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Against the Odds: Scepter Lock (Modern)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 272 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had an Against the Odds poll featuring a bunch of combo-y cards for Modern, and in the end, Isochron Scepter came out on top! As such, we're heading to Modern today, not just to generate value by repeatedly casting cheap instants with the help of Isochron Scepter but also to try to hard-lock our opponent out of the game altogether with the combo of Isochron Scepter and Silence! Can the plan work? What are the odds of winning (by hard-locking our opponent) with Isochron Scepter in Modern? 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: Scepter Lock

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The Deck

When Isochron Scepter won the poll, I knew that I wanted to more than just generate value with the artifact. In theory, casting something like Opt or Lightning Bolt every turn could win some games, but that's pretty boring for Against the Odds. I briefly considered going the Commander route and trying to generate infinite mana with Dramatic Reversal, but this sort of felt like Paradox Engine with extra steps. Eventually, I decided that Isochron Scepter winning the poll was an excuse to do one of my favorite things in all of Magic: hard-lock opponents out of the game!

The Combo

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Isochron Scepter is an interesting card. While it can be a bit risky (our opponent can blow it up before we get much value out of it) and expensive (casting a one-mana instant with Isochron Scepter for two mana isn't exactly efficient), the potential to cast the same instant every turn is also super powerful, to the point where we are playing two copies of Fabricate in our deck almost exclusively to find Isochron Scepter every game. (We do have one other artifact in the deck as a one-of, but more on this later.) While we have a bunch of cheap instants in the deck that we can imprint on Scepter, ranging from removal to card draw to counters, our main goal is to get a Silence imprinted on Isochron Scepter. Once we get the Scepter / Silence combo online, we can use Isochron Scepter to cast a copy of Silence each turn on our opponent's upkeep, which basically locks our opponent out of playing anything at sorcery speed. This is a pretty solid soft lock against some decks. The problem is that any instant-speed artifact or permanent destruction (Nature's Claim, Assassin's Trophy, etc.) can still kill our Isochron Scepter and break our opponent out of the lock. Thankfully, if we can add one more piece to the battlefield, we can turn our soft Scepter Lock into a hard one!

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The final piece of our lock is a Teferi, with either Teferi, Time Raveler or Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir preventing our opponent from casting things at instant speed. With either Teferi on the battlefield, we can use Isochron Scepter to cast Silence every turn on our opponent's upkeep to keep them casting spells at sorcery speed; then, Teferi keeps our opponent from casting spells at instant speed, which basically means our opponent can't cast spells for the rest of the game. Assuming we can handle whatever our opponent has on the battlefield when we get the lock assembled (which can happen as early as Turn 4), it shouldn't take too many turns before our opponent realizes that they can't play Magic anymore and scoops up their cards.

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Remember a little while ago when I said we had one more one-of artifact to find with Fabricate? Well, that artifact is Knowledge Pool, which gives us a backup lock with either of our Teferis. Knowledge Pool is a really strange card. When anyone casts a spell, Knowledge Pool triggers to exile it and lets that player cast a spell that is exiled under Knowledge Pool. The problem for our opponents is that because there's a Knowledge Pool trigger on the stack, the card they would get to cast from under Knowledge Pool isn't technically at sorcery speed (even if they are playing their cards during their main phase), which means Knowledge Pool with a Teferi is another hard lock for casting spells. While our primary plan is to get the Scepter lock, sometimes, we end up with a bunch of extra mana, a Fabricate, and a Teferi, and in these situations, it's easier to just grab our one Knowledge Pools for the lock than to find Isochron Scepter and hope we eventually draw into Silence

Other Stuff

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The rest of our deck is focused on three things: additional Isochron Scepter tricks, dealing with whatever our opponent might get on the battlefield before we assemble our hard lock, and finishing the game (if our opponent actually makes us kill them; normally, people just scoop once the lock is assembled). Apart from our sweeper Supreme Verdict, all of our removal can be imprinted on Isochron Scepter. Boomerang is a pretty sweet secondary target for Isochron Scepter since it can bounce any permanent, which means we can sometimes lock our opponent by bouncing a land each turn. Meanwhile, Path to Exile and Azorius Charm offer Scepter-able removal, with Azorius Charm being an especially solid imprint since it can also draw us a card if we don't need to put a creature on the top of our opponent's deck. 

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We also have a couple of counterspells we can put under Isochron Scepter. Remand is pretty straightforward. It doesn't counter a spell permanently, but it does bounce it back to our opponent's hand while also drawing us a card, making it a good way to slow our opponent down while also digging for lock pieces. Delay doesn't see all that much Modern play, but it's perfect for our deck. Rather than countering a spell, Delay suspends it for three turns. Normally, this would be a problem, but in our deck, we can use these three turns to find Silence or play a Teferi, either of which will keep the spell exiled forever by disallowing it from being cast on our opponent's upkeep when it comes off suspend, which basically turns Delay into an upgraded Counterspell!

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Finally, if we actually have to kill our opponent, we have one Snapcaster Mage to beat down with along with Celestial Colonnade in our mana base. We can also stick our one Jace, the Mind Sculptor and plus it for a few turns until we can ultimate and exile our opponent's library for the mill win. However, as I mentioned before, it's rare that we actually have to kill our opponent. A huge percentage of our wins end with our opponent scooping to the hard lock.

Matchups

Normally, this is where we talk about how our deck wants to play against midrange creature decks but avoid spell-based combo decks. Well, Scepter Lock is basically the opposite of most Against the Odds decks. Spell-based combo is actually our best matchup, in part because our random counterspells are good and in part because simply casting Silence (even without Isochron Scepter) at the right time often can fizzle combos and win games. On the other hand, creature-based aggro decks are typically our hardest matchups because by the time we get our lock assembled, we are often far enough behind on board that our opponent can kill us without casting any more spells. Oh yeah, and if we end up on the Knowledge Pool plan, opposing Teferi, Time Ravelers can be an issue because the lock works both ways. If we play Knowledge Pool and our opponent has a Teferi, Time Raveler on the battlefield, we'll be locked out of casting spells!

The Odds

Normally, I play one-vs.-one matches for Against the Odds, but I had a hard time getting matches in the queues while I was recording Scepter Lock, so most of our matches come from a league. Somehow, against the odds, we ended up going 3-2 with in our league and opening our first-ever Against the Odds treasure chest! More importantly, basically all of our wins came from our Isochron Scepter / Silence lock. While we might need a bit more to fight aggro creature decks, Scepter Lock was hilariously effective against many of the unfair decks in Modern. As strange as it sounds, it might actually be at least semi-competitive in the format!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

Some people have said we've been winning to much on Against the Odds lately, so next week, as we wait for Kaldheim, we're going a different direction. Rather than playing a combo that tries to win the game, let's play one that tries to draw the game! But which one? Click here to vote!.

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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