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Against the Odds: Liliana's Adaptation (Standard)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 147 of Against the Odds. Last week, we didn't have an Against the Odds poll because it's release week for Core Set 2019, which means it's time for a special episode showing off the new set. Don't worry—the poll is back at the end of the article and overflowing with sweet new Core Set 2019 options! "So what are we playing this week?" I heard you ask. Our new "you win the game" card Liliana's Contract, of course! While there aren't really enough Demons in Standard to make a Demon tribal deck work, we do have a way of cheating by turning all of our creatures into Demons: Arcane Adaptation! If we can get both Arcane Adaptation and Liliana's Contract on the battlefield along with four creatures, we win the game on our upkeep! What are the odds of winning with Liliana's Contract in Standard? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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The Deck

When it came time to choose the first Against the Odds card from Core Set 2019, Liliana's Contract was a pretty obvious choice. While there are a bunch of good options from the set, "you win the game" cards have traditionally been the foundation of the series. As for the deck itself, I looked into building a Demon tribal deck but realized that there are only a handful of Demons in Standard, and most are massive fliers that cost a ton of mana. Not only does this make it hard to get four different Demons on the battlefield, but if we do get four on the battlefield, we've probably already won the game with Razaketh, the Foulblooded, Demonlord Belzenlok, and friends. In the end, we went the most traditional direction with Liliana's Contract, using Arcane Adaptation to turn our non-Demon creatures into Demons to (hopefully) win the game with a Splinter Twin-like combo!

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The combo of the deck is pretty simple: Liliana's Contract plus Arcane Adaptation with at least four differently named Demons on the battlefield wins us the game on our upkeep. Thankfully, Liliana's Contract is one of the best "you win the game" cards ever printed. Normally, "you win the game" cards are really bad until they eventually win the game when a certain condition is met. Liliana's Contract, on the other hand, is actually a pretty decent card-draw spell when it enters the battlefield, giving us four new cards for just five mana. In our deck specifically, this huge boost of card draw is key, since it helps us find our Arcane Adaptation or, if we already have both combo pieces, the four different creatures we need to win the game. 

Arcane Adaptation, on the other hand, is pretty bad. We have four copies in our deck because we really need one to win the game with Liliana's Contract, but extra copies aren't especially helpful. Plus, until we have Liliana's Contract and four creatures, Arcane Adaptation does literally nothing, since we don't have any other "turn your creatures into Demon" synergies in the deck. The good news is that the combo itself is scary enough that many opponents spend removal and counters on Arcane Adaptation in fear of getting comboed off, which in turn allows us to resolve more of our good cards and trust that we'll eventually draw more copies of Arcane Adaptation to get the combo kill.

Demons

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As far as creatures, the main trick to actually winning the game with our Liliana's Contract combo is to play a bunch of different creatures rather than four copies of a few creatures. Because of this, our creatures are exclusively one- and two-ofs, with the exception of Champion of Wits. Champion of Wits is a four-of, since it's really good at helping us dig through our deck to find our other creatures and combo pieces. 

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Omenspeaker, Gonti, and Unesh give us some backup card-advantage creatures that also end up as differently named Demons when it comes time for the combo kill. Omenspeaker is a great blocker on Turn 2, and the scry helps us set up our future turns. Gonti, Lord of Luxury is best against control and can even allow us to steal one of our opponent's creatures to turn into a Demon. Finally, Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign is just a one-of, but it's good on its own and gives us a backup combo piece with Arcane Adaptation. Once we have one copy of Arcane Adaptation on Demon, we can set a second copy on Sphinx to turn all of our creatures into mini-Fact or Fictions, which helps us draw through our deck at lightning speed, find the rest of our combo pieces, and win the game.

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Gifted Aetherborn and Aethersphere Harvester are surprisingly important to our deck. Remember: when Liliana's Contract enters the battlefield, it makes us lose four life, which means if we take too much damage in the early game, we can get locked out of ever playing our game-winning combo pieces. The lifelink on Gifted Aetherborn and Aethersphere Harvester helps make sure that our life total stays high enough to play our Liliana's Contract. Just a word of warning: Aethersphere Harvester doesn't actually work with Liliana's Contract. At first, I thought we could crew it on our upkeep to add to our Demon count, but by this time, the beginning of our upkeep has already passed, and Liliana's Contract doesn't trigger.

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Merfolk Trickster, Ravenous Chupacabra, and Hostage Taker give us some removal spells that also count as creatures as far as our Liliana's Contract / Arcane Adaptation combo is concerned. Merfolk Trickster helps in the early game, tapping down an attacker to keep our life total high along with killing things like Karn, Scion of Urza tokens. Ravenous Chupacabra just kills anything for four mana, while Hostage Taker can occasionally add two creatures to the battlefield by stealing one of our opponent's dorks. 

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Rounding out our motley crew of creatures is Kitesail Freebooter as our Duress on a stick. Sailor of Means is just a one-of, but adding an extra mana can be relevant when it comes to casting multiple Demons in a turn to try to win with Liliana's Contract. Finally, The Scarab God is great in our deck because it allows us to get back our creatures that have died. One of the downsides of only playing one or two of each creature is that if our opponent can kill both copies, we suddenly lose that Demon name forever. This is where The Scarab God comes in. Thanks to its ability to eternalize creatures for just four mana, a single copy can give us all the Demons we need to win the game with Liliana's Contract and Arcane Adaptation over the course of just a couple of turns!

The Matchups

The biggest challenge for Liliana's Adaptation is that all of our two-ofs make the deck high in variance. For example, the matchup against a deck like Mono-Red can be hard, unless we just happen to draw our Gifted Aetherborns and Aethersphere Harvester, and then things are fine. This being said, in general, we'd rather play against slower midrange and control decks than against aggro. Against aggro, the amount of early damage we take sometimes makes it hard to ever resolve a Liliana's Contract without killing ourselves with the four damage, and without Liliana's Contract, our best way of winning the game—our Standard Splinter Twin combo—is off the table forever. On the other hand, against slower decks, the card draw from Liliana's Contract makes it powerful even when we don't have all of our combo pieces, helping us stabilize and grind until we can eventually find our missing pieces to get the combo kill.

The Odds

All in all, we played five matches and won four, good for an 80% match win percentage, along with winning eight of 11 games, putting our game-win percentage at 73%. By the numbers, this makes Liliana's Adaptation above average for an Against the Odds deck. While we probably benefited a bit from people playing some weird and janky things in the first week of Core Set 2019 Standard (including one deck that looked like it would be more at home in limited than constructed), we still managed to beat everything except the crazy Imminent Doom deck that had one of the most Magical Christmas Land draws I've ever seen. More importantly, most of our wins were because of the combo, and even many of the games that we won without the combo were attributable to Liliana's Contract (for example, our matchup against Jeskai Control, where we drew a massive 16 cards with Liliana's Contract to out card-advantage our opponent for the win)! All in all, the deck was a lot of fun, and Liliana's Contract was a surprisingly effective way to win the game!

Vote For Next Week's Deck

Core Set 2019 is here, and it's got some sweet new Against the Odds options. Which of these new cards should we play in Standard next week? Let us know by voting below! (Note: while the goal is to play the card in Standard, there are a couple of cards that might be way more fun in Modern, so there's a small possibility the format could change if the Standard build is boring).

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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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