Winning Midrange Battles at Worlds (Top 4) and Beyond

Terribad

The card pool may be changing, but one thing looks to remain certain for the foreseeable future: Standard is all about mastering midrange matchups. Here are decks one could have played, did play, and should have played, as well as general guidelines on how to approach midrange metagames!

karl worlds

Two weekends ago I came in fourth at the Magic World Championship. Wow.

I want to start by thanking everyone around me:

  • My partner Rosa, who encouraged me to follow my dreams and take a massive risk going full time on Magic when Covid hit and I was too stressed to continue working my office job.

  • My dog Sky, who is just the happiest fellow and has helped me build a nice structure of taking care of my health.

  • My teammates, who are all way better than me and keep coming up with new amazing ideas every day.

  • The Estonian and Latin-American Magic communities—thanks for all the support! I'm glad I could motivate a lot of you to try hard at Magic again.

Deck I Could Have Played

Similar versions of this are what we had for the Qualifier Weekend one week before the deck submission deadline. At the time we were expecting Grixis to be the most played deck, and I am certain the Siphon Insight builds are favored against those focused on tapping out for more powerful, expensive cards like extra copies of Sheoldred and Invoke Despair.

I would encourage you to try out this deck in the current metagame that has been taken over by Nathan's Worlds-winning Grixis deck. If I were looking to innovate, then playing one more utility land and Liliana of the Veil to combat Fable of the Mirror-Breaker decks would be on my mind.

For the World Championship itself we ended up moving to Esper. We did because Siphon Insight is the technology we found to be good versus Grixis, and it also worked in Esper, which is a much more resilient deck against "anti-midrange" strategies.

Deck I Played

The idea behind this deck is to win midrange games on the draw. The one-two punch of Make Disappear and Siphon Insight will always keep your opponent guessing, and whenever you get into the draw-go-style games in the early turns, you can take advantage and keep spending your mana. It played out for me really well in the tournament, where I posted a 4-1 record in Esper mirrors.

siphon insight make disappear

The other big change compared to stock lists of Esper is that we relegated Sheoldred to the sideboard. Personally I think games come down to getting small advantages, and having two-mana answers to four-mana sorceries is a way you can achieve that. Sheoldred is still a very good card against more fringe strategies like Enchantress or Monoblue, but that's why it is in the sideboard.

The sideboard is built to have two very different plans for on the play and on the draw. Kaito Shizuki is an amazing planeswalker at pushing the advantage when you are ahead, but it can get awkward when you fall behind on the board. Thus we only have them for the games on the play. Rona's Vortex is overall just very good in this metagame, and I consider running one copy main over Destroy Evil.

Moving forward I also consider cutting Farewell for another sideboard card for the Monoblue matchup. Void Rend or Unlicensed Hearse are what come to mind. This is because of the lack of Enchantress-style decks.

How to Beat Midrange Metagames

The biggest part of testing for the last two pro level events consisted of playing midrange mirrors with snowballing cards that give a large starting advantage to the player on the play. I was quite confused when The Meathook Massacre got banned because it felt as one of the better tools to catch up against especially Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki—the best card in the format.

reflection of kiki-jiki

For the Streets of New Capenna Championship my thought process centered mostly on trying to find ways to increase win rate on the draw. Then for this tournament it felt much more difficult to achieve, and that led me to start focusing on maximizing win rate on the play as well.

The few mental notes I have made are to look for mana advantages. I think this is the key factor in getting ahead in midrange games. That can be cards that generate extra mana like Fable or cheap cards like Spell Pierce and Duress, which slot in on later turns alongside three- or four-mana plays or combine well with the hands that have two tapped lands to start with. Instants like Siphon Insight also categorize here, because you can always slot them into your turn cycles when mana would otherwise go unused.

Another aspect is to play cards or strategies that help you catch up on the draw, Make Disappear, Archangel of Wrath, and The Elder Dragon War, to name a few. The Dragon Saga I also love because it provides protection against mana flood, which can be another avenue of losing games.

I would also look for threats that line up well against the common removal. In the case of current Standard that would mean finding cards that cannot be killed by Cut Down and Destroy Evil. At the World Championship we tried countering this by removing Sheoldred from the main deck, making opponents' spot removal weaker. But a few more examples of cards that can be very good because they dodge specifically the mentioned removal are 3/3 creatures like Corpse Appraiser, Anointed Peacekeeper, Graveyard Trespasser // Graveyard Glutton, or Biting-Palm Ninja. I would like to highlight the Ninja because the card looks very interesting to me. It does need a more aggressive shell, but maybe that will become a reality later when more cards get added to the format.

Or I would look for alternative strategies that might exploit weaknesses of the most played decks. This is often where I start actually, because it can take up much more time, and I want to spend the later stages of preparation on finetuning the decklist. A key in finding a good fringe deck is to make sure they are coherent strategies on their own. Often what can happen is that, while you get a small edge versus the popular deck, you lose too much to the rest of the field. If that is the case you should usually default to playing the well-known best deck and work on perfecting it. The exception is if the dominant archetype is simply too powerful and you can comfortably expect it to make up over 50% of the field, and I believe that is very rare. This leads me to the coolest deck in current Standard.

Deck I Should Have Played

djinn

This is an updated version of the deck that Julian Wellman, my good teammate, ended up playing at the World Championship. I believe Blue-Red Djinn and its latest iterations are all favored against both Grixis and Esper. Unfortunately we arrived at this style of the deck with main-deck Cemetery Illuminator and no Tolarian Terror only during the very last hours before deck submission. At that point I was already very happy with our Esper list, and I just did not have the guts to gamble on what felt a risky choice.

Now that I have seen the deck more in action, I am confident in saying that it's the best deck in this Standard format. But it is also the most difficult to play. The sequencing and timing of your spells as well as knowing exactly how to achieve board states that favor you or what cards to discard to Fable, what to choose from Impulse or Consider are all very complex. Julian who had the confidence to register the deck put up a strong 4-1 record in Standard. He only lost to Jean-Emmanuel Depraz on Monoblue, while beating both me and our new world champion Nathan Steuer 2-0.

Throughout testing I was really impressed with Julian's skill and creativity. For someone who has played Magic only for a few years the 65.9% win rate at the professional level speaks for itself. I have never seen anyone reach such a high level so quickly. If he keeps working and improving, he will definitely go far. Also, my thanks go to Matti and Simon, with whom we huddled up in a "testing house" for a week before the deadline, and to everyone else I got to meet in Vegas. The gathering is definitely an amazing part of Magic. See you all in Philly next February!

I would like to end with congratulations to Nathan—a well-deserved world champion! I can't wait to play with your card in Vintage Cube!


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, not of Cardmarket.



1 Comment

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realalien1(11.11.2022 09:16)

Great (Siphon) insights, thanks!

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