Initial Technology – The Meaning of Midrange (and Why It’s Terrible)

A few articles back, I talked about why people play decks that can’t win, and one of the key points was that you should strive to avoid midrange decks. Some people asked me for a definition of midrange, since the “I know it when I see it” plan doesn’t lend itself to easy communication.

Today I’m going to provide a workable definition for midrange, why midrange decks are not the right choice, and take a look at some midrange decks in current standard. This is a particularly well-timed lesson because of upcoming Regionals; every year people assume that Regionals is going to be populated by aggro, and every year the majority of the field ends up being unexciting midrange decks designed to prey on these aggro decks. This is exactly what I warned against in my last article, so let’s see if I can provide some applicable ways to avoid this trap.

Step 1: What is this “midrange” that I keep railing against?

I will always link midrange and Loxodon Hierarch. Hierarch perfectly exemplifies the definition I am going to use for midrange, which is as follows:

A midrange deck has no clear focus; instead, it adapts to the opposite role of whatever the opposing deck is playing.

That might not be completely clear, so let me elaborate. If the midrange deck is playing against a dedicated aggro deck, then it tries to be the control, and if it is playing against a true control deck, it tries to take on the aggro role. Against combo it can go either way, but usually has to resort to beatdowns. Combo decks are almost always going to have inevitability over midrange, so trying to kill them relatively quickly is usually what midrange has to do. Of course, it gets pretty ugly when two midrange decks battle, since neither really does anything, which is of course my point.

This definition very clearly encompasses the unstated goal of midrange, since most people (and I know from experience) don’t think about matchups in this context when constructing their latest midrange offering. You try and make a deck that can handle anything, and what you usually end up with is far from that, which brings us to Step Two quite nicely.

Step Two: Why is midrange an intrinsically flawed strategy?

In order to beat the aggro decks, midrange decks play a bunch of removal spells and control-oriented cards (Terror, Wrath of God), and in order to try and beat control they have to try and play disruption (Cabal Therapy was a Rock staple for years) or “aggressive” cards. When you have 10 cards that are bad in any given matchup, it seems pretty clear that there is a fundamental problem. I used to love midrange decks, and even played Gifts Rock exclusively online for almost two years, culminating in a mediocre finish at Worlds 2006. If you ever drew a hand full of Cabal Therapies and Gifts you died to aggro, and the Loxodon Hierarch / Living Wish / Wall of Roots draw really didn’t cut it against control. Consequently, we (since somehow I tricked the whole US Team of myself, Cheon, and Ben Lundquist to run the deck) lost to Tron and Scepter-Chant while still not beating all the Boros decks. If you have a bad matchup against control and don’t absolutely crush aggro, what are you doing right?

This is the reason Loxodon Hierarch is such a great representation of midrange. It offers a very good anti-aggro body while maintaining the illusion of being able to beat down. This illusion is but a trap, since control decks don’t ACTUALLY lose to Hierarch (or Finks or Rhox War Monk etc) beatdown. You might get a few hits in, but soon enough they cast their card draw spells and play a little defense and you are left powerless. When it comes down to it, you can rarely beat a control deck with your deck that isn’t fully dedicated to any particular strategy.

While just about every card in the control deck is aimed at getting to the late game and crushing once it gets there, your sweet midrange deck has some aggro cards (not enough to seal the deal) and some control cards (not enough to really fight a real control deck). You might even get them to low single digits with your animals, but instead of having a Flame Javelin to finish it, you have a Wrath of God or a Primal Command. On the flip side, your animals don’t really help you fight their card draw spells and Cruel Ultimatums very well.

You do tend to beat aggro pretty well, since that is a much easier proposition. Throw enough Loxodon Hierarchs or Kitchen Finks at the problem and it usually goes away. Slide in the most recent Extended season is a great example, since it is both midrange and pretty brutal against aggro. The last PTQ I watched definitely featured a Slide deck crushing my roommate’s Zoo deck in the Swiss, as waves of Hierarchs, Finks, Wraths, and Lightning Helices were just too much. Of course, if aggro attacks from an unexpected angle, even this rock-solid plan can go awry.

For example of this, let’s take a stroll down memory lane:

Pro Tour Hollywood, May 2008

Cheon and I decide that our best course of action for this particular Pro Tour is to sleeve up the midrangiest deck I have ever had the pleasure of taking into battle. I’m not sure how we convinced each other that this was a good plan, but we put our fates in the hands of Chameleon Colossus (at least he has a lot of hands) and Oversoul of Dusk.

The decklist, for your viewing pleasure (link to the appropriate Deck Tech segment can be found here)


Not even counting the egregious error of only maindecking one Kitchen Finks, this deck is just so awkward. Our plan, at a Pro Tour, was to cast a giant guy and Warhammer him up. Our removal was pretty slow, and our card draw cost a ton of mana. We both did Day Two, and I even Top 50ed, since we really did smash aggro. Midrange decks tend to do that, and our in particular had a ton of lifegain and hard to remove guys.

Still, when I was 9-3 I lost to one of our “unloseable” matchups, Doran. Brandon Scheel sided in Mind Shatter, and I just got crushed. Instead of Wrathing and Primal Commanding him out, he played some mana guys and just Shattered my hand away. By attacking me in an unexpected way, I went from being the unassailable control deck to dead in just one turn. Sure would have been nice to play counterspells, eh?

As for my other losses, I got absolutely crushed by two Reveillark decks. The actual control deck we should have played, Lark made my deck look like some sort of sick joke. I played Jun’ya Iyanaga in Round 14, and our games weren’t even close. He sat there drawing cards with Mulldrifters, countering my card draw with Cryptic Commands. I even had the nut draw Game Two, with a turn Three Oversoul of Dusk, which got promptly Condemned. My best threat got dealt with with one mana, and the life I gained was completely irrelevant. It was just classic control v midrange, and I didn’t come close to beating either Lark deck.

Pro Tour Hollywood was the last time I played a midrange deck, and my results have certainly improved since then. I was an avid fan of the Rock for so long, but now I wouldn’t touch a midrange deck if I had any other option.

Step 3: Applying this theory for Regionals or an upcoming PTQ.

The tricky part about Magic theory is making it timeless enough to improve the reader’s game on a fundamental level while still being useful in actual practical application. Striking that balance is difficult, and one of the reasons I often shy away from theory articles. I have been left dissatisfied after many theory articles that never addressed exactly how their interesting theories would be applicable at all.

For this article, we will focus on Regionals, although I would assume that any given Standard PTQ should also work. Every year, I hear people talk about how there will be so much aggro at Regionals, and how they want to make sure they don’t lose to it. Every year, what ends up actually happening is a ton of people bring midrange decks, crush the few aggro they face, and end up losing to the real control decks or combo decks. I’m going to separate some of the more popular Standard decks into these categories, so my loyal readers can hopefully avoid this trap and even start to recognize good and bad qualities in any prospective deck.


(If you are reading this and trust me, don’t play these decks)

Jund Ramp

This is a classic example of the midrange non-blue control deck. It can’t compete with the Cryptic Commands and Cruel Ultimatums of 5-Color Control, and has to settle for running much worse stuff like Primal Command and Garruk Wildspeaker. You may consider this as a 5-CC deck that doesn’t lose to aggro Red, but in return for a better (and not necessarily even good) Red matchup you are so much worse against Faeries or Reveillark. I’m not even convinced that Jund Ramp (or any non-blue Ramp) even beats Token decks.

GW not-tokens

(Gaddock Teeg, Wilt-Leaf Liege, Dauntless Escort, Qasali Pridemage, Kitchen Finks)

Masquerading as an aggro deck, this GW deck has a bunch of two to four mana guys that try and beat down. With no reach and not a whole lot in the way of interactive spells, I would avoid this deck like the plague. If you want to play a real GW beatdown deck, play GW Tokens. It actually has a really good plan, and Overrun is just about the fastest way to kill someone in Standard.

GB Elves

Elves has been gaining in popularity lately, but I am still not impressed. Granted, this deck is way better than the other decks on this list, but it still feels kind of unfocused to me. The farther you go towards the Rock end of the spectrum, with Primal Command, Liliana Vess, Shriekmaw, the better you get against Tokens but the worse you get against control. It is hard to balance the control and aggro elements, since once you get too controllish your odds of beating Fae just get so slim. If you can strike the right balance or get the right pairings, this deck might work, but that is the classic problem with midrange.


(if you want to play control, play one of these)

5-Color Control

Probably needs Runed Halo to stop Anathemancer, otherwise still a solid choice.


Faeries certainly got weaker, but I wouldn’t be too averse to playing with it at a tournament like Regionals. Faeries always does a great job of beating clunky decks, and Regionals is full of these.


Sanity Grinding

The lone combo deck in Standard, Grinding is actually not bad against the more controlling part of the field. I would hesitate to run it just because of its pretty bad aggro matchups, but you could do worse than play this deck.


Tokens of all flavors!

BW or GW Tokens are great, and I would happily play either.

MonoR or RG or BR

I can’t claim a ton of expertise in this area, but from what I have seen, both of these decks are viable and worthy of consideration. Anathemancer and Bloodbraid Elf are fantastic, and worth exploring.

I hope this helped define midrange, and wish you luck in avoiding it!


68 thoughts on “Initial Technology – The Meaning of Midrange (and Why It’s Terrible)”

  1. For a while now I have been contemplating about playing a GB Elves / Doran Rock deck for regionals. However, after reading how adamant LSV is about how much these decks just plain suck I’m going to rethink the best course of action.

  2. I think the BG Elves is not a bad option , really , just think of it’s MUs , my WORST MUs are th BW/RW , and they are currently at 52/48 at max.

  3. Awsome article Mr. Vargas. As a fan of your site , this is surely helping. Although I have my regards against midrange rogues. I just built a 5 color midrange using most of the 2 good drops and I am still don´t have a Oversoul of Dusk as the case showed above. With that in mind I go aggro for the rest of the Brazil´s Regionals since I don´t have the skills that make a good control player.

  4. ihavecontrolissues

    I have seen here that your deck of choice for control includes 5cc. I have it pretty much sleeved up, and i love it. Unfortunately you and the rest of the gang seem to avoid writing about it, i would love to see your insight into it and maybe some tips for the SB and its matchups.

  5. Zander MacQuitty

    I don’t particularly like playing midrange decks but I think this article is overzealous in its condemnation of midrange as “an intrinsically flawed strategy.” Essentially, what is being argued is that midrange necessarily cannot beat both control and aggro consistently because too many cards are blanks in one matchup or the other. Personally, I don’t really believe that midrange has more blanks in it game 1 than a true control deck. Board sweepers are necessarily maindecked in control decks, yet are virtually blank against other control decks. Here’s a control decklist:

    04 Mulldrifter
    03 Plumeveil
    03 Wall of Reverence
    03 Broodmate Dragon

    04 Broken Ambitions
    04 Esper Charm
    04 Volcanic Fallout
    04 Cryptic Command
    02 Cruel Ultimatum
    01 Pithing Needle
    01 Terror
    01 Celestial Purge
    04 Sunken Ruins
    04 Reflecting Pool
    04 Vivid Creek
    03 Vivid Marsh
    03 Island
    02 Exotic Orchard
    02 Cascade Bluff
    02 Vivid Crag
    02 Vivid Meadow
    01 Mystic Gate

    The 6 walls he runs main aren’t much good against control strategies (Broodmate dragon cries a little, but Cruel Ultimatum doesn’t care). Neither are the 4 volcanic fallouts. Those cards are about as blank as it gets. Let’s look at a “midrange” deck.

    2 Broodmate Dragon
    4 Chameleon Colossus
    3 Cloudthresher
    4 Kitchen Finks
    instant [4]
    4 Volcanic Fallout
    sorcery [11]
    1 Banefire
    4 Maelstrom Pulse
    2 Primal Command
    4 Rampant Growth
    enchantment [4]
    4 Fertile Ground
    artifact [2]
    2 Loxodon Warhammer
    land [24]
    4 Fire-Lit Thicket
    4 Forest
    2 Mountain
    4 Reflecting Pool
    2 Savage Lands
    2 Swamp
    4 Treetop Village
    2 Twilight Mire
    planeswalker [3]
    3 Garruk Wildspeaker

    Against control what cards are dead: 4 Volcanic Fallout, 2 Primal commands aren’t very good and I’ll give you “half-dead” for the 4 Finks and the 4 Maelstrom Pulses. So that’s 10 total dead cards.

    Against aggro: the 1 of banefire is anemic, the 2 dragons are kinda slow. No cards besides these are really “dead” but they might be a little slow.

    Basically, I think in theory, there is a place for midrange decks. There are going to be cards which perform reasonable well against both archetypes which might not have synergy with a pure control or pure aggro strategy. Profane Command is an example of this sort of card. It plays ok in pure aggro decks, but much better in midrange decks. It can be a slow 2-for-1 against aggro or a finisher against control.

    1. If you compare the numbers of each card, then yes, you have similar numbers of dead cards. However, you also have to look at how the control deck’s cards stack up to the ramp deck’s cards. Cryptic Command, Broken Ambitions and Cruel Ultimatum just deal with anything the Ramp deck plays, leaving 5cc firmly in the driver’s seat. Ramp might have a better aggro matchup, but even that isn’t completely cut and dried.

  6. It’s somewhat of a shame because I think midrange decks make for the most interesting games. The give and take plus the shifting roles of the cards yields longer, more fun games. (Which is why I really didn’t understand Gerry’s position on Standard.) But that has nothing to do with competition.

    What you say has a lot of truth. I keep trying (and failing) to keep in mind the Finkel admonition of “focus on what matters.” And as you say, a midrange deck always has cards in either matchup that aren’t focused on what they’re trying to do at that time.

    (Additionally, Ramp decks I feel suffer the problem of having comboish weaknesses without the speed and resiliancy of real combo. If you have only ramp and no big mana threats, or vice versa, it’s a losing hand against anyone. And Thoughtseize / Sculler certainly help that out.)

    Devil’s advocate though: Power level of a card is a different thing than where it lies on the threat……answer spectrum. Theoretically a midrange deck could have sufficient power level to merge threats and answers while generating advantage. RW Boat Brew (not on your list, is its death official?) aspired to that level.

  7. Excellent article. Really defines midrange well.

    Could you possibly go more into detail on your thoughts on Jund Ramp in another article? I agreed with your thoughts pre-Alara Reborn, but adding things like Demigod (yes, i know he isn’t in ARB) and Maelstrom Pulse seemed to really help it take off. I’m not entirely convinced it’s garbage, but I am going to take a closer look at it now.

  8. Wrapter is right about windbrisk heights. the best decks at regionals are gonna be GB/WB tokens or decks with both wrath and crytic maindeck.

    ahh regionals. I remember last year when Mike Laucke played against someone in round one who played mountain, mountian, mountain, mountain into fourth turn Door of destinies for their first spell of the game.

    …naming “giants.”

    I don’t think I need to say how THAT went.

  9. To a lot of people, BW Tokens is a midrange deck. It doesn’t have very many explosive draws, but has several of the disruptive elements that draws many players to The Rock in the first place. However, I do agree that Bant/Dark Bant/GW Little Kid are horrible choices. Also, I agree that Jund Ramp is not the strongest deck available, even if it is adopted pretty heavily.

    My deck of choice is to play the White tokens engine alongside a few interactive spells such as Glen Elendra Archmage, Vendilion Clique, and Broken Ambitions. Also, Tidings/Fathom Trawl being played in a somewhat aggressive deck has proven to be a powerful play. I have tested against every matchup I could get, and I play a good game against aggro, and sit somewhere around 50/50 or maybe 45/55 against control. Post board, I get much stronger against either, but I have the distinction of having no blanks in either matchup in the main. Broken Ambitions is relevant in every matchup, and Glen Elendra can help save you from reach spells from aggro, or from late-game bombs from control. The trick is less about the strategy itself, but the card choices most players use to accomplish that strategy. Also, my UW Tokens deck plays more off tempo swings than it does trying to play both roles. It can, but I prefer to keep it along the lines of a tempo-centric deck, making it much easier to play.

    I didn’t build it to “stomp aggro, while not losing to control.” I built it to play a solid tempo gameplan, combining a fairly quick clock produced by Procession/Cloudgoat with some protection for it in the form of Glen Elendra and Broken Ambitions.

  10. Hey Luis –

    I understand and largely agree with nearly everything you have to say here, as it relates to the current Standard.

    But I do want to know your opinion of the Doran deck from a couple extended seasons ago –

    if I recall, it showed up at a PTQ in Worlds and had a huge impact on the format for almost the entire PTQ season, earning many qualifying slots and not simply posting a few top8’s.

    The deck almost certainly would have been considered ‘midrange’… was it just an exception to the rule, or was it only ‘good’ because of how many people were playing it?

    1. I think Doran was more on the beatdown side of things, since although it occasionally played control against decks like Zoo, it still just wanted to throw out a Doran and race. Its control aspects were more on the disruptive side, as its removal and hand disruption just were meant to clear a path until Doran killed them.

  11. birds
    cabal therapy/thoughtseize
    baloth/loxy heirarch
    profane command

    sometimes living wish

    that list?
    well positioned. meta was combo-tilted, which the therapy birds synergy was good against, as the combo decks were well established and therefore easy to read based on what lands were coming into play. wish SB of kataki/teeg/rot farm was SWEET.

    that deck was more like modern faeries in that it played aggrocontrol, but with discard instead of countermagic. cabal therapy rewarded players for being good at magic, and so when good players took the deck up, it was often like midrange vs. “deck-that-pseudo-mulliganned-to-4-because-it-got-thoughtseized-and-double-therapied-by-turn-2”.


  12. I think this is strongly related to the article on polarity I wrote awhile back. The problem about positioning yourself in the middle is that you have to fight on too many fronts. And, as I wrote recently in Threats v. Answers (sorry to keep namedropping myself, blech) and as you point out here, you can’t assume that a card of yours (like a Hierarch, right) is actually a threat just because it can kill an opponent in theory. Control decks have to worry about beating, you know, Figure into Hackblade. If they can keep up with that, they can deal with t3 Rhox War Monk. All the while, they’re going to say ‘thanks b’ to your Wraths of God.

  13. This article is very good! Considering that many people plays midrange decks at GP or PTQ. “Always focus on something” is what should we do. For the deck choices on T2, I’ll choose 5CC or faeries for the control, RDW, Kithkins or GW Tokens for the aggro. But WB tokens and Boat Brew are good too…

  14. I just played a midrange-ish naya deck at regionals (well, GB nationals qualifier – the UK equivalent). It was more aggro than most midrange decks and had bloodbraid elf, etc., but guess what? I crushed aggro, but lost to anything with an island. I’ll be rethinking that plan then…

  15. Really good explanation of what midrange is and what are it’s strengths and weaknesses. However ending is highly hypocritic: BW tokens deck author recomends is pure midrange, it preys on aggro decks, and isnt particularly fast at beating down control

  16. Whats your opinion on the U/W Revillark deck? It doesn’t just roll over to ‘mancer and has some lovely interactions. the matchup with Tokens is close too. It’s only really awful matchup is Fae and I wonder is that very relvant right now…

  17. Also, control tends to play cards that aren’t quite as dead when they’re dead, at least recently.

    Ex: Fallout can kill Jace if they’re not very careful. Walls can put you out of banefire range.

    One interesting thing that I think could have been addressed in the article was the role of maelstrom pulse and if that could help “rock” decks play cards that aren’t dead in any matchup. Clearly, the card wipes spectral procession, but also wall of reverence.

    Also, LSV didn’t address Doran! I can’t believe a midrange discussion didn’t include that badboy. Does that mean that Doran is the exception to the rule? I feel like a 5/5 for 3 actually might hit your more controlling opponents for damage that matters, and clearly doran is strong against agro, too.

    One last point: If a “rock” deck can do well if it’s well positioned (as is the case of the hierarch/therapy/bob deck and other incarnations like Fabiano’s GP winner), what would it take to be well positioned in this metagame?

    Sorry for seeming so negative- basically I just wanted the article to talk about more- everything that was there was well covered, well-written, and based on the comments, well appreciated. I do always enjoy reading articles that the best in the business clearly feel passionately about.

  18. Tks lsv, now when I say green decks suck (there are some exceptions like elfball, but most of the green decks are midrange) I won’t have to spend 2h explaining why, I can just link ur article 😀

    And to ppl asking if BW or GW tokens are midrange: They both try to race their opp, no matter what, and for me that’s the definition of aggro.
    RW lark though is midrange indeed, that’s why it sucks 🙂

    keep up th great job

  19. Good points in the article, but I would hope that what people take away from this is that midrange is a “flawed” strategy (he pointed out the flaws pretty solidly,) but it is not a “losing” strategy. There is a distinct difference. He concedes that midrange tends to “beat aggro pretty well, since that is a much easier proposition,” and that he witnessed a “Slide deck crushing my roommate's Zoo deck in the Swiss,” but these comments completely contradict his previous statement that midrange decks “don't absolutely crush aggro.” Yet again he later reiterates the fact that “people who bring midrange decks crush the few aggro they face.” Wouldn’t it seem then, that midrange is doing something right?

    He fails to analyze some of the new tools that midrange decks have been using to swing matches in their favor, such as Banefire, Anathemancer, and Maelstrom Pulse, choosing to cite more antiquated strategies.

    I detect a hint of popularity contesting in LSV’s breakdown; it makes me wonder, has he even attempted to build a modern competitive midrange deck? He can’t deny the fact that midrange decks have the potential to do very well at regionals given a significant level of metagaming. Jund Ramp in particular, a deck LSV railed against, took second place over in Texas, and will likely top 8 in many other Regionals events. The same can be said about Dark Bant / Doran and GB Elves, decks which again pick up significant upgrades from Alara Reborn.

    What if you got scared by this article, ditched the deck you were building in favor of aggro, and ended up getting crushed by midrange? Would you be annoyed at yourself? LSV is an incredible player, but overall I would trust your own playtesting against the metagame, and make your decision based on your experiences.

  20. This article was excellent! I’m pretty sure I’m going to link a lot of people to it, since it’s a relatively easy concept that most people completely ignore. I specially like this sentence:

    A midrange deck has no clear focus; instead, it adapts to the opposite role of whatever the opposing deck is playing.

    Even though it’s not always a bad thing and you experience it with a number of non-midrandish decks as well, it’s really extreme in the midrange decks and a rly good definition

    One thing, though: this comments + forum thing is awkward. What is the purpose of having two different things? where do I post if I’m going to post?


  21. I remember me and some friends testing your GW oversoul list to run at a local gpt. It was so terrible…

  22. Awesome article, but misdirected. Your title should have been: “why most midrange decks are terrible.”

    Your first statement: “A midrange deck has no clear focus; instead, it adapts to the opposite role of whatever the opposing deck is playing.” needs to be split in two.

    The first part is absolutely the problem with 99% of the problematic midrange builds. However as other have pointed out BW tokens seems pretty “mid range” to me as well. The “but they race” argument advanced by Shooter and others is hooey. Most mid range decks ultimately end up “racing” because thats what decks built around creatures do! Not because they are aggro.

    More tellingly Faeries decks -which have defined the meta for what only feels like years- are most certainly based on the concept of “it adapts to the opposite role of whatever the opposing deck is playing.” Faeries is an excellent example of the adaptivity of midrange at its very best. The difference between it and its less successful brethren is that it is a midrange deck that has a clear focus in each role (and all of its linear threats are criminally overpowered and undercosted for flavor reasons). Thanks to it being blue it has access to the game’s best and most flexible “removal”: counterspells, and flashing creatures that let it play up this advantage helping to overcome two of the primary trap you have laid out so well for midrange failure.

    I think you did a magnificent job of laying out the reasons that midrange decks fail – particularly green based ones, and thus you have actually helped define a blueprint for what midrange (and ALL decks really) should be striving for. But ultimately declaring midrange, as a concept, as terrible is flat out wrong… though wonderful marketing (as the huge response thread proves).

  23. @kenseiden: Why are you testing an FNM deck for GPT? That doesn’t make any sense. It’s not even Tier 1.

  24. I think the midrange fallacy is something that has only come to exist in modern-day Magic. As someone who has often built decks to prey on a certain metagame, and with many of those decks fitting the traditional definition of “midrange,” I can say with conviction that midrange decks have been a viable choice in formats past.

    I also think that Luis, who I have a ton of respect for as a player and someone I call a friend, is more attacking the concept of absolute midrange in this article, and ignoring the midrange decks that lean one way or another (like Doran in extended format’s past, or even Faeries or B/W in modern standard). The decks he spoke of as “not to play” are all terrible – but they aren’t terrible because they are midrange, they are terrible because they are full of cards that are way too situational or expensive for what they do, and this format punishes that severely. MIdrange decks of the past have been full of efficient cards like Dark Confidant, Cabal Therapy, Mana Leak (which gets a lot better when you are backing pressure with it), Duress, or Eternal Witness. Some midrange decks have room to play serious game breakers, as evidenced by the Dwarven Miners in Three-Deuce or Molder Slugs in Freshmaker – cards that have an impact vs most decks but truly shine in 1-2 matchups, but at least are adequate everywhere.

    I do agree that being the absolute, fiftieth percentile midrange is about the worst you can be, but being an aggro deck that can flip the switch into a more controlling route vs an ultra-aggressive opponent is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is being a normally controlling deck (a la Faeries) that can become a relentless aggressor against a more traditional control deck.

  25. Shane McDermott

    Hey, I appreciated the article, although I too had viewed B/W Tokens as more of a midrange deck, especially the persist version that is starting to see play. In addition, you never mention Reveillark, something I continue to hope for some insight on from you. I’ve read GerryT’s thoughts, now what about yours?

  26. I can recall another Midrange deck that is an exception: Katsuhiro Mori’s Ghazi Glare. Built to beat aggro game 1, but sideboarded into a Greater Good deck against control or combo.

  27. controversy breeds popularity?

    tbh i think you should follow this article up by describing each type of deck and where each current standard deck fits and why. if we are only using three categories for a deck description then the majority of ALL decks will fall into the midrange category.

  28. white decks play control against green decks..for instance bw tokens against elves: tokens is just trying to stay alive until their anthems/cloudgoats/persists take over the game

    this whole theory is awkward for current standard because everything is just midrange except 5cc and faeries.

  29. I think any deck you could call “aggro/control” is mid-range, faeries included. That being said, I wouldn’t say that mid-range is an intrinsically flawed strategy, I would say that most attempts at mid-range decks are intrinsically flawed because mid-range is a very difficult strategy to build correctly and is only allowed for in certain metas.

    Mid-range can also be difficult to play correctly, because you have to “focus on what matters most” but what matters most to a mid-range deck is something that is constantly changing. Aggro wants to bash your face, control wants you to stop bashing their’s long enough for them to win. Mid-range has to know when to bash and for how much.

    You have two ends of a spectrum, aggro and control. A mid-range deck is one that falls in between the two extremities that are common in the given format.

  30. This article really help explain about mid-range.

    I notice you didnt mention anything about Lark. You think its still playable or not? I like Gerry T’s list and have been crushing with it.

  31. Jund Ramp can’t compete?!?! Now while it can’t stand up to cruel ultimatum in the 5cc match-up, it need not worry about fighting through counterspells when you have access to guttural response, banefire, vexing shusher, tree-top village,spellbreaker behemoth, EOT Cloudthresher, and unearthed anathemancers. I’ve been running the deck since November(slight bias) and the only match-ups i would call “bad” are against B/G Elves and Planeswalkers.

    Thanks to cards like blowout,J-Charm,and thresher, the Faeires match-up is actually pretty good. And using the same combination plus sideboarded infest,the best match-ups are against the token decks(combined 12-0 against both)

    I believe the most recent PTQ in Austin saw a J-ramp deck finish 2nd in a top 8 w/ I beleive 4-5 B/W Tokens deck, which, as far as I’m concerned, are also mid-range decks.

  32. I thought this article was great. GW Tokens is really a solid choice for Regionals, as it has tons of board recovery for the control decks of the format, even able to eskew their removal with Escort and Forgetenders, while it has the ability to make its team too large for any deck in the format to deal with. I completely agree that the midrange decks are bad right now, especially because tokens are so rampant, making it nearly impossible to punch a hole in their offensive defense.

  33. you can win with any midrange deck, all you have to do is bluff the lotus and you win.

  34. Well … I think that bottom line here is that midrange mirror matches are boring … lol …

    Now, seriously, I think that you might be able to tune your supposedly mid-range deck to a given focus, but its more likely to blow on your face.

  35. Echoing Orie’s comment…standard is tough because most decks are midrange. It is kind of a function of the current cards, since there really aren’t that many great counterspells / card draw. There are alot of reasons why standard is the way it is, but saying this or that is midrange is a little irrelevent for this current standard format.

  36. Saying X deck is midrange is not irrelevant when rebutting the claim that midrange is terrible when even some of the LSV-approved decks are midrange.

  37. This is actually the best time ever for Midrange decks because aside from Cryptic Command, countermagic is at an all time low, and planeswalkers and bitterblossom offer you an absolutely ridiculous way to fight control, and there really isn’t any viable combo.

  38. Midrange decks with no clear focus are like bringing a knife to a fight. If everyone else brings knives, you’re ok. That’s why Boat Brew kept winning for so long: Everyone else has horrible midrange decks too and then you only have to get lucky when you play a good player with a good deck and a reasonable draw. That’s pretty possible. I think the Extended Doran deck falls in the same category. Go ahead, maindeck Gaddock Teeg, side in 7 cards and still your dredge matchup will be 55% at best. If other people insist on playing Zoo or Doran or Tron, you’ll have a chance.

    The other thing that seems to be getting confused here is the design of the deck vs. what happens during games. Tokens strategies are midrange in their application but not in their design. There probably isn’t a good definition for that strategy since it’s a recent development. Just because you have to follow “Who’s the Beatdown” doesn’t mean you’re midrange. Even 5CC matchups have one person trying to play control and one person trying to beatdown.

    And Astral Slide is on the extreme edge of midrange…it’s a dedicated aggro destroyer. Much more dedicated than most decks with 4 Kitchen Finks are.

  39. So apparently I love the decks that can’t win. But my big question is where does that put Bloodbraid Elf? Is she control with the ability to topdeck a removal spell or is she aggro with the ability to throw down another creature. Obviously, she can be either depending how you tune your deck, but that begs the question that since she can act as either does that mean she is a midrange card? So no one should play her unless she is the top of your curve? It seems to me that she can really either be played in an aggro deck or a midrange deck. I would like to hear some other opinions on how people think she should be played.

  40. Good definition of Midrange, bad explanation.

    I agree with your sentiment on midrange, generally, being terrible any competitive level tourneys. I also agree that any given MU with a midrange deck could result in you drawing dead cards against that particular deck (Cabal Therapys against aggro, Living Wishes against control= terrible).
    My problem is that there isn’t a purely aggro deck right now that can win by oppwnents t4, when control has cryptic command online. IMHO Blightning and DarkBant are the closest thing there is to a purely aggro deck (competitively speaking). With Alara Reborn, Blightning got Anathemancer, which could help. More oft then not, however, in the early game when aggro shines you won’t play this guy. You have bigger and better things to play. Whether you are playing R/B or R/G/B (which is slower, more disruptive, worse against R/B aggro), killing by t5 is a true accomplishment. If Control player x is able to stop this plan (more likely than killing by t5), then it makes for a sad aggro player most of the time.
    This has created the need for the constant inundation that token varients do so well. If oppwnent sweeps, fill the board again!! but the token varients are not purely aggro. What cards do G/W tokens decks play turns 1-2? Maybe a manadork or Qasali Pridemage (stretch), elvish visionary, could do Spectral Procession with a t1 manadork. My point is that nothing really happens in terms of whittling the life total until turn 3, which could lead to a t5 kill with overrun.

    The point of this tirade is that the most competitive “aggro” decks right now are more or less midrange decks. Neither pure aggro or control can deal with the inundation of x/W token generation right now, which is why they are tier 1. They are also midrange because of the ability to seamlessly play the opposite strategy that their oppwnent is playing. This, by your definition, is midrange.

  41. Plainswalker92

    Luis what do you think about kithkin in the current standard, and do you think it would be an ok choice for regionals?

  42. Okay, I am not one to throw stones about articles that should have been thought through better before they were submitted, but…what the hell, I will anyway.

    You said that Loxodon Hierarch is the perfect example of a midrange card (good against aggro but not really aggressive enough against control, etc.) and also that:

    “In order to beat the aggro decks, midrange decks play a bunch of removal spells and control-oriented cards (Terror, Wrath of God), and in order to try and beat control they have to try and play disruption (Cabal Therapy was a Rock staple for years) or ‘aggressive’ cards.”

    So you would probably never play a deck that ran situational disruptive Cabal Therapy lookalikes like Tidehollow Sculler, good-against-aggro-too-slow-against-control Loxodon Hierarch impersonators like Kitchen Finks, “aggressive” creatures like Knight of Meadowgrain, and dedicated removal like Terror and (SB) Wrath of God, which you specifically cited as hallmarks of a Terrible Midrange Deck.

    Come on, dude.


    This article is trying to pretend that BW Tokens is not some flavor of midrange deck. Really? What the hell else is it? Is it a straight-edge beatdown deck? (With those Terrors and Tidehollow Scullers?) Is it control? Is it COMBO? Can I say “xxx” on these forums, or will it censor me? So many questions!

    <3 anyway,

    Richard Feldman

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  44. vladimir rodmanovic

    I would have to disagree in this article and what it is all about. mid range decks are very efficient decks in all categories(control, agro, even combo). BG elves will beat any variant of tokens because of maelstrom pulse. although it relies on thoughtsieze in certain matchups, BG elves is still a strong deck and it will do great in regionals.

  45. While I do stand by what I wrote (that midrange decks lack focus and don’t usually have the right tools to succeed), the fact of the matter is that this Standard format makes it difficult to draw clear distinctions.

    Yes, BW tokens is pretty close to midrange, but unfortunately (since I miss the days of good pure control decks and whatnot), all decks in standard are pretty midrangey. The cards printed really forbid much else…there aren’t enough good counters or card draw, every single deck plays a ton of creatures (even the most controllish decks play upwards of 8 or 10 guys), so we end up with alot of decks that fall into midrange.

    Still, our Kyoto build of BW tokens is the aggressor in almost all its matchups, and is one of the more aggressive decks in Standard. It can outrace just about every deck, and if you look at the common matchups, thats what it tries to do:

    RW (we didn’t even side in Wraths here, since you really just want to attack them)

    These were the three top decks, and we were definitely the aggressor in all of them.

    This has changed with the addition of all the persist guys, but if you are using Kyoto as an example, BW was definitely aggro.

  46. I think it’s pretty clear that everything in standard is midrangy except red and five-color, but this article really hammers just one deck:
    jund ramp

    they’re actually just a bad aggro deck against faeries/5cc and control against other decks

    aside from this, I think the theory really applies most to extended, where I have an argument:

    If you think you have an edge on the field, I think you should play midrange, which led me to play Doran at the last two ptqs (to my 2 best ever finishes !)

    My biggest problem with faeries (I only played it at one ptq, but I had the cards on modo and tested a bunch) is that oftentimes there is nothing you can do given your draw and your opponents – there is just no way you can convince them to misplay and no way you can win. For instance, let’s say you keep this:

    Breeing pool, island, island, sprite, sower, thirst, spell snare (on the draw)

    your opponent plays a nacatl on turn 1 and a kird ape on turn 2 and you draw land visions

    Welcome to dead town, population you!

    Does this sound like something that would never ever happen? I imagine you would keep this hand against anyone, and zoo with that draw isn’t asking very much either. The fear of a nightmare scenario like this being so far from unlikely drove me away from faeries.

    On the other hand, imagine you kept this:
    Windswept heath, Bloodstained mire, Doran, Finks, Path, Thoughtseize (6, on the draw)
    against that same draw

    pewpew we’re alive and in it! (and probably ahead)

    Of course, this comparison was covered in the article – midrange stomps aggro. However, the thing about control (at least, in that format) is that counterspells can be played around (especially in that format – spell snare, sprite, mana leak were all situational counterspells), and if you think you’re good enough to get reads and play around the right counterspells, you might be able to eek out a win or two against those faeries/tezzeret end-bosses, and I’d rather try to do that than just pray something like the first scenario doesn’t happen twice in the swiss.

    Or you could just be awful and play Doran then scrub out of top-8 twice in two weeks to the same mistake

    Anyway, these are my thoughts about why midrange is fine.

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  48. BW Tokens IS midrange. This format is DOMINATED by midrange.

    Also, GB Elves is no longer midrange; Colossus was dropped in favor of Liege due to Path to Exile, and it’s extremely aggressive. Yes, Profane Command and Civic Wayfinder are decidedly midrange cards, but they are also essential against control.

    Also, @ Orie, Doran isn’t too much of a midrange deck. Sure, it has disruptive cards, but its clock is very fast. This was shown at Worlds 2007 – Doran was the winner because it was the Rock deck with a good clock. Doran and Elves are what I would call “Aggro Rock” – they certainly do play control against certain decks, but they are at the core beatdown strategies, focusing on smashing you in with highly efficient creatures.

  49. “While I do stand by what I wrote (that midrange decks lack focus and don't usually have the right tools to succeed), the fact of the matter is that this Standard format makes it difficult to draw clear distinctions.”

    Okay, but “midrange is terrible,” “intrinsically flawed strategy,” “fundamental problem” is a far cry from “usually doesn’t have the tools.” If a strategy doesn’t have the tools to compete, it’s because Wizards hasn’t printed the right cards to make it competitive. (And I’ll grant that, with midrange, they usually don’t.) On the other hand, if it’s *fundamentally* terrible, then it doesn’t matter what cards are printed, you still shouldn’t play it…and that’s the advice the article seems to be giving.

    “Yes, BW tokens is pretty close to midrange, but unfortunately (since I miss the days of good pure control decks and whatnot), all decks in standard are pretty midrangey. The cards printed really forbid much else…Still, our Kyoto build of BW tokens is the aggressor in almost all its matchups…”

    That’s all well and good, but your complaints about playing slow creatures, removal, and situational Cabal Therapy-like cards have not gone away just because you’re the aggressor. Either playing situational cards like those is fundamentally terrible, as per the article’s title, and it’s something you just shouldn’t do…or midrange is *not* fundamentally awful, but rather it’s a strategy you think usually doesn’t have the tools; you’re fine with playing it if those tools show up (as they did with BW), but recognize that they usually aren’t there (as with Gifts Rock) even if the deck might look fine on paper.

    There’s a big difference.

    In other news, not to be entirely negative, you do make some good observations about the common shortcomings of the archetype. Randy Beuhler once famously made a comment about how he would never play aggro-control because you had to draw creatures and then counters, but if you drew counters and then creatures, or only creatures, you were screwed.

    That highlighted a problem common to aggro-control, though the right deck could overcome it (Spellstutter Sprite and Venser are both counters and creatures, for example), and I feel like your observations about midrange drawing its disruptive cards vs. aggressive cards at the wrong time (or in the wrong matchup) also highlight a barrier that midrange has to cross to be good which, say, aggro and control do not.

    Interestingly, combo often has a similar problem; if all you have are combo pieces and a weak support structure, it’s easy to draw the wrong piece at the wrong time and just do nothing and die. Wizards has to print enough tutors and/or search effects, or perhaps a naturally-fitting control shell, to give combo the tools to succeed.

    Anyway, this is of course the risk of writing theory articles…if the advice is imprecise, guys like me will jump in and gripe about it. 🙂

    Still, keep it up!


  50. Holy blanket statements batman! I would go so far as to say that unfocused midrange decks are bad, but all midrange decks? This opinion seems flawed and outright dumb. We’ll take your example of PTQ Hollywood, where you got stomped by the lark decks. What finished first at that PTQ? Yeah, a GB Elves deck, which you’ve pigeonholed into the midrange category.

  51. Okay LSV, i honestly think that everyone is missing a few things when it comes to midranged decks and more specifically Jund Ramp. Lets face it, Fae is gone and in its stead we have BW Tokens. This is great! Not only will all of your spells not have to worry about a little guy flashing in to counter your ramp spells but you also dont have to main deck four Volcanic Fallouts to keep the bugs out of the sky. I really dont know why Flores hasnt put this card in his ramp deck yet, but Jund Charm is the best card and the best utility for the Ramp. Its a sweeper, its a kill, and it makes lark decks look really sad. dont get me wrong, Fallout is great but its only needed if they are packing counter or you dont have access to black mana (which jund ramp should never have trouble with). It is true that Fallout helps out with those nasty planeswalkers, but in the main deck for a solid game one, Jund Charm is surely the way to go. You cant hate it until you try it… and be sure to try it twice just in case you got it wrong the first time.

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  54. I have been playin a midrangey esper deck and having all of the problems discussed herein. I am playing an esper/scourglass/control ish deck that finishes with sphinxes of the steel wind or sharuum or open the vaults /time sieve/ tezzeret. It kicks the s$#%& out of any flat aggro decks (flat meaining no good finishing cards or bad little creatures) or other midrange mucker but looses badly to really focused aggro (especially bant), and muldrifter/plainswalker/five color control. I would like to stick with esper because I like the flavor of the shard and think it will be good in post-rotation standard but sometimes i wonder if i wouldn’t have more luck with a stoneblade variant or with dropping the canonists and sculptors for more control. I wonder? This friday I went 2-2 losing to a zombie (sculler/thoughtseize/death baron) deck and a cheese red (ball lightning etc.) I beat a bad jund deck and a bad cascade deck (my canonists really shine there)

    This sort of proves the author’s point that midrange can’t withstand mean burn/aggro or aggro/hand disruption or any other good aggro strategy.

    However, if you are playing to capatilize on the mana curve won’t there always be a midrangey element to you deck?

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