Control is out, and midrange is in.
At least, that's what it seems like on Magic Online. There were many versions of the Blue-Black Midrange deck first popularized by "Jaberwocki" that did well in last weekend's Magic Online Championship Series event, while very few straight control versions of blue-black seemed to find success. This is a pretty big role reversal considering how dominant Blue-Black Control was at U.S. Nationals and the World Championship. This is what I have been testing with, both playing with and against, in preparation for the Pro Tour.
The fact that this deck plays a lot of creatures alongside a full three copies of The Scarab God is what stands out the most. The high density of creatures in the deck makes it that much more likely there will be a good target for The Scarab God once it is in play. Kitesail Freebooter is the perfect way to take away an opposing early removal spell and make sure the coast is clear for The Scarab God. Gifted Aetherborn also provides a good blocker against annoying creatures like Bristling Hydra.
We saw the match against Temur Energy end prematurely when our opponent conceded in game two, but honestly I feel the opponent's pain. Once The Scarab God is in play and you are able to untap with it, especially against Temur Energy, the game is effectively over. In other matchups, it depends on what targets are in the graveyard for The Scarab God, but against Temur Energy there is always something nice to target.
This deck plays cards on its own turn a lot of the time, and it has more answers compared to a typical Blue-Black Control build. The deck doesn't need to heavily rely on countermagic – there are only five counters in the main deck. In addition, Chart a Course and Glimmer of Genius to help ensure your ability to dig for what you need.
When playing against the other Blue-Black Midrange deck, we didn't know exactly what cards were in the opponent's deck. We saw a variety of Pirate cards, so I tried to play around anything that the opponent might have. Luckily, Kitesail Freebooter helps tell us what the opponent is up to. After sideboarding, we were able to go a bit bigger than the opponent and navigate around cards like Bontu's Last Reckoning and Hostage Taker.
The last match was against this deck's worst matchup, Ramunap Red. While Ramunap Red certainly is beatable, it's not easy, especially when you don't have a great draw and the opponent does. That is essentially what happened here. The aggressive decks like Ramunap Red are trying to keep these sorts of Blue-Black strategies in check. If Ramunap Red wasn't around, then the Blue-Black deck would dominate the metagame because of its good midrange matchups.
Overall, this sort of Blue-Black creature based strategy is quite well positioned. The deck has both cheap spells and the ability to close out the opponent later in the game. We haven't seen a blue-black deck like this in quite some time, so it's pretty exciting. I'm interested to see if there will be more midrange decks like this one, or the more straightforward control approach to blue-black at the Pro Tour.
Thanks for reading,