25, Jul, 23

This MTG Format's Year-old Ruler has Finally Been Taken Down

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Its not uncommon for one MTG strategy to rule a format for an extended period of time. Sometimes, even single cards like [tooltips]Oko, Thief of Crowns[/tooltips], [tooltips]Fable of the Mirror-Breaker[/tooltips] or, arguably, The One Ring can homogenize formats to the point where a lack of diversity begins to make things feel hostile. If you don’t play the card of the format, you can’t win.

While things weren’t quite that bad in Pioneer, one deck did hold the format’s crown with an iron grip. That doesn’t mean other strategies weren’t playable – quite the contrary. It just means that, for a really long time, Rakdos Midrange was considered the best thing that you could do in the format. Back in October 2022’s metagame mentor from MTG legend Frank Karsten, this deck had over a 20% metagame share. Even taking a look at the past 90 days over on mtggoldfish.com‘s metagame data still has the deck at a 15% share. Thanks to the last competitive Regional Championship season, however, it appears that reign is finally over.

What Happened to Rakdos Midrange?

For a long time, the two best decks in the Pioneer metagame were Rakdos Midrange and Mono Green Devotion. This is strictly from the numbers pertaining to the metagame share from sights like mtggoldfish.com. That said, while Rakdos Midrange definitely still sees Pioneer play, its really difficult to argue that the deck is still a tier one threat. If you want to find sample decklists for the archetype, you can do so here.

Taking from Pioneer Challenge results over on Magic Online, Rakdos Midrange, once upon a time, was a mainstay deck expected to appear in almost every single top eight of any Pioneer tournament. Over the weekend, in top 32 results for each challenge, only one copy of the deck appeared in 24th in Saturday’s challenge and 25th in Sunday’s challenge. That said, one copy of Rakdos Midrange did finish sixth in the Manatraders tournament, the biggest Pioneer tournament of the week. This is still a drastic comparison to where Rakdos Midrange was prior to the past Regional Championship season.

Even though Rakdos Midrange is on the downtick, Rakdos itself hasn’t gone anywhere. The biggest change that caused Rakdos Midrange to step down is because a new Rakdos deck is stepping up to the plate.

The Rise of Rakdos Sacrifice

If anything was learned from the past Regional Championship season, its that Rakdos Sacrifice is a much stronger deck than anyone would’ve thought. Thanks to Samwise Gamgee being absolutely everywhere in other formats, [tooltips]Cauldron Familiar[/tooltips] should be a card that everyone is familiar with. Rakdos Sacrifice employs the age-old Cat-Oven combo backed by a Mayhem Devil finish that we all know and… may have mixed feelings about.

Either way, Rakdos Midrange has a particularly bad matchup against Rakdos Sacrifice. The fair angle that Rakdos attacks on is not very effective against the Cat Oven synergy backed with a bunch of value spells like [tooltips]Deadly Dispute[/tooltips]. Otherwise, Rakdos Sacrifice has incredible creature-based matchups across the board, making it a great choice against decks like Azorius Spirits, Mono White Aggro and Gruul Boats.

As will be demonstrated by the chart below, at the Regional Championship level, Rakdos Midrange only had a 35% winrate against Rakdos Sacrifice which, according to mtggoldfish.com, is now more popular than Rakdos Midrange on Magic Online over the past 30 days. Having a bad matchup against a deck that is more popular than yours is not a good place to be in, and, as the chart will show, this only gets worse.

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The Numbers

While discussing recent results, or the lack of them, may help to put Rakdos Midrange’s decline into a better light, observing matchup data on the Regional Championship level reveals a deeper level of understanding. Over on the Pioneer Reddit, user cmarti063 has shared an updated matchup spread for the top Pioneer decks. All of the events included are at the bottom of the image, mainly consisting of various Regional Championships from across the globe (that is what the individual cities and countries indicate).

As demonstrated here, other decks also rose to prominence to beat up on Rakdos Midrange. Enigmatic Fires was the most notable of these, presenting an almost unwinnable matchup for the Midrange menace. A 70/30 matchup at a high level is an atrocious one for Rakdos.

Otherwise, Rakdos notably struggled against the other most popular deck in the Regional Championship series: Mono-Green Devotion, or Nykthos Ramp. For reference, this is now considered to the most popular, and potentially best, deck in the Pioneer format.

Having a bad matchup against Green is a terrible position to be in when its the second most played deck in the field. Numbers will obviously vary by event, but a 10% metagame share means that you are very unlikely to play an event without running into this deck at least once.

The comparison of Rakdos’ metagame share in this dataset in comparison to its share over the past 30 days from mtggoldfish.com really allows things to sink in. The deck only has about a 7.5% metagame share in comparison to the massive 16%. To use a more direct comparison, Rakdos Midrange still hosts a 16% metagame share when taking a year-long look at data from mtggoldfish. Over the past 90 days, this only drops to 15%. In comparison, Rakdos now holds less than half of its previous metagame share at 7.5% according to the past 30 days worth of data.

Either way, Rakdos Midrange, according to mtggoldfish, is now the fourth most popular deck behind Mono White Aggro, Rakdos Sacrifice and Mono Green Devotion. According to the matchup spread above, Rakdos loses two of these matchups, and is slightly advantaged in the third.

What Next?

For players who insist on playing Rakdos Midrange, its still a fine strategy. Unlike other formats, being an absolute master of your Pioneer strategy of choice goes a long way due to the linear nature of the format. Small edges won’t necessarily bring heavy dividends, but winning multiple small ones will add up.

Alternatively, players who have spearheaded this deck’s rise to fame may return to innovate the deck and get it back ahead the curve. Thanks to the upcoming Pro Tour, they are likely doing other things right now.

On that note, we have our first Modern Pro Tour in quite some time coming up. Like the threat of The One Ring this time, Hogaak was an uncomfortable shadow over the past Pro Tour. Despite this, Mono Green Tron, a deck completely unrelated to the menace, was the strategy to take things down. This weekend should be an incredibly exciting one for fans of competitive Magic.

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