Sorin of House Markov "Aetherflux Reservoir at Home" - Plot Twist #12

Jeff Girten • July 8, 2024

Sorin of House Markov by Matt Stewart

Welcome back to Plot Twist, the series where we build a Commander deck that looks like it'll tell one kind of story only to throw out a twist for our opponents mid-game. If you're joining us for the first time, welcome! I'd encourage you to check out the previous articles in the series to get a sense for the types of stories we're looking to tell.

Last time, we built a landwalk deck helmed by Omo, Queen of Vesuva that turned our opponents' lands into every land type and gives all of our creatures (and sometimes our opponents' creatures) landwalk abilities so they can slip through unblocked. This week, we're taking a look a commander that cares a lot about lifegain with Sorin of House Markov. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Orzhov is the dominant color identity for lifegain decks; it's known for massive lifegain generated by cards like Soul Warden and Soul's Attendant and for powerful combos utilizing cards like Sanguine Bond and Exquisite Blood.

While we've experimented with combo decks before on Plot Twist, I've always shied away from lifegain strategies for one very specific reason: there are just too many triggers for me to keep track of. Whether it's the single point of life Soul Warden gains us whenever any creature enters the battlefield, the death triggers Blood Artist generates whenever any creature dies, or doubling effects, like Astarion, the Decadent's end step trigger, there are just SO MANY things to keep track of in a lifegain deck.

Lifegain decks often have a lot of overlap with the aristocrats theme, which look to sacrifice creatures for extra benefit, since both frequently win by draining life from their opponents and gaining life in the process. Both the lifegain and aristocrats archetypes can often be frustrating to play against since the sheer number of triggers and game actions that they generate can make it feel like one player is taking up more of the game clock and 'playing' more of the game. That's why this week, we're trying to take a lifegain deck helmed by Sorin of House Markov in a different, more Plot Twist direction, because this deck strives to gain large swathes of life at once and minimize the number of triggers we have to track.

How Does Sorin Work?

As a flip planeswalker, Sorin of House Markov might be the most complicated commander we've built around yet on Plot Twist. The front side has two keyword abilities, lifelink and extort, that you should be familiar with and that play right into our goal to gain lots of life. The last ability of Sorin's front side is a triggered ability that causes Sorin to transform into a planeswalker at the beginning of our postcombat main phase as long as we've gained three or more life this turn. Extort is a particularly nice ability for Sorin because if we have three or more opponents, paying for a single extort trigger will be enough to trigger Sorin's transform ability.

The planeswalker side of Sorin of House Markov still has the extort ability plus three planeswalker abilities. With his +2 ability, Sorin generates a Food token, allowing us to continue gaining life. Sorin's -1 ability, which we'll be focusing on for this week's deck, deals damage to any target equal to the amount of life you've gained this turn. Sorin's third, 'ultimate' ability lets us gain control of target creature and makes it a Vampire in return for removing six loyalty from Sorin. We can also put a lifelink counter on that creature if we control a white permanent other than that creature or Sorin. This isn't terribly impressive as far as planeswalker ultimates go, but perhaps it could be useful against Voltron decks, like the Lilah, Undefeated Slickshot deck we built a few weeks back.

In looking at Sorin's EDHREC page, we can see many brewers are tinkering around with lifegain staples, like Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, Sanguine Bond, and Soul's Attendant, each appearing in more than 50% of Sorin decks at the time of writing. It seems like many Sorin decks have an aristocrats sub-theme as well, with cards like Blood Artist and Elas il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim also showing up in more than a quarter of Sorin decks so far. 

Doing the Twist

When our opponents sit down across from us as we're playing Sorin of House Markov, they'll likely expect us to gain incremental life over the course of the game as they slowly whittle down their opponents or win via a combo finish, and while we're certainly going to be gaining plenty of life and maybe winning with a combo finish, we're hoping to gain life in large chunks with cards like Chant of Vitu-Ghazi, Congregate, and Renounce that we can cast at instant speed and hopefully not stall the game too much with an endless stream of triggered abilities.

Since most of our lifegain effects aren't coupled with draining our opponents' life totals, we'll be relying on the -1 ability of Sorin of House Markov's planeswalker side, Aetherflux Reservoir, and cards like Evra, Halcyon Witness to put our hopefully-higher-than-starting life totals to good use. There's a lot of interesting synergies between these types of effects, so we can potentially take out two or three opponents in the same turn if we manage to gain enough life before our second main phase.

Gaining a Whole Bunch of Life

Since so much of our deck revolves around our life total being high, we're going to need to be able to gain a whole bunch of it, ideally at once. Beacon of Immortality, Boon Reflection, and Rhox Faithmender all double our life total/lifegain effects, so they'll be cards we're happy to see every game, and Beacon of Immortality even shuffles itself back into our library so we can potentially see it twice in one game if the game goes long enough. 

Chant of Vitu-Ghazi, Congregate, Crypt Incursion, Honor the Fallen, Plunge into Darkness, and Renounce all scale nicely as more creatures are on the board/in graveyards/attacking us, and they can easily gain us massive amounts of life for a relatively low mana cost. In particular, I like Chant of Vitu-Ghazi because it can save us from a lethal attack and gain a bunch of life, but the real Plot Twist moment will be attacking with your creatures and casting it on your own turn to prevent all damage before winning the game with Sorin of House Markov in our second main phase. That's a move that your playgroup won't soon forget about, and it'll earn a deck like this a reputation. I also want to highlight the flexibility of Plunge into Darkness as either a lifegain spell and/or 'forbidden' tutor that can let us find Aetherflux Reservoir, a board wipe, or additional lifegain depending on what we need in the moment.

There are a few cards which 'reset' our life total in the deck as well which are extremely helpful, because if our life total gets too low and is reset to our starting life total, we are technically gaining life equal to the difference. Eternity Vessel is the best of these effects because it triggers whenever we play a land. I've played against it before in a Vilis, Broker of Blood deck that would pay life for effects like Unspeakable Symbol, which would allow them to draw cards with Villis, and then they'd regain the life with Eternity Vessel by simply playing their land for turn. It was sick!

In this deck, we can achieve similar effects with Oketra's Last Mercy and Tainted Sigil, though we can't loop these lifegain effects like we can with Eternity Vessel. Keep in mind that Boon Reflection, Rhox Faithmender, and even Phial of Galadriel, under the right circumstances, will double the amount of life we gain off of 'reseting' our life total to 40.

Using Our Life Total to Win the Game

Once we've gotten our life total high enough, there are a few different ways that we can win the game. The most reliable one is likely going to be the planeswalker side of Sorin of House Markov's -1 ability, which is amazing because we don't actually have to pay any life into it, we just need to have gained a huge amount of life this turn. Rings of Brighthearth is excellent with Sorin's planeswalker side because we can potentially knock out two players by copying Sorin's -1 ability, I think it's worth copying Sorin's ability or an Aetherflux Reservoir activation with Rings of Brighthearth even if we can't knock out two opponents at once because we have a variety of ways to make a lot of small tokens that can push through for the last few points of damage, but I could see how knocking a player down to a low life total could result in them focusing all their remaining resources on us.

Sorin Markov's -3 ability can put a single opponent's life total to 10, which should be low enough that we can knock them out, but we'll probably want to target only the biggest threat at the table with this ability because it can be rather salt-inducing. Storm Herd is a great way to fill the board with 1/1 flying Pegasus tokens if we have a high life total but no other way to immediately close the game out.

We're also running two other noncombat win conditions in Angel of Destiny and Approach of the Second Sun. We have enough ways to gain life at instant speed that knocking out an opponent with Angel of Destiny should be feasible, but that sort of trick tends to only work once before an opponent destroys our Angel of Destiny, and we'll need to find another way to win the game. Approach of the Second Sun, on the other hand, will win us the game outright the second time we cast it, but it really tells our opponents exactly what we're up to when we cast it. I like casting Approach of the Second Sun and then drawing a bunch of cards at instant speed using something like Well of Lost Dreams and one of our mass lifegain effects, or using Insatiable Avarice to tutor the Approach back to the top of our deck and draw it immediately. Both are so mana-intensive that they'll be tricky to pull off until the late game, though.

*Gasp* The Combo

If you've ever run a deck built around Aetherflux Reservoir before, then you're probably familiar with how it can create a game-ending combo with Sensei's Divining Top and Bolas's Citadel. The folks over at Commander Spellbook can explain it better than I ever could, but the TL;DR is that with both Aetherflux Reservoir and Bolas's Citadel in play, you can repeatedly cast Sensei's Divining Top off the top of your library (gaining life with Reservoir in the process) and then activate Top to draw a card and put it back on top of your library. You can repeat as many times as you need to to gain enough life to blast all your opponents with Aetherflux Reservoir and win the game.

Assuming our opponents are at 50 or less life each, then we should be able to win by doing this loop about 18 times. Doing so allows us to gain more than 150 life while also accounting for the 1 life we have to pay each time we cast Sensei's Divining Top off the top of our deck. Of course, we still have to have enough cards in our deck to draw using Top's activated ability and hope that our opponents don't disrupt our combo by destroying Aetherflux Reservoir or Bolas's Citadel as we go through the loops or countering one of the spells before we can get far enough in the line to do anything about it. 

An interesting interaction you can do with Aetherflux Reservoir to stop removal/counter spells is use it to do 50 damage to a player in response to them trying to destroy it/counter Sensei's Divining Top. If a player dies with a spell or ability on the stack, it gets removed from the game, so as long as you have enough life to able to activate Aetherflux Reservoir and kill the player trying to stop your combo, it can (sort of) protect itself!

Staying Alive Long Enough to Win the Game

Now that we've been over all the ways that we're trying to gain a bunch of life to win the game, you're probably curious how we're going to actually stay alive. Especially once we knock out an opponent, this deck will paint a rather large target on our back. We're running a lot more mass removal spells than normal, highlighted by Fumigate, Kaya's Wrath, Righteous Fury, and The Battle of Bywater which can all gain us some life, furthering our gameplan. I also want to shout out Limited all-star White Sun's Zenith, which can be a board wipe that also helps us potentially win the game with poison counters.

I'll be curious to see how Riot Control plays out because I'm normally not a fan of Fog effects (okay, I'll make an exception for Inkshield since it can also win you the game on the following turn), but this one seemed too good to pass up since it can also gain us a massive amount of life at instant speed. We're also running both Everybody Lives! and Flare of Fortitude in this deck, which might be too many effects that stop us from losing the game but will absolutely make a for an amazing story the first time we're able to stop ourselves from losing (or our opponents from winning).

The other way we're staying alive is with lots of little tokens. Inkshield and Martial Coup both help keep our life total high and leave behind a bunch of tokens to block or allow us to push through the final points of damage. Storm Herd can help us close out the game if we can't flip Sorin of House Markov or he gets too expensive to recast. We're also running Field of the Dead because we're hoping for games to go long and it'll provide us with a steady stream of 2/2 Zombie tokens.

A Few Additional Twists for Good Measure

Time for the best part of any Plot Twist decklist: the weird cards that we discovered along the way! I'm really intrigued by Phial of Galadriel as a mana rock that can also help us draw extra cards if we curve out well and happen to find ourselves empty-handed. We're playing it for the lifegain ability in this particular deck, but it seems like a mana rock that could go in either aggro or control decks. The Gaffer is another Lord of the Rings card that I completely skipped over when I first saw it but seems like it'll be an all-star in this particular deck. Blighted Steppe comes from the same cycle as Blighted Woodland, and it helps our deck gain massive amounts of life after we've built out a board of tokens and gives us extra utility out of our lands. I'm fascinated by Chant of Vitu-Ghazi and how it could potentially be a free Fog effect that also gains us a ton of life. I've never seen it played before, but let me know if it's as good as it seems like it could be! Last but not least, Renounce is absolutely a last-ditch-effort card that could win us the game or leave us with zero permanents in play, and that is exactly the sort of effect we love to see on Plot Twist. I can't wait to get completely blown out after resolving a Renounce for the first time.

Here's the full decklist for you to peruse:

Sorin of House Markov "Aetherflux Reservoir at Home"

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Commander (1)
Artifacts (19)
Creatures (5)
Sorceries (12)
Instants (21)
Lands (37)
Enchantments (4)
Planeswalkers (1)

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Roll the Credits

I hope you enjoyed reading the latest edition of Plot Twist featuring Sorin of House Markov. Next time you sit down for a game of Commander, see what sort of plot twists you can add to take the game's narrative in a new direction.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's deck and what cards could find a home in it in the comments below or on Archidekt. The Maybeboards of my decklists are always filled with cards I thought could work but didn't make the final decklist.

You can find me on Instagram at @girtenjeff and you can check out my other articles here or see what decks I'm currently playing here

Stay tuned to see what other twists and turns are headed your way in the next edition of Plot Twist.