Rakdos Midrange in Pioneer

An Updated Guide on

the Popular Archetype

Pioneer Rakdos Midrange Guide

Author: Zen Takahashi

Hello everyone!

Just over a year ago, the first Regional Championships took place, as we marked the official return of the Pro Tour and the competitive Magic scene.

A lot has happened since then, and I’ve been fortunate enough to compete in two Pro Tours and the World Championships during this period.

Therefore, it was quite amusing to me that a year on from that initial tournament, I was now about to compete in my fourth Regional Championships, where I was about to play almost exactly the same deck from that first event a year ago with a similar expected metagame as well! 

In this article, I will discuss the Rakdos Midrange deck I played at the most recent Regional Championships, going over why we chose to play the deck (again), the changes we made and a full sideboard guide with an overview on how to approach each of the key matchups. Finally, I will cover what changes I would make to the deck going forward.

(Disclaimer: We didn’t take in regard the Banned and Restricted Announcement of December 4th in this article. Not much changes overall, but obviously Karn, the Great Creator is not an issue anymore.) 

Why Play Rakdos (again)?

Rakdos Midrange has been struggling in Pioneer for much of this year, starting with its underwhelming performance at the beginning of the year at Pro Tour Phyrexia. The metagame became hostile for the deck, as Mono Green Devotion, Lotus Field and Rakdos Sacrifice were popular for much of the first half of the year, whereas Izzet Phoenix, Azorius Control and the various creature decks were less popular than they were at the end of last year.

Picklock Prankser WOE

However, this changed with the release of Wilds of Eldraine in September, which brought with it Sleight of Hand and Picklock Prankster. This brought back Izzet Phoenix right to the forefront of the metagame, which has historically been a slightly favorable matchup for Rakdos Midrange.

Even better though were the flow on effects of this development, as Rakdos Sacrifice became less popular due to its unfavorable matchup against Izzet Phoenix. In addition, Mono Green Devotion dropped in numbers, while Boros Convoke rose up the ranks thanks to the printing of Imodane’s Recruiter.

These were all positive movements for Rakdos Midrange.

On the other hand, Mono White Humans, which is a deck I love and what I played at the prior Regional Championships (you can read all about it here) was an unfortunate victim of these changes, as while Rakdos Sacrifice dropping in numbers was promising news, the decrease in Mono Green Devotion and the increase in Izzet Phoenix was not.

In the past, I used to not mind the Phoenix matchup with Humans, but with the addition of Picklock Pranksters, I think the matchup is now firmly in Phoenix’s favor. The adventure side of the Faerie is a lot less clunky than Pieces of the Puzzle and it helps dig for a turn three Brotherhood’s End, while the 1/3 body is surprisingly difficult for Humans to attack through. 

Pioneer Metagame Zen

Leading up to the Regional Championships, our team was locked on Rakdos Midrange (for the above reasons) and Izzet Phoenix (we just felt that the deck was excellent with the new additions). Ultimately, I decided on Rakdos because of my familiarity with the archetype, but also I felt that with this being the third Regional Championships in Pioneer, we now had a good understanding of the metagame in Australia/New Zealand, which we could leverage with Rakdos more than we could with Izzet.

I was also worried that the uptick in Phoenix in the prior weeks could lead to more hate cards like Unlicensed Hearse and Go Blank, and I felt that Phoenix was still somewhat vulnerable to these types of effects. 

In the end, four of us submitted Rakdos Midrange, and one of us submitted Izzet Phoenix.

Compared to the European and Canadian Regional Championships that came before ours, we expected more of the mirror, Izzet Phoenix and creature decks, while we expected less Mono Green Devotion and Rakdos Sacrifice.

When the metagame breakdown was released on the morning of the tournament, we were all quite pleased with our predictions and our decklist.

The major improvement we made to the stock list was increasing the land count to twenty-six. Since we added more Reckoner Bankbusters, we needed more mana in the late-game, so it made sense to increase the land count. To complement this, we took a page from Shota Yasooka’s playbook at Pro Tour Phyrexia and integrated Mutavault into the mix. 

Mutavault has been a fantastic addition to the deck, as Rakdos often has a spell it wants to cast or a Bankbuster it wants to activate, so having a cost-effective creature-land is preferable to Den of the Bugbear or Hive of the Eye Tyrant, which both cost four-mana to activate. 

The expanded land count and the introduction of Mutavault also made the deck more aggressive. We were more likely to make our land-drops, which led to more games where we curved out, and then we had additional creature-lands to apply pressure with.

In light of this, we opted to include more Reckoner Bankbusters, which capitalized on having an increased land count and reinforced our aggressive stance. We also added Archfiend of the Dross, as we could now afford to play more four-mana cards, and the Archfiend is great for closing out games quickly.

In particular, the card is excellent against Izzet Phoenix and Mono Green Devotion, as it doesn’t die to Lightning Axe and can fly over the Green’s ground creatures while also being bigger than Cavalier of Thorns. It also has a strong synergy with Reflection of Kiki-Jiki.

The decision to make the deck more aggressive helped improve our standing against our unfavorable matchups, particularly those seeking to outclass us through card advantage.

We don’t have the tools to keep up with them in the long game, so now we could lean into a strategy that revolved around curving out with creatures while disrupting them with cheap discard spells and then pressuring them with multiple creature-lands.

This plan was also effective against combo decks like Lotus Field.

However, this did come with drawbacks, as we were now worse positioned against the mirror and control decks, where you generally don’t want to flood out so having less lands is good, and Castle Locthwain outshines Mutavault in these matchups. 

As for the maindeck, we opted not to include any copies of Misery’s Shadow. The card is basically a sideboard slot for the Mono Green matchup that you can justify including into your main deck, as its floor isn’t too low against other decks.

However, given the metagame we anticipated at the Regional Championships, it didn’t seem necessary. 

With two Mutavaults in the mix, we unfortunately couldn’t play two copies of Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger. However, we still felt the mana base could support one copy. We also opted to play Dreadbore as our third two-mana removal spell, as we wanted an answer to resolved planeswalkers. Despite its lackluster nature, we felt that it was better than Sheoldred’s Edict, and given the constraint of already having four four-drops, The End couldn’t make the cut. 

When we decided to play Archfiend of the Dross, it made sense to play Go for the Throat over Power Word Kill, as the former could deal with your own Archfiend.

Finally, we included a Duress as a fifth discard spell. We believed that the cheap discard spells improved in this aggressive version, as the games were shorter, and hence you didn’t have to worry as much about topdecking dead discard spells later in the game. Also, with four four-drop creatures, they could enable a more assertive “protect the queen” game plan

As for the sideboard, we wanted three Duress in the 75 for its flexibility and alignment with our approach to overcome our unfavorable matchups, where our game plan revolved around curving 1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4, so it was important to have a large volume of one-mana discard spells.

Duress STA

Recognising our vulnerability to Mono Green Devotion, we included three Extinction Events in the sideboard. We felt that we didn’t have enough cheap removal to make Misery’s Shadow effective. 

I personally like Hidetsugu Consumes All a lot, so I was happy to play two in the sideboard.

Although Rakdos Sacrifice was on the decline, Boros Heroic and Boros Convoke were both on the rise, and I just like the saga against any deck with a playset of Wedding Announcement or Esika’s Chariot

In choosing between Lithomantic Barrage and Rending Volley, we leaned towards the former due to its versatility against a broader range of decks, such as Izzet Phoenix (killing Saheeli, Sublime Artificer), Azorius Control (killing Teferi, Hero of Dominaria) and Mono Green Devotion (acting as additional Fatal Pushes on the draw).

Against Humans, we felt they were similar in effectiveness as Rending Volley is an instant, but Barrage deals with an Adeline, Resplendent Cathar that has been pumped.

The inclusion of both Abrade and Kolaghan’s Command stemmed from having two Go for the Throat in the main deck, and we felt vulnerable against Abzan Greasefang and Gruul Vehicles in the absence of Rending Volley and Ritual of Soot, respectively. Abrade also serves well against creature decks, while Kolaghan’s Command shines in the mirror match.

For a detailed breakdown on piloting Rakdos Midrange, I highly recommend the guide I put together last year, which can be found here.

Matchup Guide: Rakdos Midrange

Sheoldred the Apocalypse DMU


-2 Thoughtseize

-1 Duress

It is important to emphasize a dynamic approach and avoid pigeonholing yourself into a specific role.

While card advantage is important, focusing too much on it risks you falling behind in the game – ultimately, you still need to get on board.

It is important that instead of focusing solely on trying to generate as much advantage via pure card quantity, you want to try to instead maximize your two-for-one’s while you’re progressing your board and minimize opportunities for them to get theirs e.g. always try to utilize the Stomp ability of Bonecrusher Giant, but don’t let them get an easy target with theirs.

Kroxa SLD

If you are ahead on board, you want to keep the relentless pressure going, as it puts them in a bind since they have to often take risks, such as jamming their Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and hope you don’t have a removal spell, and it cuts them out of time and mana to generate card advantage.

If you fall behind, you just need to try to either catch up by playing multiple spells a turn and deal with their board ASAP, or you need to take risks by deploying significant cards (usually one of your four-drops), and hope they don’t have an answer to it.

Life total is important in this matchup, as the lower your life total, the less room you have to maneuver as any creature-land on their side is potentially a lethal threat, or you may need to keep a spell in hand to not die to a Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger

I’m happy to deploy my removal spells aggressively, as you can’t afford to fall behind on board, but I do try to always hold one answer in hand for Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.

Also try to line up your removal so that you’re killing Bloodtithe Harvesters and Goblin tokens with Stomp, instead of with Fatal Push.

If your opponent has Heartless Act in their deck, board out all your Archfiend of the Dross

Matchup Guide: Izzet Phoenix

Arclight Phoenix

Our strategy is to exert maximum pressure on our opponent.

It is important that you play on curve, so while holding your discard spells for later is better, you’re also happy to cast it on turn one if you have a turn two and three play in hand.

With discard spells, your number one priority is to go for Treasure Cruise. If they don’t have it, go for Picklock Prankster, as it fuels and digs for Cruise, or go for Lightning Axe if you have a Sheoldred, the Apocalypse in hand.

The most effective way to play around Brotherhood’s End is by diversifying your board with a mix of creatures and vehicles.

Keep in mind that your blood tokens and treasure tokens also die to the artifact-destroying mode of the red sweeper.

Also make sure you avoid letting them trade a Brotherhood’s End and a Fiery Impulse for multiple of your creatures and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse/Archfiend of the Dross, as that’s a devastating exchange.

Treasure Cruise TSR

In post-board games, be careful as they can set up an unexpected kill with Saheeli, Sublime Artificer and a Crackling Drake by turning one of their tokens into a Drake on the turn they play it.

Also, be aware that you can copy Graveyard Trespasser at instant-speed with an active Reflection of Kiki-Jiki to exile an Arclight Phoenix.

Matchup Guide: Azorius Midrange

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria SLD

This matchup primarily comes down to Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and it’s important that we navigate the game differently before and after the planeswalker resolves.

Before Teferi (aka their turn five), our plan is to play cards in a manner that is as awkward for them as possible. Play creatures when they have Dovin’s Veto mana up, try to cast two spells when they have Absorb up (often a great turn to play a discard spell plus threat), and try to play your best card when they have four mana as they have to decide between stopping your card or resolving Memory Deluge/The Wandering Emperor.

Unlike matchups like Izzet Phoenix and Lotus Field where curving out is the key and hence you’re happy to play a discard spell on turn one, in this matchup you want to hold them until turn three or four to maximize your chance of hitting their key cards (usually Supreme Verdict or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria). 

Once Teferi, Hero of Dominaria resolves though, you have a lot less time, and you have to present a formidable board presence that can pressure the planeswalker.

It’s important that you still don’t over-extend into Supreme Verdict though, which is why creature-lands are so fantastic in this matchup – they help pressure planeswalkers without committing more to the board. 

Post-board, their sideboard plan matters a lot around how you sideboard. They generally have two trump cards to beat midrange decks. If they have Lyra Dawnbringers, then keep in the two Go for the Throat.

If they have Dream Trawlers, board in two Extinction Event, and if they have Starnheim Unleashed, board in two Hidetsugu Consumes All. If you do this, just board out two Bonecrusher Giants. 

Supreme Verdict LTC

Matchup Guide: Boros Convoke

Adeline Resplendent Cathar

The key to this matchup is you want to delay them from convoking as much as you can.

If you can delay them from convoking by a turn, you’ve almost semi-Time Walk’d them. Therefore, use your removal aggressively on any creature just to cut them off and buy time – I’m happy to Fatal Push or Go for the Throat a random 1/1 creature if it will stop them from convoking that turn. 

Hidetsugu Consumes All NEOVessel of the All Consuming NEO

Post-board, the matchup improves significantly since you bring in all these sweepers.

Try to use Extinction Event on odd since most of their best creatures are odd, and Hidetsugu Consumes All can sweep up their even-numbered tokens. Gleeful Demolition is their best card, and on the play you’re happy to pass with two mana up for Abrade since you can in response destroy any artifact they target with it so they don’t get the three tokens. 

Matchup Guide: Mono Green Devotion

Cavalier of Thorns M20

We need to adopt a tempo-orientated role, as the longer the game goes, the worse it gets for us – especially in pre-board games. Therefore, prioritize using your mana efficiently, deploy your removal aggressively and direct your attacks towards Karn, the Great Creator

Generally, the best way to execute this plan is by attacking their mana sources and applying pressure on board, hoping that they stumble along the way and cannot catch up by the time they have the mana to cast their big spells.

Unless their hand has one just big spell, it’s better to use your discard spells to slow them down, as they have too many live topdecks that will swing the game in their favor single-handedly if you let them have access to lots of mana.

Extinction Event IKO

It is important that you mulligan aggressively, especially in pre-board games, as you need hands to have both pressure and disruption.

In post-board games, Extinction Event is your best card by a significant margin, and unless they are threatening to combo you the following turn, you can afford to be greedy with it as they have a hard time playing around it since their deck has to get on board so they cannot really afford to hold back. 

You usually want to ignore Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner unless you can kill it in one attack.

If their graveyard is empty, it is worth holding up an instant-speed removal for Cavalier of Thorns, so that you can kill it with its enter-the-battlefield trigger on the stack, and they won’t have any good cards to return. Alternatively, you can also cast Go Blank to exile their graveyard, then kill the Cavalier so they have no targets to return.

Remember to activate your Reckoner Bankbusters and spend your blood tokens and treasure tokens before they resolve Karn, the Great Creator (you also often want to respond to Storm the Festival in a similar fashion as they’ll often get Karn with it, and you won’t have time to respond in between). 

Matchup Guide: Lotus Field Combo

Lotus Field ELD

We want to keep hands that either have a smooth curve and can aggro-out our opponent, or one that can aggressively target their hand with discard spells. A combination of the two is also good, but these are the type of hands we’re looking for. 

When you’re deploying your discard spells, you want to target cards like Sylvan Scrying or Impulse early if they don’t have Lotus Field and/or Thespian’s Stage yet.

Once they have set up, go for cards that enable them to go off, such as Pore Over the Pages, Hidden Strings and Emergent Ultimatum

Chandra Hopes Beacon MOM

Since most builds now look to combo mainly via two copies of Bala Ged Recovery plus Chandra, Hope’s Beacon, graveyard hate is quite effective against them.

If they cannot combo this way, their win condition usually involves Lair of the Hydra. If so, make sure you leave up multiple blockers, as they can get through one or two blockers via bouncing your creatures with Otawara, Soaring City or tapping them down with Hidden Strings.

Finally, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is strong in this matchup as it applies a lot of pressure quickly, especially if you can resolve it right before they resolve their Pore Over the Pages.

Matchup Guide: Rakdos Sacrifice

Bloodtithe Harvester VOW
Wichts Oven ELD

It is important that we prioritize efficiency and card advantage over sheer aggression, as trying to out-aggro them very seldom works in this matchup.

We also need to stop Witch’s Oven at all costs, so always cast your discard spell on turn one on the play to try to hit it, and post-board, it’s important to look for an answer for it.

Also, be careful of Mayhem Devil, as it triggers off you sacrificing Bloodtithe Harvester, blood tokens, treasure tokens and the copy token from Reflection of Kiki-Jiki.

If you see The Akroan War or Reckoner Bankbuster in their sideboard, you can bring in more discard spells.

You don’t want too many Thoughtseize in this matchup though, as the life loss is relevant. If you see that their list is light on removal spells, you can also try to pivot to a “protect the queen” plan by using your discard spells to pave a path for Sheoldred, the Apocalypse or Archfiend of the Dross.

Matchup Guide: Azorius Spirits

Rattlechains SOI

You should focus on dismantling your opponent’s board, as without creatures in play, they have no momentum and will end up succumbing to whatever you have.

Also, compared to a deck like Mono White Humans, their creatures are a lot smaller, so if you deal with their Supreme Phantom, you can often just race them by attacking on the ground.

It is important to recognise this, as if they fall behind on board, it forces them to have to play cards like Rattlechains and Spell Queller more aggressively so they can keep up on board, which is great for you.

Rattlechains and Spell Queller are far and away the two most important cards to play around.

If you know they’re holding it up, as mentioned above, focus on getting ahead of them on board instead of focusing on killing their creatures and walking into Rattlechains.

To beat Spell Queller, turn four is the key turn, as you want to cast a spell that will bait their Spell Queller, then cast a removal spell on the Queller to get back your first spell as well. Once they have five mana in play, it is more difficult to do this, since they can have Spell Queller with mana up for Rattlechains, Lofty Denial or Geistlight Snare

Notably, Hidetsugu Consumes All gets around Mausoleum Wanderer, and the exile effect can be crucial if you can hit a Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr.

Matchup Guide: Mono White Humans

Adeline Resplendent Cathar
Thalia's Lieutenant SOI

Similar to the Azorius Spirits matchup, you want to keep their board clear, so that they cannot create momentum via making the most of their various tribal synergies. The most important cards you need to be aware of are Thalia’s Lieutenant, Coppercoat Vanguard, Adeline, Resplendent Cathar and Brave the Elements

You usually want to use your removal spells on your turn to make their Brave the Elements worse, unless you are worried about them resolving a Coppercoat Vanguard or Adeline, Resplendent Cathar on their turn and get immediate advantage from it.

Remember, your Mutavault and the tokens from Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance are colorless, so they can block through Brave the Elements

The release of Lost Caverns of Ixalan has brought with it some new tools that are worth trying in Rakdos, but also a need to make slight adjustments to our list to account for the new Discovery combo variants.

Below is the list that my teammate Alex has been playing recently on Magic Online, and I like it a lot:

In light of the Discovery combo decks, it makes sense to cut the Dreadbore (and its new alternative, Molten Collapse) to only have instant-speed interaction. While I dislike Sheoldred’s Edict, I do understand its inclusion, as it deals with Quintorius Kand.

Personally, I would consider trying Bitter Triumph in this slot.

I like the addition of the Torch the Tower and moving the second Archfiend of the Dross to the sideboard, as the Torch can stop Quintorius Kand, and having four-mana creatures can be clunky against both the Discovery combo deck and Boros Convoke, which has risen in stock significantly over the past few weeks.

Reckoner Bankbuster NEO

In the sideboard, I like swapping out the Skysovereign, Consul Flagship for the fourth Reckoner Bankbuster as Rakdos Sacrifice continues to drop in popularity.

I personally wouldn’t cut the third Extinction Event as I’d be too worried about the Mono Green Devotion matchup, but it makes sense as that deck has also dropped in numbers significantly.

Finally, I’m not sure about cutting the second Lithomantic Barrage, but I understand it after you’ve added a Torch the Tower into the main deck. It is possible you still want the second Barrage though – likely over the Abrade or the Kolaghan’s Command.


The Regional Championships was bittersweet for us.

Michael, who played Izzet Phoenix, managed to come in 9th place and got the Pro Tour invite, as someone in Top 8 was already qualified so it was passed down. Michael’s prowess with the Phoenix deck is unmatched, as he’s now qualified for the Pro Tour with it in all three Regional Championships that were Pioneer.

Ultimately, though, having picked up multiple Pro Tour invites at every event up to now, it was disappointing to have only come home with one.

Two of us that played Rakdos came close as they finished in the Top 16, with Calum losing his win-and-in match for Top 8, while the other two (including myself) did poorly.

However, we did much better as a group the following day in the $5k side event, as both myself and Paul made Top 8 of that, before splitting with the rest of the Top 8, so that we could head to the airport for our flight home.

In the end, our Rakdos list performed well, as between the four of us we had a 71% (39-16) win rate. I would highly recommend both the deck and our list going forward.

After an extremely busy year of playing Magic, it is now time to take a break!

Since we’re in the Southern Hemisphere, we’re about to head into summer, and with Christmas and New Years just around the corner, I plan to take a break for the next few months!

My next major event is the Regional Championships in early-March next year, so I plan to get my hands into Modern sometime around January next year.

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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Best Cards in Modern – Red [2022]

April 20th, 2022|Constructed|

We asked our seasoned team of authors a tough question: What do they think are the best ten red cards in Magic the Gathering's Modern format. We then went a step further and created a Top 5. Learn what they think about the very best cards of one of the game's most popular formats.

Top Ten Decks in Legacy 2022

April 1st, 2022|Constructed, Highlights|

In our latest article, Zen Takahashi analyses the best Legacy decks and comes up with his Top 10 Legacy decks of 2022. If you are curious to find out if your deck made the cut, or simply interested in what's going on in Legacy these days, keep on reading right here!

Best Cards in Modern – Black [2022]

February 28th, 2022|Constructed|

We asked our seasoned team of authors a tough question: What do they think are the best ten black cards in Magic the Gathering's Modern format. We then went a step further and created a top 5. Learn what they think about the very best cards of one of the game's most popular formats.

Rainbow Dredge in Modern

February 16th, 2022|Constructed|

Today’s article is all about Dredge in Magic: The Gathering, more specifically, Dredge in Modern. Zen Takahashi, one of the creators of Rainbow Dredge, took a look at the history of the deck and its current state in the meta. He’s also going over different iterations of the deck, as well as all the current sideboard options available.

Best Cards in Modern – Blue [2022]

February 4th, 2022|Constructed|

We asked our seasoned team of authors a tough question: What do they think are the best ten blue cards in Magic the Gathering's Modern format. We then went a step further and created a top 5. Learn what they think about the very best cards of one of the game's most popular formats.

Blue Zenith in Legacy

January 14th, 2022|Constructed|

Zen takes a look at a new deck that did surprisingly well in recent Legacy online events. Green Sun's Zenith and blue Counterspells are the engine in this midrange powerhouse.