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Against the Odds: Abzan Astral Drift (Modern, Magic Online)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 193 of Against the Odds. Modern Horizons is here, which means we're kicking off our exploration of the new format with a special episode. If you're a fan of the Against the Odds poll, don't worry—it returns at the end of the article and is stuffed full of new Modern Horizons cards! So what are we playing today? Only one of the cards I've been wanting to build around the most from Modern Horizons: Astral Drift! Our goal today is to cycle, flicker, and eventually out-value our opponent on our way to picking up some wins with our new Astral Slide-esque enchantment. We've got a ton of creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers along with some sweet synergies to take advantage of Astral Drift's ability to temporarily exile creatures. What's the best way to build around Astral Drift? What are the odds of winning with an Astral Drift deck in Modern? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Astral Drift

 

The Deck

Abzan Drift is basically a blink deck looking to use Astral Drift along with some sneaky enters-the-battlefield creatures to eventually generate an overwhelming amount of value and maybe even win a game or two. The centerpiece of the deck is our (almost) functional reprint of Astral Slide, Astral Drift.

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Astral Drift is pretty simple: whenever we cycle a card, we get to exile a creature until the end of the current turn. This does a couple of important things. First, we can use it to keep ourselves alive by flickering our opponent's attacker (a plan that is especially good against tokens, which disappear forever). Second, we can use Astral Drift to exile our own creatures, to reuse their enters-the-battlefield triggers and facilitate other tricks. Ideally, we'll have Astral Drift on the battlefield to grind out value every turn while we are cycling, but in a pinch, we can get a one-shot Astral Drift activation by cycling the enchantment from our hand. Of course, for this plan to work, we need to have a constant source of cards with cycling...

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While we do have a couple of Unearths, which give us additional cycle cards while also reanimating some of our most important creatures (more on this in a minute), our primary source of cyclers for Astral Drift is the combination of Life from the Loam and various cycling lands. In the late game, this gives us an almost unbeatable (outside of graveyard hate) engine of value. For just two mana, we can return three one-mana cycling lands to our hand each turn, which gives us at least three Astral Drift triggers for just one mana each. This makes sure that we never run out of cyclers or cards in hand once our deck gets going, which gives us an endless stream of value from our enters-the-battlefield triggers as well as defense by blinking our opponent's attackers. It's also worth mentioning that the cycling lands are a good way to dredge Life from the Loam at instant speed, so if something like Surgical Extraction is about to ruin our fun by exiling Life from the Loam, a cycling land can return it to our hand in response. So what are we flickering with all of our cycling cards?

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Siege Rhino is our finisher, and it's pretty insane when we can blink it twice each turn cycle with Astral Drift. The plan is to play Siege Rhino, cycle something for one mana to blink it to drain our opponent for three more life on our end step, and then, during our opponent's turn (maybe after blocking something), cycle to flicker Siege Rhino again with Astral Drift to drain our opponent again on their end step. At a massive six damage each turn cycle, this means it should only take two or three turns to burn our opponent out of the game with Siege Rhino's enters-the-battlefield trigger, without even needing to attack!

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On one level, Eternal Witness is just a solid value card, getting us back our best card from our graveyard whenever it enters the battlefield and then doing it again and again as we flicker it with Astral Drift. On another level, Eternal Witness is a pretty insane source of defense since we can block one of our opponent's creatures, cycle something to flicker Eternal Witness before damage, and then, when Eternal Witness enters the battlefield, get the card that we cycled back from our graveyard to our hand to repeat the process again the following turn, making it a weird sort of infinite blocker.

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Perhaps the sweetest part of the deck is Wasteland Strangler and Flickerwisp, both of which are absurd with Astral Drift individually and even better together. Since Astral Drift returns creatures to the battlefield on the next end step, this means that if we cycle something during our turn and exile Flickerwisp, it will come back into play on our end step, allowing us to exile one of our opponent's permanents and keep it in exile until the end of our opponent's turn. This is especially helpful with lands (to put the opponent down a mana or even take them off Tron) or planeswalkers (which can only be activated at sorcery speed). Meanwhile, Wasteland Strangler allows us to put cards from exile into our opponent's graveyard to give a creature 3/3, which makes it a one-card combo with Astral Drift since we can cycle a card to exile our opponent's best creature and then play Wasteland Strangler to put the creature from exile into the graveyard, so it won't return on the end step and will be gone forever. If we're lucky, we might even be able to kill another small creature in the process. 

Things get even crazier when we add Wasteland Strangler, Flickerwisp, and Astral Drift together since we can use Flickerwisp to exile any of our opponent's permanents and then process that permanent away with Wasteland Strangler to get rid of it forever, which gives us a way to kill our opponent's lands, artifact, or enchantments along with creatures. Even better, we can do this every turn once we have everything on the battlefield for the low, low cost of cycling two one-mana cycling cards!

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Finally, in the two-drop slot, we have a bunch of creature-based Thoughtseizes and Duresses. The main goal of Kitesail Freebooter and Tidehollow Sculler is to help make sure we stay alive long enough to get Astral Drift online against unfair decks, although both cards have some synergy with our Astral Drift plan as well. For one thing, we can use Wasteland Strangler to process away the card either Kitesail Freebooter or Tidehollow Sculler exiles, and then we can use Astral Drift to reset our discard creature to steal another card from our opponent's hand. Meanwhile, with Tidehollow Sculler, we can do a timing trick where we put Tidehollow Sculler's trigger on the stack and flicker it with Astral Drift in response, which allows us to exile a card from our opponent's hand permanently (since the "return the card to its owners hand" trigger will resolve before the "exile a card" trigger does) and then get a second card when Tidehollow Sculler returns during the end step.

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Otherwise, Aether Vial gives us some ramp and helps to free up our mana for cycling to trigger Astral Drift. If we can get an Aether Vial up to three counters, we can put cards like Flickerwisp, Wasteland Strangler, or Eternal Witness into play for free and then use our mana to cycle away lands and reuse the creatures' enters-the-battlefield triggers. Assassin's Trophy gives us a catch-all removal spell that can kill anything from creatures to planeswalkers to Tron lands. Last but not least, Worship is a one-of and another way to fight unfair decks. Thanks to Astral Drift's ability to save our creatures from targeted removal, it's pretty easy to keep at least one creature on the battlefield, and then Worship makes it so we can't die to damage until our opponent kills the Worship or our board. 

The Matchups

Abzan Drift is amazingly effective against the fair decks of Modern and feasts on anything trying to win with creatures. In slower, fairer matchups, the value that Astral Drift generates is often insurmountable when combined with our tricky enters-the-battlefield creatures. On the other hand, unfair matchups against fast combo decks can be a challenge. While Tidehollow Sculler and Kitesail Freebooter help, Turn 3 Storm kills (and other similarly degenerate combos) are the hardest matchups for Abzan Drift. While Astral Drift itself is a great value card, the value doesn't start rolling into until Turn 4 at the earliest, which is sometimes just a bit too slow against the fastest combo decks in Modern.

The Odds

All in all, we finished our video matches 4-2, but when you throw in rematches, our match win percentage was somewhere around 50%, which is roughly average for an Against the Odds deck. That said, we did manage to beat some relatively unfair decks like Tron and Infect, which was pretty impressive. Most importantly, the deck is a blast to play, and when it gets going, it does provide an absurd amount of value. Our last game against Death and Taxes was a great example. Even though we ended up timing out (so the match went down as a loss), Astral Drift by itself was able to stabilize us from a position where we were down to one life and facing down a big and very lethal board state. While the unfair matchups can be a concern, if you want to grind out slow, incremental value, Astral Drift has to be one of the best new options in Modern!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

While Astral Drift was sweet Modern Horizons is overflowing with sweet Against the Odds cards, so let's play another one next week! Which of these new Modern Horizons cards should we build around? Let's us know by voting below!

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Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Don't forget to vote for next week's deck! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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