Fact Or Fiction: Modern And The Mardu Massacre

These men live to debate! And there’s plenty to quibble over this week as we waffle between the waiting jaws of Modern and the gassed up Standard that just won’t slow down! Two veterans. Five topics. One winner. Decide at once!

[Welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction! This week, Adrian Sullivan and Brad Nelson square off over five questions on the Pro Tour Aether Revolt results, what SCG Regionals means for Modern, and more. Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!]

1. Mardu Vehicles is the definitive best deck in Standard at this point.

Adrian Sullivan: Fact – in a way. Six Mardu Vehicles decks in a Top 8 is a huge amount of evidence that a deck is a “best deck.”

However, one of the important things to think about is that Mardu Vehicles has not yet had the kind of target on its forehead that both Saheeli Rai decks and B/G Winding Constrictor decks have had. I still expect Mardu Vehicles to be in that pack of elite decks that make for the top of a metagame, but it will definitely tarnish a little bit once people work to try to fight against it.

That being said, Pro Tour Aether Revolt was also a Scrapheap Scrounger format. A full 31 Scrapheap Scroungers saw play in maindecks of the Top 8, and while fighting against Mardu Vehicles might be a new goal for many a deck, it is worth noting that the Construct is absurdly resilient to hate. Expect to see people try, but unlike Saheeli Rai, which might fall to something as simple as a Shock or a Walking Ballista, Scrapheap Scrounger is very, very hardy.

Brad Nelson: Fiction. I’m willingly going against the grain by stating this, but I believe the deck I built for Pro Tour Aether Revolt was the best deck in the room. Of course I’m being biased, but I do have the numbers to back it up! Four players piloted the same 75 cards to a 70% win percentage. Small sample size, of course, but strong indeed. Mardu Vehicles may have been the best deck to attack the predicted metagame, but the B/G Energy variant we came with ended up feeling perfect for the actual metagame. Aethersphere Harvester, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and Gonti, Lord of Luxury are all amazing cards that have yet to really shine through, but the results so far show it won’t take long for them to be our saving light.

And yes, I will be covering this topic in detail later this week, when I discuss my 8-2 finish with the deck in my article.

2. Martin Juza’s Jund deck is a one-and-done.

Adrian: Fiction. It is nearly always the case that Pro Tour decks get honed even further with a bit of time. Juza went 7-2 with his deck before drawing into the Top 8 and said he likes the Vehicles matchup. While he got relentlessly crushed by Eduardo Sajgalik (3-0!), it seems unlikely for the deck not to see improvements as the Magic Hive Mind gets its hands on the deck out in the wild.

Brad: Fact. I love me some Martin Juza and am super-happy for him to get his third Pro Tour Top 8, but oh my, that deck! Why would you play green cards in this format without the strategy centering around Verdurous Gearhulk? At first I thought he might have thought the card got banned during all the confusion, but then I saw he had three of them in the sideboard. If you play with green cards, you should be playing with that card in your maindeck. Period.

What I don’t like about this deck is that many of the cards gain strength when on the play. Only losing decks play more games on the play, which is why you have to take a serious look at your deck’s capabilities on the draw. You can’t play too many cards that benefit from acting first or else decks like Mardu Vehicles will constantly exploit that weakness. Aethersphere Harvester, for example, is an amazing card that’s great to steal games when on the draw, and one of the main reasons I built my version around the card.

3. You expect at least one Standard card to be banned in the upcoming announcement.

Adrian: Fiction. While Wizards of the Coast has signaled a greater willingness to shake things up, which card would we see them ban? According to the numbers, it would be Scrapheap Scrounger, but that feels unlikely; Scrounger simply does not warp card selection nearly as much as Reflector Mage, and frankly Wizards of the Coast likes seeing beatdown decks and creature combat be a big part of the game.

When Aether Revolt came out, I found myself shocked about the infinite combos that emerged. Now that more time has passed, I’m somewhat of the opinion that Wizards of the Coast knew about them, shrugged, and said “Good luck, Saheeli Rai.” Within several weeks of metagaming, Saheeli Rai was contained. I expect to see Wizards give it a bit more time before they make a move, despite the overwhelming presence of Mardu Vehicles at the Pro Tour top tables.

Brad: Fiction. I don’t believe Wizards is going to swing the “ban hammer” all willy-nilly now all of a sudden. Sure, they did something unprecedented this time around, but the case does say “Break in case of emergency.” Magic Pros did a great job of showcasing how to attack a metagame at the Pro Tour and Saheeli variants all paid the price for that lack of respect. That doesn’t mean cards like Heart of Kiran, Scrapheap Scrounger, or Felidar Guardian will always dodge the gavel, but for now I believe they are safe.

4. The SCG Regionals Top 8s are indicative of the current larger Modern metagame.

Adrian: Fact. Modern is an odd duck. While I do believe that the SCG Regionals greatly capture the Modern metagame, it is important to remember that, in a format as large as Modern, Regional (har har) preferences are a bigger deal. An influential person can make Grixis Delver a more popular choice than Grixis Control (or other decks), can make Burn a local favorite, or push more people towards Tron or Affinity. Likewise, these local bits of flavor can spawn reactions as well. Is Jund and Abzan popular in an area? Expect a response from Tron and Through the Breach Scapeshift. In the Regionals in Duluth, a great example of this was Chi Hoi Yim and two others all playing Abzan Company to a Top 8 finish, and other examples can be found plentifully.

While we may yet be surprised by the emergence of a new dominant deck not seem thus far, I believe the diversity in the SCG Regionals is reflective of a strong diversity that is just present in Modern, period.

Brad: Fact. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Modern is just a sandbox for us to have fun in. Wizards will tamper with the format when one deck is bullying the others, which is why the healthiest Modern is one with many different decks competing against one another. It’s refreshing to see so many unique archetypes in each and every Regionals Top 8, especially when Standard has felt so restricted as of late. I mean, I still personally enjoy playing Standard more than Modern, but I do get sick of always playing against the same three or four decks.

5. One format at the team event next week at #SCGBALT is more crucial to success than the other two.

Adrian: Fiction. At #SCGBALT, a win is a win is a win is a win. While the flavor of each format is wildly different from each other, in a way, what you’re getting in a team event like this is insurance on your results, as a strong team of three players is going to have a huge structural advantage over a team of weaker players. If you’re not sure what I mean, let me explain.

Imagine that you have a slight skill advantage over your opponent, and all things being equal have a 60% chance to win without knowing anything about archetypes that any player may select. If you compound that with three players, each with a 60% chance to win, the chance for the team to win pops up to roughly 65%.

At the end of the day, the best team of players is going to have a much bigger advantage than the team with the best Standard or Modern or Legacy focus. I predict that, if we looked at the success of the top teams, we wouldn’t see any single format more significantly responsible for a team’s success than any other.

Brad: Fact. Obviously a win’s a win, and a loss is a loss, but that doesn’t change the fact that Legacy is the most important format going into SCG Baltimore. Why Legacy? Well, Legacy is where the largest edges can be gained. Small edges can be the difference between not making Day 2 of an event and winning the whole darn thing. Those small edges are even more important when it comes to team events!

I believe that Modern and Standard win percentages are more difficult to inflate. Sometimes you lose the die roll and thus the match because of it. It’s Magic. Legacy is lower-variance, making it crucial to win those matches, and I believe the teams that succeed will have very strong Legacy players.