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Lore and Consequences: Rakdos vs. Kraj


Entropy may be unpredictable, but it can also be quite creative.

Jayemdae Tome by Mark Tedin

Few formats so deftly blend flavor and function as Commander, where you literally recruit a historical figure to lead your army. But what's the connection between these legendary cards and their actual legends? It is possible to build decks in such a way that we can see these stories play out in the course of a game? Or, if we prefer to take a more active hand, meddle with the fate of our heroes and villains?

Today, we'll delve into the ancient lore of Magic: The Gathering and fuse it with our deck-building. The resulting Frankenstein's monster will be a pair of fully playable Commander decks, complete with themes and synergies, that also recount a story from Magic's fabled past. All card and deck-building choices will serve to tell the tale, allowing you to regale your playgroup (while you simultaneously crush them).

So, join me, brave brewer, on this quest to recreate the past. And win while doing so.

Thus far, we've explored Magic's first foray into the cityscape of Ravnica, in a time long before a certain planeswalker took up the mantle to become Jace, the Living Guildpact. The finale of the original Ravnica trilogy is straight out of a Toho film. Here there be monsters!

Rakdos, the Showstopper by Viktor Titov

Some men want to watch the world burn. He lights the match.

Experiment Kraj by Mark Tedin

When the boundaries of natural selection are deemed too slow.

But before these two Kaiju-esque titans clash, some rules of engagement...

1. Function comes first:

Our mission is to design playable Commander decks that not only detail story arcs, but also seek to win the game. Each card must serve a functional role in the deck we're building. Ragamuffyn actually portrays the disturbing fate of a young character in the "Dissension" novel, but its power level is too finicky to make work consistently without going all-in on Hellbent.


Remember Sophia from the Walking Dead? It's that with a circus motif.

2. Flavor still dictates card selection:

A card's connection to Magic lore may disqualify it from this experiment. The notorious Cyclonic Rift is powerful, but also intrinsically linked to the Izzet Guild, with their logo literally stamped right onto it. Cultists on Innistrad would, no doubt, make great use of Rakdos Riteknife, but the flavor is undeniably attached to its Guild. Cards can only reference planes/characters they're organically linked to. Depending on how much "narrative vs. competitive" matters to you personally, I leave it up to you to tinker with the builds as you see fit. Commander is all about creativity, after all.

Rakdos Riteknife

Lyzolda's even in the dang artwork

3. That said, if a card could exist on another plane, it's totally up for grabs:

Today's tale may not involve Amonkhet, but I see no reason something like Scavenger Grounds is out of bounds. Such an environment could feasibly appear in many worlds, and the graveyard hate it provides is an important tool for a Commander deck to have in its pocket. We're allowing wiggle-room when picking cards that could feasibly slide into any narrative. Parcelbeast may be an Ikoria native, but its Mutate ability aligns perfectly with Simic form and flavor.


Creature? Check. Ramp? Check. Card draw? Of course!

With our rules and regulations covered, let's finish off this trilogy with a battle of the giant monsters! Believe it or not, Rakdos and Kraj won't be the only titans toppling buildings.

Warning: Spoilers for both "Ravnica: City of Guilds" and "Guildpact" are included, so if you've not yet caught up on those books, I recommend you first get up to speed with our previous entries in the series:

Lore and Consequences: Szedak vs Agrus Kos

Lore and Consequences: Teysa vs Niv Mizzet

The events of "Dissension" are far too densely packed to cover in full, so I'll hit the highlights. In brief, the novel runs on two central themes. Number One: Conspiracies are everywhere, much like the other two Ravnica novels. It seems the Guilds really can't help but scheme away, night and day. Number Two, our theme for the day: GIANT MONSTER BATTLES!

Zilortha, Strength Incarnate
Amazingly, the official giant-monster set wasn't released until 15 yrs later!

The events of "Guildpact" laid the foundation for the chaos ahead, as "Dissension" begins in the ruins of Utvara. Previously, the Orzhov Syndicate and a rogue Izzet scientist attempted to overthrow Niv Mizzet, Parun of the Izzet League, by breeding dragons of their own. This plan didn't go so well, as Agrus Kos and company intervened. The day was won for our heroes, but the battle proved lethal for poor Agrus, who perished from his injuries.

Yore-Tiller Nephilim
Ink-Treader Nephilim

Dune-Brood Nephilim
Glint-Eye Nephilim
Witch-Maw Nephilim
Our old pals.

Once the dust settles and everyone moves on, the decrepit laboratory that once attempted to hatch dragons is discovered by a bizarre lot: the Nephilim. These ancient creatures have wandered Ravnica for eons, before the founding of the Guildpact. Few know much about them or what they're capable of, and thus most stay away. Fortunately, these beasts have stuck mainly to the wastelands. But said wastelands now serve as the burial ground to a trio of dead dragons, one of whom never hatched. Once the Nephilim move in, they waste no time in feeding on the egg. Raw dragon blood. Raw power. And as it turns out, a catalyst to incredible growth. The Nephilim grow to full-on Kaiju size. And begin acting as such. Doesn't take long for the buildings to start toppling.

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
Teysa, Orzhov Scion
Feather, the Redeemed
Get ready for an onslaught of characters.

The mighty Niv-Mizzet flies to the scene, giving us Giant Monster Battle #1: Niv-Mizzet vs the Nephilim! Niv handily takes out two of Nephilim out on his own, but begins getting overwhelmed by the remaining three. Being a super-genius with an insane intellect and equally fickle sense of patience, Niv simply shrugs and takes off. This leaves the Izzet League without a Guildmaster while a trio of Nephilim still rampage.

Meanwhile, Orzhov lawyer Teysa, Orzhov Scion has been summoned to an Azorius courthouse to represent an imprisoned Feather, the Redeemed (though not so redeemed at this point). Feather has been AWOL for years, completely absent from "Guildpact". She returns to Ravnica just as Agrus lay dying. If that weren't bad enough, she brings some seriously bad news about the rest of the Boros angels and their ship, the Parhelion I: the ghost of Szadek, Lord of Secrets has slain Boros Parun Razia, and the Parhelion I is currently on a crash-course to the Azorius Senate Hall.

Razia, Boros Archangel
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran

In a rare bit of good news, the spirit of Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran, now a ghostly guard for the Azorius (poor guy can't catch a vacation, can he?) recognizes Feather, and the two friends are reunited. But like everything else in "Dissension", more bad news has to follow. Azorius Guildmaster Grand Arbiter Augustine IV reveals to the two that the magic of the Guildpact is now in peril. Agrus's arrest of Dimir Parun Szadek, Lord of Secrets years earlier may have saved the Selesnya Conclave, but removing a Parun from the terms of the Guildpact has put the validity of the magical contract in peril. Augustine also assures our heroes that how Mr. Szadek escaped Azorius control in the first place is not important. Not fishy at all.

Rakdos the Defiler
Lyzolda, the Blood Witch

Pressing as this may be, what with giant Nephilim and vampire ghosts, even more ichor is about to hit the fan. Rakdos general Lyzolda, the Blood Witch has also helped herself to some of the dragon-corpse juice from Utvara and uses it to awaken a slumbering Rakdos the Defiler, Parun of the Rakdos Cult. Her intent is to control the demon. It goes about as well as you'd think, with the ultimate result being a giant pissed off Rakdos rampaging across the city and a very dead Lyzolda. Luckily (kinda) for the citizens of Ravnica, there's already monsters wrecking havoc, so enter Giant Monster Battle #2: Rakdos vs the Nephilim!

Experiment Kraj
Momir Vig, Simic Visionary

And if you thought we were done with conspiracies, you'd be wrong. Simic Guildmaster Momir Vig, Simic Visionary has been handing out free cytoplasts all across Ravnica, and while the stuff does wonders for biological enhancement - a magical GNC - it's not distributed out of generosity. In truth, Momir is cooking up his masterpiece: Experiment Kraj, an ooze who will absorb all the dispersed cytoplasts upon its release, growing massive in size and establishing the Simic as the dominant guild. And yes, it has dead dragon goop in it, too. They really should've guarded that stuff. The city is already overrun by Kaiju, why not add another?

Momir sends Kraj to the party, giving us Giant Monster Battle #3!

And it's right here that we'll pick up our battle today! Unfortunately, the non-Legendary nature of the Nephilim mean they cannot join the fight. It's my sincere hope that Wizards of the Coast one day provides some errata to these beasties. They already feel like Legends, and are weird enough to deserve a shot as generals. But until then, it's a titanic demon of hedonistic doom against an ever-growing, ever-evolving force of nature. Let the battle begin!

Get ready for battle - Choose your character!

Rakdos, the Showstopper

Showstopper by Steve Prescott

Rakdos, the Showstopper | Commander | Matthew Lotti

Initial plans for the big daddy demon involved the classic Rakdos the Defiler, but in a 4-player format like Commander, the drawback was simply too severe. If the sacrifice trigger hit all opponents, then we'd be talking. Fortunately, Rakdos, the Showstopper brings a similarly devastating impact as his older cousin. One we can build around to take full advantage of. As such, our deck packs many a demon and devil to dodge the wrath-effect. In addition, our circus of the damned includes a variety of sacrifice effects to ensure whatever's left alive doesn't stay that way for long.

Master of Cruelties
Sire of Insanity
Archfiend of Depravity

Twisted Troupe: Our army is composed of up two creature varieties. On one hand, we've a nasty assortment of demons to beat down for damage and sow disruption. These big nasties aren't our only win conditions, but they can certainly rise to the challenge. Master of Cruelties, Demon of Wailing Agonies, Embodiment of Agonies, Archfiend of Depravity, Sire of Insanity, and Desecration Demon all hit very hard and can close out games in short order.

Lyzolda, the Blood Witch
Midnight Reaper
Mayhem Devil

Our second lot revolves around the sacrifice-theme. Lyzolda, the Blood Witch, Grim Haruspex, Midnight Reaper, and Harvester of Souls all offer card advantage for killing off our own team. Such fodder often does additional harm along the way. Fleshbag Marauder, Plaguecrafter, Abyssal Gatekeeper, Demon's Disciple, Mayhem Devil, and Zurzoth, Chaos Rider all either take opposing creatures with them or take advantage of things dying regularly. By the time Rakdos, the Showstopper shows up, there might not be that many enemy creatures to blow up! That's a good problem to have.

Curtains' Call
Promise of Power
Theater of Horrors

It's Showtime: Our arsenal continues along this destructive path via the likes of Terminate, Rack and Ruin, Bedevil, Curtains' Call, Malicious Affliction, Blasphemous Act, Last One Standing, Rakdos Riteknife, and Void. The cult of Rakdos doesn't leave a whole lot of folks still standing after a show. Card advantage comes in the darkly thematic forms of Underworld Connections, Demonic Tutor, Light up the Stage, Promise of Power, and Theater of Horrors.

Grave Betrayal
Captive Audience

When it comes to win conditions, we've a few avenues outside of demonic hordes. Insurrection is a classic "Oops, I win" card that's been killing players for almost twenty years. With all the creatures dying, Grave Betrayal is bound to build you quite the undead army. And although it only targets a single unfortunate soul, Captive Audience is too much malicious fun to not include.

Burning Sands
Helm of the Host
Thrilling Encore

Supporting Acts: We also included additional tools to make our sacrifice engines all the more devastating. Burning Sands will make an entire table hate you all on its own. With Rakdos, the Showstopper having a killer ETB ability, Voyager Staff and Helm of the Host are brought in to ensure we get repeatable wrath effects. Topping things off are a few role-playing tools: Rakdos Charm to punish token decks, Disrupt Decorum to sow further chaos (and damage) around the table, and Thrilling Encore to give us one last shot at victory if the curtains begin to close.

Rakdos Signet
Culling the Weak
Burnt Offering

The Big Top: Finally, we round out our deck with the typical assortment of on-color mana rocks: Arcane Signet, Rakdos Signet, Talisman of Indulgence, Sol Ring, etc. Not too many surprises from our land base either, with classics such as Graven Cairn, Molten Slagheap, Rakdos Carnarium helping us hit our color-intensive spells. A synergistic source of quick-mana comes in the form of twin sacrifice outlets Culling the Weak and Burnt Offering, both of which can help ramp out a large demon while triggering various sacrifice payoffs.

Rakdos, the Showstopper is by no means subtle, nor is he much willing to leave creatures alive. What opposition does his slimy adversary bring to the table, and can it withstand the onslaught?

Experiment Kraj

Unexpected Results by Mike Bierek

Experiment Kraj | Commander | Matthew Lotti

If there were ever a force that could defy natural selection, it'd be Experiment Kraj. Designed to grow, consume, and master all there is along the way, this purple monstrosity redefines the concept of primordial ooze. Kraj literally learns from a critical mass of creatures, recognizing their cytoplast enhancements (+1/+1 counters) and absorbing the knowledge back into itself. It's a wonderful portrayal of the beast's intended storyline purpose. The Simic Combine happens to specialize in creatures with counters and activated abilities, giving Experiment Kraj plenty to work with.

Biogenic Ooze
Combine Guildmage
Cytoplast Manipulator

Laboratory Specimens: Our strategy is very creature-based, but mainly in regards to +1/+1 counters combined with spicy activated abilities. Troops featuring this combo, and the added utility that comes with it, include Sporeback Troll, Biogenic Ooze, Capricopian, Combine Guildmage, Cryptic Trilobite, Cytoplast Manipulator, Cytoplast Root-Kin, Gyre Sage, Fertilid, Novijen Sages, Plaxcaster Frogling, Simic Manipulator, Spike Weaver, and Zameck Guildmage. Other creatures like Murkfiend Liege and Evolution Sage may not grant +1/+1 counters, themselves, but their abilities certainly amplify their dispersal across the team. Additional sources of Kraj-synergy include Glimmerbell, Horseshoe Crab, Beguiler of Wills, and Creeperhulk, which require a bit of extra work to get the +1/+1 counter on them, but that's easy enough for Experiment Kraj to do.

Renegade Krasis
Momir Vig, Simic Visionary
Fathom Mage

This wide array of +1/+1 counter manipulation also synergizes with large variety of threats. These creatures may not have activated abilities for Kraj to learn, but can grow very big, very fast. Examples include Managorger Hydra, Ravenous Slime, Renegade Krasis, and Standard all-star Hydroid Krasis. And of course, this being Blue/Green, we'll want plenty of card-advantage creatures to keep our hand full. Enter Momir Vig, Simic Visionary, Parcelbeast, Cold-Eyed Selkie, and Fathom Mage.

Simic Ascendancy
Bred for the Hunt
Magewright's Stone

Test Samples: Seeing as our creatures heavily lean into counter-synergies, we start off our non-creature arsenal with the likes of Bred for the Hunt, Evolutionary Escalation, Give // Take, Inspiring Call, and Simic Ascendancy. A surplus of activated abilities also make Training Grounds, Magewright's Stone, and Thousand-Year Elixir appealing tools. With mass-removal being so pervasive in Commander and our deck being heavily creature-centric, we'll want to keep a full hand to protect our troops and/or rebuild quickly, so we also bring in Heroic Intervention, Worldly Tutor, Decisive Denial, Guardian Project, Worldly Tutor, and Shared Summons.

Biomass Mutation

Once we've grown a large enough army of creatures, a mana-intensive Biomass Mutation should provide sufficient oomph to kill our opponents, especially as it only changes the base-power of the creatures, stacking the counters on top of the new power/toughness rather than overwriting them.

Medicinal Supplements: Supporting spells include a flavorful 'removal via mutation' theme in the form of Beast Within, Rapid Hybridization, Pongify, and Incubation // Incongruity. Simic houses some of the best ramp in Magic, so we happily include the likes of Three Visits, Migration Path, Growth Spiral, Cultivate, and Rampant Growth to accelerate our large creatures out.

Research Facilities: Traditional Green ramp aside, we also bring in mana rocks Talisman of Curiosity, Arcane Signet, Thought Vessel to keep overly-full hands, and Simic Locket for some emergency card-draw. Our land base is made up of the usual Simic contenders - Breeding Pool, Waterlogged Grove, Flooded Grove, Rejuvenating Springs, etc. - as well as the nifty utility lands Alchemist's Refuge and Novijen, Heart of Progress, both of which play well with ample creatures.

Novijen, Heart of Progress by Martina Pilcerova

In closing, we've run through the stats of each titan. We've reviewed their special powers, their allies and abilities, and the lore that brought them to this arena. What happens in the climactic showdown is up to you. Will a fiery tyrant burn all in his path, or does a hungry slime feast on a demonic dinner? We'll continue to explore new realms and legends in future installments, and if you've any recommendations or requests, feel free to let me know in the comments.

What characters and stories would you like to see next?

Thanks for reading, and may your Rhystic Study never be paid for.

-Matt Lotti-


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