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Around the Wheel: Judith, the Scourge Diva

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Rakdos, or br, has a sort of... reputation. It's all aggression and death; fast, cheap removal; quick creatures that don't block and tend to come back; power at the expense of the caster's life total. There are fast combo decks in EDH (Goblins, Elves, and Sharuum come to mind) but if you want to go old school, attack with creatures and finish with burn, there's nothing like Rakdos to get the job done.

The thing is, I doubt anyone needs help to figure that out. Pick your commander, fill up your deck with cheap creatures, removal, and burn, and cross your fingers. With someone like Lyzolda, the Blood Witch or Mogis, God of Slaughter to do damage as the game outgrows your cheap stuff, you might even get there. Simple.

I'd rather do something different. My last serious take at a Rakdos deck was Rakdos Big Enchantments, leveraging a random effect on a commander to make huge, splashy spells actually viable. (That deck, by the way, is as hilarious as it is deadly. The spells are absurd, with massive effects, plus the deck wins a fair amount of the time just because it throws so much damage around. I think you should put Captive Audience in it, though. That card wasn't out when it was originally built. Use your judgment, though, because that card is pretty mean in the deck.) This time, let's play with dead stuff.

Judith, the Scourge Diva

Judith is kind of an Aristocrat. She's not Zulaport Cutthroat, which cares about tokens and nontokens we control equally and hits all opponents. She's not Blood Artist, which cares about everyone's creatures. She does one damage, pointed where we want, when a nontoken creature we control dies. That may not seem like much, but between that and the extra point of power she gives to our dudes, we can probably figure out a way to make it work.

The key here is that Judith's ability is a triggered ability. Because it happens whenever a nontoken creature of ours dies in whatever manner, we can sacrifice the creature and get some other value. An example is Apprentice Necromancer. That card sacrifices itself. We do so and we get Judith's ability as well. So what we want is a bunch more triggered abilities so we can get even more value from each creature that bites the dust.

40 lands is a great place to start. We're not running any mana rocks. Stuff that sacrifices itself is great, and stuff that has value returning from the 'yard repeatedly is great, so we've got Burnished Hart and Solemn Simulacrum. If we get one early it can help move us along, but really we don't need to ramp, we just need to hit our drops. We've also got an Ashnod's Altar, but again, it's more a sacrifice outlet than a mana source. It can help, though. For mana, we've got some duals, some basics, and some utility. The two worth noting specially are Kher Keep and Springjack Pasture. Both create tokens with excess mana. We can't sacrifice the tokens and get Judith's effect, but they make great chump blockers and sometimes we don't mind if the thing we sacrifice is a token.

We can draw a lot of cards. Most of the way we do it is along the lines of Grim Haruspex. Whenever we sac one of our nontoken creatures, we draw a card. Sweet. Harvester of Souls cares about all nontoken creatures. Midnight Reaper is a mean Grim Haruspex. Priest of Forgotten Gods? Another reason why we make Kobolds and Goats. Vampiric Rites gains us a life and draws us a card, and all we have to do is sac a dude.

The goal here is to pile on the Aristocrats-style do-damage-whenever-things-hit-the-yard effects and recycle our creatures. We've got a bunch of cheap stuff that gets itself back, like Bloodghast and Bloodsoaked Champion. Each one is a little different, but they all just keep coming back. We've also got other ways to buy things back, like Phyrexian Reclamation, Palace Siege (always set it to Khans) or that Apprentice Necromancer. The Necromancer is particularly nifty because we sac it and buy something back. Then we automatically sacrifice that, meaning two Judith activations. Unfortunately, it can't target itself, because targets are chosen before costs are paid, but still. With four mana, a Burnished Hart in the 'yard, and a Necromancer on the field, we'll do two damage and get two lands for our trouble.

We've also got cards like Vicious Shadows, which is huge and obnoxious and can punish Commander players who like to do things we don't want them to do, like draw cards. Open the Graves is pretty great; our Reassembling Skeleton comes with a stack of shambling cohorts. Desecrated Tomb seemed worth it with all the things popping out of our 'yard all the time.

One of the most fun little tricks is with Witch's Oven and Cauldron Familiar. We can sac the Familiar to the Oven for 1, then sac the Food token to get the Familiar back. We'll do one damage to everyone, an extra to something, and gain a life. Then we can do it again the next turn.

We've got a trio of Planeswalkers to help us reach our goals by keeping our opponents off us. Liliana makes blockers and sacrifice fodder, plus can force sacrifices of everyone and ultimately will wreck everyone else's board. Angrath forces discards for players trying to assemble combos and Threatens creatures we can then sacrifice. Tibalt simply helps our game-plan by not letting our opponents gain any life, which is great when we're trying to win in little bites.

We also have a Bedevil to deal with whatever. Attrition and Shriekmaw can both do work, and Shriekmaw sacs itself on its way in. We can steal stuff occasionally - Claim the Firstborn is a great new Threaten effect - but mostly we hope to chump-block and keep the board clear with sacrifice effects. Mob Rule can be helpful with that, and can occasionally be amazing if someone does something silly like make 36 5/5 Elementals. Mob Rule, sac them all to Ashnod's Altar, 36 damage to you, I've got 72 mana now?

We've also got some one-off ways to buy stuff back. Victimize and Blood for Bones are both excellent deals. Ultimately it'll come down to the creatures that buy themselves back, but we'll want to get some extra value from the ones that don't and these kinds of spells help us do that. And, of course, we have a bevy of ways to sacrifice creatures; Judith doesn't give us a way to do that, so we have to make due with things like Spawning Pit. Sticking a Skullclamp on a Nether Traitor works too. Lightning Skelemental is worth particular notice as well, because it is an excellent recursion target.

Oh, and Squee in both forms is awesome in this deck.

Judith, the Scourge Diva | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper


It is possible we need more removal. We've got Plaguecrafter, but Fleshbag Maurader and Merciless Executioner both landed on the cutting room floor, which may be a mistake with all the back and forth out of the graveyard. They can sacrifice themselves to their own ability, too, which makes them even better. We also don't have any mass removal. Honestly, something like Last One Standing could be pretty amazing in this deck. Sac our entire board for value, cast Last One Standing, then Threaten whatever's left, attack with it, and sac that too? Seems good. I like Costly Plunder in this deck, but there's plenty of draw, so that may be a swap worth making. As for even more removal, further testing will be required.

Puppeteer Clique is an amazing card, and there might be something to leaning into either that effect - stealing from graveyards, like Sepulchral Primordial - or more Threaten effects. Stealing other peoples' stuff still gets us nontoken creatures, so we get the Judith benefit. This deck might want some focus in one direction or the other. There's also an argument for Mimic Vat, which won't help with Judith but likes all the token synergy and is great with creatures with good ETB effects.

Either way, there's fun to be had here, assembling various combinations of effects and (most importantly) doing a bunch of damage by sacrificing something that just comes back next turn.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one. What would you add or change? Would you run more removal? Let us all know! And heck, if someone builds it and tries it out, let us know what needs tweaking.

I considered a Greven, Predator Captain deck pretty seriously. Give him Lifelink, Threaten other people's stuff, attack like crazy, buff him up by sacrificing the Threatened creature, then gain back the life with the Lifelink, and draw a bunch of cards along the way. Because the goal would be to win with Commander damage, one could fill the deck with all the Threaten effects plus a ton of removal and pillowfort-style cards. Sort of a control deck with this massive scary finisher at the helm.

Next week: Gruul. Definitely not creatureless.

Thanks for reading.

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