Pro Tour Hour of Devastation concluded a long season filled with ups and downs for me. Entering the tournament I stood at 37 points, had already locked Gold at Grand Prix Richmond earlier this season and needed a 12-4 finish to lock Platinum.
I met with the team in Japan right before Grand Prix Kyoto so we could have time to find and adjust our strategy for the Pro Tour. This time again, the crew was composed mostly of Frenchies with Craig Wescoe and Dan Lanthier joining us a little later. The internet at the apartment was a little shaky and drafting on Magic Online wasn't an option. That detail ended up costing me a lot as my Limited preparation had been far from optimal for the tournament.
On the other hand, we got plenty of time to test Constructed. We recognized early that Ramunap Red would be a popular strategy as it was dominating our early testing. Most of the other decks had to adapt to it in order to have a shot. Both black-green decks, Delirium and Energy, had a decent chance against it and we figured out that it would be a big part of the metagame.
Jeremy Dezani put together a couple of White-Blue Vehicle decks that ran the cheap white creatures suite (Toolcraft Exemplar, Thraben Inspector) along with four Heart of Kiran, four Aethersphere Harvester and two Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. His plan was to have as many artifacts as possible to have the best chance to hit with Glint-Nest Crane, the only blue card in the deck. While the numbers of vehicles were not good at the time, the synergy between the birds (that we later called "the ducks," therefore the name of the deck: Marducks) and Aethersphere Harvester was incredible against Red. Aethersphere Harvester was probably the best card against Red, but most decks we had with them were missing pilots. They would either die leaving you anything to crew the vehicle or you would be missing creatures to both block and crew against a flow of beaters. The 1/3 body solved all of these problems. It was able to block all of Red's creatures while helping you to find a Harvester and crew it later on.
We worked on from there, realized it was mostly free to add Fatal Push to the mix as we were already running Concealed Courtyard to bring back Scrapheap Scrounger. While the deck was getting really good against Red, it was lacking against black-green. We needed to have removal for their first initial volley of Winding Constrictor, Grim Flayer or Longtusk Cub, and four Fatal Push wasn't enough, not to mention they were bad against more control strategies like Blue-Red Control. Samuel Vuillot and Elliott Boussaud suggested we add red for Abrade and Unlicensed Disintegration, which put us closer to a more traditional Mardu build.
At first, we were a little reluctant to the addition of red in the deck as the mana was going to get a little trickier, especially if we wanted to keep a strong late game. Playing 12 fast lands would seriously keep Gideon from being online on turn four as often. But we tried and it worked out fine. We also cut the Flagships as the deck would not be able to support five-drops.
We didn't quite reinvent Mardu, but added an element that would change its matchups in the new format. I'm not going to go over the cards that have been in Mardu great since Kaladesh, but I'll go over the cards that hadn't seen much play yet.
Abrade deals with most of the threats in the early game and destroys vehicles, Torrential Gearhulk, Oketra's Monument and God-Pharaoh's Gift. It doesn't curve as well as Fatal Push, but it answers a lot more problems.
Glint-Nest Crane is by far the card that raised the most eyebrows and impressed me the most. I already mentioned its use against Ramunap Red, but it's also a great card against every other strategy. Its biggest problem is obviously the deckbuilding restrictions as you need to run a high number of artifacts. Fourteen is the lowest number you can play if you want to reliably hit something. As of now, it should be around 63% of the time to find at least one artefact in your first four cards. The thing is, you don't have to hit every time to make the card good. As a 1/3 flyer, it's not exactly super impressive, but has some utility: it blocks in the early game, flies over your opponent's ground blockers, blocks most of Monument deck's creatures in the air (Bygone Bishop, Spell Queller and Selfless Spirit), and along with Gideon Emblem becomes a real threat.
Whenever you hit, it's a huge upside. In the late game, it's the card you want to draw to find your Walking Ballista. If you don't hit, you improve your chances to draw one later on. The question you have to ask yourself is: is the upside worth the risk of missing one-third of the time and having a 1/3 flyer in play for two mana? I say hell yes.
Blue also opens up interesting options in the sideboard. I love having Negates in Mardu's sideboard as they give you a much stronger game against slow decks like Blue-Red Control. Essence Scatter is a different kind of removal. It's more situational than an Unlicensed Disintegration, but is much better against a Walking Balista, an Ishkanah, an Archangel Avacyn or even an Ulamog. These creatures have already done their deeds once they've hit the battlefield, so countering them is the best option to deal with them (and you can't get rid of an Ulamog with a normal removal spell).
A quick note over the Filigree Familiar: the Fox looks quite out of place, but it gives you options. We needed a 14th artifact but didn't want to add yet another vehicle. We also didn't want to add the fourth Scrapheap Scrounger. The 3/2 is basically a dead card against Ramunap Red (especially on the draw). You don't want to draw too many either as your creature count isn't as high as in other Mardu builds, so you won't be able to bring them back as often. Filigree Familiar gives you some much-appreciated life gain and a source of card advantage; Diversity is what makes the Cranes so good.
When we were exploring the Crane option, we were told by other members of the team that we might as well cut the blue entirely and play Veteran Motorist instead. But Motorist isn't anywhere close to the power level of the Bird. In this format, I'd much rather have a 1/3 than a 3/1 that dies to a Ballista and trades for any of Red's one-drops. Card selection isn't as good as card advantage in our deck and overall, Crane makes a better pilot than the actual pilot, at least for the Harvester. Sure, it doesn't single-handedly crew a Heart of Kiran, but I never really had problem finding another creature for that job.
Four colors give you access to a large number of sideboard options and game against all decks of the format. While you only need a couple of cards against control, the black-green matchup is the deck you can improve the best against by changing your strategy around.
+2 Authority of the Consuls
+1 Shambling Vent
-3 Scrapheap Scrounger
This is the matchup I was the most confident about going into the tournament with. I did lose the one match I was paired against it in the tournament and it was quite unfortunate. Their plan of piling up small creatures is foiled by your plan of piling up blockers and gaining life with Harvester. If you play conservatively enough, they won't be able to attack you at all past turn three. You can use the creature they target with Ahn-Crop Crasher or Earthshaker Khenra to crew one of your vehicles and block. Once you've stabilised, you can close the game in a few turns thanks to your flying armada.
If they decide to go big with Chandras and Glorybringer, you'll usually be faster than them. Authority of the Consuls is the most impactful sideboard card you can have and since the main deck is already well tuned to beat Ramunap Red, you won't need any other cards.
I played against two ramp decks at the PT and beat them both. They usually stabilise at low life and they'll usually leave a window for you to burn them out with Unlicensed Disintegration, Ribbons or Ballista. Beware of the extra creatures they might be boarding in such as Tireless Tracker.
+1 Essence Scatter
-1 Filigree Familiar
Without Abrade, the matchup used to be super hard. With Abrade, you have ways to kill all of their 2/3 flyers (Bygone Bishop and Spell Queller) along with their Oketra's Monument.
I went 7-3 in Constructed, but felt the deck was super powerful. I played a wide range of decks: Zombies, Ramunap Red, Gifts, White-Blue Monument, Ramp, and several flavors of Black-Green Constrictor. I lost to Red and Gifts, mostly due to not sideboarding correctly, and once to Monument. I didn't feel I had any bad matchups and can see a future for this particular version, given than the PT Top 8 has been dominated by Red. Whether people start playing even more Red or Constrictor with specific weapons to beat Red, Marduck will be at the right deck to prey on these.
The only change I would consider at the moment, would be to add Cut // Ribbons in the main deck. Games sometimes go long and every time I drew it, it was an absolute beating. It could be over the Fatal Push or fourth Abrade. The mana works fine, but you will lose games to bad land draws (multiple Aether Hubs or Spire of Industry), but nothing worse than any regular Mardu deck.
I'll be strongly considering this deck for Nationals that I will have to play since Pierre Dagen beat me in the race for French captain.
Thanks for reading!