In Pioneer and Explorer, there is one deck that is all the rage despite being the fairest deck imaginable – Rakdos Midrange. Historic differs a lot from those two aforementioned formats so is there any merit in trying at least an Rakdos midrange shell? In my opinion, not only would it be playable but going full-on Rakdos Midrange might be the best thing to do in the midrange Historic world. While you may feel tempted to play Jund and utilise Tarmogoyf, the new Anthology addition, you can eschew it for smoother and less painful manabase.
Red aggro and Wizards are at the top of the metagame and your life total is always the resource that the whole game revolves around. Having a clean two-colour manabase is going to improve your performance in those matchups. On top of that, if you expect people to pick up on Liliana of the Veil and play black more, Tarmogoyf loses appeal as it’s weak against Lily and Fatal Push.
Let’s break down some specific card choices.
Midrange differs from Control mainly in the threat department. It relies on its permanents to generate card advantage and expand on its board. Therefore, let’s discuss the threats first.
I feel obliged to begin with the new mistress that has immediately found its home in the format. Liliana of the Veil had been a Modern staple and now it’s very likely to be one in Historic. What’s key to mention is that it does not provide card advantage per se. Its utility comes from the fact that it restricts the resources that *both* players have. In order to fully take advantage of it, our deck construction has to work well alongside being stripped of cards and there is one great way to accomplish it – having individually powerful cards. Other decks, especially synergy-driven, will be hurt substantially more by Liliana’s plus ability as they will have to keep choosing whether they can afford ditching a land, a threat, an interaction piece, an enabler or payoff. Our cards are individually strong enough that, to put it simplistically, it does not matter what we ditch.
Her minus is a way to protect herself. It’s particularly strong against decks that don’t present threats with haste as, if we leave an empty field when passing, we are sure to later untap with Lili. The ultimate ability is clearly very powerful. A popular play pattern is to divide the piles into lands and the other permanents to make the opponent choose whether they want to keep topdecking from now on or try to win with what they already have. However, don’t make piles too hastily and think through the possibilities that maximise your chances of winning.
A card that appears in a lot of lists and I never know whether to classify it more as a threat or interaction. Bonecrusher does its job and does it well. The Stomp half will get rid of most small threats on turn one or two. We can then curve turn two Stomp into turn three Giant. More frequently, however, Stomp will act as removal, we will continue playing an interactive game for a few more turns, and then play Giant later once we’ve emptied our hand. Multiple games will be won by our chip damage, so its two damage trigger once or twice might swing the outcome of the game. In essence, it’s card advantage as you kill something first, and then play a threat. Be on the lookout though as there will be games when you’re supposed to play it immediately as a creature, skipping the removal part entirely.
Another removal/creature split card. Bloodtithe Harvester was an innocuous uncommon, but turned out to be a multi-format all-star. It does three things that are valuable. First, it’s a two-drop with three power – it hits very hard. All our aggressive draws will start with this guy on turn two. On top of that, it will trade off with some three drops in combat, making it a positive trade tempo-wise, e.g. with an opposing Bonecrusher Giant or Graveyard Trespasser. It’s a removal spell that itself kills a creature with two points of toughness or less. It’s an extension of what Stomp does, making us covered against most one and two drops. If you don’t opt to remove an opposing creature, you can use the Blood token as a way to filter through your draws. It’s particularly helpful in a deck that’s half threats and half interaction which will inevitably mean that you’ll draw cards from either category when you don’t want to. All of those functions in a two-drop make it very flexible and powerful in that flexibility.
A card that has seen play in all the formats, much to the surprise of many. However, once people sleeved it up, they realised how strong it is. In this deck, it adds a body to the battlefield which may chump block a big attacker, trade with a smaller creature, or apply pressure if the battlefield is empty. The second chapter provides card filtering which, similarly to Blood, helps you ditch the cards that have no use at a particular moment, eg. removal versus control. Finally, it’s a creature that demands an answer immediately. Otherwise, the opponent will have to endure hits from a threat like Bonecrusher Giant and its copy turn after turn, which closes the game in two or three combat steps. This card does so much for the initial mana investment.
A card that predates Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, but is usually played in a similar slot. Both cost three mana, add to the battlefield, and provide card filtering. Seasoned Pyromancer is better at providing all that value immediately, however, as it’s not spread out across turns.
In addition, if you play it when empty-handed, you straight up draw two cards, albeit with no additional bodies being created. Remember that in later stages of the game, you can pay five mana to exile Pyromancer from the graveyard and make two 1/1s. It can be done instant speed which gives you a bit more flexibility, but if you decide to play Kolaghan's Command, don’t exile it too aggressively as then you won’t be able to bring it back.
Dominaria United has brought a new powerful four drop for Rakdos decks and has already been adopted in all the formats.
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse does a few things for the deck. It’s a five toughness creature which means it does not die to almost any damage removal and blocks very well. It also has deathtouch so it will trade with anything that you decide to block (not that it wouldn’t most of the time already.) Its trigger has a few uses as well. The life gain helps you stabilise and get out of range of various burn spells. The life loss part helps in board stalls as both players passing the turn favours you significantly. Usually, both things will happen – you will gain two, then the opp will lose two. After a few turns, there will have been 8-12 points life swing which drastically reshapes the dynamic of the game.
It’s a classic one- or two-of in any Rakdos deck. Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger is everybody’s favourite top-end as your initial mana investment is small, but later, you get a truly formidable threat. In such a deck, you don’t commit any resources in particular to it so even if the opponent plays Cling to Dust on it, that’s perfectly fine with you. Some games will revolve around Kroxa heavily as it’s such a game-warping threat.
Now, let’s look at the interaction.
As is emblematic of many Rock decks, we play a lot of discard. Its main function is to poke holes in the opponent’s hand, especially if they’ve mulliganned. We want to throw them off the curve by discarding the only two or three drop, we might want to strip them off interaction, or get rid of their only enabler or payoff. What discard does it highly contextual. When you have both Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, lead on Inquisition as Thoughtseize will be relevant longer – once the opponent has played their early drops, they might have only the most expensive spells in hand, and this is where Seize will shine.
Arguably one of the best pieces of removal in the format. The fact that it kills all the early Elves and Wizards already makes it super good. On top of that, it kills most angels, Tarmogoyf and basically all the midrange threats that other Rakdos or Jund decks could present. It’s very versatile and turning on revolt in this deck is trivial thanks to Blood and Treasure tokens.
This slot is semi-flexible. You could play any removal spells of your choice between Heartless Act, Power Word Kill, Infernal Grasp, etc. I have liked Angrath's Rampage because of its flexibility. There will be spots where it’s a two-mana planeswalker removal which I am happy about and makes me not have to play cards like Murderous Rider. When I play against a deck where I want to keep the board as clean as possible, it’s basically a two-mana hard removal spell which additionally dodges protection spells. It will, however, have its shortcomings against decks that spew out a lot of creatures, like Elves.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
|+1 Hidetsugu Consumes All||-1 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger|
|+2 Abrade||-4 Thoughtseize|
|+2 Witch's Vengeance|
A match-up I feel pretty confident in. You have to keep your hands carefully when you are on the draw as you can get easily run over. Fatal Push is stellar as it does not care about their creatures growing. With that in mind, you have to time your Stomps in such a way that their Soul-Scar Mage does not grow out of range. With discard, go after their creatures even if you already have removal. Creatures are the only way they can win and we want to invalidate that plan as mush as possible. Care about your life total as they can burn you down from 7ish hp pretty easily.
I side in more removal and side out Thoughtseize, as generally, I want to preserve my life total. On top of that, with their low curve, it does not add a lot of substance in the matchup.
Our life total is largely irrelevant, but they can run away with the game easily with a single payoff. Fatal Push shines here again. Angrath's Rampage has to be set up, so you might have to Push their one drop to then Rampage their two drop. Due to their life gain, I always choose the lines that prolong the game and provide me with some card advantage rather than go for the opponent’s life total and aggressively engage in combat. If you keep the battlefield clean, you will bring their life total to 0 sooner or later.
Mono Red Aggro
We play fully defensively. We try to lose as little life as possible, block at all the opportune moments, and kill creatures. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is our way to stabilise the life total in the later turns so some games will revolve around that. If you see a particular spike in the number of Red aggro decks, consider playing Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. If you’ve survived an Embercleave attack, you can make them sac it with Angrath's Rampage.
I side in more removal and cut Thoughtseize as it loses me life and I get rid of a card they haven’t paid mana for.
Tough to win game one, very winnable post board. Angrath's Rampage is average, but I’ve had multiple games where I forced them to play a naked two or three drop and Rampage took care of it. You should prioritise killing all the mana-producing elves as it’s their main way to grow their board exponentially. Curves like Fatal Push into Angrath's Rampage into Liliana of the Veil will be very tough for them to beat.
We want to play an attrition game, but we need to be able to apply pressure. Compared to the matchups listed above, Azorius Control can go even bigger than we do, so that can’t be the only factor that the game is about. Don’t overextend into Supreme Verdict. Rely more on chip damage from Bonecrusher Giant, Goblin Shaman tokens, Seasoned Pyromancer elementals, etc. If you get them low enough, Stomp, Sheoldred trigger or creaturelands might be able to finish them off. The permanents they will have the hardest time dealing with are planeswalkers so try to set up a spot where you can safely resolve Liliana of the Veil.
Tips and Tricks
- You can play Liliana of the Veil and not activate it at all. You may need to just pass when all your cards in hand are valuable and you predict that the opponent might play a threat that you want to use the -2 on. Those cases will be rare, but they will happen.
- Liliana of the Veil‘s ultimate does not immediately end the game. Try to think of what the game will shape up to be after that. In some games, making the opponent sacrifice a few lands won’t make it an auto-win and so don’t treat it as such.
- You can use Bloodtithe Harvester‘s ability post combat to kill a creature that was dealt damage.
- Seasoned Pyromancer, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Blood tokens draw cards so they trigger Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.
- Seasoned Pyromancer, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Liliana of the Veil ditch cards to fuel Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger. You can also ditch Kroxa itself to later just recast it from the graveyard.
- Sheoldred, the Apocalypse‘s life loss clause is relevant. For instance, against Enchantress, it circumvents the Nine Lives prevention clause. Similarly, Stomp’s damage can’t be prevented clause can be relevant. Again – against Enchantress, it circumvents the Nine Lives prevention clause. It would also work against Fog effects.
- If you copy Den of the Bugbear with Reflection of Kiki Jiki, it will enter tapped if you control two or more lands – which will often be the case.