Standard and Mardu Vehicles after the GPs

Last weekend, we had 2 Standard Grand Prix events in Madrid and Denver. Additionally, there was the multi-format SCG Invitational in Atlanta. I spent the weekend in Madrid, looking through deck lists and interviewing players fortext coverage.

On Saturday morning, while sipping my morning coffee, I set the stage by building a matchup matrix and deriving the corresponding set of Nash equilibria—a perfect start to the day. Afterwards, I shared the origin story of the Red-Green Aetherworks Marvel that Niels Noorlander played at Pro Tour Kaladesh. Many rounds later, Carmine D’Aniello had bested everyone with the latest incarnation of that archetype. All in all, it was a good weekend.

A Record-based Metagame Breakdown

With so many deck lists coming in from multiple events, some with better finishes than others, it can be hard to make sense of it all. To get a single snapsnot of the current state of Standard, I combined the Top 64 deck lists from both GPs and the Invitational in a single breakdown that takes into account the records of the players.

For each Grand Prix Top 64 deck, I awarded a number of points equal to the number of match wins minus the number of losses of its player. So, an 11-3-1 record would yield 8 points, and a 13-2 record followed by a win in the quarters, semis, and finals would represent 14 points. For the Invitational, all 7-1 or better lists got 6 points, with 3 extra points to the winner. I then calculated the percentage of total points belonging to any archetype, and the result is shown below.

Archetype Record-based metagame share
U/W Flash 27.2%
R/G Aetherworks Marvel 16.9%
B/G Delirium 11.1%
Mardu Vehicles 8.3%
Temur Aetherworks Marvel 6.5%
Naya Aetherworks Marvel 4.4%
Mono White Humans 3.5%
R/B Aggro 2.8%
U/R Control 2.8%
W/U Panharmonicon 2.0%
G/W Humans 1.4%
R/W Vehicles 1.4%
Jeskai Control 1.4%
R/G Pummeler 1.1%
B/R Zombies 0.9%
U/B Summonings 0.9%
U/R Emerge 0.9%
Bant Midrange 0.8%
B/G Aggro Delirium 0.8%
B/G Aetherworks Marvel 0.8%
Jund Aggro 0.8%
B/G Zombies 0.6%
B/R Aggro 0.6%
Grixis Emerge 0.6%
W/R Humans 0.6%
W/U Humans 0.6%
Esper Aggro 0.5%

If we roll up all Aetherworks Marvel variants into a single archetype—it’s pretty much the same strategy whether you splash for Nahiri, the Harbinger, splash for Whirler Virtuoso, or stay red-green—then Standard is currently dominated by U/W Flash and Aetherworks Marvel. Each account for approximately one-fourth of the record-based metagame.

Due to this recent surge of Aetherworks Marvel, it’s not a great moment to be playing G/B Delirium, but I would expect an uptick in U/R Control in coming weeks, as flashing back Void Shatter with Torrential Gearhulk is a good way to beat the deck.

My Thoughts on Mardu Vehicles

Mardu Vehicles is the deck I’ve played the most in Standard. I ran it to positive records at Pro Tour Kaladesh and Grand Prix Warsaw, and I have always enjoyed the way the deck plays.

At Grand Prix Denver, Matt Severa took the trophy with the following list.

Mardu Vehicles

Matt Severa

There are several aspects I like about Severa’s list, but there are also some card choices that I would make differently. My take on the deck has always been a bit different from the common wisdom, so let’s go over some cards.

Severa had 4 Unlicensed Disintegration in the main deck, which iI like. If you go through the effort of putting black sources in your mana base, then this card is too powerful not to play as a 4-of.

Like most Mardu Vehicle lists, Severa had 4 Aether Hub in his main deck. While this was likely correct due to Ceremonious Rejection in his sideboard, I believe the land is widely overplayed in non-blue versions of the archetype. Without a reliable source of energy, Aether Hub is merely a Tendo Ice Bridge most of the time, and drawing an opening hand with 2 copies of Tendo Ice Bridge is miserable.

At the Pro Tour, I ran 3 Aether Hub, but that version did not contain any black spells. Once you add Unlicensed Disintegration, Aether Hub gets worse, not better. The reason is that you need black mana on multiple occasions throughout the game, and Aether Hub is mostly a one-shot deal. Ben Stark played 0 Aether Hub in his Grand Prix Providence Top 64 list and highly recommended that I follow suit for GP Warsaw. I think 2 Aether Hub is still necessary to have enough turn-1 red and white sources, but I would never play 4 Aether Hub in a non-blue version. Instead, I get black mana via Foreboding Ruins and Smoldering Marsh.

Harnessed Lightning has its uses in builds with 4 Aether Hubs, either as a mana-fixer or as a way to kill 4-toughness creatures. But I’m not an Aether Hub fan in the first place, and moreover this is a fast aggro deck that could really benefit from direct damage to finish off the opponent. Harnessed Lightning is too restrictive in my view.

Look at Red-Black Aggro—that deck has Fiery Temper, not Harnessed Lightning. Sure, that deck runs additional madness outlets (some of which, like Key to the City, are good fits for Mardu Vehicles as well) but the ability to damage opponents is a big bonus. And if you ever manage to discard Fiery Temper to Smuggler’s Copter, it’s a huge swing. I simply think Fiery Temper is a better fit for the deck than Harnessed Lightning.

Severa opted for Thalia over Depala, which is common nowadays and I think it’s is a fine change. Depala was good in Smuggler’s Copter fights and was apt at surviving Kozilek’s Return, but most of the time she was largely a Trained Armodon. Thalia, on the other hand, is powerful against Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Emrakul, and her abilities are better in damage races and in combat.

Especially when Ishkanah and Emrakul are more popular than Smuggler’s Copter and Kozilek’s Return, Thalia is the correct pick over Depala. You shouldn’t run both because then the mana curve would become too bloated: I agree with Severa that ten 3-cost cards is a good number. For that reason, my build with 3 Fiery Temper (which I count as two 3-cost cards due to madness potential) cannot run 3 Thalia, but overall she’s a good card.

Severa ran only 3 Inventor’s Apprentice. I understand it doesn’t match up well against a number of creatures in the format, but I would still run all 4. Your best draws start with a 1-drop on turn 1, and an aggro deck with more 2-drops than 1-drops just feels off to me.

Severa had no Key to the City in his 75, but I have always been impressed by that card, especially as an efficient way to beat Ishkanah, Grafwidow. It’s hard to go under the Spiders, but you can go through them. Key to the City can also discard Fiery Temper and boost Toolcraft Exemplar. I like having one in the main deck and possibly another in the sideboard.

Severa played 3 Cultivator’s Caravan in his main deck, like most Mardu Vehicle lists. While this was likely correct for Severa because he had Ceremonious Rejection in his sideboard, I have always felt that the sweet spot was at 6 Vehicles. With 7 Vehicles, there is too high of a risk of lacking a pilot for one of your Vehicles. I would stick to 2 Cultivator’s Caravan. To ensure the deck retains enough artifacts, I would play 1 Pia Nalaar instead of the 3rd Caravan.

Severa had 4 Galvanic Bombardment in the sideboard, in line with the aggregate list. But there is no deck other than the Electrostatic Pummeler deck (which almost no one plays) against which I would like to board in Galvanic Bombardment. Even in the mirror match, I prefer creatures and answers against Smuggler’s Copter. I would not play this card in the sideboard.

I have similar concerns about Declaration in Stone. I prefer Key to the City against Ishkanah, I prefer Fairgrounds Warden against Emrakul, and I prefer Chandra, Torch of Defiance against Kalitas, and I would build my sideboard accordingly.

My Preferred Main Deck

If I would play a Standard event next week, then I would go for the following main deck.

Mardu Vehicles

Frank Karsten

The sideboard should depend on how many Aetherworks Marvel you expect. If you expect many people to copy last weekend’s breakout and dominant deck, then I would stick with Ceremonious Rejection in the sideboard, alongside a smattering of blue sources.

Blue Sideboard

I once made a Grand Prix Top 8 with 5 lands in my sideboard and a WMCQ Top 8 with literally no sideboard at all, so a sideboard with 8 mana sources is nothing out of the ordinary for me. For synergy-based aggro decks that shouldn’t over-sideboard anyway, it’s perfectly acceptable in my mind. The way I look at it, the amount of percentage points you gain from minor upgrades in nonland cards in some matchups is smaller than the amount of percentage points you gain from having a better mana base in all matchups.

If you do not expect a lot of Aetherworks Marvel (perhaps because you anticipate a surge of U/R Control) then I would consider the following non-blue sideboard.

Non-blue Sideboard

Well, that’s my view on the archetype at least. If you want to stick to Severa’s version, then I respect that too—I’m sure he spent plenty of time crafting his deck, and his list is coherent. But there’s more than one way to Mardu.


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