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Against the Odds: Mono-Black Gateway (Standard)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 121 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had an all-Standard, all-Rivals of Ixalan poll in celebration of Magic's newest set, and it ended up being one of the tightest polls we've ever had. With nearly 6,000 votes cast, Azor's Gateway beat Polyraptor by a single vote! This means two things. First and most importantly, we're heading to Rivals of Ixalan Standard to see if we can break Azor's Gateway in a mono-black shell, with the help of Torment of Hailfire as its primary finisher. Second, if you were really hoping for some Polyraptor action, don't worry—we have another all-Rivals of Ixalan poll this week, and Polyraptor is back for another shot at glory! 

One last thing before we get to the videos so you can see how our Azor's Gateway deck works. We're trying out a format where Against the Odds is all one video this week. While the content is the same, avoiding multiple videos (and the need for playlists on YouTube) should make life easier for everyone involved. If you have any feedback about the format, make sure to let us know in the comments! Like it? Dislike it? Have suggestions to improve it? Make sure to tell us! Anyway, with that out of the way, here's Against the Odds: Mono-Black Gateway:

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Against the Odds: Mono-Black Gateway (Standard)

The Deck

When I realized that Azor's Gateway had won last week's poll, I immediately knew that we were going to be using Torment of Hailfire as our finisher. There simply aren't any better options available in Standard for closing out the game with the oodles of mana that Sanctum of the Sun produces. The challenge of the deck was figuring out what shell would be best to support the combo of Azor's Gateway and Torment of Hailfire. In theory, we could be black plus any other color, but in the end, it turned out that going straight mono-black offers everything we need to slow down the game, flip an Azor's Gateway, and win the game right away with a huge Torment of Hailfire!

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Azor's Gateway is a really powerful card. While the big payoff is flipping it into Sanctum of the Sun, even just looting every turn for a single mana is strong by improving the quality of our hand, getting rid of useless lands, and helping us find action. Eventually, we get the right converted mana costs exiled, and then we simply win the game by casting Torment of Hailfire with our Sanctum of the Sun, which is tapping for somewhere between 10 and 25 mana. As for Torment of Hailfire, it's by far the best finisher for the deck, since it's one color and pretty much guaranteed to win the game regardless of the matchup, as long as it resolves. 

The challenge of making all of this work is getting five different converted mana costs exiled with Azor's Gateway. While just playing Azor's Gateway to loot with an off-chance of flipping it eventually is fine, we're looking to flip it as quickly and consistently as possible, which gives us a weird deck-building constraint: playing a weird, Birthing Pod-esque curve of things to exile with Azor's Gateway to make flipping easier. In our deck, we have one (and often more) card at every converted mana cost from zero all the way up to seven, which means we'll hopefully be able to flip Azor's Gateway in just five turns fairly regularly. 

Creatures

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Apart from playing a mixture of mana costs for flipping Azor's Gateway, the primary game plan of the rest of our deck is to slow down the game long enough to win with Sanctum of the Sun and Torment of Hailfire. For example, most of our creatures work as removal spells. Gifted Aetherborn has deathtouch, making it great for taking down huge dinosaurs and energy threats, while incidental lifegain is helpful for making sure our Sanctum of the Sun taps for as much mana as possible. Ravenous Chupacabra and Tetzimoc, Primal Death, on the other hand, simply blow up our opponent's creatures when they enter the battlefield while also leading behind a body to block future creatures.

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Kitesail Freebooter and Gonti, Lord of Luxury give us creatures that help in more grindy, controlling matchups. One of the problems with our Torment of Hailfire plan is that our opponent can undo all of our work for just two or three mana if they have a counterspell. Kitesail Freebooter gives us a main-deck Duress to make sure our important spells resolve. Meanwhile, Gonti, Lord of Luxury works like an expensive Gifted Aetherborn thanks to deathtouch, while also drawing us a card when it enters the battlefield. It's especially helpful against decks like UW Approach where, if we time it right, we can exile an Approach of the Second Sun from our opponent's library.

Spells

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Treasure Map is just a one-of, and it's essentially the fifth copy of Azor's Gateway. Our deck really needs a two-drop card filterer to function properly, so having just the four copies of Azor's Gateway isn't quite enough. While it doesn't give us the upside of winning the game when it flips, Treasure Map gives us a backup way to scry every turn and eventually starts drawing extra cards.

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Paradox Engine is mostly in our deck because the five-drop slow is weak in mono-black decks. While Paradox Engine is also just a one-of, it offers a ton of value with Azor's Gateway in the right situation, allowing us to flip it much faster than normal. The basic idea is that once we get down a Paradox Engine and Azor's Gateway, we can loot with Gateway and cast the spell that we loot into, which untaps the Azor's Gateway with Paradox Engine, allowing us to loot again and maybe even repeat the process. If we have enough cards in hand (and loot well enough), we can potentially flip into Sanctum of the Sun in a single turn while also looting through our deck to find Torment of Hailfire. As for Liliana, Death's Majesty, she's just another five-converted-mana-cost card to exile to Azor's Gateway while also offering a lot of value by getting Ravenous Chupacabras and Gifted Aetherborns back from the graveyard to keep killing our opponent's creatures. Finally, Razaketh's Rite is another five-CMC spell to exile while also giving us an additional copy of Torment of Hailfire. Once we flip into Sanctum of the Sun, we have so much mana that we can afford to spend five to tutor up Torment of Hailfire with Razaketh's Rite and still have enough mana left to kill the opponent that turn!

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The Immortal Sun joins Tetzimoc, Primal Death in our "six-converted-mana-cost stuff to exile to Azor's Gateway" pile. Plus, the artifact does a couple of helpful things for our deck if we actually cast it. First, by drawing us an extra card each turn, it makes sure we are looting and flipping our Azor's Gateway as quickly as possible while also finding Torment of Hailfire to win the game. Second, making Torment of Hailfire (along with the rest of our stuff) cost one less mana is a nice bonus as well!

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The rest of the spells in our deck are removal spells, designed to keep the board clear while we are setting up our Torment of Hailfire. When it comes to actually choosing the removal spells for the deck, we are looking for three things. First, we need early-game removal to not die against decks like Merfolk and Ramunap Red, so for this, we have Fatal Push (which is also our only one-converted-mana-cost card to exile to Azor's Gateway). Second, if given a choice, we want cards that incidentally gain us life to support Azor's Gateway, which makes Essence Extraction and Vraska's Contempt a little bit better in our deck than most. Finally, anything with a unique converted mana cost gets a boost in power, since it helps us flip Azor's Gateway. This is why we have a couple copies of Never // Return. In most decks, Never // Return is just a worse version of Vraska's Contempt, but in our deck, it has the upside of counting as a seven-converted-mana-cost spell for Azor's Gateway (while we can still cast it for just three mana when we need to kill something).

The Matchups

On paper, we mostly want to play against creature decks because we are so overloaded with removal, allowing us to just kill every relevant thing our opponent plays and then eventually win with Torment of Hailfire, but we have a shot against control as well, considering we beat UB Control during our matches. Even though control starts off somewhat rough in game one, we have a lot of sideboard cards for the matchup, which allows us to take out much of our bad removal. On the other hand, specific cards can be a problem, like Carnage Tyrant or Bristling Hydra. While Gifted Aetherborn and Gonti, Lord of Luxury give us an answer, if our opponent can kill our deathtouch creatures, it's certainly possible that we get run over by a huge hexproof creature that dodges our endless removal. Planeswalkers can be another challenge. While we have a total of four removal spells for planeswalkers between Never // Return and Vraska's Contempt, our deck doesn't do a very good job of pressing the opponent, which means if we can't find the right removal, our opponent has a pretty good chance of plussing a planeswalker to ultimate, since our creatures are much better on defense than on offense. 

The Odds

All in all, we played five matches and won four, giving us an 80% match win percentage, while also winning nine of 13 games, putting us just under 70% in terms of game win percentage. Basically, Mono-Black Gateway was great. Our only loss was to Sultai Energy, and even that loss was a hard-fought three-game match, while we managed to be several really good decks, including GR Monsters, UW Bogles (or Auras, if you prefer), and UG Merfolk. 

As for Azor's Gateway, it was really, really powerful. While flipping into Sanctum of the Sun, making 25 mana with one land, and killing the opponent with Torment of Hailfire was certainly the highlight, we also had some games that we won primarily because we were able to loot every turn to find the right removal and creatures to stay in the game. While I'm not sure other decks will play Azor's Gateway as a four-of, if you've been playing Treasure Map (especially in decks without any Treasure token synergies), it's probably at least worth testing some copies of Azor's Gateway. Looting every turn is great, and even if a deck isn't built to flip into Sanctum of the Sun like our deck was, you'll occasionally flip it and then just casually win the game with a huge pile of mana!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

As I mentioned in the intro, last week's Against the Odds poll was the closest we've ever had, with Azor's Gateway winning by just a single vote over Polyraptor. While I'm glad Azor's Gateway won because the deck ended up being awesome, it's only fair that Polyraptor and friends get a chance to redeem themselves. So this week, we have another all-Rivals of Ixalan poll! Which of these Rivals of Ixalan cards should we play in Standard 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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