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Against the Odds: Mardu Lich's Mastery (Pioneer, Magic Online)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 223 of Against the Odds. Next week, we'll get to start playing with sweet new Theros: Beyond Death cards, but last week, we had a Pioneer Against the Odds poll, and in the end, Lich's Mastery took home a fairly easy win. As such, we're heading to Pioneer today to play Mardu Lich's Mastery, a deck that not only looks to embrace Lich's Mastery's power to draw us cards when we gain life but also its ability to keep us from losing the game for as long as it's on the battlefield. The latter ability allows us to take advantage of some cards that are extremely powerful but come with the biggest drawback in the game of Magic: they literally make us lose the game after a certain period of time. What are the odds of winning with Lich's Mastery in Modern? What sweet things can we do with the enchantment? Let's get to the video and find out in today's Against the Odds; we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Lich's Mastery (Pioneer)

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The Deck

While there are a few ways to build around Lich's Mastery, many of them mostly (or exclusively) focus on its ability to draw a ton of cards as we gain life. Something as simple as Mono-Black Devotion with Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Gifted Aetherborn, and a few more lifegain cards could theoretically take advantage of the enchantment, but Mono-Black Devotion isn't exactly in the spirit of Against the Odds. As such, our deck today—Mardu Lich's Mastery—is designed to not only draw us a ton of cards once Lich's Mastery hits the battlefield but also to take advantage of Lich's Mastery's ability to keep us from losing the game, which gives the card some crazy combo potential.

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Lich's Mastery is a really interesting card, turning lifegain into card draw and also keeping us alive as long as it stays on the battlefield. Hexproof means that our opponent can't simply kill it with something like Assassin's Trophy, although the fact that we have to exile cards from our graveyard, hand, or battlefield whenever we are dealt damage means that if our opponent can deal us enough damage, we'll eventually be forced to exile Lich's Mastery, which loses us the game. Our deck basically breaks down into two parts, with a bit of overlap, with one part of the deck taking advantage of the card advantage Mastery can generate as we gain life and the other part taking advantage of Mastery's ability to allow us to cast cards that would otherwise make us lose the game. Gideon of the Trials is a backup version of Lich's Mastery when it comes to "you lose the game" cards. If we can get Gideon on the battlefield and make an emblem, we're free to lose the game as often as we want as long, as Gideon sticks on the battlefield. 

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As far as "you lose the game" cards, some of our best are Chance for Glory and Glorious End, both of which end up being three-mana extra-turn spells with upside as long as we can use Lich's Mastery or Gideon of the Trials to prevent the "you lose the game" triggers from actually killing us. Chance for Glory is a literal extra-turn spell, with the upside of making our creatures indestructible forever, while Glorious End basically works like an extra-turn spell if we cast it during our opponent's upkeep. Meanwhile, Goblin Dark-Dwellers allows us to flashback Chance for Glory to take even more extra turns while also giving us a body to kill our opponent as we take those extra turns. Once we get Lich's Mastery on the battlefield, we can often combo off with our cheap extra-turn spells, by gaining life to keep drawing through our deck to find more copies of Chance for Glory and Glorious End to give us extra turns, which allows us to draw more cards and eventually win the game somehow (either by beating down with random creatures or with a finisher that we'll talk about later). Finally, one thing to keep in mind about both of our extra-turn spells is that they can be cast at instant speed, so if we have a Lich's Mastery or Gideon of the Trials in hand, we can cast them during our opponent's turn and then untap to play Gideon or Lich's Mastery to stay alive.

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Our other "you lose the game" card is Demonic Pact. While we've played the enchantment in the past, it has normally been with Harmless Offering, with the goal being to Donate the enchantment and kill our opponent. In Mardu Lich's Mastery, we are just playing Demonic Pact for value since it works incredibly well with Lich's Mastery. On Turn 4, we can cast Demonic Pact and use it to draw into Lich's Mastery, and once we have Lich's Mastery on the battlefield, not only are we free to choose the "you lose the game" mode, but Demonic Pact's drain-for-four ability also turns into an amazing source of card advantage. The end result of a Demonic Pact with Lich's Mastery on the battlefield is that we draw six cards, make our opponent draw two, and either throw four damage at our opponent's face or at one of their creatures, making a single Demonic Pact something like a nine-for-one, which isn't bad for just four mana.

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The other half of our deck is built around drawing cards with Lich's Mastery by gaining life. Peace of Mind is the best lifegain option in our deck, allowing us to pay one and discard a card to gain three life (which draws us three cards with Lich's Mastery). This basically means we can turn any card in our hand into an Ancestral Recall. Plus, since Lich's Mastery allows us to exile cards from our graveyard to pay for the damage we are dealt, discarding a card is actually an upside in the deck. 

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Rounding out our lifegain package are Gifted Aetherborn and Collective Brutality. Gifted Aetherborn gives us a solid blocker against aggro in the early game, which eventually starts drawing us two cards a turn once we have Lich's Mastery on the battlefield. We can even make it indestructible with Chance for Glory, which makes it extremely difficult for creature decks to get through. Meanwhile, Collective Brutality is part of our removal package, but in the late game, we can use it as a draw-two for two by choosing to drain our opponent for two, which triggers Lich's Mastery's card-draw mode.

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Last but not least, we have a single copy of Approach of the Second Sun. Most often, we win the game by taking a bunch of extra turns, drawing through our deck, and beating our opponent down with Gifted Aetherborn, Gideon of the Trials, and Goblin Dark-Dwellers. But if the creature plan doesn't work, Approach of the Second Sun gives us a spell-based way to win the game that also doubles as a draw-seven with Lich's Mastery. If we can cast Approach of the Second Sun with Lich's Mastery on the battlefield, we gain seven life, which triggers Lich's Mastery to draw us seven cards and draws us back into Approach of the Second Sun since it puts itself seven cards deep in our library when it resolves. Then, we can cast it again and win the game!

The Matchups

Figuring out the matchups for Mardu Lich's Mastery is tough. Control is probably on the harder end of the scale, just because it's pretty easy to accidentally kill ourselves with something like Demonic Pact or Chance for Glory if our opponent can counter Lich's Mastery or kill Gideon of the Trials. Otherwise, the main concern isn't so much what our opponent is playing but the inherent inconsistency in our own deck. Our good draws beat just about anyone, but our bad draws leave us with a bunch of uncastable "you lose the game cards" without a Lich's Mastery or Gideon of the Trials to keep us alive.

The Odds

All in all, we went 3-3 with the deck (the extra loss was to Dredge, but the video had an audio problem so I couldn't use it), giving us a 50% match win percentage and making Mardu Lich's Mastery about average for an Against the Odds deck. While the record might have been middling, the combo turns offered by Lich's Mastery were some of the most explosive we've had in Pioneer. If we can live long enough to resolve Lich's Mastery and untap with it, our odds of winning the game are really good. It's pretty easy to draw our entire deck, chain off cheap "you lose the game" extra-turn spells, and eventually beat our opponent somehow. Basically, Lich's Mastery felt competitive enough to pick up a reasonable number of wins, but the spectacular nature of the combo turns enabled by Lich's Mastery itself are the reason to play the deck.

Vote for Next Week's Deck

No Against the Odds poll this week. Next week, we'll kick off our exploration of Theros: Beyond Death Standard with a special episode. Don't worry—the poll will be back next week, and it will be overflowing with sweet new Theros: Beyond Death cards!


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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