The most important breakout technology of GP Utrecht came from Samuel Vuillot and others, who reconfigured the already successful Mardu Vehicles deck. The deck has been called Mardu Ballista, for the obvious reason that it now has 4 Walking Ballistas in the main deck. But the important structural changes involve shifting the mana away from red toward a W/B core, and transforming into a dedicated planeswalker control deck after sideboarding.
Mardu Ballista is sure to be a popular choice this weekend. But for the most part, what worked against classic Mardu Vehicles will also work against Mardu Ballista. If anything, my advice from 2 weeks ago has become even more important. Do not expect a strategy that works in game 1 to be equally effective after sideboarding. Fight their aggro game plan before sideboarding, and their planeswalker game plan after sideboarding.
Instead of retreading the same ground, I'd like to focus on a deck that created an incentive for Mardu players to make these changes—4-Color Saheeli. 4-Color Saheeli has been steadily rising in popularity since Grand Prix Pittsburgh 3 weeks ago. It's tied with Mardu as the deck I've faced the most in the Magic Online Standard Leagues. The main-deck Walking Ballistas and Thalia, Heretic Cathars of the GP Utrecht Mardu decks indicate the level of respect the top players are giving to the Copycat combo.
Berk Akbulut, Top 8 at Grand Prix Utrecht
4-Color Saheeli is a midrange deck that generates value off of planeswalkers and creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities, while protecting itself with efficient removal. On top of that, it threatens to win the game at a moment's notice with the Saheeli Rai plus Felidar Guardian infinite combo. If you play passively and hold up instant-speed removal against them, they will take over the game with planeswalkers and value plays. If you tap out for threats, they have the potential to punish you with the combo.
Note that some players will have the additional plan of Aetherworks Marvel. Some will have Elder Deep-Fiend. Some will have neither, and will simply play more creatures and planeswalkers. The deck list I've featured above has both Marvel and Deep-Fiend. Don't be surprised by any of these configurations.
4-Color Saheeli is an appealing and successful deck due to its consistency. A huge portion of the deck is capable of either generating mana or drawing extra cards. This leads to an extremely low rate of mana screw, despite a demanding 4-color mana base. Additionally, it's rare for the deck to run out of gas, since the ability to cast, copy, and blink Rogue Refiners and Oath of Nissas (and sometimes Cloudblazers) lets the Saheeli player churn through their deck quickly.
What To Do
- Play with permanent-based disruption. The hardest thing about beating 4-Color Saheeli is that they're great at playing a fair game. They love it if you hamstring yourself by holding up Grasp of Darkness and letting your mana go to waste. You need your deck functioning at maximum efficiency to beat them, and for most Standard decks that means being able to tap out every turn. Walking Ballista, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Dynavolt Tower, and Authority of the Consuls are the best ways to protect yourself from their combo.
- Kill their planeswalkers. This isn't exactly unique to 4-Color Saheeli, but you do not want to let your opponent untap with a planeswalker. Advantages tend to snowball, and if you let the Saheeli player untap with a planeswalker, they're probably going to either add a second one to the board, or play some creatures to protect it. To the Slaughter and Anguished Unmaking are two cards that I like to have against them.
- Just kill them. I've performed worst against 4-Color Saheeli when I was trying to control the game. I've performed best when I throw caution to the wind and just run them over. They have a lot of card selection, but they're not particularly likely to assemble the combo by turn 4 or 5. It often takes them time to set up their mana and iron out the inconsistencies of their deck. Additionally, their removal is damage-based, so I've had success with giant trampling creatures, and generally with putting a lot of power and toughness onto the battlefield quickly. Controlling versions of G/B Delirium will struggle, but more aggressive versions (and draws) can do just fine.
What Not To Do
- Don't overload on removal. My first instinct when playing G/B against 4-Color Saheeli was to maximize my removal after sideboard. After all, they're playing a synergy-based creature deck! But I started doing a lot better when I learned to keep my threat density high and mulligan aggressively to a fast start.
- Don't play passively. Along the same lines, you'll need to take some chances if you want to maximize your win rate in the matchup. You'll often be faced with the choice of tapping out for a threat and risking a loss to the combo, or doing nothing and setting yourself up to lose in a few turns anyway. Given those two choices, you should tap out and risk it!
If you take one thing away from this week's edition of The Deck To Beat, it should be that it's counterproductive to live in fear of the combo. Sideboard in a well-balanced way, as though you're facing a midrange creature deck. Take some chances during gameplay, and focus on giving them as little time to set up as possible.