Double Rakdos in Standard
Rakdos: Reanimator and Midrange
Midrange PTQ & Reanimator PT
Author: Zen Takahash
I have recently returned from Pro Tour March of Machine in Minneapolis, where I finished 8-8 in the main event, losing my final two matches, where a win in either would have re-qualified me for the next Pro Tour. However, this was short lived, as I won the Pro Tour Qualifier (PTQ) on Sunday to qualify for Barcelona! The trip was incredible, and it was fantastic to see all my friends who I hadn’t seen for years and compete in my first Pro Tour in four years since Mythic Championship I in 2019!
I will definitely be writing a tournament report on my preparation and the event itself over the coming weeks, which will be posted right here at Three for One Trading, but for now I thought it would be best to write about the Standard decks I played. I’m sure many of you will be itching to try new decks on Arena or at your local game store!
In this article, I will be going over the two Rakdos decks I played over the weekend – the Rakdos Reanimator deck I submitted for the Pro Tour, and the Rakdos Midrange deck I submitted for the PTQ on Sunday.
Pro Tour Candidate: Rakdos Reanimator
This Reanimator list is what I played at the Pro Tour, where I finished 3-7 in the standard portion.
I beat two Esper Legends and Mono White Control, and lost to three Grixis Midrange, two Esper Legends, Azorius Soldiers and 4C Reanimator.
I think that our deck choice was poor for the event, but my matchups were also quite unfortunate, as I paired against nine decks with counterspells and didn’t play against any Rakdos Midrange, which I believe is a slightly favorable matchup.
The Deck – Rakdos Reanimator
3 Cut Down
The Deck – Rakdos Reanimator
3 Cut Down
As for how I reached this choice, I initially tried various decks in the format, but quickly settled on playing a Rakdos-based midrange deck. I simply felt that Bloodtithe Harvester, Reckoner Bankbuster and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker were too good not to play.
I spent quite some time working on Grixis Midrange and Grixis Sharks (with Chrome Host Seedshark and Tezzeret, Betrayer of Flesh), but ultimately gave up on both decks due to their manabase and their vulnerability to Razorlash Transmogrant. The issue with the Grixis manabase wasn’t the colored sources, but rather, just how many of the lands came into play tapped after turn three with Xander’s Lounge, Blackcleave Cliffs and Darkslick Shores.
These Rakdos-based decks are very mana hungry, even late into the game, and I lost countless games because my seventh or eighth land didn’t come into play untapped after drawing a Bladecoil Serpent off a Reckoner Bankbuster or a Fable of the Mirror-Breaker off an Invoke Despair and not being able to cast them due to a tapped land.
At this point, I was basically set on playing Rakdos Midrange.
The deck felt smooth, and I liked that it had a favorable matchup against creature decks, while also not being that behind against its bad matchups, simply due to the strength of curving Bloodtithe Harvester into Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. However, the one matchup I really struggled against was Mono White Control. It just felt abysmal – the addition of Sunfall and Surge of Salvation made the matchup even more lopsided than it was before.
Enemy Number One – Mono White
We quickly found that the Mono White Control list we had in our team was seemingly beating everything. The addition of the two previously mentioned cards made its Rakdos-based matchups much better, while its Esper Legends matchup also improved significantly thanks to the new sweeper.
You used to have to play Depopulate, which was simply a bad card, so the upgrade to Sunfall was massive.
The Reanimator matchup also improved as they moved away from Atraxa, Grand Unifier and opted for Etali, Primal Conqueror instead. Etali often hit blanks from the Mono White deck as it would mill a Lay Down Arms or an Ambitious Farmhand.
However, even though most of us believed that Mono White Control was the best positioned deck, we were all worried about going to time – especially if other teams also recognized that this deck was great and played it, since the mirror was almost impossible to finish within fifty minutes.
I believe this was the biggest mistake we made in our preparation, and it was a tremendously costly one.
Ultimately, Mono White would have been extremely well positioned at the Pro Tour, and I think the list we had was better than what the few Mono White players had at the Pro Tour (though I do think Autumn Burchett’s list was the best – splashing for Duress and Breach the Multiverse was genius).
The deck was also near non-existent in the field, and Domain Control was not very popular either, which was our other worry about playing the deck.
What we should have done was get over our fear about going to time by practicing a lot with the deck, so all the common lines became second nature to us, and then the time factor wouldn’t have mattered as much. But we didn’t take the plunge, and it cost us dearly.
Since we thought Mono White Control was well positioned and others would also recognize that, we wanted to build a Rakdos deck that was good against them.
This is when the team became interested in Reanimator, and a lot of teammates started working on the deck. We were also inspired by Corey Baumeister’s second-place finish in a Magic Online Challenge with the archetype, and the quick improvements we made on his list made us believe that we were onto something promising.
Although most of the team were interested in Reanimator from about two weeks before the Pro Tour, I was still on Rakdos Midrange. However, this changed about a week before the Pro Tour, when Joseph Karani, our resident Rakdos expert and Canadian Regional Championships winner, suggested Phyrexian Fleshgorger.
This was a major breakthrough for us.
Up to this point, we had two Reanimator variants in our testing – an aggressive version which was basically just Rakdos Midrange but with The Cruelty of Gix and Etali, Primal Conqueror over Invoke Despair and Chandra, Hope’s Beacon, and a “bigger” version with more big creatures and cards like Big Score.
The former felt quite disjointed as Invoke Despair was naturally a good follow up to Rakdos Midrange’s early aggression, whereas The Cruelty of Gix didn’t make an immediate impact on the board or pressure your opponent’s life total if you were starting it at chapter one or two. On the other hand, the bigger version felt clunky and didn’t utilize Reckoner Bankbuster as well, as the curve of the deck was higher, and you had fewer ways to reliably crew it.
This is where Phyrexian Fleshgorger came in, and many of us viewed it as the perfect “bridge” between the two variants. It was a good creature on turn three as it was decent on both offense and defence, it crewed Reckoner Bankbuster, and it aligned well against the removal in the format as it didn’t die to either Cut Down or Go for the Throat.
It was also a good reanimation target for The Cruelty of Gix, as a 7/5 menace, lifelink creature was a threat in and of itself. This meant we didn’t have to play so many big creatures, which would often get stuck in our hand.
Mistakes Were Made
While this was a great discovery, it was also quite last minute, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I played a set of games against a teammate in the Reanimator mirror, and the deck felt powerful.
Since most of the team were settled on the deck, and no one else was genuinely interested in Rakdos Midrange, I decided to just trust the team and lock in the deck. I figured that my vast experience with playing other Rakdos-based decks would be enough.
As it turned out, this was a huge mistake on my part, as this deck was a lot harder to play than I expected. The Cruelty of Gix is just much more difficult to navigate than a card like Invoke Despair. There were multiple spots at the Pro Tour where I wasn’t sure how to properly play The Cruelty of Gix as all three chapters were viable options, and I think on at least two occasions I could have potentially won the game had I chosen a different chapter.
Overall, as mentioned before, I think our choice ended up being poor as Mono White Control wasn’t nearly as popular as we expected. This deck is slightly favored against Rakdos Midrange, but you’re worse off against Esper Legends and Grixis Midrange compared to your Rakdos counterpart, and this was costly as they were both popular at the Pro Tour.
However, the biggest mistakes that were made wasn’t the choice to play Reanimator, but rather, not pursuing Mono White Control more as a team, and my personal mistake of thinking I could pick up Reanimator with minimal practise, as in reality, the deck was a lot harder to play than I expected.
Rakdos Reanimator: Sideboarding
+1 Glistening Deluge (if they have multiple Surge of Salvation)
-1 Brotherhood’s End (if they have multiple Surge of Salvation)
Rakdos Reanimator (Mirror)
Mono White Control
-3 Cut Down
-1 Go for the Throat/Brotherhood’s End (depends on their list)
+2 Duress (if they have Wedding Announcement)
-2 Atsushi, the Blazing Sky (if they have Wedding Announcement)
PTQ Candidate: Rakdos Midrange
After losing those last two rounds of the Pro Tour, I was eager to try to change my fortunes at the PTQ on Sunday. On Saturday evening, after Day Two of the Pro Tour, we had our team dinner. This is where Joseph suggested we play Rakdos Midrange at the PTQ, but without Graveyard Trespassers.
We simply felt the card was just not good – it trades down to Bloodtithe Harvester, it’s weak against Invoke Despair and it can’t attack through opposing Reckoner Bankbusters. It had always felt like the worst card in the deck, and after talking to a few members of Team Handshake, who had the breakthrough Rakdos Midrange list with four members of their team making the Top 8 of the Pro Tour, they felt similarly about the card and said it was acceptable to cut them.
The Deck – Rakdos Midrange
2 Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance
3 Cut Down
1 Cut Down
The Deck – Rakdos Midrange
2 Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance
3 Cut Down
1 Cut Down
We thought about playing Phyrexian Fleshgorger, but we expected Abrade to be more popular at the PTQ, as people would be more prepared for the mirror. We therefore decided to play Razorlash Transmogrant in the main deck instead.
The primary reason was that we actually liked the card in the mirror match – although Rakdos plays a lot more basic lands than Grixis, it still comes back for two mana often, and even when it doesn’t, the mirror is so attritional that having a body to bring back later is powerful.
Additionally, with six one-mana interaction spells in the main deck, we felt that on turn three, casting a two-drop creature or drawing off a Reckoner Bankbuster and then casting a one-mana disruption spell was better than tapping out for a Graveyard Trespasser or Phyrexian Fleshgorger.
A card we liked a lot in the sideboard was Breach the Multiverse, which was a good way to go over the top against decks like Reanimator and Mono White Control. Seven mana is a lot, but these matches tend to go long, and Chandra, Hope’s Beacon also helps you ramp into them.
The tournament went really well for me, as I went 6-0-1 in swiss, beating two mirrors, Mono Red, Domain Control, Jeskai Control and Grixis Hidetsugu, before drawing the last round to guarantee a higher seed.
In the quarterfinals, where the winner got the Pro Tour invite (it was awarded to the Top 4), I was paired against Austin Bursavich. He was the person I least wanted to play against, as not only is he a fantastic player (I personally think he’s one of the best players in the world right now), but his list was also well-equipped for the mirror with a full playset of Duress in the main deck.
He also mentioned that he was 6-0 against the mirror in the event so far.
How It Went Down
In the first game, I mulliganed to six, which is quite punishing when you’re on the play in the mirror match, and got swiftly dispatched. However, I managed to come back to win the two post-board games, including topdecking an Abrade on turn two against his Reckoner Bankbuster in the third game, after keeping a hand consisting of three Invoke Despairs, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, and three lands.
He played Duress on his first turn and took one of my Invoke Despairs, so he played the Bankbuster thinking it would be safe, but I had topdecked one of my two copies of Abrade to severely punish him.
I was very glad to qualify for Barcelona, after the two near-misses the day before. After losing the first game against Austin, I was thinking that I’d lose three shots at the Pro Tour in just one weekend, which would have been rough. I am really looking forward to Pro Tour Barcelona – I love the city and one of my favorite restaurants in the world is there (Cera 23).
Overall, our list for the PTQ was great, and if there was a big standard event tomorrow, I’d play this again, though I would play four Duress in the main deck and try to make room for one Light Up the Night. I thought the card was quite gimmicky and opted not to play it, but after talking to Javier Dominguez about it and seeing how Austin played our match, I realized just how important having that effect is.
Being able to just deal twelve to fourteen damage out of nowhere means you can often “steal” games where you’re behind by just positioning yourself to get in for some chip damage here and there, so you can then put them in that burn range. I noticed in our match that Austin played a lot more aggressively than I did, and it was to put me into that range where I would instantly be dead if he put together the combo.
Rakdos Midrange: Sideboarding
Below is the sideboard guide that Joseph kindly put together for us, and he even printed out a copy and brought it to me on the morning of the PTQ!
Mono White Control
I hope you enjoyed this article, as I went over the two main Rakdos variants in Standard right now – Reanimator and Midrange. Personally, I think that Rakdos Midrange is the better choice right now. However, if decks such as Mono White Control and Domain Control increase in popularity due to Rakdos Midrange’s dominance, then I’d recommend Rakdos Reanimator instead.
One thing for sure though is that I highly recommend playing a deck with Bloodtithe Harvester, Reckoner Bankbuster and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker in it.
These three cards simply represent the best turn two and three plays you can be making in this format. Now that Standard is moving to a three-year rotation, I would expect Reckoner Bankbuster and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker would eventually get banned, as I doubt Wizards of the Coast would want these two cards dominating the format for another year. Still, there will be multiple standard events until that happens, so enjoy your time playing these cards while you can!
Till next time!
@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.
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