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Against the Odds: Mono-Blue Empires (Modern)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 142 of Against the Odds. Last week we had a Core Set Against the Odds poll in celebration of the impending return of Core Sets in Magic 2019, and in the end it was Throne of Empires that came out on top. Of course, Throne of Empires winning means we aren't just playing Throne of Empires, but its friends Scepter of Empires and Crown of Empires as well. Apart the artifacts are pretty bad, but if we can actually get them all on the battlefield together (which is the primary goal of our deck) they can actually be quite powerful! What are the odds of becoming the monarch and assembling all three parts of the Empire 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: Mono-U Empires (Modern)

 

The Deck

The biggest challenge of building around the Empire cycle is that it is extremely slow. Even if we have all three pieces in hand, we really don't start doing anything until turn five, and more often it takes longer to assemble all of our Empires pieces. As a result, the best way to make the cycle work is to try to slow the game down. The good news is that Modern has a lot of powerful, disruptive artifacts that combine well with power artifact tutors, which allows us to play a somewhat prisony artifact deck with Throne of Empires, Scepter of Empires, and Crown of Empires as finishers. The primary plan is to slow the opponent down, use a bunch of artifact tutors to assemble our Empires pieces as quickly as possible, and then use them to close out the game by generating oodles of value!

The Empire

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The Empires cycle is weird. By themselves all of the artifacts range from pretty bad to downright unplayable, but if we manage to get all three on the battlefield at once, their power level goes through the roof. For example, Throne of Empires costs five mana to make a single 1/1, and then another 1/1 every turn after for an additional mana—extremely far from Modern playable. However, if we have the Crown and Scepter, then we get to make a massive five 1/1's for one-mana each turn, which is an absurdly good deal. Meanwhile, Scepter of Empires turns from a pinger into a free Lava Spike each turn once we become ruler, while Crown of Empires goes from an overcosted way of tapping a creature to a very cheap way of stealing a creature. Basically, the end result is for our deck to do anything, we need all three Empires piece on the battlefield. While we only have three Crowns and Thrones and just two Scepter, the good news is we have a ton of ways to find our missing pieces.

Finding the Empires

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Tezzeret the Seeker and Whir of Invention are our two best ways to find our missing Empire pieces. Tezzeret the Seeker is especially good since if we are missing an Empire piece, it can immediately tutor it up, and if we already have Crown, Throne, and Scepter, Tezzeret the Seeker can untap our artifacts, allowing us to choose two of making ten 1/1 tokens, stealing two of our opponent's creatures, or dealing six damage each turn, which closes out games in a hurry. Meanwhile, Whir of Invention takes advantage of the fact that our deck is overflowing with cheap artifacts to pay the improvise cost to help us find our missing Empires pieces.

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Beyond Tezzeret the Seeker and Whir of Invention, we have Thirst for Knowledge and The Antiquities War to help us find our missing Empire pieces. Thirst for Knowledge is a great card draw spell in a deck overloaded with cheap artifacts, digging us three cards deep to find Crown of Empires, Throne of Empires, or Scepter of Empires. As for The Antiquities War, it not only helps us find our missing pieces with the first lore counters, but gives us a backup win condition if something goes wrong by turning all of our random artifacts into 5/5 creatures for a turn. Combined with Tezzeret the Seeker's ultimate, The Antiquities War is also our backup plan for winning once our opponent brings in Stony Silence from the sideboard, which is important since Stony Silence pretty much locks down the primary Empire plan of our deck.

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While not the fastest way to assemble our Empire combo, in the late game we can also use our manabase to find our missing pieces with Expedition Map to tutor up Inventors' Fair (or, if we have pieces in our graveyard, Academy Ruins) and then Crucible of Worlds to keep getting back the Inventors' Fair to tutor up a missing piece each turn. While not especially efficient, all of the cards in this package also serve other purposes (for example, Expedition Map finding Ghost Quarter or Field of Ruins along with Crucible of Worlds to keep returning those lands to the battlefield where they eventually become Strip Mines and Inventors' Fair to gain some life against aggro and burn).

Supporting the Empires

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For support, we have a bunch of cheap artifacts. Mox Opal takes advantage of all of the artifacts in our deck to give us some extra mana to ramp into our Empires pieces a turn early, while Welding Jar offers a way to protect our Empire pieces on the battlefield, which is especially important because having a Throne of Empires, Crown of Empires or Scepter of Empires blown up right when we are about to start generating real value is devastating. 

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As we talked about earlier, the biggest challenge of making the Empires package work is its slowness, so having cards that help us stay alive until the late game when we can assemble all three pieces is extremely important. Ensnaring Bridge helps us shut down creature decks and works pretty well in our deck. Apart from some of the Empire pieces, most of our cards are cheap, which helps us empty our hand quickly. Plus, it's an artifact so we can tutor it our with Tezzeret the Seeker and use it to help pay for the improvise cost on Whir of Invention. Witchbane Orb is just a one-of, but it helps us stay alive against combo, which is pretty important. While the Empires pieces are strong against creatures decks (with Throne of Empires clogging up the ground and Crown of Empires allowing us to steal our opponent's best creature each turn), even when we have all three pieces assembled they aren't very good against spell-based combo decks. Meanwhile, Engineered Explosives helps clear away cheap things, and thanks to the combination of Mox Opal, Glimmervoid, and Spire of Industry, we can occasionally sweep away bigger things as well.

The Matchups

The matchups for Mono-U Empires is pretty simple: we want to play against creature-based decks and we don't want to play against spell-based control and combo decks. The reason for this is two-fold: First, most of our defense like Ensnaring Bridge and Engineered Explosives is much better against creatures than spells. Second, and more importantly, Throne of Empires, Crown of Empires, and Scepter of Empires are mostly good against creature-based decks. While Throne of Empires and Scepter of Empires can help us beat anything through damage (either directly or from tokens), most of the time this plan is simply too slow against combo, and control can just counter our last Empire piece to make sure our combo never gets assembled. Otherwise, we want to avoid white decks, mostly because Stony Silence is a brutal and an almost unbeatable sideboard card. While the combination of Tezzeret the Seeker's ultimate and The Antiquities War does give us a chance to win through a Stony Silence, the enchantment not only locks down all of our Empires pieces, but most of the rest of our deck as well, so it's better if we just dodge it. 

The Odds

All in all we played five matches and won two, good for a 40% match win percentage while winning 6 of our 14 games, putting our game win percentage at 43%. Mono-U Empires' win rate a bit below average for recent Against the Odds decks. The good news is that in the right matchups (i.e. against creature decks) the combo of Throne of Empires, Crown of Empires, and Scepter of Empires is great. Assuming we can stay alive long enough to rule the Empire, the value the semi-cycle generates is almost unbeatable. On the other hand, we pretty much get crushed by fast aggro and combo. Thankfully, the good games are slow, long and fun, and when we play against combo and aggro, the losses are usually pretty fast and painless. So even though the record for the deck isn't great, it's still a lot of fun to play!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

We've played a lot of sweet Dominaria cards, but so far we've focused exclusively on Standard. Do any of the cards from the set have a chance in Modern? Let's find out next week! Which of these card should we build around in Modern? 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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