Last week, I wrote a lengthy article detailing ways that midrange can be competitive in modern in the wake of ‘Eldrazi Winter.’ If you’re unaware of the situation, check out last week’s article after reading this one. The Eldrazi presents a huge problem, but Wizards has stated that there will be no emergency bans as a result, and that things will be evaluated on the normal schedule in April.
As promised, I’m going to talk about two other midrange decks that aren’t as well known as the B/G/X decks from last week, but are still competitive in the current meta.
The first, is Blue Jund, also known as Grixis Midrange. During the summer of 2015, Patrick Chapin was the most prominent competitor to champion Grixis. Over the months, his list utilized more and more graveyard synergies and he continuously demonstrated the power of Delve Creatures. Before long, players riffed on Chapin’s deck and brewed up a midrange version that was a proactive control strategy. You tap out on your own turn, like Jund or Abzan, as opposed to the typical reactive control decks where you focus on holding up mana for instants. This decklist is courtesy of the deck primer on MTGSalvation forums:
Mostly pioneered by the players over at MTGSalvation, this midrange deck is a stark contrast to other midrange decks. It has a lot of synergy. It showcases some extreme value plays and has some of the greatest recursion currently available in modern.
The best early play the deck can make is Thought Scour. This card seems like a bad cantrip, but it actually fuels all the synergies in the deck, such as delve. Other good early plays include Inquisition to ruin your opponent’s hand, or Serum Visions to set up your next draws.
The best turn 2 play available would be Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. With the addition of a single fetch land, Jace can flip the next turn. His looting ability has nearly no downside here. In this scenario, you have an active planeswalker on Turn 3 that can flash back a spell or dampen an incoming attack.
Since you’ve got a full graveyard at this point it’s also a great time to summon Snapcaster Mage, the poster child of Blue in modern. With Jace’s looting and Thought Scour, you should have plenty of flashback targets for turn 4 and beyond.
The Value Triangle
In Dragons of Tarkir, a ‘Command’ cycle was printed, similar to the cycle from Lorwyn. There was one that was cheap, and powerful enough to leave it’s mark on Modern: Kolaghan’s Command. This spell is a ‘create your own two-for-one’, and all the modes are relevant in most matchups. Here’s an awesome scenario.
You cast Kommand, and choose modes like Shock+Raven’s Crime at the end of your opponent’s turn. On your turn you, untap and cast Snapcaster Mage targeting Kolaghan’s Command to Shock a creature and Disentomb another fallen Snapcaster.
It’s easy to generate tons of advantage over your opponent and grind them into the ground with this deck. Later in the game, you’ll draw another one of the three Kolaghan’s Commands, which you’ll cast to 2-for-1 your opponent yet again. Then you may cast Snapcaster from your hand and this time, Raven’s Crime your opponent’s only card in hand during their upkeep, and Disentomb your first Snapcaster back to your hand again. The deck can repeat this continuously, generating tons of advantage over opponents and grinding them into the ground.
Other variants of Grixis also utilize large amounts of Cryptic Commands as additional value plays. But, this build of the deck is an aggressive, proactive control deck, and the 4 CMC of Cryptic could really slow us down. Other versions of Grixis midrange do still run a single Cryptic Command, simply because it’s a very powerful blue spell, and a single copy doesn’t get too clunky.
The Big Guys
You thought this deck wins with incidental damage? No! This deck has some of the biggest creatures in the format, aside from Tron and Eldrazi. The first one is Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Tasigur is basically a black Tarmogoyf, especially in this deck where he can easily come out for 1 or 2 mana with all the spells in the grave. Make sure to actively think about what you delve to capitalize on his ability.
The next heavy hitter is Gurmag Angler. Talk about a nice common! This guy is bigger than your average Tarmogoyf, and even trades with Reality Smasher. He costs 1 more mana than Tasigur, but delve allows him to only need to tap 1 or 2 lands all the same. The only downside to using Delve fatties is that Dark Confidant will absolutely kill you. Instead of Bob, you get cantrips and Jace.
Last but not least, Pia and Kiran Nalaar. Not as big, per se, but they do come with two flying blockers, and the potential to deal a lot of damage next turn. In fact, if P&K and their tokens swing and aren’t blocked, that’s 4 damage, and you can sacrifice the Thopters for another 4 damage! Pretty good for a 4 drop, and they’re great at controlling the field with their one-time-use Lavamancers.
The deck is well positioned to fight creature and combo decks, and anything you’re forced to discard can actually help flip Jace sooner, and give you more things to flash back. Jace can also reduce the power of incoming Eldrazi since he can come out and flip very early. On top of that, you have three Terminates with 7 ways to flash them back, but wait there’s more!
Both Tasigur and Angler can come out very cheap, and rumble with all the biggest Eldrazi. In reality though, the biggest threat will be Thought-Knot Seer, because exiling a card from hand can really hurt this deck.
Damnation can be good, if not too slow. Shriekmaw is effective, as he can be cast for evoke cost, and be recurred with Kolaghan’s Command. Big Game Hunter is another option here, being cheaper than Shriekmaw, but presenting a smaller body. Spreading Seas is an excellent choice, being able to turn off Eye of Ugin/Eldrazi Temple on turn 2 and cantrip. Lastly, Vampiric Link can perform very well if put on one of the fatties in the deck, or a large Eldrazi.
This is how I would tweak this for the meta:
|Maindeck Changes||Sideboard Changes|
|2x Pia and Kiran Nalaar||3x Fulminator Mage|
|1x Tasigur, the Golden Fang||1x Flashfreeze|
|1x Mana Leak||1x Spell Snare|
|1x Serum Visions|
|1x Inquisition of Kozilek|
|2x Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet||2x Spreading Seas|
|1x Shriekmaw||1x Molten Rain|
|1x Murderous Cut||1x Shriekmaw|
|1x Dreadbore||1x Big Game Hunter|
My version of this deck runs a split of 3/1/1 on Terminate/Dreadbore/Murderous Cut, for five total hard kill spells. Dreadbore helps with Planeswalkers, and Murderous Cut can be super cheap. All of these can also be recurred. I tweaked some of the other spells to find room for a Damnation maindeck as well.
For the creatures, I cut Mom and Pop’s Thopter Shop for Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. I felt like P&K didn’t do much in the Eldrazi matchup, but Kalitas generates tons of zombie blockers, and is easy to grow out of Dismember range. In addition, he gives us maindeck lifelink, which is actually rare in these colors. Other creatures like Vampire Nighthawk are too fragile and don’t do enough damage to matter.
I cut a Tasigur to make room for Shriekmaw in the maindeck, because Tasigur isn’t able to block Reality Smasher and I like Shriekmaw’s interactions with Kommand. Looking at Rise//Fall I really liked how it represents a Disentomb+Unsummon or Hymn to Tourach, so I kept that.
In the sideboard, I found room for two Spreading Seas for early late hate, and a Molten Rain for flashback shenanigans instead of the Fulminators. I also included another Shriekmaw and a Big Game Hunter for good measure. I love how Vampiric Link+Kalitas generates twice as much life gain as normal - notice how Link doesn’t say it grants Lifelink. Anger of the Gods isn’t quite good enough vs Eldrazi, but I did leave one in the sideboard for other matchups. Three damage is great against other aggro decks, and the exiling is relevant against Melira Company, Hatebears, and so much more.
These spells, and all the mainboard recursion look to be sufficient to put up a good fight against the Eldrazi. Also, take note of the Vandalblast, as opposed to the usual Shatterstorm. This is because the wording on Jace’s ability allows for alternate costs such as overload to be used from the grave.
The other midrange deck we’re looking at today is Mardu Midrange. This is a very fringe midrange deck that some players are a huge fan of. I find it to be well-positioned to deal with the meta, and has plenty of tools to hurt Eldrazi. If you want to play something unique and still be competitive, you might enjoy Mardu Midrange, courtesy of MTGSalvation Forums:
As opposed to Grixis midrange, which has recursion over a lack of ways to deal with Noncreature Permanents, Mardu has an advantage with sheer removal quality. This deck gets access to all the best removal in the format: Path, Terminate, Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix. Don’t forget, it also gets the discard the other decks are running, like Inquisition. A few other notable advantages is that it gets to run.
It can have Dark Confidant, the most powerful card-draw engine in Modern. Another is Lingering souls, which is also very hard for most decks to deal with - taking a combination of four blocks, attacks into blockers, and/or removal to completely get rid of. It has Grim Lavamancer which is allowed to pick at your graveyard freely, and is great at controlling the board or burning your opponent. A standout for this deck is Ajani Vengeant. He presents a serious threat that must be answered quickly, and his +1 is great at stalling a threat or keeping a certain land tapped down. I also like how Falkenrath Aristocrat can do an Arcbound Ravager impersonation and end the game very quickly.
How Does it Fare?
In the current meta, this deck can handle aggro relatively easily, like any midrange deck, and it has a game against Eldrazi decks. Grim Lavamancer can be played early, allowing him to kill those Eldrazi Mimics and can combo with your burn to kill Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher. The deck generates tons of card advantage, and any creatures you have to discard can be recurred with Kommand. Mardu has tons of great removal spells to handle Eldrazi and Lingering Souls can create a lot of blockers. A stand out creature is Falkenrath Aristocrat because it presents a very fast flying clock. Finally, the deck also has variety of burn to finish the game.
As for sideboard, Worship is very bad against Eldrazi, since many decks are now running a playset of World Breaker. However, Wrath of God will put a stop to them. Another good option is, Crackling Doom and the Seek half of Hide//Seek which can also cleanly kill anything in the deck, including Reality Smasher. This sideboard could use tweaking for this meta. Let’s see what can be done.
|Maindeck Changes||Sideboard Changes|
|2x Falkenrath Aristocrat||2x Fulminator Mage|
|1x Grim Lavamancer||1x Worship|
|1x Ajani Vengeant||1x Zealous Persecution|
|1x Lingering Souls|
|1x Abbot of Keral Keep|
|2x Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet||2x Evil Presence|
|1x Shriekmaw||1x Shriekmaw|
|2x Butcher of the Horde||1x Big Game Hunter|
|1x Wrath of God|
I liked the spells for the most part, but I felt a Dreadbore was needed for Planeswalkers like Ugin and Wrath of God was added to the maindeck to deal with Eldrazi and the other aggro decks. I cut a Thoughtseize and Ajani Vengeant for these. When I looked at the creature suite, I felt it was rather weak - Every Single Creature had 1 toughness! The first thing I did was cut one Abbot. He’s great, but I think four is too many, and the potential card advantage isn’t great if you can’t take advantage of it. I also cut the Aristocrat. Although I like that she can get in and deal 4 or more damage immediately, I wasn’t sure if I could depend on having something to sacrifice every time someone targets this fragile vampire. With a total of 10 humans in the deck, indestructible will not save her from Dismember.
To buff up the power of the creatures, I added in two Kalitas for the aforementioned reasons and two Butcher of the Horde. With Aristocrat, I felt like you would spend a lot of your time keeping her alive, but Butcher’s abilities are pure upside. Being able to swing 5 in the air is nice, and he can block most things in the format. Vigilance is also great to hold off a Reality Smasher.
Another Shriekmaw and a BGH was added to the side, because you want all the help you can get against these decks. I added a second Wrath of God as well as Evil Presence. Although it can feel like a tempo loss, other options like Fulminator Mage or Molten Rain are just too slow to keep up with Eldrazi. Like I mentioned earlier, due to the prevalence of World Breaker, I cut Worship and Ensnaring Bridge.
I think I’ve provided more than enough reasons for you to try any one of these decks, and I’ll likely take one of these to an event nearby soon. Both of these decks have the tools to survive in ‘Eldrazi Winter’ so I’m looking forward to see what tweaks others come up with!
After reading both parts of this series, I hope I either: renewed hope in midrange decks for my fellow midrange aficionados, or gave you something else to put on your radar. Hopefully insight on how these decks work can help you beat them. Also, feel free to play with other color variations, such as B/U/G or R/U/G.
Next time I’ll showcase a primer for a lesser-known deck that has the potential to be competitive.
Thanks for reading, and hope to see you back next time!