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Against the Odds: Teaching Arena Zoomers about Paying the One (Historic)

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another edition of Against the Odds! This week, we are handing out more life lessons to Arena Zoomers, this time, perhaps hypocritically, about the importance of "paying the one!" Rhystic Study was recently added to Magic Arena for the first time, and the popular wisdom regarding the enchantment is that, while great in Commander—where you have three opponents to ask, "Do you pay the one?" whenever they cast a spell and potentially draw a ton of cards—it's stone unplayable in 1v1 formats. The thing is, Rhystic Study hasn't been legal in a non-Legacy 1v1 format in nearly 25 years, which means no one has actually tried playing it in a 1v1 format. Instead, people (myself included) just say that it's bad in 1v1 formats because it looks bad in 1v1 formats. As such, today's deck started out as an experiment to see if the popular wisdom is correct: is Rhystic Study actually horrible outside of Commander? However, as I was working on the deck, it developed into something way more spectacular! Is Rhystic Study actually bad in 1v1 formats? Can we teach some Arena Zoomers the importance of always paying the one? What other tricks does our deck hold? Let's find out on today's Against the Odds!

Against the Odds: Teaching Arena Zoomers about Paying the One

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The Deck

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As I mentioned in the intro, the idea of today's deck started with a simple plan: play as many Rhystic Study and Esper Sentinels as possible, ask our Arena opponents, "Do you pay the one?" as often as possible, and see what happens. The idea of both cards is simple: when our opponent casts a spell, they either need to pay one mana or let us draw a card. In theory, we win no matter what—if we draw a card, then great; if not, then we are taxing our opponent's resources. The drawback is our opponent gets to make the choice, so in theory, they will always pick whatever option is most beneficial for them. However, things took a twist when I started looking for other "do you pay the X" cards and remembered that Smothering Tithe is legal in Historic...

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Smothering Tithe is similar to Rhystic Study in the sense that it asks our opponent to pay two mana whenever they draw a card, or else we get to make a Treasure token. It's also similar in the sense that people tend to find it a great Commander card, where you have three opponents drawing cards each turn, but lackluster in 1v1 formats. However, there is a trick to Smothering Tithe: what if we make our opponent draw a bunch of cards, which, in turn, will generate a ton of mana in the form of Treasure tokens? This turns Smothering Tithe from a middling ramp spell into a full-on combo piece, and that's our plan for finishing the game today!

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You might remember an old Standard deck we built with Smothering Tithe and wheel effects. Our deck today is looking to do something similar. To support Smothering Tithe, we have Commit // Memory and Emergency Powers, both of which make each player shuffle their hand and graveyard into their library and draw seven cards. If we have a Smothering Tithe on the battlefield, these cards essentially become free: we cast one for six or seven mana and—since our opponent is unlikely to be able to pay for a massive pile of Smothering Tithe triggers—make back seven mana worth of Treasure tokens. Where these cards get really absurd, though, is when we have multiple Smothering Tithes on the battlefield. With two Smothering Tithes, either of these cards will generate at least seven extra mana—we pay six or seven to cast them but make back 14 mana of Treasures. This allows us to have a massive combo turn where we wheel, make a bunch of Treasures, and hopefully draw into another wheel to repeat the process once we dump our hand.

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There's even an infinite combo now for Smothering Tithe! You are probably going to laugh when you hear it because it does require us to have all four copies of Smothering Tithe on the battlefield, which probably seems unlikely. But our deck is so good at drawing cards thanks to Rhystic Study, Esper Sentinel, and our wheels that it actually happens much more often than you would think. Once we have four Smothering Tithes on the battlefield, we can go infinite with Faerie Mastermind. We activate its ability for four mana to make each player draw a card and make back four mana in Treasures if our opponent can't "pay the two" four times for Smothering Tithe. This lets us draw our entire deck. If we have more cards in our library than our opponent does (which usually doesn't happen because we draw so many cards), we can simply activate Faerie Mastermind until our opponent draws their entire deck and loses to milling out. More realistically, we win with our one copy of Blue Sun's Zenith. As we draw our entire deck, we find it and use all of our Treasures to cast it targeting our opponent in order to force them to draw a ton of cards (which will make us four times a ton of Treasures thanks to our Smothering Tithes). Then, we shuffle Blue Sun's Zenith back into our deck so we can draw it again with Faerie Mastermind, this time with enough Treasures to make our opponent draw their entire deck and lose on the spot to drawing with an empty library!

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The rest of our deck is removal and counters to help us stay alive long enough to get our "do you pay the X" cards on the battlefield and hopefully set up our big combo turn. The one card that's worth mentioning individually is Archmage's Charm. While it is in our deck to counter a spell, its "draw two cards" mode can target anyone, and we often use it as a weird ritual once we get a few Smothering Tithes on the battlefield by targeting our opponent to make them draw cards and give us some Smothering Tithe Treasures!

The Matchups

In general, aggro is our toughest matchup because our combo is pretty slow and an aggro opponent can often dump their hand quickly, before we can get our Rhystic Study or Smothering Tithe on the battlefield. This often means they have the extra mana to pay the one (or two) because they don't have anything else to do with their mana. On the other hand, slower midrange and control decks are solid matchups. We have good removal, our "do you pay the X" cards are hard for decks with more expensive cards to pay for, and if our opponent taps down in the late game, there a good chance we can use our wheel combo to win the game right away!

The Odds

Record-wise, we went 3-3 with our Do You Pay the One? deck, which is a pretty solid record for a super-fun, funny, and janky brew. We got run over by aggro a few times (see: our match against Wizards) but comboed off way more often than you'd probably expect. More importantly, I think we did a good job of teaching Arena Zoomers about paying the one. As weird as it sounds, Rhystic Study was actually very strong, even in a 1v1 format like Historic. While it's not the new Oko or Sheoldred or whatever, I think it's legitimately underrated. Yes, we did see it at its worst against Wizards, where our opponent simply killed us on Turn 3, but we also had games where our opponents refused to pay and we ended up drawing like 10 cards for the mana. (It was almost like playing against myself in a game of Commander!) Other opponents tried to pay, but we managed to stack up so many Rhystic Study and Esper Sentinel effects that even though they had 10 mana and a full hand of cards, they were only casting one spell a turn because they were dumping half of their mana into paying the one. It might be time to reevaluate Rhystic Study for 1v1 formats. Opponents playing inefficiently is good. Drawing extra cards is good. Maybe Rhystic Study is actually a lot better than most people think?


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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