This weekend the TCGplayer MaxPoint Championship finally arrives, and I have been busy preparing. The TCGplayer Invitational held this summer in Las Vegas was the toughest tournament field I have ever competed in, and the experience plainly taught me that winning a tournament is never going to come easily. The Championship this weekend is open to anyone who can muster 20 MaxPoint tokens, so it won't be as dense with talent as the Invitational, but this field is going to be larger, and it's going to be filled with skilled players competing for their share of the $50,000 on the line.

Anyone preparing for a Constructed tournament needs to find the right deck to play and, with the Standard metagame as diverse as it is, that leaves me with a lot of options for the MaxPoint Championship. I usually do well with decks I have a lot of experience with, so that draws me towards the tried and true Abzan Aggro, but recently I haven't been terribly impressed with its performance or metagame position. In the past I have had some incredible experiences picking up a novel rogue deck and cruising through a tournament, because there is a real advantage to be gained by playing something opponents are not prepared for. Their decks will not be optimized to play against yours, their sideboard will lack dedicated cards against you, and they will be unable to properly make in-game decisions without knowledge of what cards are in your own deck and sideboard.

The biggest challenge in creating a brand new archetype is figuring out exactly what will work in the metagame, and then proving it. Doing this properly could mean countless hours of building, testing, and tuning. Playing in tournaments is another way to prove a deck, but that's also a grueling experience. For the everyman, a simpler way to procure a rogue deck for a tournament is to pay close attention to tournament results and the developing metagame, and to identify trends that indicate a rogue archetype is establishing itself. If a deck is underrepresented in the metagame, but overrepresented in the winner's bracket, there's a good chance we have something real on our hands. In other words, try to find the next big thing before it becomes the next big thing, maybe even making it so with your own great tournament finish.

Last week in my article about Rogue Standard Decks I briefly pointed out that a Mardu deck with a token theme had made the Top 8 of the MTGO PTQ. With Crackling Doom being splashed in other archetypes like Jeskai and Abzan, the metagame had completely shifted away from the Mardu Midrange decks that existed before rotation. Tulio_Jaudy took his own version of Mardu to win the MTGO PTQ last weekend and earn himself a Pro Tour invite, proving that Mardu has everything it needs to compete with the Standard metagame:

DECKID=1255083

Tulio_Jaudy took the Mardu shell in an aggressive direction with a playset of Seeker of the Way backed up by 20 spells to trigger prowess. Starting the game with Seeker of the Way puts opponents on a clock, and the life gain provides an incremental advantage that strains the ability of aggressive decks to kill you.

The real innovation in this deck is Abbot of Keral Keep. It looks like an aggressive creature, and it can be, but it really plays the role of Bloodbraid Elf. It's best in the mid-to-late game when you can cast whatever card it finds, making it a reliable two-for-one. In hands clogged with action but light on mana, it's perfect for a Last-Ditch Effort to find a land for the turn. Abbot of Keral Keep is especially impressive in this deck because it includes four Kolaghan's Command, which can return the creature from the graveyard to hand, so it can be played again to generate another free card. This sort of card advantage is tough for anyone to beat.

The remaining creatures, Hangarback Walker and Pia and Kiran Nalaar, have card advantage potential built-in with their ability to create creature tokens. There is also a synergy between the two cards, because Pia and Kiran Nalaar can sacrifice Hangarback Walker to unlock the Thopter Tokens, which it can also sacrifice. These creatures play very well against removal spells and help to ensure that this deck can always establish a board presence. Returning them to hand with Kolaghan's Command allows them to generate additional card advantage.

At the top of the curve is a trio of planeswalkers, all which can enter play and destroy an opposing creature. These planeswalkers are the ultimate tempo and card advantage play. They mesh perfectly into Mardu's plan to apply aggression, disrupt the opponent, and generate card advantage. They can be too slow against the fastest opponents, and too clunky against control decks, but their power and flexibility makes them ideal tools in midrange slugfests.

The removal spell suite is supplemented by four Fiery Impulse, which deals with any of the early threats played across the format, most importantly Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Murderous Cut contains large creatures for as little as one mana, and eight fetch lands support its delve cost. Utter End deals with anything important that the other removal misses. It's useful for removing Hangarback Walker or Deathmist Raptor, enchantments like Mastery of the Unseen or Virulent Plague, and planeswalkers.

Duress has been gaining popularity as a maindeck card, and two copies in this deck are an excellent complement to the extensive creature removal package. They find cards to discard against every opponent in the field, and more copies in the sideboard are important for fighting a variety of opponents.

The mana here is simple and, compared to Abzan Aggro, less painful with four less fetch lands. It has four more enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands in Nomad Outpost, but unlike Abzan Aggro the deck doesn't contain a one-mana creature play. Four Shambling Vent are a very welcome addition to the archetype and move it closer to a true Jund-style deck. These creature lands make Mardu a better-rounded archetype compared to last season.

The sideboard is built to beat the current metagame. Four-Self-Inflicted Wound is a clear attack on the most popular archetype, Abzan Aggro. Infinite Obliteration is necessary against R/G Ramp decks to stop their top-end threats. Duress and Painful Truths are flexible in their applications, but they are clearly for combatting the control decks of the format. Ashcloud Phoenix serves as a robust threat against opponents relying on their removal spell/s. Twin Bolt is great against the fastest aggressive decks, but it also finds use against Four-Color Aristocrats, which is also hated on by the dedicated graveyard removal card in the sideboard, Burn Away.

If you play Mardu, don't expect your opponents to have a sideboard plan against you. They won't have tested against your deck, and they won't have sideboard plans prepared. You will. They will make due with what they have access to, hopefully making mistakes in the process, especially because they won't know what you are sideboarding. With some knowledge of what opponents are likely to have to work with, and how they will react, we can best craft our plan against them. Today I will share my sideboard plans for playing Mardu against the field, but first I will discuss how they might sideboard.


Abzan Aggro

How the Opponent Will Sideboard:
Out: Dromoka's Command
In: Silkwrap, Transgress the Mind

Dromoka's Command is unreliable removal and comes out for more reliable cards with a bigger impact. Opponents might also use Duress.

How We Sideboard:
Out: 2 Duress, 2 Kolaghan's Command
In: 4 Self-Inflicted Wound

Duress has few targets. Kolaghan's Command doesn't kill many creatures, and much of their removal exiles. These are replaced by the efficient and powerful Self-Inflicted Wound. The maindeck is already very well-equipped to win the matchup.


Atarka Red

How the Opponent Will Sideboard:
Out: Titan's Strength
In: Hordeling Outburst, Outpost Siege, Arc Lightning or Boiling Earth

Titan's Strength shines against large blockers, not against our many little creatures, and Mardu has a lot of removal to destroy its target. They will fight back with tokens that play well against our removal, and with removal that fights our tokens.

How We Sideboard:
Out: 2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, 1 Ob Nixilis Reignited, 1 Utter End
In: 2 Twin Bolt, 2 Duress

Planeswalkers are poor as removal spells against cheap red threats, and their low loyalty will make them easy prey for the opponent if they aren't ignored entirely. Utter End doesn't do anything impressive besides Remove Outpost Siege, which doesn't see much play and is better stopped by Duress. Twin Bolt is useful for picking off tokens, Abbot of Keral Keep, and Lightning Berserker, or for trading evenly with Monastery Swiftspear or Zurgo Bellstriker. Crackling Doom isn't always efficient, but it's perfect for foiling Become Immense.


Jeskai Black

How the Opponent Will Sideboard:
Out: Crackling Doom, Roast
In: Radiant Flames, Dispel, Mastery of the Unseen, Painful Truths, maybe Disdainful Stroke

Crackling Doom is poor against us, as is Roast, so they replace them with board sweepers for tokens, Counterspells, and cards to generate card advantage.

How We Sideboard:
Out: 4 Crackling Doom
In: 2 Duress, 2 Painful Truths

Crackling Doom is useful but, in terms of tempo, it at best breaks even with Mantis Rider; we have plenty of removal to contain their creatures, so it can be safely cut. Duress is important for stopping their extensive spell suite, and Painful Truths provides raw card drawing to win an attrition war, so they are must-haves.


Esper Dragons

How the Opponent Will Sideboard:
Out: Foul-Tongue Invocation, Ruinous Path
In: Dispel, Duress, Silkwrap, Virulent Plague

How We Sideboard:
Out: 2 Murderous Cut, 2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, 2 Seeker of the Way
In: 2 Duress, 2 Painful Truths, 2 Ashcloud Phoenix

Murderous Cut doesn't find enough targets, and we already have a set of Crackling Doom. I like retaining Utter End to stop Virulent Plague or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, or to stop Jace, Telepath Unbound from getting out of hand. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker won't reliably destroy a creature, and it's poor against Counterspells, but I like Ob Nixilis Reignited as a source of card advantage. Duress stops their spells, Dig Through Time being the most important, and Painful Truths is like a Dig Through Time of our own. Ashcloud Phoenix is great because it blocks Dragonlord Ojutai, and it plays well against their removal spells. Seeker of the Way isn't an impressive threat, but you need some because pressuring the opponent is important.


Esper Tokens

How the Opponent Will Sideboard:
Out: Murderous Cut, Ruinous Path.
In: Negate / Dispel, Duress / Transgress the Mind, potentially a board sweeper like Languish

How We Sideboard:
Out: 4 Crackling Doom
In: 2 Duress, 2 Painful Truths

Crackling Doom does very little against them, so it can be cut in favor of discard and card drawing.


Four-Color Aristocrats

How the Opponent Will Sideboard:
Out: Sidisi's Faithful
In: Duress, Dispel, Abzan Ascendancy

How We Sideboard:
Out: 4 Hangarback Walker, 2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, 1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
In: 2 Twin Bolt, 2 Infinite Obliteration, 2 Painful Truths, 1 Burn Away

We need to stop them from assembling their engine, so Hangarback Walker is too slow and non-interactive to matter. The planeswalkers are low impact and enter the equation too late into the game. A key card here is Infinite Obliteration, which helps to stop them from assembling their game plan. If they don't have a Nantuko Husk in play, naming it prevents most of what their deck can do. Burn Away is graveyard removal best cast in response to their Rally the Ancestors, but be careful because sacrificing the target to Nantuko Husk will counter the spell and will prevent the graveyard from being removed. Twin Bolt can clear away Zulaport Cutthroat or Elvish Visionary, and it's an additional way to kill Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Painful Truths digs into more disruption. With few targets against a mostly creature deck, Duress is not a great card to sideboard in, but I like keeping the two maindeck copies.


R/G Ramp

How the Opponent Will Sideboard:
Out: Jaddi Offshoot
In: Radiant Flames, Den Protector

How We Sideboard:
Out: 4 Hangarback Walker, 2 Murderous Cut
In: 2 Infinite Obliteration, 2 Duress, 2 Painful Truths

Hangarback Walker is too slow to matter against them. Murderous Cut doesn't have much to destroy. While neither does Crackling Doom, it's better insurance against any of threats they could potentially have, and the two damage is important for putting them closer to dead. Infinite Obliteration is ideal for this matchup, where it stops Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and makes their deck much more manageable.


Conclusion

Going rogue has advantages, but it's not necessary to play a completely new deck to gain advantages from playing the unexpected. Building your own brand new deck can be extreme, but the lessons learned from rogue decks can be applied anywhere. There is advantage to be gained by tuning stock lists, which is especially deadly because opponents will be so confident in their assumptions that simple changes can have backbreaking consequences. Play cards the opponent doesn't expect, or even don't play cards the opponent does expect! Share your experiences with rogue decks, and your thoughts on the Mardu deck. I'll answer any questions in the comments.

-Adam