This week I want to look at Edgar Magalhaes' Mardu Dragons deck from Grand Prix Toronto just a couple of weeks back.
This particular take on Mardu (or this particular take on Dragons) hasn't gotten as much press or fanfare as some of its Abzan cousins, which I think is a substantial overlook on the part of Magic media and the community at large. The Mardu Dragons deck has a lot going for it, laces together a home for a number of really sweet cards, and angles to advantages in ways that can exploit the proposed plans of its competitors.
The presence of Seeker of the Way and Soulfire Grand Master give the deck an opportunity to the initiative that is really only rivaled by Abzan Aggro in terms of multicolored Standard decks. Obviously these creatures are smaller, fundamentally, than a turn two Fleecemane Lion, but they both have extremely high ceilings and synergize with the many spells in the deck to create impact disproportionate to a "mere" two-drop.
Now speaking of the spells, I think this is where a lot of the value is hiding.
Crackling Doom has simply always been the Mardu ace. Ask most Mardu players from the Khans of Tarkir Standard era and they will tell you that Crackling Doom is "the Mardu Siege Rhino" - the wedge's most important signature - more so than the similarly costed Butcher of the Horde (which, if good, has always been a little overrated). Crackling Doom is not just an over-performer from the perspective of a Searing Blood. When opponents are investing a huge amount of mana into their individual threats, the ability to trade one-for-one with value for slightly less mana has always been good conceptually, but when those threats are the ostensibly hexproof Dragonlord Ojutai or Silumgar, the Drifting Death? Bam! Pow! Wap! You've essentially invalidated the opponent's entire tap-out life plan.
But that's not all! Draconic Roar and Foul-Tongue Invocation really push this "Searing Blaze" sort of efficiency theme, compacting maybe four or even five mana worth of value into a single card that only costs two or three mana. Dragon decks like RG Dragons and Esper Dragons have been playing these cards all format, but Mardu Dragons not only puts them together, it does so on a curve following up Seeker of the Way!
So it's not just that Seeker of the Way has this Prowess clause. It's not just that you can follow up on your-two drop, clearing the way mana efficiently while giving it an offensive boost and buying yourself a little life.
It's not just that the Dragons of Tarkir point removal Draconic Roar and Foul-Tongue Invocation reward you for playing high end threats that are already awesome like Thunderbreak Regent and Stormbreath Dragon...
When you put these two value-laden concepts together you can have these truly mad offensive games where you lead on a Seeker of the Way, and then just one-for-one the opponent's best play for the next three turns, gain more than a dozen life, and put him on the brink of doom without either a) playing a second creature, or b) giving him the opportunity to block.
This deck laces together seemingly small, incremental, advantages while extracting maximum value out of many individual cards that, in other contexts, everyone would have already agreed are very good. It can play an initiative game off of a second turn Seeker of the Way that almost feels like Tom Ross's Heroic deck. Or it can play a removal game, one-for-one or riding the sideboard card advantage spells, morphing like Brad Nelson's gear-shifting Boros deck from Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. Or it can overwhelm you in the sky, going over and above, smashing for unpredictable amounts of unblockable damage like a RG Dragons deck, or, you know, there's always seeing how far Goblin Rabblemaster can take you.
This is not only a good concept in a good wedge that rivals the value incentives of some of the format's more obvious strategies… Its mana lines up predatorily against how other people want to use their mana. Imagine you have a Soulfire Grand Master and the opponent has a face down morph. He flips it up and gets back his Windswept Heath because it was a Den Protector; he's spent five mana for a 3/2 and is up a land. You play Draconic Roar and nug his Den Protector while he's tapped, showing off the Stormbreath Dragon you plan to attack him with next turn. He's seemingly up a Windswept Heath but now has no Den Protector. You've still got your Soulfire Grand Master and have spent a Draconic Roar, but have dealt him three in addition to killing his Megamorph and just gained six life.
At some point we have to be thinking of these synergies as build-your-own-Siege-Rhino boxed set.
I can't stress this enough: unlike other "synergy" decks, every single one of the cards in Mardu Dragons is actually good, and has probably seen Top 8 level play in another successful archetype.
Is Mardu the ultimate deck? This Standard is too dynamic for that; but I do think it is worth more of a look, than, say...zero.
Okay -- this week's scenarios:
Scenario One (Easy Mode)
This is a game three scenario against Jeskai Tokens. You split the first two games with each deck kind of doing its thing successfully.
In this game the opponent was able to get his Jeskai Ascendency onto the battlefield unmolested but has been unable to use it to great advantage.
Jeskai Tokens has some reach capabilities due to playing some burn cards, but its name in lights comes from the ability to make 1/1 tokens look like Titans by combining cheap spells with Jeskai Ascendancy. If you can keep the creatures off the board, it is a much less deadly opponent.
The opponent at one point did have a good creature offense going, but it was all via a Goblin Rabblemaster. Our Anger of the Gods slowed him down and Soulfire Grand Master got us back some life total before donating itself to a burn spell.
The state of things:
● 10 life● One card in hand● Seven cards in graveyard - Wild Slash, Gods Willing, Temple of Triumph, Flooded Strand, Lightning Strike, two Anticipate● One card in Exile - Goblin Rabblemaster● Notable permanents - five lands (all tapped), Jeskai Ascendency
● 19 life● Four cards in hand - Crux of Fate, Read the Bones, Goblin Rabblemaster, Stormbreath Dragon● Three cards in graveyard - Anger of the Gods, Goblin Rabblemaster, Soulfire Grand Master● Notable permanents - five lands (all our colors), Goblin Rabblemaster, three Goblin Tokens
Scenario One: It is your precombat main phase: How do you play the rest of this turn?
That one was a gimme. How about this?
Scenario Two: Ensoul Artifact
Once again a game three scenario, this time against a UB Ensoul Artifact deck.
Our deck worked according to plan in game two, with our many Edict-like effects trumping his Indestructible creatures, but in game one we were run over by a combination of multiple Ensoul Artifacts and enough garbage creatures to soak up our Edicts.
The opponent is playing a synergy-fueled Dimir build, with Springleaf Drum (a cheap catalyst for Ensoul Artifact) facilitating an inspired sub-theme with cards like Pain Seer.
Here we see a nice spread of the opponent's theme cards - Darksteel Citadel and Pain Seer - even if we didn't know he was Ensoul Artifact, the Darksteel Citadel (and Polluted Delta in graveyard) might tip us off to his second color.
● 19 life● Five cards in hand● One card in graveyard - Polluted Delta ● Notable permanents - Darksteel Citadel, Swamp, Pain Seer
● 20 life● Eight cards in hand (just drew) - Draconic Roar, Stormbreath Dragon, Thunderbreak Regent, Seeker of the Way, Haven of the Spirit Dragon, Bloodstained Mire, two Crackling Doom● Notable permanents - Nomad Outpost
We led on Nomad Outpost for what I hope are obvious reasons. But what do we do on turn two?
Scenario Two: Play turn two
Scenario Three: Red Deck
Last turn we trucked in with our Stormbreath Dragon.
Interestingly, he did not attack with any of his 1/1 Goblin Token and passed to us.
Well that's peculiar.
● 13 life● Two cards in hand● Five cards in graveyard - Lightning Berserker, Lightning Strike, three Dragon Fodder● One card in Exile - Foundry Street Denizen● Notable Permanents - four Mountains (two tapped), four Goblin Tokens (two sick)
● Nine life● Five cards in hand - Bloodstained Mire, Temple of Silence, Seeker of the Way, Stormbreath Dragon, Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury● Two cards in graveyard - Anger of the Gods, Draconic Roar● Notable permanents - five lands (all our colors, including a Haven of the Spirit Dragon), Stormbreath Dragon
Scenario Three: It's turn six. He leads 13-9. Play turn six.
For those of you just joining us, this is Make the Play Monday!
We believe that Magic is a game of decisions. Making better decisions over time increases our chances to win more games. While many articles focus on new decklists, metagame reads, or the mechanics of how a strategy works, Make the Play Monday focuses directly on the plays on the table.
We want to showcase positions that can and will come up, hopefully improving readers' collective ability to make the best decisions when they come up.
How do we do this?
This week we are presenting three plays with Mardu Dragons. I am asking you to present your answers to each of these three scenarios in the comments below.
On Friday I will revisit all three scenarios, with a Celebrity Guest in tow. We will discuss the plays for each.
One reader whose plays match my choices will earn a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate.
Another reader whose plays match those of the Celebrity Guest will also earn a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate.
And (hopefully) everyone's ability to make better decisions in scenarios like these will go up!
Sound good? Great.