Years ago I always followed my heart no matter what. I built outlandish decks around cards I enjoyed like Craterhoof Behemoth, Trading Post, Nightshade Peddler and even went full Kevorkian once when I chained Siege Rhino to the rocks. I thought all I wanted to do was win, but unbeknownst to me there was a little voice in the back of my head solely looking to have a good time. Those days are behind me though as I've become a grizzled veteran at this point. All I want to do now is find the best deck, learn it inside and out, win trophies, and get comfortable in bed before the 10 o'clock news. No more frills. No more thrills. Just good efficient Magic cards organized in a specific way, and cast in a precise order. The days of playing decks I enjoy are behind me. I've grown up. I've grown old.
At least that's what I thought. I haven't been able to put Sultai Midrange down. I think I'm in love. Let me just put it this way: If a genie suddenly appeared before my eyes and gifted me with just one wish I'd ask for is a Standard deck that played Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Ravenous Chupacabra, Liliana, Death's Majesty, and The Scarab God. Never in my wildest dreams would I think they'd just throw in Champion of Wits for free!
It's not just that this deck plays a lot of cards I love casting, but I've found enjoyment in some of the other ones as well. Innocuous ones like Field of Ruin! I thought that card was just a nice added value land that can help keep control decks from finding Azcanta. After just one league I found out that this land interacts really well with opposing explore creatures. So not only do I get some sick pleasure whenever my opponent cast "medium-minus" Merfolk Branchwalker, but now I also make them shuffle their Glorybringer back into their deck! All this value on a land that can also get Fatal Push revolted. It's just beautiful, that's what it is.
I found my home.
I found my love.
I found my issue.
The entire time spent playing this deck has been filled with joy and loving exploration. This isn't the normal feelings I've had when preparing for events. Normally I just find the best build of Temur Energy/Bant Company/Abzan Control, and hope I play better than my opponents. I've been stuck in that mindset for so long that I didn't know what I was missing. The issue, however, is I still want to be doing that "best" thing, which I think I found. There's just a little voice in the back of my head screaming at me that you can't have your cake and eat it too. Have I gotten so lucky that I've found the best deck and like it, or am I being biased?
There's really nothing more I can say about it now. I'll continue playing the deck and second-guessing my motivations until Grand Prix Memphis next weekend. Only then will I be able to truly know if I was being too subjective or far too lucky. Until then I'll just break down this deck that I love so much.
- 3 Champion of Wits
- 4 Gifted Aetherborn
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 1 Hostage Taker
- 2 Kitesail Freebooter
- 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 1 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
- 3 The Scarab God
Sultai Midrange is the Standard deck you should play this weekend if you've ever liked midrange decks in the past. Playing it feels like killing them with Siege Rhino's enter the battlefield trigger, putting that monstrosity counter on Fleecemane Lion, and hitting two Tireless Trackers on a Collected Company all rolled into one deck. It has life gain, card advantage, removal, card advantage, reanimation, card advantage, and The Scarab God; a card so good that it isn't even fun winning with.
There's a few cards I'm uncertain on the numbers for, like Chart the Course, Kitesail Freebooter, and Champion of Wits. All are strong effects the deck wants, but knowing the correct numbers will only come once I truly learn the ins and outs of sideboarding. I'll work diligently to find the most fluid design possible, but that will take at least another week of development as I'm just starting to grasp this format. The list is bound to change, but the strategy should live for a very long time in this format. It's just such a good shell for the format's best card. For now though, this is the best configuration I've found, but will be keeping you up to speed on any developments I find as I continue working on the deck.
VS Mono-Red Aggro
The Mono-Red Aggro matchup is extremely volatile, and thus far felt even. Sultai Midrange is the deck in the matchup that has most room to grow so I feel like eventually we'll find the correct mixture, but for now it's still a work-in-progress.
Game 1, just like in almost every matchup, is all about surviving long enough to leverage The Scarab God. Being on the play helps, but most important is casting as many spells on curve as possible while also having at least one Vraska's Contempt for the potentially game-ending Hazoret the Fervent. If things line up well enough then the games can be manageable, but any small hiccup will end in a brutal loss.
I've liked lowering my land count ever so slightly while also lowering my curve. Keep in mind Mono-Red Aggro will be increasing their curve and land count. I'm not sure if all the copies of Chart the Course deserve to come out, but it hasn't felt good unless I'm already extremely favored. Your role in the matchup doesn't change, but you're at least more focused. The life gain removal spells have all felt amazing, but there's still a need for exile-based spells. That's one of the reasons why we have an Hour of Glory and Torrential Gearhulk in the sideboard.
Even cards like Essence Scatter and Supreme Will gain value here as they can help stop some of the more important cards from Mono-Red Aggro. Due to their "transformational" sideboard plan, they will almost always run into these counters as they have such a high density of four- and five-drops. This is one of the ways we need to start exploiting Mono-Red Aggro if we want to see this deck get toppled in the metagame. We've seen this deck for long enough that we know how it functions. Sideboards need to be designed with it in mind, and larger strategy-based shifts should be implemented in your deckbuilding. Sideboarding in a couple counterspells is just the beginning of how we need to think outside the box.
VS Grixis Energy
By now I believe Grixis Energy to be an outdated strategy, as I'm rarely playing against it online, but I always like to go over as many decks as possible in these primers. So with that said, it's time to talk about a deck you may never play against again!
The matchup is favorable thanks to our higher density of card advantage. They play Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and Dusk Legion Zealot as their card advantage spells. Of course Rekindling Phoenix, The Scarab God, and other creatures can provide additional advantage, but these games always come down to how many copies of Vraska's Contempt one draws to help handle the haymakers. The longer the game goes the better chance you take control with Chart the Course and Champion of Wits. One thing to keep in mind is if you've found yourself hunkered down in a game that looks to go long and have both of these cards, it's sometimes better to not trigger raid so you can discard a Champion of Wits. This plays around Magma Spray and lets you dig deeper into your deck for the important cards in the matchup. Things can change if you have an extra Fatal Push and a Field of Ruin laying around, but that rarely comes up.
Early interaction is only relevant when facing down an opposing Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. You really can't let that card stick around, but at the same time waste so many slots in your deck to deal with them. I feel the correct number of early removal is three, but I wouldn't argue if someone wanted as many as five. I'm still toying around with this decision.
Duress and Lost Legacy are mainly miser-cards for opposing Vraska's Contempts. It's seriously just the best card in all the midrange matchups. It's nice to cast a Duress prior to your The Scarab God or Vraska, Relic Seeker, as it's so easy to run away with a game if one sticks around. After that, the matchup doesn't change much. Just keep grinding until someone wins.
I have seen many of my midrange opponents cast Negate after sideboard, but I don't think it's better than Duress, and I don't want to have both in my deck. Of course Duress has a lower floor, but also curves much better. It also can preemptively deal with a removal spell so you can jam a turn 5 The Scarab God, or snag a Chandra, Torch of Defiance before it gets value. I've seen Negate be good, but never great. I can't say the same about Duress.
The mirror is similar enough to Grixis, and I would say keep in a few more removal, but I don't know how much I will impact the metagame with this primer. It really comes down to if people cut Gifted Aetherborn or not. Personally I think having non-premium two-drops against Fatal Push decks are bad unless you have a great reason. For example, I keep some Gifted Aetherborn in against G/B Constrictor as it's a nice blocker and they are clearly the aggressor. That's not always true though since many of them play upwards of four Lifecrafter's Bestiary. It's tough to know the correct mixture going into game 2, but lean on having a stronger late game as it's so easy to be the one without the cards capable of winning the late game.
VS G/B Constrictor
This matchup is very good for us. You're just simply a better deck than them. Your Fatal Pushes are more powerful as they rely on synergy while ours don't. They don't have card advantage game 1 unless it involves creature-based combos like Walking Ballista plus Verdurous Gearhulk. I guess they do have Merfolk Branchwalker and the card advantage that powerhouse provides! All-in-all, game 1 is all about containing their battlefield and slamming late game cards. Trade, trade, trade, and trade!
Walking Ballista is not a good card against Sultai Midrange, but it's great at killing Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and living to tell the tale. That's precisely why we take it out in the matchup as they most likely keep in Walking Ballista just to contain our early card advantage. Due to this, we're taking even more of a controlling position in the matchup, and rely on our mythics to get the job done. The best way to get to this position is to eternalize a Champion of the Wits.
VS G/R Aggro
This deck hits hard, and can run away with games quickly in this matchup thanks to its best threats having flying. Luckily this matchup isn't too bad if we don't stumble, and is one of the reasons why I added the 26th land from the original decklist. I found that getting to my cards on curve greatly increased my chance of winning. Especially since this deck has less answers to The Scarab God. Another reason why I wanted to add a land was so I could play a second copy of Field of Ruin which is fantastic against all of G/R Aggro's explore creatures in the midgame.
This is where I'm currently at, but I could easily see this not being correct. They have a couple Deathgorge Scavengers that make Moment of Craving better. This two mana removal spell is also nice against a cast Resilient Khenra as you can give it -2/-2 while its enter the battlefield trigger is still on the stack. The same goes for Earthshaker Khenra, but that comes up very infrequently.
The biggest issue in the matchup is Carnage Tyrant. G/R Aggro does a good job at forcing both players to exhaust their resources, but the explore creatures help make sure they make it to six mana on time to deploy this problematic threat. We do have an ample supply of deathtouch creatures which sometimes helps, but any extra removal they may have foils that plan.
VS U/W Approach
Game 1 is difficult, but we've known this for six months now. U/W Approach preys on midrange decks that don't have interaction in game 1.
I hate keeping in removal spells even when I know they'll be bringing in a few creatures. It's just too easy to fight through some creatures when you've taken complete control of the game over. Sometimes you kill them with Vraska, Relic Seeker, sometimes the planeswalker ignores the creatures and kills them. I might be wrong in this decision, but the only thing I know for certain is I hate my opening hand having a removal spell against Approach of the Second Sun.
I've recently cut down to one Lost Legacy as I've noticed both this deck and W/B Tokens to be on the decline. If this isn't true for your local area, then I'd highly suggest finding room for another copy. Sadly though, it would have to be over one of the Arguel's Blood Fast.
Sideboard games are much easier. You have even more card draw, but now you can find cards that actually interact with your opponent. A little goes a long way against U/W Approach. Don't just spew off your Negate protecting something that's not relevant to finding a path to victory. You don't need to counter too many things to win a game, but it's important to counter the correct things.
VS U/B and Grixis Control
Both of these decks operate similarly. The only major difference between the two is the removal spells they play, but that doesn't change our plans all too much. Again, they have the edge game 1 as we have so many dead cards. It is easier to win a game 1 here than it is against Approach as they win via creatures. Sadly though, they normally drown us in card advantage, and we give them the time they need to set things up.
A resolved Arguel's Blood Fast turns games into easy-mode. Outside of that, just play good ole fashioned midrange-vs-control Magic. The games can all play out differently, making when you cast cards like Duress contextually. Have a plan for them though, and when you don't know why you're casting one, don't. Sometimes it's nicer to play it later on so you have more information on how to sequence your spells.
VS W/B Tokens
Game 1 is not as bad as one would think, thanks for The Scarab God and Vraska, Relic Seeker. You have to play these cards in a smart manner to get the most out of them, but it's not as bad game 1 as, say, Grixis Midrange. That said, they are advantaged.
Essence Scatter can counter a Regal Caracal which is why it makes the cut, but removal is generally bad in this matchup. Both sides will be trying to get things on the battlefield and trying to win an excruciatingly long game. That's what makes removal so bad here. Sure, dealing with something like an Anointer Priest sounds good, but not when you may just ultimate Vraska, Relic Seeker to win the game. Velocity is the name of the game here, and removal doesn't help us achieve that.
My favorite thing to do in this matchup is to steal an Anointed Procession with Gonti, Lord of Luxury. Usually it won't matter, but you can go off with The Scarab God or Champion of Wits with one on the battlefield. Who said Magic isn't fun?
Oh right, me from earlier today.
VS Mardu Vehicles
Mardu Vehicles takes a similar role as Mono-Red Aggro does, but lacks in the haste department. This extra time to answer threats helps out as we'll rarely get punished for set-up turns. This is what makes me think we will continue to see Mardu Vehicles numbers drop until the deck is almost non-existent, but for now we have to have a plan.
The priorities are different than against Mono-Red Aggro. You really need to save your Fatal Push for potential Heart of Kirans, but luckily you know early if they drew one. Still it's sometimes nice to hold one as they will eventually draw the card. You don't want to take too much early damage as Unlicensed Disintegration can steal games, so I trade often and early with my creatures whenever I already have access to The Scarab God.
I don't know if three six-drops is too many in the matchup, but they're all so good at actually closing the games out. Especially when the rest of the deck is just removal spells, it's important to draw something to win the game.
Mardu Vehicles does go bigger after sideboard with cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer, but it's not like the past where they had a completely different gameplan. They still try to kill you with an aggressive plan. That's the main reason why I don't prioritize card advantage after sideboard as they won't have ways to out-grind you like they did with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in their deck. If you find yourself against someone with many wrath effects or a much different plan it's important to bring in card advantage like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Gonti, Lord of Luxury.
VS Esper Gift
I haven't had the pleasure of playing this matchup yet, but assume the same principles apply from last season. Try to stymie their development in whatever way you can before casting The Scarab God and hoping it sticks.
Both Duress and Negate aren't great at interacting with their God-Pharaoh's Gift, but can help The Scarab God from getting exiled by the Vraska's Contempts they bring in. After that, I really can't tell you if this is a good or bad matchup or if we need more sideboard cards. It seems this deck is fringe at the moment given how it still has the same problems from last season. I'll for sure get some testing in against the deck prior to next weekend, but for now don't consider it that big of an issue even if it's a bad matchup (which I don't think it is).
Well that's all I have for today. I really think you'll enjoy playing this deck, and I want to hear your stories. Comment below sometime this weekend on what you thought about the deck! I'll try my best to update the strategy and write a little about it next week, but we will be moving on as I don't think I can get away with writing about how awesome The Scarab God is for the next three months.