Colorless Matchup Guide: Mardu and Ironworks

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Mardu Pyromancer and Ironworks are wildly successful Modern decks right now, and for good reason: the former attacks from multiple angles while making excellent use of the format's premier abusable resource, the graveyard; the latter is an artifact-based combo deck that's at once tricky to disrupt and unintuitive to play against for most opponents. So it's no surprise that they each had fantastic showings at GP Sao Paulo last weekend. Mardu was the most-played Day 1 deck, maintaining its shares going into Day 2 and eventually winning the event. Ironworks at least grazed the trophy, and enjoyed by far the strongest conversion rate between days.

Both strategies are fine pairings for Colorless Eldrazi Stompy, but our upper hand becomes all the more decisive when pilots know what they're doing. As with most matchups, these two feature a good deal of nuance—2,000 words worth, to be exact! This article provides a comprehensive guide on beating those decks, neither of which was covered in my Sideboarding Mini-Primer.

We'll kick things off with my latest list:

Two cards have changed since my last update to the deck, most notably Smuggler's Copter doubling up over a Blinkmoth Nexus. Both creatures-to-be fly, but Copter pulls extra weight against decks that gum up the board. I've wondered since introducing Zhalfirin Void about the possibility of cutting the 23rd land from Colorless, but until recently, wanted nothing in its place; since implementing it, though, I've almost always been happy to have the second Copter. As I prefer being strapped for mana anyway, I don't mind waiting a little longer to find lands.

I'm also back on the fourth Ratchet Bomb in the sideboard to have more outs to Ensnaring Bridge. Bomb replaces a Spatial Contortion, so our Humans and Affinity matchups remain relatively unchanged with this switch.

Mardu Pyromancer

Game 1

Our Game 1 mission is to not get run over by Young Pyromancer. A timely Dismember should do the trick, but once the little guy gets out of control, it can spell lights out. Lingering Souls can also hassle us pre-board by walling unaltered Mimics and racing in the air.

That being said, we are not in a horrible position before sideboarding. Even though it's further up the control end of the spectrum, Mardu Pyromancer is still a midrange deck, and one that's even easier to beat pre-board than Jund: no hulking Goyfs or tempo-netting Bloodbraid Elves here. Eternal Scourge and Reality Smasher are our real killers pre-side, with the former sapping enemy removal and the latter shutting the door. Mardu tends to play precious few cards that can answer Smasher, and since we aggressively mulligan for Eldrazi Temple in the dark, we are likely to rush them out faster than opponents are equipped for. Matter Reshaper provides the best possible stepping stone into these unanswerable plays.

Chalice of the Void is an interesting spell in this matchup. Rushing it out with Simian Spirit Guide is asking to be two-for-oned by Kolaghan's Command; the Ape is better saved for animating a manland in response to Liliana after tapping out for a fatty. Rather, Chalice's main function is to protect those manlands—and Eldrazi Mimic—from Mardu's heaps of one-mana removal. Blocking Fatal Push for Thought-Knot Seer doesn't hurt, either. Thanks to Command, Chalice doesn't yield a permanent solution, and so should be used as a tempo-gaining tool to push through damage while we can and extract value from our small creatures.

Scavenger Grounds is mainboard graveyard hate that at its best delays an awaiting Bedlam Reveler while eating a flashback spell, and manlands protect Smasher from Liliana of the Veil. Overall, we're fine with all our lands becoming Mountains.


-4 Eldrazi Mimic
-4 Simian Spirit Guide
-4 Chalice of the Void
-2 Smuggler's Copter

+4 Relic of Progenitus
+1 Surgical Extraction
+4 Ratchet Bomb
+2 Spatial Contortion
+2 Gut Shot
+1 Gemstone Caverns (play and draw)

Our Bolt and Push targets all come out, as well as the Chalices that protect them. Relic heavily disrupts the Bedlam Reveler package and Lingering Souls. Guide is passable thanks to Blood Moon (we can cast it in a pinch), but mostly unexciting post-board, especially compared to what we can bring in. These games go long, and there's no compelling reason to sink extra resources into something that might immediately die.

Ratchet Bomb plays triple duty here by removing threats, lock pieces, and even swaths of tokens before an alpha-strike. The other removal spells enter, too, to help with Young Pyromancer. We're hungrier for mana with Relic-Scourge in the equation, so Gemstone Caverns comes in on both the play and draw to support us on that front.


After siding, most builds of Mardu have a tough time winning. They can cheese games with Blood Moon, although our six colorless sources, many generic-costed creatures, and Bombs render that plan optimistic at best; they can also manage to dodge our removal and stick Pyromancer. Bedlam Reveler is Mardu's scariest threat post-board, even though it doesn't usually resolve until turn six or seven thanks to Relic. The Horror draws them into their good cards, and there's little we can do to stop them from reaching the game stage where hard-casting is a reality. 3/4 also blocks Scourge, and with prowess threatens even Smasher, so we keep Dismember on call.

Mardu also has access to some powerful haymakers, although Jose didn't include any in his GP-winning 75. The two we struggle against most are Hazoret the Fervent and Ensnaring Bridge. In want of Dismember, Hazoret can terrorize the game state, pinging us for reach damage and forcing chump blocks or walling our creatures as Mardu solidifies its position. Drawing the Phyrexian removal spell a couple turns later is often too late thanks to the pressure Hazoret applies on its own.

Ensnaring Bridge, though, is the deck's best card when they choose to run it. Our only out to the artifact is to find, tick up, and then crack Ratchet Bomb on 3. Mardu players hip to this plan will let us tick up Bomb for a couple of turns and then zap it with Kolaghan's Command or Wear; holding Bomb in hand isn't totally safe, either, since there it becomes vulnerable to targeted discard. The best way to proceed in this scenario is to immediately slam any Bomb found, as Mardu has more discard than artifact hate (assuming they kept in their discard, of course; otherwise, reverse course and wait for Seer to clear the path for Bomb). Build a board while ticking up Bomb and destroy the Bridge either right before attacking for lethal or right after resolving Seer, thus denying opponents the chance to just play another one.


Bridge makes this matchup more of a fair fight for Mardu, which either way struggles to ever actually kill us as we accumulate a board presence. It's great news for us that the deck seems to be trimming it. Mardu is correct to keep its targeted discard to deal with our crucial artifacts, but many players side it out.


Game 1

This game is less of an arms race than the first in a match against, say, Tron or Valakut, reason being that we've got more relevant interaction here: Dismember answers Scrap Trawler, Chalice on 1 shuts off chunks of the Ironworks engine as well as Ancient Stirrings, and Scavenger Grounds can end their combo turn cold while fizzling a targeting trigger. On top of all that, we're still a Temple-Mimic-Guide-Seer deck.

Engineered Explosives on 0 (and cast for any amount of colorless mana) will take our Chalices off the table and leave Ironworks free to cantrip away, so no more than a single Chalice should be out at one time. As against Storm, Guide shines when it's cracking our on-board interaction (in this case, Grounds) when opponents don't see it coming, a fact that remains true post-board.


-4 Matter Reshaper
-2 Smuggler's Copter

+4 Relic of Progenitus
+1 Surgical Extraction
+1 Gemstone Caverns (play and draw)

This Ironworks plan is much leaner than the Mardu one. There's still some excellent hate to board in over useless card advantage generator Matter Reshaper.

Smuggler's Copter also gets the axe, even though it can dig into important cards without fearing removal; sans Reshaper, our pilot density drops, and crewing becomes more difficult. We really don't want to be stuck with a lone Copter against combo, preferring an actual creature to clock them while we disrupt. Reality Smasher would be the next-easiest cut, but its ability to close the window quickly once we land a lock piece is too important here to pass up.

Caverns always comes in, too, although going to 23 lands on the play is far rarer overall than this guide lets on. We don't want to spend our scries digging for lands against combo decks; those extra looks are too valuable for finding hate. Opening more lands lets us keep hate-heavy hands, and having additional lands in the deck helps us keep riskier, high-upside Temple draws. Finally, making a land drop each turn helps us commit to the board while holding up mana to pop Relic and Scavenger Grounds, or Dismember on a Trawler.


Ironworks has a very hard time going off against us after siding; we keep all but our clunkiest attackers and bring in a hearty helping of hate. In most games, we slam Relic, make some attacks, and that's that. To get around an end-step Nature's Claim, committing multiple hosers to the board at once is optimal.

But Ironworks isn't totally out of tricks. For one, they can find Wurmcoil Engine, a card we have a very hard time beating. We can slug through a single Wurmcoil pretty much every game, but when Buried Ruin recurs it, we're in deep trouble. Relic and Grounds get in the way of that plan, but not without leaving us bare to the combo. The best way to beat Wurmcoil out of this deck is to strip it with Thought-Knot or just race; alternatively, creating a big board and pushing through with a Dismember does it.

Should Ironworks bring it in, Ghirapur Aether Grid is also quite annoying for Colorless, as it keeps Eternal Scourge off the table forever and prevents us from getting in with Mimic or manlands.


Of Modern's midrange decks, I feel Colorless Eldrazi Stompy has one of the more enviable Ironworks matchups. Barring Wurmcoil Engine, and of course improper disruption timing, there isn't too much to worry about here. Jamming the matchup with an Ironworks aficionado is an effective way to learn the many timing windows for disrupting the deck.

Always Tinker

The sideboard plans in this guide are not set in stone. I encourage you to try different configurations and adapt your decisions based on an opponent's play, as I often do. Rather, the plans presented in this article are examples that aim to give readers a sense of the important and expendable cards in each matchup.

This article marks my first in the Colorless Matchup Guide series, and I've never written such a comprehensive matchup guide before. Would you like to see similar content? What matchups are you wondering about? Let me know in the comments!

14 thoughts on “Colorless Matchup Guide: Mardu and Ironworks

  1. As a champion for the deck, I’m eager to see more.

    I am still interested in the 3rd Gemstone Caverns in the board over another card. I’ve been playing paper without it for a while now, and I’m not sure if the additional ramp in post-board games is worth the slot, but I need a few more dozen games under my belt to be more sure of my thoughts.

    1. I would run another dataset after with it back in the board. That’s what I did, and after many games with only 2 in the 75, I was blown away by having the extra mana back post-board.

    1. Sorry, brainfart–I meant say that EE is amazing against Chalice because they can always cast it by paying extra mana. EVEN IF you have a Chalice at 0, 1, and 2, they can just pay three colorless so X=0, and get all of them at once.

      1. Oh wow, and I’ve even seen this happen. Looks like my brainfart! Guess I’m a little too used to protecting Chalice from EE against fetchland decks. So, best to have a single Chalice out at a time (always on 1). Post updated to reflect that.

    1. Push makes it a liability and running so many Reshapers insulates us against the interactive decks enough that we don’t need to dedicate much sideboard space to them. MR also better when we’re on defense which is true against a lot of aggro decks in the format that are less interactive on the spectrum (i.e. Hollow One). Endless is mainly good against linear combo and there’s very little of that right now.

  2. Thanks for this. Exactly what I wanted, these are ty matches I’ve had queries on.

    I have a question and a comment.
    I’ve played the deck a tiny fraction of what you hav, but played the Mardu matchup a lot, and chalice always seems great. Sure they spend a card to break it up but they are stuck with 17 dead cards til they dig into an answer, and that’s often enough time to get lethal tempo.
    Is boarding them out always correct?

    ‘And a comment:! There is no possible way guide- chalice on the play isn’t correct. Taking them off discard or looting on turn 1 is just amazing, and
    Let’s you open the game cleanly.
    On the draw it seems less exciting, they’ll usually take the chalice when they see it.

    1. Nothing is ever always correct 🙂 I have been very happy without it post-board though. It sucks to draw into Relics and Guts that you can’t cast but need to. Keeping all our draws live blanks their discard effects. Harder to kill them fast when we’re boarding out Mimic, and if you’re keeping Chalice/Guide/Mimic what are you cutting for the matchup all-stars like Relic and Bomb?

  3. I do like this type of articles cause only looking at sideboard In/Out are not sufficient to tell how we need to approach some match, specially the grinder ones like Mardu Pyro,. I was at GP Sao Paulo playing 72/75 of your list and went 12-3 at it. In my tests I didn’t like the 3rd Gemstone coming from the board and due to the fact Tron and Affinity were pet decks here in Brazil I decided to add the 2nd Surgical and 2nd Spyglass to improve my matchups against those decks, I ended up facing only 1 Mono Green Tron (Win) and 1 Affinity (Lose), but 3 mardu Pyro (2-1) so the 4th ratchet would be useful (I played 3 at this GP).

    Mardu Pyro matches are very grindy. Game 1 if they land an early Pyromancer and you dont find Dismember we can easily get overhelmed by its tokens (assuming that Smasher does not show up or get killed). Post board we are a little favored due to multiple hate cards but the games I played were close. I lost to an Ensnaring Bridge not able to find my third ratchet (one discarded / one powder to exile) I bevause of that I’m thinking to add Buried Ruin land to get back our hate cards. I was not impressed by the singleton Cavern of Souls I played neither Scavenger Grounds so I have a slot to test Buried Ruins, what your thoughts on it?

    Keep up with your good articles, It would be nice as the modern PPTQ season begins to see more matchups guides, specially for Humans, UW Control and Hollow One. Drop me a message here or in reddit if you want to share thoughts and discuss more.

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