Heart of the Cards – Rakdos, the Showstopper

(Rakdos, the Showstopper | Original Art by Viktor Titov)

Stop the Show!

Hello, and welcome to another Heart of the Cards! If you haven't read other installments of the series, here's the rundown: we’re going to pick a commander, build a shell with all of the supporting, goodstuff, staple-type cards you just can’t do without, and then build a few different core packages that could each potentially act as the heart of the deck, defining its unique flavor and personality.

This month you voted to look at Rakdos, the Showstopper.

No Creatures? No Problem.

Rakdos is a big, bad 6/6 Demon for six mana that has the potential to Wrath the rest of the board every time he enters the battlefield, and we are super going to abuse that!

Today, we're going to go for something different. All three of the decks we'll talk about will be, with the exception of Rak-Daddy himself, almost completely creatureless. To do that, we're going to need the following:

  • Some ramp to drop Rakdos before turn six,
  • Some card draw to keep a few answers and surprises at our fingertips
  • A package of nasty things to deal with opposing problems
  • A way to trigger Rakdos repeatedly so we can keep the board clear.

Before we dive into different ways we can define the deck’s personality, we need to take a look at the cards we just can’t play without. Let's check out the shell.

"Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp."

We want to hit six mana right as the rest of the table is developing their board states. Expedition Map is one of our most important ramp pieces, as it completes the Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth + Cabal Coffers combo, and can also fetch up Petrified Field in the event that one of the two gets blown up.

Revel in Riches and Black Market offer us all the late-game ramp we could want once Rakdos establishes himself on the board, and Revel in Riches even offers us an alternate wincon if the deck starts to flounder.

Lately, I've been increasing my count of rocks that can crack for card draw later, and I've really liked this approach. If I had another slot I would consider adding Treasure Map to add even more potential draw and add more synergy to Revel in Riches.

Come back here and take what's coming to you!

Today we're running seven pieces of card draw. Not a huge number, until you remember that four of our mana rocks can also be cracked for cards. Plus, as we'll see later, I've put Wretched Confluence in the 'Answers' package, which can draw card as well, bringing the number up to twelve.

For this category, everything I've included is a pretty standard and fairly efficient, but I want to call specific attention to Morbid Curiosity. We need Rakdos to go away sometimes, so we can reuse his ability, and we won't always have a flicker or clone effect handy. Cashing him in for six cards and the ability to recast him is very solid. I didn't go all-in by including Altar's Reap or Costly Plunder, because I find Night's Whisper and Sign in Blood to be surefire choices in the early game. Morbid Curiosity is going to be a dead card in your hand unless Rakdos is on the field, but I think it's good as a one-of effect, slightly edging out Read the Bones.

Ask me your questions, Bridgekeeper, I am not afraid.

Single-target removal and board wipes are just not as important to a deck whose commander is a board wipe incarnate. The few pieces of removal included in this list are designed to hit stuff that Rakdos's ability won't or can't. (I'm looking at you, Avacyn, Angel of Hope).

Exile and flexibility are the name of the game when it comes to this deck. One of the most flexible pieces, Unstable Obelisk, was included in the ramp package, but also fits in here, taking care of a pesky artifact, planeswalker, land, or even enchantment that Rakdos couldn't otherwise deal with.

Spammity SPAMMMMM!

On the face of it, Rakdos doesn't inherently generate card advantage. However, if you look closely, he does generate a subtractive form of card advantage by removing opponents' creatures. And then doing it again. And again. And again.

For the "ways to spam Rakdos's ability" package, I took a look at Gonti, Lord of Luxury's page to pick up some tricks for abusing ETB effects in Black. Since Rakdos's ability is tied to coin flips, Krark's Thumb is a no-brainer, and mimics Panharmonicon. With red we get to add Flameshadow Conjuring, getting an extra trigger off of Rakdos for one additional red mana.

Undying Evil and friends are excellent in Xantcha, Sleeper Agent to help keep her on the board, and it makes just as much sense to run those effects here, too. Thrilling Encore is the biggest brother in this suite of cards, but if you don't need it to get Rakdos back, it can potentially just win the game after Rakdos eats the board.

Though they aren't actually in this deck, Grave Betrayal and Rise of the Dark Realms are similar in that they can bag all of those creatures Rakdos just blew up to turn the board around in your favor, so you might consider them for your build.

The Heart of the Cards

With the underlying skeleton now built, let’s check out some different strategic directions we could take our deck. This is where the EDHREC’s Theme Pages really shine.

"Order," eh? Who does he think he is?

Punisher, or Group Slug, is a pretty classic direction to take a Red/Black deck. Punisher is sometimes considered "stax-lite," but let me say as someone with personal experience running a creatureless Mogis, God of Slaughter deck, don't expect your playgroup to go easy on you because of the "lite." The archetype tends towards a slow build-up, dropping one or two punisher effects a turn. It's cumulative, but slow, and you can expect your playgroup to get wise fast and utilize the early game to gang up on you. Just because enchantments are the safest, least-killable card type in EDH doesn't mean they aren't extremely fragile. This deck is vulnerable to cards like Cleansing Nova, Austere Command, and Merciless Eviction, and the symmetrical nature of the damage effects in this deck often puts you in the danger zone.

Now, having said all that, Mogis decks don't have a board wipe in the command zone. Being able to keep the board clear of incoming combat damage definitely mitigates much of the risk of having the damage effects swing against your favor, so I think Rakdos is a solid choice for the Punisher archetype.

Bones of full fifty men lie strewn about its lair!

Letting Rakdos just stall the board out and slow opponents down can buy you the time you need to build up a mountain of resources... but then what do you do with them? Why not sink them into a giant X-spell? Not spicy enough for you? Turn up the heat by copying it to really make your opponents' eyes water.

This version of the deck focuses on spinning your opponents' wheels until it can hit that big-mana gravy train, then maybe dropping a copied Bubbling Muck for even more mana, and casting a giant Jaya's Immolating Inferno, or some such, winning on the spot. Like the Group Slug deck, it relies on Rakdos spamming the board to keep you safe while you build up little by little. It's definitely a little more interactive, though, with lots of targeted spells, and it's always fun to catch the blue player with a surprise Reverberate.

I'm afraid when I'm in this idiom, I sometimes get a bit, uh, sort of carried away.

When you hear "Voltron" I'm sure you instinctively think of Equipment, or maybe Auras. Those are not easy to do when you want your commander to repeatedly leave and reenter the battlefield. The Equip costs stack up and eat up your turn.

This version of the deck runs a few pieces of Equipment, namely ones that automatically equip themselves when a creature comes into play, but Equipment isn't the only way to add muscle to your commander. Damage doubling effects increase the amount of commander damage Rakdos will do.

Dragon Breath showed up in my Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire article, and it's a house again here, granting haste and firebreathing for free. The majority of our "Voltron" pieces are static effects, though. Stuff like Vibrating Sphere and Death Pit Offering that don't see play really anywhere else, and even things like Glass of the Guildpact that tend to show up as more of an anthem for swarm decks.

All these incremental pieces add up to a devastatingly fat Rakdos that swings in with double strike and deals double damage, wrecking peoples' faces in a single combat phase.

Now go away, or I shall taunt you a second time!

So, what does it look like when we put a heart into the skeleton? I’ve put the Voltron package together by bringing the land count to 36. All that’s left to do is shuffle up and start swinging with a deck that curves out at 3.34. This is my ideal form of battlecruiser Magic: combat, punishment, board wipes, and chaos. I hope you enjoy!

Let me know what package you picked, or if you have a totally different take on the deck, by tweeting @GrubFellow, and be sure to tell me how your games go!

No Poll This Month!

We're sticking around Ravnica for a third set, and so, I'm reserving the right to pick next month's commander for sweet flavor reasons, just as War of the Spark hits. It's a total secret. If you go back and look at my past polls, you'll absolutely never guess who it is.

Dean is a father, writer, and long-time fan of Magic and gaming in general. Currently located in Rochester, NY; he loves playing with new people, so if you're ever in the area, shoot him a message. Follow him on Twitter @GrubFellow, where he tweets #dailyEDH microcontent.