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Against the Odds: Five-Color Defenders (Pioneer)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 349 of Against the Odds. We had a Pioneer-focused Dominaria United poll last week, and Defender Tribal, led by Wingmantle Chaplain, took home the win in a super-close battle with The World Spell, coming out on top by 2% of the more than 32,000 votes cast! As such, we're heading to Pioneer today to play some defense and see if new defender payoffs Wingmantle Chaplain and Blight Pile are enough to make the deck at least semi-competitive in the format. Does DMU mean Defenders is a real deck in Pioneer now? 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: Five-Color Defenders

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The Deck

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Defenders are a unique tribe. Most often, they are low-power, high-toughness creatures, which means that without some extra support, they are usually good at blocking (and making mana, for some reason) but aren't very good at actually killing the opponent. So, how does a deck overflowing with mostly zero-power creatures actually win a game of Magic? Our deck has a handful of defender payoffs that can turn our little walls into real threats. First is Arcades, the Strategist, which might be the best defender payoff ever, drawing us cards as defenders enter the battlefield while also letting our defenders attack and deal damage equal to their toughness rather than their power, making it both a card-advantage engine that lets us flood the board with cheap defenders and a way to let our defenders play offense. With an Arcades out, seemingly underpowered defenders like Saruli Caretaker and Axebane Guardian actually turn into reasonable threats as 3/3s. We've also got one copy of High Alert as a backup Arcades, the Strategist but without the card advantage.

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Perhaps more exciting (and the main reason we're playing 5C Defenders) are our two new Dominaria United payoffs: Wingmantle Chaplain and Blight Pile. If you've played any amount of Dominaria United draft, you are probably familiar with these cards, but they haven't seen any constructed play so far. Wingmantle Chaplain doesn't look like much as a four-mana 0/3, but it's actually a great payoff in a deck full of defenders thanks to its ability to make a bunch of 1/1 Bird tokens with its enters-the-battlefield ability and then slowly add more Birds to the battlefield as we play more defenders. In the early game, we're usually getting a Lingering Souls amount of 1/1 fliers; then, later in the game, it's very possible that a couple of Wingmantle Chaplains can make 10 or even 20 Birds to win the game. Backing up the Chaplain is Blight Pile, which gives us a way to close out the game without attacking (which is especially important for defenders since they literally can't attack unless we have something like Arcades on the battlefield) by draining the opponent equal to the number of defenders we control. The deck's main goal is to chip in for damage with the help of Arcades, the Strategist or Wingmantle Chaplain Birds and then build a big enough board of defenders to drain our opponent out of the game directly with a couple of Blight Pile activations.

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Of course, for any of our defender payoffs to work, we need a deck full of creatures with defender. In fact, every single creature in our deck outside of Arcades has defender. These cards break down into two groups: mana defenders and support defenders. For mana defenders, we have Saruli Caretaker, Sylvan Caryatid and Axebane Guardian, which help fix our five-color mana and ramp us into our payoffs. Axebane Guardian also allows for some crazy combo turns in the late game, where it often taps for five or more mana, allowing us to cast a bunch of defenders and draw through our deck with Arcades, the Strategist. While it doesn't happen often, it can also give us infinite mana with High Alert's untap ability, assuming we have five or more defenders on the battlefield.

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As for our supporting defenders, we have three options here as well. Faithbound Judge gives us a good blocker that also functions as a backup win condition. Thanks to our deck's ability to make huge piles of mana, it's very possible that we can disturb the backside of Faithbound Judge—Sinner's Judgment—onto the battlefield fairly early in the game, cursing our opponent and potentially killing them in three turns. One of the problems with Sinner's Judgment is that it's difficult to stay alive long enough to get three counters on it. But thanks to all of our defenders and the flock of Birds Wingmantle Chaplain makes, our deck is actually very good at staving off death for a few turns by playing defense. Otherwise, Tuktuk Rubblefort is just a one-of tutor target, but it helps with our big combo turns by allowing Axebane Guardian to tap for mana right away and all of our random creatures to attack immediately, and Resolute Watchdog helps protect Arcades, Wingmantle Chaplain, and our other payoffs.

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One of the problems with defenders as a tribe is that we really need to find our payoffs, especially Arcades and Wingmantle Chaplain, or else we have these awkward games where we play a bunch of zero-power defenders, make a bunch of mana, and don't really do anything with it. As such, Chord of Calling is in our deck to help ensure we find our payoffs consistently. Most of the time, it's grabbing Arcades, the Strategist or Wingmantle Chaplain, but every once in a while, we use it to snag something else like Blight Pile or Axebane Guardian. Finally, Leyline Binding gives us some removal, and it's mostly a free-roll in our deck since we're playing five colors and a bunch of Triomes and shock lands anyway to reduce its cost.

The Matchups

Defenders struggle most against removal-heavy control and midrange decks. The goal is to build up a big board full of defenders, which usually requires keeping our payoffs on the battlefield for a few turns. Control and removal-focused midrange decks are tough since they can usually kill our Arcades, the Strategist and Wingmantle Chaplain and leave us with a bunch of do-nothing Walls. Sweepers are also annoying. We had a few games where we went off and made a huge board only for our opponent to untap and Supreme Verdict or Radiant Flames away all of our hard work. On the other hand, Defenders do pretty well against creature decks because we've got a ton of walls for blocking and can make an absurd number of Bird tokens. Plus, creature decks usually don't have as much removal, making it more likely that our payoffs will stick around to take over the game.

The Odds

Record-wise, 5C Defenders wasn't great. In fact, it took eight matches for us to get a single match win, although the deck felt better than its record would suggest. We had a lot of games where we did cool and even powerful things only for our opponent to have the answer (either comboing off for the win or sweeping our board), and we won several games. While 5C Defenders certainly isn't very competitive, it is super fun and does some pretty spectacular things when it goes off!

As far as our new payoffs, Wingmantle Chaplain felt great. Outside of Arcades, it was the best card in our deck and was responsible for most of our wins. Just watch our match against Spirits to get a good look at what the four-drop can do. Meanwhile, Blight Pile wasn't quite as impressive as Wingmantle Chaplain, but it was really helpful for closing out games during board stalls, which happen a lot against creature decks. While Defenders might not quite be there yet in Pioneer, with a couple more good payoffs to join Arcades and the new Dominaria United defenders, it seems possible they could get there someday. But for now, they are more fun than truly competitive.


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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