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Mostly Mardu


Welcome back to Very Limited, GatheringMagic.com’s exclusive Limited column. We’ve had a few weeks to draft with the new format, and the format is becoming more defined by the day. As other players have recognized the value in taking lands early, we’ve been forced away from five-colored control strategies. The wealth of strong removal in Mardu colors makes it match up well against Temur and Abzan; typically, the strategy finds itself racing against Jeskai and Mardu mirrors. Sultai players tend to present a difficult matchup with a lot of toughness and card-draw. Mardu seems to lend itself to more aggressive strategies, but I’ve gone 2–1 and 3–0 in Drafts this week with Mardu control strategies. I believe that by slowing down our Mardu Limited deck, we’re still strong for all the same reasons against Temur and Abzan. We become significantly stronger against Mardu mirrors and Sultai decks. And we only truly sacrifice percentage points against Jeskai, which tends to be the least-drafted wedge. Today, I’d like to talk about an interesting way to draft my favorite three-colored combination in Khans of Tarkir.

Why Is Mardu So Strong?

Ride Down
The best part about Mardu is the removal. It’s easy to fill our deck up with eight or nine removal spells when we’re drafting Mardu, even if the people around us are valuing them very highly. This is one of the reasons the Mardu deck is such a treat to play. With a deck like Temur, it’s likely our opponent might simply resolve a bomb creature and we’ll just need to stare at it until we die. As a Mardu player, we’re not losing to bombs nearly as often. Our deck is resistant to rares, and there’s a lot to be said for that in Khans of Tarkir Limited.

The creatures available in white and black are all about the bass. There’s a ton of toughness, and that combos beautifully with all of our removal spells. We want our removal to matter, and it’s not very exciting when we use a removal spell on a cheap creature just to survive. By having a bunch of toughness on the table, we can essentially ignore a huge percentage of the opponent’s creatures and save our removal spells for when they matter.

The deck switches gears very quickly. Instead of wasting time once we’re ahead, the Mardu deck can push its advantage and close games quickly. The superior curve of the color combination also means that we can punish players who stumble on their mana quite effectively.

When and Why Should We Be in Mardu?

Nomad Outpost
Recently, I’ve tried to just default to Mardu in all Drafts. Sometimes, I’ll play two of the colors with a different third, and sometimes, I’ll add green or blue or both. Leaning toward Mardu in Khans of Tarkir Limited encourages us to use our earliest picks on removal instead of being tempted by creatures or pump spells. I feel that’s one of the biggest traps in this format. I’ve taken a strong creature with my first few pick in some Drafts, and about halfway through the first pack, I always have a mess without focus. The common and uncommon removal spells don’t force us into color combinations, they’re all splashable, and we’re still valuing lands extremely highly.

If the cut is very real, we have a few options. We can audible into Abzan or Jeskai and preserve a big chunk of our power or we can simply play a four- or five-colored monstrosity. This decision should be made by our lands, not by our spells. We should be taking all lands highly enough that they can dictate where our deck is going and what colors we’re playing.

More than a Grind

As players become more acquainted with the new Draft format, powerful interactions have become more common in the later turns. Most notably, Ponyback Brigade combos with Anthem effects for blockbuster endings. We don’t want too much cuteness in our Draft decks, but having two or more Ponyback Brigades often makes it correct for us to include a single copy of Rush of Battle in our main deck. The tokens created by Ponyback Brigade also make it extremely difficult for the opponent to attack with non-flyers, especially when they’re coupled with creatures that have very high toughness.

But Still Mostly a Grind

Dead Drop
Powerful interactions are awesome, and they’re often game-ending, but those shouldn’t be our goals when drafting this format. We shouldn’t be taking Ponyback Brigade over removal spells in the majority of situations. We want to get our hands on as much removal as possible. Dead Drop is my early pick for best uncommon in the set. Having one or two copies of Dead Drop could hypothetically make me take Ponyback Brigade over even medium-strength removal. This is because the tokens trade well with small stuff, generating for me more value off Dead Drop, but it’s also because Ponyback Brigades on the other side of the table take a big chunk out of the value we plan to gain from our Dead Drop.

Again, I recommend trying to have one or two copies of Bitter Revelation. The card significantly overperforms whenever it’s in my deck, and I seem to have a much better win percentage when I have at least one copy. When we’re lucky enough to open Dead Drop, Bitter Revelation becomes even better, and we can play as many as three copies.

Then, we want the most powerful creatures available for a given casting cost. Morph lets us weasel our way in and out of a lot of curve problems, and the general mean power level of our deck is rarely decided by the creatures we have. Mardu Roughrider, Mardu Heart-Piercer, and Bellowing Saddlebrute are the only nonrare creatures in red, white, or black I could consider taking over lands or removal spells.

What Does Our Deck Look Like?

Bitter Revelation
We want to be playing seventeen or eighteen lands depending on the mana requirements we have and fixing we’ve acquired.

We want to be playing zero to two Banners.

We want to be playing one or two copies of Bitter Revelation.

We want five to eleven removal spells or cards that can function as such in the right situations.

We want ten to sixteen creatures, preferably two or three creatures that cost 2 mana—and then whatever smorgasbord of other stuff at the top end.

This formula sets us up very nicely to dominate opponents who are mostly Abzan or Temur (barring Abzan Ascendancy or Temur Ascendancy, which both absolutely demolish controlling Draft strategies). It gives us much better game against Sultai and Mardu decks, and the combination of removal and efficient bodies means that it can regularly steal games from Jeskai opponents.

When Should We Be Taking Cards?

For the most part, the pick-order guide from last week’s column is still accurate. Dead Drop has joined tier one, and Mardu Heart-Piercer has joined tier two, but the rest seems reasonably static.

We don’t need to be aggressive to win with our Mardu deck. The abundance of removal available to Mardu players makes it the perfect building block for the best controlling strategies. Control decks tend to perform well in the new format, and in my experience, this is the best core to any control strategy. Go forth, and kill everything that matters while blocking everything that doesn’t! Mardu!

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