The Road to Regionals – Breaking Dissension : Rakdos

Magic the Gathering Regionals!

Our Road to Regionals series continues… Today, Evan shares his successful Rakdos deck, in an article packed with card analysis and matchup data. The Red/Black guild of doom will surely have a strong showing at Regionals… are you prepared to take it down?

Welcome to a multi-part series about breaking the guilds of Dissension. Today I’m going to cover Rakdos, the most “obvious” deck to build using the set. However, that “obviousness” is full of fallacy, false-starts, and half-truths. Who do you trust? What build is best? Which Rakdos cards do you use? Allow me to show you my best build to date, and tell you why it’s so good.

Before I go any further, let me drop that decklist on you, named after my favorite band of all time:

This is what I would dub a tuned, honest-to-goodness Rakdos aggro build. It runs on an engine of Dark Confidant and great creature beats.

Ever hear the term “too much of a good thing?” Because that’s exactly what Rakdos offers you. There are so many fantastic Black and Red spells that either deal damage, make the other player discard, or destroy creatures, that it’s tough to choose the “best” of the best.

Let’s take a look at the creatures in the deck:

Dark Confidant

You can’t not run Bob in a B/R build. I’m sorry, but it’s true: The guy is just pure card advantage that is too good to pass up. And where there’s Bob, there’s Umezawa’s Jitte. Either you run the Jitte or you die to your life loss, it’s your choice. The two go hand in hand. I know that Mark Young told us that multiple Jittes can cause the loss of Hellbent, it’s not quite as important in this deck and besides – sometimes your other Jitte is sitting there with a Faith’s Fetters and you need to get it off the board. Sad but true.

The Burn Suite – Seal of Fire and Char

The two best burn spells in the format. Do I need to say more? Why sure. Here’s a “firestarter” question: Which is better?

Personally I feel – and most players I know agree – that Seal of Fire is the best burn spell in the format. Sure, Char deals four damage, but has Char ever stopped someone from playing a card? Unless you’re flashing it from your hand, Char doesn’t do anything but singe.

Seal of Fire, though? It causes players to play differently. It changes the game. While this enchantment is out on the field, your opponent is always at -2 Life. Their creatures are always sitting with two damage on them. Whether or not you pop the Seal on those creatures is the decision on which your game can hinge on, but also a decision your opponent hinges on. They must play around it until it’s gone. And that’s as good as it gets in most Magic situations.

Rakdos Guildmage

Wow, talk about a guy with synergy. He can activate the Hellbent on your Gobhobbler Rats, he can make guys to throw at your opponent with Lyzolda, the Blood Witch, and he swings for two. Don’t you just love these guys? No doubt, the third best Guildmage in the block (Selesnya is first, followed by Azorius).

A big tip here guys: Don’t forget to create the 2/1 Haste Goblins after your opponent’s End of Turn effects are on the stack, so you get a full turn with a 2/1 Goblin at your disposal. This lets you drop Lyzolda, the Blood Witch with an instant sac target and it carries a Jitte on a beautiful suicide mission.

Lyzolda, the Blood Witch

Here’s another decision maker. How many players out there think of this as a three-drop, and how many think of it as a five-drop? The difference is in how you play the deck, how much you value the creature, and how much you’re willing to extend before you get burned.

I personally see Lyzolda as a five-drop, unless they’re playing a color with little direct removal (i.e. they’re not playing Black or Red). This way you can drop Lyzolda and sacrifice her to her own effect when they try to kill her.

This is a creature that can give you reach like nothing else. This is the creature that has fantastic synergy with Rakdos Guildmage (Six mana, make a guy and Fling him), the creature that can end games with an alpha strike, a creature that must be dealt with. Matter of fact, most of the creatures in this deck must be dealt with (Dark Confidant, Rakdos Guildmage, Rakdos Augermage) or you will lose.

Rakdos Augermage

The best Rakdos creature, period. Oh boy, Terry Soh, you must be proud. This creature is the straight up nuts. Wow, does he completely change every single game he’s in! Either you kill him or I untap and you lose your best spell. Period. You can pull a Char from me as long as I get the Wrath of God from you. You can take my Umezawa’s Jitte as long as I can take your Windreaver.

Better yet, when it comes to beats, this guy can bring them. First Strike is No Joke, and the amazing versatility of Riot Spikes turns this guy into a 5/1 First Striker of Pain.

Rakdos Pit Dragon

A great creature that doesn’t deal well with token decks (we’ll take him out, as you’ll soon see). However, when he gets in he normally needs one or two swings to end the game.

Many players have tried Ignorant Bliss, and I did as well. While this spell has amazing synergy with the Pit Dragon, which is obvious, what is not obvious is how this plan of “Oops, I win” doesn’t necessarily translate to actually winning. Why? Because players have instincts and they’ll normally chump this Dragon rather than lose outright.

One time I got the ultimate Ignorant Bliss draw. I had five mana and he was at 12. He let my Pit Dragon through, I went Ignorant Bliss, pump three times, good game? That’s about the time I saw Player Lost pop up in the status window, and the only time I’ve ever gotten that to work. Otherwise it was a poor man’s Quicken, which tells you how applicable the card was to several matches. And Ignorant Bliss doesn’t even have a personal finance program named after it (though I’d buy one if it were named that).

Gobhobbler Rats

The ultimate bear for B/R. While there aren’t many choices to choose from, a potential 3/2 regenerator that can still get in there for two is fine with me. Otherwise you have Drekavac, but he does nothing but bounce continuously. Players who use Drekavac have the same problem those who used Raving Oni-Slave did: The downside continues to bite them in the ass. It’s not like Carnophage, where its downside isn’t really an issue; it a downside that continues to make your game worse.

This creature was “more interesting” when the build featured Ignorant Bliss, but even then the main job of this creature is to Get In There For Two, carry a Jitte, or get a huge creature into Seal of Fire/Char range. That’s what it is in the deck for, and it’s a crucial two-drop for a deck that needs early beats and fuel once Lyzolda, the Blood Witch hits play.

Spells and Sideboards

Now I’ll write a few words on some of the more interesting spells I chose and the current sideboard for the deck.

Riot Spikes

The straight-up nuts. I love this card. It kills Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, Dark Confidant, and mauls Plagued Rusalka when you’re staring at Lyzolda, the Blood Witch in your hand. It kills all sorts of creatures and wrecks all sorts of decks. The best part is that this isn’t “just” a kill spell. It pumps your amazing First Striker (Rakdos Augermage) and it makes those Hobgobbler Rats a monstrous 5/1 regenerating beatstick when you’re handless.

Those who call this spell limiting, or “for sealed/draft only,” simply haven’t played with it yet.

Genju of the Spires

…sneaks up on everybody. Another one of those cards that, like Otherworldly Journey, catches people with their pants down.

In a Rakdos deck you’re looking for anything that can net you long-term advantage (technically, every deck should have this quality, but that’s a different article). This is a card that can provide that advantage. Virtually unkillable by “kill” spells, your opponent will be hoping and praying for a Terashi’s Grasp/Naturalize, Condemn, or a Boomerang, or they’re in big trouble.

Better yet, since this is such an underrated spell (that only loses one life when flipped with a Dark Confidant, natch), players won’t expect to take six to the dome from a Blood Crypt. Between that and the rest of your burn, it doesn’t take long before they’re just dead.

Rise / Fall

An incredible spell. A great spell. One of the best, no doubt. But right now it’s a sideboard card. In a format like Regionals, most players are going to be running an aggro deck like this one. Worse, if you play against Rakdos with more Hellbent than the four creatures I’m running here, you could be fueling their fire more than your own.

Yes, a turn 2 Hymn to Tourach is the stone cold nutzors. We know this. But the ability to play more threats and more answers is the stone cold ones as well. Therefore this is a spell that comes in against control and combo decks to wreck them.


The same can be said for this spell, it’s just another discard outlet that hurts your bad matchups such as U/W. This is also a great card (obviously) against such great decks like Magnivore and URzaTron.

Cranial Extraction

I don’t know what else to say about this card that hasn’t been said before. You simply remove their four best cards. A sideboard staple for years now, I’m cliché just by writing this three-sentence blurb.

Pithing Needle

You need to stop Glare of Subdual, you need to stop Greater Good, you need to stop their Jitte, you need to stop their Azorius Guildmage… I can go on.


This deck has a very hard time against Dragons. Thank your lucky stars that Kokusho has basically been hated out of the format, because otherwise you would be in big trouble. 5/5 Flying Legendary Dragon Spirits kill Rakdos dead. This spell, however, lets you take care of Keiga and Yosei while also wrecking Meloku and Ryusei. This is a fantastic answer that is hard not to like.

Matchups and Sideboarding

Ah yes, the meat and potatoes boys. Let’s see how each matchup looks:

Ghost Dad

This matchup is all about who sticks the Dark Confidant. Whoever gets card advantage wins. I know that sounds simplified, but it’s the truth. While the Pillory of the Sleepless is annoying, you have a built-in way to get rid of it (Lyzolda, the Blood Witch), which is more than some B/R builds can offer. As for the insanity when dealing with Thief of Hope / Tallowisp, just burn the Thief of Hope (Seal of Fire does wonders), and getting counters on your Jitte is Bad News Bears for them.

Sideboarding: -3 Riot Spikes +3 Cranial Extraction

Feel free to yank their Cranial Extractions, then their Ghost Council of Orzhova. The latter play is almost an auto-win at that point, since they don’t have burn and you have too much removal (e.g. Rakdos Guildmage) for them to get the upper hand.

URzaTron / Jushi Control / Magnivore / Steam Vents Variants

Whenever they lead off with Steam Vents you know you’re in for a hell of a match. This tells you that you’ll probably see Pyroclasm, you’ll probably see Spell Snare, you’ll probably see Boomerang. Not the best matchup you could be facing without a sideboard, but far from unwinnable.

Dark Confidant again provides card advantage that money can’t buy (but a little life loss can). When he’s firing on all cylinders, you’re throwing burn at their face and dropping threats they have to deal with.

I don’t expect to see a single Jushi Apprentice in any maindeck at Regionals, and neither should you. However, if they are running that awesome two-drop, you’ll trump it with your “awesomer” 1-drop in Seal of Fire. So long Jushi, it was nice to have you in the metagame for a few years.

Meanwhile, just play the game of attrition and don’t walk into a devastating Wildfire, okay?

Sideboarding: -3 Riot Spikes, -2 Genju of the Spires, -2 Rakdos Pit Dragon, +4 Rise / Fall, +3 Distress

A simple control build swap, this gets rid of a huge liability (Genju of the Spires versus Annex? Annex wins) and makes sure you resolve the spells you need to resolve. Remember to hit them with your discard ASAP. Never play your important spells and then try to rip answers from them. A little Magic 101 here, but I figured it was important to note. The choice of playing Dark Confidant and Rise / Fall isn’t a choice at all.

G/W Ghazi-Glare / Ghazi-Chord / Greater Good / G/W/u Supply and Demand

This is an interesting matchup that causes you a few problems. First of all, Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree basically puts you in Burn Them Out mode where you’re dying to draw the mondo combo of Rakdos Guildmage and Lyzolda, the Blood Witch. It also makes your Pit Dragon damn near worthless. This is not a good thing.

Otherwise, you’ll have some issues with Kodama of the North Tree (hint: Rakdos Guildmage makes some great chump blockers) and Dragons will need to be dealt with by Char and Jitte. This is a tough game 1, but getting the momentum your way can let them resolve a huge monster only to see you pull it on the next turn by attacking and slinging spells at them.

Sideboarding: -2 Rakdos Pit Dragon, -2 Genju of the Spires, -2 Gobhobbler Rats, +3 Cranial Extraction, +3 Pithing Needle

Depending on what build your facing, you may want to sideboard in Distress here instead of Cranial Extraction (it’s mainly for Yosei / Greater Good decks). Otherwise, Riot Spikes is an outright champ in this matchup, taking out their Wood Elves and Llanowar Elves. Once you have a Needle down on Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree (or Glare of Subdual or Greater Good, depending), you’ll be just fine.

Heezy Street

Full of the fun that is Kird Ape. While many builds should be running Simic Initiate, this just lets your Char get a two-for-one when you burn out their Scab-Clan Mauler. Otherwise, your reusable removal (Rakdos Guildmage, Lyzolda, the Blood Witch) trumps their reusable trampling, and Char should go a long way to making sure this match is a win-win.

Sideboarding: -3 Riot Spikes, +3 Rise / Fall

While the Riot Spikes are great for removing that first turn Simic Initiate and/or Llanowar Elves, the Rise / Fall inclusions will help you much more. Since they run so many mana accelerators and cheap drops they should be running little land. Of course, if you do pull two land with a Fall then you know they’re hand isn’t that good anyway. On turn 2, if you pull 2 land then over a third of their hand is basically strategically worthless.

Heartbeat of Spring

The quintessential Best Deck right now. Who knew a combo deck would come out on top? Just like the Toof and Stank days of yore, you can bet that this new combo deck is resilient and with the inclusion of Research / Development in Dissension, got a lot tougher to “auto win” against a resolved Cranial Extraction.

Game 1 is very much in your favor, thanks to the wrecking ball that is Rakdos Augermage. He’s just… incredible, and can win the game by himself. Always (always) use him as soon as you can, and continue to do so until they’re left with little else than a Sakura-Tribe Elder they topdecked.

As for games 2 and 3, you’re going to have to “feel out” for the man plan, and anyone who has played against this deck knows how hard that is. So with that in mind:

Man plan Sideboarding: -3 Riot Spikes, -2 Seal of Fire, +2 Eradicate, +3 Distress

This lets you tear apart their plan piece by piece: You Eradicate the Keiga and Melokus from their deck, then you Distress away any Savage Twisters. Between the Rakdos Augermage and this hand/board disruption, you shouldn’t have too tough of a time against the man plan.

Combo Sideboarding: -3 Riot Spikes, -1 Umezawa’s Jitte, -2 Gobhobbler Rats, -4 Seal of Fire, +3 Distress, +4 Rise / Fall, +3 Cranial Extraction

This game is simple: Destroy their hand. Get every spell you can out of their deck. Cranial Extraction their Heartbeat of Spring(s) if they haven’t played one yet, and get rid of any win conditions you can. If you have to choose a win condition to Cranial Extract, choose Invoke the Firemind. Remember – the Heartbeat player can draw a ton of cards with this as well as laying on the damage. Either way, the Rakdos Augermage should’ve been winning this matchup alone – the rest of these cards just seal the coffin.

Where To Go From Here — Nothing Is Finished

I would love to say that this list is 100% Regionals Ready™, but it’s not. Quite frankly, it won’t be ready until the good folks at StarCityGames finish up their Regionals articles and the best decks are then plucked, pruned, and tuned into the tournament-winning machines they can be. This takes time, practice, and the meta will shake up depending on what happens between now and May 20th.

What I consider my job is to bring you the best decks that my playgroup and I have come up with. I’m not pulling any punches, I’m not hiding any tech – this is the latest and greatest list from good players who have played for a long time. Many players and writers have “held back” decks until a tournament has come and gone. I don’t like that practice. I’ll give it to you straight from the playtest group, and if you don’t like it fine, and if you do like it, all the better.

So until next time, keep playtesting and good luck!

Evan “misterorange” Erwin
dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com