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Against the Odds: Five-Color Zubera Rally (Modern)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 111 of Against the Odds. Over the past few weeks, ever since Unclaimed Territory entered the format, we've seen a trend of people playing five-color tribal decks in Modern. Our Against the Odds poll last week celebrated the possibility but with some of the lesser-known five-color tribes. In the end, it was one of the closest polls we've ever had: with nearly 6,000 votes cast, it was Zubera taking down Gods by just four votes!

As such, we are heading to Modern this week to play with one of the strangest five-color tribes in Magic: Zubera. While the tribe doesn't have that many members (there are only seven Zubera in all of Magic) and all of them are pretty underpowered as standalone cards, there is some interesting tribal synergy, since each Zubera has a death trigger that does something equal to the number of Zubera that died during the turn. So, our plan for today is not just cast as many Zubera as possible but kill as many of our own Zubera as possible! Let's get to the videos, so you can watch some Zubera die, and then we'll talk more about the deck.

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Against the Odds: Five-Color Zubera Rally (Deck Tech)

Against the Odds: Five-Color Zubera Rally (Games)

The Deck

One thing I quickly learned while building around Zubera is there really aren't very many ways to make a deck featuring the tribe. With only seven members, there simply aren't a lot of options—you pretty much play as many Zubera as possible and then find the best support cards available to round out the deck. While it would probably be possible to build a Zubera beatdown deck with something like Metallic Mimic as a lord, the unique thing about Zubera is they are much better suited to being a combo-esque Artistocrats-style deck because most of the Zubera are two-mana 1/2s, which aren't all that good at attacking. As such, the basic plan of Five-Color Zubera Rally is simple: we play a lot of Zubera, we kill a lot of Zubera, reanimate a lot of Zubera, and kill them again, and hopefully this is enough to win the game. 

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Dripping-Tongue Zubera, Ember-Fist Zubera, and Floating-Dream Zubera are the foundation of the deck. While we have a couple other Zubera as well, the green, red, and blue members of the Zubera cycle are the most powerful of the bunch. While none of the cards are all that strong on their own, with Dripping-Tongue Zubera making a single 1/1 token when it dies, Ember-Fist Zubera pinging for one damage, and Floating-Dream Zubera cycling, the real power of all of these cards shows through when we manage to get a bunch of them on the battlefield at once and kill them all at the same time. When Dripping-Tongue Zubera is making three or five tokens, it's an insane deal for just two mana, and the same is true of the damage from Ember-Fist Zubera and card-drawing power of Floating-Dream Zubera

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Ashen-Skin Zubera and Silent-Chant Zubera are our backup Zubera because their abilities are more matchup dependent than the green, red, and blue Zubera. Ashen-Skin Zubera is great against control decks and some slower combo builds but pretty bad against aggro, where our opponent can empty their hand quickly. Meanwhile, Silent-Chant Zubera is great against aggro and burn but pretty bad against combo and control, where gaining a bit of life here and there isn't that relevant. The good news is both Ashen-Skin Zubera and Silent-Chant Zubera are Zubera, so even though their abilities aren't great in every matchup, they still help us up our "Zubera that died this turn count," allowing us to draw more cards, deal more damage, and make more tokens with our good Zubera. 

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While the main goal of our deck is to get as many Zubera on the battlefield as possible, we also need a way to kill our Zubera. While in theory we can try to block or hope that our opponent kills our Zubera for us, our deck is at its best when we can have all of our Zubera die at the same time, so each one is fully powered when their "dies" triggers resolve. To kill our own Zubera, we have Viscera Seer and Bloodthrone Vampire. Viscera Seer is the better of the two because the scry ability helps us dig through our deck to find more Zubera or our reanimation spells, while Bloodthrone Vampire is mostly just a sacrifice outlet, since it's pretty rare it actually gets in for combat damage. If we can get either one of these cards on the battlefield, we can sacrifice all of our Zubera (maintaining priority). This is important when you think about how Zubera actually work.

Picture for a minute that we have three copies of Ember-Fist Zubera on the battlefield along with a Viscera Seer. We can sacrifice a Ember-Fist Zubera and deal one damage, then sacrifice the next one to deal two damage, and then sacrifice the last one to deal three damage, which ends up being six damage altogether. However, we can get three more points of damage if we just sacrifice all three Zubera at once, which leave us with three triggers on the stack that each deal three damage, adding up to nine damage in all!

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There is a problem with our Zubera plan: even at just two mana, it's hard to get a bunch of Zubera on the battlefield at the same time by casting them from our hand, so rather than simply relying on casting our Zubera, we can cast some of them but also stock our graveyard with Zubera with the help of Satyr Wayfinder, Grisly Salvage, and Gather the Pack. While also helping us hit our land drops and find more Zubera, the main goal of these cards is to get as many Zubera in the graveyard as possible so we can reanimate them.

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Rally the Ancestors and Return to the Ranks give us our big combo finish, getting all of our Zubera back from the graveyard in one shot. Assuming we cast some Satyr Wayfinders, Grisly Salvages, and Gather the Packs beforehand, when we resolve a Rally the Ancestors and Return to the Ranks we are often getting back at least five—and sometimes far more —Zubera along with one of our sac-outlet creatures, which means we can usually just win the game on the spot by sacrificing our board with our free Zubera value, making a board full of tokens, dealing tons of damage, emptying our opponent's hand, gaining oodles of life, and drawing tons of cards. Even if this isn't enough to directly kill our opponent, the cards we draw (combined with the scrying from Viscera Seer) mean we usually find another Rally the Ancestors or Return to the Ranks to do it again the next turn, which is almost always enough to kill the opponent with Zubera value!

The Matchups

Generally, Five-Color Zubera Rally is scared of two things. The first is fast combo. While our deck is super good at clogging up the battlefield and gaining incremental value, it's not fast enough to keep up with Turn 3 or Turn 4 kills. While we have some helpful sideboard cards for these matchups, decks like Storm and TitanShift are among our worst matchups. The second problem is graveyard hate. While graveyard hate is obviously good against our reanimation plan, cards like Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void actually just shut down Zubera altogether, since the Zubera trigger when they die and both Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void create a replacement effect where our Zubera get exiled instead of dying. If our opponent plays either of these cards, we are suddenly stuck on the 1/2 beatdown plan, which isn't a realistic way of closing out the game in most matchups.

The good news is we are great against creature decks. I was amazed by how effective our Zubera were at chump blocking. Probably the best example of this was against Grixis Death's Shadow, where our opponent was playing massive creatures early in the game but we were able to chump with Zubera for a long time (getting some incidental Zubera value along the way) before eventually finishing things off with a mass-reanimation spell. We also have a reasonable chance against control (mostly because Cavern of Souls makes our Zubera uncounterable and the Zubera's death triggers make targeted removal less than effective) and against slower combo decks. In these matchups, our discard Zubera is key, since if we can resolve it with a sacrifice outlet on the battlefield, we can often empty our opponent's hand and ruin their plans. 

The Odds

All in all, we got in five matches and won four, giving us an 80% match win percentage, along with winning eight of 11 games, good for a 72.7% game win percentage, which means the Zubera were actually awesome. In fact, the only match we lost was to Blood Moon, which is right up alongside Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void as the most unbeatable card our opponent can play. Heading into the matches, I was expecting the Zubera to be somewhere between bad and below average, and they ended up being somewhere between good and great! The deck was fun to play, and apparently the Zubera are much more competitive than they look, especially when backed up by Rally the Ancestors and Return to the Ranks. While we probably got a bit lucky to dodge some graveyard hate, Five-Color Zubera Rally seems to be one of the most competitive Against the Odds decks we've played in a while!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

It's been a few episodes since we've had a second-chance poll, where cards that came in second or third in previous polls get another shot at glory, so let's do one this week! Which of these options should we play in Modern next week? Let us know by voting below!

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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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