Being able to succeed on the big stage with a deck, especially one that you’re quite fond of, is among the best feelings in Magic. Not only will those cards and that archetype forever evoke fond memories, but the deck tends to get associated with you personally.
It should come as no surprise that one of the most frequent questions I get asked is about what my current Mardu Pyromancer decklist would look like. Getting typecast as “Mardu Guy” is honestly one of my proudest achievements.
With Mardu Pyromancer having a certain amount of nostalgia, it becomes increasingly more difficult to fundamentally alter things about the deck that were previously sacred cows, but Modern Horizons demands it.
This is what I’ve been playing to good success.
We’ve got a lot of new cards to work with:
These four cards dramatically alter things to the point where Mardu is barely recognizable anymore. With Seasoned Pyromancer giving you another way to filter through cards, having additional cards with flashback is an easy way to gain a sizeable advantage. The tokens from Seasoned Pyromancer also combine with Yawgmoth, Thran Physician to give you a different draw engine. Sadly, that means Bedlam Reveler must go.
It’s the end of an era. While Bedlam Reveler was the lifeblood of the deck and one of the most fun engines I’ve had the privilege of working with, it’s time to move on.
Seasoned Pyromancer is one of the biggest additions to the archetype because it gives you a filtering engine that works well with cards that like being in the graveyard or a card drawing engine if you’re hellbent. Both modes are excellent and the “flashback” on Seasoned Pyromancer is also highly relevant.
Combine that with Young Pyromancer and Lingering Souls, and you have enough token generators to make Yawgmoth, Thran Physician into a fearsome draw engine. Yawgmoth is also quite good against Humans on its own and the Proliferate ability will allow you to mow down their entire battlefield in a turn or two.
With Bedlam Reveler no longer in the deck, your mana gets easier and more difficult at the same time. Rather than trying to have as many red sources on the battlefield (to facilitate turns like Faithless Looting, Lightning Bolt, Bedlam Reveler), you are now free to have RRBW on Turn 4 and be fine with it. This opens the door for cards like Smiting Helix to make the cut.
The inclusion of Smiting Helix does a ton of good for the archetype, but those Helixes end up taking the spot of something like Dreadbore or Angrath’s Rampage, which means dealing with larger creatures or planeswalkers is sometimes more difficult. However, you have more tokens to block and more burn (and tokens) to deal with planeswalkers. You might not have as many clean answers, but you are still well-equipped to handle those cards.
Unearth is the final spell from Modern Horizons to make the cut. Some of your biggest tempo boosts can come from Unearth and it’s never dead because of cycling. You can’t add too many copies to your deck, but if Hogaak Bridgevine didn’t exist, you could probably add a third instead of the Nihil Spellbombs.
Since there are no more Bedlam Revelers, Kolaghan’s Command isn’t nearly as potent of a tool. Plus, there are fewer artifacts at the moment, so its inclusion isn’t a necessity. Seasoned Pyromancer covers most of the bases for card filtering, card advantage, and having things to do with your mana anyway.
NIhil Spellbomb maindeck is a must at the moment. Hogaak Bridgevine is difficult enough as is, although a timely discard spell or a removal spell on your own token can really mess them up. Plus, Nihil Spellbomb has a low opportunity cost and has uses in other matchups.
The sideboard is narrower than I’d like, but it’s currently getting the job done. Don’t be surprised if I’m recommending ten different cards in two days, though. It’s certainly possible there are better configurations out there.
Leyline of the Void is basically a must, although it’s currently being overplayed. Hogaak Bridgevine is ready to deal with it in most matchups, but Leyline with a discard spell to protect it is huge. Decks like Humans that don’t have discard spells should probably play something like Ravenous Trap, though.
The rise of Izzet Phoenix (and Aria of Flame) means Mardu needs something off the beaten path. You can’t sideboard in Wear // Tear and expect each of your cards to line up perfectly. Instead, I’m playing Celestial Purge, which has applications in many other matchups, yet never made the Mardu sideboard before due to a lack of white mana sources. Now that we have plenty and Aria of Flame is a huge target, Celestial Purge is something we can be happy playing. The upside of tagging Arclight Phoenix is huge, even if you already have Nihil Spellbombs.
Similarly, Kambal, Consul of Allocation can play more of a prominent role in the sideboard now. It’s great against Izzet Phoenix and Burn while being passable against combo, control, and prison decks.
Plague Engineer is kind of busted, both for us and against us. It’s arguably the strongest reply to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and can take over a game in combination with spot removal for their strongest creatures. I’ve seen some midrange decks move toward playing four copies post-sideboard and it’s something I can get behind when the time is right.
The worst card in the sideboard is Collective Brutality. I tend to want my midrange sideboards to be versatile so I can bring in multiple cards in any given matchup, but Modern requires specific answers at the moment. Brutality is the most versatile card at the moment, which also makes it the weakest. You can bring it in against Burn and combo, control, and some creature decks, but it’s not phenomenal against anyone not packing Lava Spike. It could very easily go.
I typically keep a list of “maybes” for any deck I play, and here’s the current Mardu version:
I’ve tried most of these at various points. Anything not on this list that you think should be on it is probably something I tried and dismissed entirely, although it’s possible I forgot a few things.
The complete lack of nonbasic land hate is a glaring omission at the moment, but Tron doesn’t seem particularly strong to me at the moment. You can do cute things with Fulminator Mage and Unearth, but remember that most opponents will have graveyard hate for you too.
I could see sideboarding a Magmatic Sinkhole for a few different matchups, but don’t want to sideboard in cards that are unplayable when facing down a Rest in Peace. Fulminator Mage is fine on its own, but I’d want Blood Moon or something more powerful. Blood Moon itself is quite good against Tron and the like, but remember that with the new cards, our manabase is moving away from red, which means Blood Moon could potentially cripple us.
If I wanted something akin to a sweeper, it would be Force of Despair or Grim Lavamancer. Force can negate the fastest starts from aggressive decks, is playable against Hogaak Bridgevine, and is generally solid. Grim Lavamancer kind of breaks my rule of using the graveyard, but it’s basically your strongest card against any creature deck. It’s even a fine threat against Azorius Control.
A single Pithing Needle could be a reasonable choice against Aether Vial, planeswalkers, Altar of Dementia, and Griselbrand. Basically, Pithing Needle is great against most of your bad matchups.
Most of the other stuff on the list doesn’t excite me, hence the omissions. Once Hogaak Bridgevine is dealt with (one way or another), we can reexamine Mardu Pyromancer in the new metagame, which could be one where we want to load up on mediocre planeswalkers.
If you’ve been keeping up with the latest Modern (and Legacy) trends, you’re probably wondering if and how Dreadhorde Arcanist could fit into Mardu. It’s a reasonable question and one I don’t quite have the answer for yet. I could see a couple of copies taking the place of a Young Pyromancer and something else, but that’s not really utilizing the card to its fullest. There are some Rakdos decks out there, either with suspend cards or not, that look interesting. So far, my results with them have been much worse than my results with plain ole Mardu, so I’d currently recommend something closer to this decklist.