The upcoming Pro Tour 25th Anniversary will feature Standard, Modern, and Legacy. While Standard gets a lot of time in the spotlight as a matter of course, you might not be quite up to speed on Magic’s Eternal formats. While there are specialists much more qualified than me to do this for Legacy, Modern is my favorite Constructed format and the one I spend the most time playing. In the lead up to the PT, I’ll be breaking down the decks that are likely to see play, and explain the game plan, strengths, and weaknesses of the format’s major archetypes. This week, I’m looking at Mardu Pyromancer. You can find previous deck breakdowns here.
What Mardu Pyromancer Does
Mardu Pyromancer is an archetypical example of a Modern midrange deck: individually powerful cards that strike a balance between proactive and reactive game play, and a focus on raw card quality rather than card synergy. That’s not to say the deck doesn’t contain synergies—it does, and they can be powerful—but each individual card justifies its independent inclusion in the deck on efficiency and power level.
This deck seeks to play a lean 1-for-1 game with removal and discard while concurrently riding a value-oriented threat to victory. Young Pyromancer, Lingering Souls, and Bedlam Reveler are all powerful cards that reward clever pilots for playing the game they were going to play anyway. Combining pressure with disruption is a tried-and-true way to win games of Magic, and this deck does that perhaps better than any other deck in Modern.
Mardu Pyromancer is also incredibly flexible across all three games. If the “oops, I win” main deck Blood Moons are no good, they can be subbed out for extra pressure with something like Goblin Rabblemaster, or extra catch-all interaction like Collective Brutality or Engineered Explosives. Mardu Pyromancer can play offense and defense equally well, and pivots quickly from reactive to proactive.
Jose Luis Echeverria Pardes, 1st place at GP Sao Paolo 2018
When facing Mardu Pyromancer, more or less every single deck in Modern is going to struggle to enact an uninterrupted game plan. The strength, efficiency, and effectiveness of this deck’s disruption is unrivaled—black and red provide the very best in both removal and discard spells. These cards are powerful, flexible answers (Dreadbore, Kolaghan’s Command), or efficient and appropriate ways to deal with Modern’s premier threats (Inquisition of Kozilek, Fatal Push).
Additionally, this deck is incredibly consistent. Thanks to Faithless Looting and the built-in redundancy of cards like Thoughtseize/Inquisition or Push/Bolt, Mardu Pyromancer is generally able to find the best tools for the job at hand. Kolaghan’s Command can buy back threats while still disrupting the opponent, and Faithless Looting also enables one of the deck’s more powerful plays—discarding Lingering Souls to be then cast as early as turn 2.
Finally, the threats Mardu Pyromancer rumbles with really can’t be underestimated. Even if you’re able to deal with the Young Pyromancer or Bedlam Reveler, the damage is often already done—they’ve generated tokens or drawn extra cards, and that extra value has put them ahead.
The weaknesses of Mardu Pyromancer are few, and on top of that are not particularly crippling. This, I suppose, highlights a hidden weakness of the deck—its very “fair” game plan means that it doesn’t have a huge number of lopsided matchups, and that it generally has to work pretty hard for most victories (as opposed to Tron, for instance, which has some matchups that are more or less byes). Still, the weaknesses are there if you can find them.
For example, the deck relies on the graveyard to a meaningful degree. While it’s not as all-in on the ’yard as something like Hollow One, it nonetheless gains a lot of value from its flashback cards and the cost reduction of Bedlam Reveler. Incidental graveyard hate shines against Mardu Pyromancer, especially if it doesn’t cost you a card or lose you value (Nihil Spellbomb is the perfect example here).
Additionally, while most midrange decks thrive in topdeck mode, Mardu Pyromancer can be subject to the whims of fate. While Faithless Looting helps in some circumstances, this deck doesn’t have a lot of built-in catch-up mechanisms and has to rely on things like a timely Reveler to get them back in the game. Mardu’s lack of counterspells is the primary reason for this. Sometimes, it’s just stone-cold to an opposing topdeck on an empty board.
How to Beat Mardu Pyromancer
As previously mentioned, there aren’t many glaring weaknesses to exploit against Mardu Pyromancer. You can include graveyard hate, but it may hurt you rather than hinder you to play something like Rest in Peace and be down a card against their board development. Generally speaking, play to the board and look to make profitable exchanges against their threats and disruption.
What does this look like? Play value-laden creatures that don’t die to a Lightning Bolt without gaining you something, or utilize mass removal to recoup value against Young Pyromancer and Lingering Souls. Engineered Explosives and Ratchet Bomb are terrific options, as are cheap sweepers like Anger of the Gods.
Playing a glass cannon combo deck like Storm or Ad Nauseam is not a good idea, as the critical mass of disruption that Mardu has access to will be too much to overcome. Instead, look to establish a value engine that can outgun them. Green-based Collected Company decks are prime examples of this type of strategy, not to mention KCI’s recursive game plan.
Mardu Pyromancer made it to the finals of the last Pro Tour before ultimately being dispatched by Lantern Control. Will things be different this time around? Certainly, against a wide-open field, an honest, fair deck like Mardu is a very defensible choice, and it would therefore be a great pick for Minneapolis.