Driving the Metagame

Posted in Top Decks on February 10, 2017

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

There's always a lot to digest coming out of the Pro Tour, as it sets the stage for the new Standard metagame. The big story this time is the Top 8, as one deck really drove the weekend and eventually rode away with the trophy. The key, and what we are looking to figure out today, is what these results mean and what might be next.

Here we go:

That's a lot of Vehicles. Mardu Vehicles was definitely the breakout deck of the tournament and is the level-one deck coming out of it. What that means is that it's an obvious choice to play (it's clearly good), and it's the deck to beat, so the natural first place to go is a deck that has game against it. Let's take a look at the winning decklist:

Lucas Esper Berthoud's Mardu Vehicles

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Vehicles ended up on top for a few reasons, and understanding those reasons will help us figure out how to attack it.

1. The threats are undercosted

Having a one-cost 3/2 and a two-cost 4/4 flier means that Vehicles gets on the board sooner and has larger creatures than the opposition. Toolcraft Exemplar is especially key, as a one-drop that has 3 power can pressure the opponent and crew Vehicles, all while starting a full turn faster than most other decks.

2. The threats are resilient

Scrounger is the best example here, but it's not the only one. Vehicles are intrinsically resistant to removal, and Scrounger shrugs everything but exile cards off with ease. When removal isn't at its best against the creature deck, you know you have an uphill battle.

3. The removal is powerful

Unlicensed Disintegration in particular is quite punishing, as anyone trying to play creatures against the Vehicles deck risks losing their creature and getting smacked for 3 as punishment. Fatal Push is a card I expect to see more of moving forward. Both spells give the deck a lot of power and flexibility.

4. The mana is good

Being able to play cards of four colors gives Vehicles access to a wide range of answers, and you can see that in the choice of removal from black and red, Metallic Rebuke from blue, and threats in white. If the mana is good, which it is, having more options is one of the reasons this deck is powerful.

So, how do we fight Vehicles? I just laid out a bunch of reasons why the deck is great, but that doesn't mean it's unbeatable. Let's look at some cards (and decks) that may be poised to derail this train.

Walking Ballista does a good job of mowing down 1-toughness creatures, and the Vehicles deck has 4 Toolcraft Exemplars and 4 Veteran Motorists that fit that bill. Additionally, Winding Constrictor helps fuel Ballista, making it even more likely you can keep the Vehicles empty.

This is the best removal spell in a Vehicles-heavy format, as it kills everything in the deck, including Heart of Kiran. I expect to see many more Fatal Pushes in the upcoming weeks.

We didn't see very many Spiders at the Pro Tour, but it might be time to dust off the 1/2 tokens. Ishkanah does a great job of keeping Vehicles at bay while also being a good way to flood the board against other black-green decks.

One deck at Pro Tour Aether Revolt that played all these cards was Shaun McLaren's Black-Green Delirium.

Shaun McLaren's Black-Green Delirium

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You could easily move Ishkanah to the main deck, and otherwise I like the way Shaun's deck is set up. It has many of the cards I would look to beat Vehicles with while still being an intrinsically powerful choice.

Another way to combat Vehicles is to go a more controlling route. Torrential Gearhulk is not only an extremely powerful card, but it also does very well against other decks geared to beat Vehicles. This is an example of level-two thinking; if you anticipate many people playing black-green midrange to combat Vehicles, Torrential Gearhulk control sounds like a great way to get the jump on them. Add that to a list aimed at Vehicles, and you may have a winner.

This is an underplayed option, but one I like a lot more now given the prevalence of Scrapheap Scrounger. There were 31 Scroungers in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour, and Expulsion deals with them while also bouncing another attacker.

This is an unassuming card, but one that lets you start playing defense on turn one. That's critical in a world of one-drops, and Shock is the kind of answer you need to survive long enough to get your powerful cards online.

Here's a deck that combines all these cards quite nicely:

Toru Inoue's Blue-Red Control

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I would like to see a second Brutal Expulsion in the main, but past that I'm impressed with this deck. Dynavolt Tower is an effective way to get value and finish the game, and Torrential Gearhulk is fantastic in this shell.

Of course, there's a reason the saying goes, "If you can't beat them, join them." Vehicles is a fantastic deck, and playing a list tuned for the mirror is quite acceptable. Even if you know people are trying to beat Vehicles, it is an extremely powerful choice, and many players still won't have as good a matchup against it as they think they do.

Here's the place I would start if I were looking to play Vehicles:

Eduardo Sajgalik's Mardu Vehicles

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Playing 4 Fatal Push main is my favorite part of this deck, and it's a critical piece of Eduardo defeating Martin Jůza in the Top 8. I would look to add a couple Release the Gremlins to the sideboard but would certainly start here as a baseline.

To wrap things up, here are some of the many options coming out of the Pro Tour:

  • Play Vehicles. The deck is great.
  • Play a black-green deck geared to be slightly more controlling, though still with Ballista and Winding Constrictor.
  • Play a Torrential Gearhulk deck, though be sure to include exile-based removal to deal with Scrapheap Scrounger.
  • Avoid Saheeli Rai; her combo, while powerful, faltered against the field at the Pro Tour, and I anticipate more removal appearing, not less. The time is not yet ripe for Saheeli to dominate.

Whatever you choose, good luck, and be ready for Heart of Kiran and Scrapheap Scrounger to come for you.


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