Rakdos Midrange Is Legit: GP Memphis *1st*

One of the most colorful characters in Louisiana Magic just took home his first Grand Prix trophy! Jody Keith shares what makes Rakdos Midrange tick in Standard and his sideboarding guide!

MagicFest Memphis is in the books and the Ravnica Allegiance Standard will never be the same. The triangle of Sultai Midrange, Mono-Blue Aggro, and white-based aggro has been blown wide open and Rakdos is to blame. The Carnival of Carnage opened its doors at SCG Dallas and the second act left the crowd in shock and awe in the Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll.

If you’ve ever checked me out on YouTube or Twitch, you know I love to tell a good story. I like to live life for the experiences, learning, but more simply “for the times.” Often Magic content is diluted down to a decklist, but every decklist has a story. The story behind this one begins the week before SCG Dallas.

I spent four days playing every deck in the format on my stream and not really loving any of them. With a hotel booked and people depending on me for a ride, I couldn’t back out despite not settling on anything, so I planned to default to Esper Control. Azorius-based control is an archetype I’ve played in different iterations over the course of my Magic life and I felt, if nothing else, I could counter the right spells and kill the right creatures and then ride Teferi, Hero of Dominaria into the sunset. The sluggish mirrors and less familiarity with them had me doubting the default, so I scoured the Internet and racked my brain to try to find an alternative.

I found this Rakdos list in a pair of 5-0s from Magic Online player Tempo and it immediately reminded me of the Jund Chainwhirler decks I’d been playing all week but that I didn’t feel comfortable sleeving up. The biggest deference was to cut the green split cards in favor of Carnival // Carnage, Treasure Map, and extra copies of The Eldest Reborn in the maindeck. This small change to the fringe of the deck immediately improved the mana and velocity.

The new supporting cast also raises the average power level of the deck by being more, as I like to call it, independently wealthy. Status // Statue and Find // Finality both require setup to really meet their full potential, whereas Carnival // Carnage, Treasure Map, and The Eldest Reborn can be cast on curve and play setup to the core of the deck more reliably in any given game. This is what you want from a deck you plan to play for fifteen rounds.

At its core, this Rakdos deck is a midrange deck. You have efficient threats and removal allowing you to play the aggressive role in control matches, while still being able to take on the control role needed to beat the aggressive decks. The best example of this is your number one threat – Rekindling Phoenix.

I told my girlfriend, who doesn’t know much about Magic, that if she saw me with birds on the battlefield, I was probably winning, and that most certainly rang true. Rekindling Phoenix demands exile-based removal on its front end, making it a nuisance for control and an unending blocker versus aggro.

I think Phoenix is uniquely well-positioned with Seal Away, Vraska’s Contempt, and other exile effects being almost nonexistent in most decks currently and how its body lines up against the premier threats of the format. A four-power flier trades with Enigma Drake, Crackling Drake, and Tempest Djinn while also holding back Adanto Vanguard and a 5/5 Pteramander. Perhaps the biggest draw to Rekindling Phoenix is the work it does against Sultai Midrange. Its mere presence can dissuade Sultai mages from playing Vivien Reid on curve and stave off early beats from explore creatures.

Goblin Chainwhirler hasn’t seen much time in the sun recently but is the next biggest threat in Rakdos. Clearing away infant Pteramanders, strangling 1/1 tokens, and making obvious blocks questionable is what The Chainwhirler is all about. Even without the combo with Status, just having Goblin Chainwhirler in your deck makes opponents sequence threats in odd ways, giving you more time to transform a Treasure Map or make land drops toward your game-warping five-drops.

Dire Fleet Daredevil might look like an odd one but is truly an unsung hero of this strategy. Playing off your opponent’s powerful spells without having to include them in your own deck is a powerful effect that opens more options to your deck and makes for some incredible games. At its peak, you get their most powerful spell, but even without its ability, you have a first strike blocker to stave off smaller creatures.

The first strike is incredibly relevant when paired with cards like Carnival and Shock, scaring even the largest of Drakes from daring to defend unprotected. This early damage really helps to set up racing situations when you don’t have a clean removal spell, and with the rise in popularity of Pteramander and Enigma Drake, simply exiling a spell can put their clock back a few turns while developing your battlefield.

Rix Maadi Reveler is the best addition to this Cinder Barrens deck coming out of Ravnica Allegiance. On the front end, you have a 2/2 for two mana that filters your draws in the early game. This effect makes playing a full set of Lava Coil not a huge liability against control and combo, which is a big plus. On the back end, you can replenish your hand via spectacle after sneaking in some first strike damage or picking off a small creature with Carnival. The threat of its spectacle adds to the difficult decision on whether or not your opponent should be blocking with a freshly played threat.

Now we make it to the Goblin boss, Siege-Gang Commander. I simply cannot pay enough tribute to this one-card GoonSquad and what it does for this deck’s gameplan. It stabilizes a battlefield that’s trying to go wide, is another threat that doesn’t have many clean answers for it, and can clock an opponent in two turns.

Aside from its inherent power level, its greatest strength is how many options you get when you have it on the battlefield. If you’re trying to ride out an aggressive onslaught, chump a large threat, check a planeswalker, or narrow down a wide battlefield to land a good Edict effect, there’s no better squad for the job. Siege-Gang requires no setup to be powerful, but the addition of Carnage to soften your opponent’s resources and the way the gang buys time to work through all the chapters of The Eldest Reborn solidifies this whole configuration.

Plus, you haven’t lived until you’ve reanimated a Siege-Gang with full mana up.

After SCG Dallas, I realized that Treasure Map is the glue that holds the whole deck together. Scrying to set up draws, ramping into two-spell turns, and providing card and mana advantage allows you to transition into a late game that’s hard to overwhelm. I knew I needed a fourth copy in the maindeck for MagicFest Memphis.


VS White Aggro

Out (on the play):

In (on the play):

Out (on the draw):

In (on the draw):

In this matchup you want to play the control role. Control the battlefield at every step and then take over the game with Rekindling Phoenix and Siege-Gang Commander. Trade resources early and often, but try to sequence permanents like Goblin Chainwhirler and Treasure Map to clear Conclave Tribunals that can target your Phoenixes.

VS Mono-Blue Aggro



Mono-Blue Aggro is a good matchup for Rakdos, but you must make sure you sequence everything right. Don’t fall into lines that are always the most mana efficient, but rather make sure the threats you cast stick. Pick off small creatures early to avoid Curious Obsession runaways and choose your plays based off how much mana the opponent leaves up. If, for example, they represent Spell Pierce or Dive Down, cast a creature instead of playing into those instants. The card quality of your threats is so much higher that they’ll be forced to commit more to the battlefield, giving you an opening to resolve more copies of Rekindling Phoenix and Siege-Gang Commander.

After sideboard, Duress makes the sequencing even better and we get more removal for Tempest Djinn.

VS Izzet Drakes



Izzet Drakes is a matchup where you want to provide some pressure so you can race in situations rather than having to cast removal into soft permission. If you get aggressive with Rix Maadi Reveler and Goblin Chainwhirler, this could also force opponents into blowing Lava Coils that are sorely needed for Rekindling Phoenix.

After sideboard, opponents will usually have Niv-Mizzet, Parun, so be aware of that. Shivan Fire, Fight with Fire, and Angrath give us more removal, and Duress makes it easier to land each of them.

VS Sultai Midrange



Sultai Midrange is a favorable matchup, but get ready for a grind. Your biggest advantage is to leverage a battlefield that makes establishing Vivien Reid impossible. Carnival // Carnage is great here because you can pick off explore threats before the trigger with Carnival or force opponents to choose between keeping Hydroid Krasis or the lands to cast a big one with Carnage. Don’t underestimate how deep you can go with Dire Fleet Daredevil playing off their spells. Sequencing your threats to force their spells out is crucial, and be sure to save early Lava Coils for Hostage Takers. Last, don’t be scared to use your life total as a resource while you set up Treasure Maps and Siege-Gang Commanders.

Their deck won’t change much after sideboard other than getting more exile effects in Vraska’s Contempt and Hostage Taker. Some Sultai Midrange decks play Thief of Sanity, so be mindful not to blow removal early, just as you wouldn’t against Hostage Taker.

VS Esper Control



I feel favored against Esper Control, but this is a classic case of staggering your threats around sweepers while maintaining a battlefield to prevent a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria runaway. Make sure to leave some removal for Thief of Sanity, Hostage Taker, and Lyra Dawnbringer after sideboard to avoid a blowout.

VS Simic Nexus/Bant Nexus



Nexus of Fate decks are your worst matchup. The amount of card advantage they generate makes your copies of Carnage worse and your clock isn’t the best at getting things done before they get set up. Discard is needed alongside the fastest clock you can muster, so that’s what you want to look for. Early damage, some disruption, and a Siege-Gang Commander to get damage through a Root Snare can get you across the line.

VS Nexus of Gates



Unfortunately, this is another bad matchup. Gatebreaker Ram is very hard to remove and the card advantage coming out of Guild Summit and Hydroid Krasis is hard to match. Rekindling Phoenix is your best threat because they don’t have any clean removal for it, but often they can get over the top of it easily after resolving a Circuitous Route. Try to keep a clock on them and take advantage of the fact that most of their lands enter the battlefield tapped.

Potential Changes

The initial change I made from Dallas was to cut the Banefire for the fourth copy of Treasure Map. Rakdos Guildgate is strictly better than Cinder Barrens in the event that you reanimate a “Gates matter” creature like Gatebreaker Ram, but feel free to disassociate yourself from gang affiliations and keep the cool points. Personally, I only played Cinder Barrens because I had a foil one from Oath of the Gatewatch that looked cool. I also thought it would be funny if my list got published and people wondered why I went with a 1/1 on the split.

I would like to try Skarrgan Hellkite because it can provide a faster threat versus control, combo, and planeswalkers. It might just be better in the Jund shell because of how well its ability works with Status // Statue and Find // Finality, but I find it hard to cut Siege-Gang Commander.

Angrath, the Flame-Chained always performed when he took the stage and I could see it being a 2/1 split with The Eldest Reborn in the 75. I like how good the minus is versus Thief of Sanity and Hydroid Krasis while having a plus that piles on with Carnage. The biggest downside is the amount of counterplay there is to it, as opposed to an enchantment permanent.

Goon Squad Represent

I hope you enjoy Rakdos Midrange as much as I did and look forward to your thoughts on where it goes. I also want to thank everyone for the support they have shown me on my grind these past two years. I hope to keep providing great content for you to enjoy and for us all to grow together with.

One Love. Good Vibes.