Hello and welcome to another installment of Treasure Cruisin'! This week, we head into slightly more expensive territory. "Budget" has many different meanings, and I opt to take a rather loose definition. Our deck this week is almost $180, which is much more expensive then last week's deck, Dimir Infect. For the Modern format, though, this deck is cheap by comparison. Many of the top tier strategies are almost triple this deck's price. I want to do something a bit more established for this week, but on the other hand, I do not want to play something that is not in some way spicy. Thus, I settled on a more recent take on a rogue Modern build of an old Standard deck from 2010. Now, while we all know that gaining life does not win games — okay, Felidar Sovereign does exist — but it is a sure-fire way to keep ourselves alive while we smash our opponent's face. Without further ado, I bring you Red-White Norin Sisters.
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4x Ajani's Pridemate
4x Champion of the Parish
1x Legion Loyalist
4x Norin the Wary
2x Purphoros, God of the Forge
3x Ranger of Eos
4x Soul Warden
4x Soul's Attendant
4x Squadron Hawk
4x Battlefield Forge
4x Inspiring Vantage
3x Lightning Bolt
3x Path to Exile
4x Genesis Chamber
2x Burrenton Forge-Tender
2x Crumble to Dust
1x Path to Exile
2x Rest in Peace
2x Stony Silence
2x Sudden Shock
2x Wear // Tear
Norin Sisters is an offshoot of the mono-white Soul Sisters deck. It is a hyper-synergistic deck that sits firmly on the border of aggro and density-based combo. An example of another deck like this is Affinity, where a critical mass of artifacts insures a kill with Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating. However, instead of overwhelming the board with permanents, we seek to create an abundance of "enter the battlefield" triggers with Norin the Wary. Most Soul Sisters decks are mono-white, and abuse Martyr of Sands and Serra Ascendant. Norin Sisters instead splashes red and shifts the core of the deck into an "enter the battlefield" deck. For somebody who runs away as soon as anybody does just about anything, Norin sure does wreak havoc in the process. We will split this organized and calculated chaos into two sections — lifegain and beatdown.
Norin Sisters, as previously mentioned, has its roots in Soul Sisters. As such, we play eight Sisters — 4 Soul Warden and 4 Soul's Attendant. Both of these cards gain us one life whenever a creature enters the battlefield. Say hello to the silliest lifegain engine in the entire format. When Norin the Wary is in play, the Sisters read "Whenever any player tries to play Magic: the Gathering, gain one life." You attack? Norin comes back into play on the end step, gain one life. Removal spell? Gain one. Flip the table? Gain one. When Norin is not in play, the Sisters get worse. Gaining one life whenever a creature enters play is nice, especially considering your opponent's creatures will trigger the lifegain, but if there is no way to abuse it, it can be underwhelming. Most opponents will not even bother trying to kill them until they get out of hand. The vast majority of this deck, though, is built to do just that.
Ajani's Pridemate is, for all intents and purposes, a white Tarmogoyf. The card generates obscene amounts of free value with the Soul sisters. For every single lifegain trigger, Pridemate gets a +1/+1 counter. After only a few triggers, the cat soldier dwarfs Tarmogoyf, Gurmag Angler, and even Death's Shadow. It can smash through the largest board stalls, and is very effective at dealing with planeswalkers and taking sizeable chunks out of the opponent's life total. Consequently, Pridemate is a removal magnet, and often bites the dust before it gets too large. However, if the opponent does not find a removal spell, Ajani's Pridemate takes over the game. It is a staple in any Soul Sisters strategy, and combined with our friend Norin, grows to an immense size with a Sister in play. Even without Norin, Pridemate and a Sister will take over the game if left unchecked for a few turns. Without a Sister in play, Pridemate becomes a bear, and is rather pitiful looking in Modern. With eight Sister effects, the testing showed we could still play a Sister and Pridemate in the late game and still make Pridemate into a 7/7 with ease.
While we can only play four Ajani's Pridemate, we pack another large creature at the one mana slot — Champion of the Parish. There are plenty of humans to trigger the Champion, and considering Norin the Wary is a human, Champion will regularly be a 4/4 by turn three, or even larger. A turn one Champion into turn two Norin followed by a Soul Warden means Champion can attack for three, and on the end of the turn we gain one life and grow Champion into a 4/4 by the end step. What if our opponent plays a creature on their turn? Norin triggers, comes back into play on the end step, and we stare at our 5/5 with glee. Champion and the Pridemate give our deck the necessary beef to end the game quickly if the opportunity arises. However, an early Fatal Push shuts down our plan to crush the opponent underneath our massive life total and burly cat soldiers.
Enter Genesis Chamber. Essentially, Chamber triggers all of our "enter the battlefield' triggers an extra time. One of these doubles the life we gain from our Sisters, which means double Ajani's Pridemate counters. It also means Norin enters with a companion, doubling all of our triggers for Norin as well. Chamber also gives us another angle of attack — the ability to swarm the opponent with 1/1 creatures. Now our deck is capable of going "tall" with Champion of the Parish and Ajani's Pridemate, or "wide" with Myr tokens. Either way, our opponent cannot fight us effectively on both ends, and thus needs to make a larger swarm of creatures or destroy our large beaters in order to whittle away at our life total.
Genesis Chamber is, unfortunately for us, symmetric. When an opponent plays a creature, they will also get a Myr. To get around this, many Norin Sisters decks play some number of Legion Loyalists. A one mana 1/1 with haste is rather lackluster, but the battalion trigger is what matters. Giving all of our creatures first strike, trample, and the ability to dodge tokens means our opponent cannot use their Myr tokens to halt our offensive. Additionally, with all of the creatures we play, Battalion is easy to trigger. A trampling Ajani's Pridemate is not pleasant to stare down on the other side of the board. However, we only play a single Loyalist, so if it does not survive until the combat step, we are out of luck and need to slog through some Myrs.
If attacking is out of the question, Purphoros, God of the Forge will let us continue to muck up the board while zapping our opponent for every creature we play. A Norin the Wary equates to two damage every end step, and with Genesis Chamber it becomes four. If we need to swing to close out the game, Purphoros can give our team +1/+0 to force through the final points of damage. In fact, with Purphoros on the board, some opponents will even stop playing spells or attacking in order to stop triggering Norin, effectively a soft lock on the entire game. Even without Norin, Purphoros is one of the best cards in the deck. Despite the fact that we are not capable of turning him into a creature, it works out to our advantage because it makes Purphoros that much harder to remove. The opponent needs permanent removal that exiles, such as Anguished Unmaking or Detention Sphere. These effects are rare in Modern, so Purphoros will most likely stick around for the duration of the game, being a one-sided Sulfuric Vortex, pumping our team up, and just being awesome in general. Due to him being legendary, we only run two so we do not clog up our hand with multiples.
Now that we have a solid shell, we need to fill out the rest of the deck with support cards and removal. To force more lifegain triggers from our Sisters, we run a full playset of Squadron Hawk. One of these in our hand is really four, and the Hawks can fuel Genesis Chamber and Purphoros on top of our lifegain effects. The Hawks are also evasive weenies that can attack over the opponent's board, and with Purphoros they represent a way to close out the game.
Ranger of Eos is our last creature, and another staple of the Soul Sisters archetype. His ability to tutor out two creatures with converted mana cost one or less is very useful for grabbing our missing pieces. He can get our Sisters, a Champion of the Parish to close out the game, Norin the Wary to start abusing triggers, and the singleton Legion Loyalist to swing through the opponent's board. Due to his mana cost, we only run three, but keep in mind this card is three "enter the battlefield' triggers masked as one (much like how a single Squadron Hawk is really four Hawks). Ranger is incredibly powerful, and his tutor ability can either stabilize us against an aggro deck or simply end the game.
For removal, we play three Lightning Bolt and three Path to Exile. Path is simply the best removal spell in the format, but due to the number of permanents we need to win the game, we had to trim down to three in the mainboard. Furthermore, having four Paths can clog up our hand and leave us with slow opening hands. If Path is outside of your budget, I have seen lists that run Outnumber instead because we typically have a horde of creatures on the board. Bolt will be a removal spell most of the time to clear the way for giant creatures, but it can be aimed at the opponent's face to deal the final three damage.
The lands for this deck are quite simple. We need both colors early, so having a selection of untapped duals is key for this deck to function properly. Inspiring Vantage gives us painless mana early a the cost of coming into play tapped later, but this is not an issue because we can function on three mana for a few turns while we continue our shenanigans with Norin the Wary. For additional mana fixing, a playset of Battlefield Forge is also in the deck. While taking damage for mana is not very attractive, we gain enough life to make this ability moot. The attractive part of Forge is the fact that it comes into play untapped no matter what stage of the game we are in, something Inspiring Vantage does not guarantee. For the rest of the lands, we play seven Plains and five Mountains. We need more white mana than red, and the ability to consistently play a turn one Sister is critical to this deck's success.
Sideboards are metagame dependent. Thus, always examine the local metagame and adjust the sideboard accordingly. What is listed here is a template that one could use to begin their sideboard. That said, I must confess that assembling a sideboard for this deck was very difficult. I attempted to pack answers for everything, which made the sideboard look clunky. If you have any sideboard suggestions, please post them in the comments.
- Two Burrenton Forge-Tender protect our board from red sweepers, such as Anger of the Gods. They are also tutorable with Ranger of Eos.
- The last Path to Exile is in the sideboard in case we need extra removal.
- Two Condemn serve as ways to halt Death's Shadow and are also useful against Tron's large creatures.
- A pair of Crumble to Dust make their appearance here for eliminating Tron lands.
- Two Rest in Peace is our graveyard hate of choice.
- Stony Silence shuts off Affinity, and is acceptable against Tron and the more recent metagame contender, Counters Company.
- Sudden Shock is a pet sideboard card of mine. It was great when Infect was still out in the metagame, but now it serves as a utility removal spell. It is useful for hitting Merfolk's lords, key combo pieces from Counters Company, Arcbound Ravagers, and hilariously even Sakura-Tribe Elder. Sudden Shock is a clutch removal spell when you need it to be one — a feat that few cards without split second can claim.
- Finally, we have the one-two punch of Wear // Tear. This essentially makes our sideboard 17 cards, because the fuse cost is not unreasonable if we need to hit both, and both pieces by themselves are reasonably priced. It is a utility spell that hits a variety of targets, from Cranial Plating to Detention Sphere to Krark-Clan Ironworks.
Upgrades and Adjustments
Our build of Norin Sisters is almost a complete version, minus a proper manabase. This cannot afford to flood out, and as such getting fetchlands is the first upgrade I would recommend. A playset of Arid Mesa and at least three copies of any other white fetchland is a must. Grabbing a few copies of Sacred Foundry should also be on our upgrade list. I would cut the Battlefield Forges and a few basics for these upgrades, maybe even trimming down on the number of Inspiring Vantages we play. For the sideboard, many lists play two copies of my favorite card, Blood Moon.
In terms of moving towards other decks, we can acquire a few pieces for mono-white Soul Sisters. Alternatively, we also get a majority of the cards for one of my favorite decks budget decks, Corbin Hosler's Boros Humans. We can easily change our manabase on the cheap to fit that deck, although I would still shell out for the Rugged Prairies if it is within financial reach.
For adjustments, the ratios of cards can always be tinkered with. I definitely believe having more Legion Loyalists is important for killing the opponent in creature-heavy metagames, the name of the game in Modern. Some lists go down to three copies of Norin in favor of an extra copy of any other utility card, such as Purphoros, God of the Forge. It is easy to tinker this list into something that fits the metagame and a preferred playstyle, so do not be afraid to try something new.
I spoke with Feyd_Ruin, another member of the content staff, about this deck, and he made his own version. It is quite rogue, but I could not help but share it because it has some very cool card choices and hilarious interactions. Shout out to Feyd, he is a fantastic deck brewer.
This deck looks like a blast to play. I was not able to test it too much, but the basic idea is that by using Pandemonium, we can abuse even more "enter the battlefield" triggers, and bounce our own stuff with Whitemane Lion and Stonecloaker. Notably, Pandemonium is symmetrical, so your opponent also gets to deal damage whenever they play a creature, but thanks to our myriad of bounce effects, we can save our own creatures from destruction if we have to. Furthermore, we gain enough life to race our opponent if we need too, although a large Death's Shadow could be problematic. If someone is looking for a weird brew to build into something all their own, Feyd Sisters is a great place to start.
Norin: How He Works
Norin the Wary is a tricky card to get used to. Basic actions in the game suddenly become more relevant due to his triggered ability. As such, prepare to miss a lot of triggers when beginning to play this deck. I recommend practicing with the deck with a friend a few times before taking it to a Friday Night Magic event or any other tournament. Here are a few things about Norin to keep in mind:
- Norin cannot die in creature combat or to any removal spell, even if the spell has split second. Even if the opponent responds to the Norin trigger with another removal spell, Norin will trigger again and exile himself.
- Norin does not trigger on activated abilities. This makes him vulnerable to planeswalkers, such as Liliana of the Veil, which can force his controller to sacrifice Norin.
- There are two parts to Norin's trigger: him leaving play and him returning on the end step. I would get into the habit of checking on each end step to see if a Norin was exiled this turn. This ensures his return trigger is not missed.
- Attacking with Norin will exile him because a creature attacked and he is removed from combat. Thus, it is possible to force a Norin trigger if we need to by simply declaring him as an attacker, even if it is not feasible to attack with anything else given the current board state.
- Remember that Norin will cause several "enter the battlefield" triggers to go off at once. We are allowed to stack those in any order we want, which may be relevant at times. Whenever any creature enters the battlefield, check to see if any ability triggers.
- Yes, it is easy to miss triggers in this deck. That is okay. Try not to get frustrated with it, just make a mental note of it and keep playing. Do not be afraid to take the game at a slower pace as to fully grasp the deck. Practice makes perfect.
That is this week's budget deck. What did you think of it? Testing revealed that Norin Sisters can be a fantastic Friday Night Magic deck, and it is incredibly fun to play. If you like triggers galore, making burly creatures, and swarming the opponent, this deck is for you. If you have an questions about the deck, card choices, or even deck suggestions, feel free to PM me or ask in the comments below!