Mardu once looked like it might emerge as a top Modern deck around the time Oath of the Gatewatch was released. Infect and Affinity were some of the best decks in the format, and Mardu had the removal spells to keep them at bay. The problem was that Oath brought the Eldrazi with it, which Mardu simply wasn’t equipped to deal with.
A black base offers so much. Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek have always paired well together, but recently players have been moving all the way up to 7-8 total copies in their decks as opposed to the 5-6 that were commonly played for years. This gives you ample early interaction and make life difficult for combo decks that rely on tempo. It also means you’ll have nearly perfect information for the majority of the game.
Burn spells keep the early creatures at bay, the planeswalkers from getting out of control, and they’re excellent against the many Death’s Shadow pilots that may be doing more damage to themselves than they can afford. Lightning Bolt is the best of the bunch, as 3 damage for 1 mana at instant speed is a ridiculous rate. Lightning Helix is more challenging and expensive to cast, but it will help you recoup some of the Thoughtseize life loss and help win any race. Forked Bolt isn’t nearly as effective at going upstairs, but it’s an MVP against Affinity and Noble Hierarch.
Burst Lightning adds some additional early direct damage to the mix, while Dreadbore and Terminate can handle the tougher-to-deal with threats. Kolaghan’s Command is outstanding against anyone relying on artifacts, but it’s also great against small creatures. The floor on the card is generally returning a creature from your graveyard to hand and making the opponent discard, so you’re sure to get some value.
The creatures you’d get back all benefit greatly from playing a deck with lots of spells. Monastery Swiftspear is a nice clock even if this isn’t really an aggressive deck. Getting in for 1 on turn 1 and then 3 or more on each subsequent turn really puts the pressure on any deck relying on fetchlands, shocklands, and Thoughtseizes. Bedlam Reveler is the top of the curve, but it isn’t expensive. You’re running 18 spells that cost a single mana, so you’ll load up the graveyard and empty your hand early.
With all of these cheap spells, Young Pyromancer will give you blockers to go long, as well as the ability to turn the corner and get aggressive. Threatening planeswalkers and opposing life totals is pretty easy to accomplish with an army of Elemental tokens.
To help load up your graveyard and to make sure you always have the action and spells you need, Faithless Looting offers a lot in exchange for a bit of card disadvantage. Bad removal, excess lands, or even a creature to be brought back by Command are all reasonable to discard, and you’re triggering prowess and Pyromancers for a single mana.
Another great card to discard to Looting is Lingering Souls. Not only is this an MVP against small creatures, providing blockers to slow them down, but the Spirits attack in the air to take down planeswalkers and make sure cards like Inkmoth Nexus and Vendilion Clique aren’t an issue.
I don’t love the idea of leaving Modern’s new best removal spell Fatal Push out of the main deck, especially with how incredible it is against Death’s Shadow, but I like what this deck is doing. There may be some places for tweaks and edits, but this is a great starting point for a competitive Mardu deck!