Crafting Pro Tour Tools

After the dominance of B/G and Saheeli Rai decks at SCG Richmond, the days of Toolcraft Exemplar must be over, right? Not so fast, says GerryT! He showcases successful Standard aggro decklists from Magic Online and gives them his own spin!

My preparation for #PTAER has been kind of disappointing. We learned relatively early on that the brews were not going to cut it in the face of the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo. It didn’t take long for Sam Black to hang up his brewing cap and start examining the various Saheeli decks. It was a sad day.

At #SCGRICH, two versions of Saheeli Rai decks and two versions of B/G dominated the event. Last week, I put Toolcraft Exemplar in the same league as those two. As I noted, it was possible that Walking Ballista and the B/G matchup in general could potentially invalidate Toolcraft Exemplar as a strategy. That seemed to be the case, but I’ve been going deep on testing for the Pro Tour, and I’ve found that it’s not exactly cut and dried.

Mardu Vehicles lives!

Nothing warms my heart more than coming through decklists and seeing something truly revolutionary. Kukeke did not disappoint.

This deck is noteworthy for a few reasons. For starters, it plays the full amount of Fatal Pushes, clearly respecting the Winding Constrictors and Walking Ballistas of the world. In order to do that, Kukeke cut Inventor’s Apprentice altogether, shifting the manabase toward black mana to some degree. Kukeke clearly respects the B/G matchup and is willing to do away with any and all sacred cows in order to make that matchup more bearable.

Being able to Fatal Push a Winding Constrictor on the cheap (and on time) is key to victory. A Walking Ballista with one counter is miles worse than two counters. Some things need to break your way in order to cast Fatal Push early and kukeke made the necessary changes.

Playing the full four Heart of Kirans can be scary, but I’m close to convinced that it’s correct. It’s among your most powerful cards, so even if you draw multiples, it often won’t matter. If they kill your Heart of Kiran because of how big of a threat it is, you can play out your extra copy. From playing various Vehicles decks, I can safely say that the Vehicles are your best cards in many situations, so I’d rather draw them more frequently than not. Games are far more difficult when you don’t have a Vehicle.

Spire of Industry allows you to do some cool things with the manabase, but it can be quite punishing. If it’s in your opener and you don’t have Thraben Inspector or Scrapheap Scrounger, several of your cards are very poor. Trying to cast Inventor’s Apprentice becomes really tough if you want to cast Fatal Push, so you basically have to choose one or the other.

The new manabase is certainly more conducive to playing more colored cards, and Fatal Push and Metallic Rebuke are among some of the strongest cards you can play in the format. It’s not free or anything, but if you’re willing to jump through some hoops, you can do some cool stuff.

Using Aethersphere Harvester to help fix your mana alongside Aether Hub is odd. It’s possible that you might want some Harnessed Lightnings too, but Shock is more efficient and is better at stopping the combo. If you’re worried about Winding Constrictor, you probably want the Fatal Pushes instead.

Cultivator’s Caravan fixes your mana too, but it’s more difficult to crew and is much worse in pseudo-mirrors. Most of your creatures are three power, which is the perfect number for crewing, but Thraben Inspector into Aethersphere Harvester into Heart of Kiran has come up quite often. It sounds kind of terrible, but it’s much better than having a Cultivator’s Caravan that you can’t crew at all.

As for the problematic B/G matchup, I think the lower-to-the-ground energy-based version will be the best version of the deck for #PTAER. If that’s the case, things get much better for Mardu Vehicles, especially if the B/G decks aren’t playing Blossoming Defense.

Malevolent Whispers doesn’t excite me as a trump against B/G, even if you’re stealing a giant Verdurous Gearhulk. I just don’t think you’re going to win most games that way. I’m pretty sure the games you are going to lose are due to a pile of removal spells or a key Blossoming Defense.

This is my current list:

Oddly enough, I’ve kind of gone back on a lot of the technology that kukeke presented. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Saheeli decks comprise more than 40% of the Pro Tour, and if that’s the case, I wouldn’t be happy playing kukeke’s list card-for-card. Maxing on Fatal Push and having fewer one-drops is where you want to be against B/G, not Saheeli.

For a while I had three Depalas, but if I’m operating under the assumption that B/G won’t be as possible at the Pro Tour as the SCG Tour events, that choice doesn’t exactly make sense. I could make a larger hedge, but a small hedge isn’t going to make a huge impact in a matchup as poor as B/G. Instead, I moved the third copy to the sideboard and a second Thalia maindeck, which plays better with my Fevered Visions sideboard plan.

Fevered Visions has the potential to be excellent. More testing is necessary to determine whether it’s worth bringing in against B/G, but I’ve got a day left of testing and it’s next on the docket. I was focusing on the Jeskai Saheeli matchup and how to best fight that matchup. Fevered Visions looks good on the surface, but it’s only going to get them closer to having the combo plus protection.

It’s difficult to continually keep open three mana for Unlicensed Disintegration, as you need to close the game before they start dropping Torrential Gearhulks. Ideally you have something that proactively stops the combo alongside your Fevered Visions. Thalia, Heretic Cathar is reasonable, and maybe Implement of Combustion is a poor use of a sideboard slot, but I think it’s much better than Authority of the Consuls. Implement of Combustion is colorless, can cycle, and turns on Metallic Rebuke and Spire of Industry.

Fevered Visions is the main thing that turned me on to Mardu Vehicles. With Spire of Industry, it’s much easier to cast than it used to be, plus it’s a single card that’s great against a lot of your tougher matchups.

Release the Gremlins is basically Manic Vandal, and it’s very powerful in mirror matches. A second copy isn’t out of line. Kukeke played a Fragmentize instead, likely for mana and curve considerations, which I’m also fine with.

One of the great things about this deck is how customizable it is thanks to the various rainbow mana producers. You can basically do whatever you want, so even if the metagame drastically changes following the Pro Tour, Mardu Vehicles will still probably be able to keep up. It might not look like it right now, but that’s because it hasn’t yet adapted to the B/G threat, or it hasn’t been long enough for decks to creep up that beat B/G.

Mardu Vehicles came back into the equation once we realized the Saheeli decks would likely push out the B/G decks to some degree, at least the more controlling decks. Still, Mardu isn’t the only deck that can utilize Heart of Kiran and an aggressive curve.

Here’s another possibility:

If you are strictly trying to beat Saheeli decks, playing a tempo deck is probably where you want to be. B/G becomes more of an issue the less aggressive you are. I’m pretty high on having four Heart of Kirans, especially because of the B/G matchup.

There might be a world where you can play more of an Esper deck with all the Fatal Pushes and actually be fine against B/G. That would require more artifacts to turn on Spire of Industry, but we should be able to do that. More vehicles is always an easy add.

Esper is basically a strict metagame deck.

Another version:

This version is less aggressive and has the option of turning into a control deck post-sideboard. It will struggle more with the Saheeli decks, which immediately makes me not happy to register something like this.

Being W/B gives you some nice options like Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim and Anguished Unmaking (even though Anguished Unmaking is much worse in general than Unlicensed Disintegration). The biggest strike against Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is that she only has two power and therefore can’t crew Heart of Kiran by herself. Thankfully we have Liliana, the Last Hope and other planeswalkers to help.

So, I’m registering Toolcraft Exemplar at #PTAER, right?

When this article gets posted, #PTAER will be well underway. At this point (Wednesday night), I’m leaning toward a four-color Saheeli Rai deck. Some of that is because I truly believe that it’s incredibly powerful, and part of it is because I want to be part of history. I don’t want to be the person who played something that he hoped beat the busted deck when he could have just been playing the busted deck in the first place. Many of the high points in my career have been because I’ve played a great version of the best deck, so I probably shouldn’t stop.

Obviously everything has context, and I don’t want to make it sound like I’m ignoring it. Clearly people are going to be gunning for the deck at this event. B/G exists, and that deck has access to a lot of scary cards, but after last week’s SCG Tour event, it’s pretty clear that the Saheeli decks are going to eclipse B/G.

Toolcraft Exemplar is a fine choice for this Pro Tour (and perhaps one that would serve me well), but I think I’m willing to go down with the ship on this one. At the end of the day, I have to make the decision that’s best for me, and playing the busted deck is probably correct. It’s kind of disappointing because I think I’ve made the most progress with tuning Toolcraft Exemplar decks, but oh well.

I’ve always been a “Cat person” anyway.