Kroxa, the Crux of Standard
- Rodrigo Martin
With Uro and Omnath off of Standard's menu, it's finally time for other strategies to shine. Rakdos Midrange has emerged as a serious competitor and as an early frontrunner in the current format. Let's unveil all the raw power the deck has to offer and review some sideboard tips and tricks.
Hello folks! Glad to have you here again. Today, let's leave all of Magic's latest controversies aside and focus on one positive fact: Standard is great again. Even though the last B&R announcement was pretty rough, getting rid of the three more cards in Omnath, Locus of Creation, Lucky Clover, and Escape to the Wilds, the bannings are starting to pay dividends. Now we are able to enjoy a healthy format with a wide range of strategies quite balanced with each others.
Without further ado, let's dive into Rakdos Midrange, the only deck still capable of escaping an Elder Giant without getting banned.
Early Brews During Omnath Times
|Rakdos Midrange by Noham Maubert, 1st at Red Bull Untapped Qualifier France|
Here you can already find all the key ingredients that made the strategy viable even while Omnath decks dominated the field. Of course, some choices changed since then, and I have tweaked the numbers a bit. But first, let's subdivide the main 60 into subcategories, starting with the creature suite.
The Magnificent Seven
You will find about seven different creatures in almost every list. The two-drops in particular are the glue that holds the whole strategy together, so let's begin here.
Magmatic Channeler: a superb inclusion that does a little bit of everything. First, it's a 1/3 body that doesn't die to Stomp while profitably blocking 2-power threats early on. Secondly, its filtering ability fills up your graveyard and accelerates your escape creatures. Last but not least, later in the game, it becomes a 4/4 beater able to attack for the final points of damage.
Mire Triton: At first glance this tiny black Zombie feels a bit underwhelming as it dies to every piece of removal imaginable. But it holds the ground, especially against fatty creatures such as Lovestruck Beast // Heart's Desire or Kazandu Mammoth // Kazandu Valley, and the life gain comes in handy in aggro matchups. It also starts the self-mill engine for Kroxa, Ox of Agonas, and Channeler.
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger: The third member of the band and probably the most famous one is the face of the deck, currently having a blast in Standard now that its older brother Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath has been kicked out. The whole shell is built to maximize the chance to play a quick Kroxa as consistently as possible, thanks to the aforementioned two-drops combined with Tymaret Calls the Dead and to a lesser extent Liliana, Waker of the Dead's discard ability. Aside from that, Kroxa abilities are pretty self-explanatory. It's not terribly exciting to cast it on turn two, but two mana isn't a big cost either. Though be wary of a single Spikefield Hazard // Spikefield Cave or Scorching Dragonfire exiling Kroxa when you sacrifice it that way. You'd rather mill it or discard it to reap the full value.
All in all, you should play four copies of each of the above creatures. There are some variants within the archetype that go more heavy on noncreature spells and cut Channeler, but I wouldn't recommend that.
Moving on to the Adventure section, Bonecrusher Giant and Murderous Rider // Swift End barely need any words for Standard connoisseurs at this point. The red Giant was the most played creature in the format even after Lucky Clover's departure, and the Hero's Downfall with legs has also regained a lot of popularity thanks to Golgari Adventures' rise. In general, what this deck tries to accomplish is to broaden its resources as much as possible, both with Adventures and the modal double-faced cards. All in all, you want at least three copies of Bonecrusher while the Zombie Knight works fine at two.
As for the higher curve, the only four-drop in this section is Rankle, Master of Pranks — yet another busted mythic from Throne of Eldraine that works as the only flier in our team. Flying is a huge upside especially against decks like Monored or Gruul Adventures where the ground gets stalled and the Faerie Rogue can unlock the game by swinging in the air. In fact, I have won so many matches with my opponent at 4 life by topdecking Rankle that I cannot support two copies of this creature enough. One thing though, when choosing between the three options once damage is done, you shouldn't pick the card draw mode unless necessary. This strategy doesn't have an impressive amount of topdecks, and the main plan is to dismantle our opponents' hands rather than giving them cards.
Closing up the list, at the top end of the curve, we have Terror of the Peaks and Ox of Agonas. Starting with the dragon, although it was a nice choice during Omnath times, nowadays a five-mana card that does nothing when it enters the battlefield and doesn't synergize too well with the rest of the deck doesn't seem too appealing. Instead, I will stick with Ox of Agonas, our escape spell five and six, another great target to discard with Channelers and Lilianas as well as hitting with Mire Triton and Tymaret Calls the Dead. Even playing from hand when you get hellbent is a reasonable deal. That's another reason why you can include two additional copies in the sideboard for grindy matchups.
Die Baby Die
The spell suite for this deck aims to get rid of every single creature or planeswalker on the other side of the battlefield. Within the current metagame, there are tons of early plays demanding a straight answer, for example Edgewall Innkeeper with its card advantages attached, Lotus Cobra with its ramp shenanigans, as well as a plethora of Rogues and Adventure creatures. That's why we pack the best black removal in the shape of Bloodchief's Thirst and Heartless Act. Thirst is a catch-all answer for the first turns of the game, while later we can kick it to destroy larger targets when sometimes the Act cannot get rid of creatures with counters. Scavenging Ooze is a very nasty threat to our strategy, and there are other green fatties like Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig and Stonecoil Serpent.
Since the Rakdos strategy is so hungry for mana, it runs between six and up to eight modal double-faced cards that count as removal or lands when needed. Spikefield Hazard // Spikefield Cave is a clean answer to toughness 1 creatures and also able to exile opposing Kroxas, while Hagra Mauling // Hagra Broodpit is a bit overcosted as spot removal but makes up for it with the land-clause upside. Last but not least, Shatterskull Smashing // Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass is a very flexible answer that can become a solid two-for-one in the late game when we have enough mana available and also deals with small-to-medium creatures in the early game. Although it's a bit overpriced too.
Leaving sorceries and instants aside, Liliana, Waker of the Dead is the second-best discard engine next to Kroxa, but also works as removal if our graveyard is full enough. Since we don't mind discarding cards with escape, emptying opponents' hands is a pretty good deal until we get to her ultimate, which should translate into instant victory in any creature-based matchup.
Graveyard Always Matters
We've already covered a lot of cards that interact with our graveyard, but there two more. Tymaret Calls the Dead is our primary tool to ditch cards from the library and the main way to achieve a turn four Kroxa. If possible, remove extra copies of the Saga in the graveyard to create Zombie tokens as they are useless for other purposes. The third chapter becomes blank sometimes, but sometimes the life gain matters when facing aggro decks, and scrying always improves future draws and can help set up Channeler activations.´
Finally, Agadeem's Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt is an extra trick for the late game that can bring back whatever folks still remain in the graveyard. It's not worth running more than two copies. However, it is worthwhile to be aware of what types of cards to exile when casting your escape spells to maximize value.
Exiling Your Graveyard Order
- Instants and sorceries
- Creatures with duplicate CMC/without escape
- Other creatures
As a rule of thumb, neither lands nor planeswalkers need to remain in the graveyard for our own interaction, but we don't want Zareth San, the Trickster to grab our Liliana. Then, enchantments only matter to exile with Tymaret Calls the Dead. Afterward, you should start exiling sorceries and instants, if possible leaving at least four so Magmatic Channeler turns into a 4/4 body instead of a 1/3. Lastly, you can exile creatures, but always be thinking about the fact that you could draw Agadeem's Awakening. So try to keep one creature of each converted mana cost and obviously leave the escape artists for the end.
Manabase in Progress
Just a quick recap since it couldn't be more straightforward. Due to the lack of the whole Pathway cycle, the only dual lands available are the Temples from Theros Beyond Death, which aren't very exciting for a deck that wants to spend its mana for the first four turns of the game. We need to wait for Kaldheim to improve this part of the strategy.
Fabled Passage helps to fill up the graveyard, and a singleton Castle Locthwain can draw some extra cards. A bunch of basic Mountains and Swamps complete the list. Regarding numbers, depending on the double-faced modal cards, you can run from 19 to 21, always more Swamps than Mountains, as black is the deck's primary color.
Final Deck and Sideboard Choices
|Rakdos Midrange by Rone|
Let's call this the creature-heavy version. Others run only sixteen, leaving Channeler and Rankle aside. I am a huge Channeler fan, since it smooths your draws and can find the land you need or the removal spell in time, while fueling the graveyard. But depending on the metagame you're facing, it could be the right choice to cut them.
In the sideboard we find some extra removal in the shape of Scorching Dragonfire, and you could even consider adding some copies of Extinction Event for the mirror match, although you have to time that well, as exiling your own creatures really hurts. Some artifact removal is essential, in particular against cards like The Great Henge, which essentially is game over if uncontested for a couple of turns. That's why Shredded Sails is a must. It's also a flexible slot that deals with flashy Embercleaves at the same time that it kills flying beaters like several Dimir Rogues or Yorion, Sky Nomad.
Finally, additional creatures are used in different matchups. On one hand, Nighthawk Scavenger works nicely against more aggressive strategies that have a hard time blocking flying creatures, such as Golgari Adventures or Monored Aggro. On the other hand, Skyclave Shade is an extra threat against control decks, hard to deal with thanks to its recurring landfall trigger. Regarding graveyard decks and the mirror match, Cling to Dust is the perfect answer to Kroxa and other escape spells while Soul-Guide Lantern exiles the whole graveyard if needed.
Versus Control: Dimir, Azorius, Esper
In: 3 Skyclave Shade, 3 Agonizing Remorse, 2 Shredded Sails.
Out: 2 Spikefield Hazard, 3 Heartless Act, 2 Bloodchief's Thirst.
The good old "discard in, removal out" against creatureless decks. Shredded Sails comes in against Yorion and also Mazemind Tome, otherwise don't bring it in. Skyclave Shade increases the number of bodies and as mentioned is a hard-to-kill threat. I run Agonizing Remorse over Duress since it exiles rather than discarding, and it also can hit graveyard targets in the scenarios when opponents are empty handed.
Versus Beatdown: Monored, Monogreen, Golgari/Gruul Adventures
In: 2 Nighthawk Scavenger, 2 Scorching Dragonfire, 2 Shredded Sails.
Out: 2 Ox of Agonas, 2 Rankle, Master of Pranks, 2 Spikefield Hazard (against Monogreen) or 2 Hagra Mauling (against Monored).
Against aggro shells, we play the control role, as they put earlier pressure. We take out the top end creatures, since they become clunky and block badly, and we add more dedicated removal as well as Nighthawk Scavenger in order to win some life back in the air. Scorching Dragonfire is the cleanest answer to Anax, Hardened in the Forge or Kazandu Mammoth, but it could be replaced with Extinction Event. Shredded Sails comes in in both matchups to deal with Embercleave and The Great Henge respectively.
We take out Spikefield Hazard against Monogreen, since it has no profitable targets, while Hagra Mauling is too expensive against Monored. Treat both Adventures decks as if they were Monored and keep Spikefield for Edgewall Innkeeper and Cobras.
Versus Dimir Rogues
In: 2 Nighthawk Scavenger, 2 Scorching Dragonfire, 2 Shredded Sails, 2 Cling to Dust.
Out: 4 Mire Triton, 4 Tymaret Calls the Dead.
When facing this archetype, be aware they already mill us, so take out all graveyard enablers. Add more escape cards in order to keep your graveyard at less than eight or seven cards. Nighthawk becomes an amazing blocker, while Dragonfire and Sails work as extra removal for their evasive threats. Also be mindful of which cards remain in the graveyard against the Zareth San, the Trickster version, so they don't get to steal your Oxes et cetera.
Versus Rakdos Midrange (Mirror)
In: 2 Scorching Dragonfire, 1 Soul-Guide Lantern, 2 Cling to Dust.
Out: 2 Murderous Rider, 2 Rankle, 1 Magmatic Channeler.
The mirror match is all about the recurring threats, meaning Kroxa and Ox. If you manage to exile them either via removal or Cling to Dust, the rest of the threats trade normally. Soul-Guide Lantern is superb as it can exile an escape artist while removing the whole graveyard, blanking Tymaret, Channeler or Liliana when needed. If you expect a lot of mirrors, I would definitely add a second copy. The more you play your own strategy, the better you will be prepared for the mirror, even though it sometimes becomes a matter of who draws best.
Looking at the Future
If you reached this point, thank you so much for reading. I hope you know the deck better now and may want to give it a try. Looking at the next few months until the new set comes out, it seems like a bright time to enjoy Standard and all the different archetypes that are now viable. Finally we can let Kroxa have its fun after Uro's reign these past few months. I hope you enjoyed the article, and please leave your comments or questions below.
Until next time,
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.