Singleton Shmingleton - Ravenous Rats
Ravenous Rats | Art by Carl Critchlow
Welcome back to Singleton Shmingleton, where I bend the singleton rules of Commander by building decks with as many functional reprints of a certain card as possible. This week we're going to be talking about a classic engine of redundancy, everyone's favorite Rat. Or maybe second favorite. Or third favorite. Fourth favorite? Whatever, it's in the top twenty.
That's right, this week we're building around the most underwhelming two-for-one imaginable, the card that has been filling out draft decks since Urza's Destiny. Two mana gets us a 1/1 and makes the opponent discard. They've printed three new versions of this effect within the last two years, which brings us up to five, which is fine but nothing to brag about.Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
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But this is a design space they've been playing around in for a long time, and there's plenty of redundancy if we widen the scope just a little bit. Here's a non-exhaustive list of cheap creatures that take a card from an opponent's hand when they enter the battlefield.
"Rats"View on Archidekt
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Some versions of this effect are better than others. Some target an opponent, while some make each opponent discard. Some give the card back when they leave play, some make us discard as well. The nice thing is that we actually have room to be picky when building because there are twenty-one of these cards!
None of them see enormous amounts of play, with the original showing up in 2966 decks and the least popular only seeing play in 94 decks. One card that is surprisingly low is Miasmic Mummy, which forces you to discard as well but is also a Zombie. Zombie decks are perfect for breaking the symmetry of this effect by abusing their graveyards, and this little guy deserves more than 2870 decks. Elderfang Disciple and Burglar Rat see the most play since they say "each opponent," and Virus Beetle is catching up with them fast. All three slot into decks like Tergrid, God of Fright, Tinybones, Trinket Thief, and The Raven Man. Those are all fine homes, but I wonder if mono-black really has the tools to capitalize on what these little critters offer.
What Do They Offer?
All of these creatures provide disruption and a small amount of pressure. In twenty-life formats, 1/1s and 1/2s can eventually add up to a good chunk of damage, but in Commander these stats are basically negligible, so we'll have to take advantage of the bodies in other ways.
A tried and true way to take advantage of enter-the-battlefield abilities is to blink our Rats, both individually with cards like Ephemerate or en masse using cards like Ghostway. With enough redundancy, we can blink our Rats until our opponents are emptyhanded.
What's cool about this interaction is the ability to force our opponents to discard at instant speed. Outside of weird cards like Piracy Charm, there are very few instant-speed ways to interact with people's hands. It's why Vendilion Clique is so special in 60-card formats. One play pattern that comes up with Vendilion Clique and almost no other card is to play the Clique in the opponent's draw step in order to be able to nab whatever they drew before they can play it. We can replicate this pattern with our blink spells, casting them just as our opponents draw and before they can play anything, effectively locking them out of playing any sorcery-speed cards.
Some Sweet Interactions
The best card in our deck is Deadeye Navigator. That won't come as a surprise to anyone who was around when players were asking for it to catch a ban, nor even for anyone who has just seen the card work. Deadeye and a Rat form the strongest engine in the deck, as with just two mana for each opponent we can stop their draws without spending any cards of our own.
Some of our Rats don't work very well with blink. Kitesail Freebooter only takes a card until it leaves play, so it's the worst one. Mesmeric Fiend and Tidehollow Sculler are worded differently, though, since they have two triggered abilities instead of one. If we blink them in response to their enter-the-battlefield trigger, the second ability resolves first and attempts to give the card back before we take it. Then the first ability takes the card for good. This won't help when we need to time our blinks to our opponents' draw steps, but it can help when people still have multiple cards in hand.
Once we get our engine running, cards like Aetherize and Rebuild become very strong. Returning cards to hand is usually a tempo play that doesn't actually gain card advantage, but we can use our Rats to make our opponents discard all of the goodies they just picked up. Cyclonic Rift's single-target mode can basically be Vindicate in our deck (not that Cyclonic Rift needed to get better).
If all of this sounds a little optimistic to you, you're exactly right. This deck suffers the same problem that other discard decks face: if our opponents get ahead on board or find some other way to gain card advantage, they can overpower us. We put a target on our heads by making our opponents discard those fun cards they wanted to cast, even if we aren't doing anything broken. Our lock isn't incredibly strong; it relies on us drawing blink spells for every opponent every turn, and many of our Rats give cards back when they die.
But maybe our weakness is a hidden strength (it's funny how you can say that in multiplayer). We can use our disruption politically, lock down the draws of the opponent who's farthest ahead, then give the rest of the table the ability to catch up. We can slow the game down very well, but we still need a way to win.
Here's where we can turn to a combo I've been putting in a lot of decks recently. Mindcrank makes our opponents mill when they lose life, Duskmantle Guildmage's ability makes them lose life when they mill. I like this combo because it's very compact. Both pieces cost two mana, so they can sneak in whenever there's a window. Our deck is also full of two-drops, so we can add a Transmute package easily.
If you're not a fan of combos, you can try to grind opponents out with Rats and beat down with Yorion, Sky Nomad and Soulherder. It will be a lot harder, but it does sound like a heckuva good time. Rounding out the deck we have some ways to draw cards, some ways to recur our Rats if they get killed, and some general purpose answers.
Which Card? Discard.View on Archidekt
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Until Next Time
You don't want to miss this next one, folks. I'm going to take on one of the pillars (get it?) of the format to see if I can make a functional deck out of nothing but overcosted ramp. If Manalith wasn't already the most-written-about card on this website, it will be now.