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Against the Odds: Phage's Uber (Modern)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 319 of Against the Odds. Last week, I made a short about the Phage's Uber combo—using Dermotaxi to reanimate Phage the Untouchable, getting around Phage's "lose the game" enters-the-battlefield trigger and potentially killing the opponent with Dermotaxied Phage as early as Turn 3! Well, for Against the Odds today, we're going to see if it's possible to pull off the kill in Modern! Can the Phage's Uber combo actually work? Let's get to the video and find out in today's Against the Odds; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Phage's Uber

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The Deck

Building around the Phage's Uber combo requires a few things. First, we need to get Phage the Untouchable in the graveyard, preferably with cheap self-mill creatures that we can later use as Uber drivers to crew up Dermotaxi. Second, we need to find our Uber: Dermotaxi. Third, we need at least two creatures on the battlefield to serve as Uber drivers by turning Dermotaxi into a creature. Fourth, we need to try to clear away any blockers our opponent might have with removal because Phage needs to deal combat damage to kill our opponent, and even a lowly Ornithopter or Memnite can chump block Phage the Untouchable to keep our opponent alive. Last, we need a backup plan in case we can't win with the Phage's Uber combo for some reason.

The Riders

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Our deck has two cards that are desperately in need of an Uber: Phage the Untouchable and Archon of Cruelty. While our primary goal is to win with Phage, having just one reanimation target isn't enough because there's a chance all of our Phages will be near the bottom of our deck. Archon of Cruelty is a solid backup target since it triggers on attack, giving us some extra value if we manage to give it a ride with Dermotaxi. Meanwhile, Phage the Untouchable is one of the most unique creatures in all of Magic. It's incredibly difficult to get on the battlefield thanks to its "lose the game if you didn't cast from your hand" enters-he-battlefield trigger, which makes it almost impossible to reanimate or otherwise cheat Phage into play. But Phage the Untouchable is super powerful once it's on the battlefield, killing with just a single attack no matter what life total our opponent might be at! While it is possible that we can hard-cast these cards (more on this later), our main goal is to get them into the graveyard so we can Uber to a quick victory.

The Uber Drivers

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Our Uber drivers—cheap self-mill creatures—do double duty in our deck. In the early game, they help mill Phage the Untouchable and Archon of Cruelty into the graveyard, which is where they need to be to catch their Uber. Later, they turn into Uber drivers, being tapped to turn Dermotaxi into a creature that's a copy of Phage or Archon.

The Uber

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Dermotaxi is one of the most unique reanimation spells in Magic. While it's worse than straight-up reanimation in many cases because we need a couple of creatures on the battlefield to crew it, it's perfect for Phage because it exiles the creature it targets, rather than returning the creature to the battlefield, which allows us to get around Phage the Untouchable's massively negative enters-the-battlefield trigger. The idea of our deck is that we can (hopefully) use our cheap self-mill creatures to mill a Phage on Turn 1; play Dermotaxi to exile Phage on Turn 2; and then, on Turn 3, turn Dermotaxi into a copy of Phage, attack, and—if our opponent doesn't have any blockers—win the game immediately with Phage's combat-damage trigger! Dimir Infiltrator is mostly in our deck to be an additional copy of Dermotaxi, allowing us to tutor it up for three mana with its transmute ability, although it can drive the Uber as well if we already have Dermotaxi

Clearing a Path

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As I mentioned before, one of the challenges to actually killing the opponent with the Phage's Uber combo is that Phage the Untouchable needs to deal combat damage to kill our opponent, and Phage doesn't have any sort of evasion. If we're up against a creature-heavy deck, our opponent potentially can chump block our Dermotaxi Phage for several turns, buying them enough time to find removal or kill us. As such, we've got a bunch of removal to clear blockers out of Phage's way. Liliana of the Veil is especially important because its +1 gives us a way to discard Phage the Untouchable or Archon of Cruelty from our hand if we happen to draw either naturally.

The Backup Plan

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Our backup plan for winning with Phage the Untouchable if we can't find an Uber...err...Dermotaxi is to hard-cast it with the help of Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to ramp. The trick here is that Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth turns Cabal Coffers into a Swamp, which not only gives us more Swamps to make more mana with Cabal Coffers ability but also allows us to tap Cabal Coffers for a black mana, getting around the downside of having a land that doesn't really do anything in the early game. While there are some consistency issues (drawing a bunch of Cabal Coffers but no Urborg is pretty rough), when the plan comes together, it can generate a lot of mana quickly enough that we actually have a legitimate chance to hard-cast Phage the Untouchable or Archon of Cruelty before the game ends.

The Matchups

There are two things that Phage's Uber really doesn't like: decks with lots of blockers and decks with lots of instant-speed removal like Path to Exile or Solitude. One of the upsides of Dermotaxi, as compared to more traditional reanimation, is that it isn't a creature until we turn it on, which means we naturally dodge wraths and other sorcery-speed removal. But cards that can kill a Phage the Untouchable or Archon of Cruelty at instant speed are a problem (see: our matchup against UW Control). Meanwhile, decks that flood the board with random creatures make it really difficult to win with Phage the Untouchable because our opponent can chump block it. While playing a bunch of removal helps, we'd rather play against a deck with a few big creatures than one that is filling the board with a bunch of cheap dorks.

The Odds

All in all, we went 2-6 with Phage's Uber (although not all of the matches made it into the video—we had a few where we just got run over by decks like Merfolk without anything meaningful happening, which I didn't bother to include), giving us a 25% win percentage. It's also worth mentioning that one of our two wins came from hard-casting Archon of Cruelty against Burn with the help of Cabal Coffers, rather than winning with Phage, which means we only won one match with the Phage's Uber combo itself, giving us a 12.5% chance of pulling it off. 

We ran into a couple of issues with the deck. First and foremost was consistency. It would be really nice if we had more than one way to reanimate Phage, but it's just not really possible (at least, without running things like Torpor Orb or Hushbringer to Stifle Phage's enters-the-battlefield trigger, which we've tried in the past with little success). Second, even once we pull off the combo, the odds of us actually getting in a hit with Phage the Untouchable didn't feel that high. Between instant-speed removal and chump blockers, Phage's lack of evasion was a problem. 

On the other hand, the backup plan of Cabal Coffers with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth was pretty interesting and surprisingly strong in some of our matches. It might be worth building a deck around those two cards, perhaps with Urza's Saga to find Expedition Map and tutor up the combo consistently. 

Basically, the TLDR is that while it is possible to win with the Phage's Uber combo in Modern, it's more likely that we'll jump in the Uber only to wind up in an unfortunate wreck as our opponent Path to Exiles or chump blocks our Phage. The combo might be best suited for a Commander deck, where Dermotaxi is an underrated card. You can use things like Entomb to find Phage and Demonic Tutor to find Dermotaxi, and with three opponents, you can attack whichever one has no blockers, increasing the odds of pulling off the kill!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

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It's been a while since we've played Standard, so let's check in on the format with something spicy next week! What card should we build around? Click here to vote!

Conclusion

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 SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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