I recently wrote about an R/B Artifact deck that looked to combo opponents out with the new Atog, Ravenous Intruder, and Pia’s Revolution. After I built that deck, I tinkered with it more without budget restrictions, specifically trying to make it the best Herald of Anguish deck it could be. It turns out that card is really good on turn 3, especially in a format dominated by Heart of Kiran. Your Mardu Vehicles opponent has to have their Unlicensed Disintegration or it’s basically game over. Sram also seemed like a decent fit in the deck with all the 0-mana equipment, and before I knew it, I had an awesome Mardu evolution of the previous R/B deck. Here’s the list:
Does this list focus on the same aspects as budget R/B without the budget?
If this list were nearly identical but with a budgetless approach, I would have just included it as a brief aside in my original R/B article. Instead, it looks to take the core engine of R/B and tune it to one built on explosive card advantage rather than combo'ing the opponent. Sram lets you dump a ton of permanents into play while Ravenous Intruder uses them to their fullest potential. Meanwhile, Herald of Anguish waits in the wings until turn 3. I know I keep repeating that Herald gets cast turn 3, but in this deck it really is easy to do. You need 4 artifacts in play, and with all the 0-cost ones alongside Servo Schematics and Cogworker's Puzzleknot, you’ll get there most of the time.
Because this deck is trying to turbo out a large creature rather than combo, it can make much better use of Key to the City. R/B wasn’t that interested in making its Ravenous Intruders unblockable because it wanted more combo pieces and could plan for a longer game where it would win on the spot. Mardu is less interested in that and its more explosive draws are diminished when your Ravenous Intruders are just chump-blocked a few turns in a row. Sram also provides more fuel for a faster start and thus your Intruders become lethal sized faster than in R/B. I tried including a pair of Gryff’s Boon over the Keys for a while because they work nicely with Sram, but ultimately they were just much worse than Key. The fact that Key is an artifact and occasionally combos with your improvise gives it the nod here.
How to play around removal with Ravenous Intruder
Mardutog is incredibly powerful, but you’ll lose once you go all-in on Ravenous Intruder if you aren't careful. You can help ensure those tough blowouts won’t happen quite as often, though. Sometimes you do just have to go for it and you’ll lose on the spot, and that’s just a risk of playing this type of deck.
The first thing you want to do when playing with a glass cannon deck, which this deck is with Intruder but not otherwise, is to analyze the common builds of opposing decks and understand how they plan to stop you. Knowing that Mardu Vehicles doesn’t usually run Fatal Push, while G/B runs the full set of Grasp of Darkness and Fatal Push, is instrumental to your success. That means if I can find a potentially lethal line I’m much more inclined to take it against Vehicles than G/B. Additionally, Vehicles relies on Unlicensed Disintegration in the main for big problem cards, and if my opponent leaves up 3 mana they probably aren’t bluffing me, especially because that deck looks to tap out and play powerful threats turn after turn. Meanwhile, G/B has a higher curve and if they have some mana up that might indicate a removal spell, but it could also be the sign of a hand that is filled up with a bunch of Verdurous Gearhulks. The more games you play the more you’ll get a sense of when your opponent has a removal spell, but knowing common lists and play patterns is a great start.
The next thing you want to do in game is prevent catastrophic failure. It’s often right to combo halfway and present a good amount of damage without going for lethal when you suspect that they have removal. Your opponent then has the choice to use their removal spell but leave you with a good chunk of your resources or cast their spell and let you follow up with another threat. Either way you’ve forced the action on them and can respond accordingly. This type of play is especially useful when it allows you to build out your board even if your opponent removes your threat. For example, let’s say your opponent is at 9 life and you suspect they have a Fatal Push for your Ravenous Intruder. Here you might sacrifice your 2 Implements you have to your Intruder when you also have Sly Requisitioner in play. If you stop at that point you present 5 damage and lethal the following turn thanks to the new Servos. Don’t sacrifice the Servos here and get greedy!
The final play is common, which is to bait with a big spell but then follow up with something better. In this deck that usually means making a large Intruder for your opponent to kill, but then landing a Herald of Anguish in your second main phase. Your opponent probably won’t be able to kill it now and you essentially win on the spot! Look for these ways to balance killing your opponent as fast as possible and building out a board even through devastating removal spells. Again, sometimes your opponent will have multiple answers and there’s not much you can do, but be happy with the process. Always check whether your math and plan made sense to start with.
A brief aside on aggressive mana bases
I often joke that Inspiring Vantage is Plateau and Concealed Courtyard is Scrubland when playing this deck. When your entire game plan revolves around your first 3 land drops, the fastlands are almost as good as original duals. This has obviously been true since 4-color Vehicles existed at PT Kaladesh, but Spire of Industry helps further this trend. There are a multitude of cheap artifacts to choose from in Standard and this makes it incredibly easy to splash in fast decks, even for early spells like Sram. Sram can go in a whole slew of decks and I don’t think the best Standard shell for him has been found yet, in part due to the mana base complexities.
This principle really applies to any card included in a wedge. For example, you might want to splash Oath of Ajani in a G/B counters deck that goes much lower to the ground than the traditional version. Or maybe you go the other way and are playing W/G but want to splash Winding Constrictor. As long as your cards are cheap enough this is totally doable! Remember that mana bases restrict what types of decks you can build, but when you explore that space you might find unique solutions and means of building decks.
This deck is a pretty strong home for the 3 cards it’s built around: Sram, Ravenous Intruder, and Herald of Anguish. But if you asked me if I thought it was the absolute best shell for any one of those cards I couldn’t confidently say yes (although I’m most confident on the Intruder here). There’s still a ton of exploration left in Standard and I hope today’s deck inspires you to try your own hand at deck building. After all, Kaladesh is the land for inventors!