Magic the Gathering: Mardu Top Tier Deck for WAR Standard

Let your creatures die to win games with the help of Cruel Celebrant and Teysa Karlov in this top-tier Mardu deck for WAR Standard in MtG.

War of the Spark, a new Standard set for Magic: The Gathering, is now available globally in print and digital formats. It is one of the strongest sets that has come out since last year's Dominaria.

Each pack in WAR contains a planeswalker. It is logical to assume that the meta would be oversaturated by planeswalker decks, and, to some degree, that is very much true.

However, there is one archetype that has emerged with a singular goal: to beat opponents without a single planeswalker in its maindeck. It combines several strategic elements to excruciating effect, such as Aggro and Life Drain.

That deck is Mardu. Below, I've broken this deck down to show you why it's so powerful, and why you should consider using it in both MtG and Magic Arena.

The Decklist

Creature (25)
Sorcery (13)
Land (22)
Sideboard (15)
4x Footlight Fiend 2x Angrath's Rampage 4x Blood Crypt 2x Angrath's Rampage
4x Cruel Celebrant 4x Light Up the Stage 3x Clifftop Retreat 2x Bedevil
4x Dreadhorde Butcher 4x Heroic Reinforcements 4x Dragonskull Summit 3x Despark
4x Hero of Precinct One 3x Kaya's Wrath 4x Godless Shrine 4x Duress
4x Judith, the Scourge Diva --  3x Isolated Chapel 2x Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
3x Midnight Reaper  -- 4x Sacred Foundry 2x Mortify
2xTeysa Karlov  -- --   --


The Gameplan


This deck revolves around two creatures: Cruel Celebrant and Teysa Karlov. The first creature is obviously more important. It is cheaper to cast and thus, it can be put on the board earlier.

The nice thing about these two cards is that you don't need to be afraid of losing your creatures. They will both trigger the Life Drain effect, which is the goal of this Mardu deck.

Play as many creatures as you can and attack whenever you think is appropriate. When it comes to attackers, you can spare any other minion except Cruel Celebrant and Teysa Karlov. These two should stay alive for as long as possible.

But even if your opponent decides to sweep your creatures with a board-clear, it's no big deal. At times, that is exactly what you want. The more creatures that die on your side, the more damage you will deal to your opponent.


Hero of Precinct One is another high priority card in this deck, and you should try to put it on board before you opt for playing your multicolored cards. This way, your army of "kamikaze" creatures will grow and ultimately deal an even larger amount of damage.

A card like Dreadhorde Butcher doesn't need Cruel Celebrant to deal damage when it dies, but if you can keep Teysa Karlov on-board alongside Dreadhorde Butcher, it will deal twice as much damage, which could add up to some significant numbers.


Although Life Drain will be your primary source of damage, don't disregard the Aggro side of this deck.

Judith, the Scourge Diva is included in this list for that extra damage push, and her second ability synergizes perfectly with the death theme of this Mardu list. However, it only works for non-token creatures, so a card like Heroic Reinforcements will only benefit from Judith's attack buff.

In any case, no matter how your games turn out, your strategy will always depend on the type of opponents you encounter.


Lastly, you need to make sure you won't have an empty hand. That's why some effective draw engines like Light Up the Stage and Midnight Reaper are a must.

Also, if you face another highly aggressive deck with a lot of creatures, don't be afraid to use your Kaya's Wrath, even if your own side of the table is filled with creatures. At the end of the day, you want your creatures to die, and if you get to clear all of the opponent's threats, then that's even better.

The Match-Ups

This Mardu deck can be played in different ways depending on your match-ups. The Sideboard is primarily filled with universal removal spells that can get rid of unwanted creatures, enchantments, artifacts, and even planeswalkers.

So, here's a breakdown of each of the three possible match-ups against Aggro, Midrange, and Control decks.

vs. Aggro

Currently, the biggest representative of the Aggro archetype in WAR Standard is Mono-Red Aggro with Chandra, Fire Artisan.

This deck is really easy to counter since your own deck has a significant number of cheap and strong creatures that can block or be blocked depending on who gets their threats on board earlier.

Goblin Chainwhirler, one of the biggest threats in Mono-Red Aggro, can only really harm your tokens. Even then, if you control Cruel Celebrant, this will only fortify your own deck.

In case your opponent builds a significant board, your Kaya's Wrath will sweep everything away and help you regain health. The value corresponds to the number of creatures that have died. 

However, wait for your opponent to empty their hand before casting Kaya's Wrath.

vs. Midrange

The two most dangerous Midrange decks in WAR are Esper and Bant. The Esper deck runs a very problematic Thief of Sanity, which could easily disrupt the Mardu deck.

In that case it would be wise to direct the damage from cards like Footlight Fiend, Judith, and Dreadhorde Butcher to deal with the Thief of Sanity. Then, you can focus your damage on an opponent.

The Bant lists usually run Hydroid Krasis, which can gain a lot of toughness really quickly. So in this case you are left with a vast number of removal spells in the sideboard to deal with it.

The last big threat is God-Eternal Oketra, which can be removed only temporarily. If you face an opponent that runs Oketra, then be as aggressive as you can and try to kill your opponent before turn five.

vs. Control

Most Control decks in MtG run a very small number of creatures. They mostly focus on planeswalkers, such as Teferi and Liliana.

This means that your opponent's side of board will be clear for aggressive attacks. Use these as an opportunity to deal early damage.

Later in the match-up, Control players will decide to sweep your board. They will be greatly surprised when all the damage from your dead creatures ends up killing them.

Also, don't forget to bring Duress from your Sideboard for these match-ups. It will help you get rid of planeswalkers and other unwanted non-creature spells early in the game.

Lastly, you can utilize the two copies of Kaya, Orzhov Usurper, the only planeswalker in this Mardu list, to get a presence on the board in case you have no creatures.


  • Be as aggressive as possible without worrying about losing your own creatures.
  • If you control Cruel Celebrant, let your creatures die, but keep the Celebrant alive for as long as possible.
  • Try to combine Cruel Celebrant with Teysa Karlov for double Life Drain effect.
  • If your opponent plays powerful threats that could disrupt your game, deal with them first, and then focus damage on your opponent.

For more Magic: The Gathering guides, check out the list below:


Sergey has been a freelancer in the video games industry for more than five years, writing for various publications around the world. His favorite games are MtG, Dark Souls, Diablo, and Divinity: Original Sin.

Published May. 17th 2019

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