Spin the Wheel - the Complete Guide to Aetherworks Marvel
I could write about my Pro Tour experience last weekend at Pro Tour Amonkhet. I could write about how I threw my all into testing for another Pro Tour. I could mention how I got close to drafting 100 times or how I grinded away 10 hours a day on Standard in preparation for the event. I could tell the tale of how it ultimately didn't matter in the end, and how I ended the tournament with a perfectly average and all too familiar 8-8 finish. Tied for last place. I could casually inform you all about how I'm going to need to make some progress in these last few months if I want to get back to playing in Worlds this year, and frankly it sucks to be on the outside looking in. I've got the drive to get back, I just need the car to take me there.
I could write what would simply end up being yet another tournament report from the Pro Tour. I could tell a story of a failed attempt at glory. I could talk about where it went wrong, or how in many cases it didn't go wrong at all, I just lost anyway. Sometimes you do the best with what you're given and it isn't enough to matter. Sometimes you could have done much better with what you had, and it would have mattered. It's impossible to know, really. I dunno if I chucked away the Pro Tour or if I was destined for failure, and I'm not sure it truly matters which one it is. I can either wallow in the past or press onward. I have selected option number two: pressing onward, and I intend to do so how our ancestors intended it: by caulking the wagon and floating it.
But I'm not going to write about all that. Nah. I'm going to instead talk about Marvel. You see, there is this giant bad guy called Thanos, and all the good folks are trying to stop him from doing whatever nefariously-slanted deeds he is heckbent on doing. There is but one flaw in the plan of team good. Thanos isn't the real bad guy. He's merely a pawn, a piece to be moved around by the true villain of the Aetherworks Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not much is known about the real villain, except he goes by the name “Turn four Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger” and he appears to be unstoppable.
There's a saying that goes something like this: “Out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Loosely translated, it means that sometimes we escape one problem only to find ourselves in an even bigger problem. I have decided to revise this idiomatic expression and yes, before you ask, of course my revisions have been sent to Ross Merriam-Webster Dictionary so they may update their documents to reflect this new vision.
No longer is it “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” It shall henceforth be referred to as “Out of the turn four Felidar Guardian and into the turn four Ulamog.” It refers to a scenario where an oppressive combo is banned in Standard, leading to a higher-variance-but harder-to-disrupt combo taking its place that may end up being even more dominant in the long run.
Folks, Aetherworks Marvel is here to stay. I don't want to burst anyone's bubble, but there is some messed up stuff going on here. I don't like it. I don't like it one bit. I'm 0-3 in this format at beating my Aetherworks Marvel opponents when they've mulliganed to four cards. All it takes is for them to play Woodweaver's Time Walk, then they crack that Woodweaver's Puzzleknot and slide right into Aetherworks Marvel on turn four. What do they hit off the Marvel? I think you know. That turn four Ulamog comes off the activation and it doesn't matter that their hand is empty, because my soul is even more empty. I find myself staring into the bottom of a bottle, searching for the solution. A bottle of water. Staying hydrated while playing Magic Online is a great way to be healthy!
I think Marvel is a beatable deck, however, I don't think it's easy to beat and I also think it's like a particularly advanced virus. It mutates to beat whatever is thrown at it. What might “defeat” Marvel one week won't necessarily work the next week. There are so many ways to build this deck and so many ways to punish people for trying to attack you from the wrong angles.
Being a longtime Sylvan Advocate of the phrase “If you can't beat em, join em,” I have decided to give myself up to the forces of darkness. For the last week, I have dedicated myself to all things Aetherworks Marvel. I have given myself over to the dark side and embraced the variance of the top six cards of my library much like I once did, years ago, when I gave myself over to Collected Company.
I've grinded a lot of leagues with Aetherworks Marvel this week. Full disclosure, I have not gone 5-0 in a single one of them, however I have gone 4-1 in about 80% of them. It's like they say. Always a 4-1, never a bride. I always lose one match to the deck crapping out on me or my opponents just out-spinning me in the mirror match, or, naturally, my own horrific mistakes.
I don't have everything figured out regarding the deck, but I have begun to understand how to approach various matchups with the version of the deck I have been piloting. Let us begin by gazing upon the decklist itself.
I hope you didn't look at it too long. People have been known to turn to stone by staring too hard at this gorgon of a decklist. This is the part of the article where I spent far too long thinking of how to tie my earlier “caulk the wagon and float it” comment into a “goregon trail” joke here. I came up with a few, but unfortunately, I let years of negative comments tear down my self-confidence enough to not put myself out there. Some dreams must die, ladies and gentlemen. Sometimes dreams must die.
I've tried a ton of different cards and builds, but I always end up gravitating back toward something along these lines. This list is basically a hybrid theory between the lists Yuuya Watanabe and Martin Muller played at Pro Tour Amonkhet. It's mostly similar to Muller's list, but I've adopted playing some amount of Glimmer of Genius and a healthy amount of countermagic in the sideboard. It may look like a pretty random mixture, but every card has ended up in the deck for one reason or another.
To start with, my expectation is that there is going to be a lot of the three basic decks in the format moving forward: Blue-Red Control, Temur Marvel and Zombies, in no specific order. As a result, my list is slanted to beating those decks, and I've basically ignored a deck like Mardu Vehicles, with the exception of sideboard Manglehorn, which is also for the mirror match.
I'm not sure what I can say about gameplay with this deck. It plays relatively straightforward for the most part. Try to keep your energy around or above six if you can. I usually don't just spew energy to make thopters with Whirler Virtuoso unless I think I can win that way without drawing an Aetherworks Marvel. Once you have an active Marvel, make trades often and play defensively and if you don't find a payoff card like Chandra, Flamecaller or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, then it is generally best to take the card that best helps you be able to activate Marvel again the next turn.
It might be a mistake to play less than four Ulamog, but I don't like flooding on drawing them and with access to Chandra, Flamecaller, it's not always necessary to hit Ulamog to stabilize a board or win a game. Main decking two copies of Tireless Tracker and Glimmer of Genius improve the mirror match and the control matchup. I've been braining Zombies pretty hard this week and I've found that it's still a favorable matchup even with less main deck slots being chosen with that deck in mind.
I think it would be reasonable to main deck a copy of Negate. I've also toyed with and tested a copy of Dissenter's Deliverance, but I cycle it an enormous amount of the time and thus have hated it, since I have to always spend mana to get a real card. I also tested a lot with Bristling Hydra and found that it was pretty decent. I ended up cutting it to make room for Glimmer of Genius and the other controlling elements. I can't say for sure that this is right, as I have been winning at about the same rate either way. Another card I've seen popping up is Baral's Expertise, although I have not tested yet with this card.
Likewise, a number of people are playing Bounty of the Luxa for the mirror match. I've lost to it a few times myself, but I have also tested a decent bit with it and found it fairly lackluster, so I'm of mixed opinion on this card. In its place, I have been testing with Chandra, Torch of Defiance, although it is too early to tell if baby Chandra will make the final cut.
I want to talk a bit about how this deck plays out in specific matchups. I think knowing what cards matter and how to play each matchup is extremely important. Sideboarding is a tough skill, especially with a deck like Aetherworks Marvel where options abound. I can't say that I have all the answers, but I can talk about what has worked for me against each deck.
I board essentially the same for both White-Black Zombies as well as Mono-Black Zombies. The games also play out relatively similarly, except White-Black Zombies is a little tougher to beat in my experience for a few reasons. The first is that they have Shambling Vent to kill Chandra, Flamecaller after you sweep their board. The second is that they can kill you without using the combat step, thanks to Wayward Servant. Temur Aetherworks is great in combat with Rogue Refiners and Whirler Virtuoso, so this is a real benefit. Lastly, they have Anguished Unmaking, so your Aetherworks Marvels aren't always safe.
The key in this matchup is to contain them. They can get out of control in three ways. One is by drawing too many cards with Cryptbreaker. The other is by making their creatures too big with too many anthem effects like Liliana's Mastery or Lord of the Accursed. The last is to go too wide with Diregraf Colossus. The main game plan against them is to find Chandra, Flamecaller and use it to keep their board clear while you drown them in card advantage.
As a result, you only need to kill Lord of the Accursed or Metallic Mimic when it is going to push their creatures out of range of Chandra's -X ability. You only need to kill Diregraf Colossus when it's unclear that you will be able to find a Chandra, Flamecaller in time. It's probably smart to kill Cryptbreaker pretty much whenever you see one, since that card is dumb and I hate it.
Sideboarding For Zombies
Ulamog is at its worst against this deck. They can go wide and go too big for Ulamog to beat them without help. Chandra plus card advantage is generally enough to win here. I trim on Puzzleknot because sometimes you still want them to make Marvel active, but Zombies scales too well to make the life gain relevant. They almost never just “barely” kill you, it's generally them attacking you for 30 damage when you're at four life.
Temur Aetherworks Marvel
There are two versions of this deck. There is the version that plays Censor, Dissenter's Deliverance, and Torrential Gearhulk, similar to Yuuya Watanabe's list at the Pro Tour. Then there is a version similar to the one I am playing that opts instead for Servant of the Conduit and more creatures.
Against the spell-dense version, it's often possible to just smash them with an early barrage of creatures while they struggle to get going. They are wasting their time with Glimmer of Genius and cycling their spells while you just smash them with Rogue Refiners and Tireless Tracker. It's harder to do this against the creature version, since they will have more roadblocks in the way and the creature version usually plays more copies of cards like Chandra, Flamecaller to clean up the board.
There is a nice dance around Aetherworks Marvel itself. The spell version sometimes plays both Negate and Dissenter's Deliverance, so there is a tension on whether you should play the Marvel out early before you have six energy and risk losing it to Dissenter's Deliverance or wait and risk losing it to Negate later. Generally speaking, I don't run Marvel out there without six energy to immediately activate it unless I have an extra copy in hand or don't have any other plays. Playing it early is also a risk because it opens yourself up to your opponent playing their own Marvel and hitting Ulamog to blow up yours.
There is a definite tension around spinning Marvel to hit Ulamog in the mirror. It's an enormous advantage to hit Ulamog on turn four or five in the mirror match to blow up lands; generally the game just ends with that play. With that said, they can trump your play by spinning their own Marvel to exile your Ulamog and your Marvel, if they have been sandbagging a copy of Marvel in hand.
As a result, there is often this song and dance about who is going to play Marvel first. If you play Marvel first and miss, you might be trouble. If you play it first and hit Ulamog, you're in great shape unless they play theirs after and hit Ulamog to wreck you. If you play it first and hit and they play it second and miss, then you essentially just win.
I'll almost always play Marvel and activate it immediately if it's turn four and I have a chance to just hit Ulamog to put the game out of reach. Typically, it is superior to blow up lands over Servant of the Conduit, because the energy they spend to use Servant for mana can sometimes keep them off of a Marvel activation themselves.
If I'm really far ahead to where they really need Ulamog to save them, I will save my Marvel in hand and six energy in case they manage to play Marvel and hit Ulamog. That way I have a chance to do the same on my turn and steal the advantage back. If instead I play Marvel and go for it proactively, I'm opening myself up to them finding an Ulamog and blowing up most of my outs to it in the process.
Sideboarding Against the Spell-Dense Version
It may seem weird to side out Harnessed Lightning, but most players side out Whirler Virtuoso, since it is underwhelming in the mirror match, and that leaves Tireless Tracker as the only creature you really care about killing. Even then, Tracker card advantage doesn't always translate to a win in a matchup where Ulamog can come down at any time. Chandra and Confiscation Coup also provide additional means to beating Tracker.
Confiscation Coup is a hit or miss card, but the upside of stealing their Aetherworks Marvel or Ulamog is enormous. Dispel comes in against this version because they have so many instants, including Glimmer of Genius. It does not come in against the other version.
Sideboarding against the Creature-Dense Version
Sideboarding here is mostly the same, except Dispel isn't worth it without them trying to cast Glimmer of Genius. It's possible that you want to keep more than one copy of Chandra, Flamecaller in the deck in case they flood the board with too many small creatures or leave in Whirler Virtuoso.
This matchup is really hard in game one, but swings into being favorable after sideboard. It's a tough match to win, since you have to mostly win both post-board games, but I have a positive record against this deck anyhow.
Sideboarding against Control:
Ulamog is fairly weak against this deck. It's essentially impossible to get Ulamog to resolve against them by the time you get to 10 mana and the trigger usually just blows up two lands, which doesn't do very much at that stage in the game. It's also pretty easy to get these clogged in your hand and find yourself dying while stuck on seven or eight lands.
Mardu is generally a fairly good matchup, but sometimes they come out of the gates too fast to deal with. This matchup is all about Marvel, the card. It's tough to beat them without drawing this card, but Aetherworks Marvel is so unbelievably good against them that it usually wins when you do find one. Here the key card is Ulamog, which is devastating against them. Papa Ula often blows up their two best permanents and destroys their mana base if you can take them off of artifacts to turn off Spire of Industry.
Sideboarding against Vehicles:
Chandra, Flamecaller is not at her best against the Heart of Kiran, Archangel Avacyn, Gideon deck. I still like having access to one copy because sometimes getting a fresh hand is worth six mana or one Marvel activation, and there are occasional situations where you need it to pressure Gideon or sweep a board.
Black Green Constrictor
I haven't played this matchup a whole lot, but Confiscation Coup stealing their best threats is super powerful, and an early Chandra can pick off a creature and then take over the game. I would consider bringing in Manglehorn if they have a bunch of artifacts, as some builds do.
Well, I've written a lot of words already, and I've covered all that is important about Marvel. I guess I'm done here.
HAH. Just kidding. I haven't even begun to cover the most important part of Marvel. It's not enough to have a plan. Sometimes you have to also have the execution, and in this case, the execution means getting really, really, ridiculously lucky when you look at the top six cards of your library. I know I'm personally going to be listening to You Spin Me Round (Like a Marvel) on repeat for the next 10 days to truly please the Marvel gods.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to throw my clothes back in the washing machine. They skipped the spin cycle.
- Brian Braun-Duin