The first tournament of the new standard format occurred this weekend and as a surprise to no one Mardu Vehicles reigned supreme, not by just winning the tournament itself, but also by landing five total pilots/crew members into the top eight. While Mardu was clearly the most dominant deck, there were also a lot of brews that made their way up to the top tables. The one I was most surprised to see was the 9th place finishing U/R Thermo-Alchemist deck that was in the hands of Jason Bennett. This deck is nothing new, but Jason gave the deck a huge remodel and added some new exciting new cards.
Amonkhet gave this deck a few new toys to play with. Glorybringer, Magma Spray and Sweltering Suns are great new additions to the main deck and sideboard for the U/R Thermo-Alchemist deck. Glorybringer is an answer to planeswalkers that the deck needed, while also being able to double-down as a flying hasty threat. Glorybringer’s exert ability also adds to the flexibility of the card. Against G/B decks or other green based midrange decks there are must answer threats like Tireless Tracker and Grim Flayer that a Glorybringer can eliminate while also pressuring other planeswalkers such as Lilianna, the Last hope, Lilianna, Death’s Majesty and Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
While Glorybringer can be flexible, there are some questions I have regarding putting this card into this deck. First the card doesn’t seem to synergize with other cards in the deck and is not in line with what the deck is trying to accomplish. This deck is filled with cheap and efficient threats that combo with cheap spells for explosive turns. I like the inclusions of Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Bedlam Reveler in the deck, that the deck is able to pivot into a midrange/control plan when you are a point short of burning your opponent out or you are playing a game without a Fevered Vision in play. Glorybringer at first might sound like it fits right into this plan, however it seems to be worse than extra copies of Chandra. Sure, Glorybringer is better vs opposing planeswalkers than Chandra, but consider the opportunity cost of Glorybringer being killed with a removal spell and not being able to exert. Chandra can come down and at least kill a threat before it is dealt with. Also, all of Chandra’s abilities seem very relevant in this deck. The ability to essentially play extra removal spells in the deck that aren’t dead versus the different Jeskai and U/W control decks running around at the moment. The ability to draw into more gas if you are flooding out in the late game and last but not least the ability to add extra mana for some very broken turns involving multiple kill/burns spells and a Thermo-Alchemist or Stormchaser Mage on board.
I really like the analogy of comparing Chandra to a swiss army knife, because although any one thing Chandra does is not necessarily impressive, the fact that it can fill so many roles and be so flexible gives it so much power. I do like having access to Glorybringer in the seventy-five, but I think the dragon belongs in the sideboard and not the main deck.
Magma Spray out of the sideboard helps slow down the aggro decks and prevents pesky Scrapheap Scroungers from wreaking havoc on your life total. Magma Spray is also able to exile Haunted Dead, Dread Wanderer and Stitchwing Skaab. With the uptick in popularity of these cards on magic online and in paper it might be correct to slot an extra Magma Spray into the deck. Yes, Incendiary Flow accomplishes something similar and has the added utility of being able to go straight to the dome, but these cards are able to be brought back at instant speed and having an instant speed way to deal with them can save you a lot of life.
Sweltering Suns is also a fine addition to sideboard as a board sweeper vs the aggro decks that also may have applications against other green based midrange decks or G/B Winding Constrictor decks. Since Sweltering Suns can be cycled away I like the idea of bringing it in against Winding Constrictor decks in particular because at the best of times it might be Wrath of God and in other scenarios it may kill something or be cycled away. If the card just sweeps up Ishkanah, Grafwidow tokens plus another threat like Tireless Tracker then I think it has more than done its job already. The card can also sweep up Rogue Refiners, Servant of the Conduits, Whirler Virtuosos that the marvel deck has access to. Trading one for one with these card is rough because they can eventually grind you out if you are making trades like that, but being able to sweep up their board can prevent them from trying to kill you through damage and can put a dent in their plan to play a “fair game” of Magic.
The biggest weakness to Sweltering Suns is unlike the other cycling cards in this block, the cycling cost is expensive. Three mana to cycle a card is a lot, however since you will not presumably be cycling this card versus aggro decks you should have the time to take a turn off or invest the mana to cycle it into a different card.
The other non Amonket card that found a home in the main deck of Thermo-Alchemist is Bedlam Reveler. One of the main problems with this deck are the games where you do not draw Fevered Visions. In a lot of those games you are a very mediocre Blue-Red burn or control deck and can easily flood out or fall a few points short of killing your opponent. Reveler allows the deck to be more threat dense and can help the deck continue to spin its wheels and it also beats down as three power creature that has prowess. I could see Bedlam Reveler being great against grindy control and midrange deck as a must answer or counter threat that also draws you a few cards. By just playing 2 of the card in the deck it drastically upgrades this decks ability to play longer games without a Fevered Visions in play. The card is very powerful, but two does seem like the right number. Drawing two in the same hand is very unfortunate because you have to pitch one to cast the other. Also, Reveler is not remotely castable in the early game and could lead to clunky hands and mulligans. Reveler is good regardless if you are the control deck or a burn deck for a given game.
I really like this deck’s ability to pivot from being a burn deck to a control deck on the drop of a dime and it can completely snowball the game against decks that cannot remove Fevered Visions however it seems like it could be detrimental in games where it just allows the Mardu deck to continue to draw into more gas while keeping its hand empty at the same time. The deck also seems to be weak to Heart of Kiran. Lightning Axe seems to be the only “clean” answer to the card in the main deck. In the sideboard, you have two copies of Release the Gremlins that also answer the card, but only having four total answers to the hallmark card of the vehicles deck in your seventy-five seems a bit loose.
It is also unfortunate that Weaver of Lightning is now a bit worse versus vehicles than it once was. Weaver was an all-star card to board in versus vehicles not just because it could ping off a lot of their small creatures, but also due to the fact that it blocked Copter very well. With Weaver of Lightning not being able to block Heart of Kiran I think the utility of the card has dropped a small amount. The main deck also runs more creatures and planeswalkers than the previous versions, which also leads to Weaver taking over a game less often than it previously did. Also the winning Mardu vehicles list from SCG Atlant did not even sport any Veteran Motorists in the deck leaving fewer one toughness creatures for Weaver to pick off.
I am unsure why there is a lone dispel hanging out in the sideboard. I don’t really care for dispel in general because of its inability to counter Aetherworks Marvel and Planeswalkers. I would probably cut it for a Negate since I think Negate is just a bit more flexible and powerful in the current meta-game. If I had to take this to a tournament tomorrow this would be my seventy-five.
The only change I made to the main deck was the swap of Glorybringers for more Chandras which I already discussed. The main changes to the deck are the changes I made to the sideboard. I thought about it for a while, but with Weaver of Lightning being worse than it used to be and with the deck playing less instants and sorceries I figured that having access to Negates for the control and Marvel matchups were too important. I also think that Magma Spray and the extra Release the Gremlins are more effective cards than Weaver versus Mardu. Trying to rely on blocking Mardu’s creatures is a bad plan and sets you up to get ranched by Unlicensed Disintegration. I put an extra Sweltering Suns in the sideboard mostly because I would want to truly test how good that card is and if people try to beat Mardu by going under them than this card will be able to do a great deal of work.
I am not sure if U/R Thermo-Alchemist can beat Mardu, but what I do know for sure is that this deck is powerful and that Fevered Vision is back.