Along with the Rakdos Aggro deck that took 1st place, Grand Prix Memphis 2019 had another shocking top 8 contender in a Gruul Midrange deck piloted by Shota Takao. Takao’s success is surprising because, despite many competitive MTG players positing that a green and red aggro deck could be strong in the format, few Gruul decks had found virtually any success up until this point, and the deck at first glance seems largely unoriginal. At closer inspection, however, there are a number of facets to this deck that are genius in their simplicity, which, in combination, have created what could soon be one of the best decks in MTG standard. Here are four reasons why Gruul Midrange might have been able to outperform hundreds of other competitors for a spot in the top 8 of Grand Prix Memphis 2019.
Card Advantage in Red and Green
Generally speaking, it’s more difficult in Magic: The Gathering to accomplish card advantage in Gruul colors than, for example, Dimir or Esper, because those guilds have access to both blue and black. This deck, however, has cheated out card advantage with creatures that function in the same way a draw spell would. Direfleet Daredevil, for example, is card advantage because it steals a spell from your opponent’s graveyard, functioning as either two spells or, in the case of stealing a spell with Jump-Start, a 3 spell swing. Similarly, Growth-Chamber Guardian replaces itself when it adapts, allowing you to put another copy of GCG in your hand from your library and working exactly like drawing a card. Further, Takao’s list runs Karn on the board, which is extremely cost efficient card advantage in a colorless Planeswalker, and one of the best Planeswalkers in MTG standard, despite currently being underrated.
Gruul Midrange might be one of the biggest and most aggressive archetypes in Magic: The Gathering, but it traditionally struggles with control decks that can counter their important threats and remove their valuable creatures. This Gruul list comes equipped with answers to this historical problem, providing a number of effective tools against control. Gruul Spellbreaker, for example, is a new Ravnica Allegiance creature that poses a nightmare scenario for control opponents; this 3/3 for three mana, using the new “riot” mechanic, can either have haste or a +1/+1 counter, making it great both early and late game, and gives its controller, and itself, hexproof during its controller’s turn. This prevents control players from playing spells at instant speed, and completely disables a plethora of game-saving cards like Settle the Wreckage and Root Snare. This list also plays Cindervines in the sideboard, which pings control players for every single non-creature spell they play, and can also blow up Search for Azcanta, one of the best cards in MTG standard for control decks.
Less Wasted Cards
One of the strengths of this deck actually lies in what is absent, as the lack of certain bulky, unsatisfying cards makes this deck feel far more frightening. One prominent green card, for example, that finds itself missing in this list is Llanowar Elves, which may surprise some because of its ubiquitous presence in Sultai Midrange. In many ways Llanowar Elves is an excellent card, however this Gruul list foregoes the mana acceleration for a more stable early game this is not easily disrupted by cards like Goblin Chainwhirler. Additionally, this Gruul deck also foregoes Rhythm of the Wilds, a card that many thought would be exceptional in the format. Takao’s success, however, demonstrates that Rhythm is not only unnecessary to a competitive Gruul deck, but that the tempo gained by playing an aggressive creature or removal spell on turn 3 is more valuable than the enchantment.
Unclaimed Territory, because you must select a single creature type for it to produce colored mana, has generally be relegated to tribal decks focused entirely around one creature type. Although this is not the case with Takao’s Gruul Midrange list, his creature base is similar enough as to make effective use of this card and quell the problems associated with casting Goblin Chainwirler on curve in a multi-colored deck that also wants Zhur-Taa Goblin on turn 2. Indeed, all but two creatures in the deck are either “Warrior” or “Goblin,” and there are only 10 non-creatures spells that he cannot use colored mana for. With even better fixing than many of the other two-colored decks, Gruul Aggro is a great deck for MTG arena as well, helping you play around the variance of the best-of-one format.
The choices behind the success of Takao’s Gruul Midrange deck are riveting and exciting for the format, and hide within them potentially the key to success in other archetypes as well. Overall, this deck may seem straightforward on the surface, but the attention to detail and unconventional strategies are exactly how you build a competitive Magic: The Gathering deck, and how you climb MTG arena ladder. Have home brews you’re working on? Share them in the comments below!