November 11, 2015

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Where are all the Modern Mardu decks?

Until the Khans of Tarkir block, one of my main goals was trying to get a Grixis deck to work. I wasn’t alone. There was no shortage of discussion threads in communities like Reddit talking about how to put together some sort of combination of Snapcaster Mages, Lightning Bolts, Thoughtseize and even Cruel Ultimatum. With the Khan’s block, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Gurmag Angler and Kolaghan’s Command dropped onto our laps cementing their roles in a number of competitive Grixis variants. All it took was a few cards.

Now, brewer’s attentions have moved to the Mardu (Red, White, Black) clan. Digging through archives of Modern tournaments, you’ll find that successful Mardu decks of any archetype are very far and few between. I see many different proposals for Mardu decks across various communities, but they all seem to be missing… something. Today, we’ll discuss the three general archetypes where a Mardu deck could surface, why it probably hasn’t been successful, and what the deck needs.

Aristocrats

Aristocrats is by far the Mardu deck I see brewed the most. Rightfully so, Aristocrat decks can be pretty fun. Competitive? A stretch. For the uninitiated, Aristocrat decks focus on pumping out a lot of expendable creatures (such tokens or value creatures) and finding ways for them to die with creatures like Blood Artist or Zulaport Cutthroat on the battlefield. As an added bonus, it can recur them with spells such as Return to the Ranks or Rally the Ancestors and do the whole thing all over again. The deck could even be tweaked to leverage Smallpox, Bloodghast and Faithless Looting to get up to some graveyard shenanigans.

Why it probably hasn’t been successful

It can be agreed that Black and White are staples to the archetype. However, the biggest issue is that Red does not add that much compared to Green. In terms of Red, you may see Young Pyromancer and sacrifice engines Falkenrath Aristocrat or Butcher of the Horde, but they just aren’t good enough. Young Peezy needs to be supported by instants and sorceries which take away from your creature count and Falkenrath and Butcher are fairly high on the curve for what you get. You need lower converted mana cost win cons. You already have plenty of sacrifice outlets with Viscera Seer or Cartel Aristocrat. Green on the other hand, offers up Voice of Resurgence and Abzan Ascendancy. Both further your game plan and turn into win conditions pretty quickly.

What it needs

It’s simple. A Modern Goblin Bombardment reprint is the solution. It’s removal, it hits the dome, you can get value from it and it’s tough to remove. It even helps protect you against threats like Wurmcoil Engine by sacrificing your creatures after they’ve blocked. If you look at a (very fringe) Legacy deck nicknamed Zombardment, you’ll see the deck is actually not that far from being portable into Modern.

Control

Mardu provides you with some of the best removal spells in the game. Take that excellent removal, pair it with your favourite wincons (ex.: Restoration Angel, Pack Rat, Ajani Vengeant) and you have yourself a serviceable deck.

Why it probably hasn’t been successful

There are actually several reasons why this is the case.

Mardu has its card advantage all-stars like Kolaghan’s Command, Dark Confidant and boardwipes, but it just can’t keep up with the likes of Snapcaster Mage, Cryptic Command and Electrolyze jammed into one deck.

In addition, Mardu doesn’t get the privilege of being able to sculpt their hands with Serum Visions or being able to fill their graveyard with Thought Scour to get an early Gurmag Angler on the battleifled. Without card advantage and hand sculpting, your late game may be reduced to rather miserable top-decking.

In those cases, you may turn and lean on your trusty manlands… and that’s not pretty. Mardu’s manlands Lavaclaw Reaches and Shambling Vent pale in comparison to their much cooler siblings Creeping Tar Pit and Celestial Colonnade.

What it needs

This deck desperately needs good card advantage, but without playing blue, the options are very limited. Abbot of Keral Keep can help, but it just isn’t enough. Additionally, black card advantage simply isn’t at the same level of competition just yet. We’d need something like:

Orzhov Command – Instant – 1WB
Choose two –
– Draw two cards and lose two life
– Target player sacrifices a creature. They gain life equal to its toughness
– Destroy target enchantment
– Target opponent loses two life, you gain two life

Overpowered? Probably. But it takes cards like these to propel a deck into the format.

Midrange

Jund and Junk (Abzan) are your role models for midrange and Mardu isn’t too far off. There are a lot of cards that can be shared between the decks: Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize, Olivia Voldaren and Terminate. So surely, there’s a midrange deck that can be mustered by adding cards like Pack Rat, Abbot of Keral Keep, and Tidehollow Sculler.

Why it probably hasn’t been successful

This answer can be (mostly) summarized as Tarmogoyf. You can’t underestimate what this card does. It’s an incredible draw anytime in the game on the offense or the defense. Mardu, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have that beater, and you can feel it when you play against actual midrange decks. While Mardu has valid 2-drops with Dark Confidant and Young Pyromancer, you need more pressure at that CMC.

What it needs

It needs better creatures to close out a game and that means something better in the 2 drop slot than Spike Jester or Jötun Grunt. There’s no shortage of okay cards in the 3-drop slot, but they’re just that: okay. (ex.: Fulminator Mage, Goblin Rabblemaster) And really, could RW get a little love with their manland? Some cards that might help:

Mardu Beater – Creature – 1B
If you control a plains, ~ gets +1/+1.
If you control a mountain, ~ has menace.
3/2

Boros Land activated ability
2RW: Until end of turn, ~ becomes a 4/2 red and white Warrior creature with “Whenever this creature attacks, it gains indestructible until end of turn.” . It’s still a land.

Summary

I think we may see Mardu soon as a contender with Aristocrats, but we really need to see the right cards printed or reprinted to support it. It’s a little further from the limelight for Control and Midrange, but certainly possible.

There were other potential Mardu archetypes I omitted because I thought it would need a miracle to make them playable. By all means, see if you can make them work. It will definitely be an uphill battle:

– Burn/Aggro (Bump in the Night and Dark Confidant)
– Combo (Thoughtseize, Village Bell-Ringer and Splinter Twin)
– Tokens (Lingering Souls, Young Pyromancer and anthems)

What about you? Have you had successes with a Mardu deck?