Before PT Aether Revolt, Standard was labeled a 2-deck metagame—Saheeli Combo decks and B/G decks of all sorts based around Winding Constrictor. We quickly identified B/G as a deck we did not want to play and that we did not imagine most people would play (I guess we were wrong on that one), and the question remained: would we be the people playing the Saheeli deck, or the ones trying to beat it?
I thought Jeskai Saheeli was a very powerful deck, with a good game plan and the ability to navigate through any hate. There was one thing, however, that it did not do very well—it didn’t beat aggro, particularly Mardu Vehicles. You certainly could win, but the amount of power in the early drops made it hard to stick a Saheeli unless you had a great hand, and the aggro decks naturally had interaction in Shock and Unlicensed Disintegration. This posed a problem, because it gave people who wanted to beat Saheeli a way out in Mardu Vehicles.
Normally when a deck is broken, it’s either impossible to flat out beat it, or it’s impossible to do so without making your deck horrible against anybody else. If a deck can’t be beaten unless someone makes a lot of concessions in other matchups, that’s not a bad place to be, and if that were the case I’d be playing Jeskai Saheeli. In this format, however, you don’t need to go too much out of your way to beat it—you can simply play an aggressive strategy with Heart of Kiran. We were afraid people were going to do that, so we decided to play the aggressive strategy ourselves.
Here’s the deck I played (mostly everybody on our team played the same deck, with only a couple of different slots in the sideboard):
The deck is relatively standard, and the play is straightforward. You want to play cheap creatures with 3 power, use them to crew your Vehicles, and disrupt your opponent with Shock and Unlicensed Disintegration, which do a good job of both clearing blockers and stopping the combo. To mitigate flood, you have 4 Veteran Motorists, 2 Depalas, and 2 Pias, as well as 4 copies of Gideon.
4 Heart of Kiran: I believe 4 of this card is mandatory. Yes, it’s legendary, but drawing it is so good. It’s threatening to both Saheeli and Gideon, and it’ll usually be the first thing to die, so you don’t mind having more copies. Most of the time, you should play Heart on turn 2 over anything else.
4 Gideon: The old Mardu versions played 2 Gideons most of the time, but the interaction with Heart of Kiran makes me want to play 4. Planeswalker hate is at an all-time low right now, and if a deck like Saheeli tries to play a control game against you, there’s a decent chance they lose to Gideon single-handedly. On top of that, you now have more pieces of cheap interaction (like Shock), which makes Gideon even better. That said, we side 1-2 out in many matchups.
3 Shock: Shock comes out a lot in sideboarding, but it’s quite good when it’s good and just having a play you can make early to interact with your opponent is valuable. Some lists play Fatal Push, but that’s significantly harder to cast if you don’t have Caravan, and you end up giving up a lot of your tempo advantage if you can’t cast it on turns 2 or 3. Shock doubling as combo hate makes me like it more as well.
1 Aether Hub: We started with 4 Hubs, but quickly deemed the card unplayable—there are just too many colored costs in the deck. In the end, 1 copy made its way back in because we needed to support sideboard cards.
The sideboard is very weird, but that’s mostly because there is nothing good to sideboard in the Mardu colors (which in my opinion is by far the biggest downside of the deck). You could play more Fatal Pushes, Shocks, Fragmentizes and so on, but the main problem is that there’s very little you can side out in each matchup. Because of Spire of Industry, your mana base is reliant on having artifacts, so you can’t take a lot of Vehicles out, and if you have Vehicles then you can’t take the creatures out, so what do you do? As much as you’d want a card like Fragmentize for the mirror, we found that you simply didn’t have room to bring it in, so it didn’t make much sense to play it in the board.
This brings us to the blue cards. Since there is nothing that we want to play in the board anyway, you might as well fill it with counterspells and some blue lands. You still have to play some bad blue lands in the main with our configuration, but at least you don’t have to play 4—it’s a small advantage, but we weren’t using the slots anyway, so you might as well gain those percentage points. Counterspells aren’t great in most matchups, but they’re very good when they’re good. Having Rebuke and Rejection against any Marvel deck, for example, adds a lot to your win percentage. Rebuke is also the only card we really want against Jeskai, so we felt it was worth playing the blue for that alone.
2 Fatal Push: Versus the mirror and B/G decks. It’s a good card, but you can’t flood on cheap removal and you don’t have many black sources.
3 Rebuke: Versus any combo deck and Jeskai.
2 Ceremonious Rejection: Versus Marvel/Colossus/generic artifact combo we were afraid we wouldn’t be prepared for.
2 Spirebluff Canal: For when you bring in the blue cards.
1 Cultivator’s Caravan: When you bring in blue or Push. Going turn-3 Caravan + Shock or Push is very good in some matchups.
2 Release the Gremlins: Versus the mirror, decks like improvise/Colossus, and also versus B/G that has Aethersphere Harvester.
1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance: Versus control decks, Jeskai, and B/G.
2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar: Versus Saheeli decks, but particularly the 4-color version that has less removal. You can also bring this in if their mana base looks vulnerable to it. Not a great slot, but, again, there was nothing we truly wanted.
The card you board out most is Shock, followed by Gideon on the draw (never play less than 2 though). I also like boarding out a land if I’m on the draw and bringing in a Caravan. Pia and Depala are also good candidates to be boarded out, and sometimes 1-2 Unlicensed Disintegration. Nothing else can really be touched.
Overall, I think the deck is quite good. It’s proactive and strong, and has few “natural enemies.” There’s a lot of it on the field, and the mirror is kind of random, and there’s also a little more B/G than I expected, which is not the greatest matchup—so we’ll see how it goes. I haven’t seen every list yet, but if a team has managed to find a good sideboard for Mardu Vehicles, then I think it can become the best deck in the format. If the sideboard remains bad as it is, then it’ll probably just take the “serviceable until I find something better” role.