The Hidden Gems In Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard From The Red Bull Untapped Series

Last weekend’s Red Bull Untapped event on MTG Arena saw a huge field competing in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard. Bryan Gottlieb analyzes the event’s top rogue decks.

Check for Traps, illustrated by Zoltan Boros

The world is in a dark place, friend. Alrund’s Epiphany and Mono-Colored Aggro rule over our beloved Standard format with an iron fist. It seemed like the ban fairy might be a willing respondent to our plight, but at the last moment, they turned their back on us. “Wait ’til the Vampires come,” they sneered. “Then, perhaps we can help.”

Of course, the greatest and brightest of the realm all offered their thoughts on how to best mount a defense in these trying times. Syr Gerald the Gallant spoke of Dimir Control. Syr Mori the Magnificent came with Azorius Tempo. And Syr Depraz the Destined fought valiantly with Temur Midrange. All came close, but none gave us the advantage we sought against the twin serpents that have strangled our creativity and freedom.

The time for individual solutions has clearly passed. Humankind is at its strongest when it relies on its ability to lift one another to ever-greater heights. Now is the era where we must go back to the old ways of coalition and competition. Imagine 1000+ of us, all motivated by the promise of riches, glory, and the betterment of our world, to produce the true epiphany that could save us all.

In the long ago, such gatherings of heroes were not mere fantasy. The powerful wizards of the realm would pool their massive resources (derived mostly from charging ever-increasing levies on the commoners for something called “boosties”) and allow challengers to put their ideas to the test against one another, eventually filtering out the wheat from the chaff and highlighting those with a real chance to alter to status quo.

Sadly, the wizards left this realm long ago, drawn instead to the massive riches of a land where humanity was content not only to pay elevated levies on “collector boosties,” luxurious hidden lairs, and shiny commanders for their centurion armies, but to do so without the promise of any of the organizational work previously required from the wizards in return. For the wizards are wise, and they certainly know a good deal when they see one.

Hope is not dead, though. We don’t need the wizards. I know you’ve heard the same rumors I have. The rumors of the upstart in the East, from the land of Austria. It is whispered they recognize the peril our world is in, and they plan to bring the masses together as in the olden days, to finally cast off the oppressive yoke this Standard has cast upon us all.

I come to you today to tell you this is not mere rumor. Indeed, the Red Bull has already begun its work to save us all.

All right, that was probably a bit more dramatic than I needed to be, given the fact that the top of Red Bull Untapped was basically dominated by the same decks that have been ruling the metagame for the last month. Temur Midrange claimed a little more glory than it has in prior weeks, but this is still a tale of Mono-Green Aggro❄, Mono-White Aggro❄, and Izzet Epiphany. Still, if we dive deeper, we do come across some promising outliers, and any deck that fights its way towards the top of a 1235-person field deserves further inspection.

Like I said in needlessly wordy fashion, this is how things used to work. A small field event like the Pro Tour would kick off a format. Large Grand Prix and SCG Tour events would follow up that Pro Tour and challenge the early front-runners. Many times, the decks that came in the weeks following a Pro Tour would be the ones that would become metagame stalwarts. It’s been challenging to get back to that model given the ongoing pandemic, but a huge event like the Red Bull Untapped series might just be the kick in the butt the competitive scene needs, and the upcoming Star City Games Invitational at SCG CON will have something to say about the conclusion of this story as well.

Let’s take a look at the best rogue performances from this weekend’s event and see if there are any threads of the metagame we can start to pluck at.

The best-performing rogue deck from this weekend was Jund Midrange in the hands of Joao Marcos de Aquino. This archetype has been a consistent muse for me during this Standard season, so I was very interested in seeing how Joao adapted for this now well-known metagame. The answer? They mostly didn’t.

The closest deck to this in the format is unquestionably Temur Midrange as popularized by Jean-Emmanuel Depraz. We’re banking on our early mana accelerants surviving long enough to amp up our clock and then having just the right smidge of disruption on a key turn in the form of Check for Traps (and Duress in sideboard games). Given the similarity to the somewhat proven Temur lists, we have to ask ourselves, “Why black?” Check for Traps is almost certainly worse than Negate against a deck leaning on a seven-mana sorcery and a five-mana sweeper, so there’s got to be some other upside here. My guess is that the removal is slightly better against Mono-Green and Mono-White, and that Check for Traps is a little bit better than Negate against the same two decks.

This means if you’re a believer in this aggressive posture, but convinced Izzet Epiphany is about to trend downwards, Jund Midrange could actually be a better choice against the field. In a field where I’m expecting knowledgeable, skilled players, I’m not taking this gambit. Against the large field in this free-to-play Red Bull Untapped tournament, I don’t mind this move at all.

Is this Izzet Delver, or Izzet Dragons picking up some copies of Delver of Secrets? I lean towards the latter, which means our question is again pretty simple. Why are we playing something like this over the proven list from our World Champion, Yuta Takahashi? Again, I can point to the value of aggression in a metagame being shaped by expensive spells. Add in the fact that all four Malevolent Hermits have found their way to the maindeck, and you’re looking at a deck that’s pointed itself very much in the direction of challenging Izzet Epiphany.

In this case though, I’m concerned we’re giving up a bit too much in every matchup that isn’t Izzet Epiphany. The twelve modal DFC lands here are critical for beefing up an already too-low count of spells for our Delver of Secrets (29 if you’re counting), but they’re going to hurt our efficiency in matchups where we need to enact our plan quickly, like against Mono-White❄ and Mono-Green Aggro❄. If the sideboard went particularly hard against those matchups, maybe I could come on board, but many slots are eaten up by Lessons, and the focus still appears to be on Izzet Epiphany in sideboard games. That’s telling me we haven’t gained as many points as we would have liked by altering our maindeck.

I’d be more interested in this deck into a metagame overrun with Izzet Epiphany, not one where it is just one of three or four good options.

Black really does have some strong cards for this metagame; it’s just that the color has wasted a lot of its time trying to play long games against Epiphany decks. I understand why Blood on the Snow is appealing. Many people will just tell you, “I can never beat that card.” However, you’re also never beating an Alrund’s Epiphany. I don’t think that’s a choice you can make in good faith.

If you want to unlock what black has to offer, call on the same trick as our other decks. Add some more aggression, accelerate with Treasures, and find a small amount of disruption at a key moment. Tainted Adversary is a sweet home for increased mana production, and the two copies of Kazuul’s Fury sneaking into this list give you a way to actually punish an opponent who thinks the coast is clear to tap out for Alrund’s Epiphany.

In your sideboard games, The Meathook Massacre is a catchup tool that will actually get the job done against the mono-colored aggro decks if you ever get a turn with a Goldspan Dragon on the battlefield. Add in some great removal options and further disruption with Duress and Reidane, God of the Worthy, and I honestly believe this deck is presenting a bunch of strong plans. I’d keep an eye on this list going forward.

I’m unfortunately a little torn on this deck. There’s something to be said for a Lier deck that can recur Culling Ritual, and when this gets combined with the multiple bodies that Tovolar’s Huntmaster can produce and the lifegain coming from Nighthawk Scavenger, I believe that this deck can successfully hold the fort against the aggressive strategies.

What I’m less sure about is whether this deck is able to fully transition to something that can really beat up Izzet Epiphany in sideboard games. This is critical, because this deck just isn’t winning Game 1s in the matchup. I see the proposed gameplan; Test of Talents, Duress, some more beatdown from Graveyard Trespasser, and even a little card advantage in the form of Siphon Insight all seem fine.

Still, there’s a lot of vulnerability on any tap out turns due to Izzet Epiphany’s explosiveness on the back of Unexpected Windfall. Even just a couple of Go Blanks could turn things around in sideboard games, and I’d love to see them over something cute like Mortality Spear. Maybe they can be maindeck over the max copies of Infernal Grasp or Power Word Kill. After all, if you’re not successfully challenging both prongs of the metagame, you may as well just commit to the idea of beating the aggro decks and play Blood on the Snow.

Or maybe you can do both?

Ramtin’s deck comes courtesy of Grzegorz Kowalski, and Grzegorz is certainly someone I believe can turn a metagame on its ear. Maindeck Skyclave Shade into Sedgemoor Witch feels like exactly the setup Mono-Black should be using to challenge Izzet Epiphany in Game 1s. It’s just enough clock and staying power that I believe you can race effectively, especially as Izzet cuts copies of Burn Down the House. I don’t think anyone really doubts this deck’s capabilities against the aggro decks. The Meathook Massacre and Lolth, Spider Queen are both world-beaters there.

After sideboarding, we’ve got hammers for the two big prongs in four copies of Go Blank, and three more sweepers against the aggro decks, including Blood on the Snow. This deck has clear targets, and good plans. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a real weakness against the decks on the fringes of the meta such as Temur Midrange and Izzet Dragons, but if those decks get squeezed, maybe black has found its way forward.

It’s frustrating that I have to talk about everything through a lens of Izzet Epiphany and Mono-Colored Aggro, but that’s just where things stand right now. It’s going to take an unforeseen hero to break us out of the current paradigm, but tournaments like the Red Bull Untapped series and the upcoming Star City Games Invitational at SCG CON are perfect breeding grounds for the kind of breakout performances required. Keep a close eye on these events, and keep your fingers crossed that our savior comes before it’s too late.