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Against the Odds: Maralen and Friends (Modern)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 130 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had an all-legendary Against the Odds poll in celebration of the main theme of Dominaria, and in the end, it was Maralen of the Mornsong coming out on top. As such, we are heading to Modern this week to see if we can figure out a way to abuse the three-drop that eliminates all card drawing but lets each player tutor for a card of their choice once a turn! The biggest challenge of building around Maralen of the Mornsong is that you can't simply play it during your main phase like most creatures because if the opponent gets to tutor first, the best outcome is that they tutor up something to kill Maralen, while they worst case is that they tutor up a game-winning combo piece and kill us immediately. How can we go about fixing this problem, and assuming we get a Maralen of the Mornsong or two on the battlefield, what is the best way of abusing her power? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck.

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Against the Odds: Maralen and Friends

The Deck

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Maralen of the Mornsong is simply not a card that you can play fairly like a normal creature. The drawback of letting the opponent tutor first is simply too high, so the first step to figuring out how to make a functional Maralen deck was deciding how we would get Maralen of the Mornsong on the battlefield at instant speed. I tried both Aether Vial and Collected Company and eventually realized that the correct answer for our deck was to just play both. While running Aether Vial and Collected Company together in the same list is generally a bad idea, since the cards don't really work well together (with Aether Vial weakening our Collected Company hits and Collected Company giving us fewer creatures to Aether Vial into play), the fact that we are building around a card that we simply can't cast from our hand at sorcery speed makes Maralen and Friends the exception to the rule. 

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With Collected Company and Aether Vial, we can put Maralen of the Mornsong into play on our opponent's end step (or on our upkeep with Aether Vial) to make sure that we get the first Maralen of the Mornsong tutor. We are at a massive advantage when we get the first tutor with Maralen of the Mornsong because our deck is built with several different plans (for different situations) where tutoring just one card with Maralen of the Mornsong can put us very far ahead in the game. Thanks to Aether Vial and Collected Company, the rest of our deck is overloaded with creatures (Maralen's "friends"), which help support Maralen of the Mornsong and make sure that our Aether Vials and Collected Companies are doing more than just putting Maralen of the Mornsong onto the battlefield. 

Tutor Targets

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Once we get a Maralen of the Mornsong on the battlefield, what we tutor up depends on the situation. For example, we have a single copy of Induced Amnesia, which exiles our opponent's hand for three mana. One of the weird quirks of Maralen of the Mornsong is that while she keeps players from drawing any cards at all, her tutor ability only replaces the one draw that happens during your draw step. This means that when we target our opponent with Induced Amnesia, the "draw that many cards" ability is negated by Maralen of the Mornsong, which makes Induced Amnesia into a three-mana Wit's End. Of course, our opponent will still be able to tutor a card for their turn, which might mean they just kill Maralen, but against a combo deck like Ad Nauseam or a control deck, just Mind Twisting away the opponent's hand is often enough to win the game.

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Mindlock Orb with Maralen of the Mornsong hard locks our opponent out of drawing cards, since they can't search their library to tutor with Maralen of the Mornsong. The problem is that it locks us out of ever drawing cards too, since the "players can't search libraries" effect is symmetrical. As such, we only really want to tutor up Mindlock Orb in situations where we feel like we are far enough ahead that we are favored to win the game with just the cards we have on the battlefield and in our hand. As a result, it's often a good second tutor target after we clear our opponent's hand with Induced Amnesia

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The Leonin Arbiter Strip Mine plan isn't as straightforward as Induced Amnesia or Mindlock Orb, but it can be pretty powerful. While Leonin Arbiter doesn't stop players from searching their library, it does make it cost two mana to tutor up a card with Maralen of the Mornsong. They won't have the mana to tutor if we can use Ghost Quarter and Field of Ruin to Strip Mine away our opponent's land (or, if they do, they hopefully won't have the mana to cast the cards they tutor for), while we (hopefully) will have the mana to tutor up our best card every turn. Since we have six total Strip Mine effects in our deck, we can theoretically Strip Mine our opponent a bunch of turns in a row by continually tutoring up Ghost Quarters and Field of Ruins while also beating down with our Maralen of the Mornsong and other random creatures, which will hopefully tax our opponent out of the game and allow us to pick up the win. 

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While Ghost Quartering our opponent once each turn is fine, ideally we'll get our opponent so light on lands that they won't be able to tutor with Maralen of the Mornsong, which means we need to make sure we are Strip Mining our opponent as often as possible. Ramunap Excavator allows us to keep playing the same Ghost Quarter from our graveyard each turn, which in turn lets us use our Maralen of the Mornsong tutor to find something else. If we also have Azusa, Lost but Seeking, we can Ghost Quarter / Field of Ruin three times a turn, which often turns into a build-your-own-one-sided Armageddon in just a couple of turns. Finally, Courser of Kruphix gains us a bunch of life as we are playing all of these lands, which helps to make up for the fact that we are losing three life each turn thanks to Maralen of the Mornsong. If we can gain enough life and keep our opponent from doing anything relevant, Maralen of the Mornsong can be a win condition as well, turning into a really weird Sulfuric Vortex to burn our opponent out of the game!

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Speaking of life gain, we have a couple of creatures in the deck to help make sure we gain enough life that we don't accidentally kill ourselves with Maralen of the Mornsong damage. Scavenging Ooze gains us some life while also giving us some main-deck graveyard hate, which can be important in some matchups, while Kitchen Finks gives us a good blocker and up to four life thanks to persist. While these cards are usually near the bottom of our tutor list, gaining a few extra life can be extremely important in certain situations. 

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While Maralen of the Mornsong can in theory tutor for anything, we have a couple of other cards that are specifically in our deck as one-of tutor targets. Spell Queller is our tutor target to protect Maralen. Let's say we can't lock our opponent out of the game with our first Maralen of the Mornsong tutor for some reason, so we know that our opponent is going to get to tutor and will likely search for a way to kill Maralen of the Mornsong. We can simply spend our tutor on Spell Queller, and when our opponent goes to Abrupt Decay, Terminate, or Path to Exile our Maralen, we can use Spell Queller to exile the removal spell and keep our Maralen of the Mornsong around for another turn. Meanwhile, Dark Confidant is a way to keep drawing cards even with the Mindlock Orb lock on the table, since we technically aren't drawing a card but revealing it and putting it into our hand. 

Other Stuff

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The rest of the deck is mostly filler that doesn't really synergize in any meaningful way with Maralen of the Mornsong. Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch just help us ramp into our more powerful plays a bit faster. Qasali Pridemage is a fine tutor target, giving us a main-deck out to something like Ensnaring Bridge from Lantern Control, while Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay give us a bit of removal for the early game. While all of these cards are important to making our deck function, they don't do anything especially exciting with Maralen of the Mornsong, instead just helping to make sure that we stay alive long enough to get Maralen of the Mornsong on the battlefield while also keeping our creature count high for Aether Vial and Collected Company

The Matchups

It's really hard to break down the matchups for Maralen and Friends, mostly because I'm not sure there are any good ones. In theory, we can beat most decks thanks to our weird value and Strip Mines combined with random Maralen of the Mornsong locks, but I'm not sure there's any single deck against which we are heavily favored. The deck does a whole bunch of things fairly well but no specific thing great, which means how a match turns out is often more about specific draws than a matchup being good or bad. For example, heading into our matches, I would have picked Tron as a good matchup thanks to our six Strip Mines, but then we lose to Tron by not drawing a Ghost Quarter or Field of Ruin. Basically, we can beat most decks if things go well, but we can lose to just about anyone when they go poorly. 

The Odds

All in all, we played five matches and only won one, giving us a lacking 20% match win percentage. The good news is that we won six of our 15 games, which means our game win percentage was fully double our match win percentage at 40%. Basically, what happened was that every single one of our matches went to three games and was extremely close; we just didn't do a good job of winning game three. As such, even though the record looks bad on paper, we were one or two tighter plays or lucky breaks away from winning another match or two, which would have completely shifted the record. 

As for Maralen of the Mornsong, we eventually did most of what we set out to do, with Induced Amnesia Mind Twisting away our opponent's hand and an epic triple Strip Mine lock turn, but the card is extremely inconsistent. The fact that we would naturally draw copies and not be able to cast them because our opponent would get the first tutor was a problem even with seven ways of cheating Maralen of the Mornsong into play at instant speed. The end result was a really swingy experience: either we untapped with Maralen of the Mornsong and won or got stuck with extra copies in hand and lost. Thankfully, the good wins were really, really good, which helped make up for the bad losses.

Vote for Next Week's Deck

One of our long-term Against the Odds goals it to play a planeswalker tribal deck for each planeswalker with at least three different (non-Planeswalker Deck) versions, and we've made some significant headway over the past several months. In fact, there are only five more planeswalkers that meet our criteria, which just happens to be the perfect number for an Against the Odds poll! Which of these planeswalkers do you want to see in tribal form 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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