Welcome to MTG Meta Breakers! This series is devoted to helping you take on some of the most common decks in your favorite formats (aka “the meta”).
Whether you’re looking to grind competitive events on MTGO, want to win your local Friday Night Magic (FNM), or are just sick of getting beat, you’re in the right place.
For the purposes of this series, we’ll assume that all games are in best-of-three format. This allows you to sideboard against your opponent. When hoping to take down the metagame, sideboarding is your best friend.
Rakdos Midrange is one of the most popular decks in Pioneer and with good reason. It’s powerful, consistent, and has answers to almost anything it runs up against. So how can you beat it? Let’s first take a look at the deck and dissect its game plan to better understand why it’s so good.
Understanding Rakdos Decks in Pioneer
Rakdos is so resilient because of its powerful threats and answers at every point on the mana curve.
Fatal Push, Power Word Kill, and Dreadbore are removal spells that can take out virtually any creature, and at only one or two mana. Thoughtseize is a universal answer that also gives the black-red deck information about how to sequence its plays in the coming turns. Opening the game and knowing your opponent’s starting hand is arguably just as valuable as pulling a card from it.
Bloodtithe Harvester is a strong two-mana creature that comes with a blood token, allows early trades, and can even kill larger creatures later in the game with its activated ability. Paired with the back half of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, this card is a menace. Bonecrusher Giant is also a creature with added value. It can be used as Stomp early to kill a smaller creature, and the 4/3 itself only costs three mana. Great value out of one card.
Graveyard Trespasser not only disrupts graveyard strategies from decks like Abzan Greasefang and Izzet Phoenix but also gains life as it enters and attacks and can be a nuisance to answer thanks to its ward ability. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is a clock all by itself and also helps by gaining extra life like Graveyard Trespasser.
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is the glue that holds the deck together, and a large reason why red is such a strong color in Pioneer. It helps even out variance, mitigating mana screw or flood by rummaging with its second ability. The Goblin token isn’t a huge threat, but can quickly pile up treasure tokens by attacking and amassing a big advantage. In some matchups, this can take over the game as you’re then able to discard extra lands to go search for more impactful cards. Once the Fable flips into Reflection of Kiki-Jiki, Rakdos threatens to copy its best creature every turn.
The rest of the deck boasts several flex slots, but they usually include more card advantage, like Reckoner Bankbuster and Liliana of the Veil, or more threats, like Misery’s Shadow and Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger. Notably, these flex slots allow Rakdos to adjust itself to the meta. Seeing more Mono Green? Play extra Shadows. Seeing a lot of mirror matches? Kroxa and Bankbuster are the answer.
Rakdos Midrange also has tons of utility lands and can help if the game runs long and your cards run low. Mutavault, Den of the Bugbear, and Hive of the Eye Tyrant turn into creatures and attack, while Castle Locthwain and Takenuma, Abandoned Mire find extra cards.
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is an immediate threat, and if your deck doesn’t have a way to answer it or get under it you’ll have a hard time coming back to win the game. Keep in mind you can answer Sheoldred with a Fatal Push, just leave yourself a reliable way to turn on revolt.
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker’s goblin token is usually worth killing to prevent the extra treasure. Rakdos wants mana every turn, and extra treasure just gives them more gas to push their advantage. Killing the token early can buy you time to stay in the game. However, keep in mind that two turns later you’ll need to deal with the even more dangerous Reflection. So don’t leave yourself in a bad situation by burning your only removal spell on the token if you can avoid it. For instance, if you can drop a 3-toughness creature to block instead and force your opponent into a trade, letting them have one treasure is usually worth the upside.
Graveyard Trespasser also has to be on your radar, especially if you need specific cards in your graveyard. Most lists only play two or three copies now, so save your removal if your deck will have trouble with one. Don’t forget that you can also use the ward ability to your advantage. If, for instance, you’re playing Greasefang, you can target Trespasser with a removal spell and discard one of your vehicles to the ward trigger. This lets you turn a downside into an advantage and can swing games in your favor.
Cards that Beat Rakdos Midrange in Pioneer
Rakdos wins by using its mana every turn and winning the card advantage war. This means that cards with extra value are more impactful, and playing more creatures in a turn than your opponent can kill is a way to get ahead.
Specific cards that Rakdos has an incredibly hard time answering include Nullhide Ferox, Thrun, Breaker of Silence, Esika’s Chariot, and Wedding Announcement. Basically, anything that your opponent can’t target or that comes with two or more bodies is a solid start. Planeswalkers and artifacts or enchantments like Reckoner Bankbuster or Shapers’ Sanctuary can help provide card advantage to keep up, and can be hard for Rakdos to cleanly answer without a specific card like Abrade or Dreadbore. Enchantments are also notoriously hard for Rakdos to remove and will almost always stick on the battlefield when you cast them.
Catch-all removal spells like Leyline Binding and Lay Down Arms can help, but trying to one-for-one Rakdos can be a losing proposition, especially with all their discard and ways to find extra cards. If you’re playing an aggressive deck, make sure you have a way to answer Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. Roast and The Akroan War are good choices for red decks.
Tips and Common Mistakes Against Rakdos Midrange in Pioneer
Don’t let your opponent get two copies of Reflection of Kiki-Jiki on the battlefield. If you pass your turn when they have two out, they can make a copy for every one mana they pay in your end step. They won’t be sacrificed until the beginning of the next end step, which is on their turn, and the army of Reflections will get to attack you (or copy an even better creature to attack with).
If Stomp gets countered, either with a counterspell or because it no longer has a legal target, the card will go to the graveyard and Bonecrusher Giant won’t go on an adventure. It’s a corner case, but it might sometimes be correct to kill your own creature in response, especially if your removal spell wouldn’t be able to kill the Giant.
Bloodtithe Harvester’s ability checks the number of Blood tokens on resolution, after the Harvester has already been sacrificed. This means if you have some way to destroy one of your opponent’s tokens with the ability on the stack, you might be able to save your creature from dying.
Best Matchups Against Rakdos Midrange in Pioneer
Black and red have a tough time answering and removing enchantments, so Fires of Invention decks can be a good choice to go over the top and play more bigger and powerful spells than your Rakdos opponent can keep up with. Their only real way to fight against Fires or Enigmatic Incarnation is with discard spells like Thoughtseize and Duress. For a deck like Keruga Fires, the Rakdos Midrange matchup is essentially a bye.
Mono-Green has traditionally had a good matchup against Rakdos, but the deck has adapted over time to fight back. Ramping into big threats and generating card advantage with Storm the Festival and planeswalkers is the way to win. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx can create obscene amounts of mana, and your opponent won’t be able to answer every spell you get to cast. Know that after game one, Rakdos has access to Extinction Event, which can completely blow out your board of one, three, and five-mana creatures. Misery’s Shadow is also troublesome since it turns off your death triggers on Old-Growth Troll and Cavalier of Thorns.
Gruul Vehicles has a fairly high win rate as well, since it’s able to keep up with Rakdos’ two-for-ones thanks to cards like Esika’s Chariot and The Akroan War. More lists are also playing Thrun, Breaker of Silence in the sideboard, which is nearly impossible for a black-red deck to answer.
Finally, Lotus Field can give Rakdos trouble. The combo deck can usually manage to beat one or two discard spells, thanks to all of its filtering and redundancy in getting specific lands into play. Rakdos usually isn’t aggressive enough to win before turn five at the earliest, and Lotus can buy time if needed.
Rakdos Midrange is favored if the game goes long, but that’s exactly what the deck is designed to do thanks to all the removal spells and value found in the creatures and lands. Try to sequence your threats to play into those removal spells, and make sure you have an answer to Sheoldred. Rakdos is the most played deck in Pioneer, but it’s not unbeatable! In fact, we’ve even seen Rakdos Sacrifice, a more aggressive version of the archetype, start to overtake its meta share. Stay tuned for another writeup on this latest evolution.