Modern Misfits: Midrange

Join Anthony as he explores midrange in Modern to see if you’d like to play one of the archetype’s decks at Grand Prix Richmond in a few weeks!

Efficiency exemplified.

Sounds like something that’d be said in a luxury car commercial, and that’s kind of how you have to treat midrange in Modern. While many consider midrange "good cards jammed into a deck," it takes as much attention to detail as any other deck. If anything, the result of any change to the details is much more glaring than in other archetypes. The format is completely stuffed with highly efficient cards, cards that are highly effective both offensively and defensively. Decks like Jund, U/W/R, and G/W all boast the ability to operate at a very high level with low-maintenance cards. Every resource is used to its maximum potential, and not a single one should be wasted in a well-oiled machine.

If you like down and dirty Magic, games where you earn every point of damage, and motivational Under Armour commercials, then Modern midrange decks are perfect for you.

As you probably could guess, different midrange decks have different qualities to them. Some may be better at establishing a board presence, while others may be better at generating raw card advantage. Some look to disrupt through discard, while others use countermagic (sometimes both!). How you want to midrange is completely up to you and your style.

Against midrange decks if your overall card quality isn’t as good as theirs, you need to find a way to either get under them or ignore what they’re doing. Going over them is hard to do if the previous case is true because you’re going to run right into their unconditional removal. This leaves hyperaggressive strategies and quick non-interactive combo decks. Decks like Tron, Auras, Affinity, and Burn are quite effective at attempting to forget about the attrition game and just get them dead.

If you plan on beating them at their own game, then having a solid plan at the four is a good idea. It’s incredibly hard to beat them on the two, so you’ll have to fight them on another front. The four-drop slot is filled with two-for-ones and is a great position to be in if you aren’t able to outmuscle them.

B/G/x has been the staple midrange deck of the format, and as I said last week, I really don’t believe that will change. You still have some of the most robust heads-up power cards out of any color combination, and you are still the best at grinding games out card for card.

Cosmetically, these three decks look very similar. This is because of how important the core cards are in B/G/x midrange decks. Dark Confidant is the best card advantage tool in the format, and both Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze are the most efficient two-mana creatures in green. Abrupt Decay, Lightning Bolt, Thoughtseize, and Inquisition of Kozilek are the best options for their respective roles. No nonsense, just what’s best for business.

The absence of Deathrite Shaman is by no means a small deal, but your tournament will be a short one if you believe that B/G/x midrange isn’t going to still be played. You’re going to have a lot of ground to gain from turn 2 onward, and Liliana of the Veil is still one of the most ridiculously powerful threats in the format. A big concern with these midrange decks is how much life loss you can inflict on yourself. Between Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant, fetch lands, and shock lands, things can add up very quickly. With access to Kitchen Finks, Courser of Kruphix, Thragtusk, and Batterskull among other options, this can be mitigated at a fairly good rate.

Going for a third color is a bit harder to pull off now, but it’s still a great option. Red gives you the best card in the format in Lightning Bolt along with a great win condition in Raging Ravine and a more robust sideboard. White gives you some great options against Affinity and more unfair decks.

Blue isn’t utilized as much mostly because the options that white and red give you are just better. There’s no removal in blue that matches the efficiency of Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile. The attrition spells aren’t as impressive as cards like Terminate, and the loss of consistency in your mana base doesn’t justify the power level of the cards you get overall. Creeping Tar Pit is an incredibly powerful card in other formats, but when Lightning Bolt, Tectonic Edge, and Path to Exile are three of the defining cards, it becomes a lot less attractive to warrant adding an entire color to your deck.

Never be a worse version of something else.

If B/G/x is the premier color combination for midrange, then U/W/x is next up in that category. Contrary to popular belief, there’s a pretty big difference between U/W-based midrange decks and U/W-based control decks. Control-based builds are looking to lock up the game in a more traditional fashion with spells like Sphinx’s Revelation; Elspeth, Sun’s Champion; and Gideon Jura. Midrange versions are trying to go more of the "one for one you until you die to one of my threats" route. The primary cards of these sub-archetypes are Geist of Saint Traft, Restoration Angel, and Snapcaster Mage.

This deck wants to set you back as much as possible while beating you down with a threat under it all. Having access to almost all of the clean removal spells in Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Lightning Helix helps a ton. If something does wind up slipping through the cracks, we have Cryptic Command and Thundermaw Hellkite to keep the pressure going. This is a great start for those looking to grind games out via hexproof creatures and tempo.

What’s also great about U/W/R is its customizability. You’re much freer to change around what you want, as the core of the deck involves significantly fewer cards. You can choose to take more of an aggressive role with things like Boros Charm or something more over the top by adding more Thundermaw Hellkites. If you want something a little less rigid and more free flowing, then U/W/R is probably going to be a more comfortable choice for you.

Outside of these two color combinations, there hasn’t been much exploration within midrange. Deathrite Shaman was partially to blame here because of just how much weaker other combinations were without it. Now that pressure is alleviated.

The Gerard Fabiano special. This color combination has the absolute best removal, and it isn’t particularly close. Almost all of the super efficient one- and two-mana removal spells in Modern are white, black, or red, making this the go-to shell if you want to unconditionally kill almost every relevant permanent. Your creature and threat suite isn’t too shabby either, with access to midrange all-stars Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil (seriously, don’t play a black midrange deck without them) and huge four-mana bombs in Ajani Vengeant; Hero of Bladehold; and Chandra, Pyromaster, all of which are fantastic against other midrange and control decks. Customization is pretty easy here as well since the ceiling for power cards is so much higher than in B/G/x or U/W/x.

While attrition-based midrange decks have been prominent for quite some time, creature-based midrange has always just popped up here and there. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is the backbone of these types of midrange decks, and it’s very possible that we could see a nice bump for Hate Bears.

The thing I love about the creature-based midrange decks is their ability to apply pressure while having a solid amount of synergy at the same time. Most Modern decks focus on raw power and cards, which leaves little room for things like Mangara of Corondor plus Restoration Angel, or Knight of the Reliquary plus utility lands. Combine the great amount of synergy in these decks with inherent disruption and you have a recipe that’s very strong against decks relying on cards that win the game or at least try to put the game out of reach by turn 4.

While you’re very good at pushing combo and other midrange decks out of their rhythm, you’ll have a hard time getting around decks that are going toe to toe with you with their own creatures. Thalia and Gaddock Teeg aren’t the biggest creatures ever compared to what else is going on and can easily get run over. In addition, cards like Knight of the Reliquary; Brimaz, King of Oreskos; and Scavenging Ooze take a bit of time to get going, and chasing them down isn’t the hardest thing to do if you really want to. That said, these are still very powerful choices if you want to pseudo-prison your opponents.

Speaking of prison, I’ve always been a fan of Stax type prison decks, and this little brew is very interesting to try out if you’re looking to Trinisphere people.

The goal here is dependent on what you’re playing against. Against low-end control and midrange decks, an early profitable Boom // Bust (via Flagstones or Arid Mesa) followed by a Trinisphere or Storage Matrix can be backbreaking. Anger of the Gods, Kitchen Finks, and Ghostly Prison are your tools for aggro, with Prison doubling in effectiveness against Splinter Twin and Birthing Pod. Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon punish greedy mana bases, and Simian Spirit Guide is essential in pushing out your powerful three-drops on turn 2.

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is the finisher of choice and pretty much has replaced Gideon Jura as the go-to late-game white finisher when it comes to planeswalkers due to how much more versatile she is in comparison. The difference between five and six mana is negligible on the high end, and Elspeth’s ability to extend the game goes far beyond Gideon’s in many scenarios. All of this said, I have no idea how good this deck is, but it certainly seems worth working on.

The possibilities certainly don’t end here, and it can only get better from here for midrange. Can something like Bant, a build that popped up from time to time last Modern PTQ season, make a resurgence? What about Mono-Black Midrange or Life from the Loam based decks? This is a great time to be a midrange player, and with the Pro Tour coming up this week, it’ll be exciting to see where it winds up.