Modern Harbinger Mardu

It has now been two months since the end of Eldrazi Winter, and in my opinion the modern metagame has never been as open as it is right now.  While there are the obvious “very good” decks we all know and some of us love (others, not so much), there isn’t a clear-cut BEST deck that is warping the format.   However, I have never felt so passionate about any 75 I have sleeved up in modern than the list I’m running right now, and it all revolves around:

Nahiri the Harbinger    Emrakul the Aeons Torn 


We’ve already seen Nahiri and Emrakul work well together in modern.  The first success they had was in a Jeskai list that won an SCG open. Plan A for victory is to resolve and protect Nahiri for two turns, search up Emrakul, and win on the spot.  This is primarily done through the use of counterspells to get her down safely, then bolts to protect her.  The problem with this is that you probably have to wait to cast Nahiri until you have counterspell backup or risk being blown out by casting her at the wrong time.  Counterspells also have a tendancy to sit awkwardly in hand as the game progresses.  Even if you do resolve a Nahiri and +2, now you have the uncomfortable choice of whether or not discarding a mana leak is worth a new card at the expense of signaling to your opponent your shields are down.  Luckily, there is a solution:


·         4x Lightning bolt

·         4x Inquisition of Kozilek

·         3x Thoughtsize

·         3x Lightning helix

·         2x Grim Lavamancer

·         4x Lingering Souls

·         4x Nahiri, the Harbinger

·         3x Liliana of the Veil

·         1x Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

·         2x Kolaghan’s Command

·         3x Asylum Visitor

·         1x Dreadbore

·         2x Path to Exile

·         4x Bloodstained Mire

·         3x Arid Mesa

·         1x Marsh Flats

·         2x Blood Crypt

·         1x Godless Shrine

·         1x Sacred Foundry

·         4x Blackcleave Cliffs

·         2x Shambling Vent

·         2x Swamp

·         1x Mountain

·         1x Plains

·         1x Vault of the Archangel

·         1x Clifftop Retreat



I wholeheartedly believe Mardu is a better shell for Nahiri than Jeskai.  By replacing counterspells with targeted discard, we get to be more proactive with our gameplan and make much easier decisions since we know what our opponents are doing.  Jamming Nahiri on turn 4 is much less of a gamble than in Jeskai since you likely pulled all their answers on the first three turns.  Yes, this is arguably weaker to topdecked answers than counterspells, but they only have two chances at it or the game is done, and you’re giving your opponent fewer cards to look at over the course of the game.

The traditional problem with running a lot of discard effects in decks like Jund is that they are horrible topdecks when both players are hellbent.  Luckily, our main win condition in Nahiri solves this problem by painlessly replacing unneeded discard spells.  This allows us to run 7 one mana discard effects without the cost typically associated with doing so.  This increases our reliability of opening with one of these in hand, gaining information, and sculpting the way the game progresses. 

We get to keep and even bolster the removal suite from the Jeskai list.  Returning are the perennial all-stars Lightning bolt, Path to Exile, and Lightning Helix. Joining the fray is Kolaghan’s Command and a one-of dreadbore, which while is mostly a concession to Tron has game against other Nahiri or LoTV decks.

Speaking of LoTV, we get to run three copies, and she is just as good here as always.  Removal and discard effects both protect Nahiri, and both planeswalkers are must-answer-or-lose threats.  She also provides an alternate way to discard Emrakul if we happen to draw him on the turn we plan to ultimate Nahiri. 

Grim lavamancer and Lingering Souls are must haves, and for obvious reasons.  Being in BW, you need a VERY good reason not to run souls as a 4-of, as it can win games on its own merit.  Just as importantly, one copy of souls provides 4 bodies to protect our planeswalkers, even from fliers.  Grim lavamancer is a way to utilize our graveyard as a resource, since we are not running anything else that cares about our yard.     

Asylum visitor is a card I was not completely sold on initially, and merely settled on it as a replacement dark confidant.  However, in testing with it, the card is phenomenal, and I’m trying to find room for a 4thcopy.  Even if I was guaranteed to never hit Emrakul with Dark confidant, I would choose Asylum Visitor over Bob 11 times out of 10 in this shell. Scenarios of AV over DC that are likely to occur:

  • Discard to Nahiri’s +2, cast for madness, draw an extra card.
  • Discard to LoTV, cast for madness to avoid the topdecked counterspell in your opponent’s hand from his previous turn that he now has to discard.
  • Draw two extra cards per cycle if both players are hellbent and you draw an instant on your opponent’s turn.
  • 50% faster clock
  • MUCH higher probability of trading with creatures such as monastery swiftspear and wild nacatl. The 3rd point of power is extremely relevant.
  • Makes opposing discard awkward, especially non-specific effects like LoTV or Kolaghan’s Command
  • Factoring in lands, an average card from DC would cost 1.45 life vs 1 for AV.

Yes, it’s true that you won’t be drawing a card from the visitor on turn 3, but this deck empties its hand AND your opponent’s hand relatively fast to turn on the draw trigger, so not a lot of ground is lost. Jamming him on turn 2 often forces your opponent to deal with him directly rather than via combat, since we have the spot removal to clear the way for him to get into the red zone.  Eating a removal spell that could have hit Lily or even Nahiri means he did his job well.  Oftentimes it’s correct just to cast him off a T3 LoTV +1 trigger on T4, costing only our opponent a card upon resolution. I simply cannot overstate how good this card has been in testing.

So now that we’ve talked about the card choices, let’s discuss why we should consider playing this deck at all.

 First and foremost, the deck is extremely flexible.  Having plentiful discard spells and removal means there isn’t an archetype in modern we aren’t equipped to fight.  We even have maindeck answers to enchantments, artifacts, planeswalkers, and hexproof creatures, any of which could be problematic for other archetypes.  I can’t think of any other deck with that kind of complete coverage, though jund is only weak to enchantments or planeswalkers of cmc 4 or more thanks to abrupt decay.

Secondly, the deck progresses naturally toward its win condition.  Most of the time your short-term solution and your long-term goal can be accomplished in the same play, which decreases the difficulty of decisions and potentially cuts back on player mistakes.  For example, a T1 inquisition of Kozilek is both defensive as an answer to your opponents potential threat, but also offensive as a way to clear a path for Nahiri to resolve.

Thirdly, all the cards we are playing are strong enough on their own merit to be included.  The only card in the deck that is completely dependent on deck synergy and cohesion is Emrakul.  Everything else in the deck has been played in other modern decks aside from possibly asylum visitor, which we’ve already established is better than advertised.  Even if all the pieces aren’t falling together precisely, this deck is never actually out of the game until it’s over because it plays off the top of the deck so well.

Mardu also gives us access to a stellar sideboard; quite possibly the best in the format.  White is generally considered the best color for sideboards with cards such as stony silence, leyline of sanctity, and rest in peace.  We also get access to wear/tear, anger of the gods, Olivia Voldaren, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and even the spicy crackling doom.  Whatever our opponents are doing, we have an answer for, and the sideboard can be completely customized for your own local meta.

In closing, I hope my excitement has rubbed off on you.  I will be continuing to work on this deck for the foreseeable future, so if anyone is playing or played against a variant of this please give me feedback. 

-Andrew Haines