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Against the Odds: Mardu High Priest Humans (Modern, Magic Online)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 169 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had a #MTGRNA guilds Against the Odds poll in celebration of the rest of the guilds returning in Ravnica Allegiance, and in the end, our Orzhov option—High Priest of Penance—came out on top with a fairly easy victory. As such, we're heading to Modern today to play a deck that's looking to maximize the destructive power of High Priest of Penance by growing it and pinging it to continually kill the best permanents on our opponent's side of the battlefield! The end result is basically a unique Humans deck, since Humans just so happen to offer the best ways to both grow and ping our High Priest of Penance. What are the odds of winning with a deck built around High Priest of Penance in Modern? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Mardu High Priest Humans (Standard)

The Deck

When it came time to build around High Priest of Penance, the main challenge was figuring out how janky to make the deck. The way to build around High Priest of Penance is pretty straightforward: you need to find a way to boost its toughness so it survives damage and then find a way to repeatedly deal damage to High Priest to blow up every meaningful thing on the opponent's board. In theory, there are a bunch of different options, like using equipment to boost High Priest of Penance's toughness (like Slagwurm Armor) or to make it indestructible (like Darksteel Plate), but the main problem with all of these decks is that if we don't happen to find a High Priest (or if it dies), we're left with a deck that doesn't do much of anything. Thankfully, since Wizards loves printing powerful Humans, delving into some tribal synergies not only allows us to have a deck that can do some crazy things with High Priest of Penance but is also somewhat functional when we don't draw our namesake card.

The Priest

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High Priest of Penance is a powerful creature—whenever it takes damage, we get to blow up our opponent's best permanent for free! However, this power is tempered by the fact that High Priest of Penance is just a 1/1, so it dies to any amount of damage. As such, the plan of our deck is simple: grow High Priest's toughness so it can survive a single point of damage, and then find ways to damage our own Priest to keep blowing up our opponent's board. It's also worth pointing out that no matter how we build around High Priest of Penance, it's a very matchup-dependent card. It's pretty much just a 1/1 for one against spell-based control and combo, but it's absurdly powerful against decks looking to win with creatures or other permanents, giving us a way to kill anything on the battlefield for free!

Growing the Priest

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The plan of our deck isn't to make High Priest of Penance huge. Instead, we're mostly looking to get it up to two or three toughness. Since High Priest itself is a Human, the best way to do this is with a couple of Human tribal payoffs: Metallic Mimic and Thalia's Lieutenant. If we can get a Metallic Mimic down before we cast High Priest (or a Thalia's Lieutenant after), we can add a +1/+1 counter to High Priest of Penance (along with the rest of the Humans in our deck), growing it to two toughness and allowing it to survive a single point of damage.

Damaging High Priest

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While we can occasionally get free High Priest of Penance triggers from our opponent attacking into it (or killing it with something like Lightning Bolt), to really go off with High Priest, we need ways to repeatedly damage it at will. For this, we have two options: Icatian Javelineers and Cunning Sparkmage. Icatian Javelineers is a weird card—it's legal in Modern since it was Time Shifted, and it has been errata'd to be a Human Solider rather than just a Soldier, so it's both legal and works with the tribal theme of our deck. While it might not look like much, a 1/1 for one that triggers all of our Humans-matter cards and can also tap (one time) to damage High Priest of Penance and blow up our opponent's best non-land permanent is actually pretty strong in our deck. Meanwhile, Cunning Sparkmage is our best repeatable combo piece with High Priest, coming down with haste to ping High Priest of Penance and blow something up right away, and then allowing us to continue to blow up our opponent's best non-land, turn after turn, by hitting our High Priest for one.

Finding Our High Priest

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One of the challenges of building around High Priest of Penance is that we only have four copies of our namesake card, so having a way to dig through our deck to find them is important. Thankfully, there seems to be a Human for everything! Dark Confidant allows us to draw an extra card every turn for the cost of some life, and it usually isn't too painful, since our deck tops out at three and is mostly one- and two-mana cards. Meanwhile, we also have a Militia Bugler to dig four cards deep for a High Priest of Penance, and if we already have our High Priest, it can find our Cunning Sparkmage or Icatian Javelineers as well!

Protecting High Priest

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Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Kitesail Freebooter offer Humans that help keep our High Priest of Penance alive. Kitesail Freebooter can strip a removal spell like Path to Exile or Assassin's Trophy from our opponent's hand, maximizing our chances of keeping High Priest of Penance on the battlefield for several turns. Meanwhile, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben takes advantage of the fact that our deck is almost exclusively creatures, taxing our opponent's spells and not really hurting us much at all. Thalia is also key to having some chance in matchups where High Priest of Penance is bad (against spell-based control and combo, where there aren't many non-land permanents on our opponent's side of the battlefield to blow up).

Other Stuff

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Finally, we have Aether Vial and Champion of the Parish. Aether Vial allows for some really explosive plays, like putting a High Priest of Penance into play with Aether Vial on Turn 3 and then using our mana to cast a Cunning Sparkmage to blow up our opponent's best thing. Meanwhile, Champion of the Parish gives us a way to kill our opponent after we blow up all of their stuff with High Priest of Penance, often growing into a 4/4 or bigger in just a few turns, making it too much value to pass up in the one-drop slot.

The Matchups

The matchups for Mardu High Priest Humans are pretty simple: we do pretty well against various creature decks and other decks looking to win with permanents (like Bogles or Enchantress, which we played against and beat in our matches), but we struggle against decks that are looking to win with spells or with lands (for example, Jeskai Control and Tron, which we got crushed by in our matches). Basically, our deck performs really well in matchups where High Priest of Penance's ability is relevant but struggles in matchups where High Priest is mostly just an overcosted 1/1 for one.

The Odds

All in all, we played six matches and won four, giving us a 66.7% match win percentage, along with winning nine of 17 games, putting us just a touch under 53% in terms of game win percentage, making Mardu High Priest Humans above average for an Against the Odds deck (speaking of Against the Odds win percentages, a fan made a spreadsheet with all of the win percentages for Against the Odds decks, if you want to check it out.) As for High Priest of Penance itself, it did some really unique and powerful things. While it wasn't good in every match, in specific matches, it got us out of some really tough spots (for example, blowing up the Phyrexian Unlife / Solemnity lock against Mono-White Enchantments and giving us a main-deck answer to all the annoying enchantments in Bogles). It also wrecked aggro decks where, even without our other combo pieces, it was often a two for one if we left it back to block! While the fact that it does nothing in some matchups makes it unlikely to show up in tier decks, which High Priest of Penance is good, it's good in a way that no other creature in Modern can match!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

Last week, we had a themed poll but with the promise that our carry-over options from previous weeks would get another chance (some people are really invested in seeing Din of the Fireherd win after coming in second for a month straight), so today we've got the second- and third-place options from both of our last two polls, along with one new option: Gishath, Sun's Avatar for Standard. Which of these cards should we build around next week? Let us know by voting below!

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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

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