The vehicle of my affection had just recently dominated Pro Tour Aether Revolt and I had a relatively local Grand Prix to attend the following weekend. With my history of sticking to my Mardu guns for the past 3 months or so, you’d think I’d have an easy decision to make when it came to deck selection. The pros were generous enough to tune my favorite archetype to perfection so I wouldn’t even have to dwell on specific card choices!

I’d merged the creatures and spells of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s list with the mana base of Marcio Carvalho’s and arrived at something I was very excited to fire up on MtGO and get to jamming. I’d even detailed what I liked about PV’s list in my upcoming article for the week (which you can read here if you want more writing on Vehicles). But even though Valentine’s Day was coming up, love was not in the air. Betrayal was afoot, and my Heart of Kiran just didn’t know it.

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After Jeskai Copycat’s dominant performance at the SCG Open and my mediocre finish with B/G Delirium, I built Jeskai online and started to jam games much to my delight. My first Super IQ win came in the hands of Esper Control when Sphinx’s Revelation was all the rage, and I’d had multiple GP cashes with Splinter Twin, so the draw-go aspect of the deck coupled with a combo finish was very much in my wheelhouse and my liking.

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Casting Torrential Gearhulk was everything I’d wanted and never even knew. But Mardu and it’s 6 pilots in the Pro Tour top 8 came calling and I was determined to hop on the train of playing the best deck in the format. Monday night I fire up MtGO and much to my chagrin I realize that I’m 1 match into a league with Jeskai already. I need to sell some copies of Saheeli Rai and Torrential Gearhulk to pick up Heart of Kiran and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar so I’m forced to quickly finish this league with Jeskai before I can hop on into some skyships.

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I’m paired against a B/G Energy deck that looks similar to Ken Yukihiro’s high finishing deck at the PT. Shock and Harnessed Lighting easily pick off Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Winding Constrictor while I strand Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness in their hand. A Disallow for a Verdurous Gearhulk followed up with my own Torrential Gearhulk quickly earns a concession. Post-board somehow it feels even easier. Fumigate sweep up Rishkar, Peema Renegade and company while I pull ahead with Glimmer of Genius after Glimmer of Genius. “Wow, that match up seems pretty easy,” I remark to myself as I jump back in the queue. I play variations of B/G the next 3 rounds and quickly celebrate an easy 5-0.

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Before selling off Saheeli Rai I decide to talk with my teammates on what they planned on playing in Pittsburgh. B/G is the overwhelming answer. Everyone seems to be course correcting to beat Mardu by picking up B/G decks chocked full of Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness. I tweak a few things in my list, toying with my removal suite and decide to queue up Jeskai in another comp league. 4 rounds of B/G and 1 round of Mardu leads to a quick 4-1. Can you guess what I lost to and what I beat?

As the week progresses leading up to Pittsburgh, the consensus seems to be to play B/G to beat up on Mardu while developing a good plan for the mirror. Am I crazy to not play Mardu when it just won (and completely dominated) the Pro Tour? And am I even crazier to think about playing the deck that had an underwhelming PT performance that most now considered to be a bad choice?

To follow my heart, or to follow the metagame was my question?

Another 5 rounds of B/G decks made my decision for me and I was set. This is what I registered for GP Pittsburgh:

Jeskai Copycat by Austin Mansell at Grand Prix Pittsburgh

Creatures (6)
3 Felidar Guardian
3 Torrential Gearhulk

Non-Creature Spells (29)
3 Shock
4 Anticipate
4 Harnessed Lightning
2 Incendiary Flow
2 Negate
4 Saheeli Rai
1 Dynavolt Tower
2 Disallow
1 Nahiri, the Harbringer
4 Glimmer of Genius
2 Fumigate

Lands (25)
4 Inspiring Vantage
4 Spirebluff Canal
4 Aether Hub
3 Wandering Fumerole
2 Port Town
1 Mountain
2 Plains
5 Island

Sideboard (15)
2 Fragmentize
1 Shock
1 Release the Gremlins
1 Blessed Alliance
1 Aether Meltdown
1 Quarantine Field
1 Dynavolt Tower
2 Dispel
1 Negate
1 Disallow
2 Linvala, the Preserver
1 Blighted Cataract

I was all set and tuned to betray my former love and give into my past ways of draw-go. A few things of note about my specific card choices and how I came to them.

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I toyed around with a variety of different numbers of 2 mana removal before deciding on the obvious 4 Harnessed Lightning and the 2 not so obvious Incendiary Flow. Flow got the nod over Aether Meltdown or Immolating Glare because I needed something to consistently remove Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Longtusk Cub, and Winding Constrictor before they would untap with it and Flow is the best at doing that. Flow had the upside of being great against Scrapheap Scrounger, a card that gives control decks like this one fits. Flow while not great at answering Heart of Kiran, could answer a Depala, Pilot Exemplar, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, or Rishkar, Peema Renegade cleanly. Mardu felt like such a poor matchup in general that I wouldn’t have much of a shot game 1 regardless, so I didn’t mind sacrificing some points there to have a nice answer to B/G’s 2 drops.

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2 copies of Fumigate found their way into the mainboard to clean up B/G cleanly, and they were consistently impressive. The biggest outlier in my list is perhaps the 1 Dynavolt Tower. I’d been trying a variety of utility artifacts to minimal success in order to better utilize Saheeli Rai’s ultimate. Prophetic Prism was fine, but not worth a card slot so I resigned myself to just fetching out a simple, singular Torrential Gearhulk if I managed to ultimate Saheeli. On a whim I tried a Dynavolt Tower and was immediately impressed. If you stick a Saheeli Rai on turn 3 and continue to plus it, most opponents out of fear of the combo insist on holding up removal and do little to advance their board.

With removal and counters, you are easily able to keep the board clean while you simply keep smoothing out your draw while ticking her up towards her ultimate. I often aggressively ultimate Saheeli to fetch the Tower and a Gearhulk (that ideally flashes back a Glimmer of Genius, making a healthy 4 energy) every chance I get. That advantage often is enough to shift the game in your favor. Tower powering up Harnessed Lightning into a clean removal spell for almost any fat creature is another huge benefit to the singleton artifact. Its utility in the mirror or against 4-Color Copycat should also not be understated, for if you’ve got the energy, no amount of Dispel or Negate can prevent you from stopping the combo.

So how did my metagaming and betrayal of Mardu fair for the weekend? Well, you’ll have to wait until my follow-up article later this week to find out! Stay tuned to find out if it was worth it or if I crashed and burned!

For some analysis of how the metagame appears to be shaking up after Grand Prix Pittsburgh, read this article by Jonah Gaynor.

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