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Marveling at Mardu Control


Hello boys and girls!

That feeling when you're more controlling than the blue deck.”

Mardu Control gives us that feeling.

Yes, the deck I first started writing about back in June is still on my mind. I submit that the strategy continues to have a lot to offer, and today we'll be exploring some of its inherent strengths and positional relationships to the metagame's top performers. Please keep in mind that I don't have anything in the way of statistical data here, so much of what follows will be theory and conjecture.

General Considerations

Let's begin by reintroducing ourselves to the deck and treating ourselves to a general overview of both the pieces and the whole.

Here's the updated list, which doesn't differ all that much from the one I drew up six months ago.

Jason Moore Mardu Control

Additionally, here is what I had to say regarding Mardu Control conceptually:

“I went in with the assumption that a non-blue, three color control deck was the objective, and Night's Whisper was going to be a key piece of the puzzle... If we're going to build a control list, we need to do it right. Just because we're abandoning blue doesn't mean we should abandon the core elements that make the control archetype function.”

Before we delve any deeper into the philosophy of Mardu Control, I should address the fact that this deck could reasonably be thought of as a member of the midrange archetype. I think that's a legitimate opinion, depending, of course, on your criteria for what makes a deck midrange and what makes it control. I humbly submit that by looking at this Mardu build as a control deck I've been able to streamline its composition and performance while avoiding a large amount of strategic clutter.

To me the path to victory for a control deck can be clearly and concisely laid out. In fact, it doesn't get much simpler than Patrick Chapin's summation, contained within “Next Level Deckbuilding.” On page 255 he writes:

"'Control' family decks generally seek to survive Stage One, build advantages in Stage Two, & eventually reach a Stage Three endgame that will win a duel for them."

I've referenced this concept many times over at this point, but it is absolutely worth repeating and informs a number of the overall design choices tied to the Mardu Control list itself.

So what is it about Mardu Control that works so well? I have to admit that I'm still surprised at how consistently the deck exceeds my expectations. One thing that should be pointed out is the fact that there are only a handful of things this deck actually does, but most of these things remain relevant during at least two (out of three) stages of the game.

Here is what Mardu Control is capable of doing (in Game One):

Proactive Stuff

- Fixing Colors (Stage One)

— Developing a Board Position (All)

— Drawing Cards (All)

— Bouncing Permanents for Additional Use (Stage Two and Three)

Interactive Stuff

- Attacking and Blocking (All)

- Removing Creatures (All)

— Gaining Life (All)

— Returning Creatures from the Graveyard (Stage Two and Three)

— Burning the Opponent Out (Stage Three)

As you can see there's really just nine functions the deck is capable of performing. This is still quite a high number for Classic Pauper.

Let's look at Mono Red Burn's Game One functionality by comparison:

Proactive Stuff

— Developing a Board Position

— Drawing Cards

Interactive Stuff

— Attacking and Blocking

— Removing Creatures

— Burning the Opponent Out

That's about twice as much functionality, which is compounded by the fact that Mono Red Burn doesn't want to remove creatures (because it would be much happier assigning burn spells to the opponent's face). Once we start looking at things in terms of head to head, we also notice that Mardu's ability to gain life, remove creatures and return creatures from the graveyard has the potential to directly negate much of what Mono Red hopes to accomplish.

So we've established that Mardu is able to impact all three stages of the game on a consistent basis. We must similarly make note of how efficiently Mardu does so when it comes to mana curve.

Not including Gurmag Angler, the deck contains 14 spells that cost one mana and only six spells that cost three mana or more. Better still, those three mana and up cards (Phyrexian Rager, Pristine Talisman and Evincar's Justice) continue to gain us value over time (Rager enters combat and can be replayed, Talisman ramps and gains life, Justice repeats with buyback).

Falling in between these two groups are the two mana spells. Each of these equate to possible two-for-ones, which allows them to regularly outclass many of the 2-drops found in opposing decks.

Obviously Gurmag Angler occupies something of an “X spell” position in our curve, but it generally ends up being worth however much we pay for it since it tends to have a large impact on most boards.

Metagame Considerations

As this article is being written Kuldotha Boros (sometimes referred to as Boros Kitty) Mono Blue Delver, Mono Green Stompy and Affinity are currently the four highest performing 5-0 decks in Classic Pauper. Elves trails behind at the number five spot, but for now let's focus a bit on those top four.

Disclaimer: I'm by no means claiming that Mardu Control has a terrific matchup against all of these decks. Rather I'm trying to observe some of the card choice specifics as an example of how Pauper decks can largely be compared and contrasted.

In “Applying the NLDB Seminar to Pauper” I touched upon Chapin's concept of dealing with a question “just as efficiently as they presented it.” Let's now observe how Mardu Control utilizes this very concept.

By playing the cards Flame Slash and Lightning Bolt, we're supplying our deck with a minimum of six one mana answers to Kor Skyfisher (the “toughest” creature in Kuldotha Boros[/card]). What's more, Chainer's Edict and Tragic Slip can also kill it under optimal conditions, and our own Skyfishers can block it!

All of our one mana answers are able to remove Delver of Secrets, and Flame Slash in particular stops Mono Blue's toughest threat in Spire Golem. Slash also handles Stompy's beaters in spite of a reactive Groundswell or Mutagenic Growth, and burns away Affinity's biggest non-Atog monsters Carapace Forger and Myr Enforcer. Take note of the fact that Flame Slash ofttimes solves a problem more efficiently than the opponent presented it.

Gurmag Angler critically outsizes every creature these decks play that isn't named Atog. If the Mirrodin predator becomes a huge concern, we always have Chainer's Edict and Tragic Slip which can typically deal with him. We can also choose to incorporate a card like Doom Blade, Journey to Nowhere or Terminate with little effort later on.

As is the case with most Pauper decks, this Top 4 typically has zero access to graveyard hate in Game 1. This means our endgame attrition package of Grim Harvest and effective creatures can't be permanently disrupted, and is likely to be a headache at the very least.

I'd argue that the portion of Mardu Control that needs the most work currently is the sideboard. Here are a list of high-impact spells to consider for various matchups.

Mono Blue Delver


Serrated Arrows

I don't think Pyroblast needs much clarification here. It does nearly everything we could ask for, including remove a Delver or Ninja of the Deep Hours, counter their permission spell or stop a Stormbound Geist from ever happening.

As for Arrows, well, Delver kinda hates permanents. They have a tough time getting rid of them completely once they've hit the board. Moreover, Arrows doesn't punish our tri-color manabase, eats Miscreants and Sprites all day and gets bounced with Kor Skyfisher.

Mono Green Stompy

— Evincar's Justice

Magma Spray

A lot of times fast aggro games are decided by whether or not we can sweep the board on Turn 4. Justice is the most comprehensive sweeper available to us at four mana, so it's the one I'd favor here.

While Magma Spray can answer a lot of threats in Stompy, its capacity to nullify the entirety of Young Wolf is paramount.


Ancient Grudge

Doom Blade

Grudge may seem weird since we only have four “green” sources in our deck. It's still a potent answer, and considering how long these games go under average circumstances we are bound to find a Prophetic Prism or two.

Of all the answers to Atog we have access to, Doom Blade is likely the easiest to cast. I'm not too worried that it can't kill Disciple of the Vault because we have plenty of removal that can.

Honorable mention to Gorilla Shaman if you feel like they're worth the 17-ish dollars a piece.

More Than Just Mardu

In a shocking turn of events I'm actually playing Boros Tokens for today's video portion!

Feel free to let me know what you think of Mardu Control, and/or if you feel I missed any critical details.

As always, thanks for reading, and enjoy the videos!

Jason Moore
Jason Moore

About Jason Moore

Jason Moore is 25 years old, and a resident of Los Angeles California. He began playing Magic seriously in 2010, and has developed a strong interest in MTGO and the Pauper format. He is one of the hosts of the podcast Pauper's Cage, and has covered Pauper on other websites and his YouTube page. His other interests include acting, writing and playing guitar.

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