After GP Barcelona, I had trouble deciding what to write about since I was 100% positive that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Felidar Guardian would get banned. Wizards of the Coast decided to help me out and let me write about the deck I built and played at GP Barcelona, since nothing in Standard was banned after all.
I knew I was going to play Mardu, since I enjoyed playing it at Pro Tour Aether Revolt.
The idea to add Liliana, the Last Hope came from a friend of mine, Matteo Venturi, who Top 4'd his RPTQ with a list similar to the one I played in Barcelona. After playing a bit with Vuillot's list (2 Chandra, 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 2 Ob Nixilis) I decided that I didn't need to be that greedy, and wanted to be either R/W/b or B/W/r.
While PV gave good reasons, I didn't like the idea. Shock is miles worse than Fatal Push versus Mardu, and makes you very weak to Heart of Kiran. Against 4c Saheeli Shock is better, but you still can't live without Push, considering that B/G is still a deck.
I also disliked Veteran Motorist, since it gets so easily outclassed by Whirler Virtuoso and Walking Ballista at X=2, whereas Walking Ballista is not only an artifact for your Spire of Industry and Toolcraft Exemplar, but it's also a very good card versus 4c Saheeli. It's everything you want.
I don't think it's a coincidence that of the 8 Mardu lists that Top 8'd the two Grand Prix last weekend, 6 of them chose to play Ballista and 1 Motorist (Marcio Carvalho went for the 2-2 split plus 1 Ballista in the SB).
Second option: B/W/r, which is the one that I'm going to talk to you about today.
Let's start with the list that Fabrizio Campanino and I built together for a 52th-place finish.
The main innovation is indeed Liliana, the Last Hope. A planeswalker that was all but forgotten once B/G Delirium's Emrakul was banned, she's still potent in a world of Toolcraft Exemplar, Veteran Motorist, and Thopters.
As a planeswalker, she also enables Oaths and crews Heart of Kiran starting on turn 3.
Her only issue is the mana base, so after consulting the evergreen Frank Karsten article on the topic—I decided that 18 black sources could be enough to play Liliana.
As you can see, this deck is mostly B/W with a light red splash for Unlicensed Disintegration.
I'm not a fan of Aether Hub, though with Liliana I had to play more B/W sources. Had I not played Liliana, I would have played 0-1.
Liliana is not only a powerhouse in the mirror match where she can snipe creatures with her +1 ability, but she's also great against 4c Saheeli because she can kill Thopters or rebuy a Walking Ballista that your opponent has to kill in order to combo you. I played 3 times versus 4c Saheeli and won each time, including against eventual champion Petr Sochurek. Liliana was always good and my opponents were always impressed by her.
After a huge number of games against Mardu, I still haven't found the perfect configuration, so I don't feel comfortable saying how you should sideboard. I saw a lot of top players keep their Toolcraft Exemplar on the play, though I prefer to cut them.
If your opponent is boarding in the control plan, then you should do it as well if you are on the draw, though you'll never know until your opponent shows you an Oath, and that's the trickiest part of the matchup. You have to sideboard based on what your opponent sideboards, but you never know what they're doing for sure.
At one point I even boarded in Fumigate on the draw, a card that I had never considered before.
Versus 4-Color Saheeli, the plan is straightforward. Stay aggressive and board out only 3 Fatal Push for 2 Anguished Unmaking and 1 Walking Ballista. Ballista is one of the better cards against them since it's a proactive way to stop the combo, just like Thalia, Heretic Cathar.
I saw some people boarding in the planeswalker plan in this matchup. I dislike that idea since your opponents have flyers and are able to pressure planeswalkers with Saheeli Rai and Oath of Chandra. Staying aggressive is the way.
Against Temur Tower, which I defeated 2-0 both times, I was very happy with Fragmentize—the two times I cast it I never had red mana at the ready, and I was able to double-spell on turn 3.
Mardu Ballista is the best deck in Standard, and Liliana, the Last Hope could be the best way to get an edge against the top decks.