The Best Deck For 3 Weeks In A Row

by Simon Nielsen on 30 March 2017, Thursday

Simon Nielsen

The Best Deck For 3 Weeks In A Row

I know, I know, it's been a while since my last article. Part of the reason is that I've been been on a three-week trip to play tournaments around the globe (using the term "around the globe" might be fairly ambitious here, but so am I).


All three events were Standard - Grand Prix Utrecht, the Magic Online Championship in Seattle and Grand Prix Barcelona. What was even more special about these events is that this is the first time ever that I've played a known Tier 1 deck at a Standard GP.

I couldn't believe it either when I first thought of it. I mean, it seems so silly to have played so many GPs and made it harder for myself so many times. But I just always found an excuse, wanted to be original or cool, to get the deck techs and the attention. And I did get lots of deck techs on Grand Prix coverage, but wins was not something I got.
So what changed? How did I rip myself out from my hipster hallucinations?

Part of it was that I didn't test with a team for the last Pro Tour in Dublin. With EUreka there were plenty of people working at the known good decks and I had room to mostly just experiment and brew.

But last Pro Tour when I teamed up with 3 friends from Copenhagen as well as Magnus Lantto and 2 other Swedes, my teammates were much more inexperienced, and focused much more on exploring the format rather than the established decks. So in this spot I had to take the role as a co-leader of the team and take the responsibility that we had good versions of Mardu Vehicles and Jeskai Copycat.

Instead of brewing, I focused and tuning and started to appreciate that job. The usual evolution of a brewer is to slowly stop building their own decks for every single event and accept the power of Tier 1 decks more. Grand Prix Utrecht happened to be that GP where I finally became an adult and chose the best deck for once.

The reasons were quite simple. Mardu wasn't being played much online, but still put up a lot of 5-0's and I seemed like everyone's attention was turned towards Green-Black Snake which at the time had a vastly overrated match-up against Mardu. And if I just built a good Mardu list with no Inventor's Apprentice, 4 Gideons and a better manabase with 24 lands maindeck and only 1 Aether Hub, and played a ton of sideboarded games against Green-Black Snake to figure out a good plan.

I really liked our version for the event, and even though I faced 7 Mardu mirrors, 4 Snakes and just a single 4-color Copy Cat, I still had a ton of fun. I never felt like I gave up my edge by submitting to the best deck; my edge WAS playing the best deck. I actually think I played way better than I usually do - well except for that one turn where I not only missed lethal but also put myself dead on board in the process.


On camera.




Mardu allows for a lot of trickery, as you can decide when you let your opponents use their cards between when you activate Gideon and Heart of Kiran, sometimes you can trick your opponent into crewing their Heart of Kiran when you have Push in hand, just by picking up your pen as if you're going to change your life total. I even got to go toe to toe with Lucas Blohon.

I finished 11-4 and got into the Top 64 for some much needed prize money and 2 additional Pro Points, putting me in the lead of the Danish captaincy race.



The Magic Online Championship in Seattle


I felt quite confident going into the Magic Online Championship. I qualified for this event more than a year ago, so I had a ton of time to wrap my head around playing in this incredibly high-staked and difficult 16 player tournament. I mean, I wasn't even on the extensive "Players to Watch" list. This tournament wasn't going to be easy, but would also be incredibly rewarding if I could manage to stand up to the challenge.

I went to Amsterdam for a couple of days with fellow competitor Piotr Głogowski of Poland to prepare for the standard portion of the event (it was 3 rounds of draft followed by 4 rounds of standard on both days, before cutting to a Top 4 on Sunday. Kind of like a miniature Pro Tor with a much higher average skill level).


Walking Ballista

We were pretty sure that Mardu Ballista was the way to go after its immense success in Utrecht, but we also knew that the Planeswalker transformative sideboard plan was a one hit wonder, especially since decklists would be revealed at the championship, so any transformative sideboard plan would be a surprise to exactly no-one.

We wanted to do something different to gain an edge with the deck, because most of our opponents were just going to be straight-up better than us. We expected half the field to be on Mardu (and we were right about that). The mirror is weird in that the games a quite dependant on who's on the play, as most of your cards are just way worse on defense.


Aethersphere Harvester Archangel Avacyn


We decided to tune our deck to be better on the draw by moving two copies of useless Toolcraft Exemplars to the board, playing two Aethersphere Harvesters and Archangel Avacyns maindeck and a whopping 25 lands. Missing land drops was the number 1 problem with the mirror, because the deck is so punishing, and you never really felt flooded because of Walking Ballista and short games.

This was our final decklist:




The sideboard is super random, and that was actually on purpose. Since we knew decklists would be open, we decided to go for a flexible and confusing sideboard. With this one, we can choose to go both more aggressive as well as more defensive, and have both Planeswalker, creature and Artifact threats.

I can strongly recommend the Magic Online Championship to anybody wondering if they should try to qualify. The amount Wizards caters for us is insane. I don't think I've eaten that much buffet in a single weekend before. We got all sorts of sweet loot, and Wizards took us to see cool places, like their Headquarters, the incredible gamestore/restaurant Mox Boarding House and even took us bowling one day! Just getting into close quarters with a collection of other pros that I haven't interacted with before was quite sweet.

The actual tournament was a bit of a rollercoaster ride for me. I started off the first draft with a horrendous 0-3. I completely misread the draft, and switched out of my favourite archetype, UB, way too late. Obviously I felt quite beaten up. I had just thrown away my tournament within the first three rounds!

Piotr also only went 1-2, beating me in the 0-2 bracket. Luckily, in such a small field with 14 rounds you can take a fair bit of losses and still make the Top 4, but I needed an insane comeback.

That came during the first Standard portion, where Piotr went 4-0 and I went 3-1, completely reversing our embarrassing draft performance. We really felt like we had broken the code to this tournament.

But the win streak didn't stop there, as I started off the next morning by 3-0'ing the draft! Thanks to the lessons my future teammate Michael Bonde had given me about the format, I splashed Spire Patrol in my Green White deck to great effect. All of a sudden I was sitting at 6-4 among 7 other players who were battling for the Top 4 spot. If I can manage to 3-1 the last standard portion again, I'd most likely make it.

What a comeback this had turned into. What an opportunity in front of me, and carried by all the momentum from my winning streak…

… I went 0-4



Grand Prix Barcelona

Piotr and I traveled directly from Seattle to Barcelona to do some sightseeing and to improve on our Mardu Ballista approach for a Grand Prix. I wouldn't advocate for most of the changes we made to the deck for an actual real tournament. A Grand Prix field isn't going to be 50 % Mardu, so I wouldn't advocate for less than 4 Toolcraft Exemplars main to catch random decks. 4-color Copy Cat also inhabited a much larger slice of the metagame than we originally had anticipated for Seattle, which is another reason to max out on Toolcraft Exemplars.

Also, the sideboard is pretty bad.


One of the problems is that when you sport this many singletons, it's hard to craft a cohesive game plan for your postboard deck. You'll just end up with a Mardu-colored deck with some different cards. So looking for a game plan that would work well against the mirror, both with and without Planeswalkers transformation, as well as a good way to deal with 4-Color Copy Cat, which had become increasingly adept at dealing with Mardu recently.
And just don't play Gisela. The card dies to both Chandra and her Oath, making it a poor threat in the mirror and basically anywhere else.


Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim Eldrazi Displacer

I assume I got some raised eyebrows when I ran around the tournament site on Friday asking for Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim, Eldrazi Displacer and Mindwrack Demon for my Mardu deck.

One of the cards that really impressed us from our deck in Seattle was the singleton Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim that we found added last minute without testing it. It's a proactive two-drop that's good to play on turn 2 (unlike Walking Ballista) and actually blocks. Plus, sometimes it messes with opposing Unlicensed Disintegrations which is huge, and Deathtouch is great against snake decks.

We decided to have another one in the sideboard and have a configuration where we'd have 0 Ayli on the play and 2 on the draw, because the dynamic of Mardus game plan changes so much whether it's on the play or not.

We figured that Archangel Avacyn was the best game plan to have, as it beat both the Planeswalker transformational plan as well as the regular Mardu plan. It's just good in every single match-up, effectively combining with Walking Ballista to clear out the wide boards and Whirler Virtuosos out of 4-color Copy Cat.


Mindwrack Demon

Mindwrack Demon is just the better Gisela, as it dodges Chandra and her Oath, is sometimes hard to Harnessed Lightning, pressures planeswalkers well, is bigger than Avacyn and tramples over Thopter tokens. This makes it a good sideboard card against Copy Cat as well as the mirror.

Sometimes it eats a Unlicensed Disintegration, but that lets your Avacyn survive. Sometimes it deals you 4 damage, but sometimes you don't care and race them anyway, and sometimes it even gives you a Scrapheap Scrounger.




Spire of Industry Aether Hub

Eldrazi Displacer is a weird addition. Because of Spire of Industry and Aether Hub, it's relatively easy to activate it, and we wanted an extra manasink for the postboard games. It kills Walking Ballista at a whim and trumps the assortment of Release the Gremlins, Zombie and Knight Ally tokens in the mirror. Plus it can generate card advantage with Thraben Inspector and provides a soft-lock with Archangel Avacyn.

They ended up not being worth it. The were just too slow for match-up that can sometimes be quite tempo-oriented, it does to Oath of Chandra and it's not like it pressures Gideon well. It's not like they were terrible, but I'm quite sure we can do better.


Release the Gremlins

You might also notice that Release the Gremlins is completely absent from our list. Some Mardu lists still board out most of their artifacts for a transformational sideboardplan, and it doesn't deal with the most important cards, which are Gideon and Avacyn. This also makes the deck a straight-up White-Black deck that just splashes Unlicensed Disintegration. Not that it isn't worth it, Disintegration is one of the best cards in standard.

I went 10-5 at the Grand Prix which at least grants a single Pro Point. Again, I wasn't quite content with my play, which goes to show that even though I played at quite a high level one weekend doesn't mean that I'll automatically just be good Ever After. Skill is something you have to work for, and I still have a ton of repetitions left for me to get there.

The standard metagame is basically just "Duel Decks: Vehicles vs. Cats", but I don't mind that, actually. The match-up is intricate and super interesting to play. If I had to play an entire tournament of this match-up, that would be totally fine with me. The decks still evolve and try to position themselves against each other, and teching is still possible as my list from Barcelona goes to show.




Moving Forward


Selfless Spirit

Moving forward, I'd build the deck to support Avacyn better, and I think Selfless Spirit is the right card to both enable it, protect it from Unlicensed Disintegration and pressure planeswalkers. Without Eldrazi Displacers, we can go back to Fumigate as our hate card for Black-Green Snakes, though at this point we will be a bit weak to the match-up.



Thanks for reading as always and hope you find the information useful in your upcoming Standard tournaments. That is, until Amonkhet gets released!

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