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I Hate Aetherworks Marvel


If you’re familiar with me as a player at all, then you likely know I’m not one to tilt easily. I understand and I’ve accepted that variance is a part of the game, and my stoic demeanor at the table has even sort of become a trademark of mine. But with that being said, I’m quite frustrated at the moment.

Less than an hour ago, I dropped from the MOCS Playoffs at 3-4. I’m not mad because I did poorly, and I’m not mad because my draws were underwhelming. I do poorly in tournaments all the time. I normally just try to look for what mistakes I may have made in either deck choice/construction or my in-game decisions, learn from my mistakes, and then move on. But this one left a bad taste in my mouth, and I imagine you all have a good idea as to why.

Aetherworks Marvel

Having played hundreds of matches with Aetherworks Marvel in Kaladesh Standard and now a handful of matches with it in the current Standard format, I’ve cast the card as much as just about anyone. And all I can say about it is, I hate it. The fact that this card somehow survived two Standard bannings completely baffles me. This is an excerpt from an article of mine that I wrote prior to the release of Aether Revolt:

“I’m no game designer, but from a design perspective, printing this card makes absolutely no sense to me. Not because it’s blatantly too good, just due to the fact that there’s no happy medium with the card. It’s either busted or unplayable. This in addition to the fact that it was obviously a bit pushed just really confuses me. If it’s either unplayable or busted, but it’s pushed\ then they intended for it to be busted? I just don’t really get it.”

The way the format has unfolded over the past few months has only added to the validity of the statement. Marvel was broken, then unplayable, and now broken again. It’s just the nature of the card. For as long as it’s legal, there will always be a reasonable chance of it ruining the entire format. And aside from just being oppressive, the game play patterns it promotes are dreadful. I haven’t heard from anyone that enjoys playing with or against this card. This tirade against Marvel wasn’t brought about by the single tournament I played today though, my disdain for the card was reinvigorated pretty much immediately after Felidar Guardian was banned.

While I was able to win SCG Atlanta, the first tournament of Amonkhet Standard, with Mardu Vehicles, I only played a single match with the deck before the tournament. I had spent the initial three days after the MTGO release of Amonkhet tuning Four-Color Saheeli. I was winning so much with the deck that I never even bothered trying something else. When the addendum to the ban list was announced, I was left with only a single day to test. For me, where to start was quite obvious, Aetherworks Marvel. Without the Saheeli Combo in the format, it seemed apparent that Aetherworks Marvel would reign supreme again. I spent the Thursday prior to the Open jamming leagues with Marvel variants with the backup plan of defaulting to Mardu if I couldn’t find a list I liked.

These messages I posted in my team’s group chat perfectly sum up how my day of testing Marvel went.

As you would expect, the swings were real. I tried different color variations, different ways to smooth out your draws, and different ways to mitigate how detrimental drawing Ulamog is. But In the end, I couldn’t settle on a Marvel list and decided to go with Mardu as my experience with that deck was much more recent. While that obviously ended up working out quite well for me, I never had a single doubt that Marvel would become eventually become public enemy number one after people had some time to work on the deck.

I wasn’t qualified for this Pro Tour, so I got to take some time off of grinding Standard. Marvel had been putting up a ton of results in the weeks leading up to PT, but I tuned into the first day of coverage hoping people found a way to push it out of the format; they didn’t. I had the rare chance to play in a local PPTQ the next day and I definitely didn’t want to play Marvel, so I surfed through the coverage replay to see if anyone was doing well with a deck that seemed good against Marvel; no one was. This is led me to browse through some 5-0 league decklists, and I stumbled across this.

It seemed pretty interesting, and wu Flash was one of the only decks that could compete with Marvel the first time around. I threw it together on Magic Online, quickly 5-0’d a league, and decided to play it in the PPTQ the next day. The deck was far from impressive during the event, but I was able to win the tournament by boarding into a mediocre control deck every round. I didn’t really have any intention of playing the deck again, but after seeing the final results of the Pro Tour; I really just wanted to play a deck that beat Marvel. Zombies may have won the event, but Marvel was clearly the breakout deck. It’s easy to add Chandra, Flamecallers or Radiant Flames to your deck to sure up the Zombies Matchup, but there aren’t really any single cards you can to your deck to beat Marvel.

I started my MOCS testing with a deck similar to the one my brother, Dan Jessup, brewed up for the team at the SCG Atlanta Invitational last year: wuVehicles.

In my opinion this was the only deck that had a favorable matchup against the Marvel decks of that format, so starting here made sense. Obviously there are several cards in this deck that are no longer legal, but you can still follow the same principle; use cheaper threats to increase your clock and maximize the effectiveness of your tempo plays. With that in mind, I began working on this.

The deck was performing really well for me, and I was winning a lot. I encountered one small problem though, Zombies. I just couldn’t get the deck to a place where I was comfortable against Zombies. Without access to any effective cheap removal spells, you often just lose games solely to Cryptbreaker. And if you ever fail to put a legitimate clock on them, you just get annihilated in the late game. The only way you could ever really steal games was by playing an Avacyn in response to a Dark Salvation. I expected the popularity of Zombies to diminish by the weekend, but not to the extent that I was content having such a poor matchup against it. Still adamant about not playing Marvel, it was back to the drawing board.

The version of wu Flash I played at the PPTQ was much better against Zombies as assembling Avacyn + Selfless Spirit was a real plan. My teammate, Frank Skarren, was also interested in playing the deck at SCG Louisville at this point, so we began working on the deck together. Frank had also been talking to several of his friends that planned on playing the deck at GP Montreal, and after putting all of the information together we came up with this.

This list presents the opponent with a much slower clock which is a detriment against Marvel and ur Control, but the tools are still there to beat those decks. The selling point is that this configuration’s Zombie matchup is significantly better. In the end, Frank was able to pull the trigger on the deck and piloted it to a 15th place finish in Louisville along with teammates, Jim Davis and Ben Friedman.

I just couldn’t bring myself to play the deck in my event though. I was winning with it and I enjoyed playing the deck, but I knew there was a better deck. I knew that if I wanted to give myself the best chance to win, I should play Temur Marvel. A year or two ago, hating playing a deck would be reason enough for me to not play it. But since then I’ve made a point to always try and find the best 75 for every Constructed tournament I play, and my finishes have vastly improved as a result. So despite my heart telling me no, I started working on Temur Marvel. Tuning Standard decks has definitely become a strength of mine over the past year, but tuning Marvel in a short amount of time was proving surprisingly difficult. I tried spell heavy versions, Chandra heavy versions, and more ramp oriented versions, but I was completely stumped on which one was optimal. I’m normally able to tune decks well because I’m adept at figuring out what exactly matters in certain matchups, but in every matchup it felt like the only cards that ever mattered were Marvel and Ulamog. After a few leagues I was close to settling on a fairly control oriented version of the deck, but was then beat senseless in a mirror match by my friend, Jake Mondello. At a loss at this point, I just asked him for his list. I tinkered with it a bit and settled on the following.

Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
In hindsight I don’t think my list was very good, but it’s honestly still pretty hard to tell. My more obscure card choices like Bounty of the Luxa and Incendiary Flow over-performed, but the deck felt very inconsistent as a whole. If I were to play the deck again, I would probably abandon the more midrange element of the deck. This would mean cutting the Servant of the Conduits, The Bounties, and likely the Chandras as well. I would play a more control oriented version with additional ways to mitigate how detrimental drawing Ulamog is. This would likely be in the form of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and Nissa's Renewal.

I hopefully never have to play the deck again, but I don’t know how realistic of a possibility that is. I don’t see any reasons as to why Marvel won’t stay on top, and a ban seems even more unlikely. While there is no one denying that format would be much healthier without Marvel, I just don’t think another banning is a possibility at the moment. Consumer confidence already has to be near an all time low, and the third instance of a ban in Standard in just a few months only stands to lower it further. I believe we’re stuck with what we have for at least the next few months.

I am optimistic even without a ban though, that the format can only improve from this point. As the marvel lists improve they’ll likely become more hybridized with fair decks, as this is a trend we’ve seen with most of Standard’s busted combo decks. And while this will likely only increase the amount of Marvel seeing play, the quality of games should increase as well. Also if Marvel becomes the most popular deck by a wide enough margin, it becomes easier to target. A deck like ur Control can be tuned specifically to beat Marvel if there are less decks to be concerned with. So taking that into account, I expect this format to play out the same way the last one did. The raw power level of the Marvel decks will push most decks out of the meta, and one or two decks will arise as counters.

It won’t be fun, but it’s what we got. Hopefully the format doesn’t get too stale before the release of Hour of Devastation, and even more so than that; hopefully the new Nicol Bolas doesn’t push Marvel over the top. Guess we’ll find out.

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