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Against the Odds: Tainted Triskaidekaphobia (Modern)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 267 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had an Against the Odds classics-in-Modern poll featuring cards that we've played before in the distant past. In the end, Triskaidekaphobia took home a pretty commanding win, although based on the comments to the poll, a lot of people were disappointed that Tainted Remedy (which came in second) once against failed to win the vote. Well, I've got some good news for Triskaidekaphobia voters and Tainted Remedy voters: we're playing both cards today, in a deck I'm calling Tainted Triskaidekaphobia! What are the odds of winning with Triskaidekaphobia (and Tainted Remedy) 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: Tainted Triskaidekaphobia

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The Deck

Building around cards that we've already played on Against the Odds (albeit in the distant past) is always tricky. Not only do we want to try to win with our janky namesake card, but ideally, the deck also will be meaningfully different than the first version. While today's Triskaidekaphobia deck does have some classic Triskaidekaphobia synergies (*cough*Tree of Perdition*cough*), it's also got a bunch of really interesting new tricks thanks to the inclusion of Tainted Remedy.

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Triskaidekaphobia is pretty simple: if anyone is at 13 life on our upkeep, they lose the game, which means the primary goal of our deck is to manipulate our opponent's life total to exactly 13 with Triskaidekaphobia on the battlefield and pick up a free win. Triskaidekaphobia also either gains or loses both players a life on our upkeep, which is where Tainted Remedy comes into play. Tainted Remedy makes it so if our opponent would gain life, they instead lose that much life. This means we are free to choose the "gain life" option with Triskaidekaphobia every turn, and while we will gain a life, our opponent will actually lose a life, slowly draining our opponent out of the game while we buff our life total to stay out of the danger zone. Of course, turning Triskaidekaphobia into a "drain for one" each turn enchantment isn't enough to make Tainted Remedy good in our deck. Thankfully, we have some other shenanigans...

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One of the biggest problems with Triskaidekaphobia is that by itself, it's super slow to get someone down to 13 life. As such, we need additional, faster ways of manipulating our opponent's life total. Making opponents lose life is fairly easy—we can use creatures, Lightning Bolts, or any number of other options. But what happens if our opponent's life total gets down below 13 (which is a real issue in Modern, where everyone is playing a ton of fetch lands and shock lands)? Along with having ways to make our opponent lose life, we need ways to make our opponent gain life as well to try to get to the magic number 13. 

For this, we turn to Aria of Flame, Fiery Justice, and Grove of the Burnwillows. Fiery Justice and Grove of the Burnwillows are especially good with Triskaidekaphobia, allowing us to control our opponent's life total. Grove of the Burnwillows simply taps to gain our opponent a life, making it an easy way to get our opponent from 11 or 12 up to 13 at instant speed to win the game with Triskaidekaphobia while also helping us get around our opponent's fetch lands and shock lands. Meanwhile, Fiery Justice can be a decent removal spell, but it also reads, "Choose a number between 0 and 5; your opponent gains that much life," since we can throw some amount of damage at our opponent's face to counteract the five life they gain. This means that if our opponent is anywhere between 8 and 12 life, a single Fiery Justice can get them to 13 for the Triskaidekaphobia win. Aria of Flame is less controlled, forcing our opponent to gain a massive 10 life, but it still can be helpful if our opponent ends up at a very low life total. It's also absurd with Tainted Remedy.

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If we have Tainted Remedy on the battlefield, both Aria of Flame and Fiery Justice are three-mana 10-damage burn spells, which is a pretty insane deal. This gives us a backup plan for games when we don't draw Triskaidekaphobia to jank our opponent out as a weird Tainted Remedy burn deck. Further powering up our "force our opponent to gain life" plan is Kavu Predator, which gets a +1/+1 counter for each point of life our opponent gains. Let's say we play Kavu Predator on Turn 2 and Aria of Flame on Turn 3. We'll immediacy grow Kavu Predator into a 12/12 trampler! Occasionally, we can pick up wins (especially against removal-light decks) where we just play a couple of Kavu Predators, force our opponent to gain a bunch of life, and then beat our opponent down with the biggest two-drop in the history of Magic!

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Of course, because we are trying to win with Triskaidekaphobia, we also have Tree of Perdition. Tree of Perdition is basically a two-card combo with Triskaidekaphobia. We can wait until our upkeep with Triskaidekaphobia's trigger on the stack, tap Tree of Perdition to exchange Tree's toughness with our opponent's life total, and set our opponent's life to 13, which allows us to win the game with Triskaidekaphobia regardless of how much life our opponent had before we activated Tree of Perdition. While not as obvious, Tree of Perdition is also solid with our Tainted Remedy plan. Let's say our opponent is at 6 life and we have a Tainted Remedy and Tree of Perdition on the battlefield. When we tap Tree to set our opponent's life total to 13, according to the game rules, this counts as our opponent gaining life, so rather than gaining 7 life up to 13, tapping Tree will actually make our opponent lose 7 life (and in that scenario, the game since they'll end up at –1 life). 

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And that's basically the plan of the deck. Outside of our various synergies and combo pieces, we have a few utility spells. Idyllic Tutor can grab Triskaidekaphobia, Aria of Flame, or Tainted Remedy, which makes it a great way to set up whatever combo we're hoping to use to win the game. Birds of Paradise ramps us into Triskaidekaphobia and also helps fix our ambitious four-color mana base. Finally, Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt give us some removal to deal with our opponent's threats, while Lightning Bolt can also help get our opponent's life total down to 13 at instant speed in the right situation. 

The Matchups

I'm honestly not sure what to make of the matchups with Tainted Triskaidekaphobia. Probably the biggest issue with the deck is that it's full of cards that need other cards to be good, which tends to make it inconsistent. Aria of Flame is an easy example. It's insane if we have Kavu Predator or Tainted Remedy and helpful if we have Triskaidekaphobia. But if we don't have one of those cards on the battlefield, we typically don't even want to cast it because all it really does is boost our opponent's life total (we don't really have enough spells to fully take advantage of the damage it can deal). Apart from losing to ourselves by drawing the wrong half of our deck, we also learned that Skyclave Apparition is insane against us. Typically, one of the upsides of playing enchantments like Triskaidekaphobia is that they are difficult for most decks to kill, but Skyclave Apparition easily answers it and all of the other important enchantments and creatures in our deck as well. Against aggro, we're typically not fast enough to keep up, and control can usually counter our Triskaidekaphobia, making both matchups tough. 

On the other hand, we also have some hilariously good matchups. For example, we played against Heliod Combo, and Tainted Remedy basically just beats the deck all by itself by shutting down the opponent's infinite-life combo. We also have a weirdly good shot against various Death's Shadow / Scourge of the Skyclaves decks since we can use Aria of Flame, Fiery Justice, and Grove of the Burnwillows to force our opponent to gain life and likely kill all of their Death's Shadows and Scourge of the Skyclaves for free!

The Odds

All in all, we went 2-3 in our video matches and, counting a couple of extra matches that didn't make the cut, 2-5 overall, giving us a 29% win percentage and making Tainted Triskaidekaphobia below average in terms of win percentage. The good news is that even in matches that we lost, we managed to win some games in some really spicy ways. We got Triskaidekaphobia kills, massive Kavu Predator kills, and some Tainted Remedy burn kills as well. Basically, we did get to see almost all of the tricks that the deck has to offer. The problem is the archetype itself is just really inconsistent, so in between the sweet wins, we had some pretty clunky games where we either just got run over by aggro or drew a handful of uncastable Aria of Flames without the support cards to make them work. 

Vote for Next Week's Deck

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As we near the end of 2020 there are still some interesting cards printed this year that we haven't built around, so let's cross another one of the 2020 bucket list in Modern (most likely) next week. Which card should we play? Vote here!.


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

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