After getting two different camera matches at #SCGPhilly playing Mardu Pyromancer, my various social media inboxes have been exploding with questions about the deck. Even after deciding to write the article, the questions didn't stop:
Tomorrow I'm going to be writing an article on Mardu Pyroman at @StarCityGames. I'm currently feeling out the best structure for it, and want to feel things out a bit.— Emma Handy (@Em_TeeGee) July 23, 2018
So, what do you want to know about the deck? What do you think is important to include in an article about it?
Rather than giving the basic rundown of how the deck tends to operate, like I did last week , it seemed more fitting to give a more detailed breakdown of what goes into the deck and playing it, in that order.
Building the Deck
Mardu Pyromancer's numbers are fairly tight at this point, but here's the core of the deck:
Add: 4 fetchlands, 1 removal spell, 1 other land, 1 three-drop.
Most of what's going on here is fairly intuitive, with notes being:
- The fetchlands need to be Arid Mesa or Marsh Flats to grab the proper basics and shocklands. I recommend Marsh Flats, as it can grab basic Swamp.
- The second two-mana removal spell waffles between Terminate and Dreadbore.
- The final land is generally going to take the form of another Sacred Foundry, another basic Mountain, or a fetchland.
- The final three-drop in the deck has the goal of being some sort of bomb and is most commonly a Liliana of the Veil or a Liliana, the Last Hope.
The sideboard isn't quite as formulaic, and I'll use my deck from last weekend's tournament as a bit of framework:
Getting the easy stuff out of the way, here's what is standard in the list:
All of this is fairly stock and has been talked about in other places. The real decisions come in other places.
With a deck like Mardu Pyromancer, it's worth noting that there's never going to be a perfect build of the deck. There may come a point at which the maindeck is streamlined in the same way that Grixis Delver was in Legacy before Deathrite's banning with every single list being within a single card of each other, but in a format as diverse as Modern, it's going to be better to build things a certain way from week to week.
Looking at my list, almost all the decisions made during the deckbuilding process were made around two cards: Liliana, the Last Hope and Leyline of the Void.
Many versions of Mardu Pyromancer have been playing Liliana of the Veil as their maindeck three-drop of choice, and it didn't make a ton of sense to me. With Humans, Collected Company decks, the mirror, and Infect showing up in the numbers they were, Liliana, the Last Hope seemed like a slam dunk in the list.
Between Lingering Souls and Young Pyromancer, leveraging concrete advantage with Modern's priciest Planeswalker is a pain, and the lack of good targets for the burn in the deck makes it difficult to run away with the game and activate her ultimate.
When posturing a deck to be better against a certain field of cards, hedging is reasonable, but there comes a point at which one can't prepare for everything, so rather than trying to cover all our bases by splitting the flavors of Liliana between the maindeck and sideboard, it made more sense to just go in on the version we were main decking.
In lists without as many copies of Liliana, the Last Hope, Molten Rain does have its benefits. Between triggering Young Pyromancer, making Bedlam Reveler easier to cast, and being able to knock decks off their one basic, Fulminator Mage isn't a strict upgrade over the sorcery.
On the other side of things, with Liliana, the Last Hope and Kolaghan's Command to rebuy Fulminator Mage, the deck has access to a very real Ponza-esque strategy. On top of that, there's the whole "Fulminator Mage has power and toughness" for games that involve an opponent with a ton of lands on their side of the table.
With five ways to recur creatures in the list, playing Fulminator Mage was fairly academic.
Mardu Pyromancer decks tend to have between two and five pieces of graveyard hate in their sideboards, with the most common pieces being Surgical Extraction and Nihil Spellbomb, which both make sense.
Surgical Extraction can be a way to trigger Young Pyromancer for free, a pseudo-Lotus Petal for Bedlam Reveler, or shore up creature-free combo matchups that Mardu Pyormancer otherwise can struggle against. Nihil Spellbomb helps Mardu Pyromancer not have to sacrifice an entire card for the sake of dealing with graveyard synergies.
Right now, I'm of the firm belief that Leyline of the Void is the best graveyard hate for Mardu Pyromancer. The biggest reason for this lies in the fact that the deck in the format that abuses its graveyard the most, Ironworks, can easily fight through Nihil Spellbomb and Surgical Extraction. Remember this tweet?
Yeah, x2 Surgical, Relic and Abrade wasn't enough :(— Saffron Olive (@SaffronOlive) July 9, 2018
If fighting with a scalpel isn't working, it's time to bring out the sledgehammer. Leyline of the Void also has splash applications in other matchups that aren't necessarily as intuitive, like the mirror .
At the risk of using the "pitches to Force " platitude, Mardu Pyromancer also has something to do with extra copies of Leylines that it draws later in the game: turn them into real cards via Faithless Looting.
These aren't the only cards that find their way into Mardu Pyromancer lists, but it's all incredibly contextual and dependent on the expected metagame of the event. To fire off a few more cards that find their way into lists:
Generally sideboarded for matchups where an incredibly punishing clock is necessary. Think combo and Tron.
Good against fair decks where an indestructible clock will eventually close the game. Pitching cards to her ability isn't always a liability either.
If the haymaker you're looking for is something a little more grindy than Hazoret, Chandra plays a similar role. Protecting her isn't particularly difficult in the deck with upwards of ten to fifteen removal spells.
Are lots of medium-to-large-sized creatures attacking? Ensnaring Bridge is a great answer. Especially because Young Pyromancer and Lingering Souls are great at producing attackers that can sneak under a 'Bridge.
Seeing Blood Moon, Ensnaring Bridge, Leyline of the Void, and Kambal, Consul of Allocation is a ton of hate in a deck that isn't classified as a prison deck, but we'll put a button in that for a minute.
Playing Mardu Pyromancer is much harder that it tends to look. There are obviously the easy curves of Thoughtseize into Young Pyromancer into Blood Moon and so on, but even the "free" games tend to have a ton of decisions in them. People aren't cold to Blood Moon like they used to be, and redundancy is the name of the game in the Modern landscape of today.
Faithless Looting is Brainstorm , and is similarly difficult to play in this archetype. The single biggest mistake I see players make is leading on them too early when the matchup doesn't call for it.
Other than Bedlam Reveler, Mardu Pyromancer doesn't have a ton of ways to accrue a ton of cards. This means that Mardu Pyromancer is generally trying to make its spells line up with the opponent's as best as possible. The difficulty of this in the context of the matchup is going to dictate how you should be playing Faithless Looting.
In fairer matchups where trading cards is going to happen throughout the game and the power levels of all cards are relatively similar, it's going to be better to try and sandbag copies of Faithless Looting. Ryan Overturf had an entire article on holding cantrips a few years ago, but to summarize: the longer the game goes, the more information Faithless Looting's caster has at their disposal to inform the decisions associated with resolving the spell.
On top of that, in fair matchups, it's generally going to be better to try and discard flashback spells during the earlier game to increase the number of options available to you on any given turn and avoid the card disadvantage that comes from the front half of Faithless Looting in fair matchups. On a related note: don't fall into the trap of always discarding spells that can be cast from the graveyard just because they have flashback. Sometimes the front half of a Lingering Souls is going to be better more impactful than other cards in the deck.
On the other side of the spectrum, some matchups are decided almost entirely by hate cards being drawn or not. These matchups, it doesn't matter that the initial casting of Faithless Looting is going to put the Pyromancer pilot down a card. All that matters is churning through the library in hopes of finding Blood Moon and company.
Knowing how to cast hand disruption is one of the key elements to piloting Mardu Pyromancer at peak proficiency. Reid Duke has a fantastic article on the subject . When applying it to Modern, the tl;dr comes down to a handful of truisms:
- Is the opponent's deck going to try and empty their hand quickly? If so, trading an Inquisition for a card should be prioritized, because having that opportunity isn't a guarantee.
- Is the opponent a combo deck? Try to cast hand disruption early, as it can feed information on what cards should be interacted with.
- Is this a matchup that involves a single card mattering from the opponent? Try and hold the disruption until exactly the turn before they would cast the card. This gives them the most opportunities to draw the card, and they will operate under the information that they already have it. For example, an Ironworks player isn't going to take a Krark-Clan Ironworks off of Ancient Stirrings if they think the one in their hand is safe.
- In matchups with countermagic, Thoughtseize can be used to pave the way for another spell resolving.
- In matchups where the battlefield is the only thing that matters, try and turn hand disruption into real cards via Faithless Looting. A turn 5 Inquisition of Kozilek is going to be worth less than a random card against Tron, for example.
Bedlam Reveler and Young Pyromancer are not cards that win games quickly. Modern is a format that tends to operate in the opposite direction. A format that leans towards ending games in the first four-ish turns is going to have swaths of decks that aren't prepared to fight in the later turns of the game. Bedlam Reveler and Young Pyromancer are cards that punish opponents for allowing the game take a long time.
Mardu Pyromancer must have the ability to set up its own gameplan, interact with what is on the battlefield, and interact with what is to come. Mardu achieves this by creating a sort of premature lategame as quickly as possible, using piles of one- and two-mana cards to whittle both players down to as few resources as possible before using a Bedlam Reveler to shoot back up to having more cards than the opponent. On top of the obvious synergies at play with Bedlam Reveler and Young Pyromancer, this is why so many cards in the deck cost so little mana.
As a result of being a fair deck that leans on its synergies that come online in the mid-to-late game, most games that Mardu Pyromancer plays are going to be played from behind. The way that the deck is interested in playing its cards is like the thinking that goes into resolving Faithless Looting. It's all about role assessment.
In matchups that Mardu cannot go over the top of or are rooted in an axis on which Mardu can't compete (think Tron and Dredge), Mardu's plan is to try and disrupt what the opponent is doing, and then apply as much pressure as possible. Jamming Young Pyromancer on the turn after discarding a Cathartic Reunion with Inquisition of Kozilek, for example.
Other matchups, particularly creature-based ones, Mardu is very comfortable taking its time, and using its resources to simply prolong the game by exchanging resources; using Lingering Souls to double-, triple-, and quadruple-block things, holding Kolaghan's Commands to clean up little creatures or saving Terminate for a lategame haymaker in the vein of Restoration Angel from Humans.
Sideboarding with the deck is fairly academic for anybody that has played with a midrange deck before, but for anybody new to the archetype, there's a secret that comes from playtesting: If you find yourself discarding the same cards to Faithless Looting in a matchup, that card probably shouldn't be in your deck. Obviously, there are going to be exceptions to the rule, but 'Looting-style effects force us to confront which cards we value higher than other ones in real time.
Mardu lists being as metagame dependent as they are makes it fairly nonsensical to list the typical "These cards out/These cards in"-styled sideboard guide that most people expect, so instead of that, I'll go through matchups, talk about cards that are worth bringing in from different variants, and what cards tend to be weaker. You're an adult, figure out the numbers yourself.
Generally speaking, this is a matchup that comes down to locking the opponent out while pecking them to death. Pithing Needle doesn't stop most abilities in the deck, but it does hurt the lands and Ghirapur Aether Grid is a beating if left unanswered, so the 'Needle is worth bringing in. I've been bringing in a copy of Fulminator Mage on the play, but it's been too slow on the draw. Dreadbore can be worth bringing back in if Karn, Scion of Urza shows up, but that's fairly uncommon.
I don't have a ton to bring in in my list, as the matchup is already pretty good for Mardu Pyromancer, and have only been cutting Manamorphose and Thoughtseize as a result. Manamorphose is a liability due to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and other than a couple of tech choices, Inquisition hits all the same cards as Thoughtseize but without having to pay life.
Collective Brutality can be on the chopping block if you're really trying to fit more cards in your deck, but that's a bit of a stretch. It kills Meddling Mage, Kitesail Freebooter, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, so what else are you really looking for?
VS Mono-Green Tron
Say it with me now.
Blood Moon isn't good enough on its own.
One more, really internalize it:
Blood Moon isn't good enough on its own.
Don't cut all the Lingering Souls or Lightning Bolts, but if you have a lot to bring in, trimming copies of either or both is fine. Keeping spell density for Bedlam Reveler is important, and both cards serve roles.
I wouldn't recommend sweating this matchup too much, as it's probably unwinnable most of the time and fixing it would require giving up matchups that are significantly more winnable.
VS U/W Control
Most cards are fine against U/W Control, because the matchup goes so long. It's about having as many impactful cards as possible and hoping that enough of them stick to win the game.
Don't cut all your Lightning Bolts, because they're good at killing Planeswalkers. Blood Moon is also something that shouldn't be grabbed instantly, because even if U/W can play through the card, it still cuts off Celestial Colonnade and the back end of Search for Azcanta.
Manamorphose can get Spell Snare'd, which is a very real liability in a deck that doesn't have very many twos.
The value of enchantment removal is going to vary greatly but answering Search for Azcanta and Rest in Peace (!!) is important enough that you don't want to be completely cold to it. I lean towards just bringing in Engineered Explosives to answer these, but if there are also multiple copies of Detention Sphere, Wear is very reasonable.
Don't play too far into sweepers against U/W Control that doesn't have red cards, because their sweepers don't put things into the graveyard, and most of Mardu Pyromancer's card advantage relies on re-buying things with Kolaghan's Command and Liliana, the Last Hope.
All of this should give a basic road map for how to play the cards in the deck, and the rest is just a matter of getting reps, metagaming, and finally, getting some wins under your belt.
Mardu Pyromancer isn't easy, and it's important not to get discouraged if wins don't come easy at first; the games are grueling and the length of games allows for loads of opportunities to screw up. The deck tests a slew of basic Magic fundamentals and is incredibly rewarding to work on mastering.