Rakdos Midrange in Pioneer

A Guide to One of Pioneer’s Most Powerful Decks

Rakdos Midrange

Author: Zen Takahashi

Hello everyone!

A few weeks ago, I competed in the inaugural Regional Championship in Sydney! I was hoping to write this article sooner, but after the tournament I went straight to Hawaii and New York for vacation, so I haven’t quite had the time to put pen to paper until now!

I was very excited about this event, as it was my first major tournament since competing in Grand Prix Nagoya in early 2020. I ultimately decided to play Rakdos Midrange, which I put up a 4-4 score with. A fairly underwhelming result, but I was extremely happy with my preparation. David Mines, one of my teammates for the event and who played the same 75 as me, ended up coming in second place – just coming short of the World Championships invite.

In this article, I will go over my preparation for the event, why I decided to play Rakdos Midrange and the decklist I submitted. As well as some tips and tricks to play the deck and a sideboard guide against the top decks in the format. 

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse DMU

The Team

As mentioned above, since this was the first major tournament in quite some time, I wanted to prepare for it as much as I could. Luckily, a lot of other players felt similarly, and so we decided to try to put together a team of the top Australian and Kiwi players. We ended up putting together quite the roster, with an eleven person team as followed:

  • Callum Howes
  • Calum Gittins (Previous World Magic Cup competitor)
  • Connor McGillivray
  • David Mines (Former Gold Pro, Pro Tour 8, Grand Prix Champion, World Magic Cup Top 8)
  • Jason Chung (Former Platinum Pro, Pro Tour Top 8, multiple Grand Prix Top 8, World Magic Cup Top 8)
  • Michael Russell
  • Paul Jackson (Former Gold Pro, Pro Tour Top 8, Grand Prix Champion)
  • Slava Sheynin
  • Tyler Visser (Multiple Pro Tour appearances)
  • William Li
  • Zen Takahashi (Me!)

In addition, we also corresponded with Simon Nielsen, Petr Sochurek and Liam Fisher, who were playing in Regional Championships in other parts of the world. 

I had worked with a few of the players on the team before – either because they were locally based or we used to test for Pro Tours together, while some I had always wanted to work with but never had the chance to, and others I didn’t know at all prior to preparing for this event together. Although we were all from the same region, we were split over four time zones in Australasia alone, so most of our preparation was on Magic Online with regular discussions over Discord and Zoom

Overall, I felt like our preparation was phenomenal. Maybe it was because tools like Discord and Zoom weren’t as prevalent pre-COVID, but I honestly felt like our preparation was about as good as, if not better, than the level of preparation we used to have in Team MTG Mint Card back in the day. Everyone’s communication on Discord was excellent, with lively and engaging discussions every day, and the structured weekly catch up calls allowed us to focus on where we were all at and try to pinpoint the key areas we wanted to explore or find answers to. In addition, we also just played so much Magic Online, as we collectively played over 2500 matches in the two months between the release of Dominaria United and the tournament.

Throughout our preparation, we had a goal of trying to get two people qualified for the Pro Tour, with a stretch goal of either getting a third person qualified or one of us taking down the event and qualifying for the World Championships. In the end, we hit our goal as David Mines and Michael Russell qualified, and we just missed out on hitting both of our stretch goals as Calum and Callum both missed out on a Pro Tour invite on tiebreakers, while David Mines heartbreakingly lost the finals. Excluding teammates playing against each other (which happened a lot in later rounds) and draws, we had a final win percentage of 64% (49-28), which I am pretty proud of considering the level of competition at the event. 

Why Rakdos Midrange

If you’ve been following my recent articles, you will know that I have been a big fan of the aggro decks in Pioneer, having played and written about Mono Red Aggro, Mono Blue Spirits and Mono White Humans. With all that said though, in the end, I succumbed to playing the boring, midrange deck of the format! 

As I discussed in my most recent article about Mono White Humans, I had given up on the other aggro decks because the Rakdos Midrange matchup was just too difficult, and I expected Rakdos to be the most popular deck at the tournament, and definitely be present at the top tables as the event went deeper. Mono White Humans was the aggro deck I was the highest on as I felt that it had a slightly favorable matchup against Rakdos, especially as Rakdos players were starting to shave on Rending Volleys and Hidetsugu Consumes All from their sideboard.

However, this all changed after the Magic Online Championship, where Nathan Steuer and Marcio Carvalho dominated the tournament with Blue-Red Phoenix.

After that, Phoenix became more and more popular, to the point that it had about the same metagame share as Rakdos Midrange and Mono Green Devotion. It then felt like I could not play Humans anymore due to its poor Phoenix matchup, so I gave up on the deck. 

Once all the aggro options were exhausted, I just decided to play Rakdos because the rest of the team had worked on the deck so much.

That’s one of the great benefits to being on a team – you can all be focusing on different decks, so that as the deadline looms closer, you can then converge onto the best option without having to start from the beginning.

Since most of the team were already keen on Rakdos from before, and our regular Zoom meetings had us unified on what we liked and what we wanted to try with the deck, I felt very confident about swapping to it. Our team actually played about 1000 matches on Magic Online with the deck over the two months, which I expect would be one of the higher figures from the season.

Our results with the deck in testing were as follows:

Rakdos Midrange MTGO

Rakdos Midrange

Rakdos Midrange Deck

Overview

Eight of us ended up playing Rakdos Midrange, while Callum, Michael and Jason played Mono Blue Spirits, Blue-Red Phoenix and Keruga Fires, respectively. All of us that played Rakdos played the exact same maindeck, with one or two cards different in the sideboard. 

Our maindeck was essentially the stock list, with the exception of not playing Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance, as we needed more black sources to support the three Invoke Despairs. It seemed that everyone basically reached the same conclusions, which makes sense considering how much time there was leading up to the Regional Championships. 

Invoke Despair NEO

The main differences with our list compared to others’ were the three copies of Invoke Despair and the three copies of Go Blank in the sideboard. We simply found Invoke Despair to be the best card for the mirror matchup.

We extensively tried Reckoner Bankbuster and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, but the issue we found with the vehicles was that they were great when you were ahead or at parity, but were often not enough if you were behind. On the other hand, Invoke Despair was exactly the card you wanted to draw when you were behind, while still being excellent if you were ahead or at parity.

I believe all of us played three copies of the card, and I believe that this was the most key innovation from our preparation. From our testing, we had a 61% win percentage in the mirror in post-board games, which was largely thanks to this card. I did still play one Reckoner Bankbuster though, as four Invokes would have been too clunky, and I liked having Bankbuster for the Phoenix matchup.

The three copies of Go Blank was because we wanted to respect Blue-Red Phoenix as we expected some top players to pilot the deck, while also finding the card to be decent against Mono Green Devotion. In hindsight, I wish I had played two copies and stuck with two Duress, as Phoenix ended up not being as popular as we initially thought.

Tips and Tricks

The deck is really good at turning the corner and being aggressive. Against slower decks like Keruga Fires or Blue-White Control, you will play the aggressive role from the beginning, but even against creature decks, you will occupy the controlling role for the first few turns of the game, but then often quickly turn the corner and get aggressive to put your opponent on the back foot / put them in a spot where they don’t have the time to draw out of it. A Graveyard Trespasser plus Bonecrusher Giant represents eight damage a turn, so you can easily swing the game around with two attacks.

You generally don’t want to keep two-land hands on the play unless you have a Bloodtithe Harvester to potentially loot with using the blood token. The deck is mana hungry and cannot afford to miss its third land drop. However, you don’t want to mulligan too much as you mostly trade one-for-one so being behind on cards is costly. Luckily, between Harvester and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, you have a lot of ways to fix your draws later. One of the main exceptions to this rule is against Mono Green Devotion, where you often do need to mulligan aggressively for early interaction. 

Bloodtithe Harvester VOW
Blightstep Pathway SLDSearstep Pathway SLD

When you mulligan and you’re unsure about what card to put back, I’d generally lean towards holding onto lands. The deck has a lot of mana sinks, and you can use Harvester / Fable to discard excess lands later in the game, but it’s hard to come back if you miss your early land drops.

Be careful of how you sequence your mana, especially with Blightstep Pathway. You generally want at least two red sources, so you can escape Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger and double-cast two red spells. However, in post-board games, you also need to balance that with needing four black sources to cast Invoke Despair. If you’re unsure, I’d prefer to take two damage off Blood Crypt and hold the Pathway, so you can play it once you have more information later about which color you need. 

If you have zero or one card in hand, Castle of Locthwain interacts well with Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, as you would gain one life or lose zero life to draw a card, respectively. However, the life loss from the Castle happens before the gain-life trigger from Sheoldred. 

If you or your opponent have an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in play, then always play Blightstep Pathway on the Mountain-side. 

You seldom cast Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger on the front side, especially against creature decks. You ideally want to get it into the graveyard by discarding it to a blood token or a Fable. Often you want to try to hide it by discarding it and escaping it back on the same turn. Remember to also not expose it to your opponent’s Graveyard Trespasser or Cemetery Illuminator.

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse DMU
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker NEOReflection of Kiki-Jiki NEO

If you have two Reflection of Kiki-Jiki in play, even if one has summoning sickness, on your opponent’s end-step you can make a copy of Kiki-Jiki as many times as you want for one mana each. On your turn, you can then attack with them all, or use your mana to then use the extra Kiki-Jikis to copy a bigger creature like Graveyard Trespasser or Bonecrusher Giant for a bigger attack. If your opponent casts a sorcery speed-removal spell on their turn on one of your Kiki-Jikis, you can create a copy in response. Then on your opponent’s end-step, before the token gets sacrificed, you can use the token (which has haste) to create further Kiki-Jikis to keep the chain going indefinitely with only one real Reflection of Kiki-Jiki in play so long as you have enough mana to keep it going.

Against Blue-Red Phoenix or Abzan Greasefang, you can use Reflection of Kiki-Jiki to make a copy of Graveyard Trespasser at instant-speed to exile an Arclight Phoenix or a vehicle. 

If you and your opponent both control a Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, then the active player’s trigger goes on the stack first, hence resolving last. So if you are on two life, then you will die on your draw-step. 

Some ways to trigger revolt for Fatal Push include treasure tokens, blood tokens, flipping Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, casting the front side of Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger and sacrificing Bloodtithe Harvester. Against Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, you can sacrifice a blood token to trigger revolt for Fatal Push and kill the Sheoldred before you draw off the token. 

Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger SLD

Sideboard Guide

Below is how I would sideboard against the top ten most popular decks in the format right now.

Matchup Guide: Rakdos Midrange (Mirror)

Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger SLD

If your opponent has multiple five-drops like Invoke Despair and/or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, then board out all copies of Misery’s Shadow and keep in two Thoughtseize.

Matchup Guide: Mono Green Devotion

Cavalier of Thorns M20

GOES IN

+3 Extinction Event

+2 Go Blank

+1 Duress

+1 Abrade

Matchup Guide: Blue-Red Phoenix

Arclight Phoenix GRN

GOES IN

+3 Go Blank

+1 Duress

+1 Reckoner Bankbuster

+1 Unlicensed Hearse

+1 Extinction Event (two on the draw)

If they do not play Young Pyromancer, then board out all copies of Bonecrusher Giant and keep in Bloodtithe Harvester in on the draw and bring in one or two copies of Rending Volley instead.

Matchup Guide: Mono White Humans

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben WMC

Matchup Guide: Blue-White Control

Matchup Guide: Keruga Fires

Fires of Invention ELD

Matchup Guide: Mono Blue Spirits

Rattlechains SOI

Matchup Guide: Abzan Greasefang

Greasefang, Okiba Boss NEO

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this article, as I covered in depth my preparation for the event, why I decided to play Rakdos Midrange for the inaugural Regional Championships, the decklist I submitted, tips and tricks on playing the deck and how to sideboard against the top decks of the format! 

After this intense period of playing Magic nearly every day to prepare for the tournament, I plan to take a break for a few weeks before starting preparations for the next Regional Championships, which will be in Melbourne on the first weekend of March. Since nearly everyone on our team has qualified for the next one as well, I am excited to work with the same group again, as well as helping David and Michael prepare for the upcoming Pro Tour! 

Till next time!

Zen Takahashi

@mtgzen on Twitter 

About the Author

Zen Takahashi is a seasoned writer and mainstay on the Three for One Trading writing team. He is an avid Eternal player from Auckland, New Zealand and enjoys competing in local Legacy events and playing Old School over webcam with friends.

Previously, he was a Silver Pro for multiple years and his results included five Grand Prix Top 8s, a 27th place at Pro Tour Amonkhet, three consecutive online Regional PTQ wins, and he co-created the Modern Dredge deck.

Nowadays though, he primarily plays Legacy, his favorite format, but he also branches out into Pioneer and Modern.

Zen Takahashi

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