Taking a Mardu Vacation - Top 8 in New Jersey and Heading to an Eternal Extravaganza, Massdrop East/West - Article 8

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Standard at Grand Prix New Jersey
Grand Prix New Jersey marked my third Grand Prix Top 8, with my other two being in Legacy with Red-Green 'Combo' Lands.
Approximately two weeks ago, I decided I was going to play Mardu Vehicles closely resembling Frank Karsten's lists. I trust Frank Karsten for many reasons, especially the fact that he 'mathed' out the manabase that worked for a three color deck. A lot of the decks in this format have issues with mulliganing a bunch to try to cast their spells in a three color deck, and the problem is amplified when playing a beatdown deck with so many one drops. Unlike most people I chose to play Inventor’s Apprentice because I believe having a lower curve and faster starts is better for most game ones especially versus decks like Temur Control and Aetherworks Marvel. The rise of Mardu Ballista did not concern me here, even though Ballista was hyped up as a super answer in the mirror.
The reason I was not overly concerned was that Walking Ballista is only a huge problem if the following scenarios occur:
A) It’s played for X=2, and you have multiple one toughness creatures.
B) The board stalls out with neither player having fliers to break through or having Gideon advantage. I was fine with Veteran Motorist trading with a Walking Ballista for X=1, given that is an equal tempo play and I’m up a ‘scry 2’.
In addition, Veteran Motorist allowed you to play a slightly ‘bigger’ game in postboard games (which is why I was very hesitant to side them out), and also is another creature to crew Heart of Kiran with (additionally, its +1/+1 boost lets you attack past opposing Heart of Kirans with impunity).
The night before, I pick up Ari Lax from a metro stop near my house, and we go get dinner. Ari decides to play my deck because he wants to enjoy a ‘Mardu Vacation’. He coined this term originally at Grand Prix Pittsburgh where you turn off your brain, and just take the most obvious line with Mardu every turn and see what record you end up with. Ari went 12-3 at Pittsburgh with this strategy playing Adam Ragsdale’s version of Mardu.
After dinner where the waitress tried to serve Ari a steak and Kahlua pairing, we have a nice pleasant drive, where Ari spends his time playing Super Mario World on his 3DS, and we have a great discussion about video game design with respect to the late 80s / early 90s as opposed to now. Video games of that era were designed to make you bang your head against the wall until the wall broke instead of showing you the hallway.
After we arrive at the hotel, I lock in the following decklist:
2 Inventor's Apprentice 2 Pia Nalaar 4 Scrapheap Scrounger 4 Thraben Inspector 4 Toolcraft Exemplar 4 Veteran Motorist 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Cultivator's Caravan 1 Fatal Push 4 Heart of Kiran 2 Shock 4 Unlicensed Disintegration 2 Aether Hub 4 Concealed Courtyard 1 Foreboding Ruins 4 Inspiring Vantage 3 Mountain 1 Needle Spires 3 Plains 2 Shambling Vent 4 Spire of Industry
SIDEBOARD
1 Anguished Unmaking 3 Archangel Avacyn 2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance 2 Fatal Push 1 Painful Truths 3 Release the Gremlins 3 Walking Ballista

Instead of ‘going bigger’ with Planeswalkers (like Ob Nixilis Reignited, Sorin Grim Nemesis), I stuck to the combination of Archangel Avacyn and Chandra, Torch of Defiance as my ‘big’ threats. In addition, I would bring in all of Walking Ballista for a lot of matchups (but still leave Veteran Motorist in my deck to serve as a card filterer.)
Here’s a quick rundown of the matches I played:
Rounds 1-3: Byes.
Round 4: 2-1 win over 4 color Marvel
Round 5: 2-0 win 4 color Saheeli (Jake Mondello)
Round 6: 2-1 win over Temur Dynavolt Control
Round 7: 2-0 win over Mardu Ballista
Round 8: 2-1 win over Mardu with sideboard Gisela
Round 9: 2-1 win over 4 color Saheeli
Round 10: 2-0 win over GB Aggro (no energy subtheme)
Round 11: 1-2 loss to Mardu Ballista (Paul Rietzl)
Round 12: 2-0 win over Mardu Ballista ( Massdrop East member Ricky Chin)
Round 13: 0-2 loss to 4 color Saheeli
Round 14: 2-0 win over Mardu Ballista (Stephen Neal)
Round 15: 2-1 win over 4 color Saheeli (Robert Graves)
Interesting situations that came up:
Round 4 Game 3: My opponent casts World Breaker targeting my land with a Kozilek’s Return in the graveyard, and forgets to flashback the Return to kill everything. I squeak out the game with suicidal Scrounger attacks squeaking in three damage each time before he draws Ulamog or Marvel.
Round 9 Game 3: I go back and watch this game because I could have very easily lost if my opponent took another line. He could have cast Felidar Guardian on turn 4, and on turn 5 used Baral’s Expertise to bounce both of my Walking Ballistas to put Saheeli Rai in to combo kill me. He was afraid of exposing Felidar Guardian to removal, but I was ahead and could have just held up Unlicensed Disintegration while still winning if I had it.
Also on turn 3 of this game, I have a very difficult decision of whether to leave a 'fastland' on top of my deck with Gideon in my hand. The main issue here is the land will be tapped next turn due to it being my fourth land, but I decided it was worth keeping on top, since I could just spend turn 4 casting Anguished Unmaking killing his creature, turn 5 playing Gideon, and turn 6 Walking Ballista.
Round 15 Game 2: On about turn 7 (at least 7 lands out), my opponent casts Release the Gremlins for X=2 targeting a Heart of Kiran and a Walking Ballista. I flash in Archangel Avacyn and then crew my Heart of Kiran with the trigger on the stack. He lets the trigger resolve, so I decide it’s likely he doesn’t have Harnessed Lightning, so I use my Ballista to deal him a few damage to try to flip Avacyn on my upkeep. During my upkeep, he Harnessed Lightnings my Avacyn, and I eventually lose a prolonged game that I would not have lost if I had just kept the Walking Ballista and dumped all of my mana into it. Well played by my opponent there!
The videos of my matches for Round 9, Round 15, and Round 1 of Top 8 can all be found on the Magic twitch videos, for any of you who are interested. https://www.twitch.tv/magic/videos/all
Going forward, I would very much recommend my version of Mardu, Rietzl’s ‘bigger’ version, or the best deck in the room: Ben Friedman’s 4c Saheeli deck with 19 lands / Traverse the Ulvenwald, and Ishkanah, Grafwidow.

Legacy and Vintage at Eternal Extravaganza
This upcoming weekend, I’m preparing to play in Eternal Extravaganza which has a large tournament of my favorite format: Legacy, and a format I rarely get to play, Vintage.

For Legacy, it’s been a bit harder to decide what deck to play as Red-Green ‘Combo’ Lands has gotten worse and worse for a few reasons:
A) Miracles pilots have adapted a lot, and now have access to a ton of Snapcaster Mages + Surgical Extraction, as well as From the Ashes (which is a one-sided Armageddon in the matchup).
B) Other decks have started running two-three Surgical Extractions as well as Pithing Needle (normally naming Thespian’s Stage).
C) Sneak and Show // Reanimator aren’t terribly great matchups for the deck as well. For this reason, I decided to switch to the ‘dark’ side of Miracles with a lot of advice from Anuraag Das (aka Anzi104 on twitch) and the rest of Miracles chat.
Here’s the list of ‘Predictable Miracles’ I plan on running:
3 Tundra
2 Volcanic Island
4 Flooded Strand
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Arid Mesa
4 Island
2 Plains

4 Ponder
4 Brainstorm
1 Counterspell
3 Predict
3 Counterbalance
4 Force of Will
4 Terminus
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Entreat the Angels
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Council’s Judgment
3 Snapcaster Mage
Sideboard
3 Surgical Extraction
2 Flusterstorm
3 Pyroblast
1 Engineered Explosives
3 Monastery Mentor
1 Mountain
1 Wear // Tear
1 From the Ashes

Predict is a card that I used to loathe, but I think I just had been underestimating how easy it is to churn through your deck to find what you need with Predict // Snapcaster Mage on Predict. In addition, it shines versus most attrition BUG decks.
Overall, Miracles is a well-balanced deck that can be tuned to be better versus specific decks. It’s much harder to exploit Miracles than it is to exploit a deck like Lands (attacking its graveyard, From the Ashes, etc.).
I do think there is promise to an Intuition-based Lands deck, but I haven’t found a build that I am personally satisfied with. The advantages to RUG Lands are access to Intuition / Academy Ruins (in combination with Engineered Explosives, Crucible of Worlds or artifact lock pieces postboard).
For Vintage, I’m still on the fence between these three decks: Paradoxical Outcome Oath, Paradoxical Outcome Mentor, and Mentor. The theory is that Paradoxical Outcome itself is good versus other blue decks that don’t have Stony Silence, and the Oath / Mentor packages improve your matchup versus decks with a lot of taxing effects (Shops and Hatebears come to mind here). Traditional Mentor is harder to attack, but it loses the mirror to the Paradoxical Outcome version.

In any case, I look forward to my semi-annual event of playing Vintage. Casting cards like Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, and Time Walk are such a rare occurrence for me (since I’m usually forced to find them from generous friends I know)!

Thanks for reading, and please post any questions below.

If you are curious about our team, check out our intro here: https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1117/announcing-team-massdrop-east-west
Or, check out our previous weekly articles:
1. How to Prepare for an MtG Pro Tour by Ben Weitz
(https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1158/how-to-prepare-for-an-mt-g-pro-tour)
2. Approaching New Magic Drafts by Ari Lax
(https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1193/approaching-new-magic-drafts)
3. Constructed Testing for Pro Tour Aether Revolt by Jarvis Yu (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1213/recap-of-constructed-testing-for-massdrop-east-west-for-pro-tour-aether-revolt)
4. Breaking into Eternal Formats - Case Study: GP Louisville by Jon Stern (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1240/breaking-into-eternal-formats-case-study-gp-louisville-massdrop-east-west-article-4)
5. In Good Company - Top 8 at GP Vancouver by Eric Severson (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1285/in-good-company-top-8-at-gp-vancouver)
6. Adapting to Full Block Kaladesh Limited by Jiachen Tao (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1323/adapting-to-full-block-kaladesh-limited-massdrop-east-west-article-6)
7. Sorry My Felidar Guardian Ate My Homework by Mark Jacobson (https://www.massdrop.com/talk/1364/sorry-my-felidar-guardian-ate-my-homework-massdrop-east-west-article-7)
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