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Against the Odds: Emrakul but Marvelous (Explorer)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 371 of Against the Odds. Today, we're heading to Explorer to find out if the most busted archetype from Standard back in 2017 can compete in Explorer on Magic Arena in 2023, by trying to cheat Emrakul, the Promised End into play with Aetherworks Marvel! If you were playing Standard half a decade ago, you probably remember just how strong the energy mechanic was. By my count, our deck has four cards that were banned back during their time in Standard: Emrakul, the Promised End, Aetherworks Marvel, Rogue Refiner, and Attune with Aether. However, there has been a ton of power creep in Magic over the past few years. Are these cards even scary anymore? Can they compete in a nonrotating format like Explorer? How much fun is stealing an opponent's turns with Emrakul? Let's get to the video and find out in today's Against the Odds; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Emrakul but Marvelous

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The Deck

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The goal is pretty simple: make energy, play Aetherworks Marvel and use it to spin-to-win Emrakul, the Promised End (or something else massive) into play, hopefully on Turn 4! Aetherworks Marvel is our deck's centerpiece. While it does generate energy itself as our permanents go to the graveyard, its main power is that we can tap it and spend six energy to cast one of the top six cards of our library for free, which is incredibly powerful. Ideally, we'll hit one of our big finishers the first time we spin Aetherworks Marvel, like Emrakul. But part of the why reason Aetherworks Marvel is so strong is because even if we whiff, we'll likely hit something that makes more energy because our deck is overflowing with energy producers, which will let us spin again the next turn. Sooner or later, this will end with us hitting a finisher and (at least, in theory) using it to win the game!

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Of course, for our "cheat Emrakul into play with Aetherworks Marvel" plan to work, we need energy to activate the Marvel—lots and lots of energy. Thankfully, our deck is literally overflowing with cards that make mana, starting with our mana base, where Aether Hub gives us an energy while also fixing our colors and Attune with Aether (one of the worst cards ever to be banned in Standard) is essentially an Evolving Wilds that gives us two energy as a bonus.

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Woodweaver's Puzzleknot looks pretty bad, but it's actually one of the most important cards in our deck. For two mana, it gives us three energy and three life, and then for three more mana, we can sacrifice it for three more energy and life. Puzzleknot's power is that it's a single card that offers six energy—exactly the amount we need to activate Aetherworks Marvel. This makes it one of the best cards we can find when we "whiff" with a Marvel activation because it guarantees we'll be able to spin Aetherworks Marvel again the next turn while also helping keep our life total high so we don't die before finding a finisher.

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Next up, we have our energy creatures. Part of what made energy so strong back in Standard is that the ability to make energy mostly came attached to creatures that would have been decent or even good even without the energy production. While perhaps not as strong in 2023 as they were back in 2017, Servant of the Conduit is essentially a two-mana mana dork that also makes two energy, Rogue Refiner gives us a redraw to help find Aetherworks Marvel while also filling our energy reserves, and Whirler Virtuoso not only makes three energy but also gives us something to do with our energy if we can't find Aetherworks Marvel. If all else fails, we can spend all of our energy making a bunch of Thopter tokens and try to fly our way to a janky beatdown win.

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Our last energy producer is also our one main-deck removal spell: Harnessed Lightning. The two-mana instant is actually a great removal spell in our deck since it scales throughout the game. In the early game, the three energy it makes should be enough to deal with any creature our opponent might play. Later, if our opponent plays a bigger threat, we can dip into our energy reserves to power up Harnessed Lightning and take down pretty much any threat in the format. It's also worth mentioning that paying energy to Harnessed Lightning is optional, which actually does matter. Sometimes, we'll cast it like an energy ritual and intentionally choose to deal zero damage, just to gain more energy so we can activate Aetherworks Marvel.

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So, let's assume we make a bunch of energy and start spinning our Aetherworks Marvel. What are we hoping to hit? First and foremost is Emrakul, the Promised End, which is the main reason we're playing today's deck. While a 13/13 flying trampler with protection from instants is already an absurd card, Emrakul is even better than that because it lets us control our opponent's next turn—one of the most fun mechanics in all of Magic, assuming it's you controlling your opponent and not your opponent controlling you. During our opponent's turn, we can try to empty their hand, use their removal on their own creatures, chump attack into our Emrakul, and just generally cause havoc. It's hilarious and a pretty effective way to win the game. The only downside is that some opponents just scoop as soon as they see Emrakul so we don't actually get to have fun wrecking our opponent with their own cards.

Backing up Emrakul are Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and one Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, which are helpful in the one situation where Emrakul is bad: when we are super far behind on board. Initially, I tried to build the deck without Ugin since I hate losing to Ugin, but I ran into one big problem: we had games where we would Marvel and Emrakul into play but were at such a low life total and our opponent had so many creatures on the battlefield that our opponent would simply wait for us to steal their turn and then kill us on the backswing. Ulamog and especially Ugin save us in these situations, with Ulamog exiling our opponent's best two permanents and Ugin sweeping away all the colored permanents on our opponent's board, which is usually enough to stabilize us so we can spin Aetherworks Marvel again the following turn to try to find an Emrakul, the Promised End to close out the game.

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Last but not least, we have Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, which is essentially our backup Aetherworks Marvel. Our deck has a hard time winning if we don't find a Marvel to cheat something huge into play—the energy cards just aren't all that strong as stand-alone threats anymore. While much slower, Golos, Tireless Pilgrim gives us another card that can cast Emrakul, Ulamog, or Ugin for three. Thanks to our Aether Hubs, we can make all five colors of mana naturally to activate Golos, and worst case, we have one Cascading Cataracts we can tutor out to help pay its cost when we simply activate Golos and pray hard to the Magic gods we have a big finisher in our top three cards!

The Matchups

The biggest challenge for Marvelous Emrakul is consistency. Casting an early Emrakul, the Promised End is enough to beat pretty much any deck in Explorer,.But if our opponent can make us discard or can counter Aetherworks Marvel, we're often stuck drawing underpowered energy producers and expensive finishers we're unlikely to cast naturally. As such, decks playing a lot of discard and counterspells are our hardest matchups because they have the best chance of stopping our Aetherworks Marvel from ever being activated. On the other hand, Marvelous Emrakul can feel absurd against midrange and slower aggro decks since we should be able to resolve Aetherworks Marvel easily and quickly use it to take over the game.

The Odds

Overall, I ended up going 3-6 with the deck, giving us a 33.3% match-win percentage. The good games with the deck are hilarious. If your goal is to cast an Emrakul, the Promised End as quickly as possible, Aetherworks Marvel might be the best way to do it, and there's nothing quite like beating your opponent by controlling their turn and playing it horribly. On the other hand, the deck definitely suffers from a lack of consistency. We had some frustrating games where we had great hands of energy production and Aetherworks Marvel only to get hit by a Thoughtseize and basically do nothing for the entire game. 

All in all, I came away from our matches feeling like Emrakul, the Promised End is pretty busted and like Aetherworks Marvel itself is still absurd, but the energy support cards—the Rogue Refiners, Whirler Virtuosos, and Attune with Aethers of the multiverse—just aren't very strong in 2023. Part of what made Marvel and the energy mechanic so, so good in Standard is that these cards were all on-curve or above the curve, but in 2023 Explorer, they are all below the curve, and some of them, like Attune with Aether, are downright janky. If energy ever makes a return, things could change quickly, and Aetherworks Marvel could once again be a monster. But for now, it's a funny, unique, and nostalgic Against the Odds deck, which is perfectly fine.


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

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