[Art by Mark Rutkowski]

After only two days for players to test with Felidar Guardian being banned, it should come as no surprise that Mardu Vehicles ran the show at SCG Atlanta this weekend. Not only was it the solo preexisting tier one deck from last season, but it also showed off some significant upgrades. [mtg_card]Cut / Ribbons[/mtg_card] in particular seemed quite good, and I’m definitely keeping an eye on that card.

I’m inclined to not give too much credence to this past weekend’s results, after all with only two days to prepare, Mardu was the obvious choice. There are plenty of new strategies to explore, but the first step is to figure out what Mardu Vehicles is weak against, and try to make some predictions on how to move forward from there.

Let’s start with decks that can’t beat Mardu, namely other creature decks. I’ve tried playing fair magic against Mardu and it’s a joke. Everything Mardu does at every step of the curve is better, pound for pound, than just about anything else in the format. That doesn’t mean that something can’t crop up, but I’m skeptical when they get’s to play 1 mana 3/2s, 2 mana 4/4 fliers, and 4 mana 5/5 indestructible token generators, topped off with a little [mtg_card]Archangel Avacyn[/mtg_card] on top.

Not to mention Mardu has access to the best removal in the format, (that doubles as reach) in case you didn’t get the message about the rest of the busted cards they get to sleeve up. Trying to make a compelling case for things like BR Aggro, GB Aggro, and GW Tokens is going to be difficult with Mardu still being a major player.

The other class of decks that struggle against Mardu are of the control variety. The biggest problem control has, is that the answers we have in Standard tend to be narrow, and Mardu has a huge variety of must answer threats in Gideon, Scrapheap Scrounger, Archangel Avacyn, and Heart of Kiran. All of these cards require different answers, and often a control deck simply won’t be able to keep up.

So what does work? Going bigger is the prevailing theory. My favorite that I’ve seen so far is the Bant Aetherworks list that took down this past weekend’s SCG Standard Classic in Atlanta (not to be confused with the main SCG Open event):

[d title=”Bant Aetherworks by Sam Lowe,  1st at SCG Classic in Atlanta”] Creatures 1 Linvala, the Preserver 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Spells 4 Attune with Aether 1 Censor 2 Negate 1 Pull from Tomorrow 4 Glimmer of Genius 3 Fumigate 2 Nissa’s Renewal

Artifacts 4 Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot 4 Aetherworks Marvel

Enchantments 4 Aether Meltdown 4 Cast Out

Lands 4 Aether Hub 4 Botanical Sanctum 2 Canopy Vista 4 Forest 3 Island 2 Plains 3 Prairie Stream [/d]

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This deck seems great at playing control while assembling the powerful combination Marvel + Ulamog. If Aetherworks Marvel fails to find Ulamog, or if you draw it naturally, the two [mtg_card]Nissa’s Renewals[/mtg_card] can give you reasonable ways to hard cast it. This list also has a ton of lifegain to stave off Mardu’s aggression and it’s removal suite is actually fairly effective. [mtg_card]Aether Meltdown[/mtg_card] is a clean answer to Heart of Kiran and Cast Out is clearly going to be a staple going forward. Sam Lowe’s list might need some additional tweaking but I can clearly see something here, and you can’t argue with the results.

The other way to “go over” Mardu is to play G/B Delirium and be as bulky as possible. This means less Walking Ballista or Winding Contrictor, but instead more Ishkanah, Liliana, or Ob Nixilis, Reignited. For whatever reason it doesn’t seem like people really showed up with Ishkanah this past weekend, but I think that will quickly change once there is a tuned list. I don’t claim to be a master of the archetype so I’ll defer to the one person who did top 8 the first open, Brennan DeCandio:

[d title=”B/G Delirium by Brennan DeCandio, 5th at SCG Atlanta”] Creatures 3 Walking Ballista 4 Grim Flayer 1 Manglehorn 2 Tireless Tracker 2 Gonti, Lord of Luxury 2 Ishkanah, Grafwidow 1 Noxious Gearhulk

Planeswalkers 3 Liliana, the Last Hope 1 Ob Nixilis, Reignited

Spells 3 Fatal Push 4 Traverse the Ulvenwald 3 Grasp of Darkness 2 To the Slaughter 2 Never

Enchantments 4 Vessel of Nascency

Lands 4 Blooming Marsh 1 Evolving Wilds 6 Forest 4 Hissing Quagmire 8 Swamp [/d]

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The thing I like most is the maindeck Manglehorn. Personally, I’d want two if I knew I was going to face vehicles every other round, but a copy in the sideboard is likely fine too. Brennan seemed a little hesitant with some of the new cards, relegating Liliana, Death’s Majesty, [mtg_card]Never / Return[/mtg_card], and [mtg_card]Scarab Feast[/mtg_card] all the to the sideboard, where I think all 3 seem potentially good enough to put in the mainboard. I understand wanting to do more testing though, before changing up the formula too much.

The other way to fight vehicles, although not nearly as effective as going over them, is to go under and around. Two decks come to mind. The first is WR Humans:

[d title=”W/R Humans by Zach Stern, 4th at SCG Atlanta”] Creatures 2 Metallic Mimic 4 Expedition Envoy 4 Glory-Bound Initiate 4 Hanweir Garrison 4 Honored Crop-Captain 4 Thalia’s Lieutenant 4 Thraben Inspector 4 Town Gossipmonger

Spells 4 Declaration in Stone

Enchantments 4 Always Watching

Lands 5 Mountain 8 Plains 4 Aether Hub 1 Hanweir Battlements 4 Inspiring Vantage [/d]

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This list goes wide, and then big, presenting multiple threats and then growing them. The “combo” of Always Watching and Exert makes it so that the threats from RW might eventually outclass Mardu Vehicles, though simply going under is possible as long as Thraben Inspector never gets a good block. I actually think Zach Stern, the deck’s pilot, was one play away from being in the finals, and that the deck has got some legs.

The other deck that I really liked from this past weekend that can potentially go under Mardu Vehicles is BW Zombies. This archetype is going to need a lot of refinement but initial results seemed promising.

[d title=”B/W Zombies by Zac Caudillo, 14th at SCG Atlanta”] Creatures 4 Scrapheap Scrounger 4 Cryptbreaker 4 Diregraf Colossus 4 Dread Wanderer 4 Lord of the Accursed 4 Plague Belcher 2 Relentless Dead 4 Wayward Servant

Planeswalkers 2 Liliana, the Last Hope

Spells 2 Grasp of Darkness 2 Dark Salvation 4 Fatal Push

Lands 10 Swamp 2 Aether Hub 4 Concealed Courtyard 4 Shambling Vent [/d]

Menace as a keyword is great against [mtg_card]Gideon, Ally of Zendikar[/mtg_card], and zombies are flush with ways to give menace. Then there’s the “drain” plan of Wayward Servant and Plague Belcher, something I believe the deck should explore a little more. This list seems a little heavy on 3 drops for me and could potentially learn a lesson from the old Aristocrats lists.  Then there’s the matter of removal. How much does this deck want, and where is [mtg_card]Time to Reflect[/mtg_card]? The tag team duo of Dark Salvation and Time to reflect seems quite potent, not to mention how easy Fatal Push is to turn on in this deck. I would go as far as to say that BW might even have better removal options than Mardu Vehicles.  Here’s my stab at BW Zombies:

[d title=”B/W Zombies by Nick, Test Deck”] Creature 4 Cryptbreaker 4 Dread Wanderer 4 Plague Belcher 3 Relentless Dead 4 Wayward Servant 3 Yahenni, Undying Partisan 4 Zulaport Cutthroat

Sorcery 2 Dark Salvation

Enchantment 2 Hidden Stockpile

Land 2 Aether Hub 4 Concealed Courtyard 1 Forsaken Sanctuary 2 Plains 4 Shambling Vent 11 Swamp

Instant 4 Fatal Push 2 Time to Reflect

Sideboard 2 Cast Out 2 Collective Brutality 2 Dispossess 2 Forsake the Worldly 2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar 2 Liliana, Death’s Majesty 1 Scarab Feast 2 Hidden Stockpile [/d]

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A little brain, a little drain. This is a little more my style when it comes to this archetype. It’s important to have a strategy that can be effective outside of combat as these creatures aren’t usually going to dominate the battlefield, though [mtg_card]Plague Belcher[/mtg_card] is often pretty huge. I plugged in the “aristocrats” package of [mtg_card]Zulaport Cutthroat[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Hidden Stockpile[/mtg_card], and [mtg_card]Yahenni, Undying Partisan[/mtg_card]. With a Plague Belcher and a Zulaport Cutthroat Out at the same time, killing without ever attacking seems quite possible.

I’m sure that there are at least five other ways to build this deck, and I’m really excited to see what the pros come up with. Hopefully they can find an answer to the Mardu menace.