On the Cusp of Greatness: Green Black Midrange

Join Briger as he unravels the mysteries and explores the histories of some classic Magic Archetypes and what they need to succeed in Pioneer.

A Briger too far…

Hello Everyone, and welcome to the first edition of On the Cusp of Greatness my name is Briger (yes it is spelled that way, my parents were hippies) and I am a podcaster that focuses on the pioneer format. The Shockseize Podcast is a short-form interview podcast that focuses on what people love in Pioneer. But enough about me, you’re here for the juicy article content. In this series, I plan to take a look at decks we consider to be off-meta and need refining; taking some time to discuss where they currently fit into the Pioneer meta and what it would take to move them up the tier list.

From Humble Beginnings: 

  First up is a deck near and dear to my heart, Green Black Midrange. Before we look at the deck’s present and future, it’s time for a history lesson. Black Green midrange is a timeless archetype first brought onto the scene by Sol Malka during the standard (then known as Type II) events of Urza’s Block, and while it’s gone by many names over the years it was first and most popularly known simply as: The Rock.  Of course, this is a simplified version of the deck’s full name: “Rock and His Millions” in reference to pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his fans. Featuring the cornerstone cards Phyrexian Plague Lord and Deranged Hermit to represent The Great One and his rabid fanbase. Historically the main requirements for a deck to be bestowed with the title of  “The Most Electrifying Deck In Magic” are powerful green and/or black midrange threats, for example, another classic poster child for the archetype is Spiritmonger, being supported by efficient hand disruption and removal. By combining all of these, the deck eventually overwhelms its opponent by grinding them out of resources until it can finish the opponent off with the people’s elbow. Thanks to this consistent game plan, it has continued to thrive throughout the formats eventually finding success in both legacy and modern. However, we now find ourselves at a crossroads, does the legacy of The People’s Champion end with Pioneer? 

A Rocky Precipice:

Now that we have a basis for what the deck looks like let’s look at the example that playing pioneer has so generously provided.

Right away, we see that the deck plays the best of the best the format can offer. The disruption is mainly focused on killing creatures with cards like Murderous Rider and Bloodchief’s Thirst, and that’s a good place to be in the format at the moment since decks like Winona, mono-red, and Rakdos mid are so prevalent in the meta. More importantly, however, is that the removal suite is also very versatile. Most of the choices also being able to hit planeswalkers giving the deck mainboard answers to the ever-present Teferi, Hero of Domanara, or The Wandering Emperor. There are also additional options that can be played to customize the deck to fit any meta’s specific needs, including Fatal Push, Assassin’s Trophy, and Abrupt Decay. So for those thinking about exploring this strategy, don’t be afraid to experiment with all the options available to you.  Of course, this deck doesn’t also just disrupt its opponent’s board state; thanks to the ever-powerful Thoughtseize, not even the opponent’s hand is safe. There is no doubt in my mind that this card is one of the more powerful things to be doing in the entire format. Being able to take any non-land card for one mana and a little life is powerful. Getting a turn one Thoughtseize can even be game-winning in some matches.  

All the removal and discard in the world is useless unless you have a way to win the game, so how does this deck close out games? For this list, the main tools to bring its opponent’s life total to zero are Scavenging Ooze and Grim Flayer These are early game plays that grow with the game and keep you going by either providing you with card selection or life, these were chosen over the other cards at the same mana value because of their ability to grow much faster and remain relevant for longer than the rest for such a low mana investment, these are just great early game threats that are designed to give you the stuff to do with your mana early and be a threat later in the game so you can close it out fast. However, there are plenty of other cards that can do this job for you in pioneer good examples are Werewold Pack Leader, Graveyard Trespasser, Questing Beast, and Ranger Class just to name a few.

The final piece to our puzzle is card advantage. Luckily, green and black have some of the best planeswalkers around to help fill these slots. Cards like Lolth, Spider Queen and Sorin the Mirthless are amazing at getting you more cards in hand. Planeswalkers aren’t the only tricks up our sleeve you can also play value creatures that create card advantage in a bevy of ways, standout examples are cards like Tireless Tracker an engine card that provides card advantage by making clues when you play lands! adventurous two-for-ones like Murderous Rider help keep us ahead in virtual card count and the new kid on the block Workshop Warchief provides so much value from just being played it can also be seen as card advantage. Another flexible card that could be adding more card advantage to your midrange plan is the new Tenacious Underdog. This sexy lad is going to help you beat all the competition. There really are a lot of flexible options for players to make this deck their own and gear it towards their current meta, so don’t feel locked into the choices I’ve made and find what works best for you.

What’s Missing?

While I can’t speak for all GB midrange players in pioneer, a large portion of the ones I have interviewed have said it is really missing a good two-drop that can attack well and scales with the late game. We have some good ones but there is still a gap that needs to be filled. The cards Tarmogoyf and Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger do a good job of providing this in other formats and decks, so getting something along those lines would be a huge boon for the archetype. Getting a good two-mana beater would help the deck with its weaker area which is putting pressure on early. Others have pointed to the fact that Rakdos has been getting a lot more love from wizards of the coast and green black just needs a few more powerful cards that push the color combo into a more powerful direction. Either way, people playing the archetype are in agreement it is very close. It just needs a few more good cards to help push it above and beyond. If anyone at WOTC is reading this, I demand a reprint of Tarmogoyf!

Final Thoughts:

So will the Rock ever be top tier and the most obvious choice for the best midrange deck in the format? In all honesty probably not. Rakdos has been getting a lot of powerful cards that give it an edge over green-black in pioneer but that is not a bad thing. In pioneer, there are a lot of games that can be won if you know your deck and your opponent doesn’t know what your cards do. So if you can manage to learn a deck and use the surprise factor to your advantage you can win some games that Rakdos could never win. That’s not to say that green black will always be worse. There is plenty of room to experiment in pioneer. Just because there isn’t a green-black deck now doesn’t mean that there can’t be one in the future. . Cards are being printed at an alarming rate and in two sets’ time Rakdos could be a thing of the past and Golgari could be the best thing to be doing. So until then have fun brewing and making the best of your pioneer careers.

  • Author

    Briger has been losing games of Magic since Gatecrash. On a good day, he can be found huddled up in his cave playing Elden Ring, and the rest of the time he can be found listening to and making Pioneer podcasts!

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