Meddling Rakdos Raid

Rix Maadi Guildmage
Come one, come all; the glorious carnival of meddling is about to begin! For our feature attraction, we've got Rakdos Raid, the Intro Pack deck centered around the feature guild and their signature mechanic, unleash. Designed to get out ahead of your opponent and never look back, like all of the decks, it can certainly benefit from a going-over as we look to strengthen and reinforce its main strategy while cutting away the parts that don’t work.

Regular readers of the series will know that there are two guiding principles I use that helps to keep the deck both affordable and easy to assemble. That may not be the approach for everyone, but it’s a good exercise in Mark Rosewater’s eternal refrain: Restrictions breed creativity. By paring away the dead weight we’re able to arrive at the core fundamentals of each deck’s approach, and then using the available card pool, we can rebuild it into a stronger and more consistent version of what it was coming out of the box.

The first principle is: no added rares or mythics. If you’re making this at home, I’d encourage you to use whatever you have at your disposal that’s a good fit, but for our purposes, we’ll only be assessing the two rares that come with the stock deck. The other principle is that we’ll only draw cards from sets already represented in the deck, namely Return to Ravnica and Magic 2013. It’s certain that there are some excellent cards in Innistrad block that would be a great fit here, but for the new or returning player who might just be getting his or her start, those cards might not be easily available. For our Meddlings, we want to work with the tools at hand.

And for the Rakdos, what might those tools be? Here’s the stock decklist:

Now let’s pull out the scalpel and get to work! The core theme of Rakdos Raid is a straightforward one: Attack, attack, and attack some more. The unleash mechanic all but spells it out for you: This is a guild that’s eager to get stuck in! In our assessments at Ertai’s Lament, we found that the deck as-is did a fine job of being aggressive but that it was hampered somewhat by a bit of a stretched mana curve and a tacked-on discard suite.

Cards We Cut

Bellows Lizard
Some of the performers in this three-ring circus sadly resemble clowns as much as lion tamers, and we'll want to prune the deck aggressively to weed out some of the underperformers. First up is the Bellows Lizard, a 1/1 with a weaker form of Firebreathing. Because of the peculiar mana cost, this card is nearly as effective in a two-colour deck as a mono-red one, but it nevertheless just isn't worth the spot on the roster. Even though mana sinks are nice for later in a game, we'll want to keep the deck relatively lean with regards to costs. If you play this card on turn one, it's little different than Mons's Goblin Raiders if you need that mana for more creatures.

Canyon Minotaurs are nowhere near what we want to see in the deck, and they pale when compared to cards like the Bloodfray Giant. That's an easy out, but so are some of the more absurdly priced options such as the Minotaur Aggressor and Zombie Goliath. On the opposite end of the register are some of the cheaper creatures that are simply overshadowed by the more efficient unleash bruisers. This sees off the fast-but-fragile Rakdos Shred-Freak as well as the controversially off-guild Sewer Shambler.

The Sewer Shambler in particular seemed to be part and parcel of a subtheme present in the deck that we'll be doing away with altogether, and that's focused around the trio of Tormented Souls. These were the linchpin of an alternate-route tactic that underpinned the Shambler, Deviant Glee, and the Guildmages. It's a fine idea, making sure the deck could still get stuck in for damage even if your opponent survives the initial rush and stabilizes the board, but cutting it makes room for us to make the deck even more aggressive, thus lessening the need to have it in the first place.

Spawn of Rix Maadi
The last creature cut is the Spawn of Rix Maadi. Although the Spawn has the right keyword, it loses out to the Bloodfray Giant in a head-to-head. The Spawn is a touch bigger, yes, but it costs 1 more mana and doesn't have trample. It has to go.

As for the noncreature support suite, this is being slashed almost to the bone. We often find the most variety (and thus inefficiency) in this part of the deck, as Wizards throws in a variety pack of samples for players to experience. Considering the general aim and target audience of the Intro Pack, that's not the worst way to do things, but it does give us a lot of room to work with after wielding the scalpel. Often, the cards may have the right idea but go about it less efficiently than others. Case in point: Assassin's Strike. The free discard is nice, but do we really want to pay a whopping 6 mana to kill one onboard threat . . . at sorcery speed, no less? While we're at it, let's get rid of Shrieking Affliction as well and complete the gutting of the deck's minor discard subtheme by pitching Mind Rot.

Auger Spree is also gone. As removal goes, we have better options, and although it has some measure of flexibility for use as a combat trick, our creatures just aren't big enough to survive its "bonus." It can take Traitorous Instinct (too conditional), Cower in Fear (same), Blood Reckoning (ditto), and the Rakdos Keyrunes (unnecessary). That leaves us with just the Crippling Blights, but now the fun begins!

Cards We Add

Rakdos Cackler
As with the other Return to Ravnica Intro Pack meddlings, the core of the resulting deck is already present to some degree here; we're not doing a complete overhaul, but rather just build upon the existing foundation. Toward that end, we'll be increasing the allotment of some of the key players in the deck. Early beater options—Rakdos Cackler, Gore-House Chainwalker—are going up to full play sets to get the deck firing right from the start. We're also adding a pair of Rix Maadi Guildmages, which is one of the stronger members of the cycle. Just as with the Selesnyan counterpart, both abilities are highly relevant to what the deck wants to do. The anti-blocker option helps keep our smaller bodies relevant as they work their way through an increasingly congested red zone and can turn trades into delightfully one-sided affairs. Meanwhile, if we find ourself with open mana and little to do with it, the life-draining can be a critical source of extra damage. Because they are fully redundant and more supplemental than critical to the deck's aims, we don't need a play set here.

Moving up to the more expensive creatures, it's important that we resist the temptation to load up the deck with fatter selections, dragging down the overall speed. We'll want to keep the Cryptborn Horror. Although being a rare doesn't guarantee you a seat on the bench (as with our rareless Azorius build), it does give a little nudge in that direction. The Horror is very conditional, only being very good when you already have momentum on your side. That said, there's a definite fun factor in trying to maximize it, and thanks to the trample, it gets an extra point. It will be most valuable early before your opponent has had a chance to set up his or her defenses, and you'll sometimes be able to steal a win with it. All of the same applies as well to the Carnival Hellsteed, the deck's foil rare. If your meta requires a little extra speed, though, these are two places to look at first for cuts.

Bloodfray Giant
We'll also be retaining the services of the Hellhole Flailer and Bloodfray Giant, modestly increasing their presence. This leaves room for two fresh faces. The first is the Splatter Thug, which is a good bargain as a 3/3 first striker for 3 mana. Since we generally won't be using him to block, the first strike here helps keep him alive by denying your opponent to ability to evenly trade—your opponent will need a 3/4 or better to stop the Thug. The other card is one our very own Nick Cannon extolled the virtues of: the Crimson Muckwader. A reliable 3/2 with regeneration for a discount price, it's a very solid 2-drop with a reasonable activated ability that will help keep it alive. It will also be a useful servant should your deck falter a bit. Since your unleashed bodies can't block, the Muckwader can offer you some defensive support while you build up.

For noncreature support, we'll want as much removal as we can jam into the deck to help keep the lanes free for our attackers. A play set of Searing Spears is a no-brainer here, giving us both removal and reach should we need to burn out our wounded opponent. We'll also mix in some creature kill in the form of a pair of Murders and Ultimate Prices. These two complement each other rather well, as both have restrictions (one in targets, one in casting due to the heavy black component). Taken together, they give us a reasonably rounded removal suite.

We'll also be upping our quantity of Crippling Blights to the full play set. Although they don't actually remove threats (unless they happen to be X/1s), the Blights have two things going for them. For one, they’re dirt cheap, so you don't have to skip a turn of casting a creature just to take something out. Second, they do exactly what you need them to do, which is to stop your opponent from being able to block your rush. If that means you take a little extra damage on the counterattack, hey, you're Rakdos—it comes with the territory. It may not be a permanent solution, but that hasn't stopped Pacifism from finding a home in a number of decks.

In the Field

As before, we've chosen to replay the original playtest match we held for the Lament to best see how the new Meddle stacks up. In fairness, though, I didn't much need the help against Sam, who was swept aside behind the slower Izzet Ingenuity. This time, though, the Rakdos were completely without mercy. I was consistently able to play early, aggressive creatures, putting Sam on the back foot almost immediately. Goblin Electromancers and Guttersnipes that were thrown in my way were simply swept aside with removal, and Crippling Blight on a Runewing felt like twisting the knife. Indeed, the Blight was an all-star performer here, doing exactly what was asked of it for a very small investment of mana.

My Meddled list stood up to testing, though I did throttle the land back a little to be a bit more even from an initial fourteen–ten split. Although the actual cards want some extra {R}, both the Rix Maadi Guildmages and the Crimson Muckwaders really wanted to see Swamps as often as Mountains. Here's the final list:

As always, your mileage may vary, and I'll be keen to hear what you might have done differently! Although I limited my card pool, are there any other cards—from Innistrad block or otherwise—that might be a perfect fit? Please let me know in the comments below!

I hope you've enjoyed this Meddling through the Intro Packs of Return to Ravnica as much as I have. I'll be back in the new year with the arrival of the next set of guilds and decks for Gatecrash, but until then, thanks for reading, and happy holidays to you and all your loved ones!

Jay Kirkman
@ErtaisLament