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Against the Odds: Upheaval (Modern)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 292 of Against the Odds. Modern Horizons 2 is here, which means that today, we get to play with one of my all-time favorite cards in Modern for the first time: Upheaval! Why would we want to play a card that bounces all of our permanents along with our opponent's permanents? The answer is that if we can break the symmetry of Upheaval (which is actually super easy because all it requires is us making a lot of mana), it's pretty close to a one-card combo that wins the game when it resolves. While winning is fine, Upheaval lets you win in style and might be one of the best cards for picking up flawless victories in all of Modern! What are the odds of winning with Upheaval in our new post–Modern Horizons 2 Modern format? How many flawless victories and salty scoops can we get along the way? 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: Upheaval

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The Deck

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When I first started playing Magic, I thought that Upheaval was horrible. Why would I possibly want to bounce all of my permanents along with my opponent's? At a glance, it seems like Upheaval just resets the game, which doesn't feel all that powerful or exciting. Eventually, I realized that Upheaval is actually an absurdly powerful card if you can break the symmetry. So, how do you break the symmetry of the mass bounce spell? The easiest and best way is to make a lot of mana. If we get up to eight, 10, or 20 mana (the more the better) and float it all before we cast Upheaval, we can immediately replay many of the things that we bounce and rebuild our board. Meanwhile, on our opponent's turn, they will likely play a single land as they try to hold back tears, discard a bunch of cards to hand size, and pretty much not have any realistic chance of winning the game, assuming they don't salty scoop to Upheaval itself. Basically, Upheaval reads, "If you can make a bunch of mana and resolve me, you win the game," and making a bunch of mana and resolving Upheaval is the only goal of our deck.

The Mana

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We have three ramp packages in our deck, all of which work together to help make sure we have as much mana as possible when we cast Upheaval. An Upheaval with six mana on the battlefield is bad, an Upheaval with eight or nine mana on the battlefield is good, and an Upheaval with 15 or 20 mana is insane. Arbor Elf, Utopia Sprawl, and Birds of Paradise do two things in our deck. First, they ramp us into Upheaval. Second, since they all cost just a single mana, they are some of our best creatures to replay post-Upheaval. While not spectacular, even a mini-Upheaval where we get up to eight mana, bounce everything with Upheaval, and immediately replay two mana dorks with our two extra mana means that we're essentially restarting the game but with two more mana than our opponent.

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Primeval Titan all by itself is solid with Upheaval since it adds two extra lands to the battlefield each turn. But it's even more spectacular in our deck because of the lands that Primeval Titan can tutor up. Our most common Primeval Titan tutor package is an old Commander trick: Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Together, these lands add an absurd amount of mana as Urborg makes all of our lands Swamps, and Cabal Coffers, for the cost of three mana, adds mana equal to the number of Swamps we control, making it a great way to cast massive Upheavals with a ton of mana floating. We can also snag Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, which takes advantage of the fact that most of our cards are adding green mana symbols to the battlefield and can occasionally tap for a lot of mana, or Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth, which minimizes the drawback of playing colorless lands like Nykthos and also does some really cool tricks, like letting Arbor Elf untap Cabal Coffers or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx by turning all of our lands into Forests. 

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Finally, we have a couple of ramp planeswalkers. Garruk Wildspeaker untaps two lands, which is fine in general and great when we're untapping Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Cabal Coffers, or a land enchanted by Utopia Sprawl. Meanwhile, Nissa, Who Shakes the World more than doubles our mana by allowing all of our Forests (which is often all of our lands, thanks to Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth) to tap for an extra green mana while also untapping a land with its +1. While it pains me to be a dirty Nissa player, Upheaval is such an awesome card and payoff, and Nissa, Who Shakes the World is such a good way to cast a huge Upheaval with a bunch of mana floating, that it's worth the blow to my ego.

Much like our mana dorks, Garruk Wildspeaker and Nissa, Who Shakes the World are great cards to replay with our floating mana on the turn when we Upheaval. While they do require that we get up to 12 or more mana, we have so much ramp in our deck that this is easier than it sounds. Imagine restarting the game but with multiple creatures and planeswalkers on the battlefield while your opponent is taking their first turn. That is what Upheaval offers when our plan comes together!

Finding Upheaval

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If we're going to build our entire deck around making oodles of mana and casting an Upheaval, we're going to want to make sure that we find Upheaval as consistently as possible. For this, we turn to Primal Command and Sidisi, Undead Vizier. We can use Primal Command to find Sidisi (while also slowing down our opponent by putting a noncreature on the top of their deck, hating on the graveyard, or, against aggro, gaining seven life) and then exploit Sidisi, Undead Vizier (either sacrificing a random mana dork or itself) to find Upheaval. Primal Command also offers a backup plan with the help of Eternal Witness. We can cast a Primal Command to put a land on top of our opponent's deck and tutor up Eternal Witness. On the next turn, we can Eternal Witness back the Primal Command and put the land (which our opponent drew for their turn and likely replayed) back on top of their deck and tutor up another Eternal Witness. With our copies of Eternal Witness, we can do this at least five turns in a row (and more if we happen to draw multiple Primal Commands), which is almost like a mini–Time Walk, making our opponent skip several draws and land drops in a row, which buys us a bunch of time to ramp and set up a big game-ending Upheaval once we have the necessary mana. 

The Matchups

In general, Upheaval struggles the most against aggro for a couple of reasons. One is that it takes a while to get enough mana to make Upheaval good, so we can just get run over before we have a chance to execute our game plan. The other is that aggro decks are more likely to be able to rebuild after an Upheaval than control and midrange are. Especially if we have to cast Upheaval early without a ton of mana floating, it's possible that our opponent can just recast a bunch of Goblin Guide– or Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer–type creatures and get back into the game even after we bounced everything. On the other hand, Upheaval beats up on midrange and, assuming we can fight through counterspells, control as well. We're also apparently the nemesis of Tron, which we beat multiple times!

The Odds

All in all, we went 5-3 with Sultai Upheaval, including a 3-2 record in a league and a 2-1 record in one-player matches, giving us a solid 62.5% win percentage! While we did get run over by aggro a couple of times and demolished by Ponza, which was able to keep us off the mana we needed to cast Upheaval and our big ramp spells, we beat Tron three times and took down a few midrange decks like Temur Cascade along the way. More importantly, we had some truly absurd Upheaval games and a few flawless victories along the way. While I'm sure the deck could use a bit more tuning, getting Modern opponents with Upheaval was super fun and satisfying, and based on our record with the deck, it seems like Upheaval could actually be a competitive card in the format, which is super exciting!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

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Modern Horizons 2 has a ton of sweet, janky cards. Let's play another one next week, but which one? 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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