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June 23, 2016

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Going Rogue: Tweaking Wescoe’s Mardu Humans

Hello and welcome back to another edition of Going Rogue, where winning isn’t the goal but it often happens anyway.

I’ve said it several times before, but this year continues to be chaotic for the Modern metagame. Between bannings of key cards and the introduction of others, the tier hierarchy that used to define Jund from Hatebears is starting to blur, and all the cracks in between are filling up with new ideas.

This is great news for rogue deck builders, and Craig Wescoe demonstrated this in spectacular fashion last month with a colour and tribe choice both previously (basically) unheard of in competitive circuits: Modern Humans. He piloted this deck to a respectable 10-5 finish at GP Charlotte, so I figured it was worth a glance.

I’m going to take a moment to deconstruct it a little bit and post the decklist before moving onto some changes that I want to make to the deck.

Craig Wescoe’s Modern Humans

You can read Wescoe’s take on the deck here, but in a snapshot this is a deck with some of the game’s most efficient interaction combined with a low-cost tribe that can quickly grow into a sizeable army, generating great card advantage at the same time.

Interaction

Beatdown

The above cards help build a powerful low-to-the-ground strategy, clearing away opposing threats to peck in for escalating amounts of damage. Among them is the addition to the tribe that’s really made the deck worth playing, Thalia’s Lieutenant

Dark Confidant is a strong card in its own right, but it really makes you smile when it’s crashing in as a 3/2 or 4/3 every turn. The Lieutenant’s anthem effect is a bit of a hard-to-calculate sequencing play, but can really take this deck into powerful places, especially with the multi-triggering synergy trifecta with Champion of the Parish and Gather the Townsfolk.

For those curious, here’s Wescoe’s full list:

Mardu Humans by Craig Wescoe

Creatures: (21)
Abbot of Keral Keep
Champion of the Parish
Dark Confidant
Grim Lavamancer
Thalia’s Lieutenant
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Planeswalker: (1)
Sorin, Solemn Visitor

Spells: (16)
Gather the Townsfolk
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile

Land: (22)
Arid Mesa
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Godless Shrine
Marsh Flats
Mountain
Mutavault
Plains
Sacred Foundry
Swamp

Sideboard: (15)
Blood Moon
Flame Slash
Forked Bolt
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Go for the Throat
Grafdigger’s Cage
Slaughter Games
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Stony Silence
Timely Reinforcements

I played this deck as-is for a few weeks and while I definitely loved its aggressive-interactive play style, there were a number of things I found very challenging about it:

What Needed Improvement

  • While a deck of basically just one-drops and two-drops sounds easy on the mana base, it also means there’s not a lot of room for colourless mana to play a role. This makes sequencing fetches awkward (although playing twelve of them certainly helps), and very often Mutavault is a liability at a full playset.
  • Related to the above, this deck bleeds life in a bad way. A turn one Champion of the Parish into turn two Dark Confidant is often going to leave you sitting at 12 life or less by the time you’ve drawn on turn three. And although the deck is in the colours to play Lightning Helix, attempts with it proved to be too much for the already-constrained mana base to handle. So basically, the deck loses a ton of life and has no way to recoup it in the mainboard outside of Sorin, Solemn Visitor, meanwhile its sideboard option of Timely Reinforcements is awkward in a deck that wants to go pretty wide, especially when its tokens aren’t Humans.
  • Gather the Townsfolk isn’t good enough, often enough. Yes, it can be the highest-payoff part of an ideal opening sequence, and yes, all the bleeding we do makes its Fateful Hour mode a realistic blowout, but unless it’s multi-pumping an early Champion of the Parish, it’s not doing enough. Wescoe said he loved it, and I believe it as he’s renown for his aggressive preferences, but I’ve been very underwhelmed.
  • Abbot of Keral Keep is too often a Goblin Piker in a deck light on mana and with no ways to manipulate your top card. I was excited to play this card, but found that it fell very flat here.

So with all that said, I’m going to take a bold step and suggest some improvements on a deck made by someone infinitely more qualified than myself. Some of this will come down to play style, and some to a meta call, but read on if you want to see where I think this deck ought to go.

Improvements on Wescoe’s List

First thing’s first: Gather the Townfolk has got to go. Never mind it not doing enough in my early experience with the deck, it also doesn’t play well with the next major changes I want to bring to the deck:

                   

Wescoe mentioned both of these two cards in his article, actually, and I’m surprised he decided not to go ahead with them. AEther Vial especially, as it adds a ton of punch to this deck:

  • Problems with creatures with coloured mana costs? Vial’s got your back. Although another one-drop sometimes presents awkward opening sequences, in the vast majority of matchups I am happy to supplant a T1 Champion of the Parish with a Vial that will instead bring the Champion in some time during T2.
  • One thing people often fail to recognize with Aether Vial is that it is an extremely powerful ramp spell. It takes some matchmaking, but a T1 Vial often gives us a virtual five mana available on T3. This helps us roll our creatures out much more quickly than without, and also lets us leave up our interaction at the same time.
  • The part that people don’t miss is the “Flash” aspect of its ability, which is fantastic here. Thalia’s Lieutenant is an amazing combat trick, a Dark Confidant played at the end of your opponent’s turn is a far more likely to survive to draw you cards, and Abbot of Keral Keep is finally playable as you can Vial it in with all your mana untapped. What’s perhaps best of all is that a Vial “on two” (with two charge counters on it) is difficult to play around, as holding up a single red mana to bolt a Dark Confidant gets you burned when the two-drop turned out to be Thalia, Guardian of Thraben instead.
  • Meanwhile, by opening up your mana for other plays, you can venture into higher-CMC interaction like Lightning Helix and Kolaghan’s Command without issue. (It also is worth mentioning that having an Aether Vial with the appropriate number of charge counters is incredible when Kolaghan’s Command has a graveyard of creatures to choose from and flash right back in.)

Speaking of Lightning Helix, I do now have some in the sideboard to help with matches where life matters, but I’ve also included an interesting revitalizing one-of in the maindeck with Soulfire Grand Master.

One of the neat things with playing Humans is discovering all the cards whose subtypes you never cared about before. SGM isn’t the best card in the deck, as our burn-count isn’t high enough to make her spell-lifelink ability very impactful, nor are we likely to be able to afford to buy much back very often, but as a lifelinking Human 2/2, it plays a reliable role that fits the rest of our gameplan while occasionally offering other interesting upsides. It might not make the tournament list cut, but it’s a fine one-of to explore for the time being.

The Mana

I’ve also hacked apart the mana base a bit, as even with Vials, I found four Mutavaults to be too much, and the life situation to still be a tough pill to swallow. Cavern of Souls comes in to share Mutavault’s role as lands that can’t cast spells, but one that can curve a T1 Vial into a T2 uncounterable creature of my choice. Meanwhile the colour requirements are being more forgivingly covered by a couple of Blackcleave Cliffs, at least until a white-black fast land gets printed. On the other hand, I cut the basic Mountain.

So where does that leave us? Well, let’s take a look-see:

Alex’s Mardu Humans

Creatures: (22)
Champion of the Parish
Grim Lavamancer
Abbot of Keral Keep
Dark Confidant
Soulfire Grand Master
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia’s Lieutenant

Artifacts: (4)
Aether Vial

Spells: (13)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Kolaghan’s Command

Land: (21)
Marsh Flats
Bloodstained Mire
Arid Mesa
Blackcleave Cliffs
Sacred Foundry
Blood Crypt
Godless Shrine
Mutavault
Cavern of Souls
Plains
Swamp

Sideboard: (15)
Boros Charm
Grafdigger’s Cage
Spellskite
Kolaghan’s Command
Lightning Helix
Painful Truths
Wear / Tear
Blood Moon
Slaughter Games
Sorin, Solemn Visitor

So far, I’ve preferred this build by quite a large margin. It operates much more smoothly, and can be easily tweaked to go full aggro or play a very grindy long-game with just a few sideboard tweaks. Boros Charm in particular has been an all-star against controlling decks, offering the choice of negating a Supreme Verdict or simply ending the game by going upstairs, meanwhile Kolaghan’s Command and Painful Truths can add a lot of turns to your arsenal.

I’m not sure that the archetype has gotten enough attention to attract a deep conversation about this, but I would implore you to give each build a try if you’ve got the cards to support them. If you’re bored of Burn/Zoo, this is a more interactive approach to a similarly aggressive deck, and if you’re bored of Nahiri Control, this has all your non-blue interaction with a win conditions that’s far more interesting than cheating in Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. You don’t need to be Craig Wescoe to win with this deck, so give it a shot.

That’s all we’ve got for this week! I hope you enjoyed this edition of Going Rogue, and I’ll see you back here next week with an updated-to-competitive take on one of my favourite janky Modern-legal combos. Tune in to find out which it is. Here’s a hint: Blue-Green.

Until next time, have fun, and may the force be with brew.