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Rakdos is the New Blue



With, I assume, only a matter of hours to go until Magic: The Gathering - Breaking Dawn is fully spoiled, I wanted to do a bit of a post-mortem on the set I like to call Dungeons and Dragon's Maze. Is Adventures in the Forgotten Realms best forgotten? That's actually a little bit tough to say, especially when you add the cards from the Commander precons into the mix. While it's true that a lot of the set really leans toward form rather than function, which is fine (probably even more than fine, it's probably good), is it a bad set? It actually doesn't matter, but if it did, there are no fewer good Commander cards in this set than in "good" sets, really. AFR doesn't have to be a good set because it's flavorful and fun and it got a lot of people who have never played Magic to do so. AFR didn't just give us a gift with fantastic cards like Old Gnawbone, Circle of Dreams Druid, and Treasure Vault, AFR solidified an idea in my mind that had been percolating for some time and this week I get to write all about it. Rakdos has, for a year or two, taken over for Blue as the de facto "Play their cards" color combination, and as a 75% deck-builder, it's best to just let it happen. How do these Rakdos cards play differently from their Blue counterparts and how can we best build our decks to play to their strengths? I'm so glad I acted like you asked that. Let's answer that question with an entire article, what do you say?

Nothing is Ever Wasy

It would be swell to talk about how the AFR Commander decks gave us the perfect 75% Rakdos commander and a deck full of sweet "cast their spells" cards, but there is a bit of an issue. AFR didn't start the trend of Rakdos cards allowing you to cast their spells, usually for mana, but what AFR's Prosper precon did do was take that trend to a logical conclusion and give us a commander that made the best possible use of that ability. What we got wasn't a Vampire that captivated the enemy's creatures or a mind-controlling Lich who used the power of illusion who made enemy mages cast spells in a way that helped the Lich, we got a card that rewarded you for playing their spells from exile but which immediately made people focus on doing it with their own spells because that was way easier. AFR made Rakdos remember that every few sets got a Robber of the Rich type creature and made it also remember that Red is really good at "impulse drawing" which doesn't exactly leave spell theft out of the deck but it does swing the spotlight back to your own deck. Fortunately, a hybrid approach with Prosper is still very, very good - an Uba Mask for every Stolen Strategy, a Dire Fleet Daredevil for every Valakut Exploration, an Outpost Siege for every time you got the idea but I insisted on a third example because I fall back on my comedy training.

Prosper, Tome-Bound

I'm not faulting anyone, merely lamenting that the commander that pairs best with Stolen Strategy doesn't really showcase cards like Stolen Strategy. The story is about how well they incidentally pair with a commander that is designed to let you play your impulse draw effects rather than a commander that really rewards you for playing their cards. The thing is, thinking about this issue as I have spent a lot of time doing made me realize something, and I didn't even have to really go back that far to find the card that unlocked what is really going on here. The card that made me realize that they can't build a commander that rewards us for playing their cards more than Prosper does was printed in Kaldheim.

Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor

Tibalki, as I like to call him, would have been a great card to reward us for playing our opponents' cards and it didn't. The thing is, we don't actually need to be rewarded for doing something that is powerful even if it's difficult to pull off. Tibalt doesn't reward us for playing our opponents' cards because granting us the ability to play their cards is the reward. If Prosper and the deck they jammed it in didn't steer us toward impulse draw cards like Dark-Dweller Oracle (a card that's a little too fair if you ask me), it would be even more broken than Prosper is now because it letting us play their cards and giving us the treasure to do it would make it... well, it would make it a card that's busy fundamentally changing the face of every format where it's legal (that's barely hyperbole). It would be Ragavan.

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

Ragavan is a cool card and perhaps the world doesn't need another Ragavan right now. Viewing Prosper through that lens, I realized that whether Rakdos decks are playing a commander that rewards us for using our deck to find ways to play their cards or whether the commander is the card that lets us play their cards, Rakdos is in a really cool spot right now and the decks we can build are great for 75% deck-building. Let's look at what the Prosper deck gives us, shall we?

Hurl Through Hell

This is not terrible as a removal spell, but having the ability to play the creature is a double whammy. Four mana is a lot to pay on top of the creature's Mana Value (still getting used to typing that) but it just scales into the late game - you can kill a small creature early or a big one late which means it's never a dead draw and it's never super unfair.

Fevered Suspicion

This is mana-hungry, also, but it's deeply powerful and it even has rebound. Adding this to a deck with Etali, Stolen Strategy, Hellkite Tyrant and other expensive cards can make the deck very awkward and unstable, forcing you to consider a treasure subtheme just to be able to play your cards. Still, anything this powerful is worth playing if you can afford it, and I'll MAKE the deck afford it if I have to run 40 lands and 10 mana rocks.

Dream Pillager

Eight mana for Suspicion is high, so why don't we pare it back a little and take a look at a card that costs a scant 7 mana instead? Dream Pillager is here to steal their cards, which is why I would have called the card "Card Pillager" and that's why I don't get to design Magic cards. What I am designing, though, is something I bet you never thought you would see me design. I'm designing a Dragon tribal deck.

"But Jason," I'm pretending you're interjecting, "you said literally last week that you didn't want to build Dragon tribal around an obvious Dragon tribal card," and while that is true, you're forgetting that just like you don't need my help figuring out how to run Kluath as a Dragon tribal deck, you don't need my help building a fairly busted Prosper deck. It's the most popular deck from AFR on EDHREC for a reason, after all. What I may be able to help with, though, is to make a case for taking cards designed to help Prosper and putting them in basically any other deck with a bunch of cards like Dragon Tempest. Why am I doing this? Because no one else has yet, and I love me some Hellkite Tyrant. Let's be as tyrannical as we can and really go to Dragon town, casting as many of their spells as we can manage along the way. Here's what I think the deck might look like.

Covetous Dargons | Commander | Jason Alt

There is a lot more synergy here than I had expected going in. I used a Rakdos Dragon deck as the basis and added as many Prosper cards as I could rather than the opposite and the result was... quite a lot of usable stuff, actually. I added a lot of Dragons that a deck built around a card like Bladewing wouldn't use, but I was cutting a raw power Dragon for a synergy Dragon which felt very satisfying to me. Every time I added something like Gadrak that really worked better with the treasure-focused build, I realized Prosper was born to be at the helm of the Dragon deck. I mean, look at the precon - the implication is not exactly subtle. I'm not a genius for looking at the deck and thinking "hmm, what if Goldspan Dargon" or anything, right? Prosper in a deck where you have no ways to enable his card-stealing nonsense and literally just look at the top card of your deck every turn and get a treasure if you play it is just fine for a Dragons deck. The fact that we can add a bunch of 75% cards that reward us for playing their cards from exile is gravy.

We could likely do more - I added as much as I could without hurting the deck since it has a lot of needs and while the ends are all synergistic, the means aren't. However, it's not a huge sacrifice to make our basics Snow-Covered to have access to Draugr Necromancer which, if you've never used it, is more useful than you think. Paying mana for their cards is still on the cheating side of the fairness scale and Necromancer is a Leyline of the Void with feet in the meantime. Sure, getting their creatures for free would be swell, but you get a treasure token when you pay the mana, so do it early and often. We have the greatest hits - Stolen Strategy, Hurl Through Hell, and Fevered Suspicion - we're just about out of cards to add that let us access their cards. I don't think we need to trifle with adding more cards that let us play our own cards because there are easier ways to get treasure tokens and we're playing those cards instead. I even added Dragonstorm to the deck because even if you cast it with Storm count of 0 it's a busted card, and hopefully you have enough Treasure tokens that paying 9 for a tutor is easy. You can add more mana-generating spells to make it a true Dragonstorm deck, but since you won't always draw it, I didn't want to go nuts and add clunky cards like Pyretic Ritual.

I really like this approach. You get to play a lot of big, dumb Dargons, you play a lot of their cards and you have some explosive wins possible. People are a little sick of grindy Prosper decks that take 10 minute turns and while this might not be as good as those tuned lists, this is more fun both to play and to play against and you'll probably win almost as often. You might get focused a bit but I'm convinced that they won't make your deck unplayable with the extra attention and when you don't do a bunch of Uba Mask tricks or summon Pitiless Plunderer at all, they'll focus on whoever the real threat at the table is, leaving you free to make a big pile of coins and spend them on Dargons. Everyone wins. I mean, not the game, only one player wins that, but everyone wins in the sense that no one is bored by your deck. If you'd told me last week where I was vehemently against Dragon tribal that I'd brew just that this week, I'd have laughed, but like a player who casts Jeska's Will into Dragonstorm, a lot can change in the blink of an eye.

That does it for me this week - join me next week where we might have, and I'm barely exaggerating, spoilers from the next set to discuss. Until next time!

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