Friday, March 24, 2023

Against the Odds: Harmless Demons (Explorer)

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Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 368 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had another Phyrexia: All Will Be One Against the Odds poll, and in one of the closest votes yet, Archfiend of the Dross managed to sneak out a win. As a result, we’re heading to Explorer today to play the most harmless version of Demon tribal ever! In some ways, we’re a triple–Against the Odds deck. While our primary plan is to give our opponent Archfiend of the Dross and remove all of its oil counters to force our opponent to lose on their upkeep, we’re also Demon tribal, which is pretty Against the Odds in and of itself. And we even have the possibility of winning with the notoriously hard win condition Liliana’s Contract! What are the odds of winning with Archfiend of the Dross Harmless Offering Demon Tribal featuring Liliana’s Contract in Explorer? 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: Harmless Demons

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The Deck

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When Archfiend of the Dross won the poll, my first attempt at building around it was a generic Rakdos Harmless Offering deck looking to Donate either Demonic Pact or Archfiend of the Dross to the opponent. But after playing a few matches with it the deck, it mostly felt like a bad Rakdos midrange deck rather than something worth playing for Against the Odds, so I went back to the drawing board. Eventually, this led to the triple–Against the Odds Harmless Demons deck we’re playing today!

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The first of our plans is still the same: play Archfiend of the Dross, use Harmless Offering to give it to our opponent, and play Heartless Act to remove the oil counters from the Phyrexian Demon and force our opponent to lose the game on their upkeep. With our best draws, we can do this as early as Turn 5! We play Archfiend on Turn 4. On our next turn, we remove an oil counter (giving Archfiend of the Dross three counters) and  Harmless Offering it to our opponent, and the Heartless Act can remove the final three counters, guaranteeing our opponent loses the game on their upkeep. Since we need three different combo pieces to close out the game (although technically, we can win without Heartless Act—it just takes a lot longer for all of the oil counters to come off of Archfiend of the Dross), we’ve also got a couple of tutors to find whatever piece we happen to be missing in Wishclaw Talisman and Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire

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If winning by giving our opponent an Archfiend of the Dross isn’t Against the Odds enough, our backup plan is to try to win with Liliana’s Contract. While technically only a one-of, our tutors help us find it consistently when it has a chance of working, which isn’t super often because Liliana’s Contract is a notoriously hard win condition to pull off. The biggest challenge in getting the Liliana’s Contract win is that Demons tend to be big, evasive creatures like Archfiend of the Dross, which makes it difficult to get four on the battlefield without accidentally winning the game with combat damage. The good news is that even when Liliana’s Contract isn’t winning us the game, it’s still a big burst of card advantage, assuming we have enough life to spare.

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Of course, we need a bunch of differently named Demons to win the game with Liliana’s Contract, which leads us to our third Against the Odds plan: Demon tribal! Every single creature in our deck is a Demon, and outside of Archfiend of the Dross and Dream Devourer as our janky Demon ramp spell, they are all one-ofs (to help make Liliana’s Contract work). As such, we sometimes can win just by attacking with random Demons. Archfiend of the Dross itself is a pretty fast, flying clock, and most of our other demons have above-the-curve stats, like Ammit Eternal and Baleful Ammit. We can even use Rakdos, the Showstopper to (maybe?) wrath away our opponent’s board while leaving our Demons alive so we can set up an alpha strike!

And that’s essentially the deck: try to win by giving our opponent an Archfiend of the Dross with Harmless Offering; and, if that doesn’t work, try to get four Demons on the battlefield for Liliana’s Contract; and, if that doesn’t work, we can try to win with combat damage from our unholy horde.

The Matchups

As far as pulling off the Harmless Offering combo, the biggest concern is counterspells and instant-speed removal that can kill Archfiend of the Dross with Harmless Offering on the stack. The good news is that nobody really expects the Archfiend of the Dross Harmless Offering kill. Pretty much everyone knows that if you see a Demonic Pact in a Rakdos deck, there’s a good chance that your opponent will be trying to kill you by giving you the Pact with Harmless Offering, but seeing Archfiend of the Dross in a Demon tribal deck doesn’t raise much suspicion, which makes it a lot easier to resolve the combo through an opponent’s defenses. 

The Odds

Record-wise, we finished 4-4 with Harmless Demons, giving us a 50% match-win percentage, which is actually a lot better than I expected. On the other hand, we only managed to get two wins with the Harmless Offering plan. While both were hilarious and spectacular, it turns out that it’s actually kind of hard to keep an Archfiend of the Dross on the battlefield long enough to give it away to an opponent with Harmless Offering without accidentally winning by beating down. Thankfully, Heartless Act helps a lot since we only need to keep Archfiend of the Dross on the battlefield for a single turn, which not only gives our opponent less time to find a removal spell for it but also gives us less time to win with combat damage, which is oddly an upside, at least as far as our combo kill is concerned.

Sadly, we never got to see the Liliana’s Contract kill—it’s a tough one to pull off. While we did use it to draw cards, every time we got three or four Demons on the battlefield, we ended up winning the game with combat before we could find a Liliana’s Contract. Still, having the possibility is nice, and I’m sure it would happen eventually if we kept playing games with the deck.

All in all, Harmless Demons worked a lot better than I thought. It turns out that a 6/6 flier for four mana is a pretty strong threat, even in 2023, and doubly so when we can sometimes use it as a strange combo piece to win the game right away!

Vote for Next Week’s Deck

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Next week planeswalker tribal returns, but which planeswalker should we build around? Click here to vote on Youtube!


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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