Mardu Aggro has returned with War of the Spark. During Ravnica Allegiance season, attempts at developing an aristocrat style deck occurred, but did not find success. These decks attempted to use Judith, the Scourge Diva, Priest of the Forgotten God, Gutter Bones, Fireblade Artist, Footlight Fiend and Rix Maadi Reveler to create value from sacrificing creatures to damage an opponent and remove opponent’s creatures. Unfortunately, the options available did not provide enough value to make the deck a competitive option in standard.

Enter War of the Spark.

War of the Spark provides several new pieces that keep the aristocrat flavor of the deck while pushing an aggro strategy that can overwhelm an opponent. The key additions are God-Eternal Bontu, God-Eternal Oketra, Cruel Celebrant, Dreadhorde Butcher, Banehound, and Grim Initiate. Local player Joe Dietz developed this brew for Mardu Aggro.

Mardu Aggro, Joe Dietz

Creatures (28)
Banehound
Footlight Fiend
Grim Initiate
Cruel Celebrant
Hero of Precinct One
Rix Maadi Reveler
Judith, the Scourge Diva
Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin
Legion Warboss
God-Eternal Bontu
God Eternal, Oketra

Spells (6)
Despark
Heartfire

Lands (22)
Clifftop Retreat
Blood Crypt
Dragonskull Summit
Godless Shrine
isolated Chapel
Sacred Foundry
Mountain
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Duress
Kaya's Wrath
Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord
Dire Fleet Daredevil
Midnight Reaper
Finale of Eternity

The first thing you notice about this build is the number of creatures with 32. Most decks at the top end have no more than 24 creatures and use enchantments, instants, planeswalkers, and sorceries to fill out the deck. The rise of Bant, Esper, and Grixis midrange decks have increased creature usage in standard, but not like Mardu. Even Mono-White decks only run 26 creatures and use Legion’s Landing and History of Benalia to create extra pressure.

Game Plan

The Mardu game plan centers on getting value from the loss of your creatures. Each one drop provides extra value before or after its death. Banehound’s value comes from its abilities: lifelink and haste. A turn one Banehound typically will do one damage to your opponent and give you one additional life. This makes using a shock land on turn 1 only cost one life. Footlight fiend’s value comes with its death. It does one damage to any target when it dies. This allows Footlight Fiend to takeout a one toughness, two-toughness creature that blocked it, or just drains one life from your opponent. The last one drop is Grim Initiate. It is a 1 /1 creature with first strike and it amass’ one when it dies. I have used Grim Initiate as a great sacrifice option for Heartfire. Heartfire does four damage to any target, but you have to sacrifice a creature as an additional cost. Sacking Initiate allows you to amass one, so you do not lose a creature from your board. My preference is using Heartfire on my opponent’s turn when I sack Initiate, so I can attack with the token on my turn.

The two drops provide versatility to the deck and the potential to have the deck go wide. Hero of Precinct One creates a 1 /1 Human token each time you cast a multi-color spell. With fifteen multi-colored spells in the deck, you should be able to generate several tokens each game to sacrifice for Heartfire or used as chump blockers. Cruel Celebrant provides triggered life gain and directly damages your opponent. When any of your creatures dies, Cruel Celebrant does one point of damage to your opponent and you gain one life. This ability allows you to attack even when your opponent has blockers.

The third two drop is Dreadhorde Butcher. Butcher is one of the most interesting two drops in the format. Dreadhorde Butcher is a 1 /1 creature with haste that when it does combat damage to a player or planeswalker it gets a +1/+1 counter. Its second ability adds to the cards power. When Dreadhorde Butcher dies, it deals damage equal to its power to any target. Again, this paired with Heartfire can kill just about any creature or planeswalker in the format or just hit your opponent in the face for a minimum of five damage. The last two drop is Rix Maadi Reveler. Rix Maadi Reveler gives you card advantage. When you cast Rix Maadi Reveler for its mana cost, you discard a card and draw a card or if you can cast it for its spectacle cost 2BR then you discard your hand and draw three cards. Casting Rix Maadi Reveler either way with an empty hand gets you the card draw, so ideally you cast it with an empty hand.

Judith, the Scourge Diva, leads the three drops. Judith was the card from Ravnica Allegiance that helped make the aristocrat plan viable. Judith gives each creature +1/0 and when a non-token creature dies, Judith does one damage to any target. This gives you the ability to either do direct damage, takeout a creature on the opponent’s side, or damage a planeswalker. Judith’s ability makes attacking into an opponent’s board even if they have blockers profitable. The last two three drops are Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin and Legion Warboss. Both creatures give a reliable way to create tokens. Legion Warboss is a little better than Krenko because he creates a token the turn he enters the battlefield while Krenko has to wait a turn to make tokens. After Krenko attacks, he becomes the better card, but getting to Krenko’s first attack can be a problem with the card.

The final creatures in the deck are God-Eternal Bontu and God-Eternal Oketra. Both cards are great in games that go long. Bontu can give card advantage by allowing you to sacrifice any number of permanents and drawing that many cards. When Judith, Cruel Celebrant or both are on the board when Bontu’s sacrifice ability is activated, this can cause a cascade effect that can drain an opponent’s life if you sacrifice creatures to Bontu. I would do this only if you can kill your opponent. Oketra’s ability gives you a 4/4 zombie token when you cast a creature. With 32 creatures in the deck, Oketra quickly provides extra value and in my play testing on Arena, usually ends the game in a couple of turns.

Overall, Mardu Aggro is a very competitive deck. It does have difficulty with control/removal based decks, but has favorable matchups against most aggro and midrange decks.

Until next time, good luck finding your win condition.