Mardus and Mardon'ts

Posted in Limited Information on November 19, 2014

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

In Khans of Tarkir, you have to ask yourself the question: "To beat down, or not to beat down?"

It's an important question for any format, as you won't always have viable options available for delivering said beats.

I feel like perhaps the least interesting man in the world when I answer, "I don't always beat down, but when I do, I prefer Mardu."

Mardu stood out from the onset as the most beat-downiest of the clans. As it turns out, the Jeskai gives them a run for their money, but I still think that Mardu is the most aggressive clan. And why not? It's got the two most traditionally aggressive colors for Limited: red and white. Backed up by the sometimes-aggro black, it all just makes sense.

The first draft I played in Khans featured me getting my head kicked in by Randy Buehler, who had an early hunch that starting off white-black and going from there might be a thing in this format. I wasn't arguing with him before the draft, and certainly wasn't afterward, as we both decided that he was onto something.

As you may know, aggressive decks come in different flavors in Limited. Most are just straight-up curve decks with low mana requirements and high power. They try to be as quick as possible and sacrifice overall power for consistency. Cheap combat tricks and removal are at an absolute premium in decks like these. Decks like these are also the reason that Defensive Speed is important for control decks.

There are actually quite a few ways that aggressive decks can get the job done in Limited, though, and Mardu sports a nice cross section of these methods.

Let's look at some cards and some overall strategies that the Mardu horde employs.

Curve-Based Aggression

The most common way an aggressive deck wins is by having a solid creature curve backed up by easily cast combat tricks and removal. Greedy, stumbling, multicolor decks (like the ones I've been playing lately) can easily be overran by a solid curve out. Since some decks in this format revolve around playing their first creatures on turn three, there is ample opportunity to run them over.

Mardu doesn't stop there, though. It brings curving out to a whole new level thanks to its signature mechanic: Raid.

Raid is one of the cooler mechanics in the set. It's so easy to understand and so easy to trigger, too. Raid bonuses are almost trivially easy to obtain if the deck was built with them in mind. And once the raid triggers start flowing, watch out.

As you can see in the cards above, raid can get out of hand quickly.

A big question is how early can you trigger it? There are plenty of good two-drops running around, but the realest of thumpings start with a one-drop.

Even though Disowned Ancestor normally rolls with the Abzan, Mardu are just fine with hosting this stranger on occasion. A turn-one Ancestor will trigger raid freely for many turns in a row, right up until you don't need raid triggered anymore and can start piling counters onto it.

Mardu Hateblade is part of a rare breed and has proven its worth throughout the format. The rare breed, of course, are one-drops that are good in both the early and late stages of the game. Many one-drops are good on turn one only, but quickly fade away as the game progresses. Drawing one of those late in a game is misery. But this guy switches roles effortlessly, going from a raid-enabling attacker to a fearsome blocker at will.

Ruthless Ripper is one of my favorite cards in the format. "Ruth" is generally just way better than the Hateblade, eschewing the pesky activation cost for more flexibility and even the ability to surprise-block something huge while dinging the opponent for 2 life. (The one aspect that the Hateblade is better at is being a Warrior. More on that in a bit.)

These one-drops will get the raid started early and keep it going for the first few turns. These, of course, are critical turns for the aggressive deck.

I'm less of a fan of Monastery Swiftspear and generally dislike Firehoof Cavalry. Neither transition to the late game very well and both are often too fragile to hold their own.

You get the idea here. Curving out is curving out, and the solid low-end creatures plus the raid ability give us plenty of incentive to do so.

Warriors

More of a subtheme than an overall strategy, the Warrior deck must be mentioned if we are going to talk in any respectable level of depth about Mardu.

A quick count reveals a full seventeen Warriors in the Mardu colors. Seventeen. That's a heck of a lot of Warriors! So what can be done with all these Warriors?

First and foremost are the Chiefs pictured above. They have an incredible impact on the game just by themselves, and paired with more Warriors they quickly become must-kill threats. As far as creatures go, these are two of the best two-drops in the set just based on their stats alone. Factor in their fifteen friends and you can see how much potential punch the Warrior subtheme has.

To build this archetype is to build an almost exclusively white-black deck. The red is for the occasional removal spell or morph ability. Your strength is in your consistency. The idea is to curve out with strong Warrior and raid cards, depleting the opponent's life total enough to get off a lethal one of these:

Coming off of Magic 2015, Rush of Battle was a tough pill to swallow. We were used to paying one more mana for this in the form of Sanctified Charge, but getting it at instant speed, thereby making it a strong defensive spell in addition to delivering huge chunks of damage.

But upon further inspection, Rush of Battle has some advantages over Sanctified Charge. The fact that it costs a full mana less is great, but the Warrior synergy is what brings it home. It turns out that making your now-outclassed early-game Warriors and Warrior tokens into big threats with lifelink is a pretty sweet way to end a game of Magic.

Which transitions us nicely into another basic tenant of Mardu victory: Tokens

Tokens

Tokens are the last main strategy for Mardu, but probably the most important. Tokens allow an aggressive strategy to hit from a completely different angle. Or many completely different angles in this case.

Most aggressive decks are somewhat weak to spot removal spells. The premise is simple: if your opponent kills your threats, you can't kill your opponent fast enough. Your opponent then gets to start deploying bigger, better threats than you, and you lose the game. Remember, we sacrificed late-game power for early-game consistency.

With tokens, the opponent's spot removal is turned into a soggy piece of bread, often trading for one-third of a card or even less. The first time you have someone play Murderous Cut on your random Goblin token you'll understand.

Sometimes just going wide with a bunch of tokens is good enough on its own. Your opponent plays a weak blocker and a 0-power wall or something, and you just get to swing with the whole team over and over until you win. Usually, though, you'll need a little punch to back up all those bodies.

Mass pump spells are capable of taking huge chunks of damage from your opponent's life total. Often, they finish the game on the spot. The downside to this type of spell is that they're rarely good while you are losing. If you manage to fall behind, there aren't enough Trumpet Blasts in the world to save you—especially in this set, given that Trumpet Blast only works on attacking creatures and Rush of Battle is a sorcery.

Still, if you have enough token support, you'll want from one to three of these in your deck. Tokens can absolutely take over the middle part of the game, and these spells do a great job of capitalizing on that before your opponent can catch up.

I've had opponents attack into my board, thinking that they had stabilized after my early creature rush, only to have a Ponyback Brigade flipped up on their end steps and prompting a lethal Trumpet Blast attack they didn't see coming. It feels great.

Finishers

Last but not least, we have some more traditional finishers:

Your opponent has a freshly drawn card in hand, you are at 5 life, and he or she attacks with a creature that couldn't possibly win combat under any circumstance.

You're dead.

Arrow Storm is a great card in the Mardu deck because it's so versatile. It can be used to clear big blockers out of the way, or just fired at opponents' faces to finish them off. Either way, it's great.

Act of Treason has the habit of stealing games that looked unwinnable. It also is one of the best cards to have in hand when you get off to that quick start and get significantly ahead of your opponent in the damage race. It's funny how that one card can make you root so hard for your opponent to cast his or her best bomb, where in every other circumstance you would just be begging for him or her not to have it.

Act of Treason is pickier than Arrow Storm, but can be just as effective at ending the game.

Takeaways

The ideal Mardu deck has some components of all of these strategies built into it. It's ideally base white-black, with a little red for Ponyback Brigade and some removal. It has a super solid curve, with low mana requirements, and is capable of punishing the slow decks that people like me enjoy playing.

It has a lot of Warriors floating around, some token makers, and finishers in the form of mass pump spells or maybe some burn.

If you haven't had a chance to take this little hot rod out for a spin, I do recommend it. It's a nice palate cleanser if nothing else.

Until next week!
@Marshall_LR

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