It's Rakdos week! Time for pain and parties! Fiestas and fires! Sacrifices and soirees! Celebrations and carnage!
Enough! Do you have a point?
I guess I do. For Rakdos week, I am going to do something rather un-Rakdos like and go over my Rakdos deck (aka Red Deck Wins) from Izzet Week in depth. This will represent the start of a stretch where I intend to look in detail at the popular and upstart decks in Pauper and provide basic primers for them and, by proxy, the format.
I already discussed the impetus of the deck, but I never really answered this question: why run RDW? What does it provide that the other decks in the format do not?
The closest analog to RDW currently is Goblins. Both are red decks that attack and try to close the game out with burn. For a long time, I was on Goblins, but I ran into a few issues in the modern metagame.
- 4 Goblin Bushwhacker
- 4 Goblin Cohort
- 4 Goblin Sledder
- 4 Mogg Conscripts
- 4 Mogg Flunkies
- 4 Mogg Raider
- 4 Mogg War Marshal
- 3 Sparksmith
Goblins' creatures are underpowered. Their strength lies in tribal synergies and having monsters every turn. The largest creature in Goblins is Mogg Flunkies, a 3/3 that needs a friend to attack or block. Goblin Bushwhacker, one of the most powerful cards in the format, requires other creatures on the battlefield to be worth a slot. This was all well and good back when Goblins could simply overrun opponents with its army, but some key elements changed.
Cloudpost Control became the dominant control deck in the format, and with it came the ubiquity of Glimmerpost. Yes, an army of 2/2s and 1/1s could undo the work of one or maybe two Glimmerposts, but many decks adopted Ghostly Flicker as a way to gain life in chunks of eight (before this, Capsizing one Glimmerpost a turn was a common strategy to fight aggro late). Flicker and Mnemonic Wall present a nigh unbeatable game 1 scenario for Goblins.
The dominance of Cloudpost also pushed Mono-Black Control to fringe status. These decks were largely focused on winning with spells like Corrupt and buying time with Tendrils of Corruption. Tendrils helped make Goblin Sledder and Mogg Raider vital cards, negating a removal spell and life gain. As Loci asserted themselves as the dominant mana engine for control decks over Swamps, black decks adapted and lowered their curve. Instead of going for the dominant end game, the decks adapted a far more midrange strategy that focused on attacking the creatures decks with cheap removal and utility creatures like Cuombajj Witches. The shift of Goblins' prey to a less expensive strategy left a weapon without a target.
At the same time, other aggressive decks were getting faster. Infect was streamlining itself, Stompy was adopting Vault Skirge as an additional one-drop to go with its Fireblast impersonation duo of Groundswell and Vines of Vastwood, and White Weenie was eschewing Guardian of the Guildpact and Razor Golem for War Falcon and Loyal Cathar.
Goblins was left without a steady diet of victims. It is still a good deck (as evidenced by numerous 3-1 and occasional 4-0 appearances in Daily Events), but other decks were gaining new toys. Goblins is largely last year's model.
The other items that pushed me away from Goblins were personal in nature. First, I felt the deck wanted to run seventeen and a half lands. When I tested with eighteen (even if one was Teetering Peaks or Forgotten Cave), I felt flooded. With seventeen, I would stutter on development too often for my liking. Additionally, aside from Goblin Matron (itself a slow card), there was no real way for Goblins to come back from a card economy perspective.
Faithless Looting and Wild Guess are great, but Goblins needs a critical mass of creatures to turn on Goblin Cohort, Mogg Conscripts, Mogg Flunkies, and Goblin Bushwhacker. Any slot not dedicated to a creature has to be worth its proverbial weight in gold. This is why Chain Lightning and Lightning Bolt make the cut (efficiency) while cards like Incinerate ride the pine.
So how does RDW address these issues?
- 3 Oxidda Golem
- 4 Vault Skirge
- 4 Gore-House Chainwalker
- 2 Inner-Flame Acolyte
- 4 Mogg Fanatic
- 4 Rakdos Shred-Freak
- 19 Mountain
This is a midrange aggressive list. Yes, it wants to beat down, but it does so at a much slower rate than your typical Pauper beatdown list. The creatures are "slower" in a sense, but they make up for that by having haste (this was a big reason for adding a second Inner-Flame Acolyte).
Haste is an absolutely incredible ability in a deck like this. It turns late game creatures into immediate threats. The mere presence of creatures with haste forces opponents to play more defensively against those without—creatures coming off the top and attacking right away increases the danger of letting a "normal" creature survive. This is the kind of deck where I would like to find space for one Reckless Charge. With more creatures, I would like to fit in two. Charge is great in a deck like this because it provides additional damage on a creature like Vault Skirge (so sick) or gives a late game Chainwalker some extra punch. While I am happy with the deck as it exists now, I could see myself cutting a Furor of the Bitten for one in the future.
The creatures without haste all serve an important purpose in the deck. Mogg Fanatic saw a decline in play once the M10 rules change went into effect. This made sense at the time, but the number of impressive one-drops has increased in the past few years and with it the need to kill one toughness creatures early. War Falcon, Delver of Secrets, and Glistener Elf are all creatures that were introduced to the format that Fanatic can kill. Without a sacrifice outlet, Mogg Fanatic gets the nod over Goblin Arsonist for the sake of utility.
What about Forge Devil? Without the reliance on the power of a tribe, the Devil is a viable option, as it does not need to die to take out an offending X/1. The inability to come down on turn 1 is a huge liability, and there is no guarantee that your opponent will have one of the three previously mentioned creatures on turn 1. The fact that Fanatic can also go to the dome makes it the choice in this deck.
Vault Skirge is establishing itself as a member of the best "one"-drops in Pauper. With the ability to go in any deck, it provides a potent threat due to the fact it has flying, and it helps in aggressive mirrors. First making waves in Stompy in conjunction with Rancor, Skirge fills a similar role here with Furor of the Bitten. While it is obviously strong against beatdown decks, Skirge shines almost unexpectedly against Storm.
The ability to push your life total above 20 is important against Grapeshot based Storm decks, forcing them to find more spells to fuel a game-ending turn. This is obviously compounded when the Skirge is wearing angry pants. While the edge gained is often mitigated by the Storm deck being broken and able to Grapeshot for the win anyway, Skirge can force them to feel "under the gun" and go off a turn too early. These two edges are small but are key to helping RDW be a true contender against Storm.
Gore-House Chainwalker is a fine creature. While Keldon Marauders is often seen as the two-drop of choice in non-Goblin red decks, Chainwalker is a larger threat. Marauders is often ignored by removal since it dies all by itself. Chainwalker, on the other hand, often demands a removal spell. This is all context—the threat of Chainwalker in this deck is greater because it can be followed up the next turn with a hasty beater. In tandem with Mogg Fanatic, the Rakdos two-drop can make a mess of just about any blocker in the format. Who cares about card advantage when you can burn off faces?
Rakdos Shred-Freak may look unimpressive, but it is vital. One of the best sequences against any opponent is to lay a Chainwalker on turn 2 and follow it up with an additional attacker. Shred-Freak gives RDW an additional strong haste creature while also providing the opening for playing a Mogg Fanatic or Furor of the Bitten to make combat harder, a Lightning Bolt to clear a blocker, or a Faithless Looting to increase card quality. While a trap in Draft, this blade-loving Berserker is a key component of the deck.
Speaking of Faithless Looting, it is one of the cards that makes this deck tick. It is a rarity for a red deck—it does not attack or blow stuff up. However, it turns dead cards into live ones, and that is something that cannot be understated. Why not play more threats? That would mean fewer lands, and given a creature with affinity for Mountains and Fireblast, lands are not an item to be wasted.
Unlike Legacy, Pauper lacks a knockout punch like Price of Progress or a persistent source of damage like Grim Lavamancer (although Goblin Fireslinger has made a few appearances from time to time). Looting helps to mitigate this by getting rid of dead cards and replacing them with largely live ones. Playing Looting correctly is in fact one of the most challenging aspects of this deck—playing it wrong can turn a sure win into a loss.
So how do you play Looting? It depends on the matchup, but mostly it works along a basic metric: cast it when two random cards from your library are better than two cards in your hand. Most of the time, these dead cards will be land (but maybe you really don't need that Electrickery this time). The flashback really pushes this card to another level, allowing you to set up back to back turns of sculpting hands. When trying to burn someone out, Looting might be your best friend. Need more haste creatures or to dig towards a fatal Furor? Looting can help.
Looting is a fine turn 1 play and helps make borderline hands better. If my hand has three or four Mountains, a one- or two-drop, another spell, and Looting, I will likely keep. This hand has a lot of action early but no real plan. Looting provides virtual draw steps, setting up a better turn 3 (and beyond).
I was so high on Looting that I put four in the deck initially. I cut it back down to three because I was drawing doubles of them too early. Looting is great in the first stages of the game (and even better late), but two in your first ten cards is painful, severely limiting your options for attacking. Instead, turns are spent preparing, which is not a path to victory. All that being said, I love (LOVE) casting this card and look forward to brewing with it more in the future.
The burn suite was selected with two factors: cost to damage ratio and instant speed. The go-to secondary burn spell in Goblins has been Chain Lightning, but it fills a drastically different role in that deck. Burn in Goblins (aside from Fireblast) is used to clear the path for creatures early. This role is filled by Electrickery (picking off small threats) and haste (bypassing blockers) in RDW. This deck wants to cast burn whenever it wants (usually during an opponent's end step), and Chain Lightning just did not fit the bill.
Incinerate slots in nicely as a surrogate Lightning Bolt. Shard Volley is an option, but I would not want to run more than two because drawing them early limits your options (unlike Fireblast, which acts as a viable game ender). Brimstone Volley is another card, but casting this for three feels so wrong. Since so much burn happens on their turn, there is no guarantee something will die to trigger morbid.
The lines of play with this deck revolve around the Philosophy of Fire and reducing your opponent to zero as fast as possible. You want a one-drop (or Looting) in your opening hand. Failing that, seeing multiple two- and three-drops is acceptable. The obvious ideal is to cast a Vault Skirge on turn 1 and suit it up with Furor of the Bitten on turn 2 to start the life swings. Obviously, this does not happen all the time, but it sure is nice when it does.
Given the option of Chainwalker and Shred-Freak on turn 2, I err on the side of Chainwalker since it allows for maximum damage out put on turn 3. This is not the case against decks packing a reasonable amount of removal or loaded with blockers, as you want to do as much damage early against them. In these cases, hold Furors until they can be on a larger creature that can start eating through defenses (a Golem, for example).
In the early turns, if possible leave one mana open for Electrickery. Picking off early blockers is valuable, but do not be a slave to picking off everything. The longer you hold Electrickery, the better it will be (against decks with creatures, of course).
When an adversary gets to twelve life, the game is well in hand (for the most part—see specific matchup lists below). At this point, you should be okay to throw away creatures for the sake of forcing in damage (even one or two points). This is contingent on having the game-ending burn in your hand (but thanks to Faithless Looting, this is not uncommon). When you have the game in hand, do not waste burn! Instead, hold it until you are sure it will resolve.
Sounds simple enough, right? This is the basic outline, and things change based upon what your are playing against.
Let's take a look at some of the common matchups you are going to face in the world of Pauper today.
Why not start with the dominant blue deck. This one is tough but winnable. The key here is to replace your ideal turn 1 drop with a Mogg Fanatic and follow it up with a Furor of the Bitten. Your life total does not matter as much—if they are attacking, they will probably win anyway. Sticking the pants on the Fanatic is important because they cannot profitably Snap a Fanatic. This is usually good for six points of damage (plus one from Fanatic).
At this point in the game, the goal is to overload on haste creatures in your hand and to resolve two to three in one turn to eke out more damage. Finally, use Faithless Looting to sculpt a hand with enough burn to win. This is a matchup where you want to hold your Lootings as long as possible in order to catch up to their card advantage in the mid and late game.
Be aware of Daze if you are on the draw. Sometimes this means skipping a one-drop. If you can afford to waste a turn 1 play for the gain in tempo, this is fine, but make sure you can capitalize.
Note that this matchup is far tougher if they have switched from Spire Golem to Frostburn Weird because it comes down a turn earlier and also stops almost all your offense. If they are running Frostburns, you want to keep in your Furors in games 2 and 3.
Your goal with these changes is to counter their early plays. Pyroblast should be used to protect a game-winning spell or key attacker. It can also be used to help clear paths. Smash to Smithereens is for Spire Golem and, more importantly, Serrated Arrows (which is terrible for you). Pyrite Spellbomb is in case they side in Weatherseed Faeries. If they do not, feel free to swap them for either Furors or an Incinerate and a Fireblast.
This is a flat-out race. You absolutely want to vomit out creatures every turn. Here, a turn 2 Shred-Freak is better than a Chainwalker as it provides more pressure early. If you can put Furor on a Vault Skirge (or anything for that matter), you can press your advantage. I want to be clear: even if you have the nut draw, they can still win if you "force" them to go off too soon. Burn is less important here but matters if the game goes long (which happens if they fizzle).
Even though these decks have moved towards Grapeshot main, many pack Empty the Warrens in the sideboard so hands with Electrickery (even if they are dead) are golden. The point with these changes is to find their choke point (usually an Ideas Unbound) and stop it. Relic of the Progenitus is an option, but not one I have been a huge fan of.
U/R Goblin Storm
Possibly your best matchup thanks to maindeck Electrickery. You want to apply as much pressure as possible early (as above) but leave up the mana to overload Electrickery. I Loot aggressively in this matchup to make sure I have one of the sweepers in hand. Do not be afraid to use your burn spells to pick off Goblin Sledder or Mogg Raider (if they are present) since they really ruin the Electrickery plan. Some versions play Lava Dart as a way to counter Echoing Decay and Echoing Truth, so if you are in a position to take a hit make sure you stay out of Dart range.
Izzet Post and Dimir Post
Although they vary slightly in composition, the game plan against these decks is similar. You want to play your threats early and often, knocking down their life total as quickly as you can to get them into burn range. The sooner you are able to accomplish this, the less of an impact a Glimmerpost can have. The Dimir flavor provides a greater challenge since they tend to run more creatures, but not enough to significantly disrupt your plan.
These games tend to play out one of three ways: either they stumble on development, not getting their mana and you run them over; they get a reasonable draw and you eke out a win with instant speed burn; or they get a heavy Cloudpost and Glimmerpost draw and are able to stall to a win. You have an advantage in two of these, so press it! You have a window of about six turns before Glimmerpost becomes a threat, but until that point you should be able to establish a winning position.
When shuffling up RDW, this is the blue deck I want to see least. It is a nightmare. Their deck is loaded with answers geared towards stalling aggro. Man-o'-War is a nightmare, even with haste beaters, as it trades with any of your ground pounders, nullifies a Furor of the Bitten, and increases the pain from a Vault Skirge. Unlike the guild-aligned Cloudpost decks, Mono-Blue is all-in on the Ghostly Flicker engine, packing a full four Mnemonic Walls to facilitate the combo. This means come turn 5, Mono-Blue Post can perpetually blink a Glimmerpost or a Man-o'-War by targeting the offending stall and the Wall.
Your hope in game 1 is to hit them hard and fast, holding burn that does not win you the game to take out whatever they target with Flicker (if you can). Sometimes you will get lucky and steal a win, but it is an uphill battle.
Smash to Smithereens comes in to help in case Serrated Arrows makes an appearance (also a nasty Flicker target). As always, Pyroblast is used to protect key elements of your offense. Relic plays a role in trying to break up their combo, but it is only a stall. Spellbomb is an additional burn spell and is useful in hitting Jellyfish.
Another good matchup, seeing as how they are a deck based on attacking with small creatures and you have Electrickery. Play defensively and keep mana up to take out any creature. Mogg Fanatic is your best turn 1 play here because it slows them down quite a bit. Do not unleash your Chainwalkers in these games since blocking matters.
Scar is a nice answer to Infect because it works after their pump spells wear off. Fireblast is not needed as you do not need to win from "nowhere."
Score one for the good guys. They can get explosive draws where their hand is empty by turn 2. More often, however, you are able to attack them to a low enough life total that your burn gets the job done. Myr Enforcers are a huge pain, and if they manage to get to three, you will be hard pressed to win. Do not be afraid to spend Bolts or Incinerates on Frogmites because it stalls their development (albeit a tiny amount).
These changes are fairly self-explanatory and help to cement this matchup. Do not cast a Gorilla Shaman unless you can blow up at least one land, as playing one into a Galvanic Blast is the fastest way to frown town.
This matchup hinges on their sideboard. In game 1, save Electrickery to deal with multiple Squadron Hawks, War Falcons, and other X/1s. It is okay to block a Loyal Cathar to set up an Unhallowed Cathar dying to your sweeper. Do your best to play around Journey to Nowhere on a Furious Skirge. Be mindful that many of these decks play Prismatic Strands main, so do not try to win through burn spells unless they are tapped out. If they are tapped out but have a Strands in the graveyard, make sure no white creatures are untapped.
-1 Moutain, -1 Faithless Looting
This change is in case they bring in Crimson Acolyte. You need an answer to that card or attacking them will be like banging your head against the wall: you probably did not think it through.
Your decks are remarkably similar except they have cheaper creatures. So much relies on who goes first. If you are able to steal the initiative, you can attack and get them into Fireblast range. If you are blocking, it is bad news because they have more Fireblasts than you.
It is important to not trade unless you have a burn spell ready sinceit is very difficult for you to deal with any creature that has been graced by the Hunger of the Howlpack.
Spellbomb acts as insurance against Hunger of the Howlpack, giving you another way to deal with the creature before Hunger is cast.
Unlike other matchups, you want to play out all your lands if you can to avoid being hit by the full force of Chittering Rats. Even then, there are times when you will want to hold back a land or two to protect key spells from other discard. You have to play your opponent and make your best guess as to their line of play to know whether or not to play the land. If you think they are going to unload a sequence of Ravenous Rats, by all means hold them back!
If they are on the Woo Black version, pay special attention to playing around Stinkweed Imp because the ultimate blocker is hell on your primary plan of attacking.
+2 Relic of the Progenitus
Auras are a liability against any deck with an abundance of removal, but Relic does serious work in closing off the graveyard as a resource for black decks.
I hope you have enjoyed this in-depth look at RDW. Even though the deck has not shown up in the (reduced) published Daily Event results, I still feel that it is a viable option. I will continue to work on and tinker with the list (because let's face it, I have a little Izzet in me). As I move forward with these, I want to hear from you. What did you like about this format? What needs improvement? What decks do you want to hear more about?
Thanks, and as always, keep slingin' commons-
SpikeBoyM on Magic Online
The Colors of Pauper: