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Rakdos Aristocrats: It's No Joke

In my tournament Magic life, I’ve ALWAYS been the guy to tweak and play the best deck. From PPTQs to Grand Prixs, I’m the guy playing GB Delirium, Temur Marvel, 4C Scarab God, Energy, Esper Hero, and Bant Golos. My philosophy has always been to force others to beat me while I play the best deck.

For the first time ever, I just can’t do it anymore. I’ve been literally and figuratively beaten down by a never-ending stream of 3/3 Elks and animated lands. Oko, Thief of Joy has broken my will. In desperation, I’ve been searching for something, anything, that can consistently beat U/G/x Food while still having game against the (very few) other decks in the format.

I found it.

Rakdos Aristocrats

Maindeck

  • 8 Swamp (ANA) 58
  • 5 Mountain (ANA) 59
  • 2 Castle Locthwain (ELD) 241
  • 4 Fabled Passage (ELD) 244
  • 4 Blood Crypt (RNA) 245
  • 4 Gutterbones (RNA) 76
  • 4 Cauldron Familiar (ELD) 81
  • 4 Priest of Forgotten Gods (RNA) 83
  • 4 Mayhem Devil (WAR) 204
  • 4 Midnight Reaper (GRN) 77
  • 2 Lazotep Reaver (WAR) 96
  • 2 Judith, the Scourge Diva (RNA) 185
  • 4 Witch's Oven (ELD) 237
  • 4 Angrath's Rampage (WAR) 185
  • 4 Claim the Firstborn (ELD) 118
  • 1 Mask of Immolation (M20) 151

Sideboard

  • 4 Duress (M19) 94
  • 3 Noxious Grasp (M20) 110
  • 4 Dreadhorde Butcher (WAR) 194
  • 2 Embereth Shieldbreaker (ELD) 122
  • 2 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame (M20) 126

I want to start by giving credit to Pascal Maynard, as one of his posts about Rakdos Aristocrats got me thinking about changing up a few of the cards in the deck, and the results have been even better than they were before.

I’m climbing quickly and winning at an absurd rate with the deck. As of this writing, I’m 13-2 on the Best-of-3 Arena ladder, with 7 total game losses. This includes an astounding 100% game win rate over my last ten games since shaving a land and all of my cavaliers (more below).

I want to say something that I usually don’t consider when choosing a deck, but has become increasingly relevant to me in these dark Simic times: This deck is seriously fun. There are quite a few devastating interactions in the deck; some obvious, others less so. The lines are complicated, the combos are satisfying, and you can physically see and feel your opponent’s despair, even on Magic Arena, as they frantically mouseover your graveyard and creatures before the inevitable self-combustion animation.

Deckbuilding Choices:

4x Cauldron Familiar, Gutterbones, Witch’s Oven, Priest of Forgotten Gods, Midnight Reaper, and Mayhem Devil. These are the core of the deck, and if you’re running less than 4 copies of any of them you’re doing it wrong. If you haven’t seen the deck before or are new to this style of aggro+combo, here is a quick rundown of the basic plan:

Option 1:

Combo Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven to recur the cat as fast as possible and drain your opponent out. Oko and deck familiarity keep pushing this plan further from feasibility, but some decks just drop dead.

Option 2:

Use Priest of Forgotten Gods as a value engine, recurring Gutterbones and Cauldron Familiar as much as possible, controlling the board, draining the opponent, and drawing cards.

Option 3:

Combine the previous options with Midnight Reaper and/or Mayhem Devil to close the game quickly. Reaper will keep the cards flowing, and Mayhem gets out of control very, very quickly in this deck.

The remaining cards in the deck enhance or protect that game plan.

4x Claim the Firstborn. Claim is the stone nuts against any deck that puts out bodies. Being able to snag a creature for 1 mana, get in a relevant hit, and then sacrifice it for value is just unfair. These should be taken out against the most controlling decks, as the 3 CMC condition means that it can quickly become a dead card.

4x Angrath’s Rampage. Rampage can take care of Oko or Nissa, a huge Krasis, a Glass Casket, etc. Keep an eye out for ways to cripple your opponent out of nowhere with this card. I’ve won multiple games against Esper Doom Foretold by forcing them to sac an artifact, leaving them to sacrifice either Doom or another very valuable piece the following turn.

1x Mask of Immolation. It’s possible that this should be another card. I’ve been considering things like Chandra, Lazotep Reaver #3, Rankle, and Noxious Grasp. It’s a nice little sac engine that functions as sort of an alternate Oven #5 or Priest #5. It’s been nice for some additional consistency, and works incredibly well with Chandra in post-board games.

2x Lazotep Reaver. Lazotep is a hidden gem that is not being played nearly enough. It turns on a T2 Priest without needing a 1-drop, it gives you multiple bodies against spot removal, and the ½ body is very relevant against G/x Adventure decks and their swarms of 1/1s.

2x Judith, the Scourge Diva. Unfortunately, Judith is laughable in comparison to Mayhem Devil. While her +1 power boost is nice, you’re rarely winning games by just flooding the board with tokens and attacking. She functions as a lower-powered Mayhem Devil 5 and 6, and that’s honestly more than fine.

Lands:

  • 8 Swamp, 5 Mountain. As many black sources as possible while still fitting in a few castles and being able to cast red spells on turns 3 and on.
  • 2 Castle Locthwain. A lot of lists are playing 3, but the cost of not having untapped black mana on turn 1 is MUCH higher than having 1 fewer Castle.
  • 4 Blood Crypt. Self-explanatory.
  • 4 Fabled Passage. Obviously, wait to crack if possible until you have Mayhem Devil.

Sideboard

  • 4x Duress. Apply liberally to control decks. Could be worth it against turbo-Oko decks if you see Arboreal Grazer in game 1.
  • 3x Noxious Grasp. Standard anti-Oko card. Also good in the Gruul matchup.
  • 2x Embereth Shieldbreaker. Bring it in for the mirror and against any Knights deck. Don’t forget it’s a sorcery and lose to an Embercleave blowout.
  • 4x Dreadhorde Butcher. If your opponent is unlikely to have turn 2 removal OR is packing mostly spot removal, Dreadhorde taxes them very heavily.
  • 2x Chandra, Acolyte of Flame. If you can afford to have her land more often un turns 4-6 than turn 3, Chandra can be devastating. She works so well with the rest of the deck, and if your opponent is boarding in sweepers and more creature removal, she can be backbreaking.

Omissions:

0 Cavalier of Night. 5 mana all but forces a 24th land and skews the deck too much toward value, and too far away from the main aggro+combo plan. Not to mention that if it gets Oko’d you lose the second ability on the card. I’ve run off a 10-0 streak since removing Cavalier. Small sample size, but the deck feels so good now.

0 Rankle, Master of Pranks. Rankle is right on the edge for me. It’s a powerful effect, and he could easily come in and out of the deck from week-to-week or even day-to-day. I’m leaning heavily into the drain combo at the moment, and Rankle is definitely well suited to the more heavily aggro-focused lists.

0 Maindeck Chandra, Acolyte of Flame. This is one I feel pretty strongly about, and I’m almost at the point of swapping her out of the sideboard as well. It’s not her fault; it’s her mana cost. PLEASE don’t build this deck and assume that RR is a given. It’s not. The effect is good, the pressure is great, but the mana cost is a big pain point in a deck that’s heavily black focused and wants untapped black from turn 1.

0 Maindeck Noxious Grasp. Angrath’s Rampage fills a lot of the Noxious Grasp slot, and while it’s slightly worse against Oko due to sorcery speed, it’s absurdly more flexible, and with so few spots dedicated to removal, the flexibility is better than the instant speed. We typically can’t afford to execute our gameplan and still leave mana up between turns 2-3 anyway. Let them Elk something, and then on turn 4 play out Rampage + a threat to take control.

0 Green cards (not a Jund version). I barely even want to discuss this. The mana is terrible, the gameplan is being pulled in 18 directions, and the sideboard is barely better than straight B/R, with a much higher chance of color screw. Super down on Jund Aristocrats.

Gameplay Tips:

  • As a general rule, play out Midnight Reaper before Mayem Devil. Reaper still demands removal, but is not as central to the kill plan as Reaper. If they remove Reaper, he can still offer a card or more, and Devil can then come down after the removal has been… well… removed.
  • If you have a choice on turn one, play Gutterbones over Familiar. He does more damage turn after turn, needs a turn to get untapped (and thus can’t block on his first turn on the battlefield), and the ping from Familiar can bring him back to hand if he gets removed.
  • The deck rarely wins games by just aggroing down the opponent’s life total. The creatures aren’t beefy enough to do large chunks. If your play pattern is Gutterbones, then Priest, then Midnight Reaper, you’ve still only put 6 power out by turn 3. Take it if it’s offered, but it’s definitely not Plan A.
  • Look to leverage your cards to put your opponent in situations where all of their choices are bad. This is another reason to run out Reaper before Mayhem Devil. Force the opponent to keep giving you cards. You have many ways to combo/grind, and they all need as many cards as possible.
  • Don’t forget that using Gutterbones as sacrifice fodder for Priest is half of an engine in it’s own, as you can use the BB generated by Priest to get Gutterbones back to hand.

Sideboarding:

Simic/Sultai Food

  • -1 Mask of Immolation
  • -2 Judith
  • +3 Noxious Grasp

You’re already very good at grinding out Oko decks, and Grasp provides cards 5-7 to directly deal with Oko. The main concern is to save your Witch’s Oven, so keep it in hand until you need it that turn. Smart players might hold back an Oko if they can to try and snipe the Oven.

GB/GW Adventures

  • -4 Angrath’s Rampage
  • On the draw: +2 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
  • On the draw: +2 Noxious Grasp
  • On the play: +4 Dreadhorde Butcher

If the opponent is playing the Lucky Clover Knight drain combo, +2 Embereth Shieldbreaker instead of Chandra.

This is one of the few decks that can out-card you with Edgewall Innkeeper. Place a very high priority on killing Innkeeper. Angrath’s is unlikely to work, even in game 1, as the deck can put out 3-4 creatures in one turn as protection. Lovestruck Beast is the highest priority target to use Claim the Firstborn and sacrifice it, as it’s usually too big to ping down with Mayhem/Judith. Half of their deck dies to pings. The key is to not let them get out of control. Lock down the board before starting the combo process.

Esper Dance

  • -4 Claim the Firstborn
  • -4 Angrath’s
  • +4 Duress
  • +4 Dreadhorde Butcher

Surprisingly, I have not dropped a single game to a Dance deck. Reaper can put in a ton of work here. Don’t be afraid to hold back a few cards to leverage one or two big turns. Hold up Priest or Oven as much as possible, as sacrificing for value to counter an Oath of Kaya on the stack is a massive life swing. Don’t over-commit to the board. Grind slowly. If they have to keep spending all of their mana on highly-costed plays like board wipes, they have a tough time landing a Doom Foretold and having enough stuff out to sacrifice.

B/R Aristocrats Mirror

  • -1 Gutterbones
  • -1 Midnight Reaper
  • +2 Embereth Shieldbreaker

Witch’s Oven is the name of the game in this matchup. Oven gives you free sacrifice and triggers, and lets you maintain a high life total. You have 6 ways to kill Oven, and this is your highest priority. If possible, hold Claim to use on Mayhem Devils, as this is the fastest/easiest way to get a concession.

Temur Reclamation

  • -4 Claim
  • -4 Angrath’s
  • +4 Duress
  • +4 Dreadhorde Butcher

I feel like I barely need to discuss this, as the gameplay is super straightforward. They try to goldfish, you disrupt that goldfish and keep them uncomfortably behind.

Fires of Invention Decks

Situational, but generally:

  • -4 Claim
  • -2 Judith
  • -1 Mask
  • -2 Angrath’s
  • -1 Lazotep Reaver
  • +4 Duress
  • +4 Dreadhorde Butcher
  • +2 Chandra

Fires decks are super varied, but generally contain Deafening Clarion and sideboard tutor targets that will crush you. Try to keep up on speed without over-commiting to a board unless you have a sacrifice engine in place. It gets better after boarding, but this is a tough matchup.

Conclusion

That’s all for today! If you’re looking to beat Oko, beat Adventures, and just in general beat everything, give Rakdos Crats a chance! I’ll be rooting for Pascal’s Aristocrats in the Mythic Championship this weekend. Enjoy!