If you travel back in time to when Journey into Nyx was first released, chances are pretty good that there was a certain card you were pretty excited about but after looking into a bit, your fascination faded and you moved on to real decks with real goals. The text box just looked so exciting but what could we actually do about it?
The card in question is Sage of Hours.
Converting five +1/+1 counters into an extra turn seemed really good. I can think back to hundreds of times where I have had some big creature with a million +1/+1 counters on it, so with Sage, that seems pretty good, right? And then everyone went to Gatherer and started to search for the best possible way to get five counters on to Sage and outside of a friendly three counters per turn from Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, nothing really stood out.
So Sage of Hours, head hung, crept back into the dollar bins and Commander deck boxes where he theoretically belonged.
Always one looking to find a use for Ajani's Pridemate though, I stumbled upon some interesting interactions that might just make Sage playable. As with any "combo" deck built around a rather fragile creature, it is important to have a functional deck without the combo, or to have so many redundant copies of your combo that you can attempt it multiple times throughout the game.
Splinter Twin is a good example of the latter here as it runs six to eight copies of each of its combo pieces so disrupting it once does not spell victory. Melira Pod is a good example of the former as it has a powerful set of infinite combos in it, but without those combos happening, it still gets to play out as a powerful disruptive midrange strategy where Birthing Pod just takes over games.
When looking at any Sage of Hours deck, it is going to be very difficult to become redundant. There are very few cards that actually grant you extra turns in Standard and obviously none of them care about the same input as Sage with a targeting request and whatnot. If that is the case, we should be looking at the Melira Pod style. We need to have a coherent and synergistic list that happens to work toward some type of Sage of Hours end game. With that in mind, I decided to turn to another underappreciated card:
Sunbond is fairly unique in that it basically creates a build your own Ajani's Pridemate. Obviously Pridemate is a strong card, but it is ultimately just a vanilla creature getting a bunch of +1/+1 counters. That's good, but not abusive. If the body weren't just vanilla though, you might end up with something like Sage of Hours.
Sunbond is slightly different than Ajani's Pridemate though in that it cares about how much life you gain. While Pridemate is happy seeing you gain one life the same as it is seeing you gain ten, Sunbond actually rewards you with nine additional +1/+1 counters in the later scenario.
This ultimately means that if you have Sunbond attached to Sage of Hours and you are able to gain at least five life in a turn, you get to take an extra turn. If you can gain five life every single turn, well then you get infinite turns until your deck runs out. Sound powerful? It is, but it can potentially be very clunky as well. If our method of gaining five life in a turn is adding up our Nyx-Fleece Ram and Courser of Kruphix triggers, that can be a difficult situation to maintain. Inspired by Ajani Pridemate, I wanted to take a more aggressive approach.
Here we have a deck that very much wants to set up some Sunbond combos, but it also just beats down pretty well, especially against other beatdown strategies. First, let's examine the combo.
Again, if we have a way to gain five life in a turn, Sunbond on Sage of Hours will provide us with as many turns as we want. In this deck, you can get there through a couple of Seeker of the Ways attacking, or a Seeker and a Fetchland with Courser, but again, we want something repeatable and that is where the Abzan lords come in.
Abzan Battle Priest gives lifelink to any creature with a +1/+1 counter on it. We have Ordeal of Heliod to produce those, as well as Sunbond itself. Plus Sage and Pridemate both come with them naturally. If you get out a Battle Priest and attack with a 5/5 Pridemate, not only will you gain five life, but it will get +1/+1 as well, allowing for a larger gain next turn and more extra turns. This obviously ends things very quickly. Abzan Falconer is in here to make sure you have a way to actually end the game and to make sure your lifelink attackers are not suiciding on their first attacks.
Chord of Calling helps us to assemble any missing piece from the puzzle so that a combo can more easily form, but even without a combo going off, this deck can just beat down.
Imagine playing Seeker of the Way on turn two and then Ordeal of Heliod on it on turn three, leaving up a protection instant even. You attack for four lifelink. Next turn you play Courser or something and attack again, putting the second counter on Seeker. We leave open one mana here again, to protect our guy. We untap on turn five, slam Sunbond on Seeker, making it a 5/5 lifelink. It attacks, triggering Ordeal, gaining ten life, triggering Sunbond, leaving you with a 16/16 lifelink that is going to double to 32/32 even if blocked here.
Or maybe in a different world, you drew Sage, played Ordeal on it and then save it with a Ranger's Guile. That already amounts to five counters and an extra turn without needing any Sunbond action.
Of course, we could focus a little less on the full combo lock and instead focus more heavily on getting Sage those first five or ten counters as you can do a lot of further set up during that extra time you buy yourself. Cutting the Falconer seems like the easiest move but I would actually just cut the Chords as well in this world. Just be happy drawing any particular card because so many things work well with the rest of your deck. We could add some card selection and the +1/+1 counter bot back into the deck that is Ajani though. Here is what that tweak might look like.
Not much changed here as we have about 55 of the same cards, but Ajani and Bow do give us reliable sources of four counters a turn making it much more likely that we get off the ground in the first place. Bow is actually kind of nice in that even without Sunbond around, it is able to just drop a counter a turn and then if you ever do go infinite but are going to deck, Bow protects you from that, so it does play a very versatile role and maybe should just be in the first list as well.
All of the protection spells in these lists are pretty important in my opinion. Most lists would run removal or disruption in these slots, but the ability to keep our win conditions or combo pieces safe while potentially even triggering heroic or prowess at the same times is a rather big deal. You might notice that there are four copies of Ranger's Guile and only one Gods Willing in the list despite it also scrying. This is because if you ever need to give your creature protection from white, say to save it from a Banishing Light or Last Breath, any Sunbond you have on the creature will fall off. Now, this might not come up in every game or anything of that nature, but the fact that it can come up at all is a bit scary as we don't want our combo protection also breaking up out combo. Ranger's Guile gets around all of this quite nicely and we still have a random protection from color spell in there anyway, just not as the primary option.
As I said before though, there are not that many Pridemates in the format. That is to say that there are not a lot of things looking to pay you off for gaining life besides these two cards. That limits what you can really do with the deck in terms of different builds, but there are some cards that work well here that I did not get to feature as of yet.Other Options
Of course, with a set up that involves this many different moving pieces, there is bound to be some stuff left on the cutting room floor. These are not cards that are necessarily bad or anything like that, but they simply looked a bit worse than other options right out of the gate. There is a chance that the deck could be improved by adding one or more of the following cards.
Abzan AscendancyAbzan CharmEphara's EnlightenmentHardened ScalesSolidarity of HeroesTemur CharmAjani SteadfastEphara's RadianceFeed the ClanFont of VigorHorizon ChimeraNyx-Fleece RamNylea's DiscipleRadiant FountainSiege RhinoSoul of Theros
A lot of this is just more ways to gain life every turn, like Nyx-Fleece Ram and Horizon Chimera. Some of the stranger options might actually be worth testing though. Hardened Scales is a card that looks rather weak on paper, for example, but if it can work somewhere, this might very well be it. Ephara's Radiance is very similar even though it is certainly more of a stretch to see any play.
Without more direct pay offs in the format, it is hard to justify building a dedicated lifegain shell which is why I tried to incorporate the Sage of Hours outlets, but it is possible that the deck should just steer clear of that trap. Without Sage, the deck could easily move down to two colors and would get to run some more consistent options like Ajani Steadfast or Nyx-Fleece Ram, which actually can attack, should it get access to counters on it.Wrap Up
This is just one of the many brews I have stumbled upon while getting ready for the Pro Tour in just ten days from now. I am looking to do really well and so I am afraid I will not be playing this as it is a little too fragile and inconsistent still, but all of that can easily change with a new set or metagame shift, so sharing seemed appropriate!
New Standard does look awesome though and I am really looking forward to playing it! Until next time, thanks for reading!