The Complete Sultai Midrange Sideboard Guide

Are you battling with Sultai at the Standard Classic in Indianapolis this weekend? Brad Nelson doesn’t want you going in without his expertise! He’s got it all here for the taking!

Years ago I always followed my heart no matter what. I built outlandish
decks around cards I enjoyed like
Craterhoof Behemoth,

Trading Post,

Nightshade Peddler

and even went full Kevorkian once when I

Siege Rhino to the rocks.

I thought all I wanted to do was win, but unbeknownst to me there was a
little voice in the back of my head solely looking to have a good time.
Those days are behind me though as I’ve become a grizzled veteran at this
point. All I want to do now is find the best deck, learn it inside and out,
win trophies, and get comfortable in bed before the 10 o’clock news. No
more frills. No more thrills. Just good efficient Magic cards organized in
a specific way, and cast in a precise order. The days of playing decks I
enjoy are behind me. I’ve grown up. I’ve grown old.

At least that’s what I thought. I haven’t been able to put Sultai Midrange
down. I think I’m in love. Let me just put it this way: If a genie suddenly
appeared before my eyes and gifted me with just one wish I’d ask for is a
Standard deck that played Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Ravenous Chupacabra,
Liliana, Death’s Majesty, and The Scarab God. Never in my wildest dreams
would I think they’d just throw in Champion of Wits for free!

It’s not just that this deck plays a lot of cards I love casting, but I’ve
found enjoyment in some of the other ones as well. Innocuous ones like
Field of Ruin! I thought that card was just a nice added value land that
can help keep control decks from finding Azcanta. After just one league I
found out that this land interacts really well with opposing explore
creatures. So not only do I get some sick pleasure whenever my opponent
cast “medium-minus” Merfolk Branchwalker, but now I also make them shuffle
their Glorybringer back into their deck! All this value on a land that can
also get Fatal Push revolted. It’s just beautiful, that’s what it is.

I found my home.

I found my love.

I found my issue.

The entire time spent playing this deck has been filled with joy and loving
exploration. This isn’t the normal feelings I’ve had when preparing for
events. Normally I just find the best build of Temur Energy/Bant
Company/Abzan Control, and hope I play better than my opponents. I’ve been
stuck in that mindset for so long that I didn’t know what I was missing.
The issue, however, is I still want to be doing that “best” thing, which I
think I found. There’s just a little voice in the back of my head screaming
at me that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Have I gotten so lucky
that I’ve found the best deck and like it, or am I being biased?

There’s really nothing more I can say about it now. I’ll continue playing
the deck and second-guessing my motivations until Grand Prix Memphis next
weekend. Only then will I be able to truly know if I was being too
subjective or far too lucky. Until then I’ll just break down this deck that
I love so much.

Sultai Midrange is the Standard deck you should play this weekend if you’ve
ever liked midrange decks in the past. Playing it feels like killing them
with Siege Rhino’s enter the battlefield trigger, putting that monstrosity
counter on Fleecemane Lion, and hitting two Tireless Trackers on a
Collected Company all rolled into one deck. It has life gain, card
advantage, removal, card advantage, reanimation, card advantage, and The
Scarab God; a card so good that it isn’t even fun winning with.

There’s a few cards I’m uncertain on the numbers for, like Chart the
Course, Kitesail Freebooter, and Champion of Wits. All are strong effects
the deck wants, but knowing the correct numbers will only come once I truly
learn the ins and outs of sideboarding. I’ll work diligently to find the
most fluid design possible, but that will take at least another week of
development as I’m just starting to grasp this format. The list is bound to
change, but the strategy should live for a very long time in this format.
It’s just such a good shell for the format’s best card. For now though,
this is the best configuration I’ve found, but will be keeping you up to
speed on any developments I find as I continue working on the deck.

VS Mono-Red Aggro

The Mono-Red Aggro matchup is extremely volatile, and thus far felt even.
Sultai Midrange is the deck in the matchup that has most room to grow so I
feel like eventually we’ll find the correct mixture, but for now it’s still
a work-in-progress.

Game 1, just like in almost every matchup, is all about surviving long
enough to leverage The Scarab God. Being on the play helps, but most
important is casting as many spells on curve as possible while also having
at least one Vraska’s Contempt for the potentially game-ending Hazoret the
Fervent. If things line up well enough then the games can be manageable,
but any small hiccup will end in a brutal loss.



I’ve liked lowering my land count ever so slightly while also lowering my
curve. Keep in mind Mono-Red Aggro will be increasing their curve and land
count. I’m not sure if all the copies of Chart the Course deserve to come
out, but it hasn’t felt good unless I’m already extremely favored. Your
role in the matchup doesn’t change, but you’re at least more focused. The
life gain removal spells have all felt amazing, but there’s still a need
for exile-based spells. That’s one of the reasons why we have an Hour of
Glory and Torrential Gearhulk in the sideboard.

Even cards like Essence Scatter and Supreme Will gain value here as they
can help stop some of the more important cards from Mono-Red Aggro. Due to
their “transformational” sideboard plan, they will almost always run into
these counters as they have such a high density of four- and five-drops.
This is one of the ways we need to start exploiting Mono-Red Aggro if we
want to see this deck get toppled in the metagame. We’ve seen this deck for
long enough that we know how it functions. Sideboards need to be designed
with it in mind, and larger strategy-based shifts should be implemented in
your deckbuilding. Sideboarding in a couple counterspells is just the
beginning of how we need to think outside the box.

VS Grixis Energy

By now I believe Grixis Energy to be an outdated strategy, as I’m rarely
playing against it online, but I always like to go over as many decks as
possible in these primers. So with that said, it’s time to talk about a
deck you may never play against again!

The matchup is favorable thanks to our higher density of card advantage.
They play Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and Dusk
Legion Zealot as their card advantage spells. Of course Rekindling Phoenix,
The Scarab God, and other creatures can provide additional advantage, but
these games always come down to how many copies of Vraska’s Contempt one
draws to help handle the haymakers. The longer the game goes the better
chance you take control with Chart the Course and Champion of Wits. One
thing to keep in mind is if you’ve found yourself hunkered down in a game
that looks to go long and have both of these cards, it’s sometimes better
to not trigger raid so you can discard a Champion of Wits. This plays
around Magma Spray and lets you dig deeper into your deck for the important
cards in the matchup. Things can change if you have an extra Fatal Push and
a Field of Ruin laying around, but that rarely comes up.



Early interaction is only relevant when facing down an opposing
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. You really can’t let that card stick around, but at
the same time waste so many slots in your deck to deal with them. I feel
the correct number of early removal is three, but I wouldn’t argue if
someone wanted as many as five. I’m still toying around with this decision.

Duress and Lost Legacy are mainly miser-cards for opposing Vraska’s
Contempts. It’s seriously just the best card in all the midrange matchups.
It’s nice to cast a Duress prior to your The Scarab God or Vraska, Relic
Seeker, as it’s so easy to run away with a game if one sticks around. After
that, the matchup doesn’t change much. Just keep grinding until someone

I have seen many of my midrange opponents cast Negate after sideboard, but
I don’t think it’s better than Duress, and I don’t want to have both in my
deck. Of course Duress has a lower floor, but also curves much better. It
also can preemptively deal with a removal spell so you can jam a turn 5 The
Scarab God, or snag a Chandra, Torch of Defiance before it gets value. I’ve
seen Negate be good, but never great. I can’t say the same about Duress.

The mirror is similar enough to Grixis, and I would say keep in a few more
removal, but I don’t know how much I will impact the metagame with this
primer. It really comes down to if people cut Gifted Aetherborn or not.
Personally I think having non-premium two-drops against Fatal Push decks
are bad unless you have a great reason. For example, I keep some Gifted
Aetherborn in against G/B Constrictor as it’s a nice blocker and they are
clearly the aggressor. That’s not always true though since many of them
play upwards of four Lifecrafter’s Bestiary. It’s tough to know the correct
mixture going into game 2, but lean on having a stronger late game as it’s
so easy to be the one without the cards capable of winning the late game.

VS G/B Constrictor

This matchup is very good for us. You’re just simply a better deck than
them. Your Fatal Pushes are more powerful as they rely on synergy while
ours don’t. They don’t have card advantage game 1 unless it involves
creature-based combos like Walking Ballista plus Verdurous Gearhulk. I
guess they do have Merfolk Branchwalker and the card advantage that
powerhouse provides! All-in-all, game 1 is all about containing their
battlefield and slamming late game cards. Trade, trade, trade, and trade!



Walking Ballista is not a good card against Sultai Midrange, but it’s great
at killing Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and living to tell the tale. That’s
precisely why we take it out in the matchup as they most likely keep in
Walking Ballista just to contain our early card advantage. Due to this,
we’re taking even more of a controlling position in the matchup, and rely
on our mythics to get the job done. The best way to get to this position is
to eternalize a Champion of the Wits.

VS G/R Aggro

This deck hits hard, and can run away with games quickly in this matchup
thanks to its best threats having flying. Luckily this matchup isn’t too
bad if we don’t stumble, and is one of the reasons why I added the 26th
land from the original decklist. I found that getting to my cards on curve
greatly increased my chance of winning. Especially since this deck has less
answers to The Scarab God. Another reason why I wanted to add a land was so
I could play a second copy of Field of Ruin which is fantastic against all
of G/R Aggro’s explore creatures in the midgame.



This is where I’m currently at, but I could easily see this not being
correct. They have a couple Deathgorge Scavengers that make Moment of
Craving better. This two mana removal spell is also nice against a cast
Resilient Khenra as you can give it -2/-2 while its enter the battlefield
trigger is still on the stack. The same goes for Earthshaker Khenra, but
that comes up very infrequently.

The biggest issue in the matchup is Carnage Tyrant. G/R Aggro does a good
job at forcing both players to exhaust their resources, but the explore
creatures help make sure they make it to six mana on time to deploy this
problematic threat. We do have an ample supply of deathtouch creatures
which sometimes helps, but any extra removal they may have foils that plan.

VS U/W Approach

Game 1 is difficult, but we’ve known this for six months now. U/W Approach
preys on midrange decks that don’t have interaction in game 1.



I hate keeping in removal spells even when I know they’ll be bringing in a
few creatures. It’s just too easy to fight through some creatures when
you’ve taken complete control of the game over. Sometimes you kill them
with Vraska, Relic Seeker, sometimes the planeswalker ignores the creatures
and kills them. I might be wrong in this decision, but the only thing I
know for certain is I hate my opening hand having a removal spell against
Approach of the Second Sun.

I’ve recently cut down to one Lost Legacy as I’ve noticed both this deck
and W/B Tokens to be on the decline. If this isn’t true for your local
area, then I’d highly suggest finding room for another copy. Sadly though,
it would have to be over one of the Arguel’s Blood Fast.

Sideboard games are much easier. You have even more card draw, but now you
can find cards that actually interact with your opponent. A little goes a
long way against U/W Approach. Don’t just spew off your Negate protecting
something that’s not relevant to finding a path to victory. You don’t need
to counter too many things to win a game, but it’s important to counter the
correct things.

VS U/B and Grixis Control

Both of these decks operate similarly. The only major difference between
the two is the removal spells they play, but that doesn’t change our plans
all too much. Again, they have the edge game 1 as we have so many dead
cards. It is easier to win a game 1 here than it is against Approach as
they win via creatures. Sadly though, they normally drown us in card
advantage, and we give them the time they need to set things up.



A resolved Arguel’s Blood Fast turns games into easy-mode. Outside of that,
just play good ole fashioned midrange-vs-control Magic. The games can all
play out differently, making when you cast cards like Duress contextually.
Have a plan for them though, and when you don’t know why you’re casting
one, don’t. Sometimes it’s nicer to play it later on so you have more
information on how to sequence your spells.

VS W/B Tokens

Game 1 is not as bad as one would think, thanks for The Scarab God and
Vraska, Relic Seeker. You have to play these cards in a smart manner to get
the most out of them, but it’s not as bad game 1 as, say, Grixis Midrange.
That said, they are advantaged.



Essence Scatter can counter a Regal Caracal which is why it makes the cut,
but removal is generally bad in this matchup. Both sides will be trying to
get things on the battlefield and trying to win an excruciatingly long
game. That’s what makes removal so bad here. Sure, dealing with something
like an Anointer Priest sounds good, but not when you may just ultimate
Vraska, Relic Seeker to win the game. Velocity is the name of the game
here, and removal doesn’t help us achieve that.

My favorite thing to do in this matchup is to steal an Anointed Procession
with Gonti, Lord of Luxury. Usually it won’t matter, but you can go off
with The Scarab God or Champion of Wits with one on the battlefield. Who
said Magic isn’t fun?

Oh right, me from earlier today.

VS Mardu Vehicles

Mardu Vehicles takes a similar role as Mono-Red Aggro does, but lacks in
the haste department. This extra time to answer threats helps out as we’ll
rarely get punished for set-up turns. This is what makes me think we will
continue to see Mardu Vehicles numbers drop until the deck is almost
non-existent, but for now we have to have a plan.

The priorities are different than against Mono-Red Aggro. You really need
to save your Fatal Push for potential Heart of Kirans, but luckily you know
early if they drew one. Still it’s sometimes nice to hold one as they will
eventually draw the card. You don’t want to take too much early damage as
Unlicensed Disintegration can steal games, so I trade often and early with
my creatures whenever I already have access to The Scarab God.



I don’t know if three six-drops is too many in the matchup, but they’re all
so good at actually closing the games out. Especially when the rest of the
deck is just removal spells, it’s important to draw something to win the

Mardu Vehicles does go bigger after sideboard with cards like Chandra,
Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer, but it’s not like the past where they
had a completely different gameplan. They still try to kill you with an
aggressive plan. That’s the main reason why I don’t prioritize card
advantage after sideboard as they won’t have ways to out-grind you like
they did with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in their deck. If you find yourself
against someone with many wrath effects or a much different plan it’s
important to bring in card advantage like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Gonti,
Lord of Luxury.

VS Esper Gift

I haven’t had the pleasure of playing this matchup yet, but assume the same
principles apply from last season. Try to stymie their development in
whatever way you can before casting The Scarab God and hoping it sticks.



Both Duress and Negate aren’t great at interacting with their God-Pharaoh’s
Gift, but can help The Scarab God from getting exiled by the Vraska’s
Contempts they bring in. After that, I really can’t tell you if this is a
good or bad matchup or if we need more sideboard cards. It seems this deck
is fringe at the moment given how it still has the same problems from last
season. I’ll for sure get some testing in against the deck prior to next
weekend, but for now don’t consider it that big of an issue even if it’s a
bad matchup (which I don’t think it is).

Well that’s all I have for today. I really think you’ll enjoy playing this
deck, and I want to hear your stories. Comment below sometime this weekend
on what you thought about the deck! I’ll try my best to update the strategy
and write a little about it next week, but we will be moving on as I don’t
think I can get away with writing about how awesome The Scarab God is for
the next three months.