The Matchup Guide To Mardu Pyromancer

Mardu Pyromancer is officially a big deal in Modern! Consult Todd Stevens for all you need to beat the deck this weekend at SCG Minneapolis!

This past weekend #SCGKY
marked the first time Dominaria cards would see play in an
individual Modern Open, and I was excited to see their impact on the
format. Humans, Affinity, and Hollow One were the most successful decks at
the two Team Constructed Opens with Dominaria leading up into #SCGKY, making them
the level one decks that I discussed last week
. It looks like those decks were certainly in everyone’s crosshairs, as the
removal-heavy interactive decks completely dominated #SCGKY and now look to
be on top of the format. If this continues to be the case moving forward,
which all signs point to as of now, then there’s one particular deck that
may not be under the radar anymore.

Marshall Arthurs didn’t lose a match the entire weekend, defeating all
sorts of other fair, interactive decks in the process. When I played
against him in round fourteen he told me he brought the deck to beat up on
Humans and Affinity but barely saw those decks throughout the tournament.
Instead he played against a variety of other midrange and control decks, as
well as Amulet Titan a couple times and took down everything on his way to
the title. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but even at the time I loved the
pick of Mardu Pyromancer for the weekend even though it isn’t a deck we’ve
seen have a ton of success on the SCG Tour recently.

Mardu Pyromancer has many good things going for it. It gets to play a
whopping seven one mana discard spells (ten if you count Collective
Brutality) which allows it to surgically pick apart the opponent’s hand.
Not even Grixis Death’s Shadow plays that many discard spells, and having a
turn one discard spell is basically routine for this deck. Discard spells
are particularly powerful because they’re good against everyone, unlike
removal spells or sweepers that may only be good against certain opponents.

The biggest weakness of discard spells is that they’re essentially dead
cards when your opponent doesn’t have cards left in their hand. This is
where Faithless Looting shines by allowing you to dig through your deck and
allowing you to trade in the dead discard spells. You also have access to
Lingering Souls, which besides being an amazing card against the other
interaction-heavy decks of the format, is also a perfect card to discard to
Faithless Looting early in the game while you’re developing your hand. This
entire combination turns Faithless Looting into a wonderful card
advantage/selection engine that helps enable one of the best late game
finishers in the format.

Bedlam Reveler is the perfect card for the Mardu Pyromancer shell of
discard spells and Faithless Looting, oftentimes costing only one more than
Ancestral Recall while also providing a 3/4 prowess body. We all know that
drawing three cards is a good thing, but Faithless Looting can particularly
take advantage of that by cashing in the extra lands or discard spells you
draw. Kolaghan’s Command pushes the success of this shell even further,
allowing you to keep the card advantage going if your Bedlam Reveler dies
or simply returning it to your hand after discarding it to an early
Faithless Looting. Kolaghan’s Command is also just an incredibly good card
on its own against the aggressive level one decks I highlighted last week,
and Mardu Pyromancer can take full advantage of all four modes on the card.

The other main threat of the deck besides Bedlam Reveler is Young
Pyromancer, which is fragile but has an incredibly high ceiling. Creating a
creature token with each instant or sorcery you cast snowballs quickly when
left unchecked and even when answered, Kolaghan’s Command is always there
to get the Young Pyromancer back. A common play pattern against
removal-heavy decks is to wait until you can resolve Young Pyromancer and
immediately cast a spell or two to leave behind tokens even when facing
down a removal spell. Pair this with Lingering Souls and the opponent will
be run out of removal in no time. Even the best deck in Legacy, Grixis
Delver, usually plays four copies of this powerful Human Shaman.

Not only does Mardu Pyromancer have an incredible late game engine, as well
as the ability to go wide with Lingering Souls and Young Pyromancer, but it
also gets free wins from playing Blood Moon. Blood Moon is known to punish
greedy manabases, but really what it does is create non-games of Magic
where your opponent can’t cast the cards in their hand. This happens often
enough no matter the type of manabase your opponent is playing. I wouldn’t
consider decks like U/W Control or G/W Hexproof to have greedy manabases,
but Blood Moon often shuts them out of casting necessary spells all the

It looks like the free wins from Blood Moon weren’t enough, as Arthurs also
had three copies of Ensnaring Bridge in the sideboard to take creature
decks completely by surprise. Dedicating three sideboard slots to Ensnaring
Bridge when your creature matchups are already pretty good is certainly a
loud statement that he didn’t want to lose a single match to them. It’s
probably most important in the G/W Hexproof matchup since your removal
spells won’t be effective and with Marshall going through G/W Hexproof in
the semi-finals, I’m guessing the Ensnaring Bridges were a big part of
that. It looks like we’re going through a phase where the creature decks
are waning in popularity as the removal decks are rising so I’m not sure
there’s a need for three copies of Ensnaring Bridge moving forward.

Since Mardu Pyromancer has the best late game in the format and also has
all the tools to beat the aggressive creature decks, where are its
shortcomings? What matchups does it struggle against?

Let’s start with the easy one. Tron is an incredibly tough matchup for
Mardu Pyromancer, even with three maindeck Blood Moons. The clock Mardu
Pyromancer provides usually isn’t fast enough even considering the speed
bump that is Blood Moon to finish the game before Tron starts to drop
haymakers (and you can forget about any game without one of the three Blood
Moons). I respect Marshall for just giving up on this matchup entirely by
not putting any land destruction spells at all in the sideboard, something
you’ll commonly see there for the Tron matchup. I expected Tron to bounce
back last weekend as a response to the expected field of Jeskai Control,
but it was nowhere to be seen around the top tables, the place Marshall was
all weekend. However with the trend of removal-heavy decks being popular
likely to continue into #SCGMINN this weekend;
especially with Mardu Pyromancer breaking out, I expect to see more people
show up trying to cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to punish the slow

The discard spell/Blood Moon package Mardu Pyromancer brings to the table
is pretty effective at fighting the two Primeval Titan decks, Amulet Titan
and TitanShift, so if you want to bring a big mana deck to the table this
weekend I would keep that in mind.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mardu Pyromancer has a difficult time
defeating Burn as its removal spells and blockers don’t interact well with
the direct damage spells. This matchup isn’t as tough for Mardu Pyromancer
as Tron is, and Marshall came well prepared for it with three maindeck
copies of Collective Brutality, a fourth in the sideboard, and three copies
of Kambal, Consul of Allocation. Most games Mardu Pyromancer will win
against Burn will involve Collective Brutality being cast, as it can
greatly slow down Burn’s gameplan for only two mana. A Burn deck with a
good plan for defeating the midrange decks could be a wonderful plan to
bring to #SCGMINN this

The popularity of Hollow One in recent events was a key piece to what was
holding Mardu Pyromancer back, as it had combined recursive threats with
large ones that don’t die to Fatal Push or Lightning Bolt. If the speed of
Hollow One or Gurmag Angler didn’t overwhelm Mardu Pyromancer, then
Bloodghast and Flamewake Phoenix would grind it out. This deck is also
built around discarding its own cards, making the discard spells from Mardu
Pyromancer less impactful. Hollow One also commonly has four Leyline of the
Void in the sideboard which is a nightmare card for Mardu Pyromancer, a
deck that relies on heavily on its graveyard for Faithless Looting,
Lingering Souls, and Bedlam Reveler.

Hollow One only showed up to be ~2.6% of the day two metagame with only one
copy in the top 32, and I don’t believe that Marshall played against it
although I can’t say for sure. If he would have played against it, however,
he was certainly more ready for the matchup than I’ve seen a Mardu
Pyromancer pilot be, thanks to having extra sideboard slots by ignoring
Tron decks. The three Ensnaring Bridges would be vital in this matchup,
locking out the opponent until they found an answer to it. Also having
three copies of Wear//Tear and three copies of Surgical Extraction go a
long way, with Wear//Tear answering both Leyline of the Void and Hollow
One, and Surgical Extraction taking out the Flamewake Phoenixes or
Bloodghasts for good.

The other matchup that is usually incredibly difficult for Mardu
Pyromancer, and what Marshall built his deck to beat this weekend, is G/W
Hexproof. It certainly paid off in the top 4 when Marshall was victorious.
His opponent, Peter Tragos, decided not to play Leyline of Sanctity in the
maindeck which had become common recently. But that’s not what beat Tragos;
Blood Moon and Ensnaring Bridge did.

G/W Hexproof and Hollow One have been two of the more popular decks in the
Modern metagame recently which was holding back Mardu Pyromancer, but
Arthurs decided to use his sideboard to shore up these matchups while not
even trying to defeat Tron and it paid off wonderfully. Instead he targeted
the most popular strategies leading up to the weekend and was rewarded with
them occupying the top tables.

There are many decks in Modern that are trying to grind the opponent out
and get to the late game, but none of them do it as well as Mardu
Pyromancer. With the popularity of Jeskai Control continuing to rise, as
well as other interaction-heavy decks that are looking to beat Humans,
Mardu Pyromancer should continue this breakout into the top tier of the
metagame. The biggest question will be if Tron decks make a resurgence this
weekend to try and fight all these midrange and control decks.

It may be time for Karn, Scion of Urza to step out of the Dominaria
spotlight and for Karn Liberated to steal the show again.