Mardu is my kind of clan. Singing (bellowing), dancing (doing the Ankle-Shank), and feasting on roasted meats (likely the charred remains of a neighboring tribe)—these guys know how to throw a party. A raiding party.
Mardu is usually the clan of all-out aggression, and their stand-out cards reflect that. You can overwhelm with tokens in Limited with cards like Ponyback Brigade, Hordeling Outburst, and Mardu Ascendancy—all waiting to hear the Trumpet Blast, or feel the Rush of Battle to attack for 1,000,000 damage. And in Constructed, though it's the big control versions that are doing the best right now, the Butcher of the Horde is right at home at the top of an aggressive curve, the middle of a midrange curve, and the party-starter in a control deck. These guys are all about changing the board state as largely as possible.
In Limited, Mardu plays spoiler to every greedy drafter at the table. There has been talk about the five-color, infinite-morph, Trail of Mystery draft deck. For them, Mardu is the nightmare match-up. Decks with lots of enter-the-battlefield-tapped lands need time to set up. And Mardu has no interest in such things. Though Ari Lax did eventually defeat (11) Yuuya Watanabe's Mardu deck during the last draft pod, he had said that he wished to have lost his previous round just so he wouldn't have to face a deck with multiple Arrow Storms, three Ponyback Riders, and two Threaten effects (Act of Treason and Jeering Instigator).
Mardu is also the only clan that wants to play Valley Dasher. And often, it actively wants it. Though the card is a bit divisive in the community, both Christian Calcano and Miguel Gatica are members of the elite "Five-Dasher" Club. Valley Dashers start pressuring the second turn, and when your opponent opens slowly with a morph, you just play a second one and attack with both 2/2s. They lose the morph and take two more damage. And really, what do you care? You were just going to attack again and cast Timely Hordemate next turn anyway.
Christian Calcano is a proud supporter of the elite Five Dasher Club.
When I talked to Calcano about the Mardu draft style, he said, "One of my favorite plays in the format is turn two Valley Dasher into turn three Dragon Grip." Ouch. Ain't no morph stopping that. In fact, it's plays like that one that make the low-cost walls such good early plays in the format—Archers' Parapet and Dragon's Eye Savants are one of the only answers that don't necessarily cost the player a card. All because of the deck that runs Valley Dasher. Calcano echoed some other players thoughts, saying that Valley Dasher is one of the more underrated cards in the format. I can't suggest drafting all the ones you see, but how else are you getting into the Five-Dasher Club? It's really exclusive, guys.
On the Constructed side of things, the destructive force of Mardu takes on a whole different spin. Because of the existence of cards like Drown in Sorrow, Anger of the Gods, and End Hostilities, playing all-out aggressive strategies can be bad for your win column. That's why most competitive players take Mardu on a different tack. When it comes to cards like End Hostilities, the old adage, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" comes to mind.
Team Revolution, the French/Israeli/All-Over team that shocked the world at Pro Tour Theros came here and sleeved up a Mardu Planeswalkers deck, that tries to control the board in every way possible. I caught up with three of the pilots, reigning Player of the Year and 1st-ranked Jérémy Dezani. Pro Tour finalist Pierre Dagen, and Grad Prix London winner Timothée Simonot, to find out what's going on under the hood.
When playing a big, board-controlling deck without blue, you often have the same problems—if your opponent doesn't play creatures to win, or plays with counterspells, you have to plan well. Revolution liked the deck because, like many of the teams, their testing revealed that control wasn't very good (although the Blue-Black deck is still going strong, just talk to Andrew Cuneo), and unlike other decks of this sort, they have a good game against combo. So both of the usual deficiencies were covered.
The three frenchmen, friends and teammates, saw the value in their much slower and less raid-happy take on Mardu.
When I asked about the specific cards. All three were in agreement. "The Mardu Charm is the best card in the deck," Simonot said. Dezani followed up, saying, "Normally when you build a deck like this, you need slots for discard, for removal, and for creatures; this is all of them in one."
In particular, Dezani liked how well the card matched up against the Jeskai Ascendancy combo. "It takes out their creature, or it takes the combo out of their hands." Though I wondered how they planned to deal with the hexproof Sylvan Caryatid, Dagen had anticipated my thoughts and said, "And the Crackling Doom takes out the Caryatid." So it's got removal, and removal for hexproof creatures. Additionally, the Crackling Doom is great for pesky Planeswalkers as well. Just redirecting the damage to the 'walker can go a long way. Not only do you get the biggest creature, but you can usually get the best permanent as well.
For finishers the deck relies on the Mardu Planeswalkers like Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, or Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Chandra, Pyromaster, though, is the Planeswalker that gets you to that end game. Drawing cards in Mardu colors are a rarity, and you must treat each card drawn as precious. Card drawing is so rare, in fact, there is even one stray copy of a spell that was an unlikely Standard contender, Tormenting Voice.
Dagen explains, "We just tried out one copy in our testing, and it was so much better than the 28th land. So instead of the 28th land, we play the Tormenting Voice." Dezani echoed, "It really helps find what you need."
"The deck has a great game against combo, and aggro, and about a 50/50 with [Jeskai Aggro]." So as long as control remains under the lid, then this would likely be a very strong deck to play in the coming weeks and maybe months.
The clan across Limited and Constructed is a bit schizophrenic. The draft decks skew very fast, but the Standard builds performing the best here are the slowest ones possible. However, there are a few dissenters. A couple Constructed builds run both the Planeswalkers and the Stormbreath Dragon and Butcher of the Horde; then other decks run Goblin Rabblemaster and finish with the big flyers, leaving Elspeth and Co. at home. Either way, the Mardu party has made a splash in both formats here at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir.
Use all this info wisely, folks. Mardu is fun, but it can be very addicting. And once you join the Five-Dasher Club, the clan will have a talon grip on you. Pretty soon, your parties will be turning into raiding parties.
Happy (skull) hunting, everyone!