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Against the Odds: Sage of Hours (Pioneer, Magic Online)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 220 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had a second-chance poll, where cards that came in second or third over the past month of polls got another chance for glory. In the end, Sage of Hours came out on top. As such, we're heading to Pioneer today to see if we can take infinite turns in one of the jankiest ways possible: by repeatedly stacking five +1/+1 counters onto Sage of Hours with the help of the forgettable mechanic Bolster and the equally forgettable rare Dragonscale General. What are the odds of going infinite with Sage of Hours in Pioneer? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Sage of Hours (Pioneer)

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The Deck

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Sage of Hours is a unique card. Thanks to the heroic mechanic, it looks like the right way to build around it is to try to target it with a bunch of spells, to slowly build up counters and eventually take an extra turn. While the mythic could in theory work in some sort of Feather-like heroic deck, a much more exciting plan is to find a way to cheat at least five +1/+1 counters onto it each turn, which we can then remove to take infinite turns. The challenge is that there aren't many cards that allow you to simply put five +1/+1 counters on a creature each turn. I briefly considered trying to build a Hardened Scales deck using planeswalkers like Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and (*gulp*) Vivien, Nature's Avenger to put three counters on Sage of Hours, and hopefully get a couple more from some combination of Hardened Scales, Winding Constrictor, and Corpsejack Menace. But I quickly gave up on the idea since either the deck won with boring Hardened Scales cards like Walking Ballista, or we ended up just short of getting five counters on Sage of Hours each turn (and being able to put four counters on Sage of Hours but not five is really brutal). After giving up on Hardened Scales, I focused on the one card in Pioneer that can put five counters on a creature every turn if we are willing to go all-in on building our deck around it: Dragonscale General

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Dragonscale General is a unique card. At the end of our turn, we get to put X +1/+1 counters on the creature we control with the lowest toughness (which will always be Sage of Hours since you can't get lower than one when it comes to toughness), where X is the number of tapped creatures we control. This means that all we need to do to take infinite turns with Sage of Hours and Dragonscale General is to get both of our key combo creatures on the battlefield, along with five tapped creatures. This might sound like a long-shot, but one group of creatures are really good at tapping themselves: mana dorks!

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Out deck is playing a massive 16 mana dorks, all costing one or two mana. The main power of Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, Gilded Goose, and Sylvan Caryatid is that they can all tap themselves without attacking, so even if our opponent has blockers that could eat potential attackers, we have a ton of creatures that can support our "bolster onto Sage of Hours with Dragonscale General" plan. The other upside of our mana dorks is that they allow us to start our infinite-turn loop by surprise. If we can get five mana dorks on the battlefield, we should have enough mana that we can wait until our opponent taps out, play Dragonscale General and Sage of Hours in the same turn, and take all of the turns for the rest of the game, so our opponent never gets a chance to untap and ruin our combo with removal or other interaction.

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We have two tutors to find Dragonscale General and Sage of Hours: Chord of Calling and Bring to Light. Chord of Calling is—by far —the better of our two tutors since along with finding whatever creature we need for a low price thanks to convoke, it gives us an extra way to tap our own creatures. While our mana dorks can tap themselves, Sage of Hours and Dragonscale General are typically too fragile to attack into our opponent's defenses to tap themselves. With Chord of Calling's convoke, we can tap non-mana dork creatures and find whatever combo piece we are missing along the way, which sometimes allows us to start our infinite-turns combo with just three or four mana dorks on the battlefield. Meanwhile, Bring to Light takes advantage of the fact that both Gilded Goose and Sylvan Caryatid can make mana of any color, so even though we are playing a mostly Bant mana base, we can usually make four or five colors of mana to tutor out cards like Dragonscale General or Kenrith, the Returned King. The other upside of having eight creature tutors is that we get to play a couple of spicy silver bullet tutor targets...

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Rounding out our creature package are two copies each of Kenrith, the Returned King and Shalai, Voice of Plenty. While both work with the "get +1/+1 counters on Sage of Hours" theme in their own way, they fill a bunch of different roles in our deck. Shalai, Voice of Plenty is simple: it protects Sage of Hours (and our mana dorks / Dragonscale General) from targeted removal by giving our team hexproof. Thanks to flying, Shalai, Voice of Plenty can usually tap herself by attacking to up our bolster with Dragonscale General. And if we end up in a weird situation where we are one counter short of taking an extra turn with Sage of Hours, Shalai can put a +1/+1 counter on our team if we have six extra mana. 

Meanwhile, Kenrith, the Returned King does a little bit of everything. Technically, it can go infinite with Sage of Hours all by itself if we have 10 mana (which sounds like a lot, but with 16 mana dorks, it isn't all that unreasonable) with its green ability. But more realistically, Kenrith, the Returned King is a great way to get a couple of extra counters on Sage of Hours. If we have our combo but are short a mana dork or two to bolster Sage of Hours all the way up to five counters, we can get a few counters on Sage of Hours with Dragonscale General and then use Kenrith, the Returned King to fill in the gap. Giving our team haste also has some value since it allows us to immediately tap our mana dorks. And on rare occasions, we even use the reanimation ability of Kenrith, the Returned King to get back a Sage of Hours or Dragonscale General that died early in the game.

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Last but not least is Teferi, Time Raveler, which offers the ultimate form of protection for our combo by not allowing our opponent to cast spells during our turn. I mentioned a while ago that one of the most common ways we win is by getting five mana dorks on the battlefield and then playing Dragonscale General and Sage of Hours in the same turn to catch our opponent by surprise, take infinite turns, and win the game. This plan works great if our opponent is tapped out, but it becomes much harder if our opponent leaves up mana. Since Sage of Hours is so small, it dies to any removal spell in the Pioneer format, and putting a ton of effort into getting five mana dorks, Sage of Hours, and Dragonscale General all on the battlefield at once only to have the entire plan ruined by a Wild Slash or Fatal Push is rough. Teferi, Time Raveler sits on the battlefield and makes sure this blowout can't happen by preventing our opponent from casting spells on our turn, which means with a Teferi out, the coast is always clear to go for the Sage of Hours / Dragonscale General combo kill.

The Matchups

By far our hardest matchup is control. Since we usually need seven creatures on the battlefield to win the game, a single Supreme Verdict or Languish can make us lose the game. Combine this with a bunch of counterspells and targeted removal, and we'd rather not play against control. On the other hand, we have a reasonable chance against most non-control decks. While our plan looks janky, when everything comes together, we can go infinite as early as Turn 4, which is fast enough to race a lot of the creature decks in the format. 

The Odds

All in all, we played five matches with Sage of Hours and ended up winning two, giving us a 40% match win percentage and making Sage of Hours slightly below average for an Against the Odds deck. That said, the deck felt surprisingly competitive. Even in our losses, we mostly were able to win at least one game, and against Affinity, we were a single turn away from comboing and winning the match when our opponent drew All that Glitters to make their Gingerbrute lethal, so we were really close to posting an even better record. And unlike some Against the Odds decks with middling win percentages, it felt like we were competitive in most matches. 

While Sage of Hours was the focal point of our deck and the reason we won almost all of our games, I was surprised at how good Dragonscale General is even without the combo. Having three toughness means that it dodges a reasonable amount of removal, and in a mana dork–heavy format like Pioneer, it might actually be playable. We had a game or two where we just played a bunch of mana dorks, played Dragonscale General to starting turning our 1/1s into 4/4s, and eventually took over the game with random Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystics. It might be worth keeping Dragonscale General in mind for Pioneer. It was a lot better than I expected it to be in general and was obviously key to making Sage of Hours into a game-ending combo machine.

Vote for Next Week's Deck

No poll this week. Next week's episode goes live on Christmas day, so we'll have a holiday-themed special episode. Don't worry poll lovers, our weekly voting will continue next week! 

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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