A lot of our testing came down to trying to beat Mardu Vehicles, which is harder than it sounds. The deck is efficient, fast, and has a lot of powerful cards that win quickly on their own, namely Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. After rigorous testing, we found out that the current Mardu Vehicles deck lists had a lot of removal to try to combat the mirror. Since it plays around 25 lands, 5-drops in the form of Archangel Avacyn, as well as 1-drops in Toolcraft Exemplar and Thraben Inspector, it needs all of its cards to work well to avoid clunky draws. That’s when we realized that an efficient way to combat Mardu is to make their removal much worse. It led me to construct this deck.
Aristocats makes their Fatal Pushes, Disintegrations, and Cut // Ribbons a whole lot worse since everything besides the 1 Ayli is either impossible to kill, comes back after death, or at least trades with 2 removal spells. All of this while it was able to pressure the deck and remain proactive elsewhere, a necessary quality in an open metagame at the Pro Tour where players will show up with new decks. Another bonus was that it played Bontu the Glorified, which was truly excellent against Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, arguably Mardu Vehicles’ strongest card and around which their whole game plan revolves. It’s hard to block, impossible to kill, and has just enough power to kill Gideon right away.
But this is not what we registered at the Pro Tour. With the Magic Online Championship monthly qualifier coming up, there was a new, leaner Mardu list that went 8-0. It cut down on its removal to play a more efficient curve for a more open metagame. This made the matchup much worse for Aristocats and it was clear that we needed a more powerful game plan in another deck. What we took away from this, however, was the power of not only Bontu the Glorified but surprisingly also Yahenni. The next night, Mike Sigrist, together with Alexander Hayne, brewed what became my choice for Pro Tour Amonkhet.
G/B Bontu the Glorified
This is a wild one. Basically, it takes the sacrifice theme to another level to try to churn out creatures with the help of Cryptolith Rite. Loam Dryad, Blisterpod, and Catacomb Sifter are not only great as fodder for Bontu the Glorified, Yahenni, or Westvale Abbey, but also make Cryptolith Rite absurd. Duskwatch Recruiter is an old brother-in-arms with Cryptolith Rite, and it helps you go through your deck for more creatures to sacrifice.
Another new card featured here that is absolutely absurd is Vizier of the Menagerie. Since the creatures are low cost on average, you can play multiple creatures in the same turn with it, especially with Cryptolith Rite. Creatures are basically colorless to cast, so your Eldrazi Scions from Catacomb Sifter and Blisterpod do a ton of work. Since you also have the option to scry whenever you sacrifice a creature with Catacomb Sifter in play, or if you sacrifice something with Bontu the Glorified, it’s also easy to filter away lands and other noncreature spells from the top of your library to keep the wheel spinning. On top of all of this, if you are lucky enough to have a Duskwatch Recruiter flipped, you can really go off—I’ve seen 10 creatures played in a single turn with the help of Vizier of the Menagerie.
The last piece that puts this all together is Zulaport Cutthroat, which is excellent at closing out the game with your sacrifice outlets. Because so many of your cards make multiple creatures to sacrifice or help you to find more of them, Zulaport Cutthroat can pack quite a punch. Sometimes you don’t even have to attack to win the game with multiple in play.
One card that might seem a bit out of place in the main deck is Manglehorn, but it has two main job: kill Aetherworks Marvel and Heart of Kiran. Against Marvel, if you get their Marvel, you can buy a lot of time since it’s almost their only way to get you. If you have multiple Manglehorns, you can even get one in there before Marvel, meaning it will come into play tapped, then play the second one to kill it so they don’t even get a spin off before it dies. Heart of Kiran is the scariest card for you from the Mardu Vehicles side, mainly because it’s a fast flying clock. Almost all the other threats you can either trade or chump for a long time before you overwhelm them. The fact that it’s a creature is also relevant, since it means you don’t have to dilute your deck with noncreature spells that can’t be found with Vizier of the Menagerie, Duskwatch Recruiter, or sacrificed to one of your sacrifice outlets.
Lost Legacy and Dispossess are here for the Aetherworks Marvel matchup. It might be the deck’s worst matchup, however, you are definitely not just dead to them. If you manage to remove their Aetherworks Marvel or Ulamog the Ceaseless Hunger, it’s easy to win, even if you basically throw a card away to do so. The reason for 1 Lost Legacy and 2 Dispossess is that the first Dispossess is better than the first Lost Legacy, but the second copy is worse. Also, it’s easier to cast since the deck runs quite few black mana sources.
Lifecrafter’s Bestiary is here for control and grindy matchups where you’re not under pressure. This is probably the best Lifecrafter’s Bestiary deck there is since the creatures cost so little. It’s easy to find more of them and it’s possible to create massive amounts of mana.
Tireless Tracker is also for grindier matchups, but mostly against Mardu Vehicles. Since Mardu usually boards into a slower game plan with planeswalkers, you want more ways than Bontu to pressure those planeswalkers, and Tireless Tracker is the card for the job.
Distended Mindbender basically comes in against everything. You may wonder why the card isn’t in the main deck, and there’s a simple reason. Game 1, you try to overwhelm opponents with your own game plan. Post-board, games tend to be slower, with your opponents gaining better answers against you. This is especially true in the Mardu Vehicles matchup, where the matchup completely transforms.
Ob Nixilis, Never // Return, and Grasp of Darkness are mainly here to deal with problem creatures that come from the sideboards of slower decks, like Thing in the Ice, Glorybringer, more Archangel Avacyns, and especially Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, which can completely wreck you. If you deal with these cards, you get some breathing room with which to grind them out. Never // Return is especially good versus Mardu Vehicles post-board because their main plan is planeswalkers, and some—especially Nahiri—can be hard to kill since your creatures have fairly low power. A sweet thing about the card is that it doubles up as a creature, which this deck can’t get enough of.
Last but not least, there’s a Hissing Quagmire to help a little when you board in more double-black spells, which the deck doesn’t have too many black sources for.
This is one of the most cool and powerful decks I’ve had a chance to play at a Pro Tour and it’s ton of fun to play. Give it a try, and hopefully it can become a mainstay in Standard for tournaments to come, beating up on the established decks in the format.