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Beating 'Em With Black and Blue


This Standard format is the most fun I have had playing Magic in a long time. The games are interactive and I feel, on average, that I am being offered a good deal of choices in every match that I play. While Mono-Red looked good heading into the first week, as it often does, it seems Golgari Midrange has cemented itself as the deck to beat after the first MTGO PTQ last weekend.

Today, I would like to take a look at some decklists that I have played with so far in the format that feel generically powerful and potentially line up well against Golgari Midrange. When it comes to beating midrange, your choices are generally try to get under them, or go over the top of what they are doing.

I’d like to start by looking at something that can likely go over the top of what Golgari is doing:

If the name of the game is value, I think a deck similar to this one is well setup to be grinding it out. In particular, these two cards have been really impressive to me in all of my testing:

Disinformation Campaign
Blood Operative

Disinformation Campaign is a not-quite-Divination, not-quite-Mind Rot that keeps on giving as a game goes long. Unlike Divination, Disinformation serves to disrupt our opponent’s game plan a bit. Unlike Mind Rot, Disinformation can still be relevant in the late game when our opponent is empty handed. It effectively staples the text “Kicker (1ub): Draw a Card, they discard a card” onto every effect we have with Surveil. This means in any game that is looking to last a while, we can generate a consistent stream of two-for-ones.

Speaking of stapling effects onto Surveil - Blood Operative is like an annoying bug that just does not go away. The fact that Operative has Lifelink means that it quickly recovers the life you pay to return it to play. Another important thing to note, is that if you put Blood Operative into your graveyard while Surveiling, that will trigger its ability to return it to your hand. It is also worth mentioning that the ability to exile cards from a graveyard with Operative is often relevant. Golgari is looking to return creatures to their hand with Find // Finality and even the control decks often have Jump-start cards.

Another card I have been fairly impressed with in this archetype is Discovery // Dispersal. The Discovery front side gives us a good amount of consistency - allowing us to find lands early and action late. The fact that it Surveils 2 means that it can often “draw” two cards by putting Blood Operative into our discard pile. The fact that we can often empty their hand with Disinformation Campaign means that the Dispersal half of this card is also live in a lot of situations.

Something else I like about this deck is that, while it can be controlling, Blood Operative in conjunction with Doom Whisperer really allows us to close out a game when we need to turn the corner. These threats also allow us to leverage the fairly powerful Ritual of Soot as a sweeper, without really impacting our own threats.

The other two answers worth mentioning in this deck are a big part of the reason to be playing Blue right now:

Thought Erasure
Disdainful Stroke

Thought Erasure is kind of everything this style of deck wants in the early game. It allows us to pick apart our opponent’s game plan while setting up our own. A card like this allows us to disrupt, while also ensuring that we can hit our land drops consistently in the early game. In the late game, a discard spell like this becomes a dead draw, but because Erasure Surveils, it can still serve to rebuy our Disinformations and Operatives.

Disdainful Stroke might be a sideboard card, but I think it is one of the most impactful in this format. Almost all of the critical cards in midrange and control decks in the format cost four or more mana. This makes Stroke a huge swing in these matches.

Getting under Golgari is a bit more difficult than going over the top of it, I think. In fact, part of the reason Golgari has picked up is its ability to be competitive against the Red Aggressive decks that were popular week one. This means if we want to be smaller than Golgari, we need to do so in a way that lets us attack from a different angle:

As someone who is a sucker for a good tempo deck, this is one I have really taken a fancy to. The base of this deck has been floating around online since rotation happened, and Kat Light took it to a top 16 finish at the Standard Classic in Columbus. While the individual pieces of this deck tend to be a bit weak, the sum of their parts form a cohesive gameplan. The basic game plan is to play a variety of evasive threats in order to play this card:

Curious Obsession

While enchant creature cards often struggle to be Constructed playable, the card advantage Curious Obsession generates gives it a lot of power. If you make sure to play out Obsession on a turn where you are guaranteed to connect with a creature, it replaces itself with a new card immediately. This means if your opponent subsequently kills your creature, you still end up card neutral. Any time your opponent cannot kill your enchanted creature right away, the game starts to quickly snowball as you start drawing two cards every turn.

This deck gets to leverage the power of Obsession well by protecting the creature you attach it to. In addition to Siren Stormtamer, we have copies of Dive Down, Spell Pierce, and Wizard's Retort to help us keep our threats alive. When we do not find a copy of Obsession early, we can also put together aggressive starts on the back of powerful evasive threats like Tempest Djinn.

While I like this deck a lot and think it has some legs to it, there were two key issues it felt like after playing it for a bit:

  • When large things resolved, you could never kill them - only race them
  • Your draws without Obsession can be lackluster

This got me to thinking, what if I splashed a second color into a similar tempo shell? Earlier I had played a ub Pirates deck that felt like it had some legs under it. Borrowing some ideas from Mono-Blue and Pirates, I’ve arrived at the following deck list:

While Lookout's Dispersal isn’t quite a hard counter, stopping something unless our opponent pays four additional mana is close. Cast Down and Hostage Taker both provide reasonable removal for things that resolve.

While Dire Fleet Poisoner does not look like much at first glance, I have been thoroughly impressed with it as a card. A combat trick is something people rarely play around in Constructed. Poisoner often turns one of our other pirates into a removal spell, and then it can also trade inside of combat later on.

Daring Saboteur is another card I have been moderately impressed with. While looting every turn is obviously not as powerful as straight up drawing a card with Obsession, it allows us to have a good deal of consistency in the games we don’t find Obsession early.

Wrapping Up

I am thoroughly enjoying exploring this Standard format. While Golgari Midrange has pulled out ahead as the deck to beat, in my experience so far, it feels like we have the tools in the format for other decks to be competitive against it. What have you been liking in Standard so far? Are you jamming Golgari Midrange or toying around with tools to try and beat it? Let me know in a comment below!