Here on the Deck of the Day column I’ve gone deep on so many major archetypes. One deck that I haven’t touched on in depth has been Mardu, but there are so many ways to actually build a Mardu deck to have success, and each is dramatically different from the last.
Yesterday, I brought you a rather off-the-wall version of Mardu that Matsumoto Yuuki piloted to a Top 8 at the Last Sun 2015 in Japan:
By Matsumoto Yuuki
This deck really highlights Chandra’s Ignition. It’s a slower version of the deck that really loads up at the 4-drop slot, but utilizes all of its many 4s in conjunction with the Ignition to wipe the opponent’s board before attacking for huge chunks of damage.
Playing 10 different cards that utilize lifelink, this version of Mardu aims to make Painful Truths a little less painful. The full 4 copies of Mardu Charm offer lots of versatility depending on the matchup. A pair of Warriors can take down smaller attackers, 4 damage can eliminate a Mantis Rider or an Anafenza, the Foremost in a pinch, and the discard ability can preemptively stop a backbreaking planeswalker or card draw spell, not to mention clearing out sweepers or removal spells.
This is one of the slowest versions of Mardu and one of the highest curves I’ve seen for the archetype. The fastest version I’ve seen may also be the best:
By Danny Jessup, Top 8 at a Standard Open
I like much of what this deck is doing. Monastery Swiftspear is one of the best aggressive creatures we’ve ever seen, rivaling the power of Goblin Guide. Abbot of Keral Keep comes down early as a powerful attacker or late as potential card advantage. Seeker of the Way and Monastery Mentor are cheap creatures that hit hard and change a race completely. The threat base of this Mardu deck is excellent and will be extremely tough to beat if it’s able to curve out.
With so many excellent and cheap prowess options, the deck will need plenty of options to get those triggers. Painful Truths is at its best in a deck like this. You will be able to empty your hand quickly with so many early drops, so you’ll never have to discard. The life loss already matters less in an aggro deck, but that goes double in a deck with 4 Seeker of the Way and 3 Soulfire Grand Master to help pad your life total. Painful Truths is an absolute MVP.
Duress is a great way to play both offense and defense. You can protect your powerful creatures, taking their removal and counters. You can also take their big spells to keep them from coming back into the game. The fact that you can do all of this for only 1 mana while triggering prowess for extra damage makes Duress outstanding here.
Previously, I covered another Mardu deck that focused on the prowess creatures, but went bigger:
By SEGAL, 5-0 in an MTGO Standard League
This deck went for a longer game, completely eschewing all things Monastery, including its Swiftspears and Mentors. This deck doesn’t have quite the same ability to exploit Painful Truths, and that’s why I felt it was the inferior version of the two versions.
Pia and Kiran Nalaar is a nice spell to have access to. The combination of recurring the Parents with Kolaghan’s Command is good enough to be Modern playable, which is intriguing. The 5-mana planeswalkers in Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Ob Nixilis Reignited mean the deck has plenty of late-game power.
Having a higher curve means that the two cards I think are the most powerful in the previous version of Mardu—Painful Truths and Abbot of Keral Keep—are made substantially worse (while still being good) in this version. That’s the biggest issue I have with this particular version, although I think both are solid options that have proven themselves as potential winners.
Prowess creatures tend to have more power than their casting cost would suggest, as you can continue to power them up in the late game despite having reasonable stats pre-prowess. That doesn’t mean these creatures are the only way to build Mardu. Token variants have had lots of success playing very few creature spells.
By KELMASTERP, 5-0 in an MTGO Standard League
Token decks attack on a similar axis to any of the other creature-filled decks, and yet it feels completely different. Spot removal is such a key part of Standard, as having a way to deal with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or Monastery Mentor is imperative if you want to succeed. These cards can get out of hand very quickly and in different ways. Token decks care very little, if at all, about spot removal.
Being able to flood the board means that answering a single token or token maker will leave the opponent down on cards, giving the token deck a chance to pull ahead. Cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Sorin, Solemn Visitor are key components of a deck like this. Being able to pump all your small creatures will end a game or put the opponent in a position where they can’t possibly come back.
Pia and Kiran Nalaar and Hangarback Walker make most opposing removal spells look weak, leaving behind a swarm of Thopters.
Mashing some of these options together to give that aggro/midrange feel has also yielded success.
By DWAGZ, 5-0 in an MTGO Standard League
Just because you have the powerful early game doesn’t mean you can’t play some of the slower options. Monastery Swiftspear can do some damage early while Pia and Kiran Nalaar can come down later to clean up any leftovers.
This version gets to go back to 4 copies of Painful Truths, so I’m already pretty happy. With so much card drawing already available, you may feel that 3 copies of Outpost Siege is unnecessary, and that very well might be the case. The card is powerful, but not across the board, and has some glaring weaknesses against decks with Dromoka’s Command that may not have been able to max out on value there.
So where does that leave us? We have a whole bunch of lists that have had success with the Mardu colors. Which is best? What should we be looking to do going forward?
Seeker of the Way is the creature that appears most consistently. This makes perfect sense as it’s an excellent creature in the early and late game. Unlike Monastery Mentor, which is a mistake to play as early as possible, Seeker of the Way is happy to always come down on turn 2. A 2/2 with no investment whatsoever is completely fine, but Seeker throws off combat consistently. Opponents with multiple creatures in play can’t risk attempting to trade for Seeker knowing that they will likely get 2-for-1’d and you gain a few life to boot. As a great way to pressure opponents but also recoup life loss, Seeker is definitely a card I would want in all of my Mardu decks.
Abbot of Keral Keep is very similar to Seeker in that it is excellent early and late. That being said, several of these lists don’t optimally utilize or even play Abbot. As your curve increases, Abbot gets weaker. If you wait to actually deploy your Abbot for value and hit something you can’t cast, you may have lost too much tempo to recover. Decks with higher mana curves should likely just cast their Abbots when they can, passing on the card advantage and weakening the extremely powerful rare. That being said, I prefer Mardu decks with a lower curve to make Abbot as good as it can be.
Painful Truths tends to show up in some number for any deck that can cast it. The card is simply too good to pass up. Versions that can play more copies to greater effect are ones I would expect to have the most success. This means decks with low curves that can either threaten the opponent’s life total before the life loss of Truths matters, or have enough life gain to offset the cost.
The one card in every Mardu deck is Crackling Doom. No big surprise there. An edict effect is already strong, but guaranteeing you get the largest creature, and at instant speed with 2 additional damage—well that just does it all. It’s not always the perfect removal spell for every situation, as sometimes the smaller creature is actually the most threatening, but the direct damage is crucial in races.
The aggressive versions of Mardu are my current preference for Standard. At this point, I’m hoping that people have a general idea of how to sideboard (and if you don’t, check out Constructed Resources with myself and Marshall Sutcliffe.
Against aggro decks, cards that are slower are weaker. This can even mean removal spells like Crackling Doom. You will likely need to remove Painful Truths in large numbers as you can’t afford the life loss and survival is the key. Cards like Arashin Cleric and Radiant Flames are all-stars, but any ways you have to lower your curve are great.
Against midrange decks, often you won’t need as many copies of Duress. If they have lots of instants and rely on card advantage or sweepers to come back against you, that changes. If they are playing big creatures, cards like Fiery Impulse are quite bad. You want to improve your removal suite if possible with cards like Roast or Self-Inflicted Wound if you’re playing against Abzan, Rending Volley against Jeskai, etc. Anything that gives you cheap card advantage, like more copies of Painful Truths, is excellent.
Against control decks, you don’t need your mediocre removal. Cards like Fiery Impulse and Roast will be bad to dead. Cards that can pull you further ahead or keep them off of their game plan are what you want. Duress to force your big threats through and planeswalkers for additional big threats are the keys. Outpost Siege or Ob Nixilis Reignited can be tough for them to get off the board and continue to provide an advantage every turn.
There are many ways to build a successful deck, even within the same colors. There may be many similarities, but the overlap between the various decks actually isn’t that great. My preference is the lower curve that can maximize the utility of Abbot of Keral Keep, Painful Truths, and Duress. What is your favorite way to build Mardu? Do you think that will change in the next week leading up to Grand Prix Oakland?