Hello and welcome Gladiators!
This summer, I played with my friend BLM a deck we registered under the name Sultai Some Brand of Cereal at the Great Big Gladiator Games. It was a Sultai Control deck built around the infamous Tainted Pact and Thassa’s Oracle//Jace, Wielder of Mysteries combo. It reached the highest win rate for day one at 81.25%, standing out in a diverse field of various Aggro, Control, and Midrange decks.
A lot has changed in the format since then: Jumpstart 2021 and both Innistrad sets brought a lot of cards, people tried new things, I stopped playing the deck for a while and it more or less left the competitive scene with me. But what is dead may never die, and I am back this week to finally present to you the deck tech in its current form. Are you ready to unveil the secret mechanisms behind the most salt-inducing combo of the format? Then read on.
Sutlai Some Brand of Cereals GBGG
Sultai Some Brand Of Cereals VOW
Sultai Pact stands apart from traditional Midrange and Control decks in its ability to combo off with very few cards. The combo consists of using Tainted Pact to exile your whole library, as no cards in the deck have the same name, before either resolving Thassa’s Oracle’s ability to win from an empty library, or drawing a card with Jace, Wielder of Mysteries sitting on the battlefield, usually by activating it’s +1 ability.
Therefore, we don’t need to keep control of the boardstate or to pressure the opponent’s life total to win. Some situations that would have been desperate for a traditional Control deck remain winnable. While answering threats, establishing card advantage, and playing a finisher is one way we end games, it isn’t the main one.
Tainted Pact tweaks our manabase by stopping us from using the same basic lands more than once. However, thanks to the latest releases including the new Innistrad dual lands, we now have enough lands in the format to not suffer much from this disadvantage, and we are not forced to play off-colored pathways acting as worse basic lands anymore.
Our combo elements are game-ending together, but some of them, Thassa’s Oracle in particular, are weak on their own. Thus we’ll use many tutors, either to find combo pieces or to find the right answer at the right time. Demonic Tutor is the most powerful of them, but here are some others not to be underestimated. Finale of Devastation can find the creature we need (like Thassa’s Oracle) from our deck or our graveyard, helping us to fight mill or discard from our opponents. Wishclaw Talisman can find any combo piece for a very low cost, but we have to be careful if we can’t win in the same turn. Dig Up might be the lastest addition, but it is worth it: either getting the basic land we need to to fix our mana early on or getting any card later on is valuable.
Tainted Pact is also a tutor by itself! With our namesake card in hand, a single recursion spell such as Torrential Gearhulk, Bala Ged Recovery or Lier, Disciple of the Drowned lets us get it back from the graveyard once we used to find the second combo piece, in order to finally cast the two together for the win.
Early Turns and Middle Game
Our best plays on the early turns involve disruption spells, ramp, and card advantage.
In the first category I slot the cheapest discard spells we have, like Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek. Cheap removal spells like Fatal Push also fit that role against opponents who play Aggro. Those cards ensure that we are not run over too quickly.
In the second, we have spells that increase the amount of mana we can produce and help us fix our colors, like Into the North and Growth Spiral. Playing our bigger threats a turn earlier or more than one spell a turn helps combo or stabilize faster.
In the third, we play a few enablers like Search for Azcanta and Mazemind Tome, and a collection of cantrips featuring Opt, Consider, and Brainstorm. These card selection tools help us find the best tutors or answers we can, on top of being synergistic with various finishers we play like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath or Professor Onyx.
Since our opponents are always trying to stop us from comboing, we’ll have to prevent them from killing us. Sultai colors offer us many of the best disruption tools available, having access to countermagic, discard and removal. For each of these, I tried to choose both the cheapest and the most efficient ones.
Thus our three and four drop slots contain some more removal spells like Soul Shatter, Vraska, Golgari Queen, and Binding the Old Gods, which are more expensive but provide worthy upsides. We also play some matchup specific cards, such as wraths, but I’ll talk about them later.
Now we reach the most exciting part of our deck: the finishers! While the Sultai Colors offer a lot of good options, I was forced to make choices. The ones that didn’t make the cut were not impactful enough, had a mana value too high, or were not synergistic for the game plan.
Elder Gargaroth and Thragtusk are a pain to deal with for the opponent as they both provide a huge body coupled with integrated lifegain and card advantage. Left unchecked, The Scarab God is basically an “I win” card: it’s hard to remove, and doesn’t need much time before an army of 4/4 Zombie tokens rises from the graveyard to exhaust our opponent.
Lier, Disciple of the Drowned must not be overlooked here with all of the tutors and removal spells we are playing. A single tutor will make him able to fetch the Thassa’s Oracle/Pact combo in no time by flashbacking it. A good way to get value from him is to wait a bit until we have more than five mana so we can flashback one of our cheap removal spells or cantrips right away. He will even shutdown counterspells on both sides, which we’re fine with since it protects the combo. I know we play some counterspells too, but we can still manage to get value from them before Lier comes into play, and after he’s dealt with by our opponent.
By the way, do you know what card is fun to Flashback with Lier? Casualties of War of course, which is really worth its six mana casting cost, as it gives us an answer to boardstates featuring a planeswalker, creature land, creature, or a combination thereof. Sublime Epiphany works similarly, answering multiple threats for six mana, and if we get to cast it twice with the help of Torrential Gearhulk its game over.
Finally, we play some card-advantage planeswalkers. A few turns with Jace, Unraveler of Secrets or Professor Onyx on the table and we’ll see the game slipping from our opponent’s hands. They come with a high loyalty and an integrated removal on their minus abilities to help us deal with powerful creatures.
Paradoxically, the last finisher I brought in is one of the oldest cards on Arena, but also the only one that does not really fit our colors: the infamous Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. While I’m not the first one who had the idea to play him in an off-colored Pact deck, I was surprised to realize how well he slotted in. The deck is more than 11% white sources, with nine of the 11 percent being cards played regardless of the splash to fetch our three colors of mana such as Fabled Passage, The World Tree, and Binding the Old Gods. The basic Snow-Covered Plains (for Into the North purposes) hurts a bit, but considering how strong Teferi is and that we don’t need to cast him before hitting five mana, I believe he’s well worth it.
The Most Valuable Card
One card that stands out is God-Eternal Kefnet. He’s amazing in every matchup. A 4/5 flyer for four mana is already an above rate body, but his abilities are great too. Instants and sorceries represent around 40% of our deck, and getting a copy on the first ability to cast with a two mana discount while keeping the original in hand is a solid card advantage. It gets even better with tutors, as revealing a tutor with Kefnet often means that we can win out of nowhere by casting it twice and getting the combo pieces. Keeping Kefnet alive is a great path to victory, and even his last ability helps him to come back all by himself.
Against Aggressive Opponents
Against aggressive opponents we need specific cards to help us keep our life total high enough. Besides creature removal spells, we play wrath effects such as Languish and Crux of Fate, our only wrath that kills creatures regardless of their toughness. However, the best of these is The Meathook Massacre as we’ll benefit from its lifegain while also removing their creatures.
Furthermore, Aggro decks usually lack the tools to disrupt our combos. If our hand allows us to fetch it soon enough, we should go for it as fast as possible.
Against Defensive Opponents
Control opponents are tricky to fight. They eventually get more value than us, but we can win within a small opportunity window while they can’t. Some cards stand out against them:
- Instants help us when facing countermagic: Siphon Insight and Memory Deluge bring a lot in these matchups
- Counterspells buy us ways to protect our threats and to answer theirs
- Discard spells are the most important. They provide us information about the opponents’ hands, the status of their defenses, and allow us to strip them of critical pieces. The double play of a discard spell and a threat in the same turn often puts us ahead.
Be careful about their discard though: it’s way scarier for Control to play without knowing whether or not we can combo-kill them this turn, thus they may want to keep mana and ressources open for a long time. Then Thought Distortion is able to break the symmetry in our favor unless we are too far behind. Many of these matchups want us to tutor Distortion early and clear their hand before risking any finishers or combo pieces.
Often against Control, waiting with the combo in hand until we get protection or information is a valid strategy. But we also have to know when to go for it, as time does not play in our favor forever when they continue to stockpile answers.
Cards to Fear
Despite a lot of resilience and several good matchups, this deck has some weaknesses.
Cards that increase the cost of spells like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Esper Sentinel are very painful disruptive pieces. If left unchecked in the early game, the Thalia will crush our gameplay, because most of our spells are non-creature spells. Having our tutor or our wrath one turn later can be fatal especially against Death and Taxes that aim to stax the board while punching our life total.
We have to watch out for Baleful Mastery and Prismari Command. Those two cards are able to make any player draw, which against us can turn the whole game from win to lose. If our opponent has the window for it, they might force us to draw before Thassa’s Oracle trigger resolves, but while we still have an empty library thanks to Tainted Pact resolving. We must ensure that they don’t cast one of them, first by searching their open decklist to see if they play any of them, and then by checking for stops and for the mana available. Sometimes we can play around one of them by leaving one or two cards in our library with the Pact, but then we have to ensure that Thassa’s Oracle survives or we’ll also lose if we don’t have enough devotion to blue.
Thanks for reading this deck tech! I hope it was insightful, and I bet you might cross some copies (or close versions) of this deck on the Gladiator Games this Saturday beside the ever improving Aggro, Control, and Midrange decks. My last piece of advice is to be careful with your Narset, Parter of Veils‘s activations: she is able to send your Thassa’s Oracle on the bottom of your library, which can be an upside worth remembering… and a mistake not to make.
Good luck in your next Gladiator Matches!