Grand Prix Providence was this past weekend and as I alluded to in my article last week, my need for speed was very much alive. My testing with Lee Shi Tian’s recent Pro Tour top 8 Mardu Vehicles list was continuing to go well on MTGO and I locked into a list with just a few minor tweeks late last week. The main 60 felt great and I was confident in its overall game plan post-board, so the changes were mostly superficial.

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First of all, I cut the 2 Skywhaler’s Shot from the board for 2 additional Unlicensed Disintegration. Disintegration offers the same ability to remove creatures at instant speed without the 3 power or greater caveat that shot does, while also having the huge upside of dealing 3 damage to it’s controller. The reach Disintegration provides is huge, and the power level of the card is the real reason the deck is splashing black in the first place. I assume Lee Shi Tian’s inclusion of Skywhaler’s Shot was initially due to it’s easier casting cost, but as I played the deck more and more it became apparent that the mana was perfectly fine and very much so suitable for the full 4 disintegrations in the 75. I feel confident in this change since it seems the top finishing lists at GP Kuala Lumpur also omitted Skywhaler’s Shot completely for additional Disintegrations.

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-12-50-15-pmMost importantly however, is how imperative it is to publically denounce the actions of these Skywhalers. I simply cannot condone their senseless murder of Kaladesh’s majestic Skywhale population. #SaveTheSkywhales

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The other minor change I made to the board was a swap of Skysovereign, Consul Flagship for 1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance. I found the five mana airboat to be a bit too slow at times, and while it was great to have the option to dig for it with Depala, Pilot Exemplar, it unfortunately couldn’t kill Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet or Archangel Avacyn. With the rise in popularity of Eric Froehlich’s B/G delirium list and the sudden dominance of U/W Flash, I was interested in something that could advance the board while dealing the requisite 4 damage I needed to kill these premier threats. The 8th place list from GP Kuala Lumpur made a similar change in dropping Flagship for Chandra, while the 1st place list doubled down on Skysovereign in fact, adding an additional copy to the board. Chandra has been solid for me online thus far, but I never drew her at the GP, so I’ll need further testing to determine what slot I’ll be advocating for in the future.

The format after the dual GP weekend seems to be finally settling into place, with U/W Flash, R/W or Mardu Vehicles, and B/G Delirium as the three main contenders. Any three of these decks looks to be like a solid choice to register in the upcoming weeks. I’ll be sticking with Mardu for the time being, but I’ll most likely be dropping the blue splash. Dropping the blue isn’t due to concerns about casting your spells on time however; it’s more so that U/W Flash and control decks have sufficiently pushed Aetherworks Marvel out of the metagame to the point that Ceremonious Rejection just isn’t the necessity it was in Honolulu.

Personally, I’ve been surprised at how good the mana is in the deck and found myself rarely ever having an issue casting my spells. With B/G Delirium and U/W Flash becoming the non-mirror decks to beat, I’d certainly be interested in 4 more board slots available to potentially shore up those match ups. Despite U/W being a significant portion of the day 1 and day 2 metagames, I managed to dodge it completely in all 15 rounds in Providence. And while I played against the B/G Delirium list made popular by Eric Froehlich three times throughout the tournament, I never got paired against the better finishing, slower B/G Delirium deck that took up 4 slots in the eventual top 8. I’ll need further testing against these two decks to figure out the best options for those freshly vacant board slots.

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For anyone who’s read my articles in the past, you’ll have undoubtedly noticed the recurring theme of me pushing myself to be better than I was the week before. Playing Mardu Vehicles for me was an affirmation of that motive. Those who know me personally know that I have never been a huge fan of the attack step and that my deck preferences have been largely skewed towards control-focused midrange or combo decks. Twin was my jam for many years in Modern, Thoughtseize starred in many of my decklists for it’s entirely of time in Standard, while cards like Goblin Guide and Wild Nacatl have rarely made appearances and I have even internally shunned them at times. But, I’m doing my best to shed those allegiances to certain cards or styles and focus on playing the deck I believe to be best positioned for the metagame. While drawing excess cards or slowly choking the life out of my opponent might have been my preferred method in the past, I have to say attacking for 3 on turn 2 is pretty sweet. And, more importantly, I can’t help but feel like playing a different and varied archetype is improving and teaching me new skills in Magic.

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Mardu Vehicles is a proactive beat down deck with a powerful “nut draw” that still possesses the tools to play out a longer game thanks to the card advantage and selection of Veteran Motorist, Depala, Pilot Exemplar, Smuggler’s Copter, and Scrapheap Scrounger. It plays a lot of synergistic cards that enable one another and require one another to operate at maximum efficiency. A hand with multiple Toolcraft Exemplar and Inventor’s Apprentice offers a difficult road to victory when you don’t also have an artifact. The power of Smuggler’s Copter or Cultivator’s Caravan means little if you hand is just lands, vehicles, and removal spells. These cards need their friends.

I mulliganed a lot this weekend, probably more so than I ever had in any other tournament I’ve ever played in. And while I had countless friendly opponents offer condolences of sorry while I threw back another 7, I kept joyfully exercising my right to be down a card. I’d smile and reiterate one of my favorite aspects of this game.

“In Magic you don’t have to mulligan, you get to mulligan”.

And then I’d crush their faces with my 6 card hand. I might have mulliganed a lot this weekend, but I also don’t think I’ve ever won so many games on mulligans before.

Traditionally, proactive beatdown decks often require the proper balance of specific card types to beat their opponent before their more powerful, expensive game plan can start to take shape and overwhelm you. Generally speaking, this in the past has been the balance of finding the right amount of lands, creatures, and burn spells in any given hand. Playing an archetype not typically in my wheelhouse has taught me an important lesson in mulligan decisions:

Strong sixes beat mediocre sevens.

Decks have specific game plans you formulate before you ever play a single game. You craft these plans the minute you start developing a curve or identifying what removal is best positioned. Developing a game plan is the difference between a 60 card deck with a haphazardly built board, and a cohesive 75. What am I doing with these cards? How do they work together to get me to victory? Playing the cards in your hand is not the same as carrying out a specific game plan. And carrying out that plan starts as soon as you draw your opening hand. Understanding from the get-go that I was going to “be the beatdown” helped me more easily understand what my opening hand offered. I had already developed a framework for what parameter my cards had to operate within:

Will this seven card hand kill my opponent?

Some hands will seem very reasonable on the surface, such as this one: 4 lands, Depala, Pilot Exemplar Harnessed Lightning, Cultivator’s Carvan:

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This is really not a good hand for this deck. Because you are playing this aggressive deck, you need hands that can execute your gameplan, and this one just doesn’t. In testing, I’d learn that the old adage of “lands and spells” was simply not good enough, and this was a lesson I’d never truly grasped when playing slow midrange decks. If you’re like me and cling to certain archetypes discriminately, I greatly suggest taking the opportunity to branch out and try something new. You never know what you’ll learn when you switch gears and try something else. The nuances of Magic can’t be learned from simply starring at one side of it. It has far too many angles and approaches to truly grasp from just one fixed position.

For a recap of the major events this weekend, such as Standard Grand Prix in Providence and Kuala Lumpur, and a SCG Open in Milwaukee, read this Weekend Recap.

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