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MUCH MARDU ABOUT NOTHING JOAO CHOCA 06/03/2017

Sometimes Magic can be quite the cruel mistress. There are tournaments you barely prepare for and somehow find yourself battling in the single elimination rounds; there are also tournaments where you test solidly for two weeks and yet can’t achieve better than a poor 2-4 drop. Grand Prix Utrecht was, for the most part, an exercise in determination, focus and perseverance.

 

 Following the Pro Tour, we knew the decks to beat in the format; and hence the decks to play; either GB Constrictor or Mardu Vehicles. James Allingham sent me a list at the end of the Pro Tour, a combination of GB Energy with arguably the most powerful spell in the format, Unlicensed Disintegration (which wasn’t dissimilar from what Martin Juza ended up Top 8’ing with). James wanted to play the Jund Energy deck also, but we didn’t have enough of the key cards, and so he played Mardu Vehicles. On Sunday, I played Jund and went on to finish 4-2 in the Amersham PPTQ losing a close mirror and a not-so-close match to the eventual winner… James.

 

For the next week, I put together both GB and Jund variants on Magic Online and went to battle each evening. Many others in the team also picked GB up and we quickly noticed a trend - everyone was losing a lot. We were winning a fair amount too, but the deck had too many draws that felt outclassed very quickly - outside of the Winding Constrictor into Rishkar, Peema Renegade draws the deck didn’t feel quite right.

 

At the beginning of week two (of three), I decided to try the Mardu Vehicles deck. The first game I played featured a skipped combat step, a misclicked Unlicensed Disintegration and an accidental lack of blocking… yet I still won very easily. And then I won another game, then another match… three leagues later and I was 15-0 with the deck.

 

Tom set up a spreadsheet for us to enter our results and we quickly noticed a trend - no deck that the team picked up seemed to be even remotely as good as Mardu. Most decks featured win percentages between 55 and 65, with the outliers being Mardu at 83% early on - a percentage only matched by two decks the team had played previously, Rally and UW Eldrazi. I was happy to lock my deck choice in for the GP and my choice was vindicated when David took Mardu to another PPTQ win.

So what does Mardu Vehicles actually look like?

 

The Core

4 Thraben Inspector

4 Toolcraft Exemplar

4 Heart of Kiran

4 Scrapheap Scrounger

4 Veteran Motorist (more on this later)

3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

 

4 Unlicensed Disintegration

2 Fatal Push

 

The deck is effectively a synergy aggro deck similar to Affinity in Modern. Thraben Inspector is an artifact until you are happy to replace it with another card; Toolcraft Exemplar is, most of the time, a 3/2 for one mana; Scrapheap Scrounger is both a pain for control decks to deal with, an able driver and an artifact to boot; Heart of Kiran is a two mana Serra Angel and Veteran Motorist has been referred to as ‘Anticipate with legs’. The deck is rounded up with arguably the most efficient threat in Standard (Gideon) and the most efficient removal spells.

 

Much like Affinity, you often can’t afford hands that do little, but the deck is very capable of having very explosive starts capable of winning, or at least establishing a winning board state, the game on turn three or four.

 

 

The Mana 

 

4 Concealed Courtyard

4 Inspiring Vantage

4 Spire of Industry

3 Mountain

3 Plains

2 Aether Hub

1 Foreboding Ruins

1 Needle Spires

1 Shambling Vent

 

The mana is probably the deck’s greatest weakness, although Spire of Industry, when enabled, makes the deck a lot more consistent. We went with this configuration as the highest number of black and red sources without hurting speed too much. There are versions with four creature lands, which are more consistent, but a little slower; as well as versions with no tapped lands at all, relying on basics and Aether Hub to do most of the work. The latter can be very explosive, but you won’t be able to cast spells a larger percentage of the time.

 

The Flex Slots

 

The above only adds up to 52 cards, so we have another eight cards to play around with. Usually this is a combination of three drop vehicles, three drop creatures, one mana removal spells and either one mana creatures or further three drops. At the GP, I went with:

 

1 Aethersphere Harvester

1 Cultivator’s Caravan

1 Pia Nalaar

1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar

2 Inventor’s Apprentice

1 Fatal Push

1 Shock

 

The Harvester vs Caravan debate was pretty long in the team, but I always found Harvester to be ‘OK’ at best and Caravan was good at allowing me to cast spells. We were unsure on which of Pia and Thalia were best placed for the tournament, so ended up on a split. Inventor’s Apprentice was Bomat Courier for a while and Selfless Spirit at other times, but ended up getting the nod as the more aggressive 1-drop, as I felt being more aggressive would be more beneficial across 13 rounds of Swiss. The third Fatal Push and a Shock rounded up the removal suite by providing another answer to Constrictor whilst hedging against the Copycat combo.

 

The Sideboard

2 Release the Gremlins

1 Fragmentize

2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

1 Needle Spires

1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship

2 Selfless Spirit

1 Painful Truths

1 Anguished Unmaking

1 Fatal Push

1 Fumigate

1 Archangel Avacyn

 

 Release is possibly the most important sideboard card in the format

 

The sideboard looks like a pile (which isn’t too far from the truth...) and is made up of mostly overlapping pieces for each matchup. Rather than having a lot of powerful bullets, we wanted access to various tools which would let us adapt to our opponents. As such, having access to a transformational plan, where we would bring in five large threats, a land, some extra removal and card advantage in lieu of the cheaper creatures, allowed us to remain flexible throughout the GP. The downside of this was that neither Tom nor I had a well-developed idea on how to approach the mirror.

 

The Tournament

 

Day 1 was pretty uneventful. I racked up six wins against a myriad of strategies (RG Energy, Jeskai Saheeli, 4c Saheeli, BG and 2 Mirrors) before falling in the last round (which you can watch on camera if you are interested) to Jacky Chan’s Jund Energy deck after a very anti-climactic land-heavy draw. Tom, on the other hand conceded an early round against Ondrej Strasky’s Temur Tower deck to avoid the draw bracket, but also scored six wins. At the end of the day 1, Tom and I sat at 8-1 with a realistic shot to do well, whilst the non-Mardu players (Niels and George on 4c Saheeli, Francesco on Temur Tower and Kay and Craig on BG Midrange) mustered a pair of 6-3 records alongside a 6-2-1.

 

Day 2 started swimmingly, with both Tom and I continuing to win and both sitting at the top of the pack at 11-1. I was featured again for round 13 and fell to eventual Top 8 competitor Berk Akbulut after a rather egregious misplay as Tom lost a mirror match to put us both on the bubble. A loss in the mirror put me outside contention for Top 8 before a win over Thomas Hendriks’ UR Emerge deck locked me for Top 16. Meanwhile, Tom won a very close match against Jacky Chan, but couldn’t convert his win and in match for Top 8 after a combination of mistakes and mulliganing to five in the last match dropped him to 16th place exactly.

 

Overall, a pair of Top 16 finishes together with some time in the booth with Rich Hagon (you can also see this on coverage between rounds 13 and 14) meant that the GP was a huge success for the team, only marred by having two players fail to Top 8 the event after being so close.

 

Going Forward

 

I cannot place much fault on the deck after the event - after all, I know that had I played better, I would have likely been able to Top 8 the GP. In my opinion, Mardu Vehicles was the best deck for GP Utrecht and I don’t anticipate this changing in the near future. The great innovation from Utrecht was the transformational sideboard plan taking advantage of Planeswalkers and Oaths which took the GP by storm and ended up claiming multiple top 8 slots. The Oaths allow you to morph your deck to better fight Release the Gremlins whilst giving percentage points against both BG and the mirror - the issue, however, is that losing Veteran Motorist makes your draws a little clunkier and slower.

 

This is the list I played in the RPTQ, together with brief sideboard plans:

 

4 Concealed Courtyard

4 Inspiring Vantage

4 Spire of Industry

3 Mountain

3 Plains

2 Aether Hub

2 Needle Spires

2 Shambling Vent

 

4 Thraben Inspector

4 Toolcraft Exemplar

4 Heart of Kiran

4 Scrapheap Scrounger

4 Veteran Motorist

2 Pia Nalaar

1 Cultivator’s Caravan

4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

2 Archangel Avacyn

 

4 Unlicensed Disintegration

3 Fatal Push

 

Sideboard

2 Archangel Avacyn

2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

2 Oath of Chandra

2 Release the Gremlins

1 Anguished Unmaking

1 Fatal Push

1 Fumigate

1 Painful Truths

1 Shambling Vent

1 Shock

1 Sorin, Grim Nemesis

 

As expected, the RPTQ was somewhere in the region of 50% Mardu and so the list evolved to focus on Archangel Avacyn to fight the Planeswalker plan. I ended up finishing 12th on a 5-2 record, losing a pair of mirrors to fairly mediocre draws - a lot of Motorists, Scrapheaps and Pushes; not a lot of 4+ mana haymakers.

 

Sideboard Plans

 

Take these plans with a grain of salt, especially in the mirror, as you have to guess which plan you think they will be on.

 

Mardu Vehicles

IN 2 Avacyn, 2 Chandra, 2 Oath, 1 Shock, 1 Sorin, 1 Vent, [1 Push on the draw]

OUT 4 Toolcraft, 4 Heart, 1 Caravan, [1 Spire of Industry on the draw]

 

You are trying to make their Releases poor, so you side the high value targets out. On the draw, you want the extra Push to be able to interact with possible fast draws, and you can afford to drop to 24 land. If you think they kept in the artifacts; or they showed you artifacts game two and you think they’ll keep them game three, you should bring the Releases for Pias.

 

BG

IN 2 Avacyn, 2 Chandra, 2 Oath, 1 Unmaking, 1 Fumigate, 1 Truths, 1 Vent, 1 Sorin, 1 Push [not against Delirium]

OUT 4 Toolcraft, 2 Heart, 2 Scrapheap, 2 Pia, 1 Caravan, 1 Scrapheap [if Push comes in]

 

Feel free to play around with -1 Spire on the draw or trimming Motorist if they have Liliana, but I have found this matchup to be good even without the Oath plan (which does completely take BG apart) as they already struggle against Gideon and you are bringing in even more cards they have trouble interacting with.

 

4c Saheeli

IN 2 Avacyn, 2 Oath, 1 Unmaking, 1 Shock

OUT 3 Push, 2 Pia, 1 Caravan

 

You want to remain aggressive and pressure their life total to give them less turns to find the combo. Avacyn is fantastic here as a threat that allows you to keep interaction up for the combo. If you don’t have much power on the board, you sometimes need to slam a Gideon on the table and make them have it - don’t leave up interaction if you are only pecking in with a Thraben Inspector, for example. Sometimes they will have the combo, you just have to accept that and move on.

 

Torrential Gearhulk decks (Jeskai Saheeli, Temur Tower, Grixis, UR Dynavolt)

IN 2 Avacyn, 2 Chandra, 1 Truths, 1 Vent, 2 Release [if they have Tower]

OUT 3 Push, 2 Pia, 1 Caravan/Spire (play/draw), 1 Heart and 1 Motorist [if bringing in Release]

 

We joke that we have the bye against Wandering Fumarole and I still don’t think that’s particularly untrue - Temur Tower is the harder of these to play against (and they don’t run Fumaroles!), but in general your plan is always the same - remain aggressive, find a spot to resolve Gideon, game over. I would be wary of siding Disintegration out as they often bring in Virtuoso, Linvala, Thing in the Ice or, in some desperate cases, Dragonmaster Outcast.

 

Ulamog Marvel

IN 2 Avacyn, 1 Unmaking

OUT 3 Push

 

Be aware Kozilek’s Return/Radiant Flames exist, otherwise play your hand and attack with everything each turn until they die. Do not hold interaction up, do not try to be smart - make threats, tap them sideways (or forwards in the case of the 4/4s), hope they don’t Ulamog you.

 

UR Emerge

IN 2 Avacyn, 1 Unmaking

OUT 3 Push

 

Despite the sideboarding being similar to Marvel, this matchup is very weird. Your priority is to resolve a Gideon and then keep them off seven emerge mana as much as possible. You can’t actually stop them from Elder Deep-Fiend’ing you when they have five mana and a Stitchwing in the graveyard, so do your best to mitigate the damage the card does (Avacyn to stop Kozilek’s Return is pretty good here). If possible, you want to save your hard removal for their EDFs, as Heart and Avacyn can hold back their smaller creatures, although note that if they have UU up, Disintegrating a 5+ cost creature may be disastrous (Fiend removes the target and they take no damage)

  

Closing Thoughts

I am extremely happy to have picked Mardu up and I still believe it is the best deck in the format. You can adapt your 75 to whatever metagame you expect as a lot of your cards are good on their own (Gideon, Avacyn, Disintegration). I will be playing the deck in Barcelona, where I hope to obtain one more win than in the Netherlands!

About Joao Choca:

Joao started playing competitive Magic in England in 2007 and has been a Grand Prix grinder since then. Joao has retained Bronze status since induction and has been rewarded for his consistent results with a win in Grand Prix Turin 2018. He enjoys thinking outside the box and is one of the more creative team members when it comes to fresh ideas. His approach is one of gradual improvement and he is constantly looking for flaws to fix in his game. His aim is to achieve Silver and stay on the Pro Tour circuit.