The dust has settled on our new Standard metagame, and both the MTGO PTQ and the StarCity Games Open (SCG) were won by Mardu Vehicles decks. Now, as an avowed intellectual, I definitely didn’t tell you all just a week ago B/R was a better Hazoret strategy than Mardu. There’s no way that happened, and please don’t go looking for evidence to the contrary, because that absolutely doesn’t exist. Now that we’ve reaffirmed my position as a leading Magic: the Gathering intellectual figure, the Nostradamus of card games, a Big Baller who “neva lost”, let’s talk about the best Hazoret deck, and probably the best deck in Standard at the moment: Mardu Vehicles. Which I definitely have been hyping up all along, and not other decks. As usual, I’ll use the time-honoured strategy of looking at the winning versions of the deck, saying that I don’t like them, and then proclaiming my intellectual superiority.
The first list that I don’t like – Julian John, 1st place SCG Dallas
Julian John won the SCG Open in Dallas alongside teammates Jonathan Rosum and Kevin King with this fairly reasonable Mardu deck. While there’s some spice in it, it commits what I consider to be an old-school Mardu sin, crossing over from the pre-rotation format: trying to play Fatal Push with a red-white manabase. The way the mana works in this deck, you always had to pick whether to have red or black be your secondary colour, with the third colour being more or less a splash for Unlicensed Disintegration and sideboard cards. Back in the era of 4C Saheeli decks, Mardu was B/W/r, with a black midrange sideboard plan, but with the loss of Thraben Inspector, replaced by the distinctly more aggressive Bomat Courier, we’re forced into an R/W/b aggro plan.
Mardu’s mana has always been kind of sketchy, and it’s always leaning heavily on some kind of crutch to make it work. At one point a while back, it used Harnessed Lightning alongside Aether Hub to find black mana in the R/W/b version, but now, we lean heavily on a high artifact count and a full play-set of Spire of Industry. This has a pretty significant impact on how we can build our deck — specifically that almost half of our black sources are unreliable (Aether Hub or Spire of Industry). We’re already running pretty close to the bare minimum of black sources necessary to have access to the colour in early turns, and some of our black sources are single use. We also will struggle, between Spire of Industry, Canyon Slough, and Dragonskull Summit, to ever have black mana on turn 1. That means that our black-costed cards have to be either incredibly impactful like Unlicensed Disintegration, or kicker-style costs like the ability on Scrapheap Scrounger. Fatal Push doesn’t fit that bill for me. Whether it’s even better than Shock in this format is debatable thanks to cards like Ahn-Crop Crasher, and it’s not something we can play on turn 1.
As for the rest of the deck, I think it’s absolutely reasonable. The mana is tight, though I’m not sure stretching the black sources is necessary without Fatal Push, and I like 24 lands a lot more than 23 in a deck that desperately wants to curve out into Hazoret. I highly doubt that Ammit Eternal is worth overloading on three-drops in this aggro deck. The sideboard has a lot of very expensive cards in it, and it’s clear that Julian is trying to emulate the midrange sideboards of old Mardu decks. I explained earlier that I don’t think that works quite as well as it used to. Five pieces of mass removal seems a little overboard, and I’m pretty sure Angrath is just a bad card.
The next list that I don’t care for – Luciencool, 1st place MTGO PTQ
This list took down Saturday’s Standard PTQ on MTGO, and successfully adheres to my fundamental law of Mardu deckbuilding by only playing cards that can be cast consistently. However, it’s a little, well, uninspired. It’s tight, but takes no risks. It plays play-sets of the best cards available, but doesn’t exactly innovate for the prospective metagame. This was definitely a wise call for an unknown format, but we have a bit more information than this now, and can craft our deck more precisely.
I don’t like this deck’s manabase, though I like the land count. Swamp is such a liability in a Veteran Motorist deck, and I’d rather just play another Aether Hub and hope for the best. The sideboard is a bit more focused than the last, though I’m not sure that Authority of the Consuls is a necessary inclusion.
A third list that I don’t think is optimal – zkiihne, 6th place MTGO PTQ
Now we’re playing with fire. Zachary Kiihne, a notable player in his own right, made it to the quarterfinals of the PTQ with this extremely interesting list. While he might follow all my personal rules of Mardu deckbuilding in regards to the consistency of the manabase, he throws all the other rules out the window. This deck has no Hazoret, no Veteran Motorist, and only two Bomat Courier. I love lists like this, because there’s a lot to learn from them. I think that committing to a midrange plan with Chandra and Glorybringer is unwise, but interesting, just since Bomat Courier theoretically commits you to the aggressive plan where Hazoret is much stronger. That said, when you’re playing with a split of Bomats and Ballistas, suddenly you end up with more options.
One of the most clever things that Zachary did here was swap out the fragile if powerful Veteran Motorist for the robust Relentless Raptor. Motorist lines up very poorly against some popular cards in the format right now, from Whirler Virtuoso to Path of Mettle. The dinosaur dominates the board in the early turns, and its drawback is mitigated significantly if you can just tap it to crew a vehicle.
A Perfect and Genius Decklist – Daniel Fournier, 1st place (eventually)
Most of this is self-explanatory at this point, but I still have a few things to say about this list, which is where I’m at right now in my grinding of MTGO leagues — for no discernible reason, as I don’t even have a Standard event coming up. Relentless Raptor is great, but if all the Grixis decks end up without Whirler Virtuoso, as I feel they inevitably will, then the sheer number of lines of text on Veteran Motorist probably overtake it for the slot. I have a weird breakdown of removal spells because I play against so many control decks that I want to make sure that as much of my removal as possible is live against them in game 1.
Let’s use this opportunity to go over the sideboard cards, with a focus on the matchups that they’re for.
Glorybringer: This comes in as our top end against creature decks in matchups where we’re clearly in the beatdown role. If you would want one or two Chandras, you probably want Glorybringer.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance: This is our most high-impact card against decks that aren’t able to easily attack it off the board. It comes in against control and slow midrange as well as God-Pharaoh’s Gift .
Treasure Map: A card advantage spell that lets us take out something slow like Aethersphere Harvester but maintain our artifact count? Nice. Fulfills a similar role to Chandra but is easier on the curve and a little less impactful.
Abrade/Magma Spray: For when you need a bit more removal, or when you need your removal to be very cheap, when you’re on the draw against a Bomat Courier deck, for instance. Sometimes I think it’s right to trim on Unlicensed Disintegration in favour of these cards.
Aethersphere Harvester: I think it’s unwise to be boarding this in too aggressively, as the 3-drop slot in this deck is pretty clogged-up already, and you frequently want to be playing a two-drop to crew Heart of Kiran on turn 3. As such, this is limited to aggressive mirrors.
Settle the Wreckage: By far the best way to win in a race against Hazoret. A very different card from the Fumigates in Mardu decks of old. We’re not using this to protect our Planeswalkers, we’re using it to win races.
Release the Gremlins: Hey, if we’re living in a world where Mardu is good, it’s probably time to bring out the nuclear option.
Duress: This card really sucks in this deck. We want to be proactive and have a legitimately hard time casting this spell. Use it to clear the way through Settle the Wreckage and Vraska’s Contempt against control, or to deal with problematic spells out of weird decks.
Well, that’s all for now! See you again next week for some more groundbreaking journa– I mean, Mardu content.