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Against the Odds: Five-Color Shrines (Standard)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 246 of Against the Odds. Core Set 2021 is here, which means it's time to kick off our exploration of the format with a special episode. Which Core Set 2021 card deserves the honor of being the first Against the Odds card from the set? Sanctum of All and the rest of the new Shrine cycle, of course! Our deck today is Five-Color Shrines, or perhaps Gates & Shrines. The main goal is to get all five Shrines and Sanctum of All on the battlefield at the same time, giving us an absurd amount of free value. Backing up our Shrines are some Gate synergies, which not only help us to fix our five-color mana base but also provide a cheap sweeper in Gates Ablaze as well as lifegain from Archway Angel and some solid sideboard options. Can Shrines compete in Core Set 2021 Standard? 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 Shrines

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The Deck

As soon as Sanctum of All and the rest of the shrines were spoiled, I was pretty sure that we'd be playing them for the first Against the Odds episode. The question was how to build around the enchantments. One of the weird things about building with Shrines is that the cycle itself takes up a lot of slots in the deck, which means there isn't really that much room for utility cards. One of the ways to get around this problem is by using our lands to generate extra value since we'll need a bunch of them in our deck to cast our spells, which is what led me to the Gates plan to back up our Shrines. When things go well, our plan is that our Gates will power up our removal, lifegain, and card draw to help us stay alive until we get our Shrines going. And then once we get a few Shrines on the battlefield, we should quickly take over the game.

Shrines

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Sanctum of All is the reason that Core Set 2021 Shrines are so exciting. Not only does it offer a payoff for getting a bunch of Shrines on the battlefield (essentially turning into a Shrine Panharmonicon once we have at least six Shrines), but it also finds our Shrines. One of the challenges of building around Shrines is that they are legendary, so drawing more than one of a specific Shrine doesn't offer that much value. That means we need to try to avoid playing four copies (and in many cases, even three copies) of a specific Shrine. On the other hand, we still need to find all five different Shrines consistently. Sanctum of All, with its ability to tutor a Shrine to the battlefield every single turn, is the perfect way to find our Shrines, with the bonus of making them even better once they are assembled.

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As for the rest of our Shrines, they are either three-, two-, or one-ofs in our deck, depending mostly on how good they are on the battlefield by themselves. In general, any Shrine (well, at least most of them) becomes extremely powerful once we have three or more Shrines on the battlefield to power up their abilities, but the best of the new Core Set 2021 Shrines are decent even on their own. Our three-of Shrines are Sanctum of Fruitful Harvest and Sanctum of Calm Waters. Even without any other Shrines on the battlefield, Sanctum of Fruitful Harvest is basically a Gift of Paradise, giving us an extra mana of any color every turn, which is super important not just because it ramps us into Sanctum of All but also because it fixes our five-color mana. Meanwhile, Sanctum of Calm Waters loots on its lonesome, which is especially valuable in a deck full of legendary enchantments that tends to have a lot of dead draws, but it turns into a free, repeatable source of card advantage once we get a few Shrines on the battlefield. 

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Next, we have our two-of Shrines, Sanctum of Shattered Heights and Sanctum of Stone Fangs. In the mid- to late game, when we have several Shrines on the battlefield, these are some of the best cards in our deck, with Sanctum of Stone Fangs being our main win condition and Sanctum of Shattered Heights offering repeatable removal (and another way to get rid of extra Shrines we draw). On the other hand, both of these cards are pretty lackluster as our first Shrine on the battlefield. The red Shrine doesn't kill much of anything (and quickly runs us out of cards without Sanctum of Calm Waters to refuel), and draining for one with the black Shrine isn't really all that helpful. Basically, in a perfect world, we'll get Sanctum of Fruitful Harvest and Sanctum of Calm Waters going first, and maybe even Sanctum of All, and then Sanctum of Shattered Heights and Sanctum of Stone Fangs will come down to close out the game. 

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Last and most certainly least, we have Sanctum of Tranquil Light, which is just a one-of because it's really bad. In all the games I've played with Shrines, I don't think I've activated Sanctum of Tranquil Light a single time (although I'm sure it will happen eventually). As such, rather than being in our deck because of its ability like the rest of our Shrines, Sanctum of Tranquil Light is in our deck simply to up our Shrine count by one to power up our better Shrines.

So what happens if we actually achieve our goal of getting all six Shrines on the battlefield? Each turn, we get to add 12 extra mana with Sanctum of Fruitful Harvest, draw 12 extra cards (and discard two) with Sanctum of Calm Waters, drain our opponent for 12 with Sanctum of Stone Fangs, kill our opponent's board with Sanctum of Shattered Heights and...tap something with Sanctum of Tranquil Light. This ends up being an absurd amount of free value, which usually ends the game in just a turn or two thanks to Sanctum of Stone Fangs!

Ramp

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The other big challenge of Shrines is that they come in all five colors, which makes our mana a bit tricky. Ramp spells like Growth Spiral and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath help us dig through our deck to find all five colors of lands, while Circuitous Route (thanks to its ability to tutor up two dual lands) adds four colors of mana to the battlefield all by itself. Together, these cards help to make sure that we have the right mana to cast all of our Shrines each game, while the card draw from Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Growth Spiral help us find our missing lands.

Other Stuff

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Rounding out our deck are Thirst for Meaning and Gates Ablaze. Thirst for Meaning is the perfect card-draw spell for a Shrine deck, letting us draw three cards for three mana at instant speed and then also allowing us to discard an extra Shrine that is cluttering up our hand. Keep in mind that Sanctum of All can also tutor Shrines from our graveyard, so unless we are worried about graveyard hate, it is often fine to discard a random Shrine in the early game knowing that Sanctum of All will eventually put it back into play. Meanwhile, Gates Ablaze gives us a sweeper that is fast enough to be helpful against Mono-Red in the early game but also scales to take down bigger threats later in the game as more of our 14 gates end up on the battlefield. 

The Matchups

Let's start with the good news: I was actually shocked by the raw power of Shrines. The new Core Set 2021 versions are about 10 times better than the originals and actually seem powerful enough to form the base of a competitive Standard deck. Now for the bad news: there are certain heavily played cards in Standard that blow out our deck, including Teferi, Time Raveler, Brazen Borrower, Elspeth Conquers Death, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, all of which answer our Shrines either temporarily or permanently. When it comes to matchups, we're mostly hoping to dodge decks that can incidentally deal with our Shrines. Basically, if our Shrines stick on the battlefield, we can beat just about any deck in the format, but when they don't thanks to our opponent's incidental removal, our deck doesn't do much of anything.

The Odds

All in all, we went 3-2 with Five-Color Shrines, giving us a 60% win percentage and making Shrines about average for an Against the Odds deck. However, I played a ton of games with Shrines in testing, and I'll say that we got a bit lucky in terms of matches and managed to dodge playing an endless string of Bant Mythic decks, which are a pretty nightmarish matchup since they are randomly playing a ton of answers to Shrine decks. I actually think that Shrines have the power level to at least be a third-tier competitive Standard deck, but right now, the top tier of the meta is so hostile that the archetype might need to wait until after rotation, when cards like Teferi, Time Raveler, Assassin's Trophy, Casualties of War, and Knight of Autumn will rotate. That said, the deck is a blast to play, and if you can dodge the random main-deck hate, it's really powerful too!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

The Against the Odds poll is on YouTube now! Click here to 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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