With week 1 in the books, we’ve seen Saheeli decks everywhere, along with an assortment green decks. In fact, the Top 6 consisted of 6 decks featuring green, and all of them included it as at least a secondary color and not just a splash.
Last week, I left off on control strategies and how well positioned they are against the Copy Cat menace. Now I want to talk about aggro decks, and why they’re surprisingly well positioned against this current crop of Cats. The “average” Saheeli deck at the SCG Open seemed to be Jeskai Control with a combo finisher. That shell is inconsistent, however, since that space you sacrifice to fit in the combo has to be taken from somewhere. In many cases that’s the removal and planeswalker suite. As a result, they don’t actually have a ton of card advantage or enough removal to deal with your curve.
This particular list is from Josh Crowe, who lost his win-and-in for Top 8, and it’s the one I like the most. Main-deck Fatal Push is a sweet hedge against opposing Heart of Kiran and hits the relevant early game creatures out of G/B. It also allows for some good sacrifice attacks later, especially since Unlicensed Disintegration is so good at punishing no-block or multiple-block scenarios. The two things I would change would be to increase the Metallic Rebuke count to the full 4 and to add the 4th Unlicensed Disintegration in somewhere. Both of them allow you to take a more controlling role as necessary, and curving into Rebuke is just game against Saheeli Rai or Aetherworks Marvel.
How many times did the Copy Cat deck look as if it had turned the corner and locked the game up against a green midrange deck? Multiple feature matches saw the Copy Cat player with 8+ lands, a clear board, and multiple cards in hand—yet, they would go on to lose the game. These decks can’t combo out early against creature decks and don’t necessarily have the draw power to ensure a win later. Many games require spending one of the combo pieces to gain more resources or to dig for the second piece. This makes it exceedingly difficult to gain an overwhelming advantage when you don’t end the game on the spot.
This is doubly true for the Vehicles decks, which are naturally resilient to Radiant Flames and Fumigate while also having the maximum amount of cheap interaction. You can easily run 8-10 main-deck ways to disrupt their combo without using any narrow cards. G/B also has this advantage with the tag-team of Grasp of Darkness and Walking Ballista. You have it with Shock, Thalia, and Unlicensed Disintegration, or even Fatal Push, which, while situational, still stops it with revolt.
So why play this deck over the G/B or G/W decks featured in the Top 4 of the Open? Simple—your curve is superior and you’re the best Vehicle deck in the format. Much like Caw-Blade was the best equipment deck with Stoneforge Mystic into Sword of Feast and Famine and later Batterskull, Mardu Vehicles is the best deck to abuse Heart of Kiran and Aethersphere Harvester. If you plan on playing with creatures or planeswalkers, both of these are very real threats that require nuance to deal with.
Heart of Kiran isn’t as good as Smuggler’s Copter on merit. What remains, though, is an effective on-curve play that can absolutely demolish planeswalkers like Gideon. Harvester is much like what Batterskull was intended to be—an effective tool at beating small/midrange creature decks. That 5th toughness makes it nearly impossible to kill without specialized tools, and lifelink-on-demand gives you a buffer in a race. Veteran Motorist also supercharges both of these threats as even a simple +1/+1 pushes them out of range of even more answer cards. You get to abuse Heart by having so many cheap 3-power creatures, and you abuse Harvester by being able to win the creature or Harvester mirror via Unlicensed Disintegration.
So my recommendation of Mardu Vehicles remains. It’s far faster than the midrange creature builds, and the removal/Vehicle mix gives it unique options. Other decks can emulate what this deck does, but none of them combine the mix in such a potent way.
Of course, if you’re willing to give something up—removal, curve, Vehicles, etc.—then a lot of possibilities open up. Let’s look at the winning G/B Aggro deck from the Open.
What does this deck do well? Instead of an amazing early curve, it seeks to have a good mix of mana sinks and standalone threats. The only exceptions to this rule are Walking Ballista and Winding Constrictor, which are both here to support the other cards in the deck. By playing Ballista you drastically increase the potency of any +1/+1 counter cards and you help insulate yourself against Saheeli. It also makes it so your creatures trade up, and makes getting outclassed on-curve unlikely. Constrictor itself is the weakest creature in the deck but provides a good utility 2-drop that scales well.
Mindwrack Demon a big winner from the Reflector Mage banning. You get an excellent rate for him, even without delirium, but getting bounced was just too big of a tempo loss. Instead, you now have a bunch of delicious planeswalkers to snack on and few removal spells that punish you. Mindwrack can even punch through a Heart of Kiran, which eliminates the bulk of cheap threats that can threaten a trade.
Rishkar serves a dual role in the deck. He provides a solid 3 that makes your 2-drop harder to trade with and later he gives you a big mana boost. That Walking Ballista that was an annoyance previously? Well now it’s Triskelion x2. Good luck ever getting a reasonable combat after that. Jumping out to a big mana lead and using it to abuse Ballista looks to be one of the easier ways to win the mirror match. If Ishkanah makes a reappearance, then her mana sink capabilities are already well known.
This deck avoided the issues of many brews by just jamming a bunch of good cards and one major non-intuitive threat.Walking Ballista is one of those types of cards where the first few times you play against it, you’re going to make mistakes. It is inevitable that you will trip and accidentally throw a few creatures away because you forgot exactly what Ballista was capable of. The same thing happens in every format with cards like Avacyn, Spell Queller, etc. Often the threat of Ballista killing off your 1-point planeswalker or ruining a combat is more effective than anything else. Just as many Saheeli players benefit from free draw steps because their opponents are so scared of the combo they hold open mana instead of developing the board.
The key to dealing with Ballista is that if it gets down early, the best play is to trade with it either via removal or set up an attack or block where they sacrifice it for some value. Yes, they “got you,” but it also gets that threat off the tabl. Obviously, if this is untenable due to cards like Rishkar and Ballista is already a 4/4 or bigger, you have larger problems on your hands. Still, I think anyone who played when Mogg Fanatic was common will have a firm understanding of what I’m talking about here.
So how do you beat this deck? The simple answer is to go bigger and play more hard removal to deal with their large threats. If only there were a deck that did that…
The more complicated answer is to systematically destroy their threats and value them out of the game. Jim Davis’s U/B Control deck nearly does this, and with a few tweaks could be a good countermeasure. The B/G players could combat this with cards like Liliana or Lifecrafter’s Bestiary. For the next few weeks we’ll still be in break-the-meta mode instead of targeting specific decks.
Well, other than Copy Cat players—they’ll be targeted until the end of the format. Everyone knows the internet gives way too much attention to Cats.