It’s Rakdos Week, and as such, I spent some time looking at B/R commanders to build around. The most logical choice was obviously the new Rakdos, Lord of Riots . . . But Davey just showcased his version on last Tuesday’s CMDR Decks and had a similar set of ideas. The next step was to check over the sixteen B/R legendary creatures in Magic. Of course! Axelrod Gunnarson! I’ll just give him deathtouch and make him deal damage to every creature . . . wait, there aren’t any ways to do that? Seriously? Okay, okay, what about the old Rakdos?
What exactly can you do with the demanding Demon? My first thought was to mitigate his drawback:
At which point you get all the fun gameplay of . . . making your opponents lose most of their lands? Okay, maybe it’s not the best idea. Back to the drawing board. What does it mean to play like the Rakdos? It means to throw caution to the wind; it means to abandon planning in favor of spontaneity; it means to live a little.
I’ve been kicking around the idea of a Hellcarver Demon–based deck for a while. In fact, more than a year ago, I wrote a piece about the card for Quiet Speculation. That article charts the path of figuring out the fun way to play with Hellcarver, but long after writing the article, I decided I didn’t need five colors of spells to make Hellcarver sweet, so I picked a commander who could do the Demon more justice.
Carving out a Niche
Kaalia of the Vast decks typically drop fatty after fatty, trying to mount an indomitable board presence. All you really need to do is keep ripping creatures. Hellcarver Demon makes some more stringent demands on our spell base, but in the end, it’s not too hard to play this build as a normal Kaalia deck if you grow tired of going the Hellcarver route every game. Then again, maybe we should actually talk about the Hellcarver plan first.
If all goes well, your fatties aren’t going to stick around for a long time, so enters-the-battlefield effects and death triggers carry more weight than raw size, and cards such as Avacyn, Angel of Hope offer a lot fewer benefits. Moreover, with multiple combat phases or double strike, some creatures may never even be able to attack. It’s impossible to really build up a board presence, so the only lasting advantages we can hope to generate are:
- Gaining life
- Opponents losing life
- Removing opponents’ permanents
- Making opponents discard
Drawing cards and making mana are useless, bringing this deck’s gameplay pretty far off the beaten path. Let’s take a look.
"He Charges an Arm and a Soul"
There are a lot of other reasonable options for this deck: Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, Thundermaw Hellkite, or my personal favorite, Thieves' Auction. That last one might annoy your playgroup, and Scrambleverse definitely will, so include them at your own risk.
But what about the cards I’m actually playing? Faith's Reward is awesome at negating Hellcarver’s drawback, and you may be wondering why I’m not also playing Second Sunrise. The answer is that it’s only awesome if it’s a rare occurrence. Hellcarver Demon does some scary stuff, but people aren’t going to be angry at you for playing it because you’re so obviously putting yourself at the mercy on anyone with a removal spell. Not so much if you never actually lose all of your lands.
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre not only acts as Spine of Ish Sah number two, but it also ensures that you don’t deck yourself (a bigger danger than you might anticipate when you’re going through seven or thirteen cards a turn). Rakdos the Defiler is less problematic when you either put him on the board already attacking with Kaalia or don’t have many non-Demon permanents anyway because of Hellcarver Demon. Chartooth Cougar and friends let you trim mana sources so that Hellcarver hits more action, and yes, I have won a game with Igneous Pouncer.
But the real cream of the crop? Stalking Vengeance and Vicious Shadows. Not only do these cards do a lot when you’re sacrificing armies to Hellcarver Demon, they also discourage people from casting Akroma's Vengeance and the like, cards which tend to be harder to recover from without any lands. Yeah, you can try to just draw into 6 mana sources to put Kaalia back onto the board, but more likely than not, you’ll be dead before then. The best chance to reestablish a game plan is to Reanimate Hellcarver. Exhume and Stitch Together work, too, but Animate Dead effects fall right back off, and Life // Death doesn’t have the right color identity. Queue dramatic cut to action sequence.
The commanders are revealed; the stage is set.
Ashling beings with a land, and everyone follows suit until Maelstrom Wanderer follows his land up with Birds of Paradise. Soon, Ashling has a Braid of Fire, Uyo has a Coretapper, and Maelstrom Wanderer has cast Farseek, then both Growth Spasm and Nin, the Pain Artist. Ashling’s end-step Sulfur Elemental is chumped by Wanderer’s Eldrazi Spawn, and Ashling makes an entrance with Lightning Greaves. Uyo drops Mimic Vat, and my Demonic Tutor teaches me how to find some Lightning Greaves of my own (since Hellcarver Demon is already in my hand). Things seem to be going too slowly for Maelstrom Wanderer, so he invites the Hornet Queen. Then, Ashling summons a Gray Ogre, and I’m left with nothing to do but cast the Greaves.
As Wanderer is well protected, Ashling starts beating up on Uyo and me, and after Uyo casts Font of Mythos, Maelstrom Wanderer follows suit, entering play along with two ramp spells and leaving the life totals as such:
Ashling swings at both Uyo and me for 5 and then explodes, dealing 6 more damage to everything before finally summoning a Kiln Fiend.
With my lands finally free, it’s time to carve up Hell. The 6/6 slips on Lightning Greaves and smacks Maelstrom Wanderer upside the head. Everything I own simply vanishes, and then the Demon’s power pours forth.
(Two lands remain exiled.) There’s a short pause, and then Maelstrom Wanderer says, “Kaalia, I could make you love me forever right now.”
“Could you? I love to love people.”
“Yes indeed. Collective Voyage!”
10 mana later, there are thirty Shattered Angel triggers waiting to resolve. I, on the other hand, have a grand total of two basic lands left in my library. Life totals:
Ashling is the first to use the mana boost and starts off with a rather ineffectual Blood Moon before aiming Tyrant of Discord my way. But angels smile upon me, and the Tyrant only hits Academy Rector before burning my Plains. That’s okay—I prefer the shiny new Vicious Shadows anyway.
Uyo joins the board along with an Unstable Shapeshifter and Propaganda, and then it’s time for the fireworks. I draw three because of Font of Mythos, and among them sits Vampiric Tutor. I cast it off the one Swamp that passes for my mana base, and Uyo copies the spell. Now it’s time to attack:
Some of the deck’s Dragons have already been discarded, but there are plenty more where those came from:
Demonic Tutor snags Dakmor Salvage since I’d be discarding whatever I get anyway, and Reanimate brings back Reya Dawnbringer for another go. Maybe I’ll have access to that Balefire Dragon in the ’yard anyway. Ashling’s Lightning Greaves are keeping her safe from things like Angel of Despair, so I have to hit Ryusei with Bogardan Hellkite’s damage to wipe her out, and Angel of Despair picks off Uyo’s Propaganda since I’d never be able to attack into it.
Then, Maelstrom Wanderer joins the fray along with twenty-two of his closest friends.
Suddenly, my army doesn’t look so mighty, and I wonder if I might just need all 98 of this life. Of course, right now, they’re only 1/2s, so Maelstrom Wanderer opts to swing at me with his 7 power but aims Avenger at Uyo and dishes out twenty times Ashling’s recommended daily intake of vegetables.
Ashling comes back onto the scene but lacks the mana to blow for more than 4, so she stays put. Then, things become problematic for me. Uyo untaps, hits Wanderer for 4 in the air, and then destroys the world.
The next few turns consist of me playing Dakmor Salvage and then drawing unplayable spells while all three of the opposing commanders come back. Maelstrom Wanderer is toting Genesis and a completely unnecessary Ranger's Path. The board continues to build until Ashling explodes for 12, killing Uyo outright. Maelstrom Wanderer, on the other hand, responds with a Momentous Fall.
By this point, I’ve drawn a Winding Canyons, and on my next turn, I draw and play Swiftfoot Boots, not that it’s doing much. Genesis returns Avenger of Zendikar, and Maelstrom Wanderer has finally become too expensive to cast on the same turn. I draw:
Great . . . except that I only have one black source. Ashling comes down and wipes out the Plants, then Wanderer casts Beast Within on his own Avenger before untapping and recurring it with Genesis again.
Maelstrom Wanderer dies outright, and things look good, but it is not to be. Hellcarver Demon may have hexproof, but that doesn’t stop Ashling’s Alpha Brawl from making it fight Reiver Demon. I struggle to draw lands for a couple more turns, but the combination of Stuffy Doll, Pariah's Shield, and Ashling the Pilgrim make short work of my remaining life total.
A Career in Carpentry
Hellcarver Demon is a blast to play with, so if you like your games swingy and unpredictable, I’d certainly recommend it. The deck’s viability depends greatly on how your playgroup is likely to respond, though. I’ve often had people letting Hellcarver live because they want to see it do something, but if you’re having a harder time of it, the fun might not balance out with the frustration of being unable to cast your spells. You have been warned.