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Against the Odds: Axis of Mortality (Modern)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 107 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had our final all-Ixalan Against the Odds poll but with a twist: instead of playing Ixalan in Standard, we are heading to Modern this week! In the end, it was Axis of Mortality coming in with a fairly easy victory over the rest of the competition, which means this week we are trying to use the life-switching enchantment as an "I win the game" combo piece. While it's probably possible to use Axis of Mortality for value to gain some life here or there, with a bit of work, we can make it so just a single activation of Axis of Mortality wins us the game—the trick is finding a way to get our life total below zero without dying. Then, when we exchange life totals with our opponent, they'll die on the spot! Can we find a way to combo off and win some games with Axis of Mortality in Modern? Let's get to the videos and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck.

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Against the Odds: Axis of Mortality (Deck Tech)

Against the Odds: Axis of Mortality (Games)

The Deck


Axis of Mortality is a tough card to build around in Modern, just because it's slow. We need to spend six mana to cast it, and then it still doesn't do anything until our next upkeep. To help make up for this slowness, my main plan for building around it was to make Axis of Mortality lethal as quickly as possible once it's on the battlefield. I tried an enchantment prison deckthat looked to slow down the game with Ghostly Prisons and Sphere of Safety before winning the game with Tainted Remedy (since Axis of Mortality forced our opponent to gain life), and while this build sort of worked, it didn't do a good job of harnessing the power of Axis of Mortality, since it usually took a few turns to actually kill the opponent. After dropping the prison build, I moved on to the deck we ended up playing today: essentially a negative-life combo deck that looks to intentionally drain away our own life until we get to zero or below and then kill the opponent by giving them our negative life total with Axis of Mortality!

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As for Axis of Mortality itself, it can occasionally be good when we aren't comboing off just by gaining us a chunk of life. Since our deck is slow, it's pretty common that we have less life than our opponent by the time we cast Axis of Mortality, so we can exchange life totals just to help us stay alive while we are waiting to find the rest of our combo pieces. Then, we eventually draw into the other cards we need to win: something to keep us alive with zero or less life along with a card that can drain our life total down to zero, since we can trust that our opponent will do it for us.

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As far as staying alive with no life, we have two plans: Phyrexian Unlife and Gideon of the Trials. Either of these cards makes it so we don't die when our life total hits zero, which means if we can exchange our life total with our opponent's (with the help of Axis of Mortality), we just win the game on the spot. It's worth pointing out that we aren't playing any hard locks like Solemnity or a ton of different Gideons (although we do have one Gideon Jura to help make sure we stay alive long enough to cast Axis of Mortality, both by having a ton of loyalty and by Fogging our opponent's creatures for a ton). We don't need Phyrexian Unlife or our Gideon emblem to keep us alive forever, just long enough to untap with Axis of Mortality to kill our opponent, so going the soft, temporary lock route works fine most of the time.

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Once we have a Gideon of the Trials emblem or Phyrexian Unlife, our best card is Spoils of the Vault, which does a couple of important things. First, if we don't have a copy of Axis of Mortality, we can tutor it up for just one mana at instant speed. Sure, we lose a lot of life and exile a bunch of cards, but even if our life goes below zero, we keep living thanks to our other combo pieces, and Axis of Mortality is the only card that really matters at this point. Second, Spoils of the Vault offers us a guaranteed way to get our life total below zero. All we need to do is wait until our upkeep with the "exchange life" trigger from Axis of Mortality on the stack; then, we cast Spoils of the Vault and name a card that is not in our deck (usually Abandon Hope, both for the troll factor and because it's the first card listed on Magic Online). When Spoils of the Vault resolves our entire deck gets exiled, we go to somewhere around 40 life; then, the "exchange life" trigger resolves, and we win the game!

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Spellskite can occasionally work like a backup version of Spoils of the Vault, draining our life all the way down to zero. As long as we are at an even life total, we can target any random ability on the stack and activate Spellskite a bunch of times until we run our of life (this doesn't work at an odd life total because we can't pay life we don't have, so we can only drain ourselves to one life). Spellskite is also great at protecting our other combo pieces. One of the risks of our deck is that we go to negative life, our opponent uses an Abrupt Decay to kill our Phyrexian Unlife or Gideon of the Trials, and then we die, rather than our opponent. Meanwhile, Dark Confidant helps us draw through our deck while also losing us a bit of life here or there, which is actually an upside when our goal is to get to zero life to kill our opponent. Plus, we never have to worry about drawing to death with Dark Confidant thanks to Gideon of the Trials and Phyrexian Unlife.

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The rest of the deck is non-combo stuff designed to help us stay alive long enough to pull off the combo. Fatal Push and Dismember give us removal in the early game to deal with opposing creatures. Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek let us attack our opponent's hand, which is especially important against opposing control and combo decks. Wrath of God lets us sweep away the board against aggro. While it doesn't come up all that often, it's worth mentioning that both Thoughtseize and Dismember give us additional ways of losing life. For example, if we can only drain ourselves to one with Spellskite, a Thoughtseize gets us to 1 and allows us to kill our opponent with Axis of Mortality. While losing us life wasn't the primary goal of our removal spells, it is a nice bonus for our deck.

The Matchups

I'm not sure that Axis of Mortality has any good matchups, although it's also true that we have the potential to beat just about anyone if we get a bit lucky. Against aggro decks, Axis of Mortality is often just too slow (although we managed to beat Affinity); against other combo decks, most of the time, our opponent's combo is simply faster than our combo (although we managed to sneak out a win over Titan Shift). Meanwhile, against slower, more controlling decks, a single counterspell on Axis of Mortality or removal spell on Phyrexian Unlife / Gideon of the Trials can end the game. Mostly, we are just hoping to draw the right mixture of cards in each individual matchup to live until Turn 7, which should hopefully give us the win with Axis of Mortality

The Odds

All in all, we played six matches and won two, good for a 33.3% match win percentage, along with winning six of 15 games, giving us a 40% game win percentage, which is a bit below average for an Against the Odds deck. The biggest problem we ran into was the slowness of Axis of Mortality, which is hard to overcome. Modern is a fast format, so tapping our for a six-mana enchantment that doesn't do anything until the next turn is a tough sell. The good news is that the combo works, and we did get some Axis of Mortality kills. Spoils of the Vault was especially impressive, and while we did occasionally kill ourselves with it, it did a great job of setting up our combo. Even though our overall record wasn't great, the look on our opponents digital faces (so to speak) when they died to Axis of Mortality made all of the losing worthwhile. 

Vote for Next Week's Deck

Along with Ixalan came Arcane Adaptation, the latest in a small group of cards that significantly change a key characteristic of other cards. Which  of these "changers" should we play in Modern next week? Let us know by voting below!

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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

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