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The(ir) Agony and The Ecstasy

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Casual Magic, Commander

Editor’s Note: Legit MTG is participating in Rakdos theme week alongside Daily MTG and other websites in the Magic community. Look for articles about the red-black guild to join our regular features. And don’t worry. The other Return to Ravnica guilds will get equal treatment in upcoming weeks.

Chaos, randomness, and anarchy: three very descriptive words relating to both the black and red guild and its leader. “Rules are made to be broken” and “Live in the now” are two mottos that members of the Rakdos Cult live by. Creating a 100-card Commander deck with this philosophy will result in an unorthodox deck thats primary focus is ending the game quickly.

Rakdos, Lord of Riots is a cheap, but not easy to cast Legendary creature. Two black mana and two red mana are required to cast him the first time. But he cannot be cast unless an opponent has lost life that turn. Once in play, he is a 6/6 flying creature with trample! The trample is more potent than usual because of Rakdos’ additional ability: every life your opponents have lost this turn makes your other creatures one mana cheaper to cast. An unblocked Rakdos can result in a Kaervek the Merciless and an Inferno Titan coming into play, paying only four total mana. Ending turn five with three game-altering creatures on your side makes two-hour Commander games a thing of the past.

Bring the Pain

Rakdos” casting restriction drives the major theme of the deck. But pain is pain, and Rakdos does not really care when people get hurt. As long as somebody is hurting, he is happy. There are a lot of pain-inducing cards in the deck:

Ankh of Mishra
Dingus Egg
Isolation Cell
Bloodchief Ascension
Citadel of Pain
Last Laugh – mass removal hate
Havoc Festival
Pain Magnification
Polluted Bonds
Spiteful Visions
Underworld Dreams
War”s Toll

These cards hurt certain popular deck archetypes more than other decks. Ramp and big mana decks, draw heavy decks, and draw-go decks are all equally punished when any number of these cards are active.

Ramp and Big Mana Decks

The first three pain cards will affect everyone at the table, but are able to inflict extra damage to green-based decks. Ankh of Mishra and Polluted Bonds each deal two damage to a player when they play a land. Two damage is not a big deal when starting at forty life, but ramp decks that put ten to twelve lands in play will be severely punished. Especially if both the artifact and the enchantment are active. Boundless Realms becomes a suicide spell instead of a game-breaking ramp spell.

Another popular land type in Commander games are fetchlands. Misty Rainforest and Bloodstained Mire are the most powerful of these, but the Panorama cycle from Shards of Alara and even the budget Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse all have the same result: land from battlefield goes to graveyard, and land from library comes into play. Dingus Egg adds two damage to the cost of every fetchland activation. A dream scenario for Rakdos players has all three of these in play. An opponent plays an Arid Mesa (loses four life and you gain two life from Bonds), they crack the Mesa (pay one life, lose two more life as it goes to the graveyard), find a Mountain and put it into play (losing four more life, and you gain two more life). The end result is your opponent lost ELEVEN life and you GAINED four life! This will not happen often, but when the trifecta are active, your opponents will have to decide if making a land drop is worth the life loss.

Card Draw and Draw-Go Decks

Drawing cards can be one of the most powerful things in Magic. Increasing your available resources, especially in a multiplayer game, can be the difference between winning and being a non-threat. Spiteful Visions and Underworld Dreams add a life loss for every card drawn. Spiteful Visions gives every player an extra card, which of course means an extra life lost. Like the ramp-hate trifecta, these cards have great synergy. You draw two cards every turn. paying two life, and each opponent draws two cards and loses four life. Blue Sun”s Zenith becomes a painful spell for opponents to cast. Even a simple Divination (which is often not played because it does not draw enough cards) takes ten percent of an opponent”s starting life total.

The most powerful thing a player can do is to play his cards on an opponent’s turn. The longer you can wait, the more information you have available to make the best play. If an opponent draws a card and then passes the turn, usually they are going to spend more time on every other turn deciding if they should counter this spell or kill that creature. Citadel of Pain requires you to play your spells on your turn or lose life for the opportunity to keep lands untapped. This card is less of a griefer card these days, what with mana burn no longer a factor. Every player can choose to tap all of his lands and prevent the damage even if they do not have a card to play or another mana sink. But if the blue player wants to keep the option to play on an opponent’s turn, the card better be worth the life loss.

War”s Toll hampers the same decks as Citadel of Pain, but in a decidedly different way. It keeps the game moving by forcing opponents to make a choice. Tap all mobile casino my lands or leave all my lands untapped? Attack with all my creatures or none of my creatures? When paired with Citadel of Pain, the latter rarely deals any damage, but it does keep the game progressing towards completion. As noted earlier, Rakdos does not care who wins or how they win. He cares about keeping things moving, exciting, and entertaining.This red enchantment duo will ensure games do not get stagnant.

Creature and Sweeper Decks

Two more pain-inducing cards, Isolation Cell and Pyrohemia, are most effective against creature-heavy decks. The artifact does nothing against token creatures, as they are not cast as a creature spell. However, Goblin or Soldier swarm decks will be punished by losing life or paying more mana for every creature they want to cast. Once there are creatures in play, the red, timeshifted Pestilence, Pyrohemia, will kill creatures and wound opponents. This enchantment can be especially powerful with Rakdos in play. Every one red mana you spend reduces the cost of all creatures in your hand. For every creature in your hand, each activation becomes more powerful. Pestilence can be played in this slot, but the deck has heavier red mana requirements than black mana. With more red cards in the deck, more red mana sources are needed which fuel Pyrohemia.

Board-sweeping mass removal spells like Akroma”s Vengeance and Oblivion Stone can wreck Rakdos’ day. Resetting the board slows down the game and puts a stop to the fun. But the Lord of Riots will have the Last Laugh. As creatures die and artifacts get destroyed, every player loses a life thanks to this black enchantment. When a mass removal spell tries to reset the game, Last Laugh will bring all players to a life total much closer to zero.

All Decks

Like Rakdos, this deck is an equal opportunity offender. If opponents are not playing lots of lands or drawing extra cards, they will not be left out of the party. Possibly one of the most “This Game WILL End” cards in Magic’s history is Havoc Festival. It stops players from gaining life, and every upkeep reduces their life by half. This will not have any effect until at least turn six, but by turn six nobody should still be at forty life. This card does prevent you from gaining life from Pristine Talisman and Polluted Bonds, but that life gain is really incidental. Playing this card can kill you but it will likely take out an opponent or two first.

Rakdos will make creatures cheaper to cast. This means that creatures in the deck will have high power and toughness. A great way to take advantage of these type of creatures is Electropotence. With their converted mana cost reduced, extra mana should be available to pay for Electropotence’s triggered ability, killing creatures or notably wounding opponents. Pandemonium has the same effect without the cost, but triggers when any creature enters the battlefield. This lets your opponents get in on the fun as well.

Magic is played by casting spells. Spells are cast by tapping lands for mana. The most basic of pain cards will affect all players, every turn, every game. Manabarbs makes every land cost life. Spellshock deals two damage whenever a spell is successfully cast. A one mana spell ends up costing three life to play. “X” spells and other high casting cost spells exemplify the “is this worth it” feel.

There are a lot of enchantments included here. Enchantments can be dealt with by green and white decks, but often this card type will last longer than creatures or artifacts. If Back to Nature, Fracturing Gust, and Paraselene are popular in your group, some changes will need to be made. But if enchantments are ignored by your opponents, this deck will teach them the to reevaluate enchantment removal.

Expensive Creatures for Cheap

With all of the pain-inducing cards Rakdos will be able to reduce the cost of your other creatures for almost the entire game. Because so much of the damage happens during other players turns, Winding Canyons is one of the deck”s most important lands. It requires three lands (two colorless and itself) to activate, but it gives all of your creatures flash. There are some obvious “non-bos” with Citadel of Pain, so if that troubles you, keep reading for cards that can be slotted into the deck”s theme. However, if you truly embrace Rakdos chaos and gambling nature then take a risk and see how often they both are in play at the same time.

In a change of pace, let’s start with what is not in the forthcoming list. Most tribal or theme decks I build go out of their way to stay on theme (see the article on Reaper King’s All the Myr Commander deck). This deck’s theme is more “pain-inflicting, keep the game moving,” and less “All Things Rakdos.” Because of that, some creatures named, “Rakdos (fill-in-the-blank)” have been omitted. Other powerful creatures have been omitted because Commander decks are limited to one hundred cards. Helldozer and Bogardan Hellkite are both strong cards that are not in the deck. If you want to swap out creatures, these would be two to start with.

So who is in the deck? There are twenty-one creatures, not counting the Lord of Riots. There is one two drop, one three drop, and one four drop. The bulk of creatures cost between five and seven mana to cast, unaided by Rakdos. For fun, two Eldrazi made the final list: Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and It That Betrays. They are both powerful cards in Commander, and with the right circumstances they could come into play for free. If the game is not over when an Eldrazi hits the board for free, than that game will at least have one heck of a story.

Here”s the creature list:

Akroma, Angel of Fury
Ashen Monstrosity
Avatar of Slaughter
Barbed Shocker
Capricious Efreet
Carnival Hellsteed
Chaos Imps
Deathbringer Thoctar
Dread Slag
Inferno Titan
It That Betrays
Kaervek the Merciless
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Lightning Reaver
Ob Nixilis, the Fallen
Rage Thrower
Rakdos Ickspitter
Rakdos Ragemutt
Rapacious One
Rix Maadi Guildmage
Stalking Vengeance

Trial and Error

Like all decks, this deck can be tuned to your play group. If ramp strategies are non-existent, then Ankh of Mishra might not be as powerful of a card. If opponents are not sacrificing creatures, It That Betrays loses some of its appeal. If you don”t like the idea of 16% of your deck being enchantment-based, some changes are definitely in order. Here are a few cards that can be added to the deck and maintain the overall feel:

Scrambleverse is a very “Chaos Red” card. Permanents will change control randomly. If you fancy a lot of chaos and randomness, and your playgroup is not very big, this can be a fun card. However, more often than not, this card can end games because opponents do not want to take the time to let it resolve. A flavorful Rakdos card, but only for some groups.

Psychogenic Probe is an artifact that deals two damage whenever a player shuffles their library. This is great against fetchlands, ramp decks, and tutors. Anytime a specific card is searched for, someone loses two life.

Quick aside: if you enjoy playing Commander you should check out CommanderCast. It is a Commander-based podcast. You can download the show directly from their site (CommanderCast.com), from MTGCast.com, or on iTunes. Andy is the lead host, and has a rotating gang of co-hosts that discuss different facets of Magic and specifically Commander. LegitMTG’s own MrScottyMac has been on the show a number of times as well.

As is discussed on the CommanderCast show, players that are constantly shuffling their deck are most likely doing powerful things. This card can decrease how many times they are willing to search their deck; especially as the game goes long.

Planar Chaos is yet another red enchantment that changes games. Any spell cast is followed by a coin flip. If the caster loses the flip, the spell is countered. This card can slow down games when played early, but when cast mid-game or late game, and your other pain-inducing enchantments are in play, this card will keep the randomness and excitement going.

Wheel of Fate, Wheel of Fortune, and Dragon Mage are all cards that result in the table discarding their hand and drawing seven cards. In conjunction with Underworld Dreams and Spiteful Visions, a lot of life can be lost. This can also result in slower games, as every new hand requires opponents to plan out how to respond. All the time spent thinking and planning is very un-Rakdos. But one, two, or all three of these cards can be added to increase the in-game variance.

Phage the Untouchable is another powerful creature that can be added to the list. It is unlikely to kill you as the deck does not have any graveyard recursion. But the chance that it might kill you or will kill an opponent when unblocked is a Gamble that Rakdos would be willing to make. The four black mana symbols in her casting cost are what caused her to be cut. If the color requirements do not scare you, bring her back to the rotation.

Heading Toward an Ending

This is a fun deck to play. Games are always moving toward a finish when this deck is at the table. It does not have an early turn combo kill, but constant pressure on the entire table encourages action by all. If you hate stalled out boards, and games where nobody is willing to attack first, give this deck a try. You will enjoy the change of pace.

Questions about the deck? Do you have a theme or tribe you would like to see a deck built around? Leave a message in the comments, or contact me at Tom3MTG@gmail.com or on Twitter.


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