The Sultai color combination has plenty of cards that are good on their own, with a customizable deck that can adapt to whatever game plan an opponent is attempting to enact and stifle it. It’s also a desirable color combination in the current Magic: The Gathering meta, offering black’s great suite of creature removal, green’s sturdy creatures and powerful ramp, and blue’s card advantage and counterspells. If playing a deck that has very few bad matchups (and, as a tradeoff, very few great ones) or feeling in control of most games is appealing to you, then Sultai Midrange is the perfect choice. Just be warned that this is a deck that absolutely benefits from best-of-3 in MTG Arena and is a highly inadvisable choice for best-of-1 players.
For new Magic: The Gathering players Midrange decks are typically the most difficult to play. Other archetypes like Red Aggro or Esper Control have roles they’re playing in each game and those roles don’t fundamentally change based on matchups. Aggro wants to put pressure on an opponent, while control seeks to drag a game out and slowly accumulate card advantage. Midrange is a different beast that falls in the middle. It’s faster than control, but slower than aggro. Success heavily relies on knowing what’s happening in a specific metagame, with the best midrange builds rewarding pilots for predicting which matchups they’ll play.
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If we were going to take Sultai into the battlefields of Magic Arena today, here’s what we’d work with.
Sultai Midrange wants to grind out card advantage through a series of card-for-card trades before pulling ahead with its flashier, bigger spells. Typically, Sultai is a collection of the best cards available to it, leaning less on synergy and more on the individual power level of its choices. With that said, though, because of the sheer power level of aggressive decks, Sultai also depends on a 12-creature package. This insulates it against the best starts from red and white aggro decks while giving it a chance at beating down slower control decks, too.
Merfolk Branchwalker/Jadelight Ranger – The explore mechanic is exactly what Sultai wants. Each activation either lets you draw more lands to curve properly or helps filter out which cards you draw next. The latter might not seem that powerful in a vacuum, but in a deck like Sultai that has a wide range of situational cards, finding the right one for the problem at hand is crucial.
Wildgrowth Walker – Wildgrowth Walker ties the explore mechanic from the above cards to a 1/3 body that blocks creatures, grows bigger, and gains life with every explore. The life gain is particularly relevant depending on the specific build of Sultai we’re discussing. Ours is one of those since we lean on a late game engine in Command the Dreadhorde that demands a high life total to be leveraged most effectively.
Hydroid Krasis – Hydroid Krasis is a threat that scales with the amount of mana you have in play. It’s flexible enough to bridge the gap in the mid-game by drawing cards and gaining life or closing a game out with a heftier draw and life gain combination in later turns. It is also often one of the only blue cards in the main deck of Sultai and alone is a major reason to play the deck.
Hostage Taker – Hostage Taker can be a dead card in matchups where there aren’t a lot of relevant creatures to target, but when it shines, it’s one of the best cards in Sultai. It pairs the deck’s desire for removal with a built-in card advantage engine, since casting the creature Hostage Taker steals is a free card. Also of note: if there’s nothing on your opponent’s side of the battlefield to steal, Hostage Taker can exile your own Merfolk Branchwalker/Jadelight Ranger so that you can recast them and explore again!
Llanowar Elves – This one mana ramp creature is crucial in getting hard to remove threats like planeswalkers onto the battlefield a turn early. It’s also an early removal magnet, as opponents will often spend valuable resources removing this from the battlefield, setting the stage for some of the better mid-game threats like Jadelight Ranger to help stabilize the game.
Vivien Reid/Vraska, Golgari Queen/Nissa, Who Shakes the World – These planeswalkers can all be lumped together since they function similarly. Each of these wants to push the advantage of Sultai by generating free cards through drawing, making lands into creatures, or removing threatening permanents on the other side of the table. When presented with the option of playing any of these three in one turn, Vraska is the best for stabilizing while Vivien and Nissa are better at generating card advantage once the board is already stable.
Tamiyo, Collector of Tales – Tamiyo has been extremely impressive in recent weeks, offering the ability to dig deep into the deck to try and find a specific answer while also filling up the graveyard for the deck’s synergies. She’s also incidentally quite good in mirror matches where discard spells are important thanks to her passive. And with several decks going
Command the Dreadhorde – Command the Dreadhorde is Standard’s bogeyman at this point. In any deck where this card is good, it’s so good that it can often effectively end the game the minute it resolves. Sultai can use this card to great effect by leaning more heavily on planeswalkers, so it’s been included here as an “I win” button without being the focus of the strategy.
Assassin’s Trophy – This removal spell answers nearly everything. Experimental Frenzy? Check. History of Benalia? Check. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria? Check. Anything that can run away with the game has a lot more difficulty doing so when Assassin’s Trophy is lurking in the shadows. The land it gives an opponent is only a minor setback against aggro strategies while the bigger decks in the format are so mana hungry they often run two or fewer basic lands! Casting an Assassin’s Trophy when an opponent can’t even fetch anything feels like cheating (but rest assured, it is well within the rules of competitive Magic.)
Lands – The lands in Sultai are straightforward. The current Standard format has provided decks with excellent mana, and Sultai is no exception. While building the deck, it’s important to remember that it is primarily base-green, secondary black, with blue often as a light splash. If the deck runs any basics, it’s usually just Forests, and cards like Overgrown Tomb, Watery Grave, and Breeding Pool are all typically four-ofs to help guarantee spells are always castable.
Sultai’s sideboard is important because it helps the deck take its usually 50/50 chance of winning and improve it drastically by removing dead cards and adding powerhouses targeted against specific strategies. Here, that’s no different. Thrashing Brontodon and Duress are flexible cards that answer different angles The Elderspell is a devastating card against planeswalker decks. One neat trick with the Elderspell is casting a Vivien Reid or Vraska and, before using their abilities, casting the Elderspell to destroy opponent’s planeswalkers. Putting all the free counters from The Elderspell on Vivien or Vraska then allows them to ultimate the turn you play them, running away with the game. You can even do this with your own planeswalkers!
Other Cards to Consider
Incubation Druid/Paradise Druid – Including an extra mana ramp creature can be beneficial if you expect to play against a lot of control decks, where getting big threats out early is a good way to tax their counterspells. If the control decks are lighter on removal, Incubation Druid is a good choice, while fear of lots of spot removal makes the hexproof Paradise Druid a better call.
Ravenous Chupacabra – This creature shines when there are a lot of creature-based decks in the meta. Removing a creature while producing a 2/2 body is very useful if the meta becomes centered around cluttered boards and combat math.
Find//Finality – This split spell is best in Sultai and other midrange mirrors. It’s also better when the creatures Sultai is playing have more enters the battlefield effects, since it lets you reuse them just by casting them. Finality’s -4/-4 sweeper-style effect is also a key factor in making the card relevant. If there aren’t a lot of creatures getting tagged by it in the meta, it might not be the right time to use it.
Memorial to Folly – This is a very flexible land card that allows players to get back one of their best creatures from the graveyard to use again. Unfortunately, it enters the battlefield tapped, and Sultai really wants to curve out right now. That, plus having to give up a source of mana to use its ability, makes Memorial to Folly a little too slow right now.
A product of playing Sultai Midrange is that most of its matchups start out even or slightly below 50% before access to the deck’s sideboard drastically improves its odds. Here, we’ll briefly go over expected matchups and how the deck performs.
This matchup is unfavorable in the first game which then becomes slightly favorable in games two and three if you sideboard correctly. Esper Control can invalidate a lot of the explore creature package with mass removal, and some of its permanents are extremely difficult to answer. Game one is better than normal with this version of the deck because of its Assassin’s Trophy removal suite.
This matchup is favorable in game one and remains that way after sideboarding. Red struggles with the life gain effects and Assassin’s Trophy can destroy the biggest permanents like Experimental Frenzy or Chandra, Fire Artisan at a mana advantage. After sideboard, cards like Moment of Craving, Thrashing Brontodon, and Cast Down all help too.
This matchup is favorable in game one and remains that way after sideboarding. Mono blue tends to struggle with removal like Assassin’s Trophy and Vraska, Golgari Queen, which can stick on the board and begin gaining life after dealing with a creature.
This matchup is unfavorable to start and then remains that way for the entire match. Unfortunately, in the midrange mirror, Esper’s access to white gives it better planeswalkers and a creature in Hero of Precinct One that can run away with a game and make spot removal look silly. There aren’t great ways to improve that matchup without sacrificing too much, so this remains a difficult one for Sultai.
Simic/Bant Nexus of Fate
This matchup is borderline unwinnable when you encounter it and only becomes very unfavorable after sideboarding. Nexus of Fate invalidates nearly every angle this deck operates on because Sultai doesn’t put enough pressure on opponents to prevent the Nexus decks from getting to the meat of their game plan. After sideboarding, Duress and Disdainful Stroke can try to salvage the matchup, but it remains an incredibly difficult one. Nexus of Fate is the main reason Sultai decks don’t see more widespread play on MTG Arena.
Sultai Midrange will never be an objectively bad choice for MTG Arena. At least provided Nexus of Fate never makes up more than 25% of the field, which is virtually unheard of. As a result, it’s an appealing choice for players who want to feel like they have a chance in every game they play during a night of ranked laddering. It’s also great for novice players looking to level up their game. Navigating what role you need to play in matchups as Sultai The learning curve is a bit steeper than aggressive decks, but Sultai Midrange offers something unique in MTG Arena that’s fun, competitive, and customizable for players looking to infuse a bit of their own personality into deckbuilding.