Mardu Vehicles was the deck of Pro Tour Aether Revolt. It put 6 players into the Top 8. For that matter, it put 6 players into the Top 6! Mardu is fast, powerful, customizable, and plays with a large portion of Standard's best cards. It will be the deck to beat in the wake of the Pro Tour.
Lucas Esper Berthoud, 1st place at PT Aether Revolt
There's one deadly misconception that I see time and time again. Because Mardu Vehicles is fast and aggressive, many players conflate it with some of the "mindless" aggro decks that we've seen in the past. The fact is that Vehicles attacks from many angles at once, has card selection, reach, and staying power. If you think that loading up on Shocks and Radiant Flames is all you need to ensure a favorable matchup, you're in for a rude awakening.
Instead, beating Vehicles is a multi-step process that includes surviving their initial rush, dismantling their midgame threats, and putting them away decisively once you've done that.
What To Do
- Deal with their Toolcraft Exemplars right away. You simply can't afford to hemorrhage life points against their first wave of creatures, especially when you're on the draw. This means that you should stock up on 1-mana removal like Fatal Push and Shock, and perhaps maindeck some cards that punish creature swarms, such as Radiant Flames. When you're playing the games, you'll often need to swallow your pride and trade that Servant of the Conduit or Winding Constrictor with your opponent's 1-drop.
- Have answers for their flying Vehicles. Many of your common defensive measures will be ineffective at answering Heart of Kiran and Aethersphere Harvester. Ground creatures cannot block them, and sorcery-speed removal cannot touch them. Skilled opponents might even punish you for leaving mana untapped by not crewing in the face of an obvious Harnessed Lightning. I've been particularly frustrated by the fact that Grasp of Darkness cannot kill a Heart of Kiran crewed by Veteran Motorist. Load up on artifact destruction! I'm a fan of 3 Disenchant cards in the 75 and I absolutely think it's time to put 1 or 2 in the main deck. My favorite is Natural Obsolescence since it answers Scrapheap Scrounger nicely while also having applications against Torrential Gearhulk and Aetherworks Marvel.
- Have plenty of card advantage. Defensive creatures and life gain are fine against Vehicles, but remember that they have access to all of the best removal in Standard. If you lean heavily on creatures and 1-for-1 trades, it's easy to lose to a planeswalker or simply flooding out.
- Good Deck Choices: B/G, Aetherworks Marvel geared for beating aggro.
What Not To Do
- Don't expect the games to play out in the same way before and after sideboarding. Ironically, many of the most potent "sideboard cards" you might think of against Vehicles would be great in game 1, but lose potency after sideboarding. This includes Radiant Flames, Yahenni’s Expertise, and Ishkanah, Grafwidow. The problem is that your opponents will often shift gears toward planeswalkers and card advantage after sideboarding. Some Vehicles players even bring in Fumigate from their own sideboards! If you over-sideboard into a deck full of nothing but board sweepers and cheap removal, you'll be easy prey for a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
- These are still nice tools to have access to, and if you can fit them into your main deck they'll probably serve you very well. Just be careful not to overdo it. You'll need a wide range of answer cards to beat Vehicles after sideboarding, and you'll need a lot of card advantage if you'll want to overcome their planeswalkers and their abundance of excellent removal. Just as one example, G/B players will definitely want their Tireless Trackers in this matchup after sideboarding.
- Poor Deck Choices: Slow control, Saheeli combo, homebrews
Mardu Vehicles is a challenging deck to fight against. If the results of Pro Tour Aether Revolt aren't enough proof of that, it only takes a couple of sideboarded matches against a skilled Vehicles pilot to prove that your anti-aggro measures simply aren't as effective as you want them to be. They're beatable, but you'll need to really put the work in, as well as utilize the advice in this article, if you want to beat Vehicles consistently.