch. Unfortunately with Dominaria it looks like this is no longer going to be able to hurt planeswalkers, but that’s okay. Don’t forget that this doesn’t interact with mana abilities.

The other cards should be pretty self-explanatory, but I want to add a few extra notes to Sigarda, Heron’s Grace. She turns off opposing discard spells and protects herself from Liliana of the Veil. Giving yourself hexproof is fantastic, but she’s also great at making lots of extra blockers, clearing your graveyard out against opposing Tarmogoyf, and making extra attackers against control decks.

That’s All Folks!

I definitely don’t think this is going to be the next great tier 1 surprise in modern, but I do think it’s got a lot of potential and can play against almost everything in the field. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts about the deck – bonus points if you want to throw it together and try to take down FNM or a PPTQ with it! More than the deck, though, feel free to leave feedback about the article. If there’s something else you’d love to read about, let me know! I’d love to be able to write some more, but it’s better to write what the community wants to read.

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