Meddling Rakdos Revelry

AT RISE:(A small, professional office in the middle of the workday. WIZARDS sits behind a desk, typing on a computer. In front of the desk is an empty chair. Office noises softly audible in background.)[Knock on door]WIZARDS: Come in, Lord Rakdos, come in!

[Enter LORD RAKDOS]

RAKDOS: You . . . wanted to see me?

WIZARDS: Yes! You know Return to Ravnica block is coming up, and we wanted to update you on how it’s going to affect your guild. Please, have a seat. Coffee?

RAKDOS [SITTING]: No, thank you.

WIZARDS: Okay, right to the point. We have a great mechanic for you this time around. Unleash. Makes your minions hit harder on the attack.

RAKDOS: Sounds promising. What’s the downside?

WIZARDS: Can’t block.

RAKDOS: Who cares. What else?

(Beat)

RAKDOS: What else?

WIZARDS: Welllll . . . we’re slowing the environment down. The set is going to feature new common lands called Gates, which tap for both colors of mana. Each guild gets one, and other cards will interact with them. Exciting stuff—early results look great.

(Beat)

RAKDOS: And . . . ?

WIZARDS: Uh . . . Enters play tapped.

RAKDOS: (Frowns)

WIZARDS: And each Intro Pack is going to have more basic lands.

RAKDOS: How much more?

WIZARDS: Two? Three? Some of the other guilds were complaining they didn’t have enough time to develop last time around. Good for the new player, too.

RAKDOS: What about removal?

WIZARDS: Oh, you’re going to love this! One spell lets you destroy a creature and force an opponent to discard a card. And there’s a burn spell that blasts your opponent and a creature for 3!

RAKDOS: That’s more like it. Cost?

WIZARDS: 6. And 5.

RAKDOS: (Frowns)

RAKDOS: So, if I’m hearing you right, you have a signature theme around a common land that’s too slow for us to use, removal that’s too expensive to consider, and even more basic lands to wade through . . . even though our new mechanic wants us to be lean and fast. Why would I possibly be interested in this new block?

WIZARDS (thinking): Well . . . how about we get Beyer to write you in a cameo for The Secretist?

(Silence)

RAKDOS: Done.

 


Rakdos Guildgate
As we look over the card pool available to us for this latest Meddling, it's hard to blame Lord Rakdos for taking what he could get. Of all the guilds represented in Dragon's Maze, the Rakdos is the most aggressive, and it therefore stands to lose the most effectiveness in the slower Return to Ravnica environment. More lands, full play sets of Guildgates, expensive creatures, and removal—all of these combine to hobble a deck whose guild mechanic wants to see them blitz from the blocks at the crack of the starter's pistol and never let up. As a result, this might be my most difficult of the Dragon's Maze Meddlings yet.

This time around, for those just joining us, we're doing things a little differently. Rather than using a predefined card pool to rebuild and improve an existing Intro Pack, we'll be taking both Intro Packs from a particular guild and dumping all the cards in a pile. That's the pool we'll have to work from, so we'll have to be able to separate trash from treasure to build the best sixty-card construction we can.

For the Rakdos, this means we'll be working with Rakdos Raid from Return to Ravnica, alongside Rakdos Revelry of Dragon's Maze. This latest precon came as something of a surprise. Usually later in a set, when you have a deeper pool of cards to work with, you can expect themes and mechanics in a deck to be better supported. In this case, although unleash begs us to apply the gas pedal, the second deck went the other direction. Rakdos Raid wasn't the fastest deck ever made, but compared to Rakdos Revelry, it screams. This isn't necessarily bad—with the right tools, Rakdos can certainly do midrange—but our interest lies more in playing to the guild's natural inclination.

With most decks, the backbone is in the creatures, and so it's there we'll begin.

The Early Game

Rix Maadi Guildmage
1-Drops:

2-Drops:

Although the Dragon's Maze deck plays more happily in the midfield, we do have a solid assortment of creatures to draw from. Since we're going with early aggression, the Rakdos Cackler is a slam dunk here as our opening unleash creature. I was initially divided on the Tormented Souls, but two things speak in their favor. First, they help set up a steady drip of damage if played early enough, and having three copies definitely helps have one early. Second, the card pool isn't deep enough to be as picky as we could be here. Sometimes, you have to make do with what you have, and so the Souls make the cut.

Bellows Lizard
The same can't be said for the poor Bellows Lizard. A 1/1 with Firebreathing makes for a cute trick, but as often as not, you'll find it blocked and traded out by anything an opponent has lying around. If we had more cheap removal available to us, it might be worth it to run since we could pare down the opposition before swinging in, but removal this time around is fairly light.

For the 2-drops, we'll gladly welcome the Gore-House Chainwalker for unleash as well as the Riot Pikers, Spike Jesters, Rakdos Shred-Freaks, and Rix Maadi Guildmage. This gives us a nice mix of early attackers, many of which hit that much faster thanks to haste. With this many 2-drops, we'll almost certainly be able to field creatures right off the bat, letting us get a jump on our slower-to-develop rivals.

So, what doesn't make the cut? The Grim Roustabout for one. The Carnage Gladiator is interesting because it's a high-power attacker that can be committed to the offense with reckless abandon. The Roustabout is a 2/2. That means he'll frequently die, compelling you to leave 2 mana open to support his continued existence. There's just not enough upside here. The same can be said of the Gutter Skulks. I'm not against taking vanilla creatures where it makes sense to do so, since they typically give you the most bang for the buck in terms of sheer power and toughness. But again, the Skulk doesn't do enough. Finally, the Ravenous Rats can go with them. A throw-in discard effect is cute, but too often toward the end of the game, you'll find your opponent either empty-handed or sitting with a surplus land in hand to throw away. Discard is a strategy that needs support, and a miser's copy of a single effect is anything but.

The Midgame

Cryptborn Horror
The 3-Drops:

The 4-Drops:

The early-game picks were fairly easy—we knew we wanted a lot of them, and we kept all but the most underwhelming. Here, we have to be much more surgical, lest we flood our deck with expensive cards that can create a real drag on our deployment rate. Our first keeper is the Hellhole Flailer, where my only regret is that we don't get access to more of them. A 4/3 for 3 mana (unleashed, of course), the Flailer also counts as an extra burn spell should the red zone become so congested that we can't profitably get in on the attack. This one's a snap-keep.

Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
Next up are the pair of Rakdos Drakes. I don't love these because I'd like to do something a little more intimidating than summon a third successive 2-power creature on turn three. Still, their evasion is a point in their favor, as is their unleash. Since (spoiler alert) we'll be keeping Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch, the prospect of occasionally having haste in the air makes these palatable, if not necessarily delicious.

We'll also be taking the Cryptborn Horror, the second rare from the first Rakdos deck. The Horror is very conditional, relying on your damage output to become effective—making it something of a win-more type of card. Although I'd feel a lot more comfortable with a couple of cheap burn sources here as an insurance policy (such as Searing Spear), there's enough upside here to take it in the absence of better options. A case can also be made for the Sewer Shambler, which while weak, still has some synergies with the deck once dead. It’s extra counters for a Tormented Soul, more damage from a Flailer's explosion, or giving something with haste when Exava's out. Although you have to go through the hoop of killing the thing without the benefit of a sacrifice outlet, it gets the nod.

Easily shown the door is the Guttersnipe, as the deck doesn't have enough instants or sorceries to make it consistently interesting. It was a curious choice in the Intro Pack deck . . . and a better fit with the Izzet.

For the 4-drops, we'll be even more Spartan with our selections since again we don't want to bloat our average casting cost. The Bloodfray Giants are easy keeps—an above-the-curve body backed up by trample makes for a nice finisher. Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch is an auto-include as well—if any seat on the bench is safe, it's hers. Finally, we'll take the pair of Carnage Gladiators. These make great attackers at a time where you'll often have mana to play with, with most of your cheaper cards already on the board. In addition, they punish your opponent for blocking, ensuring that even if you're running into walls, you're still managing to wring some damage out of your offense.

Missing the cut are the Canyon Minotaurs, which pale in comparison to our other options here. The Slum Reaper is too unpredictable. Edict effects tend to work better in Standard, where the value of creatures is a little higher. In this format, your opponent will frequently have some redundant body left over, and devoting a card to getting rid of it alongside a somewhat brittle 4/2 body just doesn't make the grade. The Smelt-Ward Gatekeepers, meanwhile, force us to play with Guildgates, and in this build, we won't be touching those. Every early turn is precious, and losing a turn thanks to a tapped land runs counter to the Rakdos playbook.

The Endgame

Carnival Hellsteed
The 5-Plus-Drops:

This was a bit of a trick question—we're not stocking for the endgame. I might have thought about the Carnival Hellsteed if it had trample, but as it is, these cards just aren't worth the time required to build up to them in this deck.

The Spells

Auger Spree

This is the most painful part of the deck. In a perfect world, we'd be awash in options like Searing Spear and Murder, simple and inexpensive kill spells that would help us keep the attack lanes open as we offload more and more attackers. This environment isn't exactly conducive to that approach, so we can either pack our creatures with more filler or make do with the best of a bad lot here. As sad as it is to say this, the old adage "removal is removal" has to apply here.

Punish the Enemy
How else, for instance, could we justify Assassin's Strike? You almost can't. The tacked-on discard is poor, for the reasons discussed above with the Ravenous Rats. Still, it kills something, and a little bomb insurance never hurt. The same goes for Punish the Enemy, though we can feel better about that because, at the end of the day, it's still pushing out 6 points of damage.

Other removal offerings here that we'll be taking are Auger Spree, Cower in Fear, and the pair of Crippling Blights.. The Blights are as good as removal for our purposes, as you might recall we packed in a full play set in the standalone Meddling of Rakdos Raid. Toil // Trouble is an easy pick thanks to its versatility and direct-damage potential, but from here, things start to get a bit dodgy.

Traitorous Instinct solves few problems permanently, but it can be a real thorn in an opponent's side as well as helping remove a potential defender from our path. Deviant Glee as an Aura leaves us exposed to being two-for-oned, and that can be a bitter pill for an aggro deck, which needs to wring every last bit of value from the cards it opens with lest it stall and run out of gas. Still, it works well with our Tormented Souls and Rakdos Drakes in particular, and we'll overlook its weaker points.

Blood Reckoning is a card that has the stink of defeat about it, a 4-mana enchantment that doesn't do a blessed thing when played. Still, I've been on both sides of it long enough to know that it can be very nettlesome to face, and with the options presented us, it's one I'll be running—though I wouldn't be surprised at some point if I cut it for another creature. Finally, we'll take the Havoc Festival. We've done a commendable job sticking to our strict diet, so being able to splurge on calories for this one is a vice worth indulging. No card I've played with yet feels quite as quintessentially Rakdos as this one, and it absolutely charges a game with flavor.

Here's the final decklist!

The Games

Havoc Festival
Sam and I recreated our review playtest for Ertai's Lament, with Sam piloting Orzhov Power. This was an environment that on the face of it favored the Orzhov, for whom the extra lands and time in this environment is a gift. Although the playtest didn't go the Orzhov's way, that was in some part due to the strength of Havoc Festival, which put a timer on the game.

This time, it was no-contest. Though the Orzhov had some stalling ability early through the Bane Alley Blackguard and Basilica Guards, my Rakdos deck had enough speed and removal to consistently become stuck into Sam's life total before she could adequately prepare her defenses. Although the games typically went more turns than I'd like from an all-out aggro build, being able to rely on evasion with the Rakdos Drake and Tormented Soul gave it some staying power it might not otherwise have had. It was a blast to play. Oh, and Exava? She's a beating in a box.

 


Thanks for joining me again for this reconstruction of the Rakdos Intro Packs. Although this was the most challenging build so far given how much I had to work against the environment, it seems that a solid aggro-to-midrange build is still possible with the card pool. As always, your mileage may vary, and I'd be very interested to hear what you might have done differently in the comments below.

Jay Kirkman
@ErtaisLament

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