A couple of weeks back, I wrote about the evolution of DMU. The first phase of the format was defined by splashy Domain decks overpowering the competition. The second phase was marked by the emergence of the UR Spells deck. I believe we are on the verge of seeing the third phase, on the back of one hard-working robot.
The State of the Two-Drop
The common two-drops in this format are weak. The UR Spells deck has access to Haunting Figment and Ghitu Amplifier. As a result, this deck has become the definitive aggro deck of the format. These cards deal lots of damage early and still have value late.
The format's second-best aggressive deck leans on Domain synergies and gets its best two drop in A-Sunbathing Rootwalla. This deck is comfortable playing lesser two-drops like Goblin Picker and Juniper Order Rootweaver because the deck leverages the potent pump spells in the format. Gaea's Might, Colossal Growth and Twinferno necessitate targets, and cheap ones work best.
The uncommon and rare two-drops are major upgrades for this deck because they're so much better than the alternatives. However, the Mardu aggressive decks struggle with another problem.
Three-Color Aggro Still Has The Three-Color Aggro Problem
Aggressive decks want to curve out.
However, we also want to kick our Benalish Sleeper and Keldon Strike Team. The double-pipped Citizen's Arrest and Extinguish the Light can be difficult for decks that can't afford to stumble when pushing damage.
We actively want the dual-lands, but unlike the Domain decks, we're very particular about including the right ones. Combine the scarcity of on-color dual-lands with the increasing rate at which they're picked and we have a problem.
How can we keep our creature count high, potent spells in our decks, and maximize our kicker cards all while having an extra cheap body for our pump spells and early pressure?
From Humble Beginnings
My discovery began here.
I had been watching streamers using Crystal Grotto and wanted to give it a try. It would shore up my ambitious and unnecessary blue splash and also help with the multiple gold legends. However, the Grotto Tax was a real problem. On one turn, I used five lands to cast a Juniper Order Rootweaver. No, I don't want to talk about it.
However, an early Salvaged Manaworker made the deck hum. Channeling one mana a turn can help you unload your hand at a surprising rate. You get even more value if it enables instants on your opponent's turn. But wait, there's more.
The 1/3 is an extra target for combat tricks, carries +1/+1 counters surprisingly well, and feeds into both the attrition and go-wide strategies that black and white want to capitalize on. It works with both uncommon legends, cycles with Gibbering Barricade, and is the fodder you're looking for with Bone Splinters after it enables a fluid early game. Salvaged Manaworker is a top-five common two-drop.
But It Might Be Better Than That
One of the decks I wanted to talk about this week was this Wingmantle Chaplain deck.
Unfortunately, it's missing a key piece. While I have three Geysers to bounce the chaplain, I have zero forms of recursion to replay it from the graveyard. In two of my losses (and one of my wins), I played better Wingmantle Chaplain decks. They had multiple copies of the mythic uncommon, but they also capitalized on Raise Dead effects to recast the wall.
The irony is that I had access to those cards. Phyrexian Missionary, Urborg Repossession, and Braids's Frightful Return all waited, dormant in my sideboard. I could not find a single dual in the draft that would have enabled their inclusion. However, I passed three copies of Salvaged Manaworker and wheeled two of them. Had I selected the construct, I would have had access to those powerful cards and a more robust strategy.
Good Homes and Bad Homes for Our New Favorite Construct
A lot of the best two drops in this format are interaction. If your deck wants Essence Scatter or Tribute to Urborg, you may not be in the market for a two-mana creature. A deck like that probably gets more value from the scry on Crystal Grotto.
Additionally, relying on this card in Domain decks is a liability. Though it helps you cast your spells, it doesn't contribute to powering up the domain keyword. You're better off with a Floriferous Vinewall in those situations.
Salvaged Manaworker performs best in decks that value creatures. These strategies need bodies that actually do things. Salvaged Manaworker doesn't deal much damage, but it adds to your creature count and plays to the board early. It helps you curve out into better effects, and there are plenty of uses for the body in the late game.
Finally, it's important to remember that, although Salvaged Manaworker is a useful tool, its overall power level is relatively low. The humble worker will hold your deck together, but if you're not surrounding it with powerful cards, you may want to rethink your approach.
This weekend at a local Game Day, I played the following list in Sealed.
My best cards were the rare and uncommon two-drops, but my low curve and high power level were slowed down by my mediocre mana-fixing. Leave it to Salvaged Manaworker to save the day. When it was in play I was able to hit my splash cards on time, as well as double-spell my way into devastating turns. Kicking Yavimaya Iconoclast and Phyrexian Missionary in consecutive turns felt like cheating.
For most of the format, I looked past this card as unplayable. Salvaged Manaworker is the hero Mardu aggro has been waiting for. It's hard to get a card's worth of value from your two-drops, but enabling kicker gets us close. Facilitating double-spelling and casting double-pipped spells on curve is a huge boon. Finally, enabling us to play functional games with untenable mana draws is a world of difference. Maybe it isn't a first pick, but this robot can do a lot of work in the right deck. You may want to give it a second look.