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Against the Odds: Rat Lock (Modern)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode fifty-one of Against the Odds! Last week on our Against the Odds poll, Rats in Modern came out on top in a squeaker over Permeating Mass in Standard, with Ixidron in Modern coming in a distant third. As such, this week, we are heading to Modern to play a deck I'm calling Rat Lock, which isn't just looking to win the game but make the opponent as miserable as possible along the way! One other note before we get to the videos: we're not having an Against the Odds poll this week. Next week will be the one-year anniversary of Against the Odds, so we are going to have a special episode. Don't worry, the poll will return to normal next week!

Anyway, let's get to the videos, but first a quick reminder. If you enjoy the Against the Odds series and the other video content here on MTGGoldfish, make sure to subscribe to the MTGGoldfish YouTube Channel.

Against the Odds: Rat Lock Deck Tech

Against the Odds: Rat Lock Games

The Deck

Building around Rats in Modern was more challenging than I thought it would be. My initial instinct was to build a straightforward tribal deck, but Rats don't really have the tools to play like Merfolk, since they are extremely lacking in lords. Plus, most Rats are underpowered as far as power and toughness, which makes the beatdown plan unrealistic. I also knew that I didn't want to play another Pack Rat deck, since Pack Rat has proven in the past to be anything but against the odds. Finally, I realized that one of the defining characteristics of Rats is enter-the-battlefield triggers that make opponents discard a card, which became the focus of our deck. 

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Our discard Rats—Ravenous Rats, Rotting Rats, and Chittering Rats—are the most important cards in our deck. While they are a bit slow on their own, they are fine in the early game, putting up a roadblock for our opponent's early offense while also putting our opponent down a card. Then, in the mid- and late game, they turn into combo pieces that allow us to lock our opponent out of the game completely. For our deck to function properly, we really need to get our opponent empty-handed, so we'll take as many Rats as we can draw. 

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In the early game, when our opponent has a bunch of cards in their hand, we don't really care when we play our Rats—all we care about is getting cards out of our opponent's hand as quickly as possible—but this all changes once we get our opponent out of cards. One of the problems with discard-based decks, as the old saying goes, is that you can't make your opponent discard the top of their deck: even while empty-handed, an opponent gets to draw a card every turn. Well, our deck is designed so we can make our opponent discard the top card of their deck along with the cards in their hand. 

Once we get our opponent empty-handed, we want to be able to get our "discard a card" triggers during our opponent's draw step, which means that unless our opponent happens to draw an instant, they are forced to discard the card they just drew before they have a chance to do anything with it. This is where Aether Vial and Restoration Angel come in. If we can get an Aether Vial with two or three counters, we have the ability to put our Rats into play for free on our opponent draw step. Restoration Angel, on the other hand, allows us to reuse the "discard a card" triggers on our Rats from the battlefield, at instant speed (usually during our opponent's draw step). 

The problem with Aether Vial and Restoration Angel is we eventually run out of cards, which means that rather than being a hard lock, both of these cards are tempo plays that delay our opponent for a turn or two. To really lock our opponent out of the game, we need a repeatable way to get a Rat trigger every single draw step. 

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For our deck, the hard lock is getting our opponent empty-handed with the help of our Rats, and then getting an Eldrazi Displacer or Mimic Vat on the battlefield alongside a Rat. For example, if we have a Ravenous Rats and an Eldrazi Displacer, we simply blink the Ravenous Rats on our opponent's draw step and make them discard the card they just drew for the turn. Then, we do this again and again, every turn, keeping our opponent from ever doing anything, while we slowly win the game with our Rats. There is, however, one big problem with the Ravenous Rats discard lock: even when we blink it every turn on our opponent's draw step, our opponent still has a window to cast instants, so if they draw Path to Exile or Lightning Bolt, they have potential to break up the lock. This is where Chittering Rats comes into play. 

Chittering Rats and Eldrazi Displacer (or Mimic Vat, as a backup) has to be one of the meanest locks in Magic. Picture this: we get the combo set up; our opponent draws their card for the turn, and it's a land. We blink the Chittering Rats, and our opponent is forced to put the land back on top of their deck. The next turn, our opponent draws the same land and we blink the Chittering Rats again. Basically, for three mana a turn, we can make sure our opponent draws that same land over and over and over again, every single turn, for the rest of the game. Unlike with Ravenous Rats, in these situations, there's no chance that our opponent draws a Collected Company, Lightning Bolt, or Path to Exile to get out from under the lock—they simply don't get to play Magic anymore. Making matters worse for our opponent, we can't even kill them that quickly—half of our deck is 1/1's for two mana. Unless our opponent scoops, they endure the long, slow demise of getting beaten down by 1/1 Rats. 

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While the rest of the deck is mostly removal like Path to Exile and a couple copies of Inquisition of Kozilek, so we have some more Turn 1 plays and lands, we do have a few more Rats. Nezumi Shortfang gives us some additional discard and also an additional finisher once it flips around. Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni is helpful because it gives us another way to reuse a Rat trigger thanks to ninjitsu but overall is fairly matchup dependent. When we can sneak it in and steal an Eldrazi or Tasigur, the Golden Fang from our opponent's graveyard, it's great, but when it's reanimating a Monastery Swiftspear, it really isn't very exciting. Marrow-Gnawer, on the other hand, gives us a way to finish the game even through opposing blockers by giving all of our Rats fear. 

The Matchups

The matchups for Rat Lock seem really dependent on the speed of our opponent's deck. Against very aggressive decks, it's likely they'll have enough creaturess on the battlefield to kill us by the time we manage to get the Rat lock assembled. Decks with a lot of instants, like Burn, are also difficult, because we are leaning heavily on the Chittering Rats lock, which means we have fewer relevant cards. Fast combo also seems hit or miss; sometimes it feels like we are just a turn too slow, but I think it really depends on our draw and our opponent's draw. If we can make these decks discard enough in the early turns, we have a chance to win. Finally, there are also some decks that don't really mind discarding cards, like Dredge and some delve-based Delver builds, and while having access to Leyline of the Void in the sideboard helps, these matchups can still be difficult because our plan of making our opponent discard actually helps the opponent in some ways. 

On the other hand, midrange and control decks feel like fairly good matchups. In these matchups, our discard plan tends to be very good. We do a good job of fizzling attacks from one or two big creatures thanks to our blink effects, and once we get the lock assembled, it's really hard for a lot of these decks to break out, since they usually depend on big, efficient creatures and planeswalkers to take control of the game. 

The Odds

All in all, we managed to win two of our six matches (33.33% match win percentage) and six of fifteen games (good for a 40% game win percentage). Looking over the matches we played, things broke down predictably, with our Rats being overwhelmed against Burn, Bogles (which is likely an unwinnable matchup, barring our opponent losing to themselves by not drawing a hexproof creature, which did happen one game), and Ad Nauseum, but performing extremely well against Tron and Grixis Delver, and getting a bit unlucky to lose to the Abzan Humans list (Tireless Tracker was devastating, and a random main deck Sin Collector managed to steal away a game-winning Damnation). The good news is we did get to Rat lock opponents fairly regularly, and making our opponent repeatedly draw the same card with Chittering Rats for five turns in a row made all the losing more than worthwhile!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

No poll this week—special one-year anniversary episode next week! Don't worry, the poll will return with the next episode, and Permeating Mass and Ixidron will return for another shot at glory.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. I had a ton of fun playing Rat Lock, and the deck actually functioned a lot better than I thought it would. While our record wasn't insane, it actually felt playable and even powerful in some matchups. The other highlight of the week was remembering that Mimic Vat is a Magic card, and now all I want to do is get a Fulminator Mage under a Mimic Vat for infinite Stone Rains! 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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