It's long been said in Magic that blue is overpowered, and this past weekend at Pro Tour Aether Revolt, we got incontrovertible evidence of that. How so, you might ask? Even in a Top 8 with six Mardu Vehicles decks, “Esper” still won the tournament.
I am not even the tiniest bit sorry.
Look, folks, I'm not going to lie to you. The results of this tournament were not super-encouraging on the surface for those of us hoping to see some innovation. Looking through the top-scoring decklists, all I am seeing is the same Vehicles archetype. I will admit to feeling a bit...run down. Is Standard Mar-doomed?!
No! Take Heart, my friends, because buried deep in the decklist section is a fine selection of decks that were on zero radars before this weekend, as well as a few tweaks on existing archetypes that give us hope that all the good ideas have not yet been harvested. Veteran brewers like us can find plenty to be excited about, and our crew will come up with something we're all excited to pilot.
Maybe I'm a little sorry now. Those puns took a while to cultivate, after all.
As is my wont, I scoured all the lists that ended up with eighteen or more points at the Pro Tour to see what we could modify and tweak to best handle our new vehicular overlords. The pickings were a little slim, but there is enough room to innovate and iterate still that I am hopeful for a fun five weeks until Heart of Kiran gets banned.
Relax. That was a joke. Maybe.
This might be my favorite grindy shell of the whole lot. With seemingly forgotten cards like Vessel of Nascency and Liliana, the Last Hope, we are firmly in Recursion City. Our removal suite is set up to make sure that all sorts of Vehicles can stop in Recursion City, and our sideboard gives us the option of trying to go under people with Grim Flayer. One thing that would worry me about this deck is the single Appetite for the Unnatural in the sideboard and the lack of something like Ceremonious Rejection. Yahenni's Expertise is pretty ineffective against Mardu unless we can cast something to destroy a Vehicle as our free spell, so that would be the first place I looked to find a cut.
Overwhelming Denial is a very interesting choice. On the one hand, it is not that much more expensive than Disallow, it cannot be countered, and it will occasionally cost UU. On the other hand, it is far less versatile than Disallow.
The maindeck might be a little light on lands. With Tireless Tracker wanting us to play as many lands as we can manage and most of our win conditions wanting us to hit five mana consistently, I am surprised not to see at least 25 in here. We can return them with Grapple from the Past, but the lack of at least one Hissing Quagmire is a little confusing.
- 4 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Greenbelt Rampager
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 4 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
I know G/B Aggro was a well-publicized archetype heading in to the Pro Tour, but the energy angle that Ken (and a fair few others) took with the deck really resonated with me. Ken did not opt for Bristling Hydra (in my mind, one of the biggest draws to this style), instead opting to go smaller with Greenbelt Rampager. With the prevalence of Fatal Push, that might be the wrong way to go as we move forward. Hydra's resilience to any kind of spot removal will be a big boon against the mirror, but the increased mana cost will be a hindrance if Fumigate and/or Planar Outburst start to see more play.
One thing to consider is that going bigger with this deck is possible. Adding Bristling Hydra to the above deck might mean adding another land, but that isn't necessarily the end of the world. Demon of Dark Schemes is not going to destroy any Vehicles, but it will nuke practically every creature in the Mardu Vehicles deck. We might not want it maindeck, but it would be a solid sideboard option. As we're already looking at a suite of five-drops in the sideboard, these concerns might be unfounded. We definitely want more artifact removal, though!
Although an unchecked Glint-Sleeve Siphoner can take over the early game, the ubiquity of Walking Ballista makes the card a little vulnerable for my tastes. Live Fast could be a possibility here, but the one-shot nature and inability to punch for three (at least) is a definite drawback. “You side it out in the mirror” at some point becomes a facile argument when the mirror is over 50% of the metagame.
Does Heroic Intervention become playable at some point? Is it time to bring back Blossoming Defense to protect the Siphoner and other key cards? Could we perhaps look at Scrounging Bandar? Sure, that last one might be a stretch, but perhaps not as much as you think. The interaction with Winding Constrictor is a powerful one, and if you ever get the second Bandar ou,t then things get messy. Plus, we get to say “Cat Monkey” a lot. How can you go wrong?
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Lambholt Pacifist
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 3 Archangel Avacyn
- 3 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Pascal Maynard is either the bravest or smartest person in the room. G/W Tokens was out of favor because it lacked consistent ways to beat Jeskai Saheeli, but given that he went 8-2 with the deck, I imagine Pascal found a way to beat it consistently. I like a lot of what is going on here. When nobody else is playing Archangel Avacyn, being the one with Archangel Avacyn is a great place to be! The turn she is cast, she can block and kill Heart of Kiran, and with the ability to kill your own Walking Ballista at will, you can control when she flips and burns the battlefield. Gideon and Nissa are almost made to be played together, and much of the rest of this deck is very familiar.
"Familiar" is the only problem I have. I have never been a fan of Lambholt Pacifist in the deck, even if Heart of Kiran works with it in two different and powerful ways. I also don't know if I would want the Toolcraft Exemplars in the deck as we move forward. The drum I am about to beat will be familiar to most of you, but I would love to see Oath of Gideon and maybe even Oath of Ajani in this deck. Okay, perhaps the latter would be better off in the sideboard to help reduce the cost of Ajani Unyielding (flavor win), but Oath of Gideon consistently amazes me by its absence in decks.
We might be at a point where the Fumigates in this deck need to move to the main deck. G/B can go so big so quickly that Fumigate and sometimes Quarantine Field are the only real answers. I'd also like to change the Fragmentize for Natural State, because instant speed is incredibly relevant sometimes.
I'm starting to wonder if taking to the skies isn't the answer to G/B and its ground-stalling ways. Although Walking Ballista doesn't discriminate (it's an equal-opportunity pinger), we can't avoid that card if we want to play creatures. Anything we play can be shot, so we might as well make them work for it. Gisela, the Broken Blade seems to be well-positioned against Mardu, as it blocks and kills almost everything. Although Veteran Motorist and Depala, Pilot Exemplar can pump their Vehicles, we have Nissa and Gideon to pump ours. And hey, first strike is a heck of a drug.
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 3 Forerunner of Slaughter
- 4 Inventor's Apprentice
- 4 Weldfast Engineer
- 3 Pia Nalaar
Having seen this deck on camera, it looks capable of some scarily fast things. I really like the inclusion of Forerunner of Slaughter and its secret mode of giving Vehicles haste. That being said, there are only four Vehicles in the deck. Scrapheap Scrounger getting haste could be relevant, but I was surprised to see no Walking Ballista or even Untethered Express anywhere in the 75. They even synergize well with the Weldfast Engineer, a card I thought had a bunch of potential when I saw it.
Bomat Courier is not a card I ever thought I would sleeve up, as I am just terrible with aggressive decks. I did play it in a draft once, though, and it was impressively good. Between it and the two Chandra, Torch of Defiance, we are getting to see an impressive number of cards each game. The one thing that worries me about the Courier is the nightmare of having it removed when I have no open red mana, but the upside to this card is just too good to ignore. The only viable alternative (and I use that term loosely) would be Reaver Drone, which does have the extra point of power but lacks haste, needs a specific color of mana on turn 1, and doesn't turn on Unlicensed Disintegration or Inventor's Apprentice.
Having seen this deck struggle against an opponent who is able to get a good start, I wonder if something like Destructive Tampering might not be helpful out of the sideboard. The deck needs something to give it a bit more reach or to help it punch through an established battlefield on the other side. If Destructive Tampering is too narrow (as it does nothing to stop Heart of Kiran and Aethersphere Harvester from blocking), perhaps Kari Zev's Expertise could be useful? Maybe Goldnight Castigator?
Improvements to this deck are not obvious, but I included it because it is both interesting and terrifying, This goes under even the Mardu decks, and with some reach it can finish off the last few points it needs once the opponent stabilizes. We definitely need to be prepared to face this one down as we brew in the coming weeks.
Go Forth and Conquer!
This is another multi-part week for me, folks, as we have only touched on the 24- to 30-point decks from the Pro Tour. There was a lot more to talk about than I expected given the prevalence of two archetypes (G/B and Mardu), which is reassuring. I also want to look at some evolutions and iterations in another theorycraft article, but that might be next week.
For now, that's all I have. As always, thanks for stopping by the LAB, where Lansdell's Always Brewing. Until next time...Brew On!