Mardu Is The Best

W/U Flash? B/G Delirium? Some data suggests these decks are the top of the mountain, but Adrian Sullivan has some information that says just a little bit otherwise! Don’t be shocked if #SCGKNOX gets run over by Vehicles!

It’s pretty well-known that Magic Online is just different from the world of paper Magic. While there is all manner of conjecture about why that might be, if you play in both, you know very well how true this is.

If you’re like me, and you’re hooked on getting the most recent Magic results in all of the major formats, you’re well aware of what were the most recent events on the calendar of note for Standard: the final weekend of October, Grand Prix Warsaw saw a W/U Flash mirror in the finals, while Grand Prix Santiago saw W/U Flash defeat B/G Delirium; the most recent SCG Tour Standard Classic also saw a W/U Flash mirror-match finals in Columbus, Ohio.

Where both Grand Prix saw a great deal more B/G Delirium in the Top 8 than were in the Standard Classic, all of the events were eventually won by W/U Flash.

None of this is likely any surprise to most of you. But for anyone competing in Knoxville this weekend, or any other event of note, you have to pay attention to results like this: an entirely different deck utterly dominated the most recent Online PTQ. It easily outperformed B/G Delirium and slightly outperformed W/U Flash.

Mardu Vehicles.

It isn’t just that the deck won, though, either. In the 107-person PTQ, only the Top 32 lists are publicly available, so we can’t know the full metagame breakdown, but at the very top tables, Mardu Vehicles was the top performer. Here is that Top 32, broken down by archetype, with the match points for each pilot listed (Top 8 finishes are bolded):

Mardu Vehicles: 18, 18, 15, 15, 15, 15

W/U Flash: 18, 18, 15, 15, 15, 12

B/G Delirium: 21, 15, 15, 15

B/R Aggro: 15, 12, 12, 12

B/G/x Aetherworks: 18, 15

U/R/x Control: 15, 12

W/R Humans: 15, 12

B/G/x Aggro: 12, 12

B/R Zombies: 18

Metalworker Colossus: 15

W/R Vehicles: 15

G/R Energy: 12

I find it very reasonable to assume that W/U Flash and B/G Delirium were both far more represented than Mardu Vehicles, and despite that, Mardu Vehicles is clearly the front-running performer. Given this likelihood, I find the results shocking. If you’re at all like me, these moments in Magic are among the more exciting ones to notice.

This isn’t exactly a new deck by any means. This deck has been around since not only the Pro Tour, but we even saw it in the inception of the format, that very first weekend of the post-Kaladesh SCG Tour in Indianapolis:

There are some important differences between the two decks. The curve is lower, for one thing, and there is an important swap in the Vehicle department:

I love Fleetwheel Cruiser. It was responsible for a ton of wins in my playtesting leading into the Pro Tour with basically every build of Depala, Pilot Exemplar decks in any color combination. At the Pro Tour itself it was quite popular. I advocated for Mardu Vehicles for the Team Mad Apple/Hot Sauce collective, and Mike Hron took his copy to a respectable finish.

The problem with this plan is simple, though: three toughness ain’t what it used to be.

It can be pretty aggravating to sink all of that mana into a Fleetwheel Cruiser, only to have it immediately die. While the upside of huge crack to the head is awesome, we aren’t exactly living in that world right now. This is a Reflector Mage world where the W/U Flash deck is actively able to suppress an all-out attack fairly well and a more sustainable approach is required. It is a world where Grim Flayer might be a card you want to block. A huge amount of creatures can kill a Fleetwheel Cruiser, and that number is greatly diminished versus Cultivator’s Caravan.

A week or two after the event, I talked with Hron about the deck, and I brought up this choice to him.

“We messed up,” I said. “We had Cultivator’s Caravan in some decks, but we never put it into the Mardu deck.”

“Yeah,” he replied, “That would have been better.”

Typical Mike: a man of few words.

Our list was remarkably close to Jason Reid’s list from that first weekend. In that same way, two of the Top 8 lists from the Online PTQ seem to me to be direct descendents of one specific deck:

Ignacio’s deck packs the punch that I feel like Mardu Vehicles is best at. The one- and two-drops in this deck just feel like they are the heaviest hitters. Just look at this crew (and realize it is joined by more cheap cards):

Add on top of that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; Unlicensed Disintegration; and Depala, Pilot Exemplar and you have a deck that isn’t merely a very potent aggressive deck but one that has the reach that a W/R Vehicles deck lacks as well as the staying power that the white elements can help provide.

It really is a glorious deck for people who like to attack.

To see three copies of this list in the Top 8, two of which were basically an inch from Ignacio’s deck, seems to me to say that not only is this deck one that has proven it can finish in the top of a huge field, but it is also a deck with staying power for the current metagame.

Here is the winning list from this last weekend, Rastaf with Mardu Vehicles:

First, the most shocking thing about this build is what Rastaf cut from the deck:

Every copy of Depala, gone. One of the other Top 8 competitors, P33kachun, made the exact same cut with Depala, though they kept the Unlicensed Disintegration at four copies.

What made the cut in its place?

In a way, you could say that this was a choice to increase the short-game. This wasn’t the only deck to do this, by the way. Literally every W/U Flash deck in the Top 16 also made the same choice; Thalia, Heretic Cathar is just a great option in a world where Smuggler’s Copter and other Vehicles are just so potent.

Surprisingly, Thalia, Heretic Cathar is particularly good against W/U Flash. In a matchup where tempo can be wildly important, having a third of the lands get affected is a huge deal. Not only is leveraging the value of a Smuggler’s Copter significantly more difficult versus Thalia, but all of the flash creatures and Gideon take a significant downgrade as well. Particularly because W/U Flash has so little removal, this means a Thalia will often stick around to affect a game, with Archangel Avacyn shaking her fists that the world is so cruel.

The card is a great sideboard or maindeck card for the W/U Flash mirror match. It’s a reasonable card for a more controlling deck to bring in versus W/U Flash.

When you’re the deck that’s the aggressor, it is so much more impactful.

Tempo advantages beget yet more tempo advantages in Magic, and it is easy to actually move to a place where you’re steamrolling your opponent. Toss in the cheap and effective removal of Harnessed Lightning with the Super-Murder of Unlicensed Disintegration, and you have a bona fide W/U Flash killer.

B/G Delirium also has some cards that struggle against the deck. While Rastaf’s semifinal opponent had four Liliana, the Last Hope, it also had a particular problem that can really be a huge liability against a purely aggressive deck:

These two cards alone are one of the reasons that Mardu Vehicles was on our shortlist for decks to consider for the Pro Tour. Mardu Vehicles was the reason that I first abandoned the full-on Delirium strategy, moved to maindeck Dead Weight, and then eventually looked elsewhere to other archetypes and cards like Woodland Wanderer.

You don’t have much time to mess around. There are twenty aggressive plays that the deck can make on the first two turns, and then Thraben Inspector on top of it to help smooth things out and keep the deck going.

And then there is Scrapheap Scrounger.

Playing a control role against Scrapheap Scrounger is utterly horrifying. If you don’t believe me, see how well I fared against two of them in GP Providence with my Jeskai Control deck:

The card simply doesn’t care about how you are trying to suppress it. If you don’t go over the top of it, it will contribute to your death, which means that you’d better go over the top quickly.

Since I saw this PTQ-winning list, I’ve taken for a spin a few times, and I have been completely impressed by its ability to dominate the Big Two matchups. I still don’t have enough reps in to know whether or not Revolutionary Rebuff and Ceremonious Rejection are worth the blue mana to give to these cards from the sideboard, but it certainly seems reasonable to imagine they might do the right kind of work versus opponents weak to them.

Everything else in the board feels quite straightforward. Galvanic Bombardment is one of the best removal spells if you need it, Unlicensed Disintegration takes care of nearly anything if you have the mana, Archangel Avacyn is an utter beating against a card like Radiant Flames (or just a singular removal spell), and the two planeswalkers clearly help the deck’s longevity as well as dodging sideways. I’ve never minded a single card like Fragmentize (or Wax // Wane or Wear // Tear) in an aggressive deck, so that seems to fit as well.

I absolutely love this card in the sideboard. By the end of our Pro Tour testing, I was pretty sure that the deck wanted one in the 75 to stymie defenders and build in an extra bit of longevity, but Hron felt fine without it. I was impressed by the way this deck played in B/R Aggro and just felt like it had a home.

If there were a card I’d consider that the PTQ winner didn’t use, it’s the Hron tech of Anguished Unmaking, which basically says “get out of here” to any card you might otherwise struggle with, only asking that you be the aggressor. In this metagame, that seems like an easy thing to accomplish.

Watch out, Knoxille. Watch out, Denver. Somebody might just drive their ride all over you, license be damned.