During the Ravnica Allegiance Streamer event, the first look at Ravnica Allegiance Standard, William "Huey" Jensen played user-submitted decks that he had gotten from Twitter. One of the first ones played was mine, a low-curve Mardu deck built to take advantage of sacrifice outlets, death triggers and the queen of the whole performance: Judith, the Scourge Diva. Nicknamed MarDivas, it quickly became Huey and his chat's favorite of the brews, and Twitter lit up about the heavily synergy-based deck's ability to close games quickly or grind opponents to dust.
Judith, the Scourge Diva is a busted Magic card. The only deckbuilding cost is playing a lot of creatures to take advantage of both of her abilities. Even with no other setup, the combination of +1/+0 to the team and on-death pings makes combat math impossible, but the raw damage means the opponent is forced to try and interact in combat or lose in quick fashion. She's naturally a lightning rod, but she pairs incredibly well with Priest of Forgotten Gods and Hero of Precinct One, who eat removal spells before the star comes on stage.
This was the original list that Huey played on stream. The primary goal was to push the synergy between Judith, the Scourge Diva and Teysa Karlov, creating double death triggers from Judith and doubling up on cards like Hunted Witness. This lead me to including Elenda, the Dusk Rose, a card that had never had a home but seemed incredible in a deck that was looking to chuck its creatures in the bin at every opportunity.
Even before he played, I'd already recommended a change to take out Teysa Karlov. Despite being the card that kicked everything off, she simply didn't do enough in this version of the deck. While she works amazingly with Judith, the Scourge Diva, the only other card in the deck that plays well with Teysa is Hunted Witness. Meanwhile, she herself provided very little value if she died, and not enough of the tokens worked well with vigilance and lifelink.
What this deck did very well was take advantage of its two drops: Pitiless Pontiff has plenty of sacrifice fodder between soldier tokens, Gutterbones and Hunted Witness. Other than the one drops, Hero of Precinct One itself and Priest of Forgotten Gods, every other card triggers Hero of Precinct OnePriest of Forgotten Gods' ability: there are plenty of creatures to sacrifice, and ways to spend the mana Priest of Forgotten Gods gains.
Priest of Forgotten Gods quickly showed itself to be an all-star, limiting the types of cards that worked effectively against the deck. A big angel like Lyra Dawnbringer, which could normally hold off a relatively large swarm of creatures, becomes impossible to play while Priest of Forgotten Gods is on the battlefield. The same is true for difficult-to-remove threats like Carnage Tyrant, which simply don't function against Priest's edict effect.
The play patterns and raw strength of Priest of Forgotten Gods warps the deck around her and requires that lists choose cards carefully to take advantage of the extra mana from her ability. Any one drop, followed by Priest of Forgotten Gods means that on turn three the deck will have access to five total mana, most of it black. This enables the deck to double up on spells quite quickly, playing either a two drop then a three drop, or a one drop and a four. Gutterbones fills in a lot of gaps with the mana as well, as it can spend one, two, three or four mana in a turn (play it by itself is one, returning it is two, returning + playing it is three, and playing it, sacrificing it, returning it and replaying it is four). Cards with multiple costs like Carnival // Carnage become quickly valuable, as having access to four-mana plays is so important for spending all the mana effectively.
Finally, an underrated aspect of this deck is just that it has access to Mortify. Beyond normal targets like Conclave Tribunal and Seal Away, there are also several high priority targets like Experimental Frenzy, Hadana's Climb, Rhythm of the Wild and Wilderness Reclamation. Murder has been on the cusp of playable for a while, and a nearly-free option to get enchantment removal is incredibly valuable right now.
With these thoughts in mind, here is the current version of MarDivas that I'm playing:
Footlight Fiend is a very different card than Hunted Witness. Arguably it's a little weaker, but Footlight Fiend has two big upsides: it makes the deck's mana easier, and it can be cast with the mana from Priest of Forgotten Gods. The card is also pretty reasonable against mono-red, where it can ping multiple threats with the death trigger and effectively blocks Ghitu Lavarunner. Acting as another multicolor card for Hero of Precinct One is also quite relevant, and playing turn two Priest, turn three Hero of Precinct One + Footlight Fiend now enables some absurdly powerful starts. All in all, it does enough for the deck that it feels correct to switch.
Rix Maadi Reveler fills in a similar role to Carnival // Carnage, where it can function as either a two drop or four drop. The card has been incredibly powerful at all stages of the game, even just as a late game topdeck: the non-spectacle version of its ability still draws a card if hellbent, giving it a third mode to just act as a bigger Elvish Visionary if spectacle can't be enabled. It also lets the deck empty its hand quickly and refill easily.
Finally, Spawn of Mayhem has taken over the spot Tajic, Legion's Edge occupied. Tajic was fabulous in a lot of spots, keeping Priest of Forgotten Gods and Hero of Precinct One safe from burn spells and making some exceptional curve-outs with a one drop and Hero of Precinct One. Unfortunately, the deck needs to be exceptionally based in black to work due to Priest of Forgotten Gods, and Tajic can only use one of the mana. The addition of Footlight Fiend tends to keep the multicolor count high enough for Priest, but it's possible the deck just wants to move Theater of Horrors to the maindeck as another three-drop gold spell.
The sideboard here is a lot less practiced than the maindeck. Arena's best-of-one ranked format has me jamming game after game with the starting 60 but no opportunity to play the sideboard. But they are all very intentional to allow the deck to shift gears in different ways to grind post-board.
Against Hallowed Fountain control decks, Priest of Forgotten Gods is a lot less effective. There are just fewer creatures to nab with the sacrifice ability, and so her value is mostly keeping creatures from being exiled. Actually activating her ability tends to also slow down the clock compared to actually attacking when the opponent has no creatures in play. Similarly, Elenda, the Dusk Rose has a lot less value against removal like Seal Away, Blink of an Eye or Warrant // Warden. Finally, without the need to play so many creatures, Footlight Fiend loses a lot of value, other than just as a way to trigger spectacle or get in some chip damage.
Against a deck like Golgari, where the board is going to be quickly clogged, Hero of Precinct One loses a lot of value. Both the original 2/2 and the 1/1s Hero of Precinct One makes are quickly invalidated, even with Judith, the Scourge Diva in play to give them a boost. Without the need to keep the gold count high, the deck can then grind with cards like Midnight Reaper and Plaguecrafter.
Here is how I would sideboard against the decks I've seen so far on Arena:
These two are basically the same, except Nexus of Fate tends to run fewer sweepers and will hold up Settle the Wreckage more. Midnight Reaper comes in against non-Nexus control because they rely on wraths. Mortify stays in vs Nexus decks, as Wilderness Reclamation must die on sight.
You'd think that the card that says "lifelink" should stay in against mono-red, but Elenda, the Dusk Rose is just a little too awkward at four mana: it can die to Goblin Chainwhirler, the tokens all die to Goblin Chainwhirler, she has to get fairly large to block a Goblin Chainwhirler, which rarely happens, and overall it's better to just save on cost since the matchup is basically a race anyway. All the pinging effects work well with Moment of Craving to team up on a href="https://magic.tcgplayer.com/db/magic_single_card.asp?cn=Goblin Chainwhirler&ref=storehover">Goblin Chainwhirler and recoup> some value.
Don't be afraid to run out everything in this matchup. Most of Mardu's cards can snowball faster than red can race, so they have to pause to kill every Priest of Forgotten Gods, Hero of Precinct One and Judith, the Scourge Diva that gets played. A nice benefit against Goblin Chainwhirler is that while the card is good against MarDivas, it can't actually tag any of the cards that snowball on them. The goal is to make them react to you so that your more powerful cards can eventually take over.
MarDivas is more or less already set up to beat these decks. Mortify handles Rhythm of the Wild itself or any creatures that come out, Carnival and Footlight Fiend can take care of early Llanowar Elves, and otherwise Priest of Forgotten Gods and Pitiless Pontiff take care of most problems the decks throw at them. The goal is to control their board and then win with a big attack after they've taken a good amount of chip damage.
Against Prime Speaker Vannifar, most of what they're doing doesn't matter too much. Prime Speaker Vannifar is pretty useless without other creatures, and the deck is good at cleaning up small creatures first. Make sure that their top-end threat doesn't get out of hand. Save a Mortify if possible to kill Prime Speaker Vannifar and it should be easy.
We're still early in the format, so there's plenty of room to keep innovating and iterating. Even if I like this version now, I'm sure that by next week I'll have more changes I'd like to try. As a three-color deck, there is an embarrassment of riches in just how many card options Mardu can take advantage of. Whether it's human-centric to take advantage of Unclaimed Territory, less focused on Hero of Precinct One to take advantage of cards like Midnight Reaper and Plaguecrafter, or more Boros-focused to branch out from black, the deck has many versions. Judith, the Scourge Diva is a helluva Magic card, and will undoubtedly find a home in many different configurations of decks that include Blood Crypt. She's the star, and if you surround her with the right support, she'll put on a great performance.