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Against the Odds: Swords and Strip Mines


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 109 of Against the Odds. We didn't have an Against the Odds poll last week, which means we having a special episode this week! One of the things I'm most hyped about from Ixalan is Field of Ruin. While the uncommon land might not seem all that exciting, when combined with Ghost Quarter, we now have eight lands in Modern that, with a bit of help, can work like a Strip Mine and blow up one of our opponent's lands! While we've had some sweet Against the Odds lately, none of them have been particularly mean, which means we are long past due for playing a deck that's as much about ruining our opponent's fun as it is about actually winning games of Magic. So this week, we are heading to Modern to play a deck I'm calling Swords and Strip Mines.

The Strip Mine aspect of the deck is probably pretty obvious—we're playing the full eight copies of Ghost Quarter and Field of Ruin—but the Sword package is another story. To make Strip Mine effective, we really need to be blowing up a land every turn, which leads us to Crucible of Worlds to get our Strip Mines back from the graveyard. While we really want a Crucible of Worlds, drawing extra copies is pretty bad, so rather than playing several copies of Crucible of Worlds, we're playing just one along with a full playset of Trophy Mages to tutor it up. The power of Trophy Mage is that it's a Crucible of Worlds when we need it to be, but it can also be any other three-converted-mana-cost artifact. Which other artifacts cost three mana? The Swords of X and Y cycle! So along with making our opponent sad by blowing up their lands, we can also ruin their fun by giving one of our creatures protection from whatever colors they are playing to blank their removal and blockers! Enough of my ramblings; let's get to the videos so you can see how it works, then we'll talk more about the deck.

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Against the Odds: Swords and Strip Mines (Deck Tech)

Against the Odds: Swords and Strip Mines (Games)

The Deck

The basic idea of Swords and Strip Mines is simple. We destroy our opponent's lands one by one and then, after we have them low on resources, we equip up one of our creatures with a Sword and close out the game. In some ways, the deck is similar to a Death and Taxes build but more all-in on destroying lands and focused on harnessing the power of Trophy Mage

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The main reason the deck works is Field of Ruin. While Ghost Quarter has been in Modern forever, the addition of Field of Ruin to the "lands that destroy lands" group means we now have eight potential Strip Mines to work with. While having four copies is great, eight means that the odds are in favor of us having at least one every game, adding a lot of consistency to our Strip Mine plan. As far as the cards themselves, Ghost Quarter is the best because it's free to activate and can hit basic lands, but Field of Ruin has some sneaky upside, since it doesn't cost us a land (since we get to tutor up a basic when we activate it). Plus, we are looking to cheat our creatures into play with Aether Vial, which frees us up to spend our mana on activating Field of Ruin. Of course, neither Field of Ruin nor Ghost Quarter is a true Strip Mine (unless our opponent happens to be out of basic lands, which does happen eventually), but with the help of a couple of creatures, we can make both into true Strip Mines all game long.

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Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor are key to our game plan, since they turn our Ghost Quarters and Field of Ruins into actual Strip Mines. Leonin Arbiter is the harder of the two lock pieces—all we need to do is wait until our opponent is tapped out to blow up their lands, and since they won't have the ability to pay for Leonin Arbiter, they won't be able to search up a land, turning Field of Ruin and Ghost Quarter into Strip Mine. Aven Mindcensor is a bit riskier, since our opponent still gets to search for a basic (albeit only four cards deep), but it still gets the job done in most matchups, since so many Modern decks cheat on playing basic lands. Plus, we get the upside of having a flying body, which works well with our Sword plan. Together, this gives us eight Strip Mines and eight Strip Mine-enabling creatures, which means we're likely to assemble the lock during most games.

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While Strip Mining a land every now and then is fine, to be really devastating, we need to be able to blow up one of our opponent's lands every turn. Rather than hoping we just happen to draw a ton of Ghost Quarters and Field of Ruins, we use Crucible of Worlds. Once we get a Crucible of Worlds on the battlefield, we only need one Field of Ruin or Ghost Quarter, since we can just play it from our graveyard every turn to blow up another land. Eventually, this leaves our opponent without any mana at all to cast their spells. Despite its importance to our deck, Crucible of Worlds is only a one-of because drawing multiples is pretty bad. So, how can we make sure we always have a Crucible of Worlds on the battlefield for our Strip Mine lock but never draw multiples?

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Enter Trophy Mage. We usually build around one specific card for Against the Odds, and while our Strip Mines and Swords get all the headlines, this is a Trophy Mage deck beneath it all. When we are on the Strip Mine plan, we can use our Trophy Mages to find our Crucible of Worlds, but the power of Trophy Mage is it can get any three-mana artifact, so we can find something else if we already have a Crucible of Worlds.

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Take our Swords, for example. While the Sword cycle can sometimes be a bit slow for Modern, they are perfect for our deck, since we are built around slowing the game down with our Strip Mines and other taxing effects. Thanks to Trophy Mage, we can tutor up whichever Sword is best for the matchup—we can get Sword of Fire and Ice against Merfolk or Sword of Light and Shadow against Abzan—to give our creatures protection from our opponent's colors while also generating a ton of value thanks to their triggered abilities. While which Sword is best mostly depends on the matchup, they are all very powerful and offer us a way to close out the game a lot quicker after we Strip Mine our opponent into submission. Plus, the Swords give us a backup plan for matchups where our Strip Mines aren't good. For example, Merfolk doesn't especially care about our Strip Mines, since they have cheap creatures, tons of basic lands, and even Aether Vial to put creatures into play without lands, but Sword of Fire and Ice is devastating to the fish, since we can shoot down a creature every turn for free with the damage while also drawing a card.

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Our last Trophy Mage target is Etched Champion. While it might look a bit strange, the combination of Swords, Crucible of Worlds, and Aether Vial means we often get three artifacts on the battlefield, after which Etched Champion is the ultimate Sword-bearer, since it's basically guaranteed to get in combat damage thanks to protection from all colors. In a pinch, we can also leave it on defense, where it blocks basically anything outside of colorless Eldrazi.

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Aether Vial is the last major piece of our Strip Mine combo. The basic idea with Aether Vial is that we can put Leonin Arbiters and Aven Mindcensors on the battlefield for free, allowing us to use our lands as Strip Mines rather than for mana to cast our spells. Being instant speed also helps, since we can time our Leonin Arbiters for when our opponent is tapped out for Strip Mine value. It also helps make up for the fact that we are playing a ton of colorless lands along with a bunch of colored spells, so the one-mana artifact not only cheats on mana but fixes our mana as well!

Other Stuff

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While it might not be apparent at first glance, Judge's Familiar and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben are perfect for a Strip Mine deck because every land we Strip Mine is one less land our opponent can use to pay for our taxing creatures. Judge's Familiar is also great at wearing a Sword thanks to flying, while Thalia, Guardian of Thraben gives us a shot against fast combo decks like Storm by slowing them down for a couple of turns.

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Selfless Spirit and Spell Queller help to protect our Leonin Arbiters and Aven Mindcensors. One of the nightmares for our deck is that our opponent will kill our Leonin Arbiter in response to our Ghost Quarter activation, which not only puts us down a creature but also ruins our Strip Mines by letting our opponent tutor up a land. Selfless Spirit and Spell Queller, especially combined with Aether Vial to cheat them into play at instant speed, help make sure this doesn't happen.

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We close things out with a few one-ofs. Meddling Mage gives us some main-deck hate for combo decks, coming down to name things like Gifts Ungiven or Conflagrate while also being reasonably on-curve for Sword-wearing purposes. Kitchen Finks is helpful against aggro, gaining us a bit of life and blocking twice. Meanwhile, Flickerwisp is part protection spell, coming down to flicker one of our creatures in response to a removal spell, and part temporary land-destruction spell, since we can Aether Vial it into play during our opponent's upkeep and flicker away a land for the turn.

The Matchups

It's actually pretty hard to break down the matchups for Swords and Strip Mines, since there's a lot going on. For example, there are some matchups where our Strip Mine plan is bad (like Merfolk) but our Sword plan can be pretty good. Likewise, against colorless decks like Affinity and Eldrazi Tron, our Swords are close to dead cards but our Ghost Quarters and Field of Ruins are pretty insane. Overall, we have great matchups against decks like Tron that can't deal with Strip Mines and a pretty good matchup against control as well, since control decks typically need a lot of mana to function. Midrange can be a bit sketchy because our opponent's creatures are usually bigger than ours, although we certainly can win with a good draw. Meanwhile, against aggro, we have a lot of good blockers to shut down early aggression, even if our Strip Mines aren't usually super relevant, since aggro decks can function without much mana. All around, we can beat just about anything because our deck is really good at punishing opponents for even a slight stumble—if an opponent misses just a single land drop (no matter what deck they are playing), our Strip Mine plan can just lock them our of the game for the free win.

The Odds

All in all, we got in six matches and won four, good for a 66.67% match win percentage, while playing 15 games and winning 10, also a 66.67% game win percentage. This means Swords and Strip Mines was very solid and certainly above average for an Against the Odds deck. While the Strip Mine plan was great and the Sword plan was good, I mostly came away from playing the deck impressed with Trophy Mage. While it might see slow and underpowered, there are a ton of good three-mana artifacts in Modern, and it doesn't take that much work to play a package that makes Trophy Mage one of the best cards in your deck!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

Next week marks the release of Iconic Masters! Let's gear up for the set by playing one of its sweet reprints. Which of these Iconic Masters reprints should we play in Modern next week? Let us know by voting below!

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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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