Last weekend, the first Split of the 2020-2021 MPL season took place. For those who don’t know, a “Split” is sort of a mini-tournament that’s going to happen several times over the year — by the time it’s done, each MPL player will have played each other person in the MPL twice. My weapon of choice for the October Zendikar Rising League Weekend was Rakdos Midrange, and my 9-3 record put me in second place when the weekend was done. Here’s the deck I played:
- 2 Rankle, Master of Pranks
- 2 Murderous Rider
- 4 Robber of the Rich
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 2 Ox of Agonas
- 4 Mire Triton
- 4 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
I chose this deck not because I thought it was the best deck (I thought that was likely to be Dimir Rogues), but because I thought it would be very well-positioned. Going into the weekend, Yorion decks were Public Enemy No. 1, and since this was common knowledge, we assumed it would have two important ramifications.
First, we expected the MPL players to gravitate towards decks that have good matchups against Yorion, namely Dimir Rogues (we actually thought that was going to be the most-played deck). Second, we expected everyone to avoid decks that traditionally lose to Yorion, such as, for example, Scavenging Ooze decks. Both of these developments are very favorable for Rakdos Midrange, since it has a very good matchup versus Dimir Rogues and struggles against Scavenging Ooze.
In the end, we were dead-on with our metagame predictions. Dimir Rogues ended up being the most-played deck in both the MPL and the Rivals league, and not a single person across either league played Golgari Adventures.
Does this mean you should not play Rakdos Midrange on the Arena ladder or in an actual tournament? Not necessarily. By the time I selected Rakdos Midrange, I did not think it was a good Arena ladder deck because I thought the ladder was a little bit behind on the metagame. Now that the split has happened and Dimir Rogues was very popular and performed very well (the top three players in Rivals were on Dimir Rogues, for example), I’d expect this development to follow suit. Gruul Adventures also did very well, and while it’s certainly not a walk in the park I think it’s a matchup you don’t mind playing against.
Given that I’d expect the ladder and tournament metagame to eventually arrive in the same place as the League Weekend results, I think Rakdos Midrange is a perfectly fine choice now. Besides, it’s not like Rakdos Midrange is only good versus Dimir Rogues — both Mike Sigrist and I played against only three Dimir Rogues decks and had 8-4 and 9-3 records, for example.
Rakdos Midrange is, for all intents and purposes, a Jund deck, except instead of Tarmogoyf you have Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger. Your goal is to trade one-for-one with everything your opponent is doing and eventually pull ahead by virtue of having cards that come back from the graveyard. I would say that, in most matchups, Plan A is to just get rid of all your opponent’s cards. Once you’ve accomplished that, you usually win.
You’re capable of playing both the control game and the aggro game and you usually need to adapt depending on what you’re playing against. Versus Gruul Adventures, for example, your goal is to kill all their things, whereas versus Temur Ramp your goal is to kill them as quickly as possible. You’re naturally very good against a deck like Dimir Rogues because your graveyard is a resource that you use very well and both your aggro and control plans are good against them.
Why Robber of the Rich?
During my Round 10 feature match against Carlos Romão, Cedric said that he had no idea what this card was doing in my deck. I’m here to tell you that I also have no idea. I don’t think it’s very good and I wouldn’t play it moving forward. I switched decks with one hour before deck submission and that was the list we had so it was the list I played, but I just don’t think it does anything for you.
Don’t get me wrong, the card isn’t bad, but it’s not good either. A lot of the decks are very synergy-based, which means you end up stealing bad cards, and all the decks that are not synergy-based can easily kill it. Besides, Rakdos Midrange is not Mono-Red — it’s actually a clunky deck with a thousand lands that enter the battlefield tapped and half the spells you cast also take a card from your opponent’s hand, so it’s very common for you to attack with Robber of the Rich and not get anything. I get the desire to play a two-drop specifically because your deck is clunky, but I don’t think Robber of the Rich is the one you should play — I would play Skyclave Shade, Agonizing Remorse, or an extra removal spell.
Why Pelakka Predation?
This is the other card in the list that isn’t exactly standard (everything else is very normal, I think). This was a Willy Edel addition and the main reason is that it’s strong versus Yorion, Sky Nomad decks. Your goal is to empty their hand as soon as possible and having a land that acts as a discard spell (and can snipe Dream Trawler or Yorion itself) is very valuable. I thought this card was good, but three might be too many; I felt like my deck had too many lands that entered the battlefield tapped, so I’d probably go down to two. I think it can be better than Hagra Mauling in a lot of situations but there are matchups where I want to keep a certain number of removal spells in my deck (such as Yorion) and don’t want to have any actual removal spells, so I think Hagra Mauling is important.
Why No Magmatic Channeler?
If I said Rakdos Midrange is a Jund deck, it might feel weird to not play a card like Magmatic Channeler, which actually has similarities to Tarmogoyf. The reason it’s not included is that it’s not the best as either a Merfolk Looter or a beatdown creature. Getting your choice of two possible cards is great when you’re trying to find land or immediate action, but this is a reactive deck with a lot of weird sequencing on your lands, so a lot of the time you aren’t able to play the card you want to select. As for it being a beatdown creature, the deck has some instants and sorceries but not that many — it’s not common for Magmatic Channeler to be a 1/3 creature for a long time, especially since you exile a big portion of your graveyard from time to time.
Moving forward, I would change my deck slightly. As mentioned, I would cut Robber of the Rich and replace it with other two-mana cards. I think Skyclave Shade is excellent in some spots and not that great in others — the fact that the most played removal spells all exile it is very unfortunate — but still just the fact that you can mill it (or discard it or sacrifice it) and bring it back already makes it better in my opinion. I wouldn’t play four, though; instead I’d add a removal spell and a discard spell. I’d also change the sideboard to accommodate the rise of Gruul Adventures that we should expect. This is the list I’d play:
- 2 Rankle, Master of Pranks
- 2 Murderous Rider
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 2 Ox of Agonas
- 4 Mire Triton
- 4 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
- 2 Skyclave Shade
VS Dimir Rogues
This is your best matchup and the reason to play this deck. They have two possible plans depending on how they draw — aggro or control — but you’re well-equipped to answer both, as you have plenty of removal for their aggro draws and plenty of fodder to escape against their control draws, which means it’s very hard for them to keep up with you in either angle.
The fact that escaping a Kroxa or an Ox of Agonas happens to help both plans simultaneously (you present another threat and shrink your graveyard, which turns off a lot of their stuff) is icing on the cake. There are versions of Dimir Rogues that are easier or harder (the more focused on milling they are, the easier it is), but I’ve found that all of them are good matchups.
This is my default sideboard plan versus Dimr Rogues but it’s very important to keep in mind here what their version is and what their plan can be. For example, when I played versus Reid Duke last weekend, I originally sideboarded similarly to this (not identically because my deck was different, but same idea). Then we played a relatively long Game 2 where he didn’t cast a single creature, so when I played versus Gabriel Nassif (who was on the same list), I actually cut some of the removal and kept in Tymaret Calls the Dead and Lilianas.
Then I played against Carlos Romão with a different list and kept some Robber of the Riches in even on the draw, because I saw he took a more aggressive approach and I just wanted a blocker. When I play on ladder, if my opponents have Vantress Gargoyle, I bring in Shredded Sails. This is a matchup where you really should not follow a sideboard guide blindly.
VS Azorius Blink (Yorion)
This is not a good matchup, but I also don’t think it’s a bad matchup, though it might become one depending on how people build their decks. I actually expected my matchups to be better than they were in the League Weekend, since I thought Omen of the Sun was a pretty bad card and that no one would play it, but several of my opponents had three or four copies and it happened to be quite good against me specifically, though I maintain it wasn’t very good last weekend overall and it’s probably not great now either – it’s really only great versus Rakdos Midrange and some versions of aggro decks that have Rimrock Knight.
Your goal here is always to empty their hand and the most common way to lose Game 1 is Dream Trawler, though sometimes they just cast a Yorion and gain too much value. I should say that I’ve beaten Dream Trawler a fair amount of times too because in a lot of spots they’re just forced to cast it with no cards in hand and then you just kill it.
This is a matchup where you can actually win the long game, so you shouldn’t get too desperate if you can’t close quickly enough, as long as they don’t have Dream Trawler. Two of my wins against Yorion decks came very late in the game in scenarios where I didn’t think I was very likely to win because I just burned them out with a combination of Kroxas, Rankles, and Liliana triggers.
Sideboarding is usually good for you, as you bring in a lot of good cards and especially answers to Dream Trawler, and they usually don’t bring in much — their sideboard is a bunch of counterspells and removal spells, none of which address the issues you’re presenting.
I was down on Duress originally, but Zach and Siggy convinced me it was good and it overperformed. The main issue I had was that the key cards in the matchup were not creatures — Skyclave Apparition; Yorion, Sky Nomad; Dream Trawler — which meant they dodged Duress, but Duress isn’t here as a way to answer these specific cards; it’s here as a way to trade one-for-one for one mana.
You’re a Kroxa deck and your goal is to get them empty-handed, so trading one-for-one and putting a card in both players graveyards’ is just good for you. You don’t need to Duress their Yorion, because if you Duress their Elspeth Conquers Death, then they will have to discard the Yorion to Kroxa, Liliana, or Rankle anyway. Sometimes you do snipe a key card (for example a Shatter the Sky they were counting on) and obviously it’s very good when this happens, but honestly just being a one-mana-discard-one-card spell is already good in this matchup.
VS Gruul Adventures
I think Gruul Adventures is a somewhat even matchup. Your deck is very well-equipped to deal with most of their deck, and Kroxa is a nightmare for them as it’s bigger than all their creatures, but their best cards — Embercleave and The Great Henge — are really good versus you. If they have a super-strong draw with Embercleave or The Great Henge you’re probably going to lose, as you cannot kill every single creature. If they don’t draw these cards, or if they have a weak draw with them, then I think you can win.
The two artifacts are the main way you lose the game, so I think Shredded Sails is pretty key here. I think adopting a control posture is the best versus them, so I like bringing in the removal and a third Ox. If they have a ton of Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate, then you can bring in Soul Shatter.
VS Temur Ramp
We expected some people would play Temur Ramp, but not a lot. I think this is a relatively even matchup — they have some cards you can’t deal with, but it’s not hard for you to discard their whole hand and Kroxa is just excellent. Most of the time, you empty their hand and then they have a one- or two-turn window to topdeck a Genesis Ultimatum or an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon; if they do, they win, and if they don’t, you do.
Sideboarding is radically different depending on the version you’re playing against — some versions have a lot of mana creatures (Autumn’s and Emma’s, for example), whereas some play zero (Ken Yukuhiro’s). I think the creature version is more popular so this is how I think you should sideboard against it (but feel free to cut more removal if you play against the creatureless version):
After sideboarding, I think things also improve for you (Jund-style decks generally improve across the board after sideboarding and this deck is no exception, as you often have many bad cards versus each deck). Duress might not have many targets depending on the version, but again you really just want to take a card, regardless of what it is, and the presence of DFCs means you’re rarely without a target.
It might be weird to sideboard out so many answers to Ugin, but I think the plan should just be to stop them from casting Ugin to begin with, and resign yourself to losing if they manage to get it on the battlefield.
Tips and Tricks
- The “escape priority” usually goes like this — you want to first get rid of the lands, instants and sorceries, then the enchantments, and then the creatures. This is because the enchantments and the creatures can be exiled to Tymaret Calls the Dead, and the other cards can’t. The creatures are a better resource though, because you can ultimate Liliana. In the tournament I had a game where I basically exiled cards at random since I had so many and then I ultimated Liliana later on and realized that the Rankle I wanted to reanimate wasn’t there anymore.
- You need to think about how to sequence your lands. In a lot of games, you must take a turn off to play a tapped land, and you will need to choose if it’s Turn 2, Turn 3, or Turn 4. Sometimes you need to accept that you can’t cast this Mire Triton on Turn 2 because you need to cast Tymaret Calls the Dead on Turn 3.
- If you have two Tymaret Calls the Dead, you should usually first resolve Chapter II (make Zombies) and then Chapter III. This is the preferred order even if it’s possible that you brick (i.e. if there are no creatures or enchantments in the graveyard), since you get an extra Zombie and you don’t mill your scries. You should only do it the other way if you absolutely need a Zombie (and doing it the reverse way guarantees it, as the first Tymaret Calls the Dead will be in the graveyard by then) or if you are specifically looking for a card to mill. A lot of people think scrying doesn’t matter if you’re going to mill yourself anyway, but this deck has cards that are better to mill than to draw, so if you’re looking for that Kroxa, you should first scry and then mill.
- You don’t have to exile anything for Tymaret Calls the Dead; in fact, I frequently do not. A common sequence is Turn 3 Tymaret Calls the Dead, mill three cards and exile one to make a Zombie. Then, on Turn 4, you exile three cards and one of them is a Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, and you have a Fabled Passage in hand. If you exile a card, then you’ll only have Kroxa plus four cards in the graveyard; if you don’t make a Zombie, you’ll have five and can get Kroxa onto the battlefield immediately.
- Against Dimir Rogues, fetch out your Mountains as soon as possible. All your escape cards cost double red and there are only four Mountains in the deck, so getting two red mana on the battlefield is your top priority. If you wait too long, sometimes they end up milling too many of your Mountains and you can no longer fetch them, which can be disastrous.
Rakdos Midrange isn’t the type of deck I usually play, but I felt it was the right call for the metagame I expected and that choice paid off for me. I think the ladder and tournament metagame will tend to converge towards the same metagame, which in my mind makes Rakdos Midrange a strong choice, at least until the next metagame shift.