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Against the Odds: Descent into Madness (Modern)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 114 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had a bad-mythic Against the Odds poll, and in the end, it was perhaps the worst mythic of the bunch that came out on top: Descent into Madness. As such, we are heading to Modern this week to see if we can win some games by exiling away our opponent's hand and board! Descent into Madness is a hard card to build around. While it looks a lot like a Modern-legal version of one of my favorite cards—Smokestack—it's a lot harder to break the symmetry of the enchantment, for a few reasons. Since Descent into Madness requires both us and our opponent to exile an increasing number of cards on our upkeep, the easiest way to build around the enchantment is to play cards that put multiple permanents onto the battlefield (or cards in hand) so we are sacrificing half of a card or even a quarter of the card to each Descent into Madness counter while our opponent is exiling whole cards. Can we find a way to make Descent into Madness work 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: Descent into Madness (Deck Tech)

Against the Odds: Descent into Madness (Games)

The Deck

How to build around Descent into Madness is pretty straightforward—you need lots of cards that put multiple permanents onto the battlefield (or additional cards into your hand)—but figuring out the right way to harness the power of the enchantment is actually pretty tricky. Before landing on the build we played for the videos, I tried a Mono-Black Devotion deck that was looking to use Descent into Madness to exile Demonic Pact (unfortunately, we died to Demonic Pact more than our opponents did) and an enchantment prison build looking to combo Assemble the Legion with Descent into Madness (which did some sweet things but was incredibly slow). While the combo of Descent into Madness and Assemble the Legion was powerful (although super slow), in the end, there are a couple of planeswalkers that are basically Assemble the Legion with additional upside, which is what led us to our final build of the deck.

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Descent into Madness is basically a fixed Smokestack, which is a bit harder to abuse because the opponent doesn't have to sacrifice the first permanent and because Descent into Madness lets opponents exile cards from their hand as well as on the battlefield. The good news is that if we can get (and keep) a Descent into Madness on the battlefield, it can win us the game by itself because our deck is overflowing with fuel to feed the despair counters, while our opponent's deck (hopefully) is not. The idea is that turn by turn, we'll slowly exile away all of our opponent's resources until eventually they have nothing in hand or on the battlefield, while we'll have something left over to win the game.

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One of the downsides of Descent into Madness is that it's pretty slow when it comes down on Turn 5, so we have Pentad Prism to speed things up. While Pentad Prism probably seems like a strange mana rock, it actually lines up very well with Descent into Madness, since we can play Pentad Prism with two counters on turn two, make our land drop on Turn 3, and immediately play Descent into Madness. Then, since a Pentad Prism with no counters is pretty useless, we can sacrifice the artifact to Descent into Madness.

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Our best ways of breaking the symmetry of Descent into Madness are our Elspeths. Elspeth, Sun's Champion is the better of the two, since we can make three 1/1 Soldiers every single turn, which gives us a ton of fuel for Descent into Madness. In theory, when we have an Elspeth, Sun's Champion on the battlefield, our opponent is forced to exile a real card for every despair counter on Descent into Madness while we aren't really sacrificing any cards at all, thanks to the Soldier tokens. Elspeth Tirel doesn't work quite as well with Descent into Madness, since we need to minus rather than plus to make three Soldiers, but the smaller Elspeth also has some upside. Being able to +2 just once and then blow up all non-token non-lands is occasionally very strong (especially against decks like Lantern Control with a lot of annoying, hard-to-deal-with permanents), and thanks to the new legendary planeswalker errata, having two of each Elspeth is better than having four copies of Elspeth, Sun's Champion, since we can have both on the battlefield at the same time. Eventually, after Descent into Madness eats away all of our opponent's resources we can simply sacrifice the Descent into Madness to itself and use our Elspeths to finish the game.

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Lingering Souls does double duty in our deck. First, it gives us four flying chump blockers to help us stay alive long enough to get a Descent into Madness on the battlefield, which is pretty important thanks to the slowness of the enchantment. Second, Lingering Souls works really well once we have a Descent into Madness on the battlefield, since it puts four permanents on the battlefield, which gives us a ton of fodder for Descent while our opponent is busy sacrificing their real cards. Plus, we can occasionally pick up some wins just by playing and flashing back Lingering Souls if we don't happen to draw a Descent into Madness

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Finally, we have a couple of creatures that work well with Descent into Madness. Wall of Omens gives us a blocker in the early game, and then once we get our Descent into Madness online, we have a body on the battlefield and an extra card in hand to exile, making it a two-for-one as far as Descent into Madness is concerned. Meanwhile, Eternal Scourge is a pretty straightforward combo with Descent into Madness, since we can exile it to Descent and then simply recast it from exile over and over again. Basically, if we can get Descent into Madness and Eternal Scourge going, we can pay three mana to pay for one despair counter each turn!

Other Stuff

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Wrath of God and Damnation work with Descent into Madness but in reverse. Imagine that our opponent is playing Lingering Souls and some of the other cards that help feed the Madness. Wraths help to solve this problem by sweeping away an entire board full of tokens or small creatures and limiting the number of things our opponent has to exile to Descent into Madness. The end goal of Descent into Madness is that we'll be eating away our opponent's hand and lands, and having a couple of sweepers is essential to reaching this goal in creature matchups.

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Otherwise, we have have some discard and removal for the early game. Cards like Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek help us stay alive while we wait for Descent into Madness while also potentially pulling answers to Descent into Madness from our opponent's hand. Meanwhile, Fatal Push takes care of early-game threats like Goblin Guide, Leonin Arbiter, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. While none of these cards do anything specifically with Descent into Madness, they are all very important in making a functional deck in Modern.

The Matchups

It's actually pretty hard to figure out the matchups for Descent into Madness. Obviously, Descent into Madness itself struggles against card draw or cards that put multiple things onto the battlefield, which makes control and Lingering Souls decks hard for Descent specifically, although we can occasionally beat these decks with Elspeths. From a more meta perspective, it feels like aggro is our hardest matchup, since we have a limited number of sweepers and lots of slow cards, and our discard becomes dead quickly, while slower combo and control decks are probably our best matchups, since our discard is great and our planeswalkers offer a fast way to close out the game. Otherwise, it feels like our Descent into Madness has a shot against a lot of decks, but we're probably not truly favored in any of them. 

The Odds

All in all, we got in six matches and won three, good for a 50% match win percentage, along with playing 15 games and winning seven, which is just a hair under 50% in terms of games, which is slightly above average for an Against the Odds deck. The sad part of the story is that Descent into Madness itself didn't really do much of anything. While it made an appearance in our first game against Tron (and was almost good enough to win the game but not quite) and we cast it a couple of other times, we didn't usually get a chance to tick it up because either us or our opponent died soon after. So, while the deck was reasonable and fairly fun, I was a bit disappointed that Descent into Madness itself didn't make a better showing. 

Vote for Next Week's Deck

Casting multiple Elspeths this week made me remember that we have more planeswalker tribal decks to explore! We've done Gideon and Liliana, and I'm going to leave Elspeth off the poll, since we were casting her this episode. Which of these planeswalkers (with at least three different versions) should we build around 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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