Dear Azami – Getting Down With The Defiler

Hello there, Demon spawn. Find out how Sean McKeown was able to restructure a reader’s deck with Rakdos the Defiler as the Commander to be more synergistic.

Dear Sean,

I looked through your decks to find a color scheme you haven’t touched on in a while. Considering that you’ve covered almost all of the color pie, I wanted to send something that was very different, even though you’ve covered the colors not too far back. 

Please find Rakdos the Defiler below. I would not say this deck is good by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s swingy and crazy and sometimes fun. It’s very chaotic and obviously paints a huge target. The Demons are sub-par but help to make Rakdos’s effect asymmetrical. 

Commander: Rakdos the Defiler

Dragon Breath
Sword of Light and Shadow
Sword of Fire and Ice
Whispersilk Cloak
Crucible of Worlds
Cauldron of Souls
It That Betrays
Cover of Darkness
Stronghold Overseer
Xathrid Demon
Seizan, Perverter of Truth
Pestilence Demon
Reiver Demon
Lord of the Pit
Havoc Demon
Carnifex Demon
Demon of Death’s Gate
Abyssal Persecutor
Ob Nixilis, the Fallen
Breeding Pit
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Balthor the Defiled
Torrent of Souls
Living End
Oversold Cemetery
Living Death
Patriarch’s Bidding
Golgari Thug
Profane Command
Fallen Angel
Go for the Throat
Innocent Blood
Altar of Shadows
Bloodshot Cyclops
Fleshbag Marauder
Sarkhan the Mad
Black Sun’s Zenith
Big Game Hunter
Nettlevine Blight
Grave Pact
Crystal Ball
Phyrexian Arena
Wheel of Fortune
Promise of Power
Mana Crypt
Mana Vault
Sol Ring
Darksteel Ingot
Gauntlet of Power
Rakdos Signet
Gilded Lotus
Black Market
Koth of the Hammer
Demonic Tutor
Diabolic Tutor
Blood Speaker
Choice of Damnations
Cabal Conditioning
Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace
Blood Crypt
Dragonskull Summit
Akoum Refuge
Kher Keep
Hall of the Bandit Lord
Rakdos Carnarium
Cabal Coffers
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
13x Swamp
13x Mountain

Thanks for the help!

– Joseph

Hello there, Demon spawn. You have my attention! I thought at first you’d built a Malfegor deck, and that too I considered an especially interesting challenge—designing a Commander deck to play with no cards in hand is not easy. Then I looked up which one was Rakdos and which one was Malfegor, and realized that while it wasn’t the flavor of self-destructive awesomeness I thought it was going to be, it was nonetheless self-destructive awesomeness that churned my imagination.

Building around wacky Commanders is something hard to do, and I think the Demon tribal theme, while an admirable attempt, didn’t lead you to a good mix of creatures. Lord of the Pit and Breeding Pool are both fun to play with, but that doesn’t really work so well anymore… It’s not 1996 at the kitchen table anymore. We need to get more out of our cardboard than an overpriced Thrull generator. Tweaking the creatures will help, as will tweaking the spells, but the mana base is where we can make the most improvements at the cheapest cost thanks to the wonderful variety of low-price dual lands available to us for allied color combinations.

We’ll start with a light touch, more for color consistency and a bit of utility than anything else.


Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace — It just doesn’t do enough for a colorless land. When will you want to activate it? How likely is it to actually disrupt the opponent? Not often and not often; neither are great answers.

7x Mountain, 4x Swamp — Better options for color-fixing are available cheaply and will be used.


Stensia Bloodhall — In place of Rix Maadi we add an actually useful land, one that’s capable of dealing out a little bit of pain to sensitive opponents or maybe going to work on a pesky planeswalker or two. Unlike Rix Maadi you’d want to activate this whenever you had spare mana, and it can kill an opponent.

Mystifying Maze — A little bit of defense helps, and Mystifying Maze can disincentivize an attack while still counting as part of your mana base.

Winding Canyons — A little extra utility so that you can play your spells more effectively and time your moves better.

Thawing Glaciers — For a deck that will often have to put a few lands in the graveyard, Thawing Glaciers helps by rebuilding your mana base even after having had to do that a few times. All the help you can get is worth reaching for when it comes to mitigating your Commander’s drawbacks.

Rocky Tar Pit, Terramorphic Expanse, Evolving Wilds — All effectively the same card, and all three both fix your colored mana and work with the Crucible of Worlds that is otherwise not getting a lot of work done.

Command Tower, Graven Cairns, Shadowblood Ridge, Urborg Volcano — Additional color fixing on the cheap.

Shizo, Death’s Storehouse — You’re looking for ways to get Rakdos to successfully punch the opponent and force the sacrifice trigger. Shizo’s a free addition that happens to also just sneak key fatties through and thus is the best land for your deck!

Moving on to the artifacts, I’m looking to cut out a fair chunk of them based on what the deck will actually accomplish and how much mana is too much mana. I think the deck should be less interested in rituals and ramping, and more focused on building a stable longer game and maybe getting a little bit of play out of the downside Rakdos the Defiler comes with.


Altar of Shadows — Too expensive for the benefits it tries to provide, even if it would be nice to be able to get three or four mana out of it each turn and make up for the lands that will end up in your graveyard. We’ll rebuild the board instead; even Thawing Glaciers can be said to replace this card’s effect for the deck.

Crystal Ball — Filtering is good but you need draw, not filtering. Since this doesn’t even replace itself, it’s just an investment to the board that profits you only on the extremely short-term. I’d reach for actual card advantage options before simply scrying away.

Mana Vault — Speeding out Rakdos doesn’t seem to really be the plan, unless the plan is to cripple yourself to cripple someone else and make everyone at the table kill you. We assume you won’t just attack Rakdos into a removal spell and waste your time. We’re building for eventual power, not speedy power, so this card is misaligned with the rest of the deck.

Rakdos Signet — Potentially just a liability. Signets die easy in this format.

Gauntlet of Power — A little too much mana for not quite enough benefit. I know you’re trying to thrive still off limited resources but there are better ways to build towards that.

Whispersilk Cloak — My objections to this card are many, even as it can sneak your Commander across unblocked to trigger his ability. Too expensive and only actually good with your Commander…and thus out of tune with the rest of what the deck is trying to accomplish in the meantime. The utility you were seeking is covered by Shizo, Death’s Storehouse plus your Swords granting protection.


Lightning Greaves — The obvious replacement for Whispersilk Cloak in that it makes the rest of your creatures incredibly dangerous while still adding that critical untargetability. Likewise, this allows us to cut Anger from the deck since your haste option is neatly covered here…

Sensei’s Divining Top — I hate to force the obvious decisions, but if you don’t have a Sensei’s Divining Top but do have a Sword of Fire and Ice, I’d be a little surprised. Black/red needs all the help you can get in ensuring you draw cards in roughly the right balance, and Top is already the right card for your Crystal Ball to be…and is only made all the better by the fetch lands and Thaw that were already added.

Jar of Eyeballs — The card-advantage rather than card-filtering I was seeking with Crystal Ball… As I was cutting the Ball I was thinking of a jar of googly eyes even before I noticed there was no Sensei’s Divining Top. Creatures will be going to the graveyard all the time in your deck and you want a fresh flow of cards going to your hand, meaning the Jar should be good for a card a turn and possibly even an Impulse a turn depending on how quickly you’re burning through resources.

Expedition Map — Back to another boring addition, alas. Still the correct one, considering how important drawing Thawing Glaciers, Shizo, Urborg, or Coffers is to you.

Ichor Wellspring, Mycosynth Wellspring — More interesting choices! Both work neatly with Rakdos’s forced-sacrifice ability, giving you a little bit of extra something for your minimal investment. Think of them as a way to get a little bit ahead at minimal price—Armillary Sphere is good, but Mycosynth Wellspring will perform the same job and give you a sacrificial permanent that protects a real permanent for you. Even if your Commander isn’t running quite yet, board sweepers happen all the time and you’ll get your profit out of the deal soon enough.

With that sorted out, we’ll move next to the non-creature spells and really get our hands dirty, as I feel here is where some of the more important changes go towards shaping what you’re trying to accomplish and achieving that goal.


Necropotence — I know of very few cards that get a player targeted for death than a Necropotence. Sure, it’s not the same Necropotence it would be if you were playing a Zur deck…but it’s still a Necropotence, and thus the kind of card that will cause a table to gang up on you.

Profane Command — Never a lover of this card am I, it seems. Mana-wise it’s just not efficient enough to excite me, as a very expensive two-for-one. Providing unblockability of some degree or another to your Commander isn’t enough to get me excited, and the rest of it’s just not that solid for the price you have to pay to get a meaningful effect.

Cover of Darkness — Used here solely to get your Commander past blockers, once again, with the Demon tribal benefits spread around pretty evenly but also fairly meaninglessly. Cut for something more efficient.

Breeding Pit — It’s not 1996. There are easier ways to generate sacrificial lambs.

Living End — Not very good at what you’re trying to do, which is double up on Living Death effects to benefit your putting permanents in the graveyard at an accelerated rate. Cute, but not where the deck should be trying to go.

Koth of the Hammer — Off-focus and not especially effective at that. Ritual effects are being cut on general principle, and the likelihood that you can get the emblem and then use that to your benefit is not very high even before accounting for the fact that you’re not designed very well for defending planeswalkers.

Diabolic Tutor — Upgraded to Increasing Ambition, let’s be honest.

Choice of Damnations — Neither side of this terrifies me especially, even if it could be an interesting question to pose. You’re not aggro enough to make the damage side of this really threatening, and thus will not be forcing many permanents to go to the graveyard over this.

Cabal Conditioning — Upgraded to Myojin of Night’s Reach. Again, honesty is the best policy!

Go for the Throat — I don’t think you really need spot removal for one-for-one trades. Many-for-one removal will be brought to bear instead, and you can even get that still within the same price range mana-wise.


Din of the Fireherd — Another fun sacrifice-causing effect, and thus totally in theme for the rest of your deck. Sure, it makes an Elemental rather than a Demon token, but pressuring the opponent of your choice for both lands and creatures is pretty sweet. While you don’t have very many red creatures, Kher Keep can work overtime in this regard, reminding everyone why you can neither trust nor ignore a Kobold.

Increasing Ambition — The new “it card” for me, Increasing Ambition is an amazing upgrade to Diabolic Tutor. As a “fair” card it costs one more mana but offers you a powerful benefit just sitting in your graveyard waiting for later; as an “unfair” card you just grab Cabal Coffers and immediately jump to the flashback and double-Tutor with it instead of having the fair version and get not just the two cards of your choice but Cabal Coffers online as well.

Cauldron Dance — Another fun one, considering how many comes into play abilities your creatures happen to possess. Mega-damage multipliers like Torrent of Souls already seemed to be of interest to you, so I figured this one was probably in-theme as well for all the right reasons.

Void — A black/red staple, this solves almost every problem and can possibly ruin someone’s hand while you’re at it. Intelligent pinpoint sweepers are hard to find in this color combination, but Void does almost everything you need it to—if only the card said enchantment on it somewhere, it’d be perfect.

Delirium — Sort of an interesting answer to unusual problems. Pinpoint removal didn’t really cut it for me, since it didn’t work hard enough, but Delirium is ideal for punishing those pesky Blightsteel Colossus players and taking out Kresh’s controller unexpectedly. It generates positive tempo and sometimes a shocking amount of damage, or can just prevent an annoying Eldrazi hit for a turn while punching someone for ten.

Urborg Justice — So your gameplan already involves having Grave Pact and a bunch of Kobold or Faerie tokens when Rakdos swings, clearing the way. What if the board is even more packed than a Pact can handle easily? Or what if the plan doesn’t come to fruition and no one lets a Grave Pact stay on the table? It’s okay, that’s what Justice is for. A pile of your creatures going to the graveyard leads to a pile of everyone else’s creatures going to the graveyard, and as an instant you can do this between attacking (and sacrificing half of your non-Demon board) and them blocking (boooooo!).

Curse of the Cabal — Plan A involves an opponent of your choice putting half their permanents in the graveyard. Conveniently, that is what this spell says it does! Sure, you could suspend it and people would lose a stray permanent every once in a while, but that’s just the perfect way to never have this spell resolve—worse yet, you might even provide a sacrifice outlet to someone who wanted one. Paying full price can drop the wind right out of someone’s sails, the same as if you’d successfully connected with your Commander and with a lot less setup involved and loss on your part of the deal.

Fire Covenant — I don’t believe in playing Necropotence, but I have no problem paying life. Fire Covenant is a pinpoint removal spell on crack—three mana and some life paid lets you kill everything your opponents control, if you were so ambitious, and that’s the kind of ambition I can get behind.

You’ll notice this leaves two empty spots, which will be moved over to the creature department—I thought a few more bodies were in order, if we could get them. Moving over to the critters, we have nine to take out and eleven to put back in, and then we can present the finished deck.


Fallen AngelSacrifice as a theme for fun and profit doesn’t really fit here; it’s more of a means to avoid crippling yourself too badly in your efforts to cripple others. There’s a token making sub-theme, it’s true, but dedicating cards like this to exploiting it is not actually a direction to really pursue when we can stay on target instead.

Anger — The need for this has been cut down, thanks to Expedition Map increasing the effective access to Hall of the Bandit Lord and Lightning Greaves replacing Whispersilk Cloak. A dedicated card to this job already exists, and this one can be pulled out for more Demon action.

Seizan, Perverter of Truth — Drawing extra cards is good. Making opponents lose life is good. Letting opponents draw two extra cards a turn…not good.

Lord of the PitLord of the Pit is cool but I’m thinking more about effective than cool. Xathrid Demon I can see wanting to work out, but I’m hesitant to put too many Pit Lords into a deck when we can play less demanding creatures that are just as high-impact.

Havoc Demon — Cut because it can trigger at the wrong time and kill all your creatures. Replaced with a Demon with a penchant for murdering the opponent’s creatures all the time and yours never.

Demon of Death’s Gate — Big, dumb fatty. Cut for something big and smart.

Abyssal Persecutor — It’s fun as a social and political card to reach for leverage on the table as a whole by extending a favor.  My experiences with the card however suggest that it’s not terribly much of a favor since creatures die in a stiff breeze in this format, and thus the security blanket you offer to wrap your opponents in is not enough to actually confer you any benefits. Without that aspect, it’s just an undercosted creature, and I can think of better ways to do that.

Golgari Thug — If the plan is to sacrifice this to Rakdos and get the benefit of saving a creature of your choice from permanent death, that’s cool but not necessarily efficient. The rest of the time, this just doesn’t do very much very well, and we’ll focus on overselling cemetery plots instead.

Bloodshot Cyclops — Cool, sure. On-theme, no.

Switching over to these last few additions, then, we have seven demons going back in and four friends who play well with Demonic overlords. We’ll start with the non-Demons first, then return to the delicious tribal theme Rakdos brought to the table.


Mikaeus the Unhallowed — Hey look, you sacrifice things for fun and profit? Mikaeus has a few suggestions about how to do this on the cheap. Well, one suggestion really: cast him.’ Sacrificing permanents en masse and having them persist back into play was already part of your plan—Cauldron of Souls shows that pretty neatly—and undying is the more powerful version of persist. In fact, having both can give you surprising resilience if they’re both in play at the same time, since it becomes almost impossible to make stuff stay dead then.

Murderous Redcap — A small removal effect, but thanks to persist it’s another naturally built-in way to cheat on losing permanents when Rakdos attacks. A permanent that basically casts Arc Trail is a good deal, even if Commander is more the home of 10/10s than 2/2s.

Puppeteer Clique — Same basic concept as Murderous Redcap, but with a ridiculously swingy comes into play effect that sometimes, just sometimes, kills an opponent out of nowhere.

Myojin of Night’s ReachCabal Conditioning with fewer conditions. One mana more, but no hoops to jump through, either. Early on in this series, I identified Myojin of Night’s Reach as one of the possible choke points of non-interactivity in this format, but you’re using it honestly to defend against combos instead of dishonestly to force one through, so it’s the right card and you can use it in clean conscience.

Switching tribes back to Demon, let’s look at our new friends:

Bloodgift DemonPhyrexian Arena with wings and horns. An awesome inclusion before being on-tribe, it happens to also have the tribal benefit you were reaching for.

Dread Cacodemon — My replacement for Havoc Demon in your deck. I’ve been seeking the perfect home for this one ever since the Commander decks came out, and yours is the perfect fit. Demon tribal-themed, likes making opponents lose permanents… Yep, right where we want it. While it may be a bit of a pipe dream to think about using this to clear blockers, a lot of mana and a Winding Canyons will actually do just that: attack with Rakdos and tap your Coffers for a bunch, activate Winding Canyons and resolve the trigger, then cast the Dread Cacodemon who just happens to tap all your tapped-and-attacking creatures and kills everything that could possibly stand in your Commander’s way. I hope to hear back from you when, not if, this play occurs.

Tombstalker — Just a good deal on a cheap Demon, especially since you have no problem putting spare permanents in your graveyard to make sure this costs practically nothing.

Flayer of the Hatebound — If persist creatures were good, undying ones must be better. However, this actually can just be a ridiculous kill card combined with Balthor or Living Death—a lot of things coming in at the same time can equal one or more dead opponents based on the sheer power of your army alone. Another new addition from Dark Ascension I’ve been waiting to see put to its maximum use, and this deck uses all the sides of it pretty well.

Rune-Scarred Demon — Cheaper than Demon of Death’s Gate and considerably more awesome. Which would you rather have, trample or the card of your choice put directly into your hand? (Hint: the answer does not rhyme with “brample.”)

Reaper of the Abyss — With all of these creatures dying, I wonder if there’s any way to benefit from this? Certainly! In fact, we have a Demon for that. Reaper of the Abyss has pleasantly surprised me in Commander in every deck I’ve added it to, since I keep thinking it’ll only be so good and then it turns around to be so good. Since it doesn’t rely on your creatures dying but any creature dying, this is just a board-controlling critter that kills multiple problems per turn cycle, at no price of investment save casting it.

Putting everything together, we get the following decklist:

Rakdos the Defiler
Sean McKeown
Test deck on 03-11-2012
Magic Card Back

As is the tradition with Dear Azami, for participating in today’s write-in column you’ll be receiving a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com to help make some new additions to your deck. Whether this is to assuage my guilty conscience for telling you to spend half of that to get a Champions of Kamigawa uncommon or not I leave as an exercise to the reader, but I do know that it seems to work out in the end for both of us—people write me letters, so I’m happy, and people get free Magic cards, so they’re happy. Pricing each of these suggested additions out, we have the following:

Mycosynth Wellspring $0.15
Terramorphic Expanse $0.19
Fire Covenant $0.25
Ichor Wellspring $0.25
Urborg Volcano $0.39
Cauldron Dance $0.49
Delirium $0.49
Din of the Fireherd $0.49
Evolving Wilds $0.49
Expedition Map $0.49
Flayer of the Hatebound $0.49
Jar of Eyeballs $0.49
Stensia Bloodhall $0.49
Void $0.49
Dread Cacodemon $0.75
Rocky Tar Pit $0.89
Curse of the Cabal $0.99
Increasing Ambition $0.99
Reaper from the Abyss $1.39
Bloodgift Demon $1.49
Murderous Redcap $1.49
Mystifying Maze $1.49
Urborg Justice $1.49
Kagemaro, First to Suffer $1.75
Lightning Greaves $1.75
Puppeteer Clique $1.75
Shadowblood Ridge $1.75
Myojin of Night’s Reach $1.99
Graven Cairns $2.75
Command Tower $2.99
Rune-Scarred Demon $2.99
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse $3.99
Winding Canyons $4.99
Mikaeus the Unhallowed $5.49
Tombstalker $6.99
Thawing Glaciers $7.99
Sensei’s Divining Top $9.99

Join me next week when I may also include a bonus Modern decklist, depending on whether my strange version of an established deck does well at this weekend’s PTQ or not! Perhaps in its honor, I’ll be looking for a Zombie tribal theme…but only perhaps.

Sean McKeown

Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submission to consider for use in a future article, like Bruno and Nate’s Wydwen, the Biting Gale deck or Daryl’s Child of Alara deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami  includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!

Email Sean a deck submission using this link here!

Like what you’ve seen? Feel free to explore more of “Dear Azami” here, in the Article Archives!  And feel free to follow Sean on Facebook… sometimes there are extra surprises and bonus content to be found over on his Facebook Fan Page, as well as previews of the next week’s column at the end of the week!