Hello everyone! Today I’d like to go over one of my favorite decks that I’ve been playing since the start of 2022: Mardu Sacrifice. Although this archetype has been around since the inception of 2022, it’s been marred by low win rates and low play rates, thus making it an unpopular archetype.
Today, I’m hoping I can reverse some of that negative PR. The deck has performed incredibly well for me over the course of when I started playing it and I’ll even say that I believe the deck has no bad matchups. Played correctly, you can very realistically beat anything and there’s really no deck that I’m afraid to face which is a far cry from my normal ladder experience with other archetypes.
Before I continue, let’s see the list I’m using.
99% of the time I would talk about the base list I started with in some capacity and the changes I made since then. Believe it or not, I got this list day 2 of the format from AfterOfficeTTV and have yet to change a single card. I’m not arguing that the deck is built perfectly, but it’s built so well I haven’t felt the need to change it over the course of so many games.
So what makes this deck so good? It can do everything reasonably well. You want early game? This deck has 12 one drops, 6 proactive 2 drops, and Deadly Dispute to accelerate you. You want to grind? You have the Learn package, Deadly Dispute, and Showdown of the Skalds. You need to close the game? You have Goldspan Dragon, Showdown of the Skalds, Awaken the Blood Avatar, and Orcus, Prince of Undeath. Mardu doesn’t really have blind spots which makes it such a force to be reckoned with.
So why is the deck so unpopular then? It’s extremely hard to play. Every turn can have a huge amount of decisions including choices as mundane as which lands to play and what colors to put them on (in the case of Pathways). I think the difficulty has severely hurt the deck’s reputation, but I promise, if you learn the ropes with the deck that it’s well worth it.
One of the most important pieces in the deck. For a Sacrifice shell, unsurprisingly we’re generally looking to use the Awaken the Blood Avatar half. This allows you to sacrifice random bodies that were just sitting around to put a huge amount of pressure on the opponent as early as turn 4.
Furthermore, the Extus half is actually extremely useful as well! Since we already play White for Showdown of the Skalds and we have a lot of Treasure token generators, casting Extus is easy if you want to do it. It can be a great blocker against aggro decks and can help you grind through board stalls if you manage to draw enough instants or sorceries.
The absolute best sacrifice fodder available to us. Eyetwitch can peck in early, chump early, be happily sacrificed to anything, or even be a great barrier late game for scary threats like Goldspan Dragon.
Charger is generally the worst of the one drops, but it’s still very good. It’s really good at holding down the fort early and giving you some time to set up your board state. If the opponent gets aggressive, Charger will almost always trade evenly or even trade up, and if it can’t, it’ll be solid fodder for a Deadly Dispute or Awaken the Blood Avatar.
The final one drop of the deck. This can conditionally be the best one drop in the deck as it can afford you 2 for 1 trades, accelerate you like crazy by itself and especially in conjunction with Deadly Dispute, or just be great sacrifice fodder later in the game.
Kalain is a new addition from AFR and it works absolute wonders in this deck. It both accelerates you and also helps set up a massive board state by growing any creature you spend a Treasure on. With that, Kalain is also one of the hardest cards to play with as determining whether to go Kalain into a 1 drop or save the Treasure for a later turn/different creature will be an important decision every time you make it.
Another new addition from AFR, Orcus is one of the late game bombs the deck is afforded. Most of the time you’re going to use Orcus as a means to bring back creature(s) from your graveyard to help rebuild your board state in the late game to either block while Orcus gets in or to reuse for your sacrifice engines. Don’t discount the Toxic Deluge mode though as that has gotten me out of a few tight spots where no other card would.
If you play Red you play Dragon. Not only is this card busted by itself, it works really well with all the Treasure synergies in the deck which makes this one of the best Goldspan decks in the format.
The deck can operate on few mana sources a lot of the time so splitting equity with your mana also being a spell is high EV.
The second half of the Learn package. We play these since we can’t play 8 Eyetwitch, but getting the Learn card up front rather than having to wait until the creature dies is nice.
Same logic as Shatterskull Smashing, have some MDFCs in a deck that doesn’t need a lot of lands to operate is generally good practice. As to why specifically Malakir over more Shatterskull, this just works really well with all the errant treasures the deck produces and it’s extremely hard to play around.
Card advantage, ramp, and removal insurance wrapped up into one card. This allows you to use random bodies to gain some serious advantages at any point of the game which is very powerful.
The final mid to late game trump card. Showdown works obscenely well in this deck as the curve is really low, we have a lot of excess mana sitting around, and it’s easy to make a huge baord state out of nowhere. This allows us to grind through any deck as a draw 4 and a board buff may be too back breaking to recover from for most strategies.
For when you need a land or lifegain in a pinch.
When you really need to remove a creature.
One of the most common hits. This allows you to fill out the board quickly for chump blockers or sacrifice fodder.
Although this could hypothetically kill a small creature or the errant artifact, I have yet to find a situation where I needed it. May be better off with a second Mascot Exhibition.
The late game bomb.
POTENTIAL INCLUSIONS / NOTABLE EXCLUSIONS
White is the splash color, but we do have a lot of small bodies which could make this extremely potent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a copy or two in some lists.
If the deck could easily support it, Clarion Spirit could be excellent in it. However, I think we have too few White sources to reasonably play this on 2 where it’s at its best.
This would be a really interesting inclusion as both hlaves of the card can be situationally solid. Shaile into a bunch of creatures could build a rather large board state quickly, even later in the game. Embrose on the other hand can be a source of card advantage by pinging opposing creatures that are going to trade, pinging creatures that are about to die anyway, or just cashing in 1/1s to draw a card.
Definitely not a bad inclusion considering how many Treasures we can produce. I think it’s a little too low impact to make the cut, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable either.
We do already have 4 Deadly Dispute so I think more would start to border overkill.
I do like this card, but we’re not all in on the sacrifice theme so it does lose some of it’s volatility.
Although I do like these cards and they are good sacrifice fodder, the deck doesn’t have any room for them.
Although removal doesn’t really work with the deck’s game plan, I always like having a few copies so it’s not unreasonable if you find room.
Skyclave Shade could be a potential add as its a good body to sacrifice, its recursive, and it hits relatively hard. I wouldn’t hate a few copies somewhere.
This is a solid card, but it doesn’t really work with the deck’s game plan. It makes their removal way better, you won’t have the ability to cast Tibalt a good amount of the time, and it’s a body you definitely wouldn’t want to sacrifice.
This is probably the msot surprising exclusion on the list. Although the card is used to great effect in other strategies, I can’t imagine what I would cut to make room for it. It would be quite good here in theory, but the deck is already nicely balanced between enablers and payoffs. Maybe you could cut some of the Hunt for Specimens and a copy of Orcus or something, but I’m unconvinced that would be an upgrade.
If you didn’t like Showdown of the Skalds, you could cut it for 2 copies of this and have 2 flex spots open. Like Showdown, Lolth is pretty excellent in this strategy but the worry is that you’ll have a lot of 5 drops.
Like many of my Red decks, I could see 1 copy of this sneaking in somewhere. It makes really good bodies to sacrifice and can produce huge amounts of damage out of nowhere.
It does break my heart that Predator isn’t in the deck as it’s such a powerful card. I have really liked Showdown of the Skalds, but I could see Predator being a great replacement. On the other hand, although this is a Sacrifice deck, every card that’s looking for death fodder can quickly create a dilemma where you have more cards that need fodder than fodder itself. Showdown is good by itself and helps supply you with fuel for anything you need where Predator could hypothetically be a 4 mana 3/3.
TIPS AND TRICKS
Playing with Extus, Oriq Overlord can be very challenging, but I have a few guidelines to help out. I think most people don’t cast the Extus half enough, but you still don’t want to cast it too often. I really only cast it when I really need a blocker, have a glut of instants and sorceries, want to create a removal magnet, or I want to create a huge body with Showdown of the Skalds. Generally I want to save it to cast Awaken the Blood Avatar as that tends to be so much higher impact.
The token from Awaken the Blood Avatar isn’t Legendary even though it feels like it should be.
If you’re unsure which one drop to play first and the land you play first doesn’t really matter, generally playing Shambling Ghast first is correct. It’s like Fireblade Charger but can also give you a Treasure instead of a funtional ping. In a similar vein, I generally play Eyetwitch as late as possible to make my Learn decision as informed as possible
Kalain, Reclusive Painter is another barrier that players need to overcome to pilot this deck well. I see a lot of players going Kalain into 1 drop instantly, and that definitely can be correct, but I think it’s an overused play. The way I think about it is what will this Treasure accomplish now versus later. If making a bigger 1 drop is super relevant at that point, fire away since even if it’s “incorrect”, it’s only by a tiny amount. Like it’s hard to say making a bigger Fireblade Charger is ever bad as it’s so good against opposing creature decks. With that, I tend to opt for holding the Treasure as making a huge Goldspan Dragon or being allowed to cast a Showdown of the Skalds a turn early to get it’s full value out of it.
Generally speaking you want to cast Orcus, Prince of Undeath as late as possible to get maximum use out of it. However, don’t underestimate the clock of a 4 mana 5/3 Flier. You can end games really quickly with a solid curve, especially if you cast it off of a Kalain, Reclusive Painter.
Trying to save Treasures to use in conjunction with Goldspan Dragon is generally a good move.
There’s no secret to when you should Deadly Dispute. If you can build up your board state you should almost always prioritize that, but if you find a reasonable time to cast it, go ahead. I don’t get too caught up waiting for it to “counter” a removal spell.
Although you almost always want to cast Showdown of the Skalds when you can hit a land off of it, if you already have a really solid curve it’s not unreasonable to just lose out on the land value to start building your board up.