Other People’s Decks: Marton Stromgald

This week Sheldon features a Mono Red Commander deck with Marton Stromgald as its general that was designed by MTGSalvation forum moderator Brian "ISBPathfinder" Hanson.

I like showcasing the decks of other players because I can demonstrate what I think are reasonable and interesting examples of what I like to see for the format, even if they’re not something I’d think of playing myself. I’ve constantly maintained that Commander doesn’t strive to be all things to all people, but there’s still a reasonably broad band of what fits into what I think is fun and fair.

Before I get there, I’d like to share with you a gift I recently received from Ron Faris of Blackwing Studio. Ron asked if he could do an altered card for me (which I considered quite an honor), and having seen his work, I happily handed him the Karador that was in my deckbox. I figured if I was going to get a cool piece done, it might as well be something that’s not available in foil. He asked what I’d like, and I told him that since he’s the artist it would be up to him. Here’s what he came up with:

Karador is now even more awesome. Badass, even (which, strangely enough, Word accepts as a real word).

As I said, I’m always looking for the unusual and interesting in other people’s decks. Being an Eternal format and having a broad player base means there are often great similarities between many decks, which will play the "best cards" in their colors or combinations. While this isn’t in the least a sin (good cards are, after all, good cards), it can lead to homogeneity of decks and styles, so I always have my eyes open for something different.

I solicited input over on the MTGSalvation forums, hoping to pick up a few really cool ideas and feature them all in a single article. I found several that I’ll share with you over the coming weeks, but I was particularly impressed with a deck from one of the forum moderators, Brian "ISBPathfinder" Hanson from South Dakota, not only with the unique and stylish Commander but the in-depth strategy guide that he’s provided with it. This deck and the guide are obviously a labor of love for Brian, and I think it’s a cool thing to share with you.

What I Like

I like that Brian is using an outside-the-box Commander in what is commonly regarded as the weakest of the colors in the format. Marton Stromgald is the precursor to Craterhoof Behemoth, which is doubly cool. Many Mono Red decks don’t have any legs of any kind, spewing out everything early. This deck is kind of the opposite of that, waiting until later to do its thing.

Even though, as Brian will later admit, the deck has kind of a combo feel to it, I’m still a fan since it’s not a traditional combo deck that focuses everything on assembling the required elements. It instead assembles some elements and uses tempo and surprise to get the job done. I like that the deck has inherent weaknesses, meaning that if you’re piloting it you need to think and be careful, not just vomit cards onto the table.

I like Snow-Covered lands and Mouth of Ronom. I like that he’s not playing Extraplanar Lens with those Snow-Covered lands. I like Snake Basket. I like Slate of Ancestry as another out-of-left-field choice.

I really like the fact that he has backup plans and that Warp World is one of them (being not fond of Warp World as a primary plan).  

I like that the deck is something that I wouldn’t have dreamt up myself.

What I Don’t Like

There are only a few card choices that I’m not fond of from a stylistic perspective (as opposed to a strategic one). Vicious Shadows is one of them. It feels so dirty most of the time. Sure, it’s great to punish the guy who has gone overboard on card draw, but you can also just kind of easily kill everyone else as well, even if they only have a card or two in hand.

Not that I dislike it, but Kiki-Jiki may be becoming a problem card in the format. It’s starting to look like a card that quite easily creates many infinite combos, so we’re going to take a serious look at it.

I’m going to let Brian do most of the rest of the talking himself. This is only a tiny portion of the full strategy guide:

Why Play Marton?

Welcome to Mono Red! There are a lot of really interesting Commanders to pick from in Mono Red, so you might be interested in some of the reasons I play Marton. I will do my best to run through some of what you can expect from playing Marton as a Commander. If you are looking for a token-based commander there are lots of options out there to choose from. Marton is probably one of the least controlling of the token commanders due to his color options. He is also one of the largest token buffs in the game though, and combined with haste he has one of the best out of nowhere glass cannon attacks in the game.

Mono-colored decks are challenging in nature. One of the biggest things that I love about this deck is how suddenly it can change the game and win. Most decks require you to set up a winning position over several turns. This deck essentially only needs mana and haste to go off on its opponents. Marton has great synergy with a lot of elements of RED and heads up a very powerful token-based deck.

Marton’s Pros

Totally amazing style points. There aren’t many really old legends that really stand out as being powerful, much less old mono-colored ones.

He gives an amazing pump effect that is non-tribal based. This means we get to use the best of the colorless and red token producing tactics.

Mono Red decks often have a very low threat profile. People often don’t worry too much about you if they don’t know your deck unless you are playing Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Our plays seem smaller and not as significant until we really get going. Sometimes people don’t see our wins coming until they literally happen, which is a nice bonus.

His casting cost is very affordable at four. Having a low casting cost means that you can easily chain other effects the same turn that you go to utilize him. This can win you the game as I have won plenty of games from a board state of mana stones only to winning that turn and killing three opponents off of twelve-ish mana and a haste outlet.

Marton is literally one of the most obscene buffs in the game for its mana. On average I am increasing the damage output of my creatures by usually a minimum of 30 or 40 damage, and I often end up using him to increase my damage output by a magnitude of hundreds or more damage.

Marton’s Cons

Mono Red really has some limitations on good token production, card draw, and removal. Sometimes you will feel like you are using really crappy cards, and sometimes you are.

Marton is frail as a 1/1 creature. Due to this, he dies easily to a stiff breeze. You really have to watch what is on the board and what people are playing when you try to push for the win. There are so many things that can stop him from going off, so knowing your opponents and watching the board state is important.

Mindet of the Deck

To be totally honest, the deck plays sort of like a combo deck. The whole game you are focusing on setting up to go off and kill everyone. It has the advantage of not really having infinites involved in most of what it does. Marton is synergistic to the build here, and while I lean on him as a finisher I have encompassed a lot of backup plans to the deck as well. Most of the game you will focus on developing your mana base and keep rotating cards through your hand as fast as you can. Generally speaking, the idea is to go from very few creatures in play to killing everyone in one turn. Sometimes the deck takes a turn to mass produce creatures then drop Marton with haste next turn. The deck has a lot of ways to win, though, so just dealing with Marton usually doesn’t keep me from killing people in other ways.

Early Game

Build your mana base as best as you can here. If possible blow your hand as fast as possible if you have a Wheel effect just to jack with the people who didn’t’ get as fast of a start as you or just hit the lands and stones as fast as you can.

Mid Game

Keep ramping when you can and drop your lands, but you should be mostly done with the ramp aspects here. Do what you can to keep card draw up and your threat perception down. Try to keep a low board presence unless you are being focused on, then drop creatures to stall for you. Don’t be afraid to take some damage, but being the low-hanging fruit can get you bumped off by someone else, so I usually try to keep a high life total and don’t bother poking at people for small damage. The small damage rarely matters in the long run and only makes enemies. Swinging back at people who are making you their enemy is perfectly fine, but don’t start things with poking someone for 4-5 damage here.

Late Game

Ideally, hand sizes should be a bit smaller by now. To be really explosive you really want a haste outlet. Work on setting up how you will get a big wave of creatures and Marton in one shot, or if you have to set them up over a short span of time. Don’t be afraid to do an all-in move as sometimes that is what it takes to win the game. I can’t tell you how many times a flashed back Firecat Blitz has won me the game. I wouldn’t push this tactic unless it is a last resort, but don’t be afraid to drop your land base to kill someone either if the alternative is dying.

How To Use Marton

If you are used to just flipping your Commander willy-nilly into play in the first few turns just because then you need to change things to run this deck. Marton is a huge target and the ability to cast him for four mana the turn you want to make a big move is really huge. Marton getting tucked is unfortunate but not a game-over situation. Keeping him at a low casting cost so he can win you the game later is very important, though, so I try not to cast him until I intend to swing for some big numbers on someone. There are very few reasons I would cast him outside of needing him to try to swing for some kills.

Try to bank off of a haste outlet whenever possible while playing Marton. It isn’t as though you can’t slow play Marton, but you really project what you intend to do when he hits the board. Haste is really key with this deck, and if you can’t achieve haste with him I usually look for another path or try to flash him in or use an alternate win condition. It is up to you to determine if you can get away with playing your haste outlets ahead of time or if you need to play them the same turn as Marton. Sometimes a surprise last second haste outlet + Marton in the same turn will throw people off as they didn’t think you could come out swinging with him. This can allow you to build a larger token force sometimes.

Backup Plan

There will actually be times where Marton just isn’t going to be an option. I deliberately built this deck with fallback plans. I have had to deal with a lot of different issues to get through with this deck before. Some of the worst issues you might encounter are: Fogs, mass -/- static effects (Crovax, Ascendant Hero), Aether Flash style of ETB or attack based damage effects like Caltrops, and effects requiring mana per attacker such as Propaganda. The idea behind this deck is to have alternate ways to win. If one of these effects comes down on you I usually turn to Warp World, Vicious Shadows, and Eldrazi creatures to do all of the damage you can to the offender. Don’t point out how much of a problem it is for you and try to keep the other players in the game because as long as they are around, they might clear this stuff up for you. Keep in mind what your backup plans are and try to bank opponents into solving the issues / the problematic player for you.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

If you have ever played Mono Red, then you should understand that it is extremely difficult to control everything that your opponents do. Your removal and card draw is just too limited to try to react to everything else that goes on in a game. Due to this, I tend to try to just ignore a lot of what goes on. By forcing other players to use their answers on other big threats, it just makes it easier for us to go off. Remember that you are the Mono Red player and there might be a few blue and black players that you are facing. Generally speaking, a lot of these people sort of regularly draw the hate of the game due to the colors of their Commander.

Often you can just let the other people draw out the first wave of hate. By the time you are ready to make your move most people will have smaller hands and less answers. Try to let people swing into other people. Don’t make a big fuss over taking five damage here and there as only the last bit of life matters. This deck can try to force a win out of nowhere in a lot of ways late in the game. Just sort of roll with the game until the time is right to make a move. Trying to go off too early can result in turning the rest of the game against you.

The goal of this deck is essentially to set up a position to eliminate all of the opposition while trying to ignore most of what else is going on. We have some removal such as Goblin Welder, Siege-Gang Commander, Eldrazi, and Goblin Bombardment, but the primary goal of the deck is to sort of just kill everyone outright. This is usually accomplished by having sudden turns of large actions such as spawning ten tokens with haste and dropping Marton to swing out for lethal on everyone in one shot.

You can check out Brian’s full strategy guide to this seriously Chaos-Embracing deck as well as the deck’s history, configuration control, alternate card ideas, and even some game reports, over in the Salvation decklist forum.

Since we’re talking about Sally, I’ll take the opportunity to thank the other moderators, Weebo and viperesque, for helping make the Commander forums there quite strong. There was a time that they were full of rancor and vitriol, and the moderators have done a great job of ridding them for the most part (it’s the internet, after all—you’ll never get rid of all the trolls) of the negativity that made the site worth avoiding. I appreciate their efforts both personally, on behalf of the RC, and on behalf of Commander players everywhere. Big thanks.