Last week, we took a close look at one of the most exciting strategies in Modern at the moment – Mardu Pyromancer. This archetype is making its presence felt amongst the best decks in the format, and there are those, myself included, who have it tipped as the breakout deck of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Modern is currently in a place of great change – even without crystallized results from the Pro Tour, newer strategies are performing very strongly. Mardu Pyromancer is one of the best performers of these new faces, with very good reason.
We've already talked about the overall game plan of the deck, and identified the play patterns that help bring about victory. Thoughtseize/Inquisition of Kozilek and Faithless Looting are amongst the most important cards in the list, but to correctly leverage them requires a deep understanding of the format, matchups, interactions and individual cards. Much of last week's article was about playing Mardu Pyromancer in a broader and more general sense – this week, it's time to get into how to navigate the various matchups you'll face in Modern.
Let's remind ourselves of the list we've been examining, with thanks once again to Galan Falakfarsa in the wake of his excellent performance at GP Santa Clara!
I enjoyed going through the feedback to the previous article, and reading the discussion it generated. A few people questioned the role of Hazoret the Fervent, although not necessarily in an accusatory way – it seems that she's not the most obvious inclusion in the list. Falakfarsa, who of course Top 4'd GP Santa Clara with Mardu Pyromancer, has pushed this innovation quite strongly, and was able to offer some perspective.
"It's the deck's only real 'top-end' trump," he clarified. "Even though it costs four, I believe that it is well worth the spot – Kolaghan's Commanding back a Hazoret that was discarded to Looting and then attacking with it is a huge amount of surprise damage out of nowhere." When you consider some of the widely-played larger threats in Modern like Eldrazi in Reality Smasher and Endbringer, or delve creatures like Gurmag Angler or Tasigur, the Golden Fang, you can see just how well a 5/4 indestructible creature is positioned.
Hazoret also stops any and all Death's Shadows in their tracks, irrespective of size. Mardu Pyromancer is often hellbent – or just heckbent – and so there won't be many occasions when Hazoret is snoozing away while you have a full grip. "Hazoret isn't a specific role player so much as an alternative threat that doesn't care about post-board graveyard hate," Falakfarsa explained. "It will just win games out of nowhere."
Seeing as Mardu Pyromancer is a reasonably fair and interactive deck, it doesn't have too many grossly lopsided matchups in either direction. Given the spectacularly wide-open field that is today's Modern format, it's very difficult to get across every single potential matchup. As a result, we'll talk about how games play out against various macro-archetypes, with specific notes on individual decks where warranted.
It won't be a surprise to learn that due to the high concentration of excellent and efficient removal, Mardu Pyromancer shines against small creature decks. This is due to factors such as being able to surgically leverage removal against decks like Five-Color Humans, as well as blocking for ever and ever with tokens from Lingering Souls or Young Pyromancer.
Burn is a rather interesting and tricky matchup, however, and often breaks one way or the other based upon a single card – Collective Brutality. It's no secret that this card is excellent against Burn, and Mardu Pyromancer is More or Less the perfect deck to get the most out of it.
Playing a Collective Brutality while getting busy with tokens or a Bedlam Reveler is generally enough to seal the deal , but without the Brutality the matchup can be very difficult indeed as even an ordinary Burn hand can win comfortably against Mardu, but games are still highly winnable by curving Inquisitions and Bolts/Pushes into a threat and clocking them nice and quickly.
Conversely, Mardu's matchup with Affinity – Modern's emblematic aggro deck – is truly spectacular. Between the overwhelming amount of cheap removal, Lingering Souls tokens, and of course Kolaghan's Command, Mardu is the odds-on favorite when tussling with the robot menace. This explains the lack of Stony Silences in the sideboard – you just don't need them, especially considering further post-board options such as Wear // Tear and Engineered Explosives will shore things up even more strongly while still having utility against other decks.
The grindy midrange decks of the format tend to be favorable. Mardu plays the long-term attrition game exceptionally well (with flashback spells and Kolaghan's Command) so much so that even Black-Green Rock decks will struggle to get ahead in the value game. Lingering Souls is an absolute all-star, and the top end in both Bedlam Reveler (Push-and-Bolt-proof) and Hazoret (just-about-everything-proof) will turn the screws on any midrange opponent in the late game.
Even Death's Shadow is not an unfavorable matchup. So much of the interaction in Death's Shadow decks is not at its best against Mardu – that's not to say it's completely useless or irrelevant, just less effective than against many other decks. Fatal Push on a Young Pyromancer is a fine play, for example, except when Young Peezy has already generated a few tokens. And discard spells don't offer the same disruptive power against flashback spells and Kolaghan's Command.
Jeskai Tempo is a little trickier, given how they can burn you out from range and Spell Queller can be a very frustrating card to play around. Remaining at a high life total is a priority, and oftentimes Lingering Souls is the best way to do just that, especially it contests Geist of Saint Traft very neatly. Blood Moon has utility against Celestial Colonnade, and hand disruption spells are excellent for clearing counters pre-Reveler/Hazoret.
Unfortunately, Big Mana decks have the edge against Mardu Pyromancer. Tron, Scapeshift and friends are traditionally favored against grindy midrange, and Mardu certainly falls into that category. It's not as bad as all that, however – the matchup is a little closer than you might imagine, principally due to the presence of Blood Moon.
A miser's singleton main deck Blood Moon actually punches a long way above its weight in Mardu Pyromancer, and for a very good reason with all the filtering offered by Faithless Looting. Curving discard spells into a Blood Moon will wrap things up nicely, and it's fair to say that Mardu has this particular angle covered, if only situationally. Critically, Blood Moon must be paired with a clock.
This fact goes some way to explaining the presence of Goblin Rabblemaster in the sideboard. Putting early pressure on is a tried-and-true way of beating the Trons and Scapeshifts of the format, and that's something Mardu doesn't excel at in game one. Rabblemaster comes in alongside extra Moons to turn the tide post-board, meaning the overall matchup against big mana isn't as horrific as it could be.
In a similar vein, Mardu contests combo decks by taking a much more aggressive stance as soon as possible, piling on some uncharacteristic early pressure backed up with its excellent disruption suite. That's how to beat decks like Storm, but it does require a slight repositioning of the general game plan with Mardu, and that comes back to last week's article about using Faithless Looting to set up and support a game plan.
You can't expect to go toe-to-toe with combo decks into the late game. Use discard spells to rip apart their hand, sure, but prioritize getting on the board with something a Young Pyromancer as soon as possible to bury them quickly. Attempting to get into a prolonged war of attrition is not the approach to take, broadly speaking.
Summarizing Mardu's matchup against combo is difficult, largely due to the many different flavours of Modern combo decks. Storm is a close matchup - prevent them from reaching critical mass at all costs - while Dredge is a very poor matchup, as almost none of Mardu's disruption does all that much (making Dredge discard cards has never been a particularly potent approach).
Combo matchups can vary significantly based on what he opposing deck is trying to achieve. A good piece of general wisdom against combo decks is to apply pressure while disrupting them as effectively as possible. It sounds a little trite and simplistic, but it's the best advice to keep in mind. Don't get greedy, don't go for big or splashy plays – Thoughtseize them, play your Young Pyromancer and get them dead.
Modern's only real control deck – White-Blue Control – is not a good matchup for Mardu Pyromancer. Many of the cards they have access to can deep-six your game plan very swiftly and convincingly; Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere excel against Mardu's creatures, Spreading Seas preys on the mana base surprisingly well and Rest in Peace out of the board is a total horror show.
The best line to take here is to treat White-Blue Control as a big mana deck. White-Blue grinds into the late game even better than Mardu, and will eventually get back on top; you should try to swiftly clock them while leveraging hand disruption to keep them off-balance. Going after their lands with Blood Moon doesn't often knock them out entirely, although it's still important as it hoses Celestial Colonnade (just like with Jeskai) in addition to disabling Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin.
The bottom line is this: transition towards being as aggressive as possible, and don't rely on the attrition-based gameplay that can perform so strongly against other fair decks. Additionally, you better hope they don't have Jace, Architect of Thought, as that card is the Germany to your Brazil at the 2014 World Cup. Mardu doesn't stand a chance against it.
There's so much to cover with this deck – after talking a little bit about sideboarding today, I'll follow up with an in-depth sideboarding breakdown and guide next week. With the Modern Pro Tour approaching at speed, it's a great time to get across Mardu Pyromancer, as it's poised to have a significant impact on the tournament in Bilbao. Join me next week as we wrap up this comprehensive breakdown!
- Riley Knight