Aetherworks Marvel will not be dominating Historic anytime soon.
Energy, in some form, will be another successful deck in Historic’s roster of top decks. The versions that rely solely on Aetherworks Marvel are susceptible to commonly played hate cards like Grafdigger’s Cage. Karn, the Great Creator becoming more prevalent doesn’t bode well either. All it means is that, as a Marvel player, you’ll need a solid backup plan.
That’s not breaking news. Decks that were purely reliant on Aetherworks Marvel have rarely been successful.
I’ve tried so many different versions of Aetherworks Marvel in different formats. Without providing a wall of decklists that didn’t quite work out, I’ll just point out that the main issue with trying to do anything cool with the archetype is you need a certain amount of energy enablers, the best of which lend themselves most strongly to midrange strategies.
Yes, you can blink the energy creators with Yorion, Sky Nomad; use Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot to enable Emry, Lurker of the Loch; or use Whir of Invention to find Aetherworks Marvel. Most of those decks have the same issue, where Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is the most powerful payoff and does very little when you draw it.
You can try Marvel into other things that aren’t quite as impactful as Ulamog but are easier to cast. That might work against Mono-Red Aggro or a smaller midrange deck but it will struggle to be enough against decks like Sultai Midrange and Colorless Ramp, and in mirror matches.
Treasure Map; Genesis Ultimatum; and Golos, Tireless Pilgrim are ways to help cast Ulamog that are cards you wouldn’t mind playing. Niv-Mizzet, Parun; Torrential Gearhulk; Striped Riverwinder; Shark Typhoon; and Gyruda, Doom of Depths are payoffs you can cast in a normal game of Magic.
You can try merging archetypes too. If you don’t like drawing Ulamog, you can try to filter it away with Chart a Course and Champion of Wits and maybe reanimate it with Unburial Rites or Liliana, Death’s Majesty.
There are cards like Transmogrify and Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast that you could try to use in combination with Aetherworks Marvel to put Ulamog onto the battlefield. Maybe Ilharg, the Raze-Boar could turn drawing Ulamog into a positive instead of a negative.
Maybe you want to try ramping harder with Growth Spiral; Cultivate; Oracle of Mul Daya; or Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. Escape to the Wilds is potentially great, especially since it’s a powerful Marvel hit. There could be something there but I haven’t figured it out yet.
One of the amalgams that appears to have legs is the Food package. Acceleration is welcome, so Gilded Goose would be great if we could consistently enable it. Trail of Crumbs will eventually get you to ten mana and constantly find you cards that gain energy, including Aetherworks Marvel itself. Unfortunately, that would lead to a version that’s more consistent and can play a longer game, which isn’t really what I’d want in Historic at the moment.
At the end of the day, your best bet is being able to interact with your opponents and trying to go over the top with Ulamog. Prolonging the game and finding ways to get to ten mana is the key to making the deck functional.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- 3 Whirler Virtuoso
- 1 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Rogue Refiner
At the moment, I’m not playing all the Ulamogs, which will probably be the main point of contention. Marveling into Ulamog is the most powerful thing you can be doing but drawing Ulamog will also be responsible for many of your losses. As a hedge, I’m splitting copies with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, which is more castable and way more devastating against certain archetypes. Against decks like Sultai Midrange, Colorless Ramp, and the mirror, Ulamog is better, so adjust accordingly.
One of the simplest solutions to the Ulamog problem is to use Fire Prophecy. I’d love to be able to do that, especially since Fire Prophecy puts the card back in your deck to potentially hit with Marvel later. Sadly, we need Harnessed Lightning as an energy enabler and Abrade has too many incredible targets. It’s worth trying though.
Whirler Virtuoso is one of the reasons to play the deck and use the red splash. It’s a very good energy generator and the second-best energy payoff. It provides blockers, goes wide against planeswalkers, and gives you some energy rebates with Marvel on the battlefield when tokens die. Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Nissa, Who Shakes the World; and Karn, the Great Creator are all widely played, which Whirler Virtuoso is awesome against.
Llanowar Elves is probably the best thing about my version compared to everyone else’s. Just because Servant of the Conduit says “energy” on it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be playing an objectively stronger card instead. By using Llanowar Elves, you’ll usually end up casting more energy cards in the first few turns. Meanwhile, Servant of the Conduit won’t accelerate you into anything meaningful and will charge you energy to do it.
Your deck is already configured to cast Attune with Aether on Turn 1, so adding Llanowar Elves doesn’t come at much of a cost. Accelerating into Rogue Refiner or Whirler Virtuoso is huge and allows the deck to compare favorably to Historic’s best decks. In order to do that, you need to maximize the amount of two-color lands you’re playing, which can be difficult if you’re trying to get fancy with your manabase.
Fabled Passage is excellent with Aetherworks Marvel but isn’t particularly good with how the deck sequences the early turns. Plus, you have Attune with Aether demanding you devote slots to basic lands and Fabled Passage would further encourage that. When your deck wants to curve Llanowar Elves into Whirler Virtuoso, you don’t have that luxury.
Unfortunately, the DFCs have many of the same issues. Some of them, like Turntimber Symbiosis or Sea Gate Restoration, would be decent to Marvel into. One of the ways to cast Ulamog more easily is through Castle Garenbrig. Again, it has some of the same issues of being clunky and cuts into your basic land count.
Considering that we’re a midrange deck, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is surprisingly not present. It’s not great to Marvel into, which is what you’d prefer from your card advantage engines. The early turns consist of trying to keep up with your opponents, while Uro typically leaves you further behind. Those decks normally have catch-up mechanisms, whereas Marvel’s is its namesake that can only be used if you’ve been spending mana on energy generators. As an escape card, Uro would be a fantastic way to not run out of gas. Unfortunately, getting it into the graveyard isn’t free.
The sideboard countersuite is interesting. You used to add four copies of Mystical Dispute and call it a day. Now there are Karns, opposing Marvels, and Nissa to worry about. If all you’re worried about are counterspells and Torrential Gearhulks, Mystical Dispute is the obvious choice, but I don’t think it’s that simple. Pact of Negation, Ceremonious Rejection, Spell Pierce, and Negate are all solid choices.
VS Mono-Red Aggro
If you wanted, you could transition into a deck less relying on Aetherworks Marvel, depending on how much interaction they have. The more aggressive they are, the less interaction they’ll need and that’s the setup I assume most people will have.
VS Sultai Midrange
This matchup is difficult because of their disruption and a late-game that rivals yours. My choice of sideboard card advantage was largely determined by the presence of Sultai.
VS Colorless Ramp
Karn, the Great Creator is a difficult card to beat without Whirler Virtuoso and planeswalkers. Thankfully, we have plenty of those and some counterspells. I’m never surprised when I lose the first game though. If you cared, you could swing this matchup very heavily in your favor. At the moment, we have enough to stay competitive, which is all I think you need.
VS Temur Marvel
When you’re a midrange Marvel deck fighting against a heavy-payoff Marvel build, you have to hope their deck implodes. You have some disruption, are typically more consistent, and will win basically every game that doesn’t involve Marvel.
You will lose games where they spike Ulamog but are a favorite overall. Honestly, if you had an Unsummon or something, you’d win those games too.
VS Jund Sacrifice
There are many games in this matchup where the matchup feels great from the Marvel side but that doesn’t seem to be the case on paper. If things line up well for Marvel, you can feel unstoppable and there isn’t much Jund can do. Maybe my decklist has more cheap interaction than other versions, which is why it tends to work out in my favor. They should be able to sneak in damage and eventually cobble together a way to deal lethal but it’s difficult when you continually stop their pressure.
Some Final Tips
You walk a fine line between wanting to cast Marvel in order to get it to resolve and wanting to wait until you have six energy. In general, I would wait to cast it until I could activate it, unless I knew their only way of dealing with a resolved Marvel is through countermagic.
Also, resolving Aetherworks Marvel doesn’t mean you need to activate it immediately. Depending on what version you’re playing, it might be a better choice to pass the turn instead. The most common reason to wait would be to see if they point a removal spell at it, at which point you can try to Marvel into a replacement Marvel. However, the more planeswalkers you have in your deck, the more you’ll activate Marvel as soon as possible.
Marvel isn’t the best deck in Historic but it’s very good and something people need to be prepared for. Put Llanowar Elves in your deck, develop some solid sideboard plans, and you’ll be good to go.