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Against the Odds: The Evil Christmas Tree (Pioneer, Magic Online)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 221 of Against the Odds. Last week, we didn't have an Against the Odds poll. With today's episode going live on Christmas Day, I figured we should probably do a holiday-themed special episode. As such, we're heading to Pioneer today to play a deck I'm calling The Evil Christmas Tree. Our Christmas tree is Tree of Perdition, which we're looking to decorate with potentially lethal ornaments like Turn to Frog, which allows us to put our opponent to a single life with one Tree activation and then finish our opponent off with any bit of damage. If that fails, we can go for the tried-and-true Tree of Perdition combo of Triskaidekaphobia to win the game on our upkeep by switching our opponent's life total with our Tree's 13 toughness. What are the odds of winning with Tree of Perdition in Pioneer? Let's get to the video and find out on today's holiday Against the Odds special; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: The Evil Christmas Tree (Pioneer)

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The Deck

Before talking about The Evil Christmas Tree, I wanted to take a brief moment and show off one of the failed attempts at this year's holiday special: a Pioneer deck built around the 12 days of Christmas. The deck itself is horrible but also pretty flavorful, with Beck // Call for four calling Birds being especially on point.

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Anyway, as far as the deck we are actually playing this week, the plan is pretty simple: win with Tree of Perdition. One of the upsides of playing Tree of Perdition in Pioneer is that it lines up oddly well with the format. Much of the removal in Pioneer has a hard time killing a 0/13, and Tree's massive amount of toughness makes it a hilariously effective blocker for big green creatures, which are pretty popular in the format. Nothing is better than stopping a raging Dinosaur like Ghalta, Primal Hunger with a Christmas tree!

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As far as winning with Tree of Perdition, we have two main combos. The most flavorful is Turn to Frog—the ornament that decorates our Christmas tree. The idea is that we can play Tree of Perdition, tap it to exchange its toughness with our opponent's life total, and then with the exchange trigger on the stack, turn Tree of Perdition into a 1/1, which drops our opponent to one life no matter how much life they start with. Then, a single damage from any creature or our secondary combo piece Triskaidekaphobia can finish the job.

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Triskaidekaphobia is a bit harder to justify as holiday-flavored, but it does work really well with our Christmas tree. Since Tree of Perdition is a 0/13, it can set our opponent's life total to 13 at any time. This makes Tree and Triskaidekaphobia into a two-card game-winning combo. We simply wait until our upkeep and, with Triskaidekaphobia's trigger on the stack, use Tree of Perdition to put our opponent to 13, let the Triskaidekaphobia trigger resolve, and pick up the win without ever needing to attack. The other upside of Triskaidekaphobia is that if we happen to get our opponent down to one life with our Turn to Frog / Tree of Perdition combo, we can use the enchantment to drain each player for one and finish our opponent off. 

It's also worth mentioning that the combo of Tree of Perdition and Triskaidekaphobia is much easier to pull off in Pioneer than in Modern since fetch lands are banned in Pioneer. Fetch lands make it really easy for opponents to manipulate their life total—they can just wait until we are about to win with Triskaidekaphobia, crack a fetch, go down to 12 life, and ruin our plans. While a few decks in Pioneer play pain lands, which have a similar effect, most mana bases are focused on shock lands, buddy lands and fast lands, which means the Tree-skaidekaphobia kill is surprisingly realistic in the Pioneer format.

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The rest of our deck is about staying alive long enough to find our Christmas tree and a secondary combo piece. Creature-wise, Gifted Aetherborn and a one-of Gray Merchant of Asphodel buy us time by keeping our life total high, while Pack Rat can make multiple blockers to stabilize the board. While it's technically possible that we can win with creature beatdowns, unless we can get our opponent down to one life with Tree of Perdition and Turn to Frog it isn't very likely, since most of our creatures are better on offense than defense, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel is just a one-of lifegain spell rather than our deck's focus. However, if we can get our opponent down to one life with our Christmas tree and ornament, then any of these creatures is a fine way to get in the last point of damage and finish the game if we don't have Triskaidekaphobia

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Murderous Rider, Fatal Push and Thoughtseize continue our "stay alive until our Christmas tree is ready to win the game" plan by dealing with our opponent's threats. Murderous Rider is especially good since after taking down a creature or planeswalker, it becomes a solid 2/3 lifelinker, while Fatal Push answers early-game threats and Thoughtseize allows us to deal with spells that would otherwise dodge our removal, making it not just a good way to slow down our opponent but a way to protect Tree of Perdition from removal as well.

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Otherwise, Underworld Connections and Ob Nixilis Reignited give us some card draw to make sure that we find our Christmas tree and whatever ornament we need to win the game. The lifegain from Gifted Aetherborn, Murderous Rider, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and even Triskaidekaphobia helps to ensure that we can pay life to draw extra cards each turn without risking getting too low on life and potentially getting burned out of the game. 

The Matchups

In general, The Evil Christmas Tree lines up really well with aggro decks, which we saw play out in our matches. We have a lot of good blockers, many of which happen to have lifelink, while Tree of Perdition itself stops basically any ground creature in the Pioneer format. Combine this with decent removal, and we're more than happen to play against various creature-based aggro decks every round. On the other hand, control and combo like Lotus Field Storm are harder matchups. While we do have some good cards and, in theory, we can win the game as early as Turn 5 with our Christmas tree, hard removal and counterspells are good ways to slow down our Tree of Perdition plan, and we have a lot of not-great-against-control cards in our main deck (like Gifted Aetherborn and Fatal Push). We have a lot of sideboard cards for the control and combo matchups, which help in games two and three, and if we draw enough copies of Underworld Connections, we can potentially win the card-advantage battle. But if given the option, we'd avoid the control and combo matchups.

The Odds

All in all, we played five matches with The Evil Christmas Tree and ended up winning four, giving us an 80% match win percentage and somehow making The Evil Christmas Tree significantly above average for an Against the Odds deck. More importantly, we won almost all of our games with Tree of Perdition, either directly with one of our combos or indirectly with our opponent scooping once we got Tree of Perdition and Triskaidekaphobia on the battlefield. The deck felt oddly competitive, and Tree of Perdition was surprisingly good, managing to dodge most of our opponent's removal and being a great blocker while we waited to find an ornament to decorate our Christmas tree with and finish the game!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

With the advent of Pioneer Modern has been left by the wayside over the last couple of months. Well, next episode we're going to give Modern another chance to shine, while also celebrating the enchantment theme of Theros: Beyond Death! Which of these janky enchantments should we build around in Modern? Let us know by voting below!

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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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