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Against the Odds: Mardu Mastery (Standard)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 135 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had an all-Dominaria Against the Odds poll, and in the end, there was no doubt which card came out on top: not only did Lich's Mastery win, but it also crushed the competition by getting over 3,000 votes (which I believe is the most votes any Against the Odds card has ever received!). As a result, we are heading to Dominaria Standard this week to see how many different ways we can use the legendary black enchantment. While our main goal is to gain a ton of life (and thereby draw a ton of cards), we also have some tricks to take advantage of the fact that we can't lose the game with a Lich's Mastery on the battlefield! What are the odds of winning with a deck built around Lich's Mastery in Dominaria Standard? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck.

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The Deck

Building around Lich's Mastery was pretty strange. On one hand, the cards that work with the enchantment are pretty obvious (mostly lifegain spells), but finding the right shell to take advantage of Lich's power was actually more difficult than I thought it would be. Initially, my plan was to avoid Approach of the Second Sun, mostly because it seems like people are a bit tired of the alternate win condition, and bounced back and forth between being white–black, mono-black, and finally Mardu. In the end, I realized that playing Lich's Mastery without Approach of the Second Sun was probably a bad idea, so I compromised. The final version of the deck—Mardu Mastery—does have a couple of copies of Approach of the Second Sun, but rather than it being an Approach of the Second Sun deck, winning with Approach is just one of our deck's several different plans. 

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Lich's Mastery is a complex card. On level one, it turns all of our lifegain into card draw, which is incredibly powerful in our deck, with Sanguine Sacrament becoming a super-powered Sphinx's Revelation, Renewed Faith drawing us six cards for just three mana, and Approach of the Second Sun not only winning us the game but also doing a pretty solid Overflowing Insight impression. Basically, we cast Lich's Mastery and typically draw most (or even all) of our deck within a couple of turns. 

Of course, this power comes with a bit of a downside. While we can lose the game while Lich's Mastery is on the battlefield, we have to exile a card from our hand, graveyard, or battlefield every time we take damage, which means that eventually we'll have to exile Lich's Mastery to its own ability, and then we lose the game once Lich's Mastery leaves the battlefield. While it doesn't happen often, this "lose the game" ability sometimes comes up when opponents have fringe cards like Hour of Revelation or River's Rebuke

So, how do we go about using Lich's Mastery? Our deck has three primary plans. While all of the plans are somewhat related (with Lich's Mastery and lifegain at the center), they work independently as well, so we should probably look at each plan individually to really understand the deck.

Plan 1: Approach of the Second Sun

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Probably the simplest combo with Lich's Mastery is Approach of the Second Sun. If we can Lich's Mastery on Turn 6, we can Approach on Turn 7, which not only counts as the first copy of the two we need to win the game but also draws us seven cards. Because Approach of the Second Sun goes back into our library when it resolves, the last of the seven cards we draw is Approach of the Second Sun (again), which means we can cast it either immediately (if we have the mana, which actually happens sometimes in our deck thanks to Azor's Gateway) or the next turn. Even if things go wrong (for example, our opponent counters the second Approach), we still managed to draw seven cards, which is often enough to pull us ahead and win us the game anyway.

Plan 2: Aetherflux Reservoir

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Aetherflux Reservoir is insane with Lich's Mastery for a couple of reasons. First, our deck is overloaded with lifegain, so getting to 50 life and killing our opponent with Aetherflux Reservoir is a pretty realistic plan. Just be warned—when we activate Aetherflux Reservoir, we need to exile a massive 50 cards from our hand, graveyard, and battlefield to stay alive (assuming we have Mastery on the battlefield), so plan accordingly. Second, Aetherflux Reservoir gives all of our random spells a lifegain kicker (which also draws us cards with Lich's Mastery), so even if we can't just kill our opponent, it's pretty easy to cast two or three spells in a turn, draw a handful of new cards, and keep repeating this process turn after turn. When things go well, we can even sort of storm off, since all of our spells turn into cantrips (at worst) with the combination of Lich's Mastery and Aetherflux Reservoir on the battlefield. 

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We have a bunch of lifegain spells to support the Aetherflux Reservoir plan (or just to draw a ton of cards with Lich's Mastery). Azor's Gateway is pretty crazy in our deck because it filters in the early game, eventually gains us some life (and potentially draws us some cards), and then adds tons of mana once it flips into Sanctum of the Sun, which is one of our best ways to storm off with Aetherflux Reservoir or cast two copies of Approach of the Second Sun in the same turn.

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Renewed Faith and Sanguine Sacrament are our two primary card-draw (probably better know as lifegain) spells. Renewed Faith is the best of the bunch, since we can always cycle it away in the early game for a fresh card, and then once we have Lich's Mastery, it draws six at instant speed for just three mana. Meanwhile, Sanguine Sacrament is just a one-of, but when we have Mastery, it's basically a super-charged version of Sphinx's Revelation, drawing us tons of cards and gaining us tons of life. 

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While we have a full removal suite with Fatal Push, Seal Away, and Settle the Wreckage, we also have some incidental lifegain attached to Vraska's Contempt and Fumigate. These are cards we'd want even if Lich's Mastery were not in our deck, but they become even better when they also draw us cards. When Vraska's Contempt is "exile a creature or planeswalker, gain two life, and draw two cards," it's one of the best removal spells ever printed, considering that just drawing two cards at instant speed often costs four mana and Fumigate ends up drawing us a card for each creature it destroys, which more than makes up for the fact that it's five mana.

Plan 3: Time Walks

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The last plan of our deck is a bit different. Rather than taking advantage of the card draw that Lich's Mastery provides, it abuses the "you can't lose the game" aspect of the enchantment. With Gideon of the Trials (for the "you can't use the game" emblem) as backup, the ideas is to use Glorious End during our opponent's upkeep to make them end their turn, which basically turns Glorious End into a three-mana red Time Walk. While we only have two copies of Glorious End in the deck, we almost never cast them until we have Lich's Mastery on the battlefield, which means we typically draw all of our deck with lifegain spells and can then use Glorious End to protect ourselves from our opponent comboing off (or otherwise killing Lich's Mastery with something like Hour of Revelation or River's Rebuke to make us lose the game) while we are looking to set up the Approach of the Second Sun or Aetherflux Reservoir kill. 

The Matchups

First off, decks that can actually remove Lich's Mastery are our worst matchups. While there aren't too many of these decks around, blue decks that happen to have River's Rebuke and white decks with Hour of Revelation are trouble, since we typically have to tap out for Lich's Mastery and our opponent can simply untap, bounce, or kill Lich's Mastery, and we die along with it. Otherwise, aggro can be rough (although if we have a good hand, we can beat it with a combination of removal and lifegain), mostly because we can't just slam Lich's Mastery if we are too behind on board, since we end up exiling too many of our permanents on the backswing. On the other hand, midrange is a great matchup, since our opponent usually doesn't have too fast of a clock and Lich's Mastery is almost unbeatable. Actually, the upside of Mardu Mastery is that, as long as we aren't too far behind on board when we cast it, Lich's Mastery itself pretty much just beats every deck in the format as soon as we untap. We just draw so many cards and gain so much life that it's really difficult for the opponent to keep up, regardless of what they are playing.

The Odds

All in all we played five matches and won three, good for a 60% match win percentage, along with winning eight of 12 games, giving us a 67% game win percentage, which makes Lich's Mastery slightly above average for an Against the Odds deck. While we did lose to our own Lich's Mastery a few times, we also had some games that were huge testaments to the card's power, with the match against the Goblin Gift deck being the best example. The end result is that Lich's Mastery is high risk but extremely high reward. In the right deck, it might be the most powerful card in all of Standard to untap with, but even with support from Glorious End and tons of removal, there will be times when the "untapping" part is a problem because of the drawback of Lich's Mastery. In the end, Mardu Mastery was pretty sweet. While the record was merely good rather than absurd, the deck has some of the most powerful combo turns in all of Standard, which makes the losses more than worth the pain.

Vote for Next Week's Deck

Dominaria has a ton of sweet Against the Odds cards, so we're sticking with the set and staying with Standard for this week's poll. Which of these sweet new Dominaria cards should we build around 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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