Explorer: Rakdos Midrange Deck Tech & Sideboard Guide

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Explorer: Rakdos Midrange Deck Tech & Sideboard Guide

15/07/22 Comment regular icon0 comments

Rakdos Midrange is at the top of Explorer today and proposes a fair play that adapts to any situation. In this article, I present my guide on how to pilot it and adapt it for the current Metagame.

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By Romeu

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translated by Romeu

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revised by Tabata Marques

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It's no news that one of the best ways to play Magic is through a rising proactive curve of threats that add value turn after turn, typically limited to 4 or 5-mana permanents — and hardly more than four copies in each slot — so as not to draw them too soon. This strategy is known as

Midrange

, and it's been a classic in the Magic: The Gathering universe since its inception, becoming popular mainly after the redesign of

The Rock

, a black and green Apocalypse-era deck that had Pernicious Deed and Duress alongside powerful threats such as Ravenous Baloth and Spiritmonger. But the most egregious example will likely always be

Jund

during the past decade's Modern, where it had all the elements to be the Midrange that everyone loved and respected in the competitive landscape.

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Over the decades, Midrange has become the primary style of play, and is commonly encouraged by Wizards in their releases and has become a benchmark for what it means to "play fair" — after all, Midranges are unlikely to attempt some absurd combo that wins the game instantly. (but there are exceptions), and will try to achieve victory through efficient trades and usually using a single resource to spend two or more of the opponent, establishing

Card Advantage

. Therefore, it is now considered that when a Midrange is at the top of a competitive format, it is

probably

healthy. This is the case with Explorer, where

Rakdos Midrange

is the current best deck in the format and there's no reason not to be: its main predators are fast combos and Big Mana and, in the absence of Pioneer's extensive pool, the main archetypes in this category have no room to exist in the Magic Arena variant. This creates an environment where a flexible and adaptable deck like Rakdos has no problem dealing with current Metagame competitors. I have a saying in my head that goes "if you're not sure what to play, either play the best deck or the deck with the best free-win button", and for the last month I've been heavily betting on the tactic of playing the best deck. And today, I bring you my guide on the main competitor of the Explorer Metagame - Rakdos Midrange!

The Decklist

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My list isn't 100% up to the standards of what you find on most times, but the base remains the same and as I mentioned above, Rakdos Midrange has enough flexibility to adapt to any Metagame — and that's precisely what I did with the list I've been playing, since the Mirror match has been constant, in addition to the notorious increase in Witch's Oven and swarm aggro decks in recent weeks. But my main focus was to get a head start on the mirror. Your strategy with this list is the classic one that every Midrange aims for: discard on turn 1, threat or removal on turn 2, threat on turn 3, Planeswalker on turn 4 and, from there, you start to dominate the game and bury your opponent in Card Advantage to the point of no return.

Maindeck

Rakdos Midrange is made up of three categories: Threats, Answers, and Lands. To make it easier, I'll be separating them in this way.
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On the proactive side, your early game starts with the 2 and 3 mana threats, all of which double in roles: Bloodtithe Harvester and Bonecrusher Giant operate as aggressive low mana drops that also function as removals, preventing the opponent from advancing their board position too much before you stabilize. Graveyard Trespasser is your maindeck graveyard hate and self-protecting threat thanks to its

Ward

ability, forcing a 2-for-1 against the opponent to be answered outside combat.
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Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is the

best card in the deck

, and we can, as a Twitter meme recently mentioned, regard it as our version of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer — It speeds up mana, puts two bodies in play, allows you to filter your hand and is absolutely brutal if Reflections of Kiki-Jiki untaps for even a turn because any and all threats copied by it will be a problem for the opponent, especially those that have some ETB trigger or on offense such as Bloodtithe Harvester, Graveyard Trespasser and Glorybringer.

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Chandra, Torch of Defiance is your Swiss Army Knife: it offers card advantage, works as a removal against the main threats in the format today, speeds up mana and adds inevitability as she will become a wincondition if she stays in play for too long.
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Although not commonly used and taking up the space that normally belongs to Sorin the Mirthless, I'm following Martin Juza's lead and playing with two copies of Glorybringer (and a third on the Sideboard) because it's one of the best top decks you can give in the Mirror Match, demanding an immediate answer — and most lists only have two copies of Heartless Act to deal with it at Instant-Speed ​​on the maindeck — and if there isn't one, you can attack the opponent while destroying a troublesome creature or remove a Planeswalker and a creature with just one card. In short, in Pioneer, some people run copies of Invoke Despair on the Sideboard for Mirror Match because it offers a powerful 3-for-1 with just one spell. Glorybringer has the potential to deliver a 3-for-1 while also operating as a proactive threat against a number of other archetypes, and as Juza himself mentions on the dragon: when you start playing with it, you can't imagine Rakdos Midrange without Glorybringer.
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Last but not least, the two copies of Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger act as late-game bombs that can win the match on their own while serving as a useful discard in some stages. It's not the best option against Graveyard Trespasser, but it's very common for some Mirror games or other value-driven archetypes to extend to the point where you can cast it and pay the Escape cost in the same turn. Not to mention the non-interactive games, where escaping it as soon as possible is one of your best routes to victory.
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Thoughtseize is essential for the proper functioning of a Midrange in Pioneer, as it offers proactive disruption in the first turn while providing the information needed to understand what stance you need to take in the match and what threats/answers you have to play around.
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Our removals package is quite diverse, but each one works best for a different purpose in the current Metagame. Rakdos Midrange is a great Fatal Push deck since we have good ways to unleash Revolt thanks to Bloodtithe Harvester and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, and an Instant-Speed ​​removal is essential to deal with many troublesome creatures on the first few turns. Bloodchief's Thirst works as complementary copies of Fatal Push that becomes Dreadbore for four mana in Late-Game, essential for dealing with Planeswalkers and other threats at a higher cost. Heartless Act exists to deal, for a low cost at Instant-Speed, with what Fatal Push and Bloodchief's Thirst can't destroy in the first few turns.

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Strangle — with a split between maindeck and sideboard — is an addition I made to the list due to its flexibility in solving various problematic permanents in the Mirror, killing Mayhem Devil, General Kudro of Drannith and other creatures while also being able to destroy some Planeswalkers for just one mana. This proves to be very relevant at moments where I don't want to spend an entire turn paying the Bloodchief's Thirst kicker to deal with something, either because I want to cast a threat or to activate a manland. Finally, Hagra Mauling doubles as a land on early game and removal later on, especially useful for dealing with late-game creatures that your other options can't handle.
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The increase in Sacrifice archetypes to ranked increases the need for decent spells against Witch's Oven, Oni-Cult Anvil or Bolas's Citadel. To that end, we've turned to Kolaghan's Command as a flexible removal that will rarely be a dead card in your hand and often forces a 2-for-1, and Bedevil as a universal removal against creatures and Planeswalkers that also deals with artifacts.
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In addition to the best dual lands available in Explorer, we also have six copies of utility lands between Manlands and Channel Lands that allow us to always have some action to take.

Sideboard

You've probably noticed that my Sideboard has a lot of One-ofs while I don't run more than two copies of any card, except for Duress. However, each one of these options works on more than a single occasion.
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Duress is our primary means to interact against Control, where we use it as a way to get extra information, as well as ensure that one or another high-impact spell will hit the board, allowing us to play around the opponent. It's also useful against a category I call "weird decks"—those archetypes that you're not sure what they're aiming at, but that usually rely on a key spell or combo to work.
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We also have a graveyard interaction package to complement Graveyard Trespasser now that Sacrifice is on the rise, and they also work against the occasional problem archetypes that pop up occasionally, like Izzet Phoenix. Go Blank is also important against Control and occasionally a useful Sideboard in games where your best option is to drain your opponent's hand resources before going on the attack.
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Our extra removals seek to cater for a wide variety of situations, but they complement each other incredibly well in the general contexts of various games. Strangle, as mentioned above, works as a good removal that doesn't require an absurd mana cost to solve a dozen threats that Fatal Push doesn't destroy, and Bloodchief's Thirst needs a bigger investment. If the Metagame eventually makes Spirits more popular, I could exchange it for an extra copy of Fatal Push.

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Lava Coil is an efficient way to deal with 4 toughness creatures that are not easily hit by most of our removals, such as Righteous Valkyrie, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell or Adeline, Resplendent Cathar, as well as having an added value in exiling recurring threats. This slot is extremely flexible, but it should serve as an extra removal for something you can't kill easily in the Maindeck, depending on what you want to respect: Infernal Grasp is better for dealing with Korvold, Fae-Cursed King or bigger threats at Instant-Speed, but the 2 damage makes a difference in a context where other top Tiers are trying to win by outracing you. Abrade works as a decent removal ​​while also responding to the aforementioned problematic artifacts like Witch's Oven and Oni-Cult Anvil — not to mention it also destroys Mayhem Devil. Finally, Kolaghan's Command works in numerous situations and is the most comprehensive among our spells, working incredibly well in attrition matchups. Soul Transfer would be very interesting in this slot because we don't have difficulties having artifacts and enchantments in play to use both abilities, but the effect on Instant-Speed ​​and destroying artifacts seems more attractive at the moment.
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By focusing more on the Mirror Match, it's inevitable that our list might fall behind against Aggro, creating the need to clear the board if necessary — For that, we rely on sweepers. Both serve the same purpose: to remove many low-cost creatures from the board with a single card, but I chose split because Anger of the Gods doesn't respond to some creatures with a larger body like Selesnya Angels, while Ritual of Soot requires an extra turn to cast and this can mean a significant delay in the medium term. Other options in these slots would be Extinction Event and The Meathook Massacre, but if my goal is to deal with low-cost threats, I suppose these two are better.
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Finally, we have our value package, with an extra copy of Glorybringer and Sorin the Mirthless for card advantage. You might wonder why there's no Sorin in the Maindeck, and the best answer I have is that Sorin is great when you're up front or when the board has been stabilized, while falling short in games where you're behind because a body 2/3 with Lifelink doesn't do much, and you're not very comfortable using +1 in a game where your life total is being pressured. Speaking of pressure, the obvious trade-off was the inclusion of Glorybringer in the maindeck in place of Sorin, and the 4/4 Flying that bypasses Fatal Push and kills stuff, not to mention the interactions with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker brought me better results than Sorin. This Sideboard slot could even belong to Invoke Despair, but a spell that requires four black mana is not an easy goal to accomplish on turn 5 without Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

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Mulligan and Postures

Mulligan

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Honestly, I don't think there is such a thing as a "perfect hand" when it comes to Rakdos Midrange, as our posture and game proposal changes depending on the opponent we are facing. Usually, my keep is always with hands that allow me to establish early pressure while using cards like Thoughtseize or removals to interact with the opponent, as normally, my topdeck will reward me with 2-for-1 cards. The exception to most questionable keeps, however, is Fable of the Mirror-Breaker because it improves any bad hand in the medium term and recycles any unhelpful elements of your starting hand, such as removals against a Control, at no additional cost for this. So average hands that include Fable of the Mirror-Breaker against an unknown opponent are usually a good keep. If you already know (or at least an idea) of what the opponent is playing, you need to define if your starting hand has all the elements necessary to play "fair" against them. If not, a Mulligan is almost mandatory. I also don't recommend keeping hands that have very situational cards or that rely on the opponent making a specific play to work. Your cards must be good for that game, not for a specific situation.

Postures

Rakdos Midrange changes your game posture as you play, transitioning between beatdown and control at various points in the game as you and your opponent advance or retreat from your board positions. One of the main advantages of a Midrange is that it is a good Aggro when facing a Control or Combo and being a good Control when facing an Aggro, but your stance will often be shifting between one or the other as you adapt to the rhythm of the match. It's important to note that you don't extend so well on either spectrum as to be able to assume a full control or full aggro stance, and this will usually force you to try to keep the game in an ideal balance, without leaning too much to either side since you don't excel at them.

Tips and Tricks

A classic play with Kolaghan's Command from its Standard and Modern days is to cast it on the opponent's draw step if they have an empty hand, to force them to discard the card they just drew. Normally, we want to make the most of our mana from turn 3 onwards, so remember to sequence your lands accordingly, so you don't end up losing a turn due to a tapped land. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, or rather, its other side (Reflections of Kiki-Jiki) is a

tremendous removal magnet because it does absurd things

. If it survives, they either don't have a removal or the opponent really considers themselves to be in such an advantageous position that it makes the possibility of copying our creatures irrelevant — I like to prove them wrong by casting and copying Glorybringer the next turn. By the way, remember that if you copy a creature into your End Step, or your opponent's End Step, it will remain on the battlefield until the beginning of the next End Step.

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Still on Reflections of Kiki-Jiki, if you for some reason have two of them on the battlefield, you can use one of them to copy the other in your opponent's End Step, and use the copy to copy the original, and repeat this process as long as you have mana available to have an army of 2/2 creatures on your next turn. Exert is an activated, non-triggered ability — you declare the ability the moment you attack — this implies needing to directly click Glorybringer to

attack with Exert

in the combat phase, and the MTGArena system skips that part if you click to attack with all your creatures, which can cost you a game.

Sideboard Guide

Rakdos Midrange

IN:
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OUT:
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My list was pretty much built to have an advantage in this match, but that doesn't make it incredibly favorable because this matchup is always based on who makes the best trades and accumulates the most resources in the medium term. So conditional spells like Fatal Push or Bloodtithe Harvester (with this one still being an easy target for Bonecrusher Giant) aren't very exciting, whereas this match is too attrition oriented for me to want to have a bad topdeck like Thoughtseize — you really need to focus on the larger amount of 2-for-1 here — and this is where Go Blank, Glorybringer, Kolaghan's Command and Sorin the Mirthless really shine while our removals are universal to most threats on the other side. The main things you need to take off the board are Planeswalkers, as they are the ones who set the stage for the game by securing more resources for their controller, so don't be afraid to force a 2-for-1 on yourself and need to spend too many removals for your creature deal with one of them, but our main weapon against them are the Glorybringers. Other than that, this is a game with many fronts and angles, and you need to adapt and evaluate the opportunities you have to advance or respond to each turn, so you don't get thrown back. There is no magic formula for dealing with the mirror, it's a matter of analyzing each moment and experience with the match.

Mardu Greasefang

IN:
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OUT:
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The match against Greasefang basically involves preventing them from closing the combo before you win the game — a bit of a daunting task if we don't have at least one or two of our six Instant-speed removals and the game stretches too far to the opponent to manage to put Parhelion II in the graveyard and cast Greasefang, Okiba Boss in the same turn. That said, I don't consider Game 1 as bad and, in fact, it's even favorable because of our absurd amount of disruption. Post-side, we want to avoid tapping ourselves or relying on Sorcery-Speed interactions, so we cut Glorybringer and bad removals and put more graveyard hate and more useful interactions against Greasefang or Parhelion II.

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Remember that this is a game where we can't let the opponent play freely, so don't be afraid to give a Mulligan or two searching for a graveyard hate.

Mono Blue Spirits

IN:
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OUT:
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With my version, although not as good as the variants with four copies of Fatal Push, the match against Spirits is still pretty decent because your main objective is to keep the board empty, and you have 15 ways to do so for cheap, not counting the higher-cost removals, Chandra and Glorybringer — but all these cards are infinitely better on play than on draw, and if the opponent starts with creature + Curious Obsession + Geistlight Snare protection, you'll likely fall far behind in the game if they find more protection for their creature. The focus of your removals should be on an enchanted creature, Rattlechains and Supreme Phantom — the others probably won't have enough impact if the game goes on too long because you can mitigate their damage with Graveyard Trespasser — but be aware that combat may be powered by a Flash threat and an activated Faceless Haven on the next turn, so try to play around it if necessary. Post-Sideboard, we want to avoid powering their counterspells as much as possible — mainly Aether Gust — so we removed our higher-cost cards to try and play at a similar mana efficiency to theirs. I don't usually like Thoughtseize against Flash threats, but it's a necessary low-cost interaction here. We add more removals, sweepers and Sorin the Mirthless, as the Vampire tokens block Spirits very well, in addition to having Lifelink and our strategy doesn't change: keep the board clean and then advance with our creatures.

Mono Red Aggro

IN:
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OUT:
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Mono Red is a good match, unless we draw the wrong part, and they manage to pressure us meanwhile. But there's always the possibility of a free-win button with well-sequenced damage spells alongside the ideal creatures curve. As with Spirits, our proposal here is to keep the board clean and advance as we stabilize, and our biggest concern is to take too much damage while we can't control the game. Goblin Chainwhirler is a bothersome creature in this game because it trades positively with our threats, so try to kill it whenever you can. Post-Sideboard, we remove Thoughtseize and some of our higher-cost spells in favor of more removals and permanents that offer a 2-for-1 trade, with Glorybringer being important to speed up our clock while destroying some of the most important creatures on their list, like Torbran, Thane of Red Fell.

Humans

IN:

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OUT:
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Like other Aggro archetypes, the direction of the matchup against Humans (usually Selesnya or Abzan) depends on what initial drops they have and how much they can slow us down. If they start with a streak of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Elite Spellbinder and Collected Company, we'll have serious problems recovering, but if their initial drops don't offer disruption or an Instant 2-for-1, we can respond or be proactive at the right timing and not even one Collected Company will be enough to make us lose balance. Post-Sideboard, we took a very close approach to Control, as we removed Graveyard Trespasser which has little impact on this game and trades with many creatures, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker because we'd rather avoid maximizing their Brutal Cathar and Skyclave Apparition, in addition to basically adding removals and sweepers to deal with the creatures. But we need to be careful with protections like Guardian of Faith or Heroic Intervention, so we keep some Thoughtseizes. Due to our stance change, we prioritize destroying Thalia, Guardian of Thraben so we don't waste too much time playing around her, and remember to keep using Thoughtseize when you need to remove something important or to ensure that a Collected Company will not interfere with your plans.

Rakdos Sacrifice

IN:
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OUT:
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I consider Rakdos Sacrifice to be a tricky game, mainly due to their chump-blocks, plus Claim the Firstborn, which handles most of our creatures alongside Witch's Oven, not to mention the various triggers in the interaction between Mayhem Devil and Cauldron Familiar. Our best choice in Game 1 is to look to keep Mayhem Devil off the board while accumulating damage with triggers from Graveyard Trespasser, Chandra activations, and air attacks with Glorybringer, as well as not losing the opportunity to break their engine with Kolaghan's Command or Bedevil. Post-Sideboard, the game gets a bit better: Thoughtseize, while useful for dealing mainly with Ob Nixilis, the Adversary, is not the best option against an opponent who can deal 5 or more damage to you in a single turn outside of combat with the right combination, Bloodchief's Thirst has few relevant targets that don't generate any value when dying, and Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger is the last threat which I would like my opponent to take control of. Enter a classic combination of Graveyard hate and artifact removals, and the extra copy of Glorybringer to further our plan to attack from above.

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Game 2 and Game 3's plan remains the same: advance our game while trying to break the opponent's artifact and sacrifice engine, but now we have better spells than in the first game. However, we need to be more careful with Ob Nixilis because his abilities stack up really fast when we're on the defensive.

Jund Food

IN:
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I think as far as Cat-Oven decks go, Jund Food is the best version against us because they can really win by generating more value than we can handle thanks to interactions with Trail of Crumbs and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King — so these two should be your primary targets with Thoughtseize. Jund Food is also a Midrange, but it operates better in Late-Game than we do, as they have Cat-Oven alongside Trail of Crumbs to generate recurring damage and card advantage. Our stance in this match, therefore, should be that of the beatdown and seek to establish the initial pressure while making good trades with our permanents and generating card advantage with our Planeswalkers and Kroxa. Our Sideboard is kind of weird in this game: Graveyard Trespasser doesn't do much and is usually just a chump-block target, Fatal Push has few good targets in this game and I needed to take out a copy of Heartless Act because it's the worst removal against Korvold on our list, as they will normally have at least one Witch's Oven by the time they cast it. Kolaghan's Command and Abrade respond to artifacts while also functioning as recursion and removal in this match, Lava Coil handles most of their creatures, and Unlicensed Hearse is the best answer against Cauldron Familiar while Sorin the Mirthless and Glorybringer generate more late-game value and collaborate with the plan to attack from the air while pressuring their resources. In Games 2 and 3, we need to adapt a lot to each situation because it's no use just being the aggressor, so try to calculate, for example, if its removal is really necessary in that permanent, or if there are other ways to solve that problem before spending a card on it. Remember that your Thoughtseizes main targets should be the permanents that give them card advantage: Trail of Crumbs and Korvold, plus the occasional Planeswalkers they may have added.

Azorius Control

IN:
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Although it is not exactly a Top Tier today, it is very common to see opponents piloting Azorius Control because it is very popular and is the best option in this archetype category today, being able to catch a Midrange easily if we don't respect it. Our stance here is mostly proactive, and there's no reason to play too far back if it's not to play around a counterspell. Our Thoughtseizes here should be maxed out, looking to remove a counter before playing Chandra, or making sure you can extend the board and not be swept back, among other possibilities, but avoid dragging the game for too long.

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As we have more post-side disruptive effects, we maintain the same stance and normally the game is extremely favorable because it is

very difficult

for the opponent to recover when you sequence discards and threats in the potential we get from putting Duress to complement Thoughtseize and by forcing our opponent to tapout themselves every turn to respond to what we do, we open up more opportunities to further empty their hand with Go Blank.

Conclusion

Rakdos Midrange is the current best deck in Explorer, and I believe it will maintain that position until new Pioneer cards are introduced into the format. It has absolutely all the elements to do so, while the absence of combos and other archetypes like Mono-Green Devotion create a less extensive Metagame, where we can adapt Rakdos to basically any circumstance. It is a solid option in the competitive landscape and will continue to be even when the format becomes Pioneer. So, I consider it a safe Wildcards investment for any player looking to join Explorer today. Thanks for reading!
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Romeu

Journalism student, writer and translator for Cards Realm. Plays virtually every Magic: The Gathering competitive format and is a lifetime Final Fantasy fan.

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