This weekend was a real treat for me. I won a local PPTQ playing Mardu Vehicles for the first time, got to watch an international League of Legends tournament and I also found time to watch most of Pro Tour Amonkhet. Unforunately, I enjoyed the first two more than the latter since there weren’t really any new decks that came out of the Pro Tour. Zombies and the new flavors of Temur Marvel might have looked new to many people, however for anyone who played Magic Online these decks have been very popular and were known quantities going into the Pro Tour.
For those who aren’t familiar with the zombies archetype, it is similar to other tribal decks featuring different role players and lords. What sets the zombies deck apart from your typical tribal deck is its ability to grind people out with reoccurring threats and Cryptbreaker’s ability to churn through your deck finding you even more gas. While zombies is very resilient, I believe in general it is pretty clear how to attack the deck or how to sideboard versus the deck.
The decks that are more difficult to attack are the different flavors of Temur Aetherworks Marvel. In the past, the two best options were to simply go under Marvel or to pack counter spells to defeat Marvel, however with the latest versions of the deck it just isn’t that simple anymore. There are two versions of the deck that are popular at the moment, I would label these as control and midrange. The control deck sports cards like magma spray and glimmer of genius while offering some number of torrential Gearhulks in the main or sideboard of the deck. A good example of this deck is Yuuya Watanabe’s list that made it all the way to the Finals of Pro Tour Amonkhet.
This deck doesn’t feature main deck Magma Spray like other versions of marvel that play more like control decks, but does pack early interaction in cards like Censor and Dissenter’s Deliverance. In some games this deck simply will cast Censor into Harnessed Lightning and then refill with Glimmer of Genius and then in others it will play and crack a Puzzleknot then move into activating Marvel. The games against the deck can look very different from game to game and it is hard to fight against because your draws need to be able to fight against both a control deck and a marvel deck at the same time.
If your opening hand has a Dispossess versus Marvel you might keep an otherwise unexciting hand, but with the new versions of Marvel you could lose to removal spells backed up by Glimmer into Torrential Gearhulks down the line. Also, Marvel decks are also well aware that Dispossess is a card and often board in plenty of cards to be able to fight a fair fight. I am definitely not advocating against Dispossess versus Marvel, what I am saying is you also need a clear way to win after you resolve a Dispossess as well. You have to be able to beat both game plans. Before I dive too deep into the specific details of fighting this version of Marvel lets go ahead and look at a version of the more midrange version of Marvel. This is the Marc Tobiasch’s decklist from the Top Eight of Pro Tour Amonkhet.
In this version of Temur Marvel the goal is to spin Marvel and hit Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but also to extract value and beat down. You still have removal in the forms of magma spray and harnessed lightning, but instead of using glimmer of genius and potential Gear Hulks to gain card advantage this version of the deck uses Chandra and Tireless tracker to churn through the deck to eventually find Marvel while still disrupting your opponent’s game plan. If you come packing only counter spells like negate trying to combat Marvel you will be run over by an effective creature plan and drowned in card advantage by cards like tireless tracker. Specifically, against this version of marvel, under the caveat you are a midrange or control deck, you will want to supplement your plan with small board sweepers like sweltering suns to deal with their board presence while being able to cycle when you need a different answer or a threat.
There are a lot of strategies to fight the different version of Marvel. The two most effective ways to fight Marvel are going under them with aggressive strategies and counterspells backed up with raw card advantage to prevent them from landing a Marvel. I am going to refrain from delving into how zombies fights different Marvel decks, because zombies has many different axis to attack the deck on. If you are interested in learning how to attack Marvel with zombies, look no further than the Pro Tour Amonkhet finals where Gerry Thompson put on a clinic on how to do just that. If you are unfamiliar with Twitch check out http://twitch.tv/magic and go to past broadcasts to find and watch the match.
If you are trying to go under Marvel the two decks I recommend you take a look at are Mardu Vehicles and G/B Energy. This is Sebastian Pozzo’s Mardu Vehicles deck list from Pro Tour Amonkhet that went 8-2.
1 Anguished Unmaking
1 Cast Out
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1 Nahiri, the Harbinger
1 Oath of Liliana
1 Painful Truths
2 Release the Gremlins
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
3 Transgress the Mind
I am a fan of this version of Mardu as it is almost exactly what I played at my local PPTQ this last weekend. The only change in the main deck was a Canyon Slough instead of the Aether Hub and then a few small differences in the sideboard. This version of vehicles is very reminiscent of the older versions of the deck sporting classics like Cultivator’s Caravan, Veteran Motorist and Pia Nalaar. The main deck features much less removal and takes a more aggressive stance than the other versions of the deck.
It is hard to try to give a primer on how to sideboard against Mardu Vehicles, because the sideboarding is going to depend a lot on which version of Temur Marvel you are playing against. Against the midrange version of the deck creature removal is great. Being able to kill Whirler Virtuoso and Tireless Tracker is key to keeping Gideon alive and preventing your opponent from out valuing you. The marvel decks might be able to Magma Spray your one drop and Harness/Censor your two or three drop, but if you are able to stick a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar on an open board it is hard for marvel to answer.
Some Marvel lists run main deck Negates and have Virtuosos to pressure the Planeswalker, however if they are using energy to create thopters and pressure Gideon then hopefully that means you are able to attack in for damage while Gideon creates value or attacks. Negate is a problem if they have it but unless you have a different play that is much better on a given turn there probably is not a good way to play around it.
Anguished Unmaking is a catch-all removal spell versus the Marvel decks due to its flexibility to remove an Ulamog, a Marvel, a Planeswalker or a problematic creature. I would consider adding an extra to the sideboard as a way to combat the Temur Marvel decks. Anguished Unmaking is definitely better against the midrange version of Marvel due to the higher density of creatures and the presence of Planeswalkers in the deck that the more removal based versions do not have. Nahiri, the Harbinger is a card that I support bringing in versus Marvel as it can exile Ulamog after it attack, exiles tapped Marvels, crew Heart of Kiran and help loot through the deck to continue providing pressure. Before discussing black sideboard cards like Transgress the Mind and Dispossess let’s look at Ken Yukuhiro’s G/B Energy deck that crept into a zombies and Aetherworks filled top eight.
I have a lot of experience playing the past iterations of G/B Energy and have always been a fan of the deck because of how much fun the deck can be to play. The deck never really has any slam-dunk matchups and is generally very even versus the field. The deck is capable of very powerful draws that many decks aren’t equipped to fight against especially if they are lite on removal. The deck also really rewards crisp sequencing and a skilled pilot can get rewarded for tight play. With newcomer Bone Picker added to the deck there are a lot of new decisions as to how to sequence your turns. You might want to cast Winding Constrictor pre-combat to gain extra energy and extra counters on Longtusk Cub, however you might lose the opportunity to jam a one mana Bone Picker if you cast too many spells pre-combat.
There will probably be turns where you hold the land you play for turn until after finding out whether one of your creatures died in combat to know whether you needed the untapped mana or if you could go ahead and play a tapped Hissing Quagmire instead. Loose plays like playing lands pre-combat when you have no spell to leave up could really punish players if they aren’t careful when playing the deck.
This deck can go under Marvel by presenting a volume of threats that attack for a great deal of damage. Also after the first few turns of the game removal like magma spray and harnessed lightning can often become ineffective as Longtusk Cub grows to be too large. I also like being able to cast Heart of Kiran on turns your opponent leaves up mana in case they were leaving up a harness lightning. You do not want Heart to get censored of course, but any chance you get to waste your opponent’s mana is extremely valuable and can act as a pseudo time walk. The removal spells can help protect you from the midrange creature plan and the large creatures in the deck can easily pressure opposing Planeswalkers.
Now I have the opportunity to gush over my favorite sideboard card in standard Transgress the Mind. I question that it is absent from this version of G/B Energy. Transgress seems to be at an all-time high as a sideboard card, as it is very strong versus all versions of the Aetherworks Marvel decks and is effective early regardless of which game plan the deck is on that given game.
If their hand is one of the Chandra’s and removal spells? They can keep the removal spells, I will gladly take that Chandra. If their hand consists or Marvel and Puzzleknots? I hope you don’t mind me exiling that Marvel and leaving you with a whole bunch of energy and nothing to do with it. If their hand is removal and Glimmer of Genius? Let me go ahead and exile that Glimmer and see how you answer this Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Also, vehicles and G/B Energy are decks that reward you for good sequencing and with the information of which threats you should deploy first to play around removal or which cards you will need to be able to find an answer for in the future.
Taking a turn off in an aggressive deck is not ideal, however I feel like turn three or four is usually the sweet spot in which you can slip in a transgress without disrupting your curve or continue applying pressure. Turn two is generally not the turn you want to be casting the card, because pressure is so key to beating the Marvel deck with an aggressive deck. If you do not Dispossess Marvel then you have to live in constant fear about the top deck Marvel or way to gain energy that could randomly have you facing down an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, so given that there is a huge cost to giving Temur Aetherworks Marvel extra turns.
Transgress might seem to not fit in this plan, however Transgress is also a way of “buying time”. Forcing opponents to have to find another Marvel instead of racking up energy could potentially give you a lot of extra turns to assemble a lethal attack. Also it can essentially help your clock by protecting a threat or by stopping Virtuoso by coming down and turning excess energy into fogs for your opponent.
Dispossess is also a potent black sideboard card that I like in some of the aggressive black decks, but at the same time I am not a fan of it in others. I am not a huge fan of Dispossess in Mardu, because the card is three mana and even after resolving dispossess there is the potential to get buried in card advantage or out valued by the midrange elements of the deck. Transgress on turn three allows you to also develop a tap land to ensure a Gideon comes down on turn four, or allows you to add another one drop to the board to continue applying pressure.
If you are facing off against the version that plays Censor are you going to wait until turn four to cast Dispossess? In general I think people sometimes go to great lengths to play around Censor when in actuality they need to be applying pressure and just cannot afford to take a whole turn off. Each game and situation can be very unique, so I cannot say you are always supposed to play around it or that you are always supposed to not play around it, but from the games I have seen I feel like people sometimes focus too much on “not wanting to get got” and looking foolish over taking the line that gives them the best chance to win. You Censored my Heart of Kiran? Good thing this Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is not getting censored instead.
Getting back to my thoughts on Dispossess, I like the card in the aggressive versions of the G/B Energy decks. I think the difference between the G/B Energy deck and Mardu Vechicles is that the fair game plans of the Marvel decks are not very effective versus G/B Energy. Magma spray has targets in the deck, but can be ineffective when your opponent Attune with Aethers on turn one before casting their Longtusk cub. Whirler Virtuoso tokens aren’t as good at trading with the creatures that generally grow to become very large and do not have Planeswalkers for the thopters to pressure. Also, a large Walking Ballista can prevent thopters from trying to chump block and keep a Marvel opponent alive.
People might mistake what I just said and rephrase it as G/B Energy is better at playing a “fair” game of magic than Mardu when I did not. Mardu often boards planeswalkers and removal in versus G/B Energy and tries to play a fair midrange fight versus the deck and often comes out on top. I specifically said that the G/B Energy’s fair game matches up better versus the Temur Marvel decks than Mardu Vehicles. I know there other decks/strategies/cards I would like to discuss that are potentially good at going underneath Marvel, however we are going for a more holistic approach, so we are going to move on and look at how to beat Marvel with a control deck. The only “true” control deck that posted good results at the Pro Tour was this list in the hands of Peter Vieran.
My first impression of this deck is it is very streamlined. There are no Dynavolt Towers in the main deck allowing you to leave up mana frequently. The presence of Sweltering Suns in the main deck seems like a necessity with a zombies and midrange Marvel filled meta. Sweltering Suns while being very mediocre versus the control versions of Marvel is exceptional versus the midrange versions. Often the midrange versions try to beat you down with Rogue Refiners, Tireless Trackers, Whirler Virtuoso and thopter tokens. Casting Sweltering Suns with a counterspell up seems like a game winning play versus the deck. It is a way to shut off the Marvel deck from winning a fair game and forcing them to try and jam Marvel into your wealth of counterspells. This version of control seems to stack up very well versus the midrange versions of Marvel by just having a lot of answers to the threats that the deck can come up with, without the fear of having to tap out and accidentally let a marvel resolve.
Both versions of the Marvel deck have cards that are “mostly dead” until the late stages of the game when they are being drowned in card advantage, or they are just dead completely. If your Marvel opponent keeps a hand full of removal than you can often get free game one wins. The main concern are the sideboard games when the midrange versions of Marvel bring in haymakers and a lot of threats that aren’t easy to deal with, backed up by counterspells of their own to protect them.
In general I think counterspells are overvalued versus control decks, especially when the control deck is able to present efficient answers to your threats, which can then leave you with a negate stranded in your hand. In that case, extra threats would be much more valuable, but the value of counterspells can vary from game to game. A Marvel backed up by a negate can be a death sentence after throwing multiple planeswalkers and creatures to the slaughter for the cause.
In general the U/R control deck is favored versus all of the versions of Marvel, but especially matches up well against the control focused version of the deck. To put it in perspective it is like you are playing against a less streamlined version of your deck with a wealth of cards that are just dead versus you. As long as Marvel doesn’t hit the field and you close out the game before Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger shows up to the party you are in the clear. I do feel like in general hard-casting Ulamog versus control is a lot worse than it used to be. Control packs a lot more counterspells than they used to, so a lot of the time Ulamog just eats a Gearhulk and a land and then goes to the graveyard. By that point of the game the control deck might also be willing to expend an essence scatter to keep it off the field and a disallow to keep the pressure up. I was in general very unimpressed with the Jeskai control decks that emerged at the beginning of the standard format, but this U/R deck seems like a very real contender and could potentially be the answer to Marvel.
After trying a number of different decks and strategies to fight Marvel I will tell you the one I like the most. I think the U/R deck seems really solid if the Mardu deck falls in popularity as it seems to match up well against the arguably two top decks of the new format in Zombies and Aetherworks Marvel. This is probably the best way of attacking the current meta. Unfortunately it would take a lot of time for me personally to practice and be ready to combat the field with the U/R control deck so the way I am going to be attacking the metagame is by trying to go under Aetherworks Marvel with Mardu Vehicles backed up with four transgress and no dispossess in my sideboard. I always favor proactive magic that can punish your opponent for stumbling or for making mistakes. Regardless, there are many ways to combat the menace that is Aetherworks Marvel and I hope this article provide you with some food for thought when it comes to battling against Ulamog and friends.