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Against the Odds: Darksteel Reactor Beatdown (Modern)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 103 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had one of the closest Against the Odds polls ever, with Throne of Empires, Timesifter, and Darksteel Reactor all taking home between 1,250 and 1,300 votes. In the end, it was the alternate win condition Darksteel Reactor that came out on top, beating Throne of Empires by just 13 votes! As such, this week, we are heading to Modern to see if we can get some wins with the strange artifact. The challenge of building around Darksteel Reactor is that it's a super-slow card, giving itself one counter each turn and taking a massive 20 counters to win the game. This suggests some sort of prison deck, where we try to lock our opponent out of the game, maybe take an extra turn here or there, proliferate a bit, and hope that we can win the game eventually. But what happens if we flip this on its head and build an all-in aggro version of Darksteel Reactor? Is this even possible, and if so, what would it look like? Let's get to the video and find out; then we'll talk more about our Darksteel Reactor Beatdown deck!

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Against the Odds: Darksteel Reactor Beatdown (Deck Tech)

Against the Odds: Darksteel Reactor Beatdown (Games)

The Deck

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When I realized that Darksteel Reactor won the vote, my first thought was to build a prison deck that tried to keep our opponent from doing anything for long enough to win by getting 20 counters on the artifact (you can actually see the list here). While the deck did a couple of cool things (like Whir of Invention for Panoptic Mirror for infinite turns with Savor the Moment), it wasn't very good, which isn't a deal breaker for an Against the Odds deck. The bigger problem was that it was really boring. Not only was it trying to keep the opponent from doing anything for a lot of turns, but it didn't really do anything itself. After playing a few games with it, I decided we needed to head another direction and hopefully find a build of Darksteel Reactor that was fun to watch and hopefully a little playable as well. After reading over Darksteel Reactor for the millionth time, it struck me. What if the "you win the game in 20 turns" text was actually obscuring the true power of the card? Maybe instead of focusing on the "you win the game" part, we should be focusing on the indestructibility! 

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Thanks to the printing of Tezzeret's Touch in Aether Revolt, we now have three spells that can turn a random artifact into a 5/5 creature. More importantly, when we turn a non-creature artifact into a creature, it keeps its abilities, which means if we enchant a Darksteel Reactor with an Ensoul Artifact, we don't just get a 5/5 creature; we get a 5/5 indestructible creature. This means most of the popular removal spells can't actually kill it, while none of the artifact-destruction spells that opponents have in their sideboards do anything to stop our threats. Even better, if we can play the Darksteel Reactor the turn before we play the Ensoul Artifact, it essentially comes down with haste, allowing us to eat away huge chunks of our opponent's life total by surprise.

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is our more powerful artifact animator because we can use his 1 ability multiple times over the course of a few turns to turn all of our artifacts into major threats. Plus, we can use his +1 to dig through our deck and find our Darksteel Reactors and other artifacts. Ensoul Artifact is strong because it's the most aggressive of the bunch, potentially giving us a 5/5 indestructible as early as Turn 2. Finally, while it doesn't happen often, Tezzeret's Touch does have the upside of returning the artifact it enchants back to our hand when it dies, and while there isn't much (outside of exile effects like Path to Exile) that actually kills a Darksteel Reactor, cards like Liliana of the Veil and Smallpox can make it happen thanks to their sacrifice effects. 

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If we are going to overload out deck with ways to turn artifacts into 5/5 creatures, we need more artifacts to target than just Darksteel Citadel. For this, we turn to a bunch of other indestructible Darksteel artifacts. Darksteel Axe comes down for one mana, and we can even use it to equip one of our other artifacts if the situation calls for it. Darksteel Pendant is our two-drop and is weirdly helpful. One of the risks of our deck is that we draw all do-nothing artifacts and no ways to turn them into creatures, but scrying every turn for just one mana helps to solve this issue. Finally, Darksteel Ingot gives us a bit of extra mana, which is mostly helpful when it allows us to play multiple spells in the same turn. Abilities aside, the main reason all of these cards are in our deck is to turn into 5/5 indestructible beaters. 

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Apart from the Darksteel artifacts and ways to turn those artifacts into creatures, the rest of our deck is devoted to discard and removal. Our curve doesn't usually start until two, which means we can spend the first turn of the game casting either Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek to pull a combo piece or removal spell from our opponent's hand. This is especially important against decks with Path to Exile, which is one of the only common answers to an Ensoul Artifact on a Darksteel Reactor. As for removal, we have Fatal Push and one Dismember. While we are pretty good at blocking thanks to all of our indestructible creatures, having a bit of removal is important for staying alive in the early game and also dealing with creatures that don't need to attack to win the game, like Eidolon of the Great Revel and Baral, Chief of Compliance

All in all, this leaves us with a super-weird deck: essentially Darksteel tribal, with Darksteel Reactor as our honorary lord. We're an all-in aggro deck with zero creatures, which means we naturally blank most of our opponent's removal. We're also an artifact-based deck that doesn't care about Stony Silence. Basically, Darksteel Reactor Beatdown is one of the stranger decks we've every played, but surprisingly, it actually worked pretty well.

The Matchups

The main card we are worried about is Path to Exile, which is usually a two-for-one, since it not only kills one of our artifacts but also the enchantment we put on it to make it into a creature. While this doesn't make Path to Exile matchups unwinnable, if we had our choice, we'd play against decks using Terminate, Fatal Push, and Lightning Bolt as their primary removal spells. Apart from Path to Exile, our main struggle was with go-wide decks. While we are really good at making big, hard-to-deal-with threats, none of our threats are evasive, which means a card like Lingering Souls can lock down one of our 5/5s for four turns by chump blocking. While we have some answers in the sideboard (in Bontu's Last Reckoning and Damnation), we might need more ways to deal with token swarms. 

On the other hand, our Darksteel Reactor beatdown plan is strong against midrange and control. A lot of decks simply don't have a way to interact with our plan, and our clock is fast. Plus, against midrange, we can always use our indestructible 5/5s on defense if we need to while we are waiting to draw into removal. We have a reasonable shot against combo thanks to our discard, which hopefully lets us disrupt our opponent just enough to win with a 5/5 before they assemble their pieces. 

The Odds

All in all, we got in six matches and won four, good for a 66.67% match win percentage, along with winning nine of 15 games (60% game win percentage), which is pretty solid for an Against the Odds deck. It's also worth noting that we played a lot of tier decks in Abzan, Death's Shadow, UR Breach, and even 8 Rack, which managed to Top 8 last weekend's SCG event, and our ultra-janky beatdown plan held its own. Both of our losses came to go-wide decks in Elves and the weird Lingering Souls, Young Pyromancer, Death's Shadow build, which is an issue, but one we can solve pretty easily by moving a couple of sweepers into the main deck if need be. Basically, the deck was a blast to play and shockingly competitive. Apparently, an aggro build of Darksteel Reactor can work!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

No poll this week. We'll be having a special episode next week, perhaps featuring a certain rules change that was implemented early on Magic Online that makes all planeswalkers legendary!


Anyway, that's all for today! Leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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