Mardu Humans: Applied Theorycrafting in Best-Of-One
Playing tribal Humans in Magic has always felt wrong to me. Kind of like playing a human in D&D, it just feels like a copout. Boring. Fortunately, the Humans are anything but dull and are going some way towards changing my mind. While Humans may be the neapolitan ice cream of tribals (some variety but still fairly bland), the current pool of homo sapiens are at least of high quality with a ton of synergy. Humans in the current Standard reminds me heavily of the recent Mardu Knights builds from last fall (which reminds me, how in the name of Nevinyrral’s Disk is there not even ONE knight in this set? Not one!). It’s a fun deck that strives to hit in the face as much as it can.
One of the great aspects of Mardu Humans early in this meta is that it is going to be reasonably light on the Wildcards. Most of the rares in the deck are from prior sets; the big hits from Ikoria are Mythics for General Kudro of Drannith, and Rares for the Triomes. Otherwise all the cards Ikoria adds are Common or Uncommon.
Tribal Humans had some presence in Standard with Hero of Precinct One builds, but it wasn’t a strong build. The additions from Ikoria are significant and even rather nasty, with one of the key additions being one of the best spot removal spells I’ve seen in a long time.
This is basically a straight aggro deck with lots of creatures that build on or interact with each other along with a bit of removal and other tricks to keep things interesting. It’s not as fast as Mardu Knights was or RDW is, that would be a tall order, but it has more in the mid or late game and can still overwhelm most opponents in fairly short order.
Decklist and Card Choices
Best of One on Arena does some funny things, between the lack of a sideboard, hand smoothing, and a very different metagame. Deck building in Bo1 may reflect some of what is going on in Traditional standard, but it’s a reflection with crisscrossing ripples going through it rather than being mirror smooth. I’ll touch on the adjustments I’ve made when we dive into the cards…
BO1 Mardu Humans by Red5ive – April 2020 Season
Let’s start by talking about the non-human in the deck, or rather, in the sideboard. Jegantha is a card that I dropped in just to see if it would fit and, as it happens, it did. I initially had a couple Elspeth planeswalkers in this build, but decided: What the heck, if I pull them then I can get a free card in my opening hand. It turns out this made for a pretty handy finisher. Humans is a strong enough tribal right now that I think other approaches would work, but this is the one I liked best. It’s also worth noting right now that if you aren’t playing a Companion, you’re at a pretty significant disadvantage in the current metagame.
Whisper Squad may seem underwhelming at first, but it’s a card that I frequently was able to get four of out. In such a cheap deck, there’s frequently some free mana lying around, and the other Whisper Squads are uncounterable. It’s a fantastic opener, and I’ll typically opt to take two from a shockland to drop it on turn one.
M. V. P. Dire Tactics is my favorite new card in Humans; this is fantastic removal and essential in this metagame. Lurus just dropped? Exiled before they can even use its other ability! Huge. You’re almost always going to have a Human on the board. The one time I played it without a Human on the board was on turn two against an Azorius Mutate deck that had just played Baby Godzilla. The three damage was well worth shorting out their card draw engine. Exiling a creature unconditionally for two mana at instant speed is pretty hard to top.
General’s Enforcer is a very narrow card as giving Indestructible to Legendary Humans is a pretty tight effect, but its effect is powerful enough in a deck built to exploit it that it makes the card impossible to resist putting in and impossible to ignore for your opponents. I almost never used the Enforcer’s activated ability in my play; there were always better options, but the threat was always there and it was good to know I had the option if I needed it. It’s a good way to avoid overextending into sweepers.
General Kudro of Drannith is one of the reasons that the General’s Enforcer is so great in this deck. A Tribal Lord that gets indestructible from his flunky? Yes please! I very rarely found myself using the General’s activated ability, but his triggered ability was something I found to be fantastic for eliminating Kroxa’s, Uro’s, and just about any other graveyard dwelling threat. Clearly Kudro has a thing against graveyard decks. Having the option to use his activated ability on something high value or devastating enough is solid upside.
The non-Ikoria cards are pretty familiar fare. Hero of Precinct One is a card that I felt was overrated in the previous metagame environment but is perfect with the Humans in the new Standard. Giant Killer would be my first pull if I were to make any changes as there’s already great spot removal with Dire Tactics, along with additional removal capability from Kudro and Integrity//Intervention. Judith is a huge piece of this deck and punishes your opponent for playing sweepers, assuming they can get their sweeper past Unbreakable Formation; I kept trying to find a way to squeeze a third or fourth copy of Formation into the deck and just didn’t have any luck finding a cut that felt right.
Tajic is a creature I hadn’t actually played previously outside of Limited, but he’s a perfect fit in here and for this metagame; the Mentor effects from him and Boros Challenger made for some fun counter stacking. More importantly the ability to prevent non-combat damage can represent a real obstacle to the plans of many a sacrifice deck. Finally, Integrity//Intervention is something I almost didn’t use, opting for Finale of Glory initially, but the flexibility of the card is just what is needed in this deck – killing an opposing creature and/or keeping your own alive with a combat trick, or some later game spot removal. Though Intervention is on the pricey side.
One potential quibble with this deck is that there really isn’t any card draw; the closest we get is the Whispering Squad’s ability. In my play on ladder, this hasn’t been a problem, but if it’s a concern for you then I’d look at turning to Storm Crusader in place of Giant Killer.
I wouldn’t consider going any lighter than 23 lands in this deck, I tried it out and if it was a two color deck, then it might work, but three simply doesn’t; too many challenges with not the right mana color. Unsurprisingly, Castle Embereth has come in very useful in a deck that can create a lot of little creatures. While I’ve never used Castle Ardenvale or Castle Locthwain so far in my testing, the likelihood of them coming out tapped is pretty low and having them in for potential utility is worth it. The Triomes counting as their basic land types means that with 23 lands in deck, there are still 15 Plains and 13 Swamps and 12 Mountains.
Cards I Left Out
As has been mentioned many times, the metagame right now is very new and I expect it to shift. Some cards I tested but decided to leave out, but which may end up relevant downstream include:
- Shadowspear – my last pull from the deck, it can help dull the pain of the shocklands when trying to play fast with three color. There are more shocklands than non-shocklands in this deck.
- Stormfist Crusader is a solid option as I said for upping card draw and general aggro pain.
- Robber of the Rich provides some card draw like ability.
- Fervent Champion is another great Human that if you’re looking to go more aggro would slot in place of Giant Killer, and combines well with Shadowspear.
- Chance for Glory may be a step up on Unbreakable Formation, depending on your approach.
If you’re looking to move away from having Jegantha as a Companion then two cards to look at heavily are Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis or Embercleave. Elspeth pumps out Humans prodigiously. Then there is Embercleave, which would be my first add if I moved away from Jegantha. Believe in the ‘cleave.
That said, I’m sold on Jegantha in the deck, the ability to have an eighth card in hand to start the game is proving incredibly powerful in the early metagame; Big J provides a big body as a finisher or extra mana for pumping into some of the activated abilities of your humans. In general the power level of the Companions is showing us that if you can squeeze one into your deck, then you should.
Early on, RDW seems to have taken a big hit in Bo1. This seemed to be the case in early Theros as well, so let’s not start saying any eulogies yet, but Aggro has slowed down, and that’s a good thing for Mardu Humans. There is a great mix of spot removal for hitting the most troublesome creatures and plenty of bodies for blocking with.
I hit fewer sacrifice decks than I expected in the first few days, but that picked up very quickly. I don’t expect that to change as I expect it to be the deck to beat in the new Bo1 meta. So far Humans has performed well against it. The two key factors here are that this build is able to spot remove their most troublesome creatures, particularly to exile. Being able to exile Lurrus as soon as it hits the field is a major blow to the Lurrus decks. Humans can also move more quickly than the various sacrifice decks typically can and produce more threats than they can deal with. General Kudro’s exile ability comes up a lot against Sacrifice, as does having cards like Whisper Squad to insulate against Priest of Forgotten Gods’ sacrifice ability.
Fires of Invention
Fires is a tough matchup, and having a Companion makes the deck tougher. Basically you have to race against Fires and hope you can kill it before things really get going. A tough order but if full aggro is your groove, then this is the place to do it. Just remember those Deafening Clarions because everything in here dies to it. Hang onto those Unbreakable Formations for instant speed protection.
Wilderness Reclamation has made a resurgence and has been a tough matchup for Humans. Shark Typhoon (I wince every time I write that) is a messed up card that is hard to work around for this deck. In theory, Humans has a broad enough range of threats that it should be favored, but so far I have lost all my games against it. What has typically happened is that Reclamation has been able to remove the key parts of the deck that make other creatures bigger or nastier, so that the deck is only swinging for one or two damage a turn. Uro adds some lifegain and then either dominates the late game, or the deck gets the Explosion or Typhoon it needs in time to finish me off.
So far this has been an even matchup. When both decks get their ideal opening, I think this comes down to who plays first. It’s often worth waiting for creatures to be mutated before hitting them with Dire Tactics (two for one exile!). A lot of the countermagic in the Flash decks is of the Powersink sort; Quench and Mystical Dispute are less effective if you have open mana, and the low casting costs of the Human deck really blunts that ability.
The Ramp decks seem to struggle against Humans as we have too many threats too fast that build on each other too well. Bant Ramp can’t keep up; once big threats start dropping, there’s plenty of spot removal in Humans to take them down. Gyruda can be a challenge, but the instant exile from Dire Tactics can at least take him out of the way, but if they are able to chain one Gyruda to another, or add in a Spark Double then it can get nasty.
Mono White has continued to see a little play from the previous Standard and seems to still be performing well. If it’s a go wide deck then this can be a tough matchup. If it’s a deck that is throwing a lot of value onto a single creature like Ajani’s Pridemate, and is looking to overwhelm you that way, then the spot removal in the deck can open a huge hole in their well laid plans.
I haven’t seen a ton of Control utilizing sweepers early on, which is good, as that could be a problem for this deck and would probably necessitate playing more Formations, not that I would mind. Teferi and other bounce spells are fairly minor challenges for this deck in most cases.
Overall, Mardu Humans is a deck that I think is well positioned in the early metagame in Best of One, it’s also a deck that I have had a lot of fun playing and is an easy build for someone not particularly flush in wildcards. There are so many Humans in the current metagame, there will be a lot of builds in a lot of color combinations. I like this one for its ability to be aggressive early while still having staying power in the later game. I could even see it taking a leading aggro role in the format in one form or another. RDW is struggling to find a place in this meta and I expect that to continue.