Playing in big Magic events with lots of money on the line is a bit different than streaming fun decks or playing Arena at home in your underwear. While Magic is by definition a game, high level tournaments are also competitions that put a high premium on winning. You traveled and either paid to play or put in the work to qualify for a big event, so doing well matters!
As such, picking a deck for such an event can be difficult.
Do you play an established archetype? Do you try to metagame or go rogue? Playing something established is usually the safer choice, but if you get your rogue deck right you may just take the entire event by surprise. More often than not however, decks without a positive track record lack success for a reason and you risk crashing and burning your important event.
One of the things I pride myself on as a Magic player is having a flexible range; I think I do a good job at playing the established decks when appropriate while also being able to take a risk sometimes on a deck that’s a little more off the radar. Some players stick to playing “the best deck” entirely and never take any risks in deck selection (congrats on your trophy Andrew!), while others will only play rogue decks and often fail except for the events they get it really right (congrats on winning the Cube qualifier Ali!).
I prefer to be in the middle, as picking your spots is one of the most important deck selection skills you can have.
So when I show up to one of the biggest events of the year, the SCG Tour Invitational at SCGCON, with two rogue decks across both formats, you know that I’m serious about both of them.
Rakdos Midrange | Guilds Standard | Jim Davis, 35th SCG Invitational
- Creatures (24)
- 1 Dire Fleet Daredevil
- 1 Goblin Instigator
- 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 4 Dusk Legion Zealot
- 4 Midnight Reaper
- 4 Plaguecrafter
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Siege-Gang Commander
- Planeswalkers (3)
- 3 Angrath, the Flame-Chained
- Instants (3)
- 3 Vraska's Contempt
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Lava Coil
- Enchantments (1)
- 1 Arguel's Blood Fast
Rakdos Midrange is a deck that I’ve been working on for a while now on my stream and I wrote about/did a video on a month ago.
Put simply, this deck is awesome. I went 6-2 in the Standard portion of the Invitational with it and have three straight 5-0s with it in my last three competitive Constructed leagues on Magic Arena. The deck is both fundamentally powerful in the abstract, containing many of the format’s best cards, while also strategically powerful when it comes to the current Standard metagame; this deck is excellent against both Golgari Midrange and Drakes decks of all varieties.
A true midrange deck at heart, Rakdos Midrange operates in the same sphere that Golgari Midrange operates - powerful removal spells, an early game revolving around value creatures, and big over the top haymakers. The difference is that mixing Red and Black gives you access to more of what really matters in the format.
One of the most important elements of Standard at the moment is creatures that are resistant to removal spells (Rekindling Phoenix, Arclight Phoenix, Midnight Reaper, etc) and the removal spells that actually tag them. When you’re playing Golgari or Izzet, you’ve got up to four copies of Vraksa's Contempt or Lava Coil respectively, and it’s important to be able to save them so they line up with your opponent’s resilient threats. Having to Lava Coil a Crackling Drake that is going to kill you instead of being able to save it for a later Arclight Phoenix can often lead to a game loss down the road.
However by mixing Red and Black together, we get access to a wide swath of answers as well as resilient threats. With a maximum of four Lava Coil and four Vraksa's Contempt at our disposal, we never need to fear these recursive or resilient threats. Furthermore, we actually get to play a pile of them ourselves! Every Lava Coil that Midnight Reaper soaks up is one less Lava Coil for our Rekindling Phoenix that follows it. This makes life a lot easier on us, as we can just run out our threats and not need to try and extract our opponent’s Lava Coil first.
We also make awesome use of one of the best tools in the format, Plaguecrafter.
Many of the new Izzet decks are focused on playing a Niv-Mizzet, Parun with Spell Pierce or Dive Down backup and boy does Plaguecrafter make that look silly. Again though, aside from being an excellent card in the format, Plaguecrafter also just plays very well in the deck. Sometimes it will be nothing more than a Cruel Edict, but often you will be sacrificing a Dusk Legion Zealot or drawing a card from Midnight Reaper when you sacrifice. Being able to get it back with Memorial to Folly is also excellent.
Siege-Gang Commander may have felt like a plant for ill-fated goblin decks in Standard, but the reality is that Siege-Gang Commander is an awesome top end card. Siege-Gang Commander completely takes over a battlefield if you get to untap with it, being able to play awesome defense while pressuring planeswalkers, creatures, and life totals. Siege-Gang Commander is a great stabilizing element, and with so few decks playing mass removal it often gets killed leaving behind three tokens that can attack, block, and be fodder for things like Plaguecrafter.
Angrath, the Flame-Chained is also an overlooked gem that is not only a powerful planeswalker but synergizes perfectly with the deck. Have you ever experienced the joy of stealing someone’s creature and then sacrificing it to your Plaguecrafter before giving it back? Let me tell you, it is nice. Also great is getting to draw a card off Midnight Reaper when you steal their large Wildgrowth Walker and sacrifice it at the end of turn. A planeswalker that grinds great and synergizes with most of the deck? Sounds perfect to me.
The deck is a little light at two mana, so the remaining cards in the deck fill out the curve and help to push the themes.
Dire Fleet Daredevil is fantastic in the deck, but as it’s not a true 2-drop and not great in some matchups it’s just a sweet singleton. The same goes for Arguel's Blood Fast; it’s an excellent card advantage tool in many matchups but you really can’t afford to draw more than one. While it’s also dangerous to flip, Temple of Aclazotz is also obscene in the deck, sacrificing stolen Angrath creatures and protecting your Rekindling Phoenixes from exiling removal.
Lastly, Goblin Instigator is mostly just filler. I really wanted another 2-drop that curves well into Plaguecrafter and Goblin Instigator is the best option available. It also helps protect you against the low curve White Weenie and Mono-Red Aggro decks and occasionally sacrifices to Siege-Gang Commander.
With the maindeck so good against most of the format, the deck does struggle a bit against the format’s outliers - very fast aggro and very slow control. We have game in both matchups Game 1, but drawing too many Angrath against aggro or Lava Coils against control will often cause problems.
Against control decks we get to bring in quite the package, getting access to both Duress to force our spells through as well as Banefire for the killing stroke. The goal here is to play stuff at times our opponents don’t want to answer it, stick a threat or two and get the snowball rolling. Each threat they need to deal with opens a window for another threat, hopefully cumulating in an unstoppable Banefire for the win.
Karn, Scion of Urza gives us another non-creature threat that can help draw more cards, also being good against other midrange decks when you need a bit more card draw power.
Against aggressive decks we get to shave down on our more expensive and grindy cards for more early removal. Golden Demise is key in handling both Adanto Vanguard and History of Benalia while buying you time to get to your bigger threats. The city’s blessing is also extremely relevant as playing a Golden Demise after a Siege-Gang Commander is usually game over.
Moment of Craving and Fungal Infection give us a few more spot removal spells that answer Adanto Vanguard nicely with some extra value tacked on. As long as you buy time to get to Siege-Gang Commander you’ll usually be in good shape. Don’t be afraid to board in a few Duress against Mono-Red if they seem to be on the Treasure Map/Experimental Frenzy plan post-board.
And That’s Not All
However, the deck being fun, great, and excellent in the current metagame isn’t all!
We haven’t even gotten to Rakdos yet!
Ravnica Allegiance enters the Standard format next month and if we get to trim down our filler, add some awesome new gold cards, and replace our Cinder Barrens with Blood Crypts, things are going to get really awesome really fast.
I can’t wait!
Wait you’re still here?
Oh yes, the Invitational was a split format event.
What did rogue deck did I play in Modern? Well wouldn’t you like to know.
Oh, you would?
Loxobots | Modern | Jim Davis, 35th SCG Invitational
- Creatures (35)
- 1 Hope of Ghirapur
- 3 Blade Splicer
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 4 Leonin Arbiter
- 4 Memnite
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 4 Venerated Loxodon
- Enchantments (3)
- 3 Legion's Landing
- Artifacts (4)
- 4 Mox Opal
To be continued...
(Tune back in on Monday right here on CoolStuffInc.com for my video and article all about Loxobots, the Modern deck I played at the SCG Invitational!)