It’s been a while since Mardu Pyromancer posted a fantastic result and it’s
easy to see why. Modern is ever-changing and the Mardu pilots haven’t
adapted along with it. New threats like U/W Control, R/B Vengevine, and
Hardened Scales Affinity attack from different angles than what Mardu is
It’s time for a change.
First though, some hot Modern takes.
1) Humans is the New Splinter Twin
Whether or not Humans is the best deck will vary, but it will always be
viable and it’s become the litmus test for the format. It also happens to
be the scourge of many different combo decks, thanks to its clock and suite
It might not the Splinter Twin you wanted, but it’s what you’ve got.
2) U/W “Control” is Actually a Prison Deck
I’m critical of control decks. They tend to win at a higher clip when the
competition isn’t as stiff, and that’s typically because of the higher
power level of your cards like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Cryptic Command,
or Torrential Gearhulk. Your cards can carry you when your opponents aren’t
playing properly against you or perhaps giving you more time than you’d
have against someone who was truly gifted. Basically, if you plan on
playing control at a Grand Prix, you’re saying “I hope I don’t play against
Control is an archetype that rarely dominates at the Pro Tour level, and
it’s because people generally have an inflated view of their matchup
percentages because of it. I typically overcompensate for this bias and
think control is worse than it is. Then again, I rarely lose to control, so
it’s difficult for me to ever believe those decks are capable of winning
tournaments against strong competition.
Building a control deck in Modern is especially difficult because of how
many different decks and strategies you need to account for. Jeskai’s plan
of switching to Snapcaster Mage beatdown isn’t a great one. U/W Control’s
plan of playing as many four-mana cards as possible is also sketchy.
U/W Control, especially the Terminus version, isn’t a normal control deck.
All it’s trying to do is set up a game state that’s unwinnable for your
opponent. With Teferi, Jace, and Search for Azcanta, you have enough
fundamental lock pieces. Terminus, even though it’s high variance, is
completely fine. Either you miracle it early and it’s great, or you use
Timely Reinforcements to buy time until you can miracle it with the help of
a Jace Brainstorm.
This isn’t a control deck, at least not in the traditional sense, and
people need to stop building it like it is.
The Problems With Mardu
Over the last few months, many shifts have occurred in Modern. Humans is
still a large part of the metagame, but they’re a little better against
Mardu because of Militia Bugler. U/W Control has mostly overtaken Jeskai
Control, which is a significantly tougher matchup due to how many
planeswalkers they have in lieu of crappy burn spells. Finally, there are
decks like Krark-Clan Ironworks and R/B Vengevine which attack on other
Given all that, how can we fight back?
For starters, having an actual clock would greatly improve matchups like
Ironworks and U/W Control. Rather than being pressured to grind them out
(which is very difficult), you want to look for ways to end the game
quicker. Sometimes a Young Pyromancer can do that, but especially against a
control deck, it’s far more likely that they are able to delay the game
until they can set up their engine.
These changes are subtle, but they matter.
This list has shifted toward trying to address new enemies while also
hedging against the older metagame. Modern is a vast format, and while
Humans (or Spirits) and U/W Control are the most popular decks, there’s no
telling what you might end up playing against. For a midrange deck, it can
be difficult to balance, but it’s important not to focus too much on a
specific portion of the metagame.
Step one is playing the full eight discard spells. The fourth Thoughtseize
is a huge addition and goes a long way toward fighting expensive
planeswalkers. Snagging a Faithless Looting or Stitcher’s Supplier can go a
long way toward crippling R/B Vengevine too. Mardu needs to be able to
interact earlier with these decks and discard is reasonable against each of
Step two is including Goblin Rabblemaster. I’m loath to include a card that
is almost strictly a clock, but it’s what you have to do. You could
sideboard the card entirely, but it’s not completely out of place in the
maindeck and I wanted my sideboard slots to serve other purposes.
If you want a clock, Goblin Rabblemaster is the most effective red card for
the job. Cards like Hazoret the Fervent and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are
too slow, especially considering its difficult to make your fourth land
drop in a timely manner. Goblin Rabblemaster will effectively end the game
by Turn 6 if left unchecked, and that’s by far the best Mardu can do.
Blood Moon isn’t great at the moment. Most decks shrug it off, either by
being aggressive (Vengevine, Humans), having a resilient manabase (U/W
Control), or by being so weak to it in the past that they specifically
build their decks to counteract it (Tron).
Another card that has gotten weaker is Collective Brutality, although it
still synergizes well enough with the deck that it’s worth playing a couple
copies in the 75. Mardu is hungry for ways to turn excess resources into
something useful, and Collective Brutality also helps get you closer to
casting Bedlam Reveler, even against opponents who aren’t cooperating by
not playing creatures.
Opposing planeswalkers are at an all-time high, so don’t leave home without
your Dreadbores. I’ve seen some lists that split Dreadbores with
Terminates, either 1/1 or 2/1, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Burst Lightning is another card I could see making an appearance (as it did
in Tyler Blum’s
deck), mostly because Fatal Push isn’t killing much that Shock wouldn’t.
Plus, you have the opportunity to use it as a Lava Axe or a very weak
Dreadbore, which gives it some added utility.
I’ve basically only had success with Mardu when Liliana of the Veil has
been in my maindeck, but that time is over. Liliana tends to be stronger
against Jeskai than U/W because U/W’s threats can easily beat Liliana of
the Veil and they have more of them. Against combo decks like Ironworks
that can go off from a low base, it doesn’t matter as much that you’re
constraining their resources. In both matchups, having a clock like Goblin
Rabblemaster is a better choice. With Liliana out of the way, you no longer
need the Godless Shrine, even if you happen to be including more white
cards like Stony Silence.
My sideboard has gotten more hateful, but there’s a good reason for that. I
estimate the Modern metagame at a large tournament to look something like:
- 20% Collected Company/Aether Vial
- 20% Cryptic Command
- 15% Graveyard
- 10% Artifacts
- 10% Big mana
- 10% Midrange
- 15% Random
Overall, this is the cleanest metagame we’ve had in quite some time, and
that means we can be a little more targeted with our sideboard hate.
Hedging with cards like Collective Brutality, Engineered Explosives, and
Kambal, Consul of Allocation will only get you so far. You might end up
having to fight matchups where you have very little to bring in, but the
hope is that the power of your sideboard cards will carry you.
Despite Surgical Extraction working quite well with land destruction
against big mana, Leyline of the Void is the correct choice. This deck sees
a lot of cards, so it might make sense to have your sideboard hate be
something you can dig for, but I’m not buying that right now. Decks like
R/B Vengevine, Hollow One, Mardu, and Ironworks are much weaker to a
Leyline of the Void than to a Surgical Extraction. Again, I’m skimping on
Tron hate, but this time it’s to gain massive percentage points in other
Pithing Needle is a card that’s effective at fighting Tron, even if they
bring in Nature’s Claim blindly. Your discard can protect it, and shutting
off any topdecked copies of Karn Liberated is a huge boon. It conveniently
fights planeswalkers against U/W Control as well, so we finally have a
reason to devote a slot to it.
Anger of the Gods is finally back! Vengevine’s return to Modern makes that
a possibility. If Spirits picks up, you’ll be sad that you don’t have a
sideboard card that is directly targeted at them, but Anger of the Gods is
still fine. Having a bunch of sorcery-speed removal certainly makes that
matchup closer, though. The singleton Ensnaring Bridge could be another
sweeper of some sort, but since it’s good against the majority of creature
decks anyway, having one doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
Due to Krark-Clan Ironworks and Hardened Scales Affinity being the artifact
decks of choice, Stony Silence gets the nod. Honestly, these matchups seem
perfectly reasonable, so maybe you don’t need to directly target them, but
Stony Silence gives you another disruptive tool against Tron, even if it’s
not exceptional against them. To support it, I added another fetchland to
the manabase, plus you have the singleton Manamorphose to put you up to
eleven white sources.
If you think your metagame is more diverse than my predicted metagame, you
should absolutely retool the deck for what you expect to face.
Mardu, Part Two
Is Lingering Souls actually good against anyone? Even the new Affinity
decks shrug it off. It buys time for your engine, but if you’re actually
looking to clock people, why shove Goblin Rabblemaster into your deck
instead of retooling it entirely?
As always, Magic Online has the answer.
I’m skeptical that Monastery Swiftspear and Kiln Fiend are good against
everyone. Too much of the time, it seems like they will sit there and do
nothing until you find a Temur Battle Rage (which most lists aren’t even
For people who insisted on sticking with Grixis Death’s Shadow, I urged
them to try the Kiln Fiend version of the deck. Humans mostly invalidates
the plan of “make one giant monster and ride it” to the point where people
felt the need to include Temur Battle Rage into their decks. Once it gets
to the point where you determine that Temur Battle Rage is where you need
to be, it means you’re better off fully adopting that strategy by also
including Kiln Fiends.
This deck exists on the same axis. If you want to play Faithless Looting
and Bedlam Reveler but have a necessity to actually kill your opponents
rather than prolong the game, Kiln Fiend and Temur Battle Rage is where you
want to be. Similarly to Grixis Death’s Shadow, you don’t necessarily need
all the copies of Temur Battle Rage because you’ll likely be able to dig
for it by the time it matters.
Honestly, if I were playing Modern tomorrow, I wouldn’t play either version
of Mardu, but that’s because I think there are better options. If you want
to use Faithless Looting in the fairest manner possible, you shouldn’t be
sticking to stock lists. As always, Mardu (with or without Young
Pyromancer) is infinitely customizable.