Drafting Rakdos in RGD

Limited maestro Nick Eisel rounds off this excellent three-part series by examining the original Heavy Metal guild: Rakdos. Hellbent flies in the face of all accepted Magic theories… can it be powerful if utilized as demanded? What are the best colors to pair with the hardcore beatdown of Ravnica’s true madmen? Sample decklists, card evaluations, archetype discussion, and more, all available a click away!

With Grand Prix Toronto looming large on the horizon for this weekend, I decided that I should get this series of articles finished beforehand. This week I’m taking a look at the last guild in Dissension, Rakdos, and the changes it brings about the other cards already existing in the format.

I do want to say right away that, as far as the Hellbent mechanic goes, the ability is generally just a nice addition to a card rather than a reason that a certain card is good. Demon’s Jester, for instance, is quite fine as a 2/2 flier for four mana in Black, and it comes with the nice bonus that it could suddenly become 4/3 on a key turn of the game. Drafting with the intent of abusing Hellbent doesn’t seem to be such a good idea, and you should consider it gravy rather than something you go looking for.

General Rakdos Strategy and BR Aggro
As usual, in this section I want to talk about some cards that either got better or worse thanks to the inclusion of the Rakdos guild. I want to do it a little differently than the first two articles in this series, as many of the cards also fit the mold for the BR aggro archetype. So while I’ll be going over the improved cards, I also want to talk about them from the perspective of the new deck that has become available.

Sabertooth Alley Cat
This guy was pretty solid in RRR, despite the fact that the best deck was UB and had two excellent Defenders in the common slot – as well as possibly Junktroller – to slow him down. The fact that he was still good in an aggressive Boros build despite all of this is pretty impressive, and I think he has finally found a home in the BR beatdown build. Usually in this deck it doesn’t matter what guys you are playing, since you presumably have a lot of removal and can just clear the way for them, but there are times when you need to deal those last six points if the ground has gummed up, and this guy will come through in a pinch. You definitely shouldn’t grab him in the first five picks of the draft, as the only other deck that he is even really playable in is GR aggro. He should make his way back to you.

Thoughtpicker Witch
I’m mentioning this card because it is played far too often against me in all sorts of decks.

The fact is that this card was never really good, and I think I’ve had it in a deck maybe once out of hundreds of drafts in RRR, RRG, and now RGD. The only way this is ever good is if you have multiple Blind Hunters, or Orzhov Pontiff or something, and you need a sacrifice outlet to completely abuse them. It’s not even good in the mill deck if you can somehow assemble it with only one pack of Ravnica plus Enigma Eidolon.

Oh, and it’s definitely not good in BR aggro, an archetype where it has been played against me multiple times and ended up dealing two points of damage and then turning into a mulligan. The only thing strategic you can do with this card is to pass it and hope someone else puts it into their deck.

In previous formats the BR archetype had lots of cheaper/more effective Banishing effects. This time around, all we have to work with is this, Disembowel, and Seal of Doom. The first two on the list are both clunky, but still deserve some respect in this deck because the plan is to play a few guys and then clear the way for them. BR has historically had problems with big Green dudes, and the same holds true in this block, so be nice to our friend Brainspoil here and he just may kill that Streetbreaker Wurm for you.

In all seriousness though, BR aggro is the best place for Brainspoil, and it has gone down slightly in value in other decks simply because it is so freakin slow, and also a sorcery.

Moonlight Bargain
If you’re playing lots of Sell-Sword Brutes and other dorky aggressive creatures, this is a good spell to reload with. You should be ahead on board, and therefore not afraid to lose some life for cards.

Goblin Spelunkers
This guy is excellent now, with everyone fighting over URG and most players playing Red in some form. Not only that, but even if they don’t have Mountains you will happily welcome a Grey Ogre into your BR deck. He has been upgraded from a sideboard card to something that should almost always be maindeck now, unless you have a lot of better options.

Caustic Rain
What’s that you say? Bouncelands?

This is an automatic maindeck in BR aggro, and a good sideboard card against anyone with multiple Karoos or just a horrible manabase.

Viashino Slasher
I don’t know why people have such disdain for this guy, as he is actually quite fine. He’s not the cream of the crop, but Grifter’s Blade is a playable trick in BR and he becomes a real monster with it. He’s also a two-drop/pseudo two-power guy that you can get in the very late picks of Ravnica.

Oh, the Huge Manatee!

Daggerclaw Imp
To be honest, this guy should be at the top of the list. He was already good, but is absolutely insane now that we have access to BR cards and an aggressive archetype with lots of removal. I have picked this guy over Douse in Gloom multiple times, and always been happy with the decision. For the BR aggro deck, it doesn’t get much better than a 3/1 flyer for three mana, with essentially no drawback.

Poisonbelly Ogre
This guy was also in need of a home, and the Rakdos clan has opened their doors in a warm welcome for him. If you want to lockdown a game that you started with some early beats but there is a chance your opponent could stabilize, the Ogre is the man to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Fencer’s Magemark
This is usually a fine 24th card in this format, but it really shines when you need a way to bust through your opponent’s better creatures. Just drop it on one of your crappy 2/2s and it will become a formidable attacker that should cause some problems.

Gaze of the Gorgon
This is another great way for BR to handle a fat creature that the smaller removal spells – like Douse in Gloom – can’t deal with. I’d pick this relatively highly if I was planning on getting into this deck, as it really helps your dorks punch through.

Since I’ve been talking about it so much, I guess I should show you guys a sample list of the BR aggro deck that I’m talking about. This one was from a couple weeks ago, in an eight-man.

This was an excellent deck, but it’s not hard to pick removal high in every pack and then pick up some dorks and hopefully some Rakdos guild cards in pack three. The first problem that this deck faces is that it is hard for it to kill the bigger creatures present in the block, like Streetbreaker Wurm, Ghor-Clan Savage, and Golgari Rotwurm. Second, and probably most important: the best removal cards (besides Twinstrike) are all mono-colored, and therefore other people will be taking them from you. For example, if you have set yourself into a Simic archetype and it is open in front of you, you may get something like Assault Zeppelid third or fourth pick, whereas if the same was true for Rakdos, there is no way in hell you are getting Cackling Flames third. The best common reason to draft the guild is the Rakdos Ickspitter, as he is also double-colored and therefore could make it to you later than his power level would normally allow.

Just because you are BR doesn’t mean you get to reap the rewards in pack three like Simic or Azorius do, because most of the best cards are mono-colored and will be taken by people drafting other things than Rakdos.

Some final bits of advice on the BR aggro deck… you shouldn’t be afraid to play the “off-color” Tin Street Hooligans and Ordruun Commandos if you have to, as any dorks will do if you have the removal to help them out. As far as splashing goes, I’d be careful about it but I imagine it could be quite beneficial to splash something like Golgari Rotwurm, or Streetbreaker Wurm and another card, if you can get your hands on them. Overall, you are going for a consistent beatdown deck, so don’t screw up the mana so much that you lose that aspect of the deck.

This is the archetype involving Rakdos that I’ve had the most experience with so far. The idea, of course, is to blend the aggressive elements of Boros and Rakdos and throw some control in there in the form of Orzhov. This can often come together quite nicely, as you can see with this sample decklist.

This list is actually more WRb than straight three colors, but it serves to show what you can do with the combination. I did also get Rakdos the Defiler fifth pick in this draft, so it just goes to show that being in color combinations that others aren’t can be very rewarding at times.

The general idea of the archetype is to combine good fliers and removal from all three colors. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you consider the fact that this is still a very good archetype and you don’t have to include Blue to get the job done, you have something worth looking into. With everyone else fighting over the Blue cards in the other archetypes, this just may be the solution archetype to sneak into and reap the rewards big time in certain drafts.

Surprisingly I think I’ve only drafted this archetype once so far (and I’ve drafted RGD a lot). Because of this, I don’t exactly have a decklist for you guys, but I do want to highlight the archetype’s main goals and strengths.

Right after Guildpact was released, I was talking to Mike Turian over AIM. We were just talking about Ravnica Limited in general, and I ended up asking him what he thought the best color combination would be once all three of the sets were released. This was Mike’s pick back when we talked, but I don’t doubt that he’s probably changed his mind now that the community has had a chance to play with Dissension and the overwhelming majority agrees that URG is the best guild combination. So why did Mike like this one so much?

The Wurms have Turned

The colors do have a lot going for them, in that you get two huge Wurms in the common slots of Ravnica and Guildpact and you also get access to plenty of removal. Dredge and Hellbent also pair up nicely to ensure that you draw a card you can cast and therefore keep Hellbent. This is the one deck where I really like the Golgari cards (besides GBW if you somehow end up in that). Shambling Shell is just a monster in this archetype and he is going somewhat late nowadays since there isn’t really anywhere to put him.

As far as the Rakdos cards go in this archetype, I’d be careful playing Gobhobbler Rats as they can screw up the mana. My experience so far has told me that the best way to go for this archetype is to actually approach from a GR beatdown mode with a splash of Black for extra removal or fliers in the form of Demon’s Jester, Daggerclaw Imp, or Stinkweed Imp. I won’t go too far into this discussion, as this column is dedicated to Rakdos and that would be a Gruul article, but I’m guessing that if you want to base yourself in Rakdos while in these colors then you would want to do so by splashing things like Wildsize and fatties.

I honestly feel no need to give a decklist for this archetype. The reason should be blatantly obvious to anyone who has played a significant amount of RRG, as the decklist is going to look very similar to the ones that completely dominated that format.

This deck is about controlling the board and slowly beating your opponent into the ground with lots of two-for-ones like Steamcore Weird, Izzet Chronarch, and the other goodies we’ve all come to love before the release of Dissension. It’s already been stated a number of times in other articles that Hellbent and this deck really just don’t mix, and honestly I don’t think that matters so much in terms of your overall card quality. Dissension brings plenty more removal spells to the mix, as well as the powerful Ickspitter, and while it is true that some of the aggressive elements of the Rakdos are lost in this deck, the fact that they always come to the party with plenty of removal is something that this archetype is very happy about. Remember that this will usually be an Izzet based control deck in its best form, with some touches of Dimir and Rakdos to shore up the removal and possibly bounce/counter aspects.

As a rule, I’d tend to avoid most of the more reactive Ravnica commons in this archetype. Things like Induce Paranoia are playable but not really desirable, since the environment has become a bit faster with Dissension and you want to be dealing directly with things on the board rather than hoping to catch one with a counter. I still like Convolute a lot, but that is also because it only costs a single Blue mana and gives you something to do in the early game while also giving the option of stopping a bomb later.

The other route you can take is to draft the aggressive BR strategy I was talking about earlier, and then splash Steamcore Weird/Ogre Savant/Izzet Chronarch to good effect. In fact, I think Izzet Chronarch is probably one of my favorite cards in the format, next to Compulsive Research.

Final Thoughts
However you go about it, basing your strategy in Rakdos is going to require some leaning towards aggression. I really do think that BRW could possibly be the solution to everyone else fighting over Blue, and the BR aggro deck is also a strong answer to shaky manabases and slow decks.

I didn’t go over Delirium Skeins before, but I think that card is only playable in a very fast RB build or as a sideboard card against someone who is likely to have much better cards than you. In that way you can use it much like Last Rites on turn 6 or 7, to clear out some of their better stuff for your extra lands. Overall, the card is only of niche value, and you probably shouldn’t be playing it in the three-color builds.

The main problem facing Rakdos, as I said earlier, is that most of the excellent commons are being taken by non-Rakdos drafters, making it hard to get an insane third pack like you can with Simic or Azorius.

That’s all for now, and hopefully I’ll see some of you in Toronto this weekend.

Nick Eisel
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