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Against the Odds: Vraska Tribal (Modern)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 254 of Against the Odds. This week, we return to a fan-favorite sub-series of Against the Odds: planeswalker tribal! Last week, we had an all-planeswalker poll, and in the end, Vraska took home a surprisingly dominating win, nearly doubling the next closest vote-getter. As such, we're heading to Modern today to play Vraskas...all the Vraskas. What are the odds of winning with a bunch of Vraskas and some non-Vraska spice in Modern? 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: Vraska Tribal

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The Deck

Planeswalker tribal decks are unique. The main challenge of building a planeswalker tribal deck is figuring out what ties all the various versions of a planeswalker together. Sometimes, this is pretty easy. Planeswalkers like Gideon of the Trials have abilities that directly affect other Gideons. Vraskas, on the other hand, are tough. The main things that Vraskas share in common is their ability to kill things, with every Vraska except for the uncommon Vraska, Swarm's Eminence destroying at least creatures and usually other permanents as well.

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The question is how we tie "destroy things" together into a fun and functional deck. While Vraskas' abilities all by themselves are strong in some matchups (in general, Vraskas are good against creature decks and decks looking to win with non-creature permanents but much worse against spell-based combo and control decks), just using our namesake planeswalkers as removal isn't really all that unique or exciting. 

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The other upside of Vraskas is that, if they are left unchecked, each has a potentially game-winning ultimate, putting our opponent in a position where a single attack or point of damage ends the game. If we can ultimate Vraska, Golgari Queen, Vraska the Unseen, or Vraska, Relic Seeker, we only need to get in a single attack from a Vraska, Swarm's Eminence or Vraska, Relic Seeker to kill our opponent, regardless of their life total. These two abilities—consistent creature destruction and game-ending ultimates—are the focuses of our deck. While we can sometimes win just by casting and activating Vraskas, we have a couple of pieces of spice to super-power our Vraskas' abilities.

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Our deck has two important non-Vraska cards. The first is Endless Whispers, which essentially turns our Vraskas' removal abilities into Mind Controls. If we can get Endless Whispers on the battlefield, then whenever we kill one of our opponent's creatures with a Vraska, we get to return that creature into play under our control at the next end step. This allows us to aggressively let our Vraskas do what they are best at—killing creatures—while also building a board full of threats we can use to kill our opponent. Of course, Endless Whispers is symmetrical, so if our creatures die, our opponent gains control of them, but we sort of naturally break the symmetry by not playing any real creatures outside of Arbor Elf for ramp.

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Speaking of ramp (and before we get to our second key non-Vraska card), we have a lot of it. Another characteristic of Vraskas is that they are expensive, with the cheapest being four mana and the most powerful Vraskas being five or six mana. As a result, we need ways to get our Vraskas onto the battlefield a bit quicker. For this, we turn to the tried and true ramp plan of Arbor Elf with Utopia Sprawl and Overgrowth. Thanks to Arbor Elf's ability to untap the land that Utopia Sprawl and / or Overgrowth enchants, this combination can make an absurd amount of mana extremely quickly. For example, Turn 1 Arbor Elf into Turn 2 Utopia Sprawl gives us four extra mana on Turn 2, enough to cast Vraska, Golgari Queen or Endless Whispers. Meanwhile, Turn 1 Arbor Elf into Turn 2 Overgrowth gives us enough mana that we can cast even our most expensive Vraskas—Vraska, Relic Seeker and Vraska, Scheming Gorgon—on Turn 3!

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Our second important non-Vraska card is the other reason why our ramp is important: Death Cloud! Death Cloud is essentially a hard reset. If we can cast it for enough mana, the end result is typically that both players will have no hand, no creatures, and no lands. However, Death Cloud doesn't impact planeswalkers, so our Vraskas will survive on an empty board, giving us plenty of time to tick them up to their ultimates and use them to kill our opponent. Apart from comboing with our Vraskas, Death Cloud is important to our deck for a couple of other reasons. One is that it is hilarious with Endless Whispers since we can get rid of all creatures, lands, and hand but then return all of our opponent's creatures to play on our side of the battlefield on the end step. The other is that Death Cloud's discard and land destruction are helpful against creature-light control and combo decks, which are some of our worst matchups since our Vraskas usually don't have anything meaningful to destroy. 

The Matchups

The matchups for Vraska Tribal are pretty simple: we want to play against midrangey creature decks (or really any creature-based decks), where Vraska's ability to repeatedly blow up creatures is at its best. Random decks built around artifacts and enchantments are also good matchups since many of our Vraskas can blow them up as well. On the other hand, spell-based decks and combo-ish aggro like Burn are tough matchups. Against aggro, our Vraska removal plan is often too slow. Meanwhile, our Vraskas don't do a whole lot against combo. Plus, aggro and combo are less likely to have good creatures for us to steal with Endless Whispers. While we can still win against combo and aggro, we're very dependent on drawing our sideboard cards or ramping into a huge Death Cloud to jank our opponent out.

The Odds

All in all, we finished 3-2 with Vraska Tribal, giving us a 60% match win percentage, which is actually a pretty decent record considering how matchup-dependent Vraskas can be. More importantly, our janky plans worked! Endless Whispers was hilariously effective, giving our almost creature-free deck plenty of threats, and we even managed to pull off a couple of Death Cloud kills!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

Since we're right in the middle of Zendikar Rising spoilers, next week we're going to play some old school Zendikar jank in Modern. Click here to vote!

Conclusion

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 SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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