YOU FACE RAKDOS, LORD OF THE BURNI—*cough, cough*
Sorry, that’s a habit I picked up for when a demon is the lord of burning things.
I recently asked some of the readership to pick a card they’d like to see in a future column. Out of five options, the overwhelming winner was Rakdos, Lord of Riots. And you know what? It turns out Rakdos is a tricky card to work with. The weird thing is, he looks like he should appeal to everybody all at once.
He’s a big 6/6, flyin’, tramplin’, Timmy-pleasin’ monster. He’s got a combo ability to get a Johnny’s interest up. And he’s a big body on a low mana cost, which should make Spikes happy, but doesn’t, because Spikes are incapable of feeling joy. But on the whole, he looks like he should make as many people happy as can be reasonably expected. COME AT ME SPIKES.
But it winds up not happening. Yes, he seems to combo well. Seems to. Seems. The word “seems” is the important takeaway here. Because the conditions on casting him are a lot more onerous than they seem at first glance. And you can’t build a combo off a card that never hits the table in the first place.
Yes: black and red pretty much do damage all the time. But the trick is to do damage in a way that doesn’t cost you mana, because why would we want to lose that big-body/low-cost fun? And there are cards like Mogg Fanatic that do the damage for free, but aren’t terribly useful if you don’t have Rakdos in your hand and ready to cast. If you haven’t drawn one specific card, they’re pretty much dead draws. So what we need are cards that do free damage, and are useful all on their own.
Fun fact about Blood Artist: it is way, way more ridiculous than you think. It’s way more ridiculous than you remember. You can play a deck like the Aristocrats that completely centers around Blood Artist, go to sideboard between rounds, and forget how ludicrously effective it is. And what does it do? Paired with a sac outlet, it reliably pings your opponent for a damage at a time. Which means when it’s time to cast Rakdos, you can almost definitely have damage ready to go.
A solid, difficult to kill body, what’s not to like? Geralf’s Messenger isn’t the most flashy card in what we’re building, but it gets the job done. More importantly, if you’ve got a Rakdos in hand and you swing with your Messenger, one of three positive outcomes are likely:
- You’ll go unblocked, and be able to cast Rakdos.
- You’ll get blocked, killing the Messenger, which will come back, do 2 damage, and let you cast Rakdos.
- You’ll get blocked and your Messenger will survive, hopefully killing whatever blocked it. Which doesn’t help Rakdos, but is pretty cool nonetheless.
So once we’ve got Rakdos on the table, the sixty-four million dollar question is, “what are we going to do with him?” Again, we want cards that will potentially be useful even if Rakdos never gets drawn. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is your go-to cheat-in card, but without Rakdos, it’ll do nothing in your hand. And since casting Rakdos already takes some finagling, we’ve just set the bar for the card way too high. So let’s find some other synergy we can use.
Scuttling Doom Engine
Without Rakdos on board, six mana is a much more clearable bar than fifteen. That’s the kind of expert knowledge bomb you come to this column for, so you’re welcome. But if you happen to have Rakdos down, all you have to do is land one flying swing, and Scuttling Doom Engine drops out of your hand for free. And if the Doom Engine dies, it triggers six damage and feeds the next one.
I’m a big fan of this card in general… I don’t think it receives anywhere near enough attention. The ability is a free, nonblack, instant-speed sac outlet. (The nonblack part isn’t relevant here, but it’s worth noting for your own brews.) And the sacrifices feed your way to a giant creature. If the Gargadon is suspended, you can trigger your Blood Artist at a moment’s notice, and use it to cast Rakdos. If Rakdos is already on the board, he’s a giant creature for Rakdos to enable. Win-win.
Yes, I know, and I don’t care.
The general objection to Browbeat is that you should never give your opponent a choice, because they’ll choose the better option and you’ll never get what you want. And if you’re casting Browbeat, they’ll definitely just take the damage, because unless the damage is lethal, taking five is always better than letting your opponent draw three cards.
But if you’ve got Rakdos out, only an insane person will let you deal five damage. But only an insane person will let you draw three cards with Rakdos about to swing. In this deck, it’s a card that gives your opponent no good options. And in an absolute worst-case scenario, dealing five damage when you’re also dropping Scuttling Doom Engines isn’t the worst thing in the world.
EREDAR LORD OF THEsorry, sorry
Why the Pack Rats? Because what we’re building here is essentially a Rakdos midrange deck. Fun fact: there are very, very few Rakdos midrange cards. Black lends itself to control or suicide aggro. Red lends itself to dribbling a can of gasoline around the floor while whispering, “fire pretty.” Together, aggro is usually the strategy of choice. Pack Rat is one of the only strong midrange cards that will fit into the strategy. It gives you a backup plan. If you don’t draw Rakdos, you can go all in on Pack Rats, and start pitching cards for a new one every turn.
How about if you’ve got some money lying around? This, as always, is a budget column, so I didn’t include some fairly obvious choices. You can always go Wurmcoil Engine over Scuttling Doom Engine, or Goblin Guide instead of Rakdos Cackler. Pop some Mutavaults in to go with the Pack Rats. Hell, drop a few Aether Vials in to cheat out Rakdos, I won’t stop you.
I won’t! I promise!