Mardu Tokens and Jeskai Counter Burn

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
9/12/2014 10:01:00 AM
submit to reddit » Print «

Today I'd like to show you a couple of new Standard brews I've been working on with the new cards. The first is a Mardu Tokens deck featuring a bunch of token generators and anthem effects. The second is a Jeskai Counter Burn deck with a bit more Staying Power than a traditional burn deck and several ways to pull ahead in a damage race.

Mardu Tokens by Craig Wescoe
Main Deck
Sideboard
2 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
2 Butcher of the Horde
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
Creatures [8]
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Planeswalkers [2]
4 Dictate of Heliod
4 Hordeling Outburst
4 Lightning Strike
4 Mardu Charm
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
4 Raise the Alarm
4 Stoke the Flames
Spells [25]
4 Battlefield Forge
2 Bloodstained Mire
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Mana Confluence
2 Mountain (262)
4 Nomad Outpost
1 Swamp (258)
Lands [21]
Deck Total [56]


4 Banishing Light
3 Forge Devil
2 Hero's Downfall
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
4 Thoughtseize
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!

(The four missing cards are four Hordeling Outburst.)

Mardu really seems like the wedge that wants to attack first and think later. “Are some of my creatures going to die in combat? Yeah, probably, but who cares? I'll just make more!” This also makes it the wedge that is most appealing to me. The raid mechanic in particular is interesting. It suggests playing lots of creatures, especially early drops, in order to reliably turn it on each turn and to thereby get max value out of it. The deck I wrote about last week (Mardu Assault) is based around the mechanic and it attempts to gain as much value out of Mardu Ascendancy as possible. This deck, however, is a bit different.

Instead of playing a bunch of early creatures to continue triggering raid, our plan is to generate multiple tokens off each of our cards and then pump them with anthem effects. This deck is consequently a bit slower, though it can go much wider and thereby is more effective in attrition scenarios that involve outlasting the opponent on resources instead of getting them quickly through tempo.

Given this slower game plan, the deck aims to spend its early turns developing its mana instead of casting creatures. So it runs 8 lands that enter the battlefield tapped, including 4 Nomad Outpost and 4 Temple of Triumph. The temples, with their scry ability, also add a bit of quantity-mana fixing instead of just color-mana fixing, enabling us to scry unwanted lands or spells to the bottom of the library depending on whether we need to draw more lands or not.

The game plan really begins on the second turn where we play an untapped land and pass the turn. If there is something that needs to die, we Lightning Strike it. If not, we play Raise the Alarm.

On the third turn we'll start having options. Goblin Rabblemaster will be the most common play for us since it allows us to start producing Goblin Tokens as early as possible. Brimaz, King of Oreskos is also a strong play for similar reasons. Hordeling Outburst to make 3 Goblins could be the play over Brimaz if your plan is to play Sorin, Solemn Visitor the following turn and immediately +1 it. And in case you don't have any of these three-drops in hand, leaving up mana for Mardu Charm is a perfectly fine play since all three modes are extremely useful in this deck.

At four mana our premier play is Sorin, Solemn Visitor. It's our way to race other attack decks and also burn decks which, as we will see later when I discuss the Jeskai Counter Burn deck , can sometimes force Sorin do some heavy lifting for us. Aside from gaining life, Sorin also pumps our team, which can be huge with all our tokens generated. And if our board is getting wiped, he can start making Vampires to Rebuild.

Our other premier play at four mana is Butcher of the Horde. Aside from Doomed Traveler, Goblin Rabblemaster is probably the magic card that works best with the demon. The way stacking works, the Rabblemaster makes the token before attackers are declared, at which point you then sacrifice the token to give the demon haste, and then move into the “declare attackers” portion of combat where you can then attack with the freshly cast demon. And if the Goblin Token that was made from the Rabblemaster on the previous turn is about to die in combat, just sacrifice it to the demon to gain an extra five life instead!

If it weren't for the shear strength of four-drop options in Mardu for this deck, I would play more copies of Butcher of the Horde. Also, since all of the great four-drop options are all legendary, I figure splitting them up is optimal. Speaking of legendary four-drops, there is one more powerhouse we have yet to discuss…

Purphoros, God of the Forge will pretty much never be a creature in this deck, but it still seems plenty good enough to include for its other two abilities. We produce, on average, 2-3 tokens per turn from all our token-generators. This amounts to 4-6 damage per turn off the first ability of Purphoros. In addition, his second ability acts as a backup anthem effect that we can activate multiple times in a turn if we need to. I considered Iroas, God of Victory instead since we have a much better chance of making it a creature, but I think Purphoros is still slightly better.

I suspect that games will end very quickly once any of our four-drops hit the table, but just in case our four-drops aren't quite enough, we have a play set of the most insane five-drop ever for this deck to top the curve: 4x Dictate of Heliod - the main incentive to play this deck.

Dictate of Heliod will often be a card that the opponent simply cannot play around and will win us games on the spot as soon as we cast it. It suddenly turns all of our tokens into massively large killing machines that run over any blockers in their path and that Shrink the opponent's life total like a pair of brand new cotton underpants going through the laundry for the first time. And it may literally cause this to happen too since our opponents will likely pee themselves as they get the crap beaten out of them by this card!

For removal we have 4 Lightning Strike, 4 Mardu Charm, and 4 Stoke the Flames. This gives us a burn dimension in addition to providing us some ability to interact with the opponent. Each of Mardu Charm's modes are relevant for this deck and Stoke the Flames can often cost zero mana in this deck with all our token production.

With all these awesome spells and synergies with our token generators, we really only have one (sometimes 2) turns to play a land tapped. Ideally we only draw a single tapped land during a game and we play it on the first turn. Sometimes we'll have to skip a beat though. If we don't draw Raise the Alarm, then turn 2 is the most convenient time to play the second tapped land. Otherwise it's likely on the fourth turn since we'll generally have multiple three-mana cards in hand that we can play back-to-back on turns three and four. This would allow us to cast our Dictate of Heliod on time on the fifth turn. The hand will generally make it clear when to skip a beat, though the above should be used as a general guideline.

In addition to the 8 tapped lands, we have several pain lands: 4 Caves of Koilos, 4 Battlefield Forge, and 4 Mana Confluence. Although the deck is not an all-out aggressive deck, tempo is still an important dimension of the deck. We want to start turning the corner as quickly as possible, even though we willingly opt out of a first turn play in favor of smoothing out our mana. We also have ways to Recoup the life loss via Sorin and Butcher.

Lastly, we have 1 Swamp, 2 Mountains, and 2 Bloodstained Mires. I wanted untapped lands that increase our access to red and black mana. We already have 20 white sources, so we can afford a few non-white sources. And with this mana base we have a total of 20 white, 20 red, and 15 black sources – a ratio that allows us to cast all of our spells on time fairly consistently. We're also running 25 total lands, including 4 scry lands, so getting to five mana on time should generally not be much of a problem with this deck either.

Let's take a look at the sideboard now.

3 Forge Devil
4 Banishing Light
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
4 Thoughtseize
2 Hero's Downfall

Forge Devil is against aggressive decks or anything trying to cast Elvish Mystic or Rattleclaw Mystic. I chose it over Magma Spray because we are able to make such good use of the 1/1 body.

Banishing Light is our all-purpose answer to any permanent that might give us a problem, outside of Stormbreath Dragon. Hero's Downfall is additional protection against large creatures and offers us 2 more answers to the Stormbreath Dragon in alongside our four Stoke the Flames.

Copies #3-4 of Sorin are mainly against burn and any other deck that is trying to race us. It also gives us reach against control decks. Sorin seems pretty sweet against just about anything. Along with Banishing Light, it's a highly flexible sideboard card that can come in anytime we have something we want to side out.

Lastly, Thoughtseize works best against control decks, allowing us to sculpt a game plan around whatever they have and also to take their board sweeper the turn before they are able to cast it.

Overall this deck seems pretty awesome to me. I really just want to be casting Dictate of Heliod and this deck takes the best advantage of it. It's like that feeling you get in M15 limited when you cast Triplicate Spirits and then Sanctified Charge, except in this case the Sanctified Charge effect is permanent.

So that's the first deck. Now let's discuss the second one:

Jeskai Counter Burn by Craig Wescoe
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Mantis Rider
Creatures [4]
4 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
Planeswalkers [4]
4 Deflecting Palm
4 Jeskai Charm
4 Lightning Strike
4 Mindswipe
4 Searing Blood
4 Stoke the Flames
4 Swan Song
Spells [28]
4 Battlefield Forge
2 Island (254)
2 Mountain (262)
4 Mystic Monastery
4 Shivan Reef
2 Temple of Enlightenment
4 Temple of Epiphany
Lands [22]
Deck Total [58]


4 Anger of the Gods
4 Banishing Light
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Keranos, God of Storms
4 Satyr Firedancer
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!

The game plan of this deck is fairly simple: burn the opponent out! This plan can be especially potent with so many three-color decks relying on Mana Confluence and M15 pain lands to fix their mana. Also, unlike the Boros Burn deck that we've become familiar with in pre-rotation Standard, this deck is not quite as all-in on the “point everything at your face” plan. Instead it also has counter-magic, more incidental pseudo card advantage, and more of a board presence. It's also legal post-rotation, unlike the Boros deck. That's the biggest reason to play it instead! J

It has 22 ways to kill a creature, not including the 4 Mantis Riders that serve as quite effective blockers. This makes the deck, at least in theory, pretty strong against aggressive creature decks. The counter-magic is what makes it shine against the control decks. “Was that an Elspeth, Sun's Champion you were trying to cast? How about we Mindswipe that and you take four damage instead, mmkay?”

Most of the cards in the deck are fairly straightforward: they're burn spells and you either aim them at a creature or at the pretty face sitting across the table from you. Often the difficulties in playing the deck will involve sequencing your plays such that you can count to 20 before your opponent. Several of your cards allow you to do both!

Mantis Rider was already mentioned. You play it and immediately attack in the air for 3 damage, which is basically a bolt-to-the-face with an extra body left behind that's ready to bolt again the following turn for free unless the opponent kills it first. It can also block if needed to preserve our life total.

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is another way to gain card advantage. You cast it and kill their creature, and then each turn thereafter he is a dragon that attacks for 4 damage. And of course if the opponent doesn't have any creature that needs killing, he can immediately start hacking away at the opposing life total in massive 4-point chunks since the dragon has haste.

Mindswipe is another card already mentioned that can gain extra value when trading with an opposing spell. Since our game plan is to burn the opponent out, having burn attached to our Counterspell is as good as having “draw a card” attached to it. In fact, it's often better since it means you're essentially guaranteed to draw a burn spell instead of a land.

Lastly, we have Searing Blood. It kills something small for just two mana and then bolts the opponent. This is basically our best card against an aggressive deck because it's a cheap answer to just about any creature they cast in the first two turns and it also furthers our game plan of burning the opponent out. The problem is when the opponent doesn't have anything that will die to it. Given the amount of burn spells in our deck, we can usually aim 2 cards at a larger creature and be fine. For instance, using a Lightning Strike and Searing Blood to take down a Polukranos, World Eater is not bad value since we are even on mana investment with the opponent and we still managed three damage out of the exchange. The real problem is against control decks that essentially have no targets – not even a Soldier Token from Elspeth, Sun's Champion. What do we do there?

Well, I'm glad you asked. In those cases we counter any one of their many spells with a Swan Song, giving them a 2/2 Bird Token that conveniently dies to Searing Blood. It's similar to the old Forbidden Orchard + Oath of Druids combo in the sense of giving them a creature when they refuse to play one (though admittedly not quite as powerful).

Between Swan Song and Mindswipe, we have quite the ability to play a controlling game. And since many of our spells offer either direct card advantage or free damage attached to a card that trades for an opposing card, we are (in theory) well-positioned in an attrition fight too.

Mid
Low
Store QTY Price  
Canvas Studios 2 $1.35
Top Tyr Games 3 $1.49
Comic Cards Etc 4 $1.50
Bizarre Trader 1 $1.50
Junjiros Singles 1 $1.57
JOMaMa 1 $1.65
The Comic Bug 1 $1.65

>> View all Prices for Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker <<

Store.TCGplayer.com allows you to buy cards from any of our vendors, all at the same time!
Shop, Compare & Save with TCGplayer.com! - [Store FAQ]
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card


Deflecting Palm and Jeskai Charm are the final two cards in the deck that can swing a damage race that we are otherwise behind in. Between Mantis Riders and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, we can potentially gain 9 to 13 life from a Jeskai Charm. Or it can Griptide a creature to buy us some time. And of course its primary mode will just be four to the face. Deflecting Palm is one of the most interesting cards for this style of deck. It keeps us from losing a race while also furthering our chances of winning the race. It's like Honorable Passage or Refraction Trap but not just for opposing red spells. It can also trump huge green monsters and whatnot.

As far as the mana is concerned, we have several tapped lands (12 total) because we are not a tempo deck that needs to curve out. We're more of a control deck with a heavy burn plan, so scry lands and color fixing are more important to us than if we had creatures we needed to cast early on. We can also afford to skip a beat pretty much whenever, depending on what type of pressure the opponent is putting us under. Hence I avoided Mana Confluence and only run the 8 pain lands. We have 20 red sources, 16 blue sources, and 12 white sources. This should be enough, given that we also have 8 scry lands to further fix our mana. And we don't really need white mana right away. Our top concern is usually getting double red on the second turn for Searing Blood.

The sideboard is pretty straightforward. Banishing Light is for big creatures and such. Satyr Firedancer is MVP against creature decks. Anger of the Gods is great against swarm decks or against token decks such as the Mardu one discussed in the first half of the article. It allows us to save our burn spells for the opponent. Chandra, Pyromaster is good against one-toughness creatures, but is primarily in the board for control decks and midrange attrition decks as a card draw engine. Keranos is essentially there for the same reason.

Conclusion

Khans of Tarkir offers a lot of interesting options for Standard. The multicolor cards seem exceptionally powerful and the mana in the format is more than good enough to cast all your spells. It's even flexible enough to let you choose between taking damage to gain tempo (Mana Confluence, pain lands) or sacrificing tempo for better selection and less damage (scry lands). This doesn't even mention fetch lands, which I expect to be great in allied-shard color decks, especially green ones involving Courser of Kruphix.

The two decks discussed today attack from different angles and showcase some of the things that we can do in Standard with Khans. Next week I'll be doing my set review and offering advice for which cards to pick up now and which to let go of.

Craig Wescoe

@Nacatls4Life on twitter




submit to reddit » Print «