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I was going to play Sultai Constrictor at Grand Prix Seattle, but recently everyone has been writing about Scarab God and U/B-based decks, which are the deck’s biggest weaknesses, so I started to look elsewhere. I didn’t want to play any of the control decks, because I hate playing with too many reactive cards when it’s not even clear if they are good at the moment. The idea of having to play cards like Moment of Craving or Fatal Push that can be completely dead in some matchups just didn’t suit me. At least give me Abrade that can kill a God-Pharaoh’s Gift while still being an answer to Winding Constrictor and Ahn-Crop Crasher.
Two weeks before the Grand Prix, Matt Severa posted in our team forum that he was doing well with Mardu Vehicles. It’s not a secret that I’m a big fan of aggressive decks, so I immediately started paying attention. The problem with Mardu is its clunky mana base, so I also looked at the latest 5-0 decks from Magic Online and found this:
R/B Aggro Vehicles
ZionGoblin, (5-0) in a Competitive Standard League 3-26-2018
I took it for a spin and went 9-1 in the first two Leagues. The deck seemed great and did exactly what I was looking for. I liked how smooth the mana was—that was the biggest improvement.
It’s the ideal mix of Mono-Red and Mardu. Your mana is smooth but you still get to use cards like Unlicensed Disintegration to their full potential. Toolcraft Exemplar is certainly better than Inventor’s Apprentice and makes crewing Heart of Kiran easier, but playing a third color for it doesn’t seem worth it.
After playing some more, I recorded my thoughts on the deck in our team forum. Five Vehicles felt like one too many, as I had too many games where I had a bunch of them sitting in play without a creature. Heart of Kiran being legendary meant that there were games where you were stuck with a second copy in your hand, so cutting one seemed pretty easy.
Hour of Devastation in the sideboard looked like a good way to get rid of Bristling Hydra, but it also kills your own Hazoret and Chandra, so it got the cut. Doomfall and all the expensive cards in the sideboard were very useful, and I really liked the extra land when you really wanted to hit your 4th and 5th land drop on time.
I replaced Sweltering Suns with Magma Spray, as there didn’t seem to be many decks that tried to go wide, and I wanted to improve my Mono-Red matchup and have a good removal spell for U/W Gifts’ Minister of Inquiries.
I did notice the Mardu Tokens deck that won the online PTQ, but I found the matchup to be okay because of Walking Ballista, Chandra, and flyers. At first I added a Glorybringer to the main deck over the third Heart, but I lost a bunch of games where it was stuck in my hand and it felt like I needed something cheaper. In the end I replaced it with Dare Fleet Daredevil, which seemed like a good compromise between an early drop and something you can put more mana into later in the game.
We had a big discussion about the Deserts in the deck. Grasping Dunes was surprisingly useful, killing all kinds of X/1s from Glint-Sleeve Siphoners to Thopter tokens. Keep in mind that it can also straight-up kill a Servant of Conduit with a Winding Constrictor in play because they still get an extra counter even if it’s -1/-1.
The deck can support two colorless lands, but once Matt suggested we add Fatal Pushes to the sideboard to help with Sultai Constrictor, we felt like we needed to cut one of them for an extra Swamp. You can play Ifnir Deadlands instead. Just keep in mind that you are also playing four Dragonskull Summits that need a basic to come into play untapped.
In the end, the land that stayed was Scavenger Grounds because it seems more high impact. Every time you draw it against the God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck it’s a complete game-changer. For that reason, the extra land in the sideboard turned into a second copy of Scavenger Grounds, though I was certainly wishing I had an extra cycling land in some of the grindy matchups where you can easily become flooded when you board in an extra land.
Per Ben Weitz’s suggestion we also ended up swapping one Disintegration for an extra Abrade, a change I was very happy with given the surging popularity of the Gifts decks.
How to split the 4-drops is the toughest part to figure out about this deck because they are all so good. The numbers may look random, but they all have their purpose. If Scarab God is the best card in Standard, then Chandra is second. The card is just so powerful that it easily wins the game on its own and I wanted to have access to at least 3.
Hazoret is still really good, but there are a lot of decks in Standard that can just throw a bunch of chump blockers in front of him and you don’t want to get stuck with two in your hand now that you have the option to just play different 4-drops that are just as powerful. Half the decks also seem to be playing Vraska’s Contempt. You can look at Chandra and say that it gets rid of her the same way, but that will be after you have already gotten something out of the planeswalker, whether it’s killing a creature, two extra mana to play a “free” Scrounger that just adds more pressure to the board, or just 2 damage to the opponent.
Lastly, there is one Rekindling Phoenix that’s excellent against the green decks where it serves both as a great blocker and attacker at the same time. It’s also one of the cards that can get you out of the “Hazoret lock” against Mono-Red where you are forced to chump block it every turn without really getting anywhere. Having Phoenix in play often means your opponent can’t really even attack with Hazoret. I found that after sideboarding against most decks, two of the three 4-drops will usually be good and one bad, so you just adjust your deck accordingly.
We’ve long discussed playing an extra 2-drop or two but couldn’t find anything exciting. Kari Zev just dies to Fatal Push too often. I played a couple Leagues with two Aether Chasers and they actually weren’t bad. First strike was relevant surprisingly often and getting extra energy for/from Aether Harvester also came up here and there. The token it creates is an artifact, which is also important.
Earthshaker Khenra is another possibility, especially if you find yourself flooding a lot, but it would be by far your worst creature because it matches up really badly against all the creatures you are trying to ignore. You can easily cut Daredevil and one Ballista to make room for two other 2-drops. I also tried Cut // Ribbons, but found that in most matchups I’d rather be able to kill their creature at instant speed.
In the end, this is what I ended up playing.
R/B Aggro Vehicles
This deck has a very good matchup against the blue control decks. Killing Scarab God with Unlicensed Disintegration is something your opponent usually won’t be able to recover from. Abrade, while normally dead against control decks, can still kill a Torrential Gearhulk. It’s also very good against Approach of the Second Sun decks where all you really need to do is resolve a turn-1 Bomat Courier.
At first I thought the token decks with cards like Legion’s Landing and Servo Exhibition would give this deck a really hard time, but Walking Ballista does a lot of work here and they don’t really have a lot of answers for your flyers and Chandra. I think it becomes favorable for you once you sideboard out your Hazorets, Abrades, and Disintegrations for meaningful cards. I don’t think Blazing Volley is necessary. It basically doesn’t do anything in any other matchup.
Playing against the U/R version is a bit trickier because they can be quite fast, and before you know it they have a Bomat in play with three cards under it, with Gate to the Afterlife helping to fill their graveyard and you don’t know which problem to solve first.
This is a rough sideboard guide, but keep in mind that a lot of that can change based on individual card choices in your opponent’s deck.
Out on the Draw
In on the Draw
Out on the Play
In on the Play
I think this matchup is roughly even. They have the Hazoret advantage but if they can’t kill you quickly you have more value cards like Walking Ballista and Dire Fleet Daredevil. If you are having trouble against them, consider an extra Pia Nalaar.
U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift
Your Vehicles are really good at flying over their ground creatures. Don’t use Abrade on anything other than Gift or Gate to the Afterlife. Keep in mind that you can use a Walking Ballista counter to kill Angel of Invention with the fabricate trigger on the stack.
I like taking out all four Bomats here. They have too many ways to kill them and sometimes they even bring in Sweltering Suns against you. Keep in mind that they can finish off your Chandra easily with Walking Ballista or Fanatical Firebrand. Don’t play your Scavenger Grounds too early because they can destroy it with Field of Ruin.
The idea here is to basically board into a removal control, ignore their Fatal Pushes and get card advantage out of cards like Chandra, Phoenix, Scrounger, and Glorybringer. Doomfall helps you get rid of Bristling Hydra, which can otherwise be very annoying. Keep in mind they usually have Cartouche of Ambition.
U/B Scarab God Control Decks
I haven’t actually played against this deck yet but my instinct would be to take out the Vehicles and bring in Doomfalls and Glorybringers. It’s not that the Vehicles are bad, but they just seem too slow and they have a lot of cards like Abrade and Thrashing Brontodon to get rid of them anyway. I just want to be able to play my creatures on curve and get rid of theirs with removal and Chandra and Glorybringer. If they bring in Sweltering Suns, then taking out Inventor’s Apprentice seems like a very reasonable plan.
A lot of this depends on your opponent’s build. I like Doomfall if they have Settle the Wreckage and cards like Ixalan’s Binding, which is definitely one of the most annoying cards to play against. If you know they have a lot of them, consider not boarding in the 4th Chandra and just keep in something like a Hazoret. I like the extra land here because you really want to be able to play Chandra on turn 4.
This deck will definitely be on my radar even after the new set comes out. I haven’t had a chance to look at all the new cards to see how much this deck gets from Dominaria, but the additions I’ve seen so far for other decks have been powerful, but expensive. This deck is really good at pressuring people and if they give you too much time, they will find themselves too far behind.
Llanowar Elves will definitely make green decks much more popular, which should make your Disintegrations better. Chandra will for sure continue being an all-star in these matchups. You can move Magma Sprays and Phoenixes into the main deck if aggro becomes more popular.
Weatherlight seems like it would be a good addition because you have a lot of artifacts and legendaries, but I’m not sure if you can afford to play another card that costs 4 mana.
Siege-Gang Commander, on the other hand, can be a great addition to this deck because it helps you crew multiple Vehicles at once and gives you a lot of reach.
If you have any tips on how to improve the deck with Dominaria, let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!