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Against the Odds: Dubious Challenge


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode fifty-six of Against the Odds! Last week on our all-Kaladesh Against the Odds poll, it was Dubious Challenge sneaking out a win by just one percent over Aetherflux Reservoir, with Saheeli Rai, the Planeswalker Deck planeswalkers, and Madcap Experiment coming in at the back of the pack. As such, this week we are heading to Modern to take the Dubious Challenge. Can we use the sorcery to get an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on the battlefield on Turn 3, or will the results be slightly more dubious? We're about to figure it out! If you're a fan of another Kaladesh card, don't worry—we have another all-Kaladesh poll at the end of the article, so you'll have another chance to vote for your favorite new card!

Anyway, let's get to the videos, but first a quick reminder. If you enjoy the Against the Odds series and the other video content here on MTGGoldfish, make sure to subscribe to the MTGGoldfish YouTube Channel.

Against the Odds: Dubious Challenge Deck Tech

Against the Odds: Dubious Challenge Games

The Deck

Building around Dubious Challenge was a weird combination of difficult and easy. The easy part is the deck itself. Basically, to accept the Dubious Challenge, we need two groups of cards—payoffs and enablers—and there really isn't a ton of choice in either of these groups, because the good options are limited. The hardest part was figuring out what format to play. Typically, when a new set comes out, we try to focus on Standard, but there simply isn'ta great way to make Dubious Challenge work in the format because in Standard, we are lacking both of the things that Dubious Challenge needs to be successful. In Standard, the payoff cards aren't always game winning, and the enabler cards are either slow or don't work with Dubious Challenge. Because of this, to really see the power (sic) of Dubious Challenge, we need to head to Modern!

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Dubious Challenge has a lot of text on it, but what it does is fairly simple. For four mana, we get to look at the top 10 cards and choose up to two creatures; then, our opponent gets one (of their choosing) and we get whatever creature(s) are left over. Ideally, if we are tapping out for a four-mana sorcery in Modern, we want it to be pretty close to "you win the game," which is the main goal of our deck. So, just how do we go about breaking a card that gives the opponent all the choice? 

Enablers

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When we cast a Dubious Challenge, we really need to hit both a payoff card and an enabler for the card to work the way we want it to. If we are lacking either one of these parts, our Dubious Challenge will either be bad (for example, each player gets a Birds of Paradise) or a complete whiff (i.e., we choose zero cards and spend our four mana for literally nothing). Our main enablers are Flickerwisp and Glimmerpoint Stag, which are essentially the same card in our deck. When we Dubious Challenge into one of these cards and a payoff card like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, we are guaranteed to end up with the Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, no matter what our opponent chooses. If they take the Eldrazi, we simply "flicker" it to return it to the battlefield at the next end step, and if they take the Flickerwisp, we don't really mind because we have an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

I got a little bit mathy with this deck and found that with just four copies of Flickerwisp and four copies of Glimmerpoint Stag, we were only 75% likely to hit a copy with Dubious Challenge, so I added in Brooding Saurian as a backup, which brought the percentage all the way up to 82%. If our opponent doesn't have removal, Brooding Saurian is actually our best enabler because its triggered ability returns itself to our control at the end of turn. The problem is when our opponent has removal like Path to Exile waiting. In this situation, our opponent simply chooses to take the Emrakul, the Aeons Torn from the Dubious Challenge and then casts Path to Exile on our Brooding Saurian, allowing them to keep the Eldrazi, untap, and kill us. 

Payoffs

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As for payoff cards, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is easily the best on in our deck. Our nut draw is when we use a Birds of Paradise to cast a Dubious Challenge on Turn 3 and hit Emrakul, the Aeons Torn along with a Flickerwisp (or another enabler); then, we just untap and kill our opponent on Turn 4 by annihilating away our opponent's board. If we ever hit multiple payoff cards with a Dubious Challenge, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is almost always the one we pick—it's that good. 

Our backup options are Griselbrand and Iona, Shield of Emeria (along with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite in the sideboard), and both of these cards have some issues. With Griselbrand, the downside is that if our opponent plays correctly, they can often use it to draw seven with our Flickerwisp trigger on the stack, which is annoying. However, after playing a bunch of games with the deck, no one seems to understand how Dubious Challenge works, so this happens less than it could or should. The good news is that once we start drawing seven with Griselbrand, things get out of control quickly. Plus, lifelink means that Griselbrand can keep us alive when we are very far behind on board, which is something our other payoff cards aren't all that good at. 

As for Iona, Shield of Emeria, she's just a one-of because she's extremely matchup dependent. In some matchups (against decks that are primarily one color), a turn three Iona, Shield of Emeria pretty much ends the game on the spot. However, in other matchups, she's more an annoyance than a game ender. Plus, she isn't that great when we are behind on the battlefield; it's very possible to Dubious Challenge into Iona, Shield of Emeria and lose on the back swing, which doesn't often happen with Griselbrand

Mana Dorks

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Having Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, and Sylvan Caryatid does two things for our deck. First and most importantly, they help speed up Dubious Challenge. Modern is a fast format, and it's very likely that casting Dubious Challenge "fairly" on Turn 4 would simply be too slow even if we hit an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, at least in some matchups. On the other hand, if we have a Birds of Paradise / Noble Hierarch on Turn 1 or a Sylvan Caryatid on Turn 2, we can end up with a Turn 3 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Griselbrand, which is usually pretty good. Secondly, they are essential to our backup plan. 

The Backup Plan

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The problem with building around Dubious Challenge (or any build-around-me card) is that we can only legally play four copies in our deck, so in some games, we simply won't draw a Dubious Challenge. As such, we need a backup plan for when this happens. Another potential problem for our deck is that we might naturally draw a bunch of our payoff cards, which not only leaves our hand full of uncastable Emrakuls, Ionas, and Griselbrands but also weakens our Dubious Challenges by removing "hits" from our deck. Because of this, we are also running four copies of Fist of Suns, which along with all of our mana dorks and a five-color mana base means we have a way to cast an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn from our hand on Turn 4 by paying one mana of each color, which helps fix both of these problems. Plus, we can also cast a Birds of Paradise for five mana, which might be enough to get an impatient opponent to scoop in fear, expecting something far more devastating to hit the battlefield. 

The Matchups

First off, the biggest problem with our deck is simply inconsistency. I mean, we have all the tools to have a Turn 3 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, which is good enough to beat just about any deck in Modern when it happens, but it doesn't happen as often as we would like because we not only need to draw a copy of Dubious Challenge but also hit the right combination of cards off Dubious Challenge. As such, the good news is we can beat (almost) anyone when things go well, but the bad news is this doesn't happen all that often. 

As for individual matchups, super fast aggro / combo decks are challenging, because against decks like Infect, Death's Shadow Zoo, or Burn, it's very possible we get a Turn 4 (or sometimes even a Turn 3) Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and still die before we get to attack and annihilate our opponent. On the other hand of the spectrum, hardcore control decks can also be challenging because they can counter our Dubious Challenge and leave us stuck with a bunch of useless mana dorks and a hand full of huge, uncastable payoff cards. 

As such, we are hoping to dodge the super-fast Turn 3.5 decks in Modern and the super-slow control decks and play against Midrange decks, since in these matchups, Turn 3 or 4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is usually enough to win the game. Plus, most midrange decks like Jund, Abzan, and friends don't have the counterspells necessary to ruin our plans. I think some slower combo decks fall into this camp as well. Basically, we are just a bit slower than the fastest decks in Modern,and too slow for the slowest decks in Modern, so we are hoping to play against decks that fall in between these two extremes. 

The Odds

We have two different sets of odds this week. First, as far as gameplay, the record wasn't great. We won two of six matches (33.33% match win percentage) and just 4 of 14 games (28.6% game win percentage), which I guess makes this week's record dubious. More importantly, what were our odds of hitting what we needed with Dubious Challenge?

As a quick refresher, we have nine enablers and nine payoffs, and for Dubious Challenge to "hit," we need to find at least one of each in the top 10 cards of our deck. Throughout the course of our games, we cast Dubious Challenge a total of eight times, and I would consider four of those Dubious Challenges successful (50%). Against Affinity, the power of the combo was clear, as we killed our opponent early two games in a row, even though disruption. On the other hand, a full half of our Dubious Challenges did nothing. One gave both us and our opponent a Griselbrand (which allowed our opponent to play about a million Elves and win the game), others missed on a payoff card, and we even had one Dubious Challenge where we simply didn't choose any creatures because our opponent would have ended up with an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. So, even with a deck specifically built to abuse Dubious Challenge, there's a ton of variance involved, and we only really benefited from the card about half of the times we cast it. 

Vote for Next Week's Deck

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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