Mardu in Hotlanta: A Punny Introduction to a Serious Magic Player

The locals are not joking around when they call it Hotlanta. I flew in from New York on Friday night to an almost 30 degree temperature difference.  I melted.

First off, I would like to give a huge thanks to Arya Roohi and Korey McDuffie for hosting me in Atlanta this weekend. The whole trip was made possible by the support you guys gave me.

To say that I tested thoroughly and had a strong Grasp of Darkness on the format leading into this tournament could not be further from the Painful Truths. A busy couple of work weeks and Collected Company on the weekends put me way behind, and I did not make the time to put in the effort I needed to succeed. It is one thing to do poorly at a tournament when the effort was put in to succeed (we all know that variance happens), but falling short because of factors within one’s control is a different story. I am determined to do better next time.

I decided to audible off a slightly tested but very powerful RW Humans deck onto a Mardu control deck for the Standard Open.  I felt that Radiant Flames was well-positioned; humans would be everywhere; and I really wanted to cast Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.  Since Radiant Flames requires three colors of mana, you can go four different routes to play it: Naya, Jeskai, Grixis and Mardu. All of these decks are viable, and I will probably end up trying them at some point, but what drew me to Mardu is incidental life gain.  Mardu has the ability to stabilize from the early life loss in the format with cards like Kalitas, Linvala, and the best creature land in standard: Shambling Vent.

 This is the list that I registered for the event to a 6-3 record, short of making day 2:

Main Deck:

4 Shambling Vent
1 Needle Spires
2 Foreboding Ruins
4 Smoldering Marsh
2 Battlefield Forge
1 Caves of Koilos
4 Evolving Wilds
4 Mountain
3 Swamp
2 Plains
3 Read the Bones
2 Tormenting Voice
4 Fiery Impulse
3 Ultimate Price
1 Grasp of Darkness
1 Ruinous Path
1 Declaration in Stone
1 Anguished Unmaking
3 Nahiri, the Harbinger
2 Chandra, Flamecaller
3 Goblin Dark- Dwellers
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Linvala, the Preserver
3 Radiant Flames
1 Languish
2 Transgress the Mind


3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
1 Ruinous Path
2 Transgress the Mind
2 Duress
1 Languish
1 Sorin, Grim Nemesis
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
2 Rending Volley

The deck was a reasonable choice to play and most of the individual spells felt powerful, but it was definitely clunky at times.  I built it to beat the aggressive Human-based decks and have game against the midrange decks. I beat the Humans decks I played against, including teammate and host Arya Roohi (sorry, buddy), so mission accomplished there.  I lost two matches to not having great answers to the curve of Thought-Knot Seer into Reality Smasher.  Those came from Cryptolith Rite decks: one Bant, and the other Four Color. My other loss was to a sweet Abzan Seasons Past deck that was brought to the tournament by Ali Aintrazi and Jeff Hoogland. That matchup felt awful as it was not possible to grind through Seasons Past looped endlessly with Dark Petition, and I eventually succumbed to the relentless (dead) card advantage.

One of the most important things to do after falling short in a tournament is to make sure you always walk away from it with something. No, this does not mean somebody else’s cards: Stealing is wrong. What I mean is you should walk away with a better knowledge and understanding of what weaknesses you showed up to the tournament with so you can improve yourself and your game. I did not play perfectly, build perfectly, or prepare enough for an unfamiliar format. Besides finding more time for pre-tournament preparations, here is what I have learned about Mardu and its role in standard:

  • Tormenting Voice is meant to filter cards, but was clunky and a bit awkward. Moving forward, I will be trying other cards in its place.
  • Casting Declaration in Stone against anything that’s not a token is not what I ever wanted to be doing as a control deck, but this happened quite frequently. Languish and Radiant Flames fill the role of answering tokens just fine.
  • Nahiri, the Harbinger was okay, but not great. I used her ultimate twice and lost one of those games. Linvala is great to search up, but it is no game-ending flying spaghetti monster (Emrakul, the Aeons Torn) or giant angry Dragonlord Atarka. Unless more relevant enchantments pop up in standard or I change to Naya, I think I will sideline this Modern all-star.
  • Gideon was boarded in quite frequently and probably deserves some main deck slots.
  • Sorin, Grim Nemesis is a great card. My thoughts on it may be biased based off of how many times I drew a card with him and hit my opponent for 4 or more life, but his –X is no joke.
  • I always wanted to draw more Ruinous Path. There are many Planeswalkers in the format, and the awaken cost is not hard to get to in a 27 land deck.
  • This deck desperately needs a clean answer to Reality Smasher. I think I will be playing some Stasis Snare as it answers the Eldrazi menace as a one for one.

With all of that in mind, here are the changes I am going to make to start tuning Mardu:

-2 Tormenting Voice
-1 Fiery Impulse
-1 Declaration in Stone
-3 Nahiri, the Harbinger

+1 Ruinous Path
+1 Read the Bones
+2 Stasis Snare
+2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
+1 Sorin, Grim Nemesis

With the heavier white casting cost spells in the main deck, the mana should be tweaked slightly:

-1 Mountain
-1 Foreboding Ruins

+1 Plains
+1 Caves of Koilos

Here is a rough sketch of a sideboard with the new main deck changes:

2 Ruinous Path
2 Transgress the Mind
2 Duress
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
1 Languish
1 Planar Outburst
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Stasis Snare
2 Rending Volley

I am not a fan of specific sideboarding guides for specific matchups. Every player has a different outlook on how a matchup should be played and boarded for. It’s important to be flexible and adaptive to your opponent’s changing game plan. I would leave in Anguished Unmaking versus some Humans players that bring in Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but board it out versus an opponent who stayed low to the ground and did not board in the must answer threat. Sideboarding is like an art form that you can only improve by immersing yourself in it, and it will never be perfect.

The Mardu color group has a very strong card pool filled with heavy hitters and fun walkers. Removal is plentiful on all sections of the curve and the walkers are the strongest in Standard. With the best creature land in Standard on our side, we have a potent combination of cards. Channel your inner Mardu guy and sling some spells!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you walk away with some worthwhile knowledge! I know I learned a lot this weekend in Atlanta and hope to continue to grow as a Magic player. Now to brainstorm with minds greater than my own to try and figure out how to beat GW tokens …


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