Imagine a world without Omnath, Locus of Creation. No more turn four Genesis Ultimatums. No more Four-Color Adventure decks. No more watching your opponent go from 1 life to 5 life to you saying "yep, I just can't win anymore." Sounds purely like fantasy right? They couldn't possibly do yet another ban already, could they?
Well, imagine no more, because WotC took Omnath (plus his favorite Lucky Clover) behind a shed last Monday. They even mercilessly blocked off his planned escape route through the wilds too! That means we have a whole new meta without Omnath, and thus far the gameplay/deck diversity have been vastly better received by players.
This article is going to be focused on the most popular deck on ladder so far, Rakdos Midrange. All statistics come from Platinum+ matches recorded by the untapped.gg app. I'll be examining the deck's playstyle, staple cards, other maindeck options, sideboard options, and its matchups against the field.
Uro was good enough in Standard to get banned, so why not Kroxa next? That seems to be one of the mantras behind this deck, which is the current front-runner for the new meta. A full playset of Kroxa, some great removal spells, some solid threats, and a bit of graveyard synergy come together to form a deck that grinds well without needing a particularly high curve. Trading 1 for 1 with your opponent as aggressively is a big goal for this deck, as it has the tools to cripple most decks gameplans while cleaning up the scraps with Kroxa later. This deck is very well set up to chew through the average creature deck!
Keep in mind that grindy midrange strategies like this were largely unviable pre-ban; Uro effectively kept decks from running out of cards, and Omnath could generate too much value too quickly for a 1-for-1 strategy to keep up with. One last thing to note before we begin is that while untapped.gg lists two separate archetypes for Rakdos, they are virtually the same deck. I'll be calling the deck "Rakdos Midrange" from this point on as I see this as more of a Jund Midrange style deck than anything else (discard + removal + threats), but you are free to call it "Rakdos Control" if you'd prefer.
Here are two decently successful builds of this deck from ladder, although I do wish the sample size was a bit larger. Regardless, some consistent features of each builds are:
- 4 Kroxa, 4 Mire Triton, and 4 Tymaret Calls the Dead
- 15+ spot removal spells, usually some mix of Bonecrusher Giant, Murderous Rider, Bloodchief's Thirst, Heartless Act, Hagra Mauling, Spikefield Hazard, and Shatterskull Smashing
- 2-4 copies of Liliana/Rankle to have proactive four-mana plays
- 2-3 Agonizing Remorse, though about 30% of the builds I've seen play 0 copies
- 19-21 lands alongside 8-9 copies of the aforementioned spell/land DFCs, 4 Temple of Malice/Fabled Passage + basics and 0-2 Castle Locthwain for good measure
- A sideboard with some mix of graveyard hate, sweepers, extra spot removal, and additional threats to bring in against reactive decks
The face of the deck. Gets milled/discarded by other cards and comes back as a powerful attacker/win condition later in the game; also helps leverage all of the removal/discard the deck is playing. Every build I've seen plays 4 copies.
Mire Triton is a popular option to help fill the deck's curve, as it does several things at once for two mana. Deathtouch trades well against Green fatties, the life gain is helpful/offsets untapped Shatterskulls, and the self-mill is relevant too. Most builds play 4 copies.
A cheap early play with two relevant abilities for longer games. The high amount of removal spells/discard/self mill makes 4/4 sizing realistic, and the draw/discard ability is an easy 2 for 1 with Kroxa, Ox, and Skyclave Shade. The main drawback is that Escape may shrink this back to a 1/3, so keep that in mind. Most builds play 2-4 copies, though a few play no copies at all.
Frontrunner for best card in Standard, might have even dodged a possible ban this week. It's an efficient creature + decent removal spell rolled into one card. Still well positioned in the meta due to cards such as Edgewall Innkeeper and Thieves' Guild Enforcer. Most builds play between 2 to 4 copies.
Murder + a free mediocre Lifelinker for later. Another efficient Adventure creature to complement Bonecrusher Giant. Don't forget that this bottoms rather than going to the graveyard if it dies, which can be relevant for Escape card counts. Most builds are playing 2 copies.
This is one of the best cards in Standard for filling one's graveyard conveniently, and a card that finally seems to have found a home. It may look a bit weak at first but this can gain 2+ life, make two 2/2s, Scry 2+ and "draw a card" via Kroxa for just three mana. Note that it has minor extra synergy on the third chapter with Mire Triton and Murderous Rider, which are Zombies. Every build I've seen plays 4 copies.
Another card that had seen virtually no play up until this point, Liliana is a decent graveyard oriented walker that provides extra removal if necessary. Her +1 has nice synergy with Kroxa and fits the deck's resource trade oriented gameplan. Most builds play 1 to 2 copies.
An additional 4-drop seen alongside Liliana in many builds. The edict effect plays well with the high removal count although your own fodder is mostly limited to Mire Triton, Zombies, and Adventure creatures. Rankle is an efficient card overall, but it can be a bit of a liability against aggressive decks/Shark Typhoon (at least in the late game). Most builds play 2 to 3 copies, although I wouldn't recommend more than 2 myself.
Many players have been supplementing their Kroxa/self-mill value plan with an Ox of Agonas or two. This kind of card advantage (discard your hand then draw three) works well in Rakdos Midrange, as you have lots of cheap interaction and operate at Sorcery speed. Most builds play 0 to 1 copies main, with 0 to 2 copies in the board (never more than 3 total).
An excellent removal spell that is at its most efficient when its killing 1-drops, but can kill anything for 4 mana if necessary. Key targets include Scavenging Ooze, Soaring Thought-Thief, Magmatic Channeler, and Edgewall Innkeeper. Most builds play 3 copies, though you could adjust to 2 or 4 depending on predicted metagame.
One of the best Doom Blade variants Magic has ever seen. Main fail cases are Scavenging Ooze, Luminarch Aspirant, and (gulp) The Great Henge, which can potentially embarrass this. Most builds play 2 to 4 copies.
This is the best general purpose discard spell available. It's a bit slow against aggro but solid against Blue decks, plus it exiles Kroxa in the mirror and can even exile it from the graveyard if necessary. Most builds play 2 to 3 copies main, with the rest in the sideboard. Playing 0 main is a reasonable option if you want the best possible Game 1 against aggro/creature decks.
Most decks are going to play a few Mythic spell lands if they can afford to, as you are giving up a bit of life/convenience for extra late game power. Most builds play 2-4 copies of Shatterskull Smashing and 0-1 copies of Agadeem's Awakening. I would not recommend playing Agadeem's at all in this deck.
Extra removal/taplands in two different flavors. Mauling is a tapped Black source/4 mana Murder, and Spikefield a tapped Red source/cheap way to exile Innkeeper, TG, Enforcer, Windrobber, Brushfire Elemental, Skyclave Shade, and Lotus Cobra. Keep in mind Hazard can be used to exile Kroxa as well, with its sacrifice ability on the stack. Most builds play 2 copies of Mauling and Hazard.
4 Temple of Malice, 4 Fabled Passage, 3 Shatterskull Smashing, 2 Hagra Mauling, 2 Spikefield Hazard, 1 Castle Locthwain, 7 Swamp, 5 Mountain makes for 21 or "28" lands, and 16 Black/13 Red or "18 Black/18 Red" if you count DFCs fully as lands.
Terror of the Peaks is the only non-Ox 5+ CMC card I've seen others play in so far, though I've personally found a singleton Chandra, Heart of Fire to be pretty decent as well. Terror has great synergy with Kroxa, has Flying, and hits like a truck, but it's very clunky and vulnerable to most removal. The builds that I've seen playing it ran 2 copies.
No mode of this is worth playing in Standard on its own, but this is a decent split card that is some parts Smother, "return target Magmatic Channeler/Mire Triton to the battlefield", and Mind Rot (surprisingly decent in a Kroxa deck). The seven mana mode is also a promising late game option, especially given how many targets "destroy target creature with CMC 3 or less" currently has in the meta. Most builds that play Inscription of Ruin fit 2 copies as a flex value card/removal spell.
Cling to Dust and Soul-Guide Lantern are the best/most popular options for general purpose graveyard hate. Cling to Dust fights with Kroxa/Ox for Escape resources, but also gives you the option to use it from the yard off of self-mill. Most sideboards include 2 to 4 copies of this effect.
Elspeth's Nightmare is a bit of a graveyard hate wild card. If things go right, you play this on Turn 3 killing your opponent's Magmatic Channeler/Mire Triton/Zombie token in the mirror, then Duress them, then erase their graveyard. If they go wrong, it's a sluggish, awkward mix of delayed discard/graveyard hate. Builds that I've seen run this fit 1-2 copies in the side, presumably with the mirror in mind.
As with all Jund-style decks, Rakdos Midrange has access to additional hand disruption to replace (or sometimes supplement) creature removal against Tempo/Combo/Control decks. Because there are few creatureless Control decks in the meta currently, Remorse is more popular. Most builds play 2-4 sideboard discard spells, for a total of 3-6 copies available after board.
Rakdos Mirange is a bit too creature heavy/proactive to want this kind of effect main, but sweepers are great to have against certain aggro/go wide decks. Extinction Event is recommended over Storm's Wrath for hitting Seasoned Hallowblade, which this deck otherwise has no hard outs to. Most players have access to 1-3 sweepers after board.
Artifact removal is nice to have in the 15, mostly for The Great Henge, Maul of the Skyclaves, Glass Casket, and Stonecoil Serpent. Embereth Shieldbreaker is more efficient when it works, but less flexible. Most players run 0-1 Sails main, 1-2 Sails/0-1 Shieldbreakers in the board.
Feed the Swarm has singlehandedly defied a 25 year precedent for Black to not be able to destroy Enchantments. Most builds I've seen do not play Feed the Swarm, but running 1-2 copies should certainly be at least a consideration due its efficiency and uniqueness.
Probably my personal favorite sideboard card for this deck, and a great way (alongside discard) to transform into a more proactive deck if you must. This is a resilient, aggressive creature that has nice synergy with self-mill/discard. Most builds play 3 to 4 copies.
Likely solid against Rogues and most Aggro decks due to the Flying body/Lifelink. Seems mediocre in the mirror as it very much "dies to removal" without generating any card advantage. Not super commonly played, although I've seen 2-3 copies in the sideboard of some builds (a few ran 2 main as well).
Every game in the mirror is going to be grindy, so using your cards efficiently/getting 2 for 1s is super important. Graveyard hate, extra card advantage, and exile effects are good additions in sideboard games, and can replace extra spot removal/discard effects. Extinction Event is a card I might want to consider in the mirror as well, especially on the draw (lots of evens in the deck: Magmatic Channeler, Kroxa, Mire Triton, Tymaret Calls the Dead tokens, and Rankle).
Rakdos Midrange is fairly well set up for Rogues Game 1. The most important thing is to try to not let them get under you, so trim some Mire Tritons/Tymaret Calls the Dead (neither blocks fliers, self-mill less valuable against a deck that will do it for you) for extra discard/removal. You shouldn't ever really run out of gas versus them, as they will mill you and "draw" Kroxa/Ox for you consistently. Spend your turns killing their Rogues, and then kill them with Kroxa when they run out of things to do.
Dimir Mill is a bit harder as you can't answer a Teferi's Tutelage (if they are running it), barring Feed the Swarm in the side. You'll "draw" a ton of cards for free, but it won't matter in the end if you have no deck. Board in Skyclave Shade, Duress/Remorse, keep enough cheap spot removal to kill Crab/Enforcer/Thought-Thief efficiently, taking out any excess spot removal/clunky cards. They have inevitability in the matchup, so don't let the game go too long if you can help it.
Potentially difficult matchup, card advantage is very important so you'll want to keep The Great Henge, Innkeeper, Scooze, and any Planeswalkers they field off of the table. You can rely on your creatures to block/protect you from everything else, and on Kroxa to eventually win the game as they have no way to exile it Game 1. Expect them to board into Soul-Guide Lantern/Cling to Dust, extra copies of Scooze, and any extra Garruk's Harbingers they are running.
Stompy should be a solid Game 1 for this deck, though the 2 copies of The Great Henge could cause some headaches. After board you'll want any sweepers/artifact removal that you have for Stonecoil Serpent/Henge. I would wager that this is a generally favorable matchup, like most creature heavy decks.
Spot removal is key here, and Game 1 should go quite nicely if you don't stumble/get nut drawn. Take any discard out for extra spot removal/sweepers if you have any, kill everything you can, and win with Kroxa eventually. Expect to see cards like Vivien, The Great Henge, Chandra, Garruk, more Scoozes, and Garruk's Harbinger coming out of Gruul's sideboard for G2/G3.
Spot removal/sweepers are great against Mono-White, and discard is less than impressive. The main way Rakdos loses this matchup is being unable to answer Seasoned Hallowblade + Maul, and your best outs to that are artifact removal/Extinction Event. You'll want all of your artifact removal after board, and will even sometimes be able to hit Glass Casket/Idol of Endurance as a bonus. Mono-White has a serious lack of card advantage (just 2x Legion Angel), so this is likely one of Rakdos Midrange's best matchups.
What do all of these decks have in common? Well, three of them have "Control" in the name, all of them are fairly reactive, and your sideboard plan against each should be very similar. Non-Adventure spot removal comes out, discard comes in, and Skyclave Shades come in as well.
Be wary of cards like Baneslayer Angel/Archon of Sun's Grace out of Control decks, and remember that Elspeth Conquers Death cannot target Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger. Against don't forget about Shark Typhoon and try to play around countermagic/Extinction Event when you can afford to. Your gameplan in each matchup is basically to stick cheap/resilient threats early, then open a hole with discard as the game goes on for Kroxa to consume your opponent's hand/life total. Matches tend to go long/have a lot of available lines though, so don't be afraid to adapt to the situation at hand.
I played a bit with the deck myself too, of course. Started from Silver (Standard has been terrible for the last year or so, don't judge!) and climbed up to Plat 2 with an 86% win rate. If you'd like to give my own list a spin, copy and Import this into Arena:
Rakdos Midrange | ZNR Standard | Bryan Hohns
- Creatures (19)
- 1 Ox of Agonas
- 2 Magmatic Channeler
- 2 Murderous Rider
- 2 Rankle, Master of Pranks
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 4 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
- 4 Mire Triton
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Tymaret Calls the Dead
Hopefully you enjoyed reading all that! Best of luck climbing to Mythic with Rakdos Midrange, and as always if you have any questions/comments on the article, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. I plan to write more about other well performing decks as the new meta develops, so stay tuned. This is Bryan "Veveil" Hohns, signing off!