This Standard format has a lot going on in it. Everything from Mono-Red Aggro to various three and even four color planeswalker decks have been putting up results at major events. Today I would like to give a breakdown of the archetype that has captured my attention in a competitive setting for the last couple of weeks:
Rakdos Aristocrats | War Standard | Jeff Hoogland
- Creatures (32)
- 2 Footlight Fiend
- 3 God-Eternal Bontu
- 3 Judith, the Scourge Diva
- 4 Dreadhorde Butcher
- 4 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Gutterbones
- 4 Mayhem Devil
- 4 Priest of Forgotten Gods
- 4 Rix Maadi Reveler
- Planeswalkers (3)
- 3 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
- Spells (2)
- 2 Heartfire
For those not familiar with the history of this deck name - in Magic "Aristocrats" decks are archetypes that sacrifice their own creatures for some sort of positive effect. This name comes from the cards Cartel Aristocrat and Falkenrath Aristocrat that were present in a Mardu colored deck that did this during the Innistrad-RTR Standard season many years ago.
In the case of this particular deck we have two primary sacrifice outlets to generate powerful effects from:
Over the course of Magic's history there are often a variety of "must answer threats" that have seen play. Rarely however are these must answer cards delivered in a two converted mana cost package like Priest of Forgotten Gods is. In any matchup that resolves around creatures staying in play, Priest of Forgotten Gods often results in fairly easy wins in any game we get to untap with it. In combination with our creatures that do not mind dying it often completely decimates an opponent's board in just a turn or two.
God-Eternal Bontu is a card that not only creates a large board presence with its 5/6 body, but also allows us to convert unwanted resources into something potentially useful in the mid-late game. Most notably because Bontu can sacrifice any permanent type, it insulates us against flooding in the late game by turning lands into draws. In addition to being large, the fact that Bontu has menace means that it cannot simply be chumped blocked. This makes the God-Eternal even harder to race for other creature decks.
We have a few different ways to get extra value out of sacrificing our various cards in this deck:
Mayhem Devil most notably triggers when any player sacrifices anything. This means when we utilize Priest of Forgotten Gods against someone with a creature we end up getting three Devil triggers - two from the things we sacrificed and one from theirs. Also notable is the fact that devil triggers on any card type being sacrificed, which in combination with God-Eternal Bontu can set us up to throw away all of our lands to deal the last chunk of damage to our opponent.
Tibalt, Rakish Instigator is a main deck hate card for life gain, that also provides multiple permanents in a single card to sacrifice. Over the course of two turns he provides for an entire priest activation and with Bontu he turns into three cards by sacrificing both his demons and himself. Tibalt is especially potent against decks looking to Command the Dreadhorde by gaining a bunch of life.
Judith, the Scourge Diva is one of the cornerstones of this archetype. Not only does she staple extra value onto almost every creature we sacrifice, but the fact that she increases the power of our threats means that she helps us lean into executing our baseline aggressive gameplan.
Speaking of our aggressive gameplan - one of the things I like the most about this archetype is the fact it plays a variety of low cost and haste threats to allow it to get on the board to pressure planeswalkers efficiently:
Gutterbones is a card that not only synergizes well with Priest of Forgotten Gods, but also is just a two-power threats we can play on the first turn to start reducing our opponent's health total. Fanatical Firebrand is a threat / interaction split card that scales up well in conjunction with things like Judith and Mayhem Devil to clear out even large threats on the other side of the table.
Dreadhorde Butcher is easily the card that felt like it pushed this aggressive deck up over the top though. This is a card that quickly runs away with the game when it comes down early and even in the late game its trigger alongside things like Judith allow it to be a 2-drop that can still have a meaningful impact.
Finally we round out our important spells with two copies of Heartfire. This card not only acts as a bit of additional main deck removal, but also serves as potent reach to steal games that might have otherwise gotten away from us. Along with our various effects that deal damage when creatures die, Heartfire often deals five or more points of damage.
The following is how I would sideboard with the above list against some of the more common matchups in this Standard format:
VS Mono-Red Aggro
This matchup is close with Red Aggro generally being a bit favored. Their best card is Experimental Frenzy, while ours is God-Eternal Bontu. Frenzy often runs away with the game alongside all of their cheap spells, while Bontu is tough for them to remove and closes the game out very quickly for us.
VS Jeskai Super Friends
This matchup feels generally favorable for us. Their planeswalker passives have little impact on us and we have a variety of cheap creatures and haste threats to pressure their walkers off the table. Their best card for keeping up against us is Deafening Clarion, which we can often snag with Duress in the post board games.
VS Command the Dreadhorde
Generally speaking the only card that we care about out of the Dreadhorde deck is Wildgrowth Walker. So long as we can either remove the Walker or prevent it from gaining life with Tibalt, we can often run away with the game.
VS White Weenie
This matchup is very good for us. We have a lot of cheap creatures to prevent their early aggression and they have very little removal to take our Priest of Forgotten Gods off of the table. A single Priest activation alongside Devil or Judith is generally enough to put most games out of reach for them.
VS R/G Monsters
This is another decent matchup for us. Again they tend to lack enough removal to keep our Priest off of the table which quickly runs away with most creature focused games.
VS Esper Hero
This matchup can be hard depending on how much respect the Esper player has for aggressive decks. If they have copies of Cry of the Carnarium, Moment of Craving, and Basilica Bell-Haunt we will have an uphill battle. If they have more expensive top end threats, we can often get under them before they get setup.
This matchup is pretty reasonable for us. Not only do we have aggressive draws that just win quickly, but we also have a variety of ways to deal our last few points of damage outside of combat.
Finally I would like to touch on some cards that I have tried in this shell that I think might still be a reasonable inclusion, but I am uncertain how exactly to fit them in:
Midnight Reaper is an exceptionally powerful card alongside Priest of Forgotten Gods. That being said, there are enough aggressive decks in the format right now that the life loss you have to take in order to draw cards from Reaper can often end up being a liability. If I was expecting to play against less Red Aggro, I would definitely work some of these back into the decklist.
Rekindling Phoenix is a card that has fantastic quality as the game goes long, but because it costs 4 mana it often ends up clunky in our opening hand. Overall I think Bontu ends up being the ideal top end for our aggressive deck, but if I was expecting to play against lot of midrange creature decks like Monsters I would probably work some Phoenix back into my 75 because it is great at offense and defense there.
I played an iteration of this archetype in the recent MCQ on Magic Arena to a 4-2 finish. In June I have a weekend with two Standard 5k events I am playing in that I intend to tune this archetype further for. If you have any suggestions for things to try or have a question about something that I did not cover above, please let me know in a comment below.
Also if you would like to see this deck in action, you can find some gameplay videos of it on my website here.