The Cat's Whiskers for FNMs
Do you want an exciting competitive deck for FNM that's relatively inexpensive? Mark's got the answer. Ajani's Pridemate is one of his favorite cards and he's convinced that this humble lion can still roar, even in the world power creep that is Magic: The Gathering.
I enjoy playing Magic quite a bit. Sometimes playing a net deck at your local FNM can be a draining affair and I instead think to the old days when we had to build decks without the internet and instead built our own or looked at top decks in Scrye or The Duellist magazines.
History with Soul Sisters
To get us started, we have to look back at what turned me onto the deck… the journey's origin, with a certain popular Magic personality.
Soul Sisters by Conley Woods US Nationals 2010
|4Kabira Crossroads||4Ajani's Pridemate||3Elspeth, Knight-Errant|
|15Plains||4Kor Firewalker||4Brave the Elements|
|4Tectonic Edge||4Ranger of Eos||2Oblivion Ring|
|4Serra Ascendant||4Survival Cache|
|2Celestial Purge||2Linvala, Keeper of Silence||4Luminarch Ascension|
|2Oblivion Ring||3Path to Exile||1Sun Titan|
|1War Priest of Thune|
When I saw this deck, I was hooked on the concept. It looked like a lot of fun and I liked the idea of calling Ajani's Pridemate the new white Tarmogoyf, even it felt like a blatant exaggeration. I was "convinced" when I saw my first double digit power and toughness numbers on the cat.
I've still got a similar version sleeved up for Modern with Martyr of Sands rather than Kor Firewalker in the main deck, but this archetype unfortunately just isn't quite fast enough to deal with the extremely aggressive format Modern has grown into. Considering that this turned me off of Modern for a while, imagine my joy when the pridemate got a Standard legal reprinting.
My Arena Journey
I started playing Magic on Arena at Christmas. My partner was working and the contract I work on closed for the Christmas period, so I had a decent amount of free time on my hands. With a small collection of cards mainly from the intro decks you're given online, it soon became apparent I needed to find something that could grind me some cards. After looking at my card collection, I saw that I had several Ajani's Pridemate, Leonin Vanguard, and Healers Hawk in my collection, so it would not take much to make a serviceable deck with my wildcards. Guilds of Ravnica was the draft format at the time and I drafted Boros Weenie and Selesyna go wide decks as not only did they play well, they also increased my collection of playable cards. With my new deck, I quickly rose up the Arena ladder, but more importantly, I was having fun playing the pridemate.
Magic Arena does things for you automatically. It's very important, though, that you follow all the triggers as when you try and play that deck at your FNM, you'll need to remember them yourself. Arena is very useful as it can also tell you things that you had missed, like Knight of the Ebon Legion triggers, which usually gains a counter when your opponent loses the life on your turn. However, it also works if you lose four life, which happens more often than you think with Adanto Vanguard activations and Champion of Dusk ETB triggers.
Can I really take this deck to FNM?
I really wanted to play with Ajani's Pridemate, but I was worried about bringing a rogue deck to an FNM when of tier decks from the net. We also have another player who loves her cats, so I'd potentially be reducing deck diversity. I've played the deck before, so I wasn't worried about diversity and the first argument was less relevant when I realized that the net deck du jour in my meta was Mono Red, which my rogue life gain deck matches up pretty darn well against.
Arena Versus Paper
So, the first thing I noticed was that my paper collection was vastly superior to my online collection. I was pretty much playing a sub optimal build online, at least when compared with what I could build in paper. However, getting in plenty of matches online to improve my play skill with the deck was still important, but if it got some extra edges in paper, then that would just be gravy.
Online, I was pretty much playing mono white. I didn't have nearly enough dual lands to play more colors without losing a lot of efficiency and my wild cards went to useful cards for the deck like Benalish Marshal. Sometimes I noticed that I'd find myself with stalled board or I'd just run out of momentum, so I converted from a white weenie aggro deck into a midrange deck revolving around life gain. I added an Angel package with Resplendent Angel, Shalai, Voice of Plenty and Lyra Dawnbringer. This added so much late game value and even a turn four pesky Shalai, Voice of Plenty was often enough, blanking targeted removal and Settle the Wreckage, which was popular then. I felt I was on track at this point and the online results were promising.
Adding Some Color
Now as I mentioned my paper collection is quite significant, so I had many options for improving on the deck. Initially all I did was add green dual lands to the deck so I could use the Shalai, Voice of Plenty ability to add counters to my creatures. This worked okay, but I still struggled to have enough green sources, so I added some forests. I quickly ran into Benalish Marshall problems there, but the second color was quite useful as Knight of Autumn was an answer to so many problems and had built-in life gain, so it had synergy with the core strategy of the deck.
My decision at this point was that a second color would add value to the deck, however, to help lessen the effect of redundancy or mana issues I'd only play off color cards utilising a single off color mana.
I'd discounted the option of the red pair when building as I'd tried the out the LSV Pro tour deck and it had not really been a good fit.
Luis Scott-Vargas, 2nd Place, Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica
|4Clifftop Retreat||4Adanto Vanguard||2Conclave Tribunal|
|12Plains||4Ajani's Pridemate||4History of Benalia|
|4Sacred Foundry||4Benalish Marshal||4Legion's Landing / Adanto, the First Fort|
|4Dauntless Bodyguard||3Pride of Conquerors|
|2Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice||3Baffling End||2Banefire|
|2Conclave Tribunal||4Experimental Frenzy||1Mountain|
|1Settle the Wreckage|
I then caused mass confusion and consternation at my FNM and Standard Showdown's when I started to experiment with other colors. I switched in blue for Dovin, Grand Arbiter and Depose // Deploy. Then black made an appearance with Kaya, Orzhov Usurper and Mortify the following week. The week I went in with multiple shock and check lands effectively playing Esper Pridemate was hilarious fun albeit the results weren't as consistent.
My mana base was still a bit sketchy but I worked out that I would not use any off-white basic lands but in addition to check and shock lands, I'd add one tapped land to increase my off color sources, one turn coming in tapped was the least harmful consequence of the splash.
So, after a couple of months of testing and refining we ended up here
|2Seraph of the Scales||2Shield Mare||3Tithe Taker|
I mentioned earlier that this deck wants to run away with the game after a fast start, but I never explained how. The key is appropriate one drops
Legions Landing / Adanto, the First Fort and Healer's Hawk both give you a 1/1 creature with Lifelink. This makes your Ajani's Pridemate on turn two must-kills. If they don't, the pridemate will spiral out of control. Leonin Vanguard isn't great on turn one but it can have a solid impact when paired with other creatures later. It also helps make sure you get to play a creature on one, meaning you'll get to three creatures quickly for both Vanguard itself and Landing.
These starts also lead to quick concessions, but even if they think the pressure will stop, the angels will quickly end their hope of competing in the midgame. Lyra offering you angels lifelink can really help you stabilize too.
The above is a picture of the board state in my first round. My Pridemates were staring down Ghalta, Primal Hunger and multiple Carnage Tyrant's. The board had stalled, but Kaya, Orzhov Usurper helped me secure the win with her ultimate.
My other wins were against Izzet Wizards and two Mono Red Aggro decks.
Has the Deck Changed?
With every set, this deck gains new cards and new options. War of the Spark gave my pridemate a reprint though, which is amazing, as I know there will be the potential to continue playing the card in Standard, for at least one more year.
A Pridemate reprint wasn't the only change though, as Charmed Stray provides a great replacement for Leonin Vanguard. It has lifelink, and even can become a powerful aggressive threat if you draw it in multiples.
The second adjustment is replacing Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants with Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord. Giving your attacking creatures lifelink is huge. Additionally, the down tick allows you to replay pretty much any creature from your graveyard.
We also have a new sideboard option in Despark. It acts as a catch most removal spell and surprisingly Oath of Kaya proved way better than I initially expected. Gaining extra life turn three while removing a blocker is quite useful. Oath of Kaya is also useful to protect Sorin while also hurting those frustrating Tibalt, Rakish Instigators.
More recently, Core set 2020 has brought us Ajani, Strength of the Pride and, oh my, it makes its own Ajani Pridemates. I'm currently trying to find a way to maximize the cards potential, but it's feeling more like a win more card than an actual win condition.
Ironically, the hardest choice is what the sole Forsaken Sanctuary becomes? Scoured Barrens gives you extra life, handy with a Pridemate or two, but Temple of Silence is an extremely powerful tap land, and may outpace the more synergistic card.
This article was meant to show you how your pet deck can be competitive, even if a cutthroat format like Standard, given enough love of course. Also, if you were interested in the pridemate, this hopefully gave you some ideas for your own build. It feels great overcoming the odds with your pet deck to win your local FNM and FNMs themselves are great places to really experiment and have fun with your deckbuilding.
I've had many variations of the deck and currently sat on my desk it is in full foil glory wearing stylish Chibi Liliana sleeves and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.