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Against the Odds: Ayula Bear Loam (Modern, Magic Online)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 203 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had a bad-two-drop Against the Odds poll, and in the end, our newest two-drop, Ayula, Queen Among Bears, came out on top. As such, we're heading into Modern today to see if we can bury (or *channels inner Tomer* bear-y) some opponents with Ayula, Queen Among Bears and an endless stream of Bear tokens from Ayula's Influence, Life from the Loam, and Wrenn and Six. One of the hardest aspects of building around Ayula, Queen Among Bears is that apart from Ayula herself, Bears in Magic are pretty awful (and *Tomer voice* claw-ful). Thankfully, Ayula's Influence gives us a way to make Bears and support Ayula, Queen Among Bears that doesn't require filling our deck with vanilla 2/2s for two. What are the odds of winning with Ayula, Queen Among Bears 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: Ayula Bear Loam

The Deck

Building around Ayula was actually pretty easy. While I considered (very briefly) trying to build actual Bear Tribal, Bears are just so underpowered that it quickly became apparent it would be a bad idea. The problem is that Bears are mostly 2/2s for two, and a 2/2 for two just isn't worth the price of a card in Modern. Thankfully, Ayula's Influence solves this problem by turning all of our lands into Grizzly Bears, and with some support and a bit of brewing, we can get into a position where we are basically making three or four Grizzly Bears each turn by discarding lands to Ayula's Influence and then returning them to our hand with Life from the Loam and / or Wrenn and Six. Toss Ayula, Queen Among Bears into the mix, and rather than 2/2s, we're making a bunch of free 4/4s (or dumping all of the +1/+1 counters on one creature to make it into a game-ending threat) or fighting away our opponent's board. 

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Ayula, Queen Among Bears is actually an extremely powerful two-drop, but it's limited by the fact that its tribe members are so bad. If Ayula, Queen Among Bears were a Human or Merfolk lord, we'd be talking about it as one of the best cards in the Modern format. Thankfully, Ayula's Influence gives us a way to avoid playing a bunch of bad Bears while still making Ayula, Queen Among Bears absurdly powerful. Together, these cards are the most important in our deck, and we want to see them in our opening hand each game.

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While playing Ayula, Queen Among Bears and Ayula's Influence and discarding a land or two to make a couple of Bears is fine, Life from the Loam and Wrenn and Six make the plan truly devastating. Life from the Loam allows us to return three lands to our hand each turn, while Wrenn and Six gets back another, which means once we have our Ayula / Ayula's Influence combo set up, we're making three or four Bears every turn for just a couple of mana. While flooding the board with Bear tokens is nice, thanks to Ayula, Queen Among Bears's abilities, we're not just making a bunch of 2/2s Zombie Infestation–style but also repeatedly killing our opponent's creatures or growing our Bears into massive threats. With Ayula on the battlefield, Ayula's Influence basically turns into a weird combo of Zombie Infestation and Seismic Assault, which is extremely powerful and quickly takes over games. 

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Arcum's Astrolabe and Faithless Looting give us cheap ways to draw extra cards, which allows us to trigger the dredge ability on Life from the Loam multiple times in a turn and make even more bears. For example, let's say we have five mana. We can dredge Life from the Loam on our draw step, cast it to return three lands to our hand, discard the lands to make three Bear tokens (and trigger Ayula, Queen Among Bears three times), and then use Astrolabe or Looting to draw a card, dredge Life from the Loam again, and cast it with our last two mana to return three more lands to our hand (or the same three lands another time) to discard for three more Bear tokens and Ayula, Queen Among Bears triggers. Arcum's Astrolabe also helps to fix our mana, which is helpful in general with the triple-green cost of Ayula's Influence but especially important if we happen to draw a Blood Moon.

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In general, I'm not a big fan of Arboreal Grazer since it's inconsistent as ramp in a lot of decks, but in our 26-land deck, we should almost always have an extra land to put into play on Turn 1, which gets us to three mana on Turn 2 for Ayula's Influence or Blood Moon. It's also a surprisingly good blocker against some popular threats, locking down Goblin Guide or Bloodghast forever. As for Blood Moon, it's basically to jank our opponent out of the game, although we didn't actually draw or cast it a single time in our matches.

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Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Chandra, Awakened Inferno are both just one-ofs but work as backup finishers as well as removal spells. Chandra, Torch of Defiance gives us an extra source of card advantage and can take down a reasonable number of creatures with her 3, while Chandra, Awakened Inferno works as both a wrath and targeted removal and also embleming our opponent out of the game, which is especially important in games where we don't find Ayula, Queen Among Bears or Ayula's Influence.

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Last but not least, we have Lightning Bolt for early-game removal that can also go face in the late game if we need a couple of extra points of damage to close out the game after beating down with our Bears.

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While most of our mana is self-explanatory, the cycling lands are especially important to our land. Thanks to Life from the Loam and Wrenn and Six, they are great sources of card advantage since we can cycle them away to draw a card and then return them to our hand to cycle again. They also allow us to protect Life from the Loam from Surgical Extraction since we can always cycle them at instant speed to draw a card and dredge Life from the Loam back to our hand, which is pretty important since a lot of decks have cards like Surgical Extraction to fight Hogaak.

The Matchups

Ayula Bear Loam is at its best in fair matchups, where the combo of Ayula, Queen Among Bears and Ayula's Influence can outgrind basically anything our opponents could offer. Toss in Life from the Loam and Wrenn and Six for card advantage, and Ayula Bear Loam crushes random creature-based decks and performs well against control as well. It also seems like Hogaak might be a good matchup, considering we went 2-0 against it without drawing a single graveyard hate spell. Somehow, Ayula, Queen Among Bears can simply go bigger than Hogaak, and the fight trigger is a great way to keep various Hogaak dorks in check. 

On the other hand, unfair (especially spell-based combo decks) are tough. While we have some decent sideboard options to fight combo, if our opponent can kill us on Turn 2 or 3, all of the Bear value in the world isn't likely to save us—it's just too slow. As such, we're mostly hoping to dodge decks like Neobrand or Storm, or if we do run into them, we're praying our opponent gets a slow hand, to give our Bears enough time to steal the victory.

The Odds

All in all, we played five matches with Ayula Bear Loam and ended up winning three, giving us a 60% match win percentage and making Ayula Bear Loam above average for an Against the Odds deck. In some ways, the deck was even better than the record, considering that we managed to beat Hogaak twice (and beat them fairly, without drawing any graveyard hate), while our two losses were close three-game matches against Burn and Enduring Ideal (which feels like a really rough matchup if our opponent has a decent draw). As for Ayula, Queen Among Bears herself, the Hogaak matches were the biggest testaments to her power. We were literally able to make our 2/2 Ayula bigger than Hogaak and then simply fight our opponent's creatures and eventually win by beating down. Oddly, Ayula Bear Loam might be a legitimate deck in Modern, especially once Hogaak rotates and (at least, in theory) people start playing less graveyard hate to fizzle our Life from the Loam plan. Basically, Ayula was awesome, and taking down the most broken deck in Modern (and one of the best in Modern's history) twice made it doubly so!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

No poll this week. I'll be away in Las Vegas for MagicFest Vegas and some vacation over the next 10 days. This might mean no episode at all next week, or it might mean a special surprise episode. You'll have to wait and see!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. 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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