Hello! I am Aaron Torres, more commonly known around the online Frontier scene as Somnus21, and this is second installation of my column: Exploring the Frontier! These articles will be centered around my newest attempts at building an innovative spin-off of Frontier’s top decks. With so many unexplored interactions in this format, you can expect to see one of these from me every now and then. Without further ado, let’s get right into it!
When I started playing Frontier, I was immediately looking to do broken things in the format. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of post-sideboard preparation everyone had against both of the format’s premier Combo decks in Temur Marvel and 4c Saheeli. What I noticed, however, was that at the time, the hate that most of the metagame packed against either of the combo decks were largely ineffective against the other. That is, there are some that are always good against either, like Duress and Negate, but the more combo-specific cards like Rending Volley, Naturalize, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, and similar hate cards were either good against Saheeli and bad against Marvel, and vice versa. This meant that most decks were only fully prepared for one of the combos, but almost never both, as preparing heavily to win against both dilutes their game plan. That, and a rise in Saheeli’s popularity only meant a recessing trend for Marvel decks, so only one of the decks was really going to be commonplace at any given time. With that in mind, this deck was made to capitalize on the opponents’ narrow hate cards and uninformed sideboarding. Furthermore, having one-third of its maindeck banned in Standard stands as a testament to the raw power level the deck packs.
4 Felidar Guardian
4 Rogue Refiner
3 Emrakul, the Promised End
1 Whirler Virtuoso
4 Aetherworks Marvel
4 Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot
2 Search for Azcanta
4 Harnessed Lightning
4 Saheeli Rai
4 Attune with Aether
1 Hour of Devastation
4 Botanical Sanctum
4 Aether Hub
1 Spirebluff Canal
4 Inspiring Vantage
2 Wooded Foothills
1 Canopy Vista
2 Sorcerous Spyglass
3 Bristling Hydra
3 Kozilek’s Return
1 Hour of Devastation
The Core Strategy
At face value, anyone can tell that Marvelli is not looking to play a fair game of Magic. With two of Standard past’s banned combos, the deck plans to create a fast win by setting up either the Saheeli Rai + Felidar Guardian combo, or create enough energy for a Turn 4 Aetherworks Marvel spin into Emrakul, the Promised End, which while not exactly creating an instant win, puts your opponent in a near-unwinnable situation. That being said, there is disruption that exists to stop the fast combo plan, and aggro decks like Atarka Red can kill you just as fast if you stumble, which brings me to the question, “What’s the plan when that happens?”
Without a shadow of the doubt, the combos are the deck’s core win conditions, but these are the two cards that truly give the deck a fighting chance against a large number of matchups. Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot creates large amounts of energy, which works great with our Marvel plan, but the six-life buffer it gives us more often than not makes a huge difference in our ability to stay alive long enough to set up. Rogue Refiner is banned in Standard and its power level is insane in this deck, providing a great value play that allows you to dig deeper into the deck to find your important cards, and also works toward the energy you need to power Marvel.
Another element the deck has is inevitability. Between the card advantage a flipped Search for Azcanta can bring, and three Mindslaver effects attached to a near-unkillable body in Emrakul, the Promised End, the opponent cannot just rejoice once your early combo doesn’t go off; immediately, the clock starts ticking, and your opponent is in a race to kill you before your unbeatable cards in the later stages of the game kick in, and eventually grab the win from under the rug.
Of course, we can’t just rely on our combos and stall cards to eventually put us into a winning position; there are threats that can take over games in the matter of a few turns, and removal is almost always necessary to prevent yourself from being overrun. Harnessed Lightning is practically a damage-based Terminate in this deck with all the spare energy it has, while also doubling as a Ritual for energy in a pinch. Abrade is simply just a solid removal spell, especially against pesky vehicles above x/3 such as Aethersphere Harvester and Heart of Kiran, and is especially important in sideboard matches, for reasons I will go over later.
These one-ofs in the deck are rather situational in nature, and are thus mostly useful in specific situations. Whirler Virtuoso, for one, is just a 2/3 that builds toward our Marvel plan, but when that option isn’t present to us, Virtuoso provides us another potential energy sink, creating 1/1 fliers that can be used to pressure planeswalkers, chump block, or simply swing in. Hour of Devastation is just a wipe that Marvel can spin into, that deals with planeswalkers and indestructible creatures, both being things that Marvelli traditionally has difficulty dealing with.
Tips and Tricks
Four-Color Marvelli, as I may have stated a number of times in previous articles, is a very tricky deck to customize and pilot. There are many directions the deck can take, each having tradeoffs; this build, for instance, is built to play in a grindier metagame, where more planeswalkers and Torrential Gearhulks than usual are expected. The archetype is very adaptable, and knowing what the correct 75 is for the field your going into is very important, and its versatility is one of the deck’s key strengths.
As for gameplay, you may begin to notice after a few runs with it that it often presents the player with many decisions, all of which can be punishing if you choose the wrong move. There are also some lines that are either not easily seen or deceptively undesirable, and can easily cost you games for not knowing about them, and here are just a few:
1.) Saheeli Rai can use it’s -2 effect on Aetherworks Marvel, sacrificing the original one to create two energy and give you another spin. Be wary of artifact removal when doing this, however, as playing into it will leave you very much blown out.
2.) There are many times when using Saheeli Rai‘s -2 for value will be a desirable line, but targeting creatures may leave you open to being blown out by common removal. In situations where this could be a problem, using the minus on Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot may be correct, especially if you have the mana to sacrifice it, essentially gaining six life and energy off of a three-mana planeswalker’s ability, which is an amazing rate.
4.) As with Saheeli decks of old, do not forget that Felidar Guardian can blink a land to virtually reduce its cost by one whenever necessary.
5.) During Game 1, when up against Saheeli combo hate such as Walking Ballista, using the -2 on a Rogue Refiner looks unappealing because they trade their Ballista for your combo piece, but it actually gets you ahead on cards and also works toward the Marvel plan, so don’t be hesitant to take that line when it does come up. There are situations when this is incorrect, and it will ultimately be up to your discernment of the game state to make that decision.
The deck’s sideboard strategy is yet another non-intuitive element of the deck. It’s easy to tell which of the cards in the sideboard are for which matchups, but the difficulty comes from what comes out. There are three main directions post-boarded games go, and they are as follows:
Full Marvel Plan
This is often the plan you are going to take to against the format’s control and disruptive midrange decks. These decks often carry a high amount of hand disruption, counterspells, removal, and the like, so keeping the more resilient combo in makes sense. You also bring in midrange elements yourself in the form of Bristling Hydras and Glorybringers, and the second Hour of Devastation comes in against midrange. Abrades may seem like an odd card to be running a lot of in grind matchups, but getting rid of Sorcerous Spyglass is very important. It’s also not as situational as meets the eye as it does deal with Torrential Gearhulks.
This is also more often than not the correct choice against go-wide aggressive decks, as the plan of sticking Turn 3 Saheeli into Turn 4 Felidar Guardian is very much an unlikely sequence in the face of a meaningful board presence, as well as the burn spells they have to stop the combo outright.
Full Saheeli Plan
This is the plan you usually take against decks that tend to tap out, like midrange decks that have a fair amount of planeswalkers. This is also an effective plan for decks you expect to side in artifact removal, and decks that have a scarcity of efficient targeted removal. You also side in midrange elements in this sideboard plan, and you have a better fair mid-game than the Full Marvel plan because of either half of the combo producing value with many of the cards in the deck. There are not many cases the Saheeli Combo does not come out post-board, but in certain situations, it can be a leg up over Aetherworks Marvel.
There are also times when you get the read that the opponent doesn’t really have many answers to either plan, nor do you need more than a few of your sideboard cards in the matchup. In these cases, siding out neither combo can be beneficial. Should you do this, however, assure that the deck’s fundamental game plans are not being altered to the point of inconsistency. Often the cuts in these game plans are the 2nd Search and some amount of our removal spells and one-ofs. Siding out either combo helps us prepare for the opponent without having a diluted game plan, but if you can adequately prepare for Game 2 with both combos in the deck without making the plan inconsistent, then it’s something you should look to do.
It is important to note, however, that none of these sideboard “guides” are in any way absolutes. For instance, in my first best-of-five series with the deck, I was able to make use of all three game plans in different games. Siding out both combos is also a possible plan to explore, but it is one that will have to be built around. Often, the key to playing this deck to its potential is to know exactly what you want from your sideboard, and what you assume your opponent will have for you.
Overall, I’ve run the deck through multiple leagues and have tinkered with many iterations, and the best thing about the deck is just how fun it can be, from exploring all the possibilities in the archetype’s variations, to simply just playing a deck that tests technical ability and decision-making skills with each game. This is no cakewalk, but rest assured, putting time into this deck can get you to a pretty high win-rate.
If you made it all the way here, then thank you for reading this article! Make sure to check back every Wednesday, as we will always have high-quality Frontier content for you right here, on MatchupGuru.