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Against the Odds: Shadow Box (Explorer)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 341 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had a poll featuring new-to-Arena cards from Explorer Anthology I, and in the end, Shadowborn Apostle took home a pretty easy win. As such, we're heading to Explorer today to see if we can win a match or two with a deck that quite literally has more Shadowborn Apostles than lands! While our deck potentially can get six copies of Shadowborn Apostle on the battlefield and use them to tutor up a massive Demon like Dreadfeast Demon or Vilis, Broker of Blood, this is actually our backup plan. Our primary goal is to flood the board with Shadowborn Apostles and stick a Mirror Box to turn them into massive threats and win with perhaps the jankiest beats of all time! What are the odds of winning with Shadowborn Apostle and Mirror Box in Explorer? 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: Shadow Box

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The Deck

I'll admit that Shadowborn Apostle is one of the toughest cards we've built around in quite a while. My first attempt at the deck involved somewhere around 12 or 15 copies of Shadowborn Apostle, a bunch of one-of Demons, and Liliana's Contract as a win condition, with the idea being that we'd use Shadowborn Apostle to tutor up a few Demons, maybe Rally the Ancestors them back to tutor up even more Demons, and eventually win with Liliana's Contract. The problem was that Shadowborn Apostle felt like the worst card in the deck by a pretty significant margin. We never managed to get six of them onto the battlefield to tutor up a Demon, which meant they were just really bad 1/1s for one. While the Liliana's Contract plan was sweet, we aren't playing Against the Odds Liliana's Contract; we're playing Against the Odds Shadowborn Apostle

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Eventually, I decided to pull out our trusty ol' hypergeometric probability calculator to see just how many Shadowborn Apostles we needed to play to actually have a reasonable chance of drawing six of them early in the game, and I almost immediately realized the problem with the Liliana's Contract builds of the deck: with 12 copies of Shadowborn Apostle, we'll need to draw 28 cards (very close to half our deck) to have a greater than 50% chance of hitting six copies. When you consider that some Shadowborn Apostle will probably die before we get to six, with 12 copies of Shadowborn Apostle, it would basically take a miracle for them to ever do anything. Basically, we needed way, way more copies of Shadowborn Apostle

So, I doubled the number from 12 to 24, which means we'd actually have more Shadowborn Apostles in our deck than lands and that, on average, we should have three in our opening seven and six fairly early in the game. Of course, the downside of this plan is that we wouldn't have much room left over for non–Shadowborn Apostle cards, which means playing Liliana's Contract and a bunch of Demons with different names was off the table. Then, it struck me: what if Shadowborn Apostle's real power wasn't tutoring up Demons but being an aggro beatdown threat?

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So, here's the idea: we have 24 copies of Shadowborn Apostle, meaning we should start (on average) with at least three in our opening hand, so we can play a Shadowborn Apostle on Turn 1 and two more on Turn 2. We can then follow it up with either Mirror Box or Icon of Ancestry on Turn 3 to grow our Shadowborn Apostles. Mirror Box is our best payoff since it gives each nontoken creature we control +1/+1 for each creature we control with the same name. With three Shadowborn Apostles on the battlefield, they'd all be 3/3s, and as we play more copies, they could easily end up 6/6s or even 10/10s for one mana, which is pretty absurd. As for Icon of Ancestry, it only gives our Shadowborn Apostles +1/+1, which isn't as exciting as Mirror Box, but it also helps us find more copies of Shadowborn Apostle, helping us flood the board and maybe even get up to six copies to tutor up a Demon!

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Since we'd also need 22 lands (enough that we'd have an 80% chance of drawing three by Turn 3 to play our Mirror Box or Icon of Ancestry), this would leave us with room for six more cards in the deck, which are a playset of Infernal Grasp for removal and the best two Demons in Explorer: Vilis and Dreadfeast Demon. Vilis, Broker of Blood is about as close as we can get to a Griselbrand in Explorer. While it costs a bunch of mana, once we get it on the battlefield, we can pay life to kill some of our opponent's creatures and refill our hand thanks to its static ability, which draws us cards whenever we lose life and should quickly refill our hand with copies of Shadowborn Apostle. Meanwhile, Dreadfeast Demon works really well with Shadowborn Apostle since we can use it to upgrade our 1/1 Human Clerics into copies of Dreadfeast Demon, quickly giving us a huge board of 6/6 fliers to close out the game.

And that's basically the deck: play as many Shadowborn Apostles as possible, pump them with Mirror Box and Icon of Ancestry, and then maybe tutor up one of our big Demons to finish the game!


In all honesty, I'm not sure that Shadow Box has any good matchups, although it does have bad matchups, which is mostly decks playing sweepers like Farewell, Supreme Verdict, and friends. There's nothing worse than getting up to four or five copies of Shadowborn Apostle only to have our board swept away before we can win with Mirror Box or tutoring up a Demon. 

The Odds

Record-wise, we finished 1-4 with the deck as far as our video matches, although I played a bunch of extra matches with the deck and lost those all as well, making our overall record something like 1-10. The deck was surprisingly strong when things went well—curving a bunch of Shadowborn Apostles into a Mirror Box can win a lot of games. But in practice, most Explorer decks have a bunch of removal, discard, and sweepers, which makes it really difficult to build and keep a big board full of Shadowborn Apostles. Across all of our matches, we only managed to get six copies of Shadowborn Apostle on the battlefield to tutor up a Demon a single time, and in that game, we were already so far behind on board that even a Vilis, Broker of Blood couldn't save us. Maybe someday, we'll get a Thrumming Stone reprint into Explorer, which would make the Shadowborn Apostle plan a lot easier. But for now, Shadowborn Apostle seems to live in the realm of ultra-janky decks that can win a game or two on occasion but are nowhere near as consistent or powerful enough to really be competitive. I will say that it was pretty sweet that the one match we did win was against UW Control, one of the hardest possible matchups for our deck!


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

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