Talen: Now, it’s into the Rakdos and Red cards. One thing I’m noticing as we move through this set is that a lot of the Hellbent cards are pretty pricey — Demon’s Jester, one of the better ones (by my eye) in Black, costs four. This actually has me a little concerned, since it means that they will generally not sit shoulder to shoulder. You can’t afford too many expensive cards if you’re trying to empty your grip.
I’d try and build anticipation here — but the set’s been out for a while. By definition, you’re reading this out of curiosity and casual interest. So let’s just keep going and see what information this brain trust has assembled.
Anthem of Rakdos
Talen: Back in the box with ye, Nelly!
Talen: It’s a cute effect, it pings you for two when you have Hellbent, and it costs five and you can’t Seething Song into it. It does like Mourning Thrull, but I am duly unimpressed.
Fox: I actually think this might have been cooler as R/W.
Fox: I mean, a Glorious Anthem type thing that pings you is actually kinda cool…
Avatar of Discord
Talen: There are times when a card comes with a drawback that we jestingly say “What drawback?” Cards like Spineless Thug and Goblin Recruits, for example, have so little to do with blocking that you do not care that they can’t do it. Here’s another successor to that particular legacy. A 5/3 flier who costs you cards in hand.
Oh boo hoo.
Fox: Does she die if you can’t discard two cards?
Talen: Sacrifice it “unless.” That makes her a bad late game topdeck. On the other hand, what late game? You’re playing a 5/3 flier for three mana!
Fox: Hmm. That’s still a bit of a crotchboot, then, isn’t it? I’d be more concerned about timing her right, since I’d be trying to ditch my hand as quickly as possible anyway.
Talen: She’s there to enable Hellbent. Oh yeah, and smash face for five.
Fox: Still, I guess she’s not exactly costly, at three hybrid mana.
Talen: I’m sorry, dear, I couldn’t hear you due to the sound of the five power flyer winging overhead.
Fox: Meanwhile, the Rakdos B/R cardface looks gorgeous. It actually took me a while to notice the art.
Talen: That aside, I like her flavor text. It does cast her as a bit sissy, being an “inferior” to Rakdos himself… but she does a good job of showing exactly how potent and terrifying Rakdos is.
Fox: Meh, I could take or leave it… I find the “look-our-big-bad-guy-is-totally-uber-huge” flavor text is usually a bit clumsy from the guys at Wizards. Just a little more subtlety would be nice. Your “big awesome bad guy” has more presence if you just make his awesomeness evident all around him, rather than making a point of it.
Talen: Joking aside, though, this guy right here is why you want to run Last Gasp or some boomerang effect. Losing to this guy is going to suck, and you’re going to watch him smash your face thinking “So very fragile…” Still, removal is fairly ubiquitous right now — and it’s quite likely that shredding your hand with this guy is going to bite you more often than not.
Simply put, if you don’t plan to deal with this guy, he’s going to creep into the metagame and make your life terrible when you’re caught sans pants. So plan accordingly — put flexible, reactive spells in your deck that make this guy miserable. In White, you have Fetters; Green has the less-impressive Crash Landing; Blue has Boomerang or its permutations; and Red and Black are not noticing three-toughness creatures any more.
Talen: “When ~ comes into play, sacrifice Shambling Shell and giggle inanely.”
The good, plentiful, Green-based mana acceleration in the format right now means that this guy can hit, on turn 3, enhanced, and even get back a Shambling Shell on the spot. Even for the budget player, you’ll be able to see this guy on turn 3 getting back a Sakura-Tribe Elder or the like. And that’s not a bad deal by any stretch of the imagination, being that he’s basically a “free” card.
Oh, yeah, symmetry, whatever. Compare the threat your opponent gets (something with a converted mana cost of three or less) to the threat you automatically get (2/2 double striker). Still — don’t forget this guy alongside our old friend from Urza’s, Bone Shredder.
Talen: Well, it’s a pretty silly name. It’s also a colossal topdeck. What’s really nice about it is that its actual Hellbent effect is exactly what I’d want when I’m in top-deck mode. The sheer smashing effect of ripping this one off the top against a deck that’s been controlling the game and keeping my cards from achieving full efficiency, then throwing it straight at the face for six, or seven, or maybe even eight (if the game’s gone quite long with a Rakdos Aggro deck at the helm), is going to be a defining story of some gamer’s memories of Ravnica block. Heaven willing, it will be me.
This is strictly better than Blaze. People are running Blaze. I’d recommend stopping. Especially since, for as much as Kokusho costs, this will quite happily kill him and keep your opponent from doing a damn thing to stop it.
Talen: Well, it earns an accolade of being one of the biggest creatures in Magic. He can crash into Sundering Titan with ease. But he also can’t be played if you’ve got three in the grip. A fair trade, I find.
Fox: I don’t have much to say about this guy, except that he’s a damn fine representation of his colors, in my opinion. I’m sure I’ll regret that the first time one eats my head.
Talen: Curiously, a single bounce spell can make this guy’s life very rough, since he could well go from being a 5/5 in the red zone to being a 1/1, and that chump-blocking bear is suddenly looking very intimidating. Again with the recommendation to run Bounce.
Flame-Kin War Scout
Talen: I love the idea of a military personnel referring to her troops as “popping.”
Fox: Now that is a piece of art I want in my collector folder. Is this guy new? I don’t recognize his name. I want to see more of his work, and I want to see it now.
Talen: He is new – he’s responsible for four cards from this set – the Emo of the Guildpact, this, and two more to be shown later. It’s true, he’s Some Good. As for the card… I’m not that impressed. Not aggressive enough for a Red four-drop, for my money. The damage it deals is just shy of Dragon mana, which is the toughness that scares me when I play Red.
Talen: It’s a known fact that Timmies like their auras.
This guy is a fine example of a Timmy card, in that regard.
Fox: Hey, when they were making the Gruul, didn’t they give us some kind of excuse about how the hybrid cards had to be sub-par for Green because Red’s creatures aren’t that good?
Talen: This guy, on his own, is a Gray Ogre. Let’s not forget that the “if it’s enchanted” clause lets a creature very much overstep its bounds, because it’s asking for a kick in the card disadvantage crotch.
Fox: Yannow, for a 4/4 firebreathing trampler, that’s a crotch I’m wiling to expose.
Okay, that came out badly.
Talen: Yes. Moving on.
Gnat Alley Creeper
Talen: That’s an odd evasion ability. Odder still on Red cards. I think this is one of those “orphan” abilities that is getting bounced around until it finds a home, like the –X/-0 effects. Given the pattern set by those –X/-0 effects, it will find that home in Blue. I do like the description of a street, as though it’s a living thing within an even greater living thing. Very cool.
Fox: Dorky art, but I like the idea – it’s always been hard to imagine fliers blocking things in tunnels or crowded corridors. I hope this mechanic finds its way to Green (I know, what a surprise), since it might actually be some sort of countermeasure to the fliers we can’t have.
Talen: Maybe they’ll print a creature that can block fliers but can’t be blocked by fliers. It’d be like some kind of dirt-crawling wurm that sharked up out of the dirt to eat birds. That would be awesome.
Fox: Dude, that’s an archer fish.
Talen: So it’d be Blue?
Fox: OH NO, IT’S BLUE!
Fox: I also have the image of a dog jumping for a frisbee, which is strangely comforting.
Talen: Ohnoes! The card disadvantage!
Fox: It’s a well-known fact, you see, that card advantage will win you the game, whereas 2/2s who become 3/2s will not.
Talen: Yes. Clearly, a two-drop creature that’s hard to kill and who hits for more damage than he costs, whose main mode of operation is a form of card disadvantage, will never be any good in any kind of constructed deck
Talen: Cry of Contrition plus Ronin Houndmaster plus a bit of burn. Nice. At least the rats look demonically possessed. Though, if I don’t miss my mark, those teeth/jaws are, in fact, very un-ratty?
Fox: I’m sorry, I must have misread the word “dog” as “rat” when I looked at the title there.
Fox: On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind having a rat that looked like an immolating pit-bull, but you know. The ferrets would probably still eat it.
Talen: I want this water-spouting watchdog the flavor text talks about. Though I don’t think I want to know how it does it.
Talen: … That’s a drawback?
Fox: … Poppet…
Talen: Three mana for a 3/4. It’s not just for Gruul any more!
Fox: … Jagged… Poppet…
Fox: In case you missed it: Ravnica names suck ass.
Talen: Good little card. He’s a big enough beater, for a small enough mana investment, that he can smash into the red zone fairly happily on turn 3 onward. The fact that he can be a discard outlet if your opponent blocks him is actually a good thing. While the Hellbent mechanic doesn’t like discard as much as it views the hand as an irrelevant hindrance to tempo, this guy helps the mechanic out in both directions, and is uncommon to boot.
Fox: Yeah, but… “Jagged Poppet?”
Talen: More on the name-sucking.
Fox: Oh, wha…
Fox: *beat head against table*
Talen: Not too bad. What is that, ‘Un-swampwalk’? He’s unblockable as long as you control a swamp?
Fox: As much as it’s another tremendously ugly fat bald guy, and I really am sick of them, I can’t deny that the art is overall very well done, especially the little impy dudes.
Talen: Saucy combination of abilities. And nicely done art – ugly, sure, but it wasn’t trying for pretty. It’s surprising to see Wayne Reynolds working with someone else, when he’s already quite good – but it makes the style very different. I suspect that Mr. Jarvis is the one responsible for the coloring.
Fox: Wow… you were saying? That’s some nice special effects right there. I mean, sure, nasty and horrible and all, but so nicely rendered.
Talen: My gut says to play this in a deck that can’t deal damage in increments smaller than three. Use the Black to weather earlier creature storms using pinpoint removal like Last Gasp, and load up on burn that hits for three, and creatures with three power or more. I like that kind of deck design — where every option, no matter what the option, somehow fuels what you’ve built around. Enshrined Memories is another example of a card like that — I wouldn’t ever run non-creature cards in an Enshrined Memories deck for that very reason.
Talen: Psst. Rakdos is a bad-ass. Pass it on.
Fox: Is there something non-badass about multicolored double-strikers?
Talen: Well, it’s the flavor text I took issue with. Pretentious git. “Boogidy boogidy,” said Rakdos, “Be scared of me as I generically mention blood! It’s so unique for Red cards, especially what with Kamigawa just past, with its Blood Offering, Initiate of Blood, Blood Rites, and Blood Fondue.”
Rain of Gore
Talen: Theeeese woooounds…
I’ve beeecommme soooo nuuuumbbbbb…
Whatever. Get over it, ya poncey pack of wieners.
It’s good to see, what with its out-of-control tournament success, lifegain has finally had a decent foil printed. Oh, wait, hang on: Heezy Street already smashed through decks that could have infinite Loxodon Hierarchs. And this, unlike Flames of the Blood Hand, doesn’t do anything and requires you to tap out main phase on a turn that really would rather spawn a threat or a burn spell. Plus, your opponent has to be the one gaining the life of his or her own volition. So they might just not play the cards if they don’t have to, and maybe even employ some of that enchantment destruction they’re so damn good at.
I suppose it’s worth investigating in Block. But I don’t like it, since there are other cards that do its job better.
Fox: I see Red people…
Explain to me why throwing giblets at your opponents would cause them problems? I mean, unless it was heaps of them. Anyway, this supposed “rain of gore,” despite looking nice in its Red shininess, is decidedly gore-free – it looks like Red food coloring. Or like Rakdos has prostate problems. Come on – if you’re going to rain demonic gore, at least do it right.
Talen: “Wah! We can’t have broken cards because then we whine at the DCI to ban them! Boo hoo hoo!”
Fox: Oh look, fire and torture. Are the Rakdos scary yet?
(Oh, and with those goggles, this bloke looks like Urkel.)
Fox: Hah! I love the art here. Sure, he’s deliberately hideous, but he has so much character! Proof that you can make reanimated desiccated corpses appealing, if not attractive. And awesome Spesh-FX work on the flames, too.
Talen: Remarkably good, this dude. For a start, he’s a drawback-free bear in the two colors least likely to get one. Second, he’s very proactive, and that’s good. With a Thoughtpicker Witch, he can control the game while serving for five with the board already under control. He even can be used in a pinch to off a troublesome creature or three. Basically, he’s about infinity better than the Gruul Guildmage, who, so far, has seen zero play in any deck that intends to tap a Forest for mana.
I’m trying to keep my Green whining to a minimum this set review, so please, bear with me here as I skirt the remainder of this subject.
I like him a fair bit – but I don’t see him as an enabler of Hellbent as much as I see him as a partner in crime to the more ambivalent Hellbent cards. Specifically, cards that are decent without Hellbent and insane with it. Guys like Jagged Poppet, as opposed to guys like Demon’s Jester.
Talen: Solid little pinger. I’d have paid good money for a gun this good previously, and Red now has two decent cards of this ilk in standard. Shame they’re fragile in this format, but that’s their lot in life.
If your opponent has nothing that you can kill with this thing, and it’s the end of their turn, for the love of god, don’t forget to ping something anyway.
Fox: “Ah, we are the Rakdos and we treat all things as tools to be discarded when they are no longer useful!” Wait, wouldn’t that make us more U/B? Or W/B? Bah – who even knows anymore? I guess it does sound like something our buddy from the above card might say, since he looks like a mischievous little monkey at the best of times. And by “mischievous”, I mean “likely to poke your eye out and make it into a puppet.”
Rakdos Pit Dragon
Talen: Look, a cheap double striker!
Fox: Look, Kev Walker!
Fox: You know, setting aside the awesome art – you get what you get, when you get Kev Walker to draw dragons – I’m gonna go ahead and bitch that this should have been a W/R card, thematically speaking. I mean, this thing screams Red ambition restrained by White control. It has a handler. It can firebreathe when you allow it to. Its wings are bound, and it’s only allowed to fly for brief periods before being pulled down again. Come on guys, surely that’s a no-brainer?
Talen: This card’s whole structure feels very “old school” to me. I’m not that worried by it, overall – it’s maximally effective in a color that can’t protect it, and it has a three toughness in a block where all the removal is cheaper than him. Or is Faith’s Fetters, and therefore totally negates him.
By all means though, race to strip your hand naked to put all your eggs in one basket.
Any Hellbent strategy is going to want to topdeck masterfully, and that means redundancy of effect. You’re not going to run one or two Hellbent guys, just like you wouldn’t run one or two threshold guys – you want as much of your deck to be infinitely better when you’re ripping it off the top instead of palming it out of a full grip. This guy isn’t too insane a topdeck given his native frailty, especially for his investment. Jagged Poppet, for being a four-toughness ass, is honestly more appealing to me as a way to win the topdeck war.
Lyzolda the Blood-Witch
Fox: She’s a loony.
Talen: M’eeeeh. I see too many easy ways to make her irrelevant. Because she wants you to sacrifice Red and Black creatures to maximize the effect, and requires mana to do so, I’m generally unimpressed. I’m sure she’s a wrecking ball in Sealed, of course, but that is not a matter to those of us who love sixty-card piles. The best use I can see for her is something that can generate a large number of tokens, ideally Red ones.
So kinda like the Rakdos Guildmage.
Fox: So why the frick do female evil overlords always seem possessed to dress like out-of-work costume-party whores?
Talen: Be fair. Borborygmos wore far less than this.
Fox: Yeah, but unless Magic’s target audience has changed very much in recent years, the purpose of such was not sex appeal.
Fox: Because if I’m going to kick some goody-two-shoes arse, I know I want gauzy veils hanging out of my golden panties.
Rakdos the Defiler
Fox: I don’t care how skanky his girlfriend is or how worthlessly Emo his guild is… I want one of these, and I want it in foil. And so do you.
Talen: Let me make this clear. Thanks to Hellbent cards, bounce is going to be prevalent. People who can pack bounce spells are going to pack bounce spells. When you rush this man into the red zone, when you smash hard in the face for the full seven, when your opponent sacrifices down to, say, two lands, you are still going to feel like the biggest ass ever when they untap and put Rakdos back in your hand. And that’s if you hit. A lot of the time, this guy’s going to get enough enthusiasm to jog into the red zone, eat half your board, then get all self-conscious and head home, without leaving so much as a thank-you note for all the tasty land.
Go ahead and try to make him work, but there’s nothing that’s going to stop him from eating prevalent, good cards. Like removal spells. There is simply too much risk for me to even consider the hitting effect. Not that I play risk-free – again, I’m going to mention Jagged Poppet because I like him a lot. But this guy is just. Plain. Junk. Watch for him alongside Szadek in the cheap bots.
Fox: Excellent. More pretties for the collection binder. *strokes*
Talen: As if Red needed more ways to kill a first turn Birds of Paradise?
Fox: (If you hadn’t figured it out yet, Rakdos is a nasty bugger. Shhh, it’s a secret.)
Talen: Still, it’s nice to not have to spend a “real” removal spell on some creatures, and the price certainly is right. Plus, it can go aggressive, giving your bears some potentially useful extra clout against a clear board. Against aggro, it’s a removal spell, and against control, it’s a faster clock. Seems good to me.
Talen: Me, I got nothing. Sure is purty, though.
Fox: Ooh, I remember her! She’s purty. Though you know, it occurs to me that all of the thematically-matching creature cycles lately have been mystically-empowered maidens. Or incomprehensible blobby things.
Seal of Fire
Fox: … Hmm. Case in point.
Talen: Again, Nemesis version. And I try and use the new card face wherever I can. Damn shame that. Still, Shock suddenly stopped being any good, and this is a nutty good card on its own. I will be very happy to pop this little sucker into play. We can go talk to Anthony Alongi about wonderful terms like “rattlesnake” and “pigeon” and “lemur” and “diprotodon,” but really, the term “bitch seat” does the same job just as well.
Top stuff. I’ll be very happy to run this in my Red decks, and I daresay that bloodthirsters don’t mind it either.
Fox: You know, I’d be cranky too if I had bad lipstick and a big red bum for a face.
Talen: Enrage and Howl from Beyond are both instants, and neither of them are even any good. I suppose Squealy here has the dubious merit of being a 2/1 fear creature for BR, who can occasionally give a smidgen of a power boost to something else you have on the table, but any deck that’s liking 2/1 fear guys for cheap doesn’t feel like it’s necessarily going to want an Enrage or Howl. Or so I thought, initially.
The thing is, he’s a late game topdeck that makes any board presence already around a potential skullcracking. This fits in Hellbent in that you can run him out early or late: it doesn’t matter either way. Plus, he does something once he’s down. A solid card, even if my initial assessment felt like he was bad.
Talen: See, this isn’t what I want out of Hellbent for a Constructed Hellbent deck. If you rip this off the top and have the targets for it without hitting your own stuff, you’re in a bit of trouble, in my opinion.
Fox: … Is anyone else thinking that these two look entirely too serene to be horribly dying? It’s like they got interrupted during a yoga session, and haven’t quite noticed.
Fox: Ooh, another pretty fiery art. Spectacular special effects – another must-have in foil. It doesn’t seem like the art particularly goes with the card and the flavor text, though, unless there’s some detail I’m missing amidst the compression. I wonder if it was originally commissioned for a different card?
Fox: Not that I wanna grace this thing with special mention, but it looks ridiculous..
Talen: So, the Rakdos and Red… well, my pick for the uncommon that interests me the most is Squealing Devil. He’s a decent, evasive man, really good in multiples, and he doesn’t have to be played in Constant Topdeck Mode to be good — though he’s jostling with Flaring Flame-Kin and Jagged Poppet. Commons? Ickspitter, all the way. And in the rare slot, Demonfire. I’m going to live for the game where I can tear a Demonfire off the top and end the game in a blaze (heh) of glory.
That being said, there’s a lot of quality around the uncommon level for these cards — I’d be unsurprised to see Rakdos Hellbent Aggro popping up as the New UG Madness. Not because it’s a brokenly powerful deck, but because, without polish, it will be cheap to make.
Rakdos Guildmage deserves special mention. I think of Thoughtpicker Witch as a Golgari Card, and the two of them are a match made in heaven… if you’re adding Red to your Dredge deck.
See you tomorrow,
Talen and Fox