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My Second Choice for #PTKTK: Mardu Aggro

After my debacle at PT Journey into Nyx, I decided I would try to play the team’s best deck, leaving emotion out of the process, and I feel like I did a reasonable job with our U/B control deck. Here’s the 75 I registered for the PT:

I actually tried to stay away from control as I haven’t been very confident in my play skill and speed recently, but the deck isn’t actually that hard to play and I finished all my matches in a timely manner. The games play out fairly quickly since it’s all about going through the motions once you start chaining Dig Through Times. Good preparation also goes a long way and I was pretty happy with my play throughout the weekend. I made a few sideboard mistakes and some pretty bad draft picks, but I don’t recall taking bad in-game lines or making stupid mistakes. This has been the case ever since I’ve started going early to playtest with the rest of Team Pantheon.

I got there on Tuesday, ten days before the PT. Having already played some games of Constructed myself, but zero Limited experience, I went my usual 0-3 in my first draft (0-6 in games) and then backed that up with another 0-3 in the second one. In the end, I went something like 15-18 overall, so I felt confident for the PT even though I hadn’t gotten to draft Jeskai or Temur a single time. I was always opening Abzan bombs or cards like Debilitating Injury as my first picks.

As for Constructed, the deck I worked on the most was Mardu Aggro, and even though the deck put up reasonable results throughout testing, I could never get it to be better than 50/50 against Abzan and Mono-Green Devotion. It was actually comical, because every ten-game set I’d play would always end up going 5-5, no matter what I’d try. Since Andrew Cuneo already wrote an article about U/B, I’m going talk a bit about “my” deck today. Here is the list I would have played :

For those of you who like to beatdown, I believe this deck is a viable option. As I said, I felt like the green matchups were even-ish and I that Mardu Aggro was a favorite against our version of Jeskai (which had 0 Anger of the Gods in the 75). I also thought it was a slight favorite against U/B as well as Jeskai Ascendancy Combo.

To give you an idea of the deck’s evolution, here was my first draft:

It quickly became clear that the Ascendancy was busted and Butcher played out strangely: it was always the best card I could hope for but it also almost never won me the game. Crackling Doom was absurd and Ride Down played out well at first, but it’s the kind of card that becomes worse as testing goes on and people start playing around it, so I’m not sure what the right number of copies is.

One of the most notable differences is in the 1-drops I chose:

Probably the best 1-drop in the deck, the raid ability is actually quite relevant as some games go long.

Most of the time a vanilla 2/1 and his abilities usually don’t save you when your opponent starts chaining Siege Rhinos, but still a 2/1 with zero drawbacks. The fact that he costs white is a bonus since you want your 1s to be as equally distributed as possible color-wise to maximize your chance of going 1-drop turn 1, double 1-drop on turn two.

The fact that Satyr can attack into Caryatid and sometimes get some extra damage in doesn’t make up for its drawback.

Worse than a vanilla 2/1.

Decent, the fact that you can bestow on their blocker comes up once in a while and it’s nice that it counts as a non-creature spell for Monastery Swiftspear when you bestow it.

I’m still not 100% sure of all my 1-drop choices but that’s the package I would have gone for. It might seem like playing all these 1-power creatures might cost you damage in the long run but you can usually play a 2/1 (Soldier, Champion, or Scarhide) on turn 1 and save the red guys for turn 2, which you usually back up with Ascendancy or Rabblemaster on turn 3. They make convoking Stoke the Flames a bit easier and having a haste creature can be quite valuable on turn 4 when you’ve played Ascendancy on turn 3. The Swiftspear’s second point of toughness helps against Doomwake Giant and even though it’s not going to save you if you’re too far behind, it could be the difference between a win and a loss in a close game.

If Crackling Doom was an obvious 4-of early in our testing (we thought the card was so good we even tried to add black to our Jeskai deck for it), I spent the first three or four days of testing without Stoke the Flames in my deck. I had never played a Rabblemaster deck before and didn’t realize how powerful the interaction was, not only making it a cheap removal spell but helping you set up for better attack steps by allowing you to tap the Goblin token(s) which would be otherwise forced to “chump-attack.”

One of the last maindeck changes I made was to add a 23rd land. The deck’s biggest weakness is its unstable mana base and even though adding that one land isn’t going to change that, I believe 23 is the correct number of lands for the deck.

Here are rough guidelines for sideboarding:

Abzan Midrange

Remove

Add

Mono-Green Devotion

Remove

Add

Jeskai

Remove

Add

U/B Control

Remove

Add

Sideboard Thoughts

  • It’s possible Suspension Field is a better choice than Reprisal and Murderous Cut. I had a pretty traumatic experience trying them out as a sideboard plan against Abzan and getting wrecked by Erase (which he brought in for Mardu Ascendancy and Gnarled Scarhide).
  • One card I was super excited about was Sorin, Solemn Visitor but it was repeatedly underwhelming and I’m not even sure it should be in the sideboard. The one matchup where it truly shined was against U/B control as it’s one of the best plays you have to follow up their Drown in Sorrow. It’s possible it’s decent against the green decks after sideboard since the games are way more grindy.
  • You might have noticed I bring in all 4 Thoughtseize in most matchups—so why not have them main? It becomes much better after sideboard when people bring in sweepers, letting you have early plays without committing too many guys to the board and letting you know when the coast is clear.
  • I claimed I didn’t think the deck has bad matchups so you might be wondering why I didn’t play it in the PT. Well, I thought our U/B deck had better matchups overall, especially against Green Devotion (and by Green Devotion I mean green splashing black for Doomwake Giant, which is most likely the best version of the deck). I expected to go either 5-5 or 6-4 if I ran average with the Mardu deck whereas I expected to go 6-4 with U/B given the same run. Speaking of Green Devotion, one of the mistakes we made was to overestimate the % of the field that deck would represent, and we probably spent too much time testing against it and not enough testing with or against Abzan. Though, that also had to do with the fact that a bunch of us were strongly considering Green Devotion early on, so that deck naturally tended to see more play. I also believe our version of U/B was superior to other U/B versions (the one that made Top 8 and the one played by Adrian Sullivan and co.) and I’ll say Pearl Lake Ancient is way better than it looks. I actually bugged Cuneo during most of our testing to cut down on Ancients and play more Prognostic Sphinx and it got so bad that at one point he told me he’d play me but only if I promised I would not mention the card Prognostic Sphinx. I eventually had to admit I was wrong all along.

Overall I was happy with my preparation even though the format was definitely frustrating, we couldn’t break it and the decks didn’t evolve very much during testing. I tried a lot of different blue control builds but U/B was the only viable one (Gregory Orange did well with Esper and I’m guessing his list is viable as well) and I’m worried the format might get stale very fast.

I think one of the problems is that there aren’t enough good cards and that the good cards are too good. Commons are mostly unplayable and you usually can’t afford to stumble in Standard. I was joking that U/B isn’t even really a control deck since there is nothing to control, you either immediately answer each threat or you die. I think WotC needs to eventually take a step down on the cards’ power level at some point if they want to change that and I actually felt like this is what they were doing with the last block but I guess I was wrong. I’m also not a big fan of the wedges, they make the decks build themselves and leave you with very few options. I also dislike them for draft as they result in an incredible amount of games decided by some kind of mana-screw. I still had fun playtesting and playing my PT matches but I can’t remember the last time I had so few interesting games and so many matches decided by mana issues in draft and Standard alike.

As for the tournament itself, I’m not going to go into too much detail. I drafted an average Abzan deck on Day 1 and I was happy to go 2-1 especially after losing round 1. Something funny happened as I sat down to play my first match: the guy sitting next to me presented and drew his opening hand out of his Constructed deck instead of his draft deck. Don’t ask how he didn’t realize he was presenting a 60-card deck and not a 40-card one.

I got a glimpse at his opening hand, which included an Abzan Charm. I then got paired against him in the first round of Constructed so I knew what he was playing (which didn’t end up mattering since my opening hand was great anyway). I went 3-2 in Standard losing to eventual champion Ari Lax, but despite a not-so-stellar 5-3 record, I felt like I could make a run if things went my way on Day 2.

I drafted a very good Mardu deck in the 2nd draft and beat Willy Edel round 1. I was paired against Finkel round 2 and we got the video feature, but our match was as bad as it gets: I stumbled on mana game 1 and he cast a combined 1 spell in games 2 and 3. Unfortunately, I stumbled on mana twice in the third round against Cifka, but my breakers turned out to be quite good despite losing round 1 (usually the kiss of death tiebreaker-wise) so I figured I had a shot if I 5-0’d Constructed. I couldn’t muster better than another 3-2 record losing to Shahar Shenhar in the last round to miss out on Top 25, ending in 42nd place.

All and all, PT Hawaii went well even though none of us made Top 8. The Party Bus and Karaoke on Sunday night was a lot of fun but I’ve been paying the price since then, I’ve spent most of my time back in Paris in bed. The location is amazing but the 27-hour trip takes its toll. At least three gamers that I know of got engaged (congrats guys!) and the pre-tournament testing with the rest of Team Pantheon was one of the most fun times of the year as usual, and I can’t wait for February and PT Fate Reforged.

Thanks for reading,

Gabriel “Yellowhat” Nassif

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