False Alarm, Mono-Red and Wilderness Reclamation Aren’t Broken

The first Ravnica Allegiance results are in the books, and Hydroid Krasis was the breakout star of the weekend, winning both the Magic Online PTQ and SCG Open. It turns out that taking the core Golgari Midrange deck from last season and adding some blue cards alongside the power of Krasis makes for a competitive Standard choice. That isn’t to say it absolutely dominated the weekend—just that it had an impressive showing and reminded people that the explore package is still quite good.

What’s more interesting will be seeing Hydroid Krasis all over the place as an easier-to-cast Sphinx’s Revelation. Wilderness Reclamation players are already testing out Krasis and Niv over Nexus of Fate, and Bant Midrange looks like a prime place to run a couple of copies. For other midrange strategies, Jonathan Hobbs’ Bant build may not want the full playset but it can still slot in as another generically powerful card that can turn sideways to end the game. Access to Spell Pierce and other countermagic out of the board also elevates it.

Sultai’s copious removal alongside the same draw engine and countermagic as other G/U/x decks seems to have made it the top Krasis for the weekend. One other note is that the explore package was still everywhere while Growth-Chamber Guardian was largely pushed aside. While Guardian is by no means bad, exploring early at no extra mana cost and the synergy with Wildgrowth Walker and Hadana’s Climb has proven to be better so far.

Anthony Devarti’s SCG-Open-winning Sultai Midrange deck is a great starting point for anyone looking to battle with the deck at their RPTQ in the next two weeks.

Sultai Midrange

Moving forward, the biggest key in the Sultai Midrange deck will become what Golgari Midrange devolved into over time: trying to beat the mirror without giving up too many percentage points against the field. Hostage Taker and Assassin’s Trophy are both prime examples of cards that excel in some scenarios and are worse than the alternatives in others. Meanwhile, Find // Finality remains one of the best reasons to be Sultai over Bant or Temur, providing a nice late-game board clear with useful modes for nearly every match. These two aspects are not easily matched by other color combinations and it’ll be interesting to see if there are good reasons to play other versions.

Mono-Red was a bit of a disappointment considering the complaints about the deck, but it turns out that it’s a bit easier to deal with in a best-of-three format*. And while Light Up the Stage is amazing, it doesn’t suddenly give the red player what they need to close out a match. Time after time we saw red decks get their opponents in that 3-5 life range where a spell or two would close it out. They’d brick for two turns and then suddenly their opponent would play a Hydroid Krasis, a Crackling Drake, or a couple of Carrier Pigeons, and suddenly they were dead. Cutting out all the cards capable of dealing more than 3 damage also means that any sort of burn drought or impactful life gain from the opponent makes the red player’s job exponentially harder.

*BO1 and BO3 are different formats and will always be significantly different from one another metagame wise. This is for a variety of reasons, but the two primary ones are lack of sideboarding and a large difference in incentives. Lack of sideboarding has effects obvious to anyone who has played Magic for a bit, so I’ll skip over that part. But incentives are harder to identify and just as important to understand.

The reason BO1 is filled with Mono-Red and Nexus of Fate decks is because they have a very polarized spread of matchups and as a result perform much better when put into a format where the decks are unlikely to be tuned specifically against them. In addition, the faster your games are on average, the more you can play, and the easier your grind is going to be as a whole. Whether that’s for quest rewards, ranks, etc.—it remains a strong incentive to not play slower decks like control and midrange variants.

Once you take that into account, it becomes much easier to see why red decks and Reclamation decks got so much attention before the weekend began. It’s also a good reminder, as a number of streamers/pros have pointed out on social media, that BO1 is an easy way to make a good Constructed format look and feel like a dumpster fire. Once you accept this disconnect is real, you can still get value out of BO1 results, but if you don’t then you’re setting yourself up for some disappointment if you expect it to apply to real-world tournaments.

The key is not to overreact to red’s failure to burninate the countryside. Red still did fine this weekend—it just wasn’t the best choice and proved to be very beatable alongside the Wilderness Reclamation decks. I expect to see a pivot toward the older builds with cards like Rekindling Phoenix and Experimental Frenzy getting more attention. Although, Patrick Sullivan giving some love to Risk Factor in the red feature matches actually sells me a bit more on running it alongside Light Up the Stage. At this point, we now know that the red deck isn’t consistently fast enough to dominate the metagame decks, so it’ll need to consider a different direction.

For reference, practically every strong red finisher played the following:


So that’s 54 cards solved. You can seemingly do whatever you want with the last six, and it doesn’t seem to make a huge difference (yet!). Most people run three more cards advantage cards like Risk Factor or Experimental Frenzy, some run full playsets of Goblin Chainwhirler, and others run Runaway Steam-Kin. Besides that, go nuts!

As for other strategies I thought were well positioned, I remain convinced that Izzet Drakes is a great choice at the moment. Without Plaguecrafters, the Sultai Midrange decks really can’t do anything to you if you just jam a Drake with Dive Down backup. They don’t play enough cheap removal to chain them, and if they do decide to spend double 4-mana removal you’re doing pretty well for yourself. With Pteramander you can even play more efficiently and hold up double countermagic, which can be a huge difference. Hydroid Krasis isn’t a realistic threat until the late game and even then it’s easily answered by Entrancing Melody.

While I still like some number of Light Up the Stage, it’s hard to argue against the utility of fitting Spell Pierce and Dive Down in the main deck for the current format. So I’d jam Brad Carpenter’s list with a few minor tweaks, which are listed below. Even if you like the other 74 in the deck, I’d cut the Blood Crypt. I see no real value in it with an aggressive red strategy in the format to potentially punish you.

If I’m going to run expensive spells then I’d rather stick to 6 mana over 7 if I can help it and I really haven’t had enough issues with red to want to run a bunch of extra Shock effects over Beacon Bolt. Ral is another option for sure, but I’ve always preferred the raw power of Niv if I was going for non-Drake threats.

As for other options, there are a number that haven’t been fully explored or refined, but with less than a week’s development for some, it’s likely better to just go with what you know at this point. Decks like WW, Esper Control, and Mono-Blue are all viable choices with some minor updates and have already shown some early promise. It’s just a matter of getting them tuned for a better known field and having some reps against the more popular decks. Other than keeping an eye on Wilderness Reclamation absurdity, the metagame looks to be more of an update of the previous format than a complete upending.

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