Deadeye Navigator | Illustration by Tomasz Jedruszek
There are a variety of reasons why a specific keyword mechanic might stop being printed in Magic. Sometimes, these abilities fall out of use because they don’t fit with current design trends. We saw this with landwalk abilities, which began to fall off as Magic moved away from cards meant to punish specific colors. However, sometimes a keyword ability gets dropped almost as quickly as it was added. This often happens to keywords that prove too confusing for players.
Soulbond is one of these keywords that caused a bit too much confusion, taking its place alongside abilities like flanking or banding. Mark Rosewater has even given soulbond a 9 on the Storm Scale, meaning it’s highly unlikely to ever appear in a premier set again, specifically due to how it “really confused players.”
What is soulbond, how does it work, and are any of the cards worth playing still? Let’s take a look at the mechanic, its history in the game, and how exactly you’re supposed to make it work. I’ll also discuss what I think are the best soulbond cards and give you an example of how they might work in a deck.
Breathkeeper Seraph | Illustration by Alexander Mokhov
Soulbond is a triggered ability that works in one of two ways. It either triggers when the creature it’s printed on enters the battlefield or when another creature enters the battlefield and you already control a soulbond creature.
When soulbond triggers, you may pair the soulbond creature with any other creature you control that’s also unpaired. Soulbond creatures then grant a benefit to themselves and whatever creature they’re paired with so long as you control both creatures. For example, if you paired a creature with Druid's Familiar, both Druid's Familiar and the creature paired with it get +2/+2. However, if you lose control of either of those creatures, the remaining creature becomes unpaired and loses the ability granted to it.
The History of Soulbond in MTG
Soulbond was first printed in Avacyn Restored in 2012. Most of the cards it appeared on were green with blue being the second most common color, but the mechanic appeared on at least a few cards of every color except black. The mechanic is also exclusively found on creature cards as noncreature cards can’t be paired with soulbond.
It quickly became apparent to Magic’s design team that the mechanic was too confusing to be an evergreen keyword. It wasn’t seen again for a while, except on reprints of cards from Avacyn Restored.
Nine years after its initial release, soulbond popped back up in 2021 as part of Crimson Vow Commander. The soulbond cards from this set were actually Commander-exclusive cards that could only be found in set and collector boosters. A cycle of five cards were introduced, one for each color, which means black was given its first and only soulbond creature, Doom Weaver.
Most recently, soulbond was printed on a card for the Doctor Who Universes Beyond decks, Donna Noble. While it may not be likely to show up again in a premier set, it does seem as though Wizards is confident that at least some players understood and enjoyed the mechanic. It may continue to show up in supplemental products like these or possibly even a future Modern Horizons-type set.
No, only one creature needs to have soulbond to pair it with another. The only stipulations about which creatures can be paired with soulbond is that both creatures must be unpaired when choosing.
Yes and no. Both creatures must be unpaired to select them for a soulbond. This means if a new creature enters the battlefield, you can’t switch your soulbond creature from its current pair to the newly cast creature. However, if a creature with soulbond becomes unpaired from its initial soulbond, you can have it create a new bond with another when it enters the battlefield. While you can’t change soulbonded creatures during a pairing, you can establish a new pair with your soulbond creature once that initial one is broken.
Yes, soulbond can be triggered either by the soulbond creature entering the battlefield or by having a new creature enter the battlefield with a soulbond creature already in play. Pairing two creatures is always optional, so you don’t have to pair a soulbond creature with the next creature you play. You can wait for a more advantageous pairing if you like.
Yes, soulbond triggers go on the stack. If multiple creatures enter the battlefield at the same time causing multiple soulbond triggers, you may order those triggers any way you wish. However, it doesn’t really make a big difference since you can always decline to form a pair between two creatures and just select a bond that you think is best, regardless of what order the soulbond triggers are on the stack.
When one of the paired creatures dies, leaves the battlefield, or is no longer a creature, the remaining creature becomes unpaired and loses any benefits of the soulbond. If the remaining creature is the one that has the soulbond ability, you’re free to pair it with a new creature once soulbond triggers again.
What Happens if You Kill a Creature in Response to Soulbond?
If you kill one of the two creatures that a player is attempting to soulbond, the remaining creature will be considered unpaired. It won’t receive any of the benefits of the soulbond since those are conditional on you controlling both creatures.
- Breathkeeper Seraph
- Deadeye Navigator
- Diregraf Escort
- Doom Weaver
- Druid's Familiar
- Elgaud Shieldmate
- Flowering Lumberknot
- Galvanic Alchemist
- Geist Trappers
- Hanweir Lancer
- Imperious Mindbreaker
- Lightning Mauler
- Mirage Phalanx
- Nearheath Pilgrim
- Nightshade Peddler
- Pathbreaker Wurm
- Silverblade Paladin
- Spectral Gateguards
- Stern Mentor
- Tandem Lookout
- Thundering Mightmare
- Trusted Forcemage
- Wolfir Silverheart
- Donna Noble
In a game of Commander, Thundering Mightmare and whatever creature it’s paired with will accrue a lot of +1/+1 counters since you have three opponents who will likely be casting at least one spell a turn. Unlike other soulbond abilities, there’ll be a lasting positive effect even if one of the pair dies since they keep their +1/+1 counters.
Pairing Mirage Phalanx with a creature that has an ETB trigger, a death trigger, or an attack trigger allows you to cash in on those abilities each turn. Even if you don’t swing with the clone, you can get a lot of benefits out of it depending on what creatures you pair up.
A lot of the older soulbond cards simply grant both creatures a keyword ability. Of these, Silverblade Paladin is one of the best since double strike is one of the more powerful keyword abilities. Pairing this card with the right creature can give you an incredibly dangerous attacker or allow you to double dip on combat damage triggers.
The ability Donna Noble grants with its soulbond can deal a good amount of damage or just act as a deterrent. Since any damage dealt by an attacker to one of these creatures can be dealt back to the attacker’s controller, players may be dissuaded from swinging at you with their strongest creatures. Pairing Donna up with an indestructible creature is the best way to get the most out of this ability.
Doom Weaver is a great addition to a sacrifice deck that’s going to churn through a lot of creatures. Pairing a creature with this card and then sacrificing it makes it an easy way to draw some cards while also getting the benefits of any sacrifice effects. You can then just pair Doom Weaver up with the next unlucky creature you intend to sacrifice, meaning you'll be drawing a steady stream of cards.
[card]Breathkeeper Seraph is an effective way to ensure that you’ll be able to keep a specific creature on the field. When the card that dies re-enters the battlefield at your next upkeep, you can just pair it with this card again, giving them both the ability to keep coming back. This could also be used to cash in on ETB and death triggers multiple times by sacrificing your own creature, preferably at instant speed right before your upkeep.
Pairing Galvanic Alchemist with the right creature can possibly allow you to generate infinite mana. This becomes even easier when you have a card that reduces the cost of activated abilities, making it even easier to untap whatever creature you bond to this card.
Deadeye Navigator’s ability to flicker itself or the creature it’s bonded to can help you keep both safe from removal. It can also allow you to cash in on ETB effects that the paired creature might have for a relatively low price. This card can be used to enable combos so long as flickering the other creature allows you to generate at least 3 mana in some way, at least one being blue. You can also easily switch what creature Deadeye Navigator
is bonded with by flickering the Navigator and using its ETB soulbond trigger to choose a new creature.
Garth One-Eye | Illustration by Micah Epstein
Arcanis the Omnipotent
Birds of Paradise
Brago, King Eternal
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
Samut, Voice of Dissent
Vizier of Tumbling Sands
Force of Will
Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Sensei's Divining Top
The Great Henge
City of Brass
Minamo, School at Water's Edge
While there are some decks that revolve around using a lot of the soulbond creatures that exist, none of them really seemed all that exciting. Soulbond creatures make more sense to me as the kind of creature you pick one or two of that fit your strategy, but not really build around. To that end, I went with a fun Commander deck that’s all about flickering and uses Deadeye Navigator as one of its methods.
The commander for this deck is Garth One-Eye, a fun legendary that allows you to play some cards that aren’t technically legal in Commander, like the legendary Black Lotus, and you won’t even have to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to do so.
You want many ways to flicker Garth in this deck because it’s only allowed to create one of each card it can make, but if it leaves and re-enters the battlefield, that resets. Pairing Garth up with Deadeye Navigator allows you to flicker Garth for 2 mana. Then, using one of your haste enablers, you can immediately tap Garth for a Black Lotus. Sacrifice the Lotus for 3 blue mana and flicker Garth again using 2 of it. This allows you to create infinite blue mana.
Once you have enough mana, you can flicker Garth a few more times to create a Braingeyser for each opponent. Using your absurd amount of mana, you can force each of your opponents to draw out their deck and lose the game. Alternatively, you can put a Thassa's Oracle or Laboratory Maniac in this deck, draw out your own deck, and win with one of their effects.
Silverblade Paladin | Illustration by Jason Chan
I think it’s a bit of a shame that soulbond was deemed too confusing of a mechanic. While some of the cards are underwhelming, there are some really interesting ways to use the mechanic, and I think it had a lot of potential. I’m glad to see that Wizards isn’t against printing new soulbond cards in supplemental sets, and I’ll be interested to see what they do with it whenever they roll this mechanic out for one or two new cards.
Do you find soulbond confusing? Which cards from this list would you use? Let me know in the comments or on Draftsim’s Twitter.
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