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Against the Odds: Urabrask & Taxes (Explorer)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 332 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had a Streets of New Capenna–in-Explorer Against the Odds poll, and Urabrask, Heretic Praetor took home a super-easy victory. As such, we're heading to Magic's newest format today to see if we can not just win but win by using Urabrask and Drannith Magistrate to hard-lock our opponent out of ever drawing cards again! Can the plan work? Is Heretic Praetor]] better than it looks? 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: Urabrask & Taxes

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The Deck

Building around Urabrask, Heretic Praetor was interesting. As soon as it won the poll, I knew what we would try to do with the card: hard-lock our opponent from drawing cards with the help of Drannith Magistrate. The question was how best to support the combo. One of the biggest challenges of Against the Odds is finding the right jank level for decks. Last week's Froggin' Elspeth deck was probably an eight out of 10 in terms of jank. The odds of us winning games with the deck were low, but the games we did win were spectacular. Urabrask & Taxes is on the other end of the scale. While the lock itself is pretty janky and definitely not something I've ever seen anyone else do in a game of Magic, our support cards are super solid, with a bunch of good Boros taxing effects, removal, and even some planeswalkers. I considered trying to make the deck jankier but decided that Boros Taxes built around the Urabrask lock was probably far enough off of everyone's radar that it qualified as Against the Odds, even if the deck looks pretty good on paper. Plus, after last week's max-jank experience, maybe playing a deck that might be able to win a couple of games would be a good thing!

The Lock

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Our goal today is simple: get Urabrask, Heretic Praetor and Drannith Magistrate on the battlefield at the same time, which will lock our opponent out of drawing cards. Urabrask, Heretic Praetor's last ability basically turns our opponent's first draw each turn into impulse draw, exiling the card and forcing our opponent to play it that turn if they want to use it, while Drannith Magistrate keeps our opponent from casting cards from anywhere except their hand, so they can't cast the cards exiled by Urabrask. 

The only problem with our plan is that Urabrask, Heretic Praetor's ability only hits the first card our opponent draws during their turn, which means opponent can potentially break out of the lock if they have a way to draw extra cards in their hand (or on the battlefield, with something like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria). Thankfully, this doesn't happen all that often in practice. Against most decks, the lock is quite hard, limiting our opponent to trying to win the game with just the cards they have in their hand and on the battlefield.

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The other way an opponent can break out of the lock is by killing Urabrask, Heretic Praetor or Drannith Magistrate with a removal spell they have leftover in hand when the lock comes online. The good news is that we have a couple of ways of getting around this. The most obvious is Alseid of Life's Bounty, which fizzles a targeted removal spell by giving the target protection from whatever color the removal happens to be. If we think our opponent has removal in hand, we can wait an extra turn to deploy the lock in order to leave up a mana for activating [[Alseid of Life's Bounty], if necessary. 

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The other way we can protect the lock from removal is by deploying some must-kill threats early in the game, hopefully forcing our opponent to spend their removal on other creatures and leaving them without a way to disrupt the lock once it hits the battlefield. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a bit matchup dependent but works well with the deck's taxing theme. We don't have many non-creature spells, so it doesn't really slow us down at all, while Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a great way to slow the opponent down against control and other spell-heavy decks. Elite Spellbinder is another cute way to combo with Drannith Magistrate since our opponent won't be able to cast the card it exiles, turning it into a true Thoughtseize on a stick. Meanwhile, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker helps filter through our deck to find combo pieces and offers not one but two creatures that are tempting targets for our opponent's removal.

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The other way we can lose through the Urabrask lock is by being so far behind on the battlefield that our opponent can kill us with the cards they have even without drawing any more cards, so the rest of our deck is a bunch of strong, flexible removal to help make sure that we don't lock our opponent out of drawing cards and die anyway. Bonecrusher Giant and Skyclave Apparition give us more juicy targets for our opponent's removal. Chandra, Torch of Defiance and The Wandering Emperor are strong standalone cards that also act as removal. Finally, Settle the Wreckage is pretty absurd in our deck. We can't really play traditional wraths because they will kill our lock pieces, so Settle the Wreckage give us a pseudo-wrath that doesn't hit our own board. But Settle is even better than that in our deck. Normally, giving the opponent a bunch of lands is a meaningful downside since the opponent can use it to deploy their cards and potentially get back into the game. But this generally isn't a problem for our deck since the Urabrask Lock keeps the opponent from drawing cards. All the mana in the world doesn't do anything if you don't have cards to cast!

The Matchups

In general, control is the hardest matchup for Urabrask & Taxes, in part because control decks have a lot of removal to break out of the lock and in part because control decks are most likely decks to have extra card draw in order to function through the lock. Initially, the deck had some really sweet sideboard tech for the matchup in Tibalt's Trickery, which we were playing super fairly as a red Counterspell if we have Drannith Magistrate on the battlefield. But Wizards banned it partway into our recording, so I had to take it out of the deck. The good news is that even though control is probably our hardest matchup, we still beat it multiple times thanks to the lock and also cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Elite Spellbinder.

The Odds

Record-wise, we went 5-1 with Urabrask & Taxes at high mythic at Magic Arena. Oddly, we might have accidentally stumbled onto a real deck! The lock ended up being a really solid way of closing out games, and the combination of good removal and taxing cards was surprisingly effective against the Explorer meta! Perhaps the most surprising part of the deck was just how powerful our lock pieces were by themselves. There were several games where Drannith Magistrate shut down adventure creatures and flashback spells even without the help of Urabrask, Heretic Praetor, and Urabrask is actually a really powerful card, even without Drannith Magistrate. Drawing an extra card each turn is obviously good, but we also saw how turning our opponent's draw into impulse draw can be pretty strong, forcing our opponent to play their cards in strange orders and sometimes just straight-up skipping their draw for the turn because they needed to spend their mana deploying something else. I was pretty down on Urabrask during preview season, but now that we've played with it, I have to say it's way better than I thought and probably deserves to be reevaluated for not just Pioneer and Explorer but Standard too!

Conclusion

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 SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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