Pattern Recognition #292 - Soldier On
10 August 2023
10 August 2023
Good day everyone! My name is berryjon, and I welcome you all to Pattern Recognition, TappedOut's longest running article series. I am something of an Old Fogey and a definite Smart Ass, and I have been around the block quite a few times. My experience is quite broad and deep, and so I use this series to try and bring some of that to you. Be it deck design, card construction, mechanics or in-universe characters and the history of the game. Or whatever happens to catch my attention each week. Which happens far more often than I care to admit. Please, feel free to talk about my subject matter in the comments at the bottom of the page, add suggestions or just plain correct me.
And welcome back, everyone! After skipping over last week, I did have some more time to work on this, and well, sometimes, no matter how much time you have, there are things you can't really elaborate on without rambling. Today's subject is one of them sad to say.
Soldier is one of the most classic creature types in the game. Focused more on as a tribe, it has been all over the place over Magic's history. First printed in Fallen Empires on cards like Icatian Lieutenant, these creatures represented the organized armies of the world, and these first ones had abilities that let them share something with their fellows in one way or another. This theme continued into Ice Age, where you had Kjeldoran Elite Guard and it's alternate-banding styled ability.
Thematically, and from the Vorthos perspective, Soldiers represent the trained and organized military of a larger political group. They are distinguished from Warriors by the fact that the former is meant to work in a gorup, while the latter can operate by themselves, and often take pride in that. This lends them towards, as I have pointed out, towards with that colour's theme of community. They did not stand alone, and where there was one, well in the art, Soldiers probably had more than one person in it. And I'm going to come back to this later.
From there, Soldiers started to appear in every set, most often focused on , but branching out into other colours as well. They, for the most part, appeared at common, but they did appear in Rare at those times, with cards like Beast Walkers or General Jarkeld. Look, I never said these cards were good, it was the bad old days of card design!
But Soldiers were nothing important. Nothing spectacular. They were just the default creature type for when they didn't have art for an angel or something more special like Elder Land Wurm. In fact, in 2007, when the Great Creature Type Update happened, Soldier was one of the major beneficiaries, as a lot of the incidental creature types, like Hero or Avenger or Pikemen were all rolled into Soldier. And with the existence of Coat of Arms, this reduction in irrelevant and obsolete creature types only made the remains better!
Yet, this wasn't the end of it, nor the beginning. In fact, I skipped ahead a little! Five years before the GCTU, we had the Onslaught Block. This block was aggressively Tribal/Typal in nature, and one of the chose tribes to represent , along with Cleric and Bird was Soldier. From Glory Seeker to Gustcloak Savior, these creatures represented the aggressive and attacking side of this colour, culminating in the creature-removing Catapult Master and Lord of Aven Brigadier.
Again, not the best, not when compared to other options, but still it does lead into the next point I want to make.
Because Soldiers are one of those eternal creature types, they keep showing up in every set. And because of that, whenever they get a Lord or lord-like effect, it tends to stick around for the long haul. In fact, I would say that outside of the unique case of the Slivers, where they are (almost all) Lords for their type, Soldiers have the most. Elves are pretty close, but I'm not about to do that much of a deep dive into the numbers. In fact... Aven Brigadier, Auriok Steelshaper, Captain of the Watch, Daru Warchief, Field Marshal and Valiant Veteran. Just off the cuff and flipping through my cards.
And from there, we get into one of the core aspects to .
It only occurs to me now, that I haven't actually talked about the deck archetype of the White Weenie in any dedicated way. I guess now is as good a time to talk about it, and how it relates to Soldiers.
As you peruse the ranks of creatures with this type, especially as you focus on the singular colour involved, there becomes a certain aspect to them that becomes quite apparent. Or at least I see one, but that's probably my confirmation bias at work. Soldiers tend to be cheap and small. They rarely go above 2/2, and when they do, they tend to be standouts. This is an Aggro archtype that shares a few fundamentals with the very similarly paced Red Deck Wins. While both will embrace aggressively costed, high power creatures such as Savannah Lions and Blade of the Sixth Pride and similar creatures, the difference lay in how they work to close out games. RDW goes for broke, slamming creature and spell into the opponent, racing their lifegain and their own life into your resources in a desperate race to the finish.
On the other side, White Weenie doesn't keep accelerating as RDW does. Instead, they start to switch gears from pure aggro to midrange as they start to drop Anthem after Anthem, then Lords and them more creatures. They go wide and then to go tall. That's how they generate value and keep the pressure on as the game progresses.
And at the core of that? Soldiers.
Because of their unique mixture of cheap and unremarkable creatures, such as Eager Cadet or Frontline Strategist, when combined with a bit more expensive, but creatures whose power and ability has a disproportionate effect on what would otherwise be an unoffensive force - Archetype of Courage or Field Marshal or Siege Veteran or Veteran Swordsmith. They go wide and then they go tall as each piece builds up on every other piece. There is no single point of failure with Soldiers and how they develop over the course of the game.
That is not to say that all Soldiers are either the rank-and-file, or the ones who make them all greater. Thanks to their omnipresence in the game, there are a remarkable number of individual soldiers who stand out above even the rest. Brutal Cathar Flip is a Standard staple for decks running White thanks to it's targeted removal that is repeatable due to being a Werewolf. Cliffside Rescuer is an easy to recur creature thanks to its cheap casting cost. Darien, King of Kjeldor is an old but reliable Soldier token maker that punishes people for not killing you outright - and if you have any of the Soul Sisters in play, then killing you becomes even more difficult. Enlistment Officer goes looking at the top of your deck for more soldiers to bring to the battle. Gerrard Capashen is some random dude that people liked for some reason (don't judge me!). Harbin, Vanguard Aviator is a two-color Soldier Lord that gives them flying when you attack with enough. Keeper of the Accord is a recent method of catching up as is wont to do.
Look, what I'm trying to say is that there are a lot of good Soldiers. And there are a lot of not-good soldiers who can be made good by the presence of other soldiers. They work together, as the Vorthos of demands. By themselves, they're not that great, but together? They work miracles.
Soldiers are a 1 on the Beeble Scale, which means as far as Mark Rosewater is concerned, they will be in every set from here until eternity. They are practically Iconic to , with Clerics being their job-based but spellcasting counterpart. And while I have focused on their primary colour, they can and do appear in any other colour. In fact, over the past year, has seen a slight surge in this as the latter half started to really work with the former to gain some degree of Aggro based on Soldiers and Knights that wasn't based around Birds and evasive flying creature. Unless of course, you give them all flying.
They are everywhere, and everywhen. Soldiers slip below most people's awareness because they are just so ubiquitous. They're in your packs, in your card collections, and they're probably in your deck right now! Even Elves. But not Slivers. That's its own can of worms.
But don't underestimate them because they aren't big and flashy. They will get the job of winning done just as easy as anyone else.
(As a side note, with Final Fantasy coming - if they may Cloud Strife a Soldier and not a Mercenary, I'm going to lose my mind over making a mistake that fundamental.)
Thank you for reading, and I'll see you next week! I know I said I was going to talk about my Brawl and Commander decks, but in the end, this subject took my mind up for a bit. Suggestions for a Commander are welcome! Remember, I've been running Esper with Queza, Augur of Agonies the past year, so a change of direction will be appreciated!
Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!