I battled in a staggeringly large 14 player PPTQ this past Sunday to tremendous victory. That is, if you define victory as going 3-2 and winning 3 fresh Kaladesh packs. Energy tokens included this time!

Spoiler Alert: I did not win.

The PPTQ I was initially planning on attending 2 weeks ago had been rescheduled due to coinciding with a local judge conference. They happened to reschedule for this past Sunday, which conflicted with another Manhattan-based store also holding their PPTQ at the same time. 2 stores, same borough, blocks apart, both holding PPTQs on the same day. How do you choose?

Personally I opted with the store that had rescheduled. They were a physically smaller store, with a smaller following, and I figured with the last minute reschedule maybe not as many local grinders would be aware of the fact that they were also holding a PPTQ. Smaller event might mean smaller prize support, but packs aren’t what we’re battling for. There is only one real prize at a PPTQ.

My decision was rewarded when the 10:00 AM start time rolled around and there were only 13 signed up participants. The field consisted of myself, 2 teammates, some local shop regular, and a couple of local grinders I knew. As far as NYC PPTQ’s went it, it was definitely on the softer side, and despite rocking a bit of a hang over, I felt confident about my chances. I’d been continuing to tune Mardu Vehicles since my day 2 appearance at GP Providence and I’d finally come to a 75 I was confident in. After 5-0’ing a friendly league, and then 5-0’ing a competitive league on MTGO with the 75, I was feeling quite happy with my list and overall play with the deck. Here is the exact list I’ve been playing online and also what I registered on Sunday:

Creatures (25)
4 Toolcraft Exemplar
4 Inventor’s Apprentice
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
4 Veteran Motorist
3 Selfless Spirit
2 Pia Nalaar

Planeswalkers (2)
2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Instants, Sorceries, and Artifacts (11)
4 Unlicensed Disintegration
3 Cultivator’s Caravan
4 Smuggler’s Copter

Lands (22)
4 Spirebluff Canal
4 Inspiring Vantage
4 Concealed Courtyard
4 Aether Hub
3 Mountain
3 Plains

Sideboard (15)
4 Galvanic Bombardment
2 Fragmentize
1 Declaration in Stone
4 Fevered Visions
2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship


The Harnessed Lightning Problem

The main noteworthy change you’ll see in my list is the complete omission of Harnessed Lighting. With the way the format has shaped up, mostly consisting of U/W Flash, B/G Delirium, and Vehicles, I’ve found the once staple removal spell to be a bit unnecessary. 2 mana simply isn’t worth the investment and cost to remove the creatures Harnessed Lightning is capable of handling. With the way our creatures size up, we’re mostly indifferent to opposing 1, 2, and 3 mana threats, and anything more expensive and actually big enough for us to not bash into, is simply too large for a 3 energy Harnessed Lighting to take care of. Additional energy from previous Lightings or Aether Hub is a possibility, but never something we want to bank on.

Spending 2 mana to answer a 2-drop is tempo neutral and mostly inconsequential when our creatures can evade or attack right into them. What you really need is something that can reliably answer a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Archangel Avacyn, or Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Unlicensed Disintegration does that while providing 3 damage to give you reach and close out games. The more difficult casting cost and higher converted mana cost is a non-factor when it’s often the last spell I want to be casting in a game. I want to flood the board with critters and vehicles, bash a whole bunch, and then finish off one stabilizing blocker like Avacyn or Kalitas while dealing some points and getting one last attack in. Drawing exactly one powerful removal spell is generally the exact number I’m hoping for in any given game, and the full 4 Disintegrations has facilitated that.

But one of the most important factors that influenced my decision to eschew Harnessed Lighting actually came from the games where I simply drew too much removal. Mardu vehicles is a much more synergistic-driven aggro deck than the Rabble Reds we’ve seen the past few years. It requires a correct mixture of moving parts that makes it closer to the Aristocrats deck of Innistrad-RTR Standard than traditional red beatdown decks. You need cheap creatures to start your curve early along with artifacts to turn on those cheap creatures and make them as effective as possible. Vehicles are naturally parasitic and require additional creatures to crew them. A hand of 3 lands, 1 creature, 1 vehicle, and 2 removal spells may seems fine, but is often not powerful or fast enough to beat your B/G Delirium or U/W Flash opponent before they get their more powerful cards and game plan online.

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Selfless Spirit has been a consistent part of the strictly Red-White version of vehicles and I wondered if it could be incorporated into the Mardu version as well. Scrapheap Scrounger was the 2-drop chosen over Selfless Spirit when building Mardu, but cutting Harnessed Lightning has simply allowed me to play both. Spirit plays to the board, crews Smuggler’s Copter, attacks in the air, protects key threats like Copter, and protects your board from potential board sweepers or Archangel Avacyn’s flip trigger. As a whole, the inclusion of Spirit has been great and I think it’s a major part of my recent success online. Additionally, sac’ing a Spirit to provide fuel for Scrapheap Scrounger may seem niche, but its come up quite a bit for me so far.

But, you didn’t wanna hear me talk more about Mardu Vehicles most likely. I’ve probably spent more time writing about the deck in my column than I should have, and if anything my column should be renamed to, “Mardu’ing with Mansell” with how often it comes up in my weekly articles. If you do have questions about sideboarding or about any of the exact numbers, please do feel free to drop a comment! Now to get to what you really wanna hear: How I arrived at such an impressive 3-2 record.


The Double Dip

Oooh, but unfortunately we’ve run out of time this week. I am only given an allowance of so many words per article and if I exceed it Jonah charges me for running my mouth too much [Editor’s note: it’s true, you know.]. Fortunately, I’m like a poorly mannered party guest and I’m double dipping. Imagine my words as being similar to a crisp orange carrot stick. Typically you get but one sweet dip into the Ranch fountain, but courtesy has no place here and we’re plunging that already once bitten carrot back into the pool. If you found this metaphor to be long-winded and unnecessary, congratulations there will be no vegetable dipping analogies present in my follow-up article. [Editor’s Note Part 2: Electric Boogaloo: Austin has never eaten Ranch in his life. He’s also never eaten carrots either, and quite frankly I’m not sure if he’s ever eaten a non-potato food in his life.]

If you are curious on how to build U/W Flash in this metagame, read this article by Jonah Gaynor.

Get ready Thursday, because “3-2: A hero’s Record” will conclude with part 2 this Thanksgiving day.

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