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Against the Odds: Volo, Guide to Monsters (Modern)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 299 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had an Against the Odds poll for Adventures in the Forgotten Realms in Modern, and in the end, Volo, Guide to Monsters came out on top. As such, we're heading to Modern today to see if we can wins some games by copying an incredibly motley crew of creatures with Volo! On the battlefield, Volo, Guide to Monsters is pretty simple: if we cast a creature and don't already have a creature of that type on the battlefield or in the graveyard, we get a copy of it. The challenge of building around Volo comes mostly during deckbuilding, when we need to try to make sure that we aren't playing many (or any) duplicate creature types in order to fully power Volo. While I don't think there are any true combos for the rare (at least, that I could find), there is one cute trick, which we'll talk about in a minute! How good is Volo, Guide to Monsters in Modern? How can we build around its unique effect? What crazy things can it do? 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: Volo, Guide to Monsters

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The Deck

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Building around Volo, Guide to Monsters was a really fun challenge. Perhaps the best comparison for Volo is Panharmonicon (which we also have in the deck). With a Volo, Guide to Monsters on the battlefield, if we cast a creature with an enters-the-battlefield trigger, we won't just get the trigger twice (like Panharmonicon) but also a copy of the creature too! The drawback of Volo, Guide to Monsters is that to make it good, we need to try to play as few duplicate creature types in our deck as possible, which means playing singletons rather than playsets of most creatures and leaving some creatures we'd like to play out of the deck altogether. 

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What this means in practice is that we end up playing a lot of next-best-option cards. For example, creatures that draw a card when they enter the battlefield work really well with both Volo, Guide to Monsters and Panharmonicon. The best of these creatures is Ice-Fang Coatl. In a typical Panharmonicon deck, we'd play four copies of the Snake and move on, but this doesn't really work in a Volo deck since once we play a single Ice-Fang Coatl, any future copies won't be copied by Volo's ability. Instead of playing a full playset of Ice-Fang Coatls, we end up playing one copy along with one Wall of Blossoms and one Carven Caryatid. Even though the latter two creatures are less powerful than Ice-Fang Coatl is, in theory, being able to get two of them with Volo, Guide to Monsters will make it worth playing the slightly worse versions.

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Initially, I was going to try to make every creature (with one big exception, which we'll get to shortly) have a unique type. Since Volo, Guide to Monsters and our finishers cost a lot of mana, we need some ramp to speed them up. My first build of the deck had eight mana dorks with different types (ranging from Ignoble Hierarch to Birds of Paradise to Tangled Florahedron). I played a bunch of games with the deck ane quickly realized that copying mana dorks wasn't really all that important. In general, they were coming down before Volo, Guide to Monsters to help us ramp into our namesake card. And even if we do end up with a mana dork in hand after Volo is on the battlefield, since they are mostly 0/1s and 1/1s, getting an extra copy wasn't really all that impactful. As a result, we ended up with a much more consistent and faster ramp package of Arbor Elf and Utopia Sprawl, which can let us play a Volo, Guide to Monsters as early as Turn 2 Playing a playset of Arbor Elf means we're unlikely to get too many copies with Volo, but that's fine: Arbor Elf is in the deck to get Volo, Guide to Monsters on the battlefield, rather than to be copied.

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As I mentioned in the intro, I couldn't find a way to combo off with Volo, Guide to Monsters, but there is a cool trick to power it up: Clones! Outside of Volo, the most interesting and important cards in our deck are Phyrexian Metamorph and Spark Double. The trick is that Phyrexian Metamorph is a Shapeshifter when we cast it, and Spark Double is an Illusion when we cast it, but once they enter the battlefield (as a copy of something else), they end up gaining the type of whatever they copy. What this means in practice is that when we cast a Phyrexian Metamorph or Spark Double with Volo on the battlefield, we should always get the Volo copy, which allows us to copy the two best things on the battlefield for three or four mana, which is quite powerful. The only problem with this plan is Volo, Guide to Monsters' graveyard clause (if we play a Metamorph or Spark Double and it dies, it will be a Shapeshifter or Illusion in the graveyard, which makes it so future copies won't be copied by Volo), which is why we're playing Rest in Peace in the graveyard. Even outside of the creature-type tricks, both Clones are quite powerful, with Spark Double being able to copy Volo, Guide to Monsters. since it gets around the legend rule. and Phyrexian Metamorph copying artifacts (like Panharmonicon) along with creatures.

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As far as the rest of the deck, we have a ton of one-ofs. For finishing the game, we turn to a Wurm, a Beast, and a Cat. With a Volo, Guide to Monsters on the battlefield, all of these cards are pretty absurd. Armada Wurm makes 20 power worth of 5/5 tramplers. Thragtusk adds 10 power to the battlefield and gains us 10 life. Regal Caracal makes four 1/1 lifelinking Cat tokens, which end up as 3/3s thanks to Regal Caracal being a Cat lord. 

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The same holds true for our interactive creatures. Solitude is our only Elemental and gives us a way to Swords to Plowshares away our opponent's threats (potentially for free, thanks to evoke). Mind Flayer can steal our opponent's best threats. Acidic Slime offers a way to blow up lands or other non-creature permanents, while Knight of Autumn does a bit of everything for three mana.

The biggest issue with the one-of unique creature-type plan is that it can make the deck inconsistent. The upside is that we can do some incredibly explosive things if we can get Volo, Guide to Monsters and Panharmonicon on the battlefield. Take a super-easy example: We play Volo. We play Panharmonicon. We cast Ice-Fang Coatl. We'll end up getting two copies (thanks to Volo), and each will draw us two cards (thanks to Panharmonicon), which is an insane amount of value for just two mana!

The Odds

All in all, we went 0-for-about a million with Volo, Guide to Monsters. While only five matches were featured in the video, I played close to 20 with multiple versions of Volo and didn't win a single time, giving us a 0% match win percentage and making Volo one of the least competitive Against the Odds cards we've ever played. While we did have some sweet games where Volo, Guide to Monsters generated a ton of value, and we did a reasonably good job of winning games now and then, in the end, Volo, Guide to Monsters has one massive problem: It dies. It dies a lot. We had so many games where we were set up to do sweet things with Volo only to have it die before we could untap and cast a creature. As a four-mana 3/2, it dies to basically every removal spell in Modern, and opponents correctly realized that if we untapped with Volo, we'd probably do something sweet (and maybe even powerful), so they would kill it. Since we're playing a really wacky group of creatures and a ton of one-ofs to support Volo, if we can't get it to stick on the battlefield, we're left with a deck full of sub-optimal creatures that are in our deck primarily because of their unique creature type. Basically, after playing a ton of games with it, I'm pretty sure Volo, Guide to Monsters is the worst Panharmonicon of all time (in 60-card formats) since the cost of building around it is really high (thanks to the creature-type restriction) and because it dies so often. Thankfully, with some persistence, we finally got to see what Volo, Guide to Monsters could do in our last game, where it actually stuck on the battlefield for a few turns, and we won easily. But unfortunately, those games were few and far between.

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Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, or you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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