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Let's Get Better At Rakdos Anvil


... Or Rakdos Artifacts.

... I guess some people call it Rakdos Control?

... "Rakdos Sacrifice" evokes Cat-Oven pictures of another time, place, and even format, though; doesn't it?


If you consider more aggressive builds of "Rakdos Artifacts" and the burlier battlefield Planeswalkers of "Rakdos Control" as a single archetype, it would overall be a Top-4 deck in terms of metagame popularity.

Personally, I think that the concept that these are different decks is kind of dubious to begin with. One deck has a Blood Fountain and a couple more Modal Double-Faced spells; the other two copies of Lolth, Spider Queen and a trio of Sozenkan Smelters.

As you might predict, the rest of the key cards are identical. Oni-Cult Anvil, Experimental Synthesizer, and Deadly Dispute are the headliners.

What actually got me a little interested in playing it myself, though, was the light Innistrad: Crimson Vow Vampires sub-theme. Rakdos Vampires in and of itself never broke through as a Tier One deck in Standard, despite heavy deliberate support and one of the handsomest Legendary Creatures as a potential centerpiece:

Florian, Voldaren Scion

... But you get a lot of your Vampires itch scratched by its adoption of Voldaren Epicure and Bloodtithe Harvester. Certainly Rakdos Artifacts makes better use of Blood tokens than any Crimson Vow-era deck.

All my play and recommendations come from working with the following two decks as dual bases. Again, they are very similar to one another in most ways. For reference:

Rakdos Artifacts by Salvatto

On a preference basis I just like Gul_Dukat's mana a little more. I think Shatterskull Smashing // Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass has always been kind of bad in most creature decks; and I'd really just rather my lands came into play untapped most of the time.

That said, on a spells basis, Gul_Dukat commits the bigger sin by playing Lolth, Spider Queen, which I think reduces one's ability to play optimally and make measured choices. And this is coming from me, possibly Lolth's biggest fan.

I've probably gone on record at one time or another saying I thought Lolth was better than both Edgar and The Wandering Emperor; and even asked CGB and Arjuna (the first time I appeared on their podcast) if they thought a random card off the top of their deck or a one loyalty Planeswalker already in play was better, when comparing our Lady the Spider Queen with now-banned Alrund's Epiphany.

I really, really, like Lolth.

... But I think there is a good reason not to play her in this strategy, per se. Because I like Top 8 lists, you can find out more come Number 5.

The Top 8 Tips and Tricks to Understand, and Win More (or against!) Rakdos Artifacts in Standard

  1. Rakdos is an outstanding anti-Runes deck: A few weeks ago I said that one of the reasons Izzet Mill was such a viable option was just because of its ability to counter-play Naya Runes. Rakdos doesn't have a Fading Hope, but Infernal Grasp (combined with Power Word Kill and Hagra Mauling // Hagra Broodpit in some versions) does a similar number on a gigantic Selesnya creature wearing however many Auras or +1/+1 counters. Voltage Surge at one mana is outstanding counter-play; and the ability to hit for four at no additional mana (but sometimes an incidental bonus) makes keeping Jukai Naturalist in play very difficult.
  2. It may be an even better anti-White Weenie deck. Most versions of Mono-White have only a couple of copies of Adeline, Resplendent Cathar at 4 toughness; as we've already said, 4 toughness is not a high water mark for this deck's removal to meet. An embarrassing number of White's creatures, including the vaunted Luminarch Aspirant and conditionally backbreaking Elite Spellbinder have only 1 toughness. That means that something as miniscule as an Oni-Cult Anvil Construct can rumble effectively in combat. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can effectively tax some draws, but the Rakdos mana costs are so low, even Thalia can prove negligible. For that matter, Elite Spellbinder tends to be more effective as an attacker than a weapon of massive disruption. But the real secret is in the Rakdos ability to ignore lifelink. This comes up in multiple matchups, but because the White Weenie deck has such a prominent large lifelink attacker, it may be the best example. Rakdos has a ton of chump fodder, and can usually make however many lame blockers. I mean you have your choice of Constructs, Constructs, Spiders, and Samurai before even considering real creatures. So, getting hit isn't the problem usually. But the opponent gaining a ton of life can be! However persistent sources of self-sacrifice like Oni-Cult Anvil itself and Deadly Dispute can keep the opposing Intrepid Adversary from ever being able to land a lifelinking punch! Go ahead and put your Construct in front of the big scary Scout and Drain the opponent for one before lifelink can prove a problem. Two notes on this point: Lifelink PLUS trample? Now you have more of a problem; you probably actually have to kill that. Second? Even if I love the White Weenie matchup from the Rakdos side, I would be the first to point out it can be very reliant on The Meathook Massacre, so I would err toward the Salvatto sideboard, which includes two more copies.
  3. Despite the name and key card, it is often better NOT to tap your Oni-Cult Anvil, like at all. This one took a lot of play and experimentation to get used to. First of all, the Construct-making side of Oni-Cult Anvil is super non intuitive. If you have however many Anvils in play you can lose an artifact in almost any fashion - make mana with a Treasure, discard to a Blood token, unexpected household accident - to trigger ALL of your Anvils. Boom! Headshot! Now you have like three Constructs even though you tapped zero Anvils. Okay, that was weird. Now later, often on the opponent's turn, you actually have to have a reason to tap your Anvil(s). You are getting a small life swing (and maybe an extra trigger if you have The Meathook Massacre on the battlefield) but you are usually giving up a permanent resource to get your ping-Drain. Think about that for a second. Will your 1/1 Construct do more than one point over the course of its lifetime? Save you more than one point in chump blocking? This is especially something to watch when the opponent has The Meathook Massacre! I know that it goes against everything you've probably been brought up to believe, but sometimes you just let them pass to your turn without tapping your Anvil.
  4. Anyway, the Average Anvil Tap is Truly, Madly, Deeply... Unexciting. On the other hand, probably the mode use of Oni-Cult Anvil is to attack with a 1/1 Construct then sacrifice it for a whopping one more post combat. You'll literally trade a tapped 1/1 for an untapped 1/1 and get one Drain out of it. Yes I know I have made the key card in this strategy seem like vibranium fireworks over the past two bullet points, but that's just how the deck grinds it out.
  5. The most elegant card in the deck is Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Outside of the Treasure add-on from this card's preliminary Goblin token, it's also an oddball. Not a Vampire; not an artifact. Just this weird Saga that costs more than almost everything else! Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki is my backdoor reason not to play Lolth. Almost everything in the deck costs one or two. That means that if you have two lands on the battlefield and one in your hand, you have some pretty clear sailing with Experimental Synthesizer. I learned quickly, and the hard way, that you need to allot for potentially flipping Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, especially given how unbeatable that card can be if left unchecked! Lolth makes playing the Synthesizer unnecessarily stressful; so, I say just replace her with a couple of copies of Tainted Adversary from the opposite list and call it a day. Anyway, that card is bonkers with Kiki-Jiki.
  6. This deck has a lot of different kinds of tokens and asks for a prohibitive amount of bookkeeping. Corollary: Two of my favorite Reflection of Kiki-Jiki targets are Bloodtithe Harvester and Tainted Adversary. Bloodtithe Harvester combo is actually a good example of elegant play with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. The opponent might have a high toughness creature and you might be showing no way to deal with it. But the turn after Kiki-Jiki comes active you might play Bloodtithe Harvester and make a Blood token. Now copy it and get another Blood token. If you already had one Blood you can take out 6 toughness; but regardless you can go from zero options to 4 toughness in three easy mana. Doing this turn after turn has the weird effect of not only killing increasingly large and dangerous opposing creatures at the cost of literally one mana... But amassing a ton of Blood for other purposes that you can cash in later. Tainted Adversary is potentially even more exciting. Because its zombie-making trigger upon entering the battlefield, rather than cast or kicker, you can make 2-4 zombies every turn cycle just by copying a vanilla Adversary. The even better part is that you'll be attacking with a 3/4 or 4/5 deathtouch that the opponent will be loathe to try to stop. Doing this turn after turn has the weird effect of either putting the opponent in The Abyss or making their blocking life increasingly stressful and amassing a ton of Zombies that you can cash in later (ideally with The Meathook Massacre in play).
  7. Even the "Control" version of Rakdos is generally too quick for real control. The casting costs are so low that you can usually empty your hand but somehow have sweeper backup long before the opponent is having dreams of hitting five mana. While not as fast a Mono-White, putting the opponent into a spot where Oni-Cult Anvil or The Meathook Massacre will prove inescapable can be quickly accomplished.
  8. Rakdos may be the perfect deck for good players. I've long preached that every decision you make either brings you closer or pushes you further away from your goal. This deck has more decisions than every other deck in Standard, by a mile. I'd go so far as to say that any matchup where Rakdos is one of the participants will be abnormally weighted toward the better player. A great player will have countless chances to inch closer to victory, but a poor player will have extra doors to leave open; the opponent can walk right through.

Bonus! Watch your mulligans more than you would with most other decks. Raw land count is not the only factor. A single Red mana to get the party started with Voldaren Epicure will mean more than you might know before sleeving up the first time. This deck has not only one of the lowest curves in the format, but can fix its hand at an unparalleled

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