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Winning Fair with Rakdos Midrange in Explorer/Pioneer

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A common complaint about fair midrange decks in older formats is that they are only at best 55% against anything. Because they aren't trying to execute some sort of linear plan or have some sort of game-breaking combination of cards, they can never truly overpower someone or take advantage of a deck that is unprepared or unable to handle a certain combination of cards. They also lack the free wins that come super explosive draws.

So why bother?

Because sometimes playing good disruption backed with good cards is just, well, good! You get to pick apart what your opponent is doing, tailor your maindeck and sideboard to react appropriately, and play a bunch of cards that are excellent on rate and don't need any help to be good.

Right now, this is one of the best ways to approach Explorer/Pioneer. As a note for paper players, Explorer is the new MTG Arena format that is most of Pioneer at present and will eventually become Pioneer once all the cards are released. This deck is extremely similar in both formats, so I will go over both decklists, starting with the Explorer deck I played in last weekend's qualifier.

Explorer


The deck is honestly quite easy to break into component parts, which all follow the same basic formula - the best possible one for one removal and lots of two for one threats that can accrue advantage while also killing quickly.

Thoughtseize
Fatal Push
Heartless Act

It's not difficult to see why the deck is attractive when looking at the removal suite. Thoughtseize and Fatal Push are two of the best Black spells of all time, bringing a peak level of efficiency often reserved for older formats. This ability to break up what your opponent is doing so quickly and cheaply is what allows this deck to thrive into the midgame. Beyond those two things get a little rougher, but Heartless Act does the trick in a pinch. One Hagra Mauling // Hagra Broodpit also exists in the mana base to help have more answers to cards like Korvold, Fae-Cursed King.

When you get to the threat base, what's amazing is how much value you get off of each of them.

Bloodtithe Harvester
Graveyard Trespasser // Graveyard Glutton
Bonecrusher Giant

Bonecrusher Giant is one of the best Red midrange cards ever printed, providing a straight two for one removal spell and threat combo, while Bloodtithe Harvester is cheap, hits hard, can kill things, and leaves behind a blood for some extra value. However, the real gem is Graveyard Trespasser // Graveyard Glutton, which gets to mess up all sorts of graveyard plans for your opponent, while also gaining life and being a pain to kill. Trespasser is phenomenal against any deck that relies on removal to deal with creatures as it will almost always be a two for one.

However, if the deck was just removal spells and these solid creatures that wouldn't really be enough. The real draw is a trio of Red cards that provide immense advantage and are good at getting ahead and staying ahead.

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Glorybringer

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki is the card of 2022 and it's as good as ever here. Both sides are must kills that snowball super well, and almost every creature in the deck is a phenomenal, game-ending target for Reflection of Kiki-Jiki. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is probably the best planeswalker in the format, providing basically everything you could ever want in the deck. Topping it all off is former Standard all-star Glorybringer, which is a monster threat that also can easily take out creatures and planeswalkers.

Hive of the Eye Tyrant
Den of the Bugbear
Takenuma, Abandoned Mire

The cherry on top is a silky-smooth mana base full of dual lands, but most importantly a whole host of utility lands. Between the four creature lands in Hive of the Eye Tyrant and Den of the Bugbear and the two channel lands in Takenuma and Sokenzan, you almost always have something to do with your mana. This is very important in a removal-heavy Thoughtseize deck that is often trading resources.

The sideboard contains the usual mix of additional specific removal and discard, but there are a few standouts.

Hazoret the Fervent
The Meathook Massacre
Hidetsugu Consumes All

Hazoret the Fervent is the key to the mirror as well as very hard to kill other places. It can also come in against decks like Mono-Green that can't kill it, as well as control decks if you need an additional threat. The Meathook Massacre is a bit slow in the format, but can help clean up creature decks, while Hidetsugu Consumes All is your bullet for the various food decks based around Witch's Oven.

Pioneer

The Pioneer version of the deck is extremely similar, with only a few more cards available that tip the scales.

Dreadbore
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Dreadbore is a big loss, as the deck is a little soft to planeswalkers and larger creatures, especially those with mana value greater than five and that involve counters. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is also a nice top end threat that helps to provide a little more graveyard hate as well as token production and lifegain. Beyond the big two however there are just a few small ones like Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and some sideboard cards.

Here's an example of the Pioneer version of the deck, as played by misplacedginger:


For the most part, the deck is intact in Explorer and is very playable as one of the best decks in both formats.

Gameplay Tips

In a lot of ways this is your classic, modern-day Magic midrange deck. Keep your opponent off-balance, get on the board, get ahead, and ride your good cards to victory. It is also important both in deck-building and in sideboard to make sure that your answers line up well with their threats. Having a plan is important for all your big matchups because even if the deck is somewhat proactive you still need to have the right answers at the right times.

Some more specific examples:

Play To The Board

Playing to the board is everything in a midrange deck like this. Your goal is to keep your opponent off the board, while simultaneously building your own board. This honestly boils down to a lot of basic Magic strategy stuff - try and spend all of your mana each turn, and prioritize getting down threats and permanents over casting spells whenever possible.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Glorybringer

This is a large part of why Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer are two of the best cards in the deck. Each of them has the ability to come down and be a massive presence on the board, while also removing something from their board. This snowballing effect is a large part of what makes the deck great. If your opponent ever falls behind, it's very hard to catch back up, and you have so much removal that it's hard for you to fall behind.

Play Fable of The Mirror-Breaker Over Everything Turn Three

This plays very much into the prior point, but is so important it gets its own section.

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki

It's hard to undersell how good of a card Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki is, but it's also the kind of card that operates over a three turn window. Starting that cycle as soon as possible is almost always correct. The treasure making potential of Goblin Shaman token is huge when you're trying to snowball an advantage, and getting Reflection of Kiki-Jiki onto the board on a turn you're untapped and can do other things is just excellent.

Fatal Push

Remember how good the treasures are for triggering the revolt on Fatal Push, and don't forget that when Fable of the Mirror-Breaker flips over into Reflection of Kiki-Jiki it leaves the battlefield temporarily, which also triggers revolt for Fatal Push.

Think About What You Are Trying To Accomplish With Your Removal

While this is a very removal heavy deck, it's not a control deck. You don't want to be in a spot where all you have is removal spells when you really want a threat, because that flies in the face of our previous rule of playing to the board.

Is your goal with your removal to kill of their creatures? If they are just playing a deck like Humans or Mono-Green Aggro, then yes, you're going to want to just load up and kill everything, but make sure it's a step in the road to winning the game and not just a shooting gallery.

Is your goal to answer a specific planeswalker or certain kind of threat? Make sure you have the answer you need, be it Murderous Rider for a planeswalker or Abrade for a certain artifact, and trim down on the ones that you don't. Also think about what kills what; if you're concerned about Glorybringer in the mirror, try to use Fatal Push or Stomp on their early creatures and not waste your Heartless Act until you need it.

Is there a way that threat can be answered without removal? A card like Graveyard Tresspasser // Graveyard Glutton is not a card you want to try and use a removal spell on. Instead, you can look for another path like just getting on the board and getting into combat. It's okay to take a hit or two if it means you can set up your board better and work toward the proper answer to a threat.

Good Ole Magic Skills

In a lot of ways, this Rakdos Midrange deck is just a fundamentals deck. While you can learn how to play and get really good at Modern Tron, Legacy Storm, or Pioneer Lotus Field Combo, those decks are very linear and insular. Being good at one of them is a particular skill, which doesn't always translate to other formats or decks.

Midrange decks like Rakdos tend to test your fundamental Magic skills you've learned from playing many other "normal" Magic decks in various formats, and even limited. This is great because playing them both flexes the muscles you've been working on your entire time playing Magic, as well as training and strengthening them for future.

Rakdos Midrange is an excellent choice for your next Explorer or Pioneer event!


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