Midrange, grindy decks have been the top dogs in Standard for a long time. Creatures get more powerful every year, and Siege Rhino cemented these strategies as ones you either had to play, or beat. It’s a challenge to leave open mana to counter something as cheap as a Siege Rhino—killing a Rhino is far from trivial with 5 toughness, and bouncing the thing will just leave you buried in more drains for 3. Once you start factoring in cards that can return creatures from the graveyard, and at a profit no less, these decks have lots of staying power.
If you’re going to play a midrange, grindy deck in today’s Standard, you have to be well aware of Reflector Mage. Playing a strong 4-mana creature that doesn’t have a great enters-the-battlefield ability can be a liability, so you really want to get extra value. When your creature will be stuck in your hand on your next turn, the game can shift dramatically.
Luckily for Mardu Green, its creature suite is well equipped to mitigate that issue.
At each casting cost, Mardu Green has one of the most powerful options in the format available. The biggest loss may be at the 2-drop slot since not playing blue means no Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. It does, however, still leave access to Soulfire Grand Master.
While Soulfire doesn’t have any enters-the-battlefield ability and is actually brick-walled by Reflector Mage, getting your 2-drop bounced isn’t a huge tempo loss (especially since it couldn’t attack anyways). Soulfire offers the potential for such huge life swings that it can put in serious work in so many matchups. In the mid- to late-game, Soulfire is a must-kill threat once you start buying back spells.
Many of the noncreature spells in Mardu Green come in at 3 mana, including much of the card draw, but as far as creatures are concerned, the best option is a face-down Den Protector. Evasion and card advantage are both strong and the combination in one card at a cheap price is excellent. Nobody wants to Reflector Mage targeting a Den Protector unless they absolutely have to.
I kicked off this article by talking about what Siege Rhino has done to warp the world we live in for the past year and a half. Rhino is incredible and there aren’t any great solutions. The threat of recurring Rhinos with Den Protector is an absolute headache for any deck to deal with.
Some versions of Mardu Green implement Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and for good reason. The 3/4 body is well sized for 4 mana, despite being smaller than Siege Rhino, but the threat to grow is important. Kalitas can easily come down on the same turn you cast a removal spell, getting a Zombie token immediately and guaranteeing value even if removed. Being able to severely lessen the impact of cards like Rally the Ancestors, Deathmist Raptor, Matter Reshaper, Hangarback Walker, and many more is a nice bonus on an already solid card. Many red decks will not have main-deck removal spells that can single-handedly kill Kalitas, and the 3/4 lifelink creature will threaten to take over immediately. Between Soulfire Grand Master, Siege Rhino, and now Kalitas, this is a lot of life gain.
Mardu Green was already gaining in popularity before the release of Oath of the Gatewatch. It was no surprise that there was much hype surrounding the release of Goblin Dark-Dwellers. A 4/4 creature for 5 mana is OK—certainly not amazing—but the little bit of evasion helps. The card advantage, however, is huge. Flametongue Kavu dominated Standard and Dark-Dwellers isn’t far off. While the ability to draw cards is a great option, in most matchups you are looking to flashback a removal spell.
A 4-toughness body gets out of the range of popular removal spells like Fiery Impulse and Wild Slash, and being able to attack right through a Siege Rhino or World Breaker without another blocker is gravy. Goblin Dark-Dwellers will warp the way you construct your deck in order to maximize the gains, but with Mardu Green, you are only playing the effects you already wanted anyway.
The list of powerful spells you have at your disposal is extensive.
For discard,Duress and Transgress the Mind each offer something a little different. Duress is a turn-1 option or a spell to play on turn 2 should your first lands enter the battlefield tapped. Being able to stay “on curve” is important, as many matchups come down to tempo.
It’s rare that you want to take a 1- or 2-mana spell with Duress, so Transgress is almost always going to be the more powerful option. The ability to take opposing Siege Rhinos, Goblin Dark-Dwellers, or Eldrazi is a big plus. After sideboard, Duress picks up quite a bit of value in that it can actually hit Dispel, Negate, and Disdainful Stroke, but continues to be much weaker against Abzan and Eldrazi.
For cheap removal, the list is even longer. Fiery Impulse and Wild Slash are excellent early removal and fit that critical 1-casting-cost slot to help a mana curve. Each can consistently trade up, killing cards like Jace, Abbot of Keral Keep, Soulfire Grand Master, Den Protector, and Warden of the First Tree.
Roast and Grasp of Darkness continue up the chain of being able to kill slightly bigger creatures for slightly more mana. Grasp is a bigger challenge to cast, and doesn’t combo with Soulfire Grand Master, so it should rarely be included in your list, but is a powerful option at instant speed.
For more expensive removal, Crackling Doom is the best choice. It’s an ideal target for Goblin Dark-Dwellers and will take out the biggest creature your opponent has. Giving your opponent a choice can be a drawback in various matchups, but Crackling Doom is still powerful enough that even Jeskai decks are finding ways to splash for it.
Murderous Cut is another easy inclusion in a deck that features no other delve spells. It is too cheap, efficient, and effective to not make the cut. Ruinous Path is nice as a catch-all removal spell that can also take out planeswalkers such as Ugin, or Jace if he was able to flip before you could deal with the 0/2 creature.
Abzan Charm is another great piece of removal that doubles as card advantage. The virtues of Abzan Charm are many as it’s a flexible card that comes at a reasonable cost. The 3-mana investment to exile a Hangarback Walker, Kalitas, or Siege Rhino is fantastic, and drawing 2 cards is an excellent fallback option. Importantly, it’s also still within Dark-Dwellers range.
Kolaghan’s Command is likely the card that gained the most with the printing of Goblin Dark-Dwellers. Flashback the Command to get back another Dark-Dwellers while also killing a creature, artifact, or card in the opponent’s hand. The former combo with getting back Den Protector to then get back Kolaghan’s Command was great, as well as giving the Command buyback with Soulfire Grand Master to either drain opponents for 2 while making them discard their card in hand during their draw step each turn, or returning an army from your graveyard to hand.
The options for card draw at 3 mana or less include Painful Truths and Read the Bones. Truths is the more powerful card as drawing 3 cards is more important than scrying for 2. That extra card is almost always going to be valuable in a mana-hungry deck like this one.
Where Read the Bones gets the nod for some people is because of Goblin Dark-Dwellers. Flashing back a Painful Truths will net 0 cards with Dwellers while getting max value from a Read. In my experience playing the deck, I still prefer Painful Truths. I will almost always be flashing back removal spells with my Goblins, and I still have Kolaghan’s Command available in instances where I just need card advantage.
As far as the planeswalkers, Chandra, Flamecaller is just the best finisher you can ask for. It rivals Elspeth, Sun’s Champion in the ability to come down and completely take over a game. Chandra will wipe the board, provide you endless card advantage, and finish the game off with tokens. That’s a ton of value from a single card. On a clogged board or empty board, Chandra is just about the best thing you can be doing. Ob Nixilis, Reignited is a solid card, but 5 mana is a lot for the ability and there are many matchups where the planeswalker is marginal at best. It’s still a sideboard option to consider.
Here are a couple sample lists:
Patrick Narsavage, Top 8 in a Standard Classic Event
Here, we see a variety of spells. The full 4 copies of Crackling Doom is basically industry standard, as it’s simply the best removal spell at your disposal. From there, the numbers get interesting. There are many 1s, 2s, and 3s down the list. This is one of the bigger weaknesses of Mardu Green.
There isn’t anything to really help your card selection without playing blue. You don’t have access to Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and there are no Dig Through Times. You can draw extra cards, and scry with Read the Bones, but that only provides so much selection.
Chandra, Flamecaller is excellent in this role, allowing you to throw back any dead cards in your hand for a fresh set, but there’s only 1 of those and she costs a bunch of mana. There are no spells that are powerful enough in this deck that you want to overload on copies of them besides Crackling Doom, and Fiery Impulse is the only other spell to warrant 3 copies thanks to the need for early interaction in most Standard matchups.
The creature suite includes Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. To fit these in, 1 copy of Goblin Dark-Dwellers and 1 copy of Soulfire Grand Master have been shaved off of what I would consider to be the “starting point” for a streamlined Mardu Green deck, a.k.a.:
Here’s a version of the deck that I like just a little bit better:
ARBITRARYARMOR, 5-0 in an MTGO Standard League
I don’t think it’s commonplace to have the second copy of Chandra, but I love the card and what it does for any deck that can utilize her power. This list completely foregoes the Den Protectors, instead opting for a second copy of Fiery Impulse and Murderous Cut. I love the inclusion of more cheap interactive spells that make the deck run smoothly. Den Protector is an excellent Magic card, but it’s far from fast. Having more interaction to get you to the late game where cards like Goblin Dark-Dwellers, Chandra, and Soulfire Grand Master can take over means you don’t necessarily need that extra power boost.
It’s going to be very important for any deck to have as much game as possible against the Rally the Ancestors deck. With other Collected Company decks popping up, it might look like Hallowed Moonlight is at a premium. I don’t feel it’s the best option as a sideboard card for decks like this.
The best way to beat the Rally deck is with sweepers and then to stop Rally itself. Rally has plenty of ways to interact with Hallowed Moonlight, however. Dispel and Duress are strong sideboard cards that virtually every Rally deck will have.
Cranial Archive is much harder to interact with. Getting an Archive into play requires 2 extra mana in initial investment, but can also be used proactively if needed. Leaving up 2 mana for Archive is the same as with Moonlight, but it can’t be disrupted on the same turn as Moonlight with a Duress or Dispel. If your opponent loads up their graveyard, they’re at risk of losing all their hard work with an Archive activation. I love what Archive does against this deck.
I’ve used a single copy of Ob Nixilis, Reignited in many of my midrange sideboards, and I like it here as well. It’s not outstanding in any matchup, although being able to kill a Thought-Knot Seer or Reality Smasher is some huge extra utility if the Eldrazi deck takes off. I believe Ob Nixilis is at its best against Abzan since that deck has no flash or reach, and Abzan generally doesn’t play spells that can kill a planeswalker.
Roast is typically going to be the best option in the sideboard as a removal spell against decks like Abzan. It kills Anafenza, the Foremost and Siege Rhino, and combines very well with Soulfire Grand Master. Self-Inflicted Wound is a nice card, but the 2 damage isn’t nearly as relevant as not getting to choose what you kill, and the life gain with Soulfire puts it over the top.
Kozilek’s Return is awesome even if you can never cast a 7-mana Eldrazi to get the actual return. In matchups where you want Kozilek’s Return, such as against Atarka Red, it will be the best card in your deck. An instant-speed sweeper is so powerful against decks that rely on Atarka’s Command and Reckless Bushwhacker to deal tons of damage. It’s realistically only killing Soulfire Grand Master on the Mardu Green side of the board, and you will gain a ton of life in those scenarios. You can also bring it back from the graveyard with Goblin Dark-Dwellers to ensure that the board is never too flooded. A couple copies are mandatory when tokens are still a big part of the metagame.
Transgress the Mind is strong enough to play main deck, but is often relegated to the sideboard. It’s already going to be a strong card in matchups where Duress is good, but it’s also excellent against Rally and Ramp. You can take any of the ramp spells or any of the big ramp creatures, and against Rally, you can take Collected Company or many of their best creatures (like Nantuko Husk, Catacomb Sifter, or Reflector Mage).
Infinite Obliteration is not seen in all copies of Mardu Green, but you are running a real risk by not playing it. World Breaker and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger are great against you and it’s not very realistic to expect to win before they come down. Infinite Obliteration is, however, a weak card. It’s a fine line to decide whether it’s worth playing in a deck that can’t actually flash it back with Jace, but being able to get a second copy off Dark-Dwellers adds some appeal. I would hope that the answer is no and that the discard spells would be enough, but I imagine Eldrazi Ramp would be a really tough matchup without the extra help.
One cool card that has been popping up out of Oath of the Gatewatch is Pulse of Murasa. The 6 life gain is huge in any race, and it’s often better than a cantrip. It’s not outstanding since you can’t get back one of your many spells, but returning a fetchland can be game-winning, and returning Siege Rhino or Goblin Dark-Dwellers is always sweet.
The deck can be customized based on the metagame you expect, which isn’t too surprising in a deck that plays so many colors. The best part about playing a high-powered, midrange strategy is that there is no matchup that is really terrible. Conversely, there is no matchup that is extremely favorable, either. You will likely have some bad-to-dead cards main and be able to improve most matchups after sideboard.
Mardu Green is a powerful option right now in Standard and is one of the most played deck on Magic Online. If you’re not playing it yourself, you’d best be prepared to play against it!