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Against the Odds: Jeskai Gearhulks (Historic)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 266 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had a Kaladesh Remastered–in-Historic Against the Odds poll, and Combustible Gearhulk took home the victory over Paradoxical Outcome. As such, we're heading to Historic today to play a deck that's not built around just Combustible Gearhulk but also some of its Gearhulkian friends as well: Jeskai Gearhulks! The plan is to use cards like Refurbish and God-Pharaoh's Gift to cheat our Gearhulks into play on the cheap, do some shenanigans with Sublime Epiphany to copy our Gearhulks, and eventually overwhelm our opponent with Gearhulk value. Can it work? What crazy things can Combustible Gearhulk and friends do in Historic? What are the odds of winning with a deck featuring 10 Gearhulks? 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: Jeskai Gearhulks

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The Deck

When Combustible Gearhulk won the poll, I had no idea what direction to go with the deck. As a 6/6 first strike for six, Combustible Gearhulk is a good enough creature that it could show up in any number of decks, but just slamming some copies into Gruul Midrange or a similar deck isn't what Against the Odds is all about. How could we go deep around Combustible Gearhulk and take advantage of its ability to either deal a bunch of damage to our opponent or draw us some cards, depending on our opponent's choice? That question is what eventually led to adding even more Gearhulks to the deck and finally the Jeskai Gearhulks deck we're playing today!

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Combustible Gearhulk wants us to do three things. First, we need to actually get the six-drop on the battlefield. While in theory, we can just hard cast it, Historic is a fast enough format that overloading on six-mana plans and hoping to cast them naturally is likely to be too slow in some matchups, which means having a plan for speeding up our Gearhulks is important. Second, Combustible Gearhulk wants us to play a bunch of high-converted-mana-cost cards in our deck to maximize the damage it can deal if our opponent chooses the mill option with its enters-the-battlefield trigger. Drawing three cards is never bad, but if our deck is full of mostly cheap cards, smart opponents will likely choose the mill option since it won't be all that scary or damaging. Third, Combustible Gearhulk wants us to be able to take advantage of our graveyard in one way or another to further power up the mill-three option. In general, if our opponent is at a fairly high life total, they'll likely choose to mill three and take some damage rather than giving us three cards, which makes being able to put the cards they dump into our graveyard to use essential. 

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Adding Torrential Gearhulk to our deck (and to a lesser extent, Cataclysmic Gearhulk, which is just a one-of in our main deck) helps to solve two of our Combustible Gearhulk problems. Torrential Gearhulk and Cataclysmic Gearhulk both have fairly high converted mana costs, making them solid cards to mill with Combustible Gearhulk's enters-the-battlefield trigger, while Torrential Gearhulk's flashback ability offers a way to take advantage of the cards we mill with Combustible Gearhulk. Meanwhile, Cataclysmic Gearhulk is surprisingly good in Historic at the moment, offering a decent body and a pseudo-wrath against creature decks while also blowing up artifacts when we run into artifact-based ramp decks featuring cards like Forsaken Wastes and Paradox Engine, which are pretty popular at the moment. 

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So, how are we cheating all of our expensive Gearhulks into play? While we often do just cast them, a more explosive and faster plan is to reanimate them, either with Refurbish directly or by using Refurbish to reanimate God-Pharaoh's Gift and then using God-Pharaoh's Gift to put a Gearhulk into play and a 4/4 token each turn. The reanimation plan is the perfect way to take advantage of Combustible Gearhulk. Not only does it speed up the process of getting the six-drop on the battlefield, but it's also another way to take advantage of Combustible Gearhulk's ability to fill our graveyard if our opponent chooses the mill option with its enters-the-battlefield trigger. And God-Pharaoh's Gift offers another high-CMC card to deal a bunch of damage if it gets milled to Combustible Gearhulk's ability. 

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While cheating Gearhulks into play turn after turn is a powerful plan all by itself, we've got one more trick to make our Gearhulks even better: ways to copy our Gearhulks once they hit the battlefield. Glasspool Mimic is mostly a freeroll as a Clone that takes up a land slot. Meanwhile, Sublime Epiphany can do some absurd things in our deck. If we can get a Combustible Gearhulk on the battlefield, we can use Sublime Epiphany to copy it, get another 6/6, and either draw more cards or deal more damage with its enters-the-battlefield trigger. The instant gets even better with Torrential Gearhulk. If we can copy a Torrential Gearhulk with Sublime Epiphany, we can use Torrential Gearhulk's enters-the-battlefield trigger to flashback Sublime Epiphany, bounce something of our opponents, draw a card, maybe counter a spell and make another copy of Torrential Gearhulk. In the late game, once our graveyard is full of Sublime Epiphanys, it's very possible that a single Torrential Gearhulk or Sublime Epiphany can set off this weird loop that ends with us having four or five copies of Torrential Gearhulk on the battlefield, as we can flash back all of the copies of Sublime Epiphany from our graveyard for free with Torrential Gearhulk's enters-the-battlefield trigger!

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Outside of lands, the rest of our main deck is full of looting effects that help us churn through our deck to find our Gearhulks, reanimation spells, and copies of Sublime Epiphany while also stocking our graveyard with Gearhulks to reanimate and spells to flash back with Torrential Gearhulk. Champion of Wits is probably the best of the bunch since it double-loots on Turn 3 and then is also a good God-Pharaoh's Gift target later, when it comes back as a 4/4 that draws us four cards and lets us discard two, while Cathartic Reunion, Strategic Planning, Thirst for Knowledge, and one Ox of Agonas give us a ton of redundancy. Together, these cards make our deck extremely consistent and help us stock our graveyard at lightning speed to set up for our powerful reanimation spells and weird Sublime Epiphany loops!

The Matchups

Probably the hardest matchups for Jeskai Gearhulks are dedicated aggro decks. While we have a bunch of removal and sweepers in the sideboard, we don't have much interaction in the main deck. This means that if we have a slow draw, we're likely to get run over before we get our Gearhulks going. This is doubly true of aggro decks that also have counterspells to stop our Gearhulks and Refurbish. Hard graveyard hate like Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace is also a problem, but thankfully, most Historic decks play Grafdigger's Cage instead since it stops Aetherworks Marvel and Goblins along with hating on the graveyard, and we don't really care all that much about Grafdigger's Cage. While the artifact does stop us from using Refurbish to directly reanimate a Gearhulk, we can still use Refurbish to reanimate God-Pharaoh's Gift, and then God-Pharaoh's Gift can cheat our Gearhulks into play in token form. On the other hand, our deck is really solid against control and midrange. We're overloaded with powerful hay-makers, which often means we only need to sneak one or two spells through our opponent's defenses to pick up the win. 

The Odds

All in all, we played six matches with Jeskai Gearhulks and won four, giving us a 66.7% match win percentage. We also arguably got unlucky in one of our losses, where we kept a two-lander with Cathartic Reunion and multiple sweepers against Goblins, but Cathartic Reunion and our draw step failed to find land number three, and we died without really doing anything. Basically, Jeskai Gearhulks felt surprisingly competitive. More importantly, the deck is a blast to play. It has a ton of card draw so we always have something to do, powerful finishers, and some really sweet synergies, thanks to our reanimation and Sublime Epiphany! If you are a fan of Gearhulk decks or like reanimating things, give it a shot!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

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We've been playing a lot of Historic lately, so let's switch things up and play some Modern for next week's episode! Which of these classic Against the Odds cards should we build around? Vote here!


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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