Each new set, I comb over the new legendary creatures and ponder ideas for Commander decks. I have to admit, the first time I saw Razaketh, the Foulblooded, it gave me alarm bells, so I have been focusing on other new decks instead. Recently I circled back around and thought about how games would play out involving Razaketh, and I became convinced that the card was just not at all good to have in Commander.
Repeatable, instant-speed tutoring flies in the face of what Commander is inherently about. Commander is a singleton, 100-card format, which means that each game is going to play out differently outside of the constant that is your commander. You can count on having access to your commander, but the rest of your deck is chock-full of single copies of cards and games will play out differently depending on what you draw bounced up against things your opponents are doing. It is the consistency of always having access to your commander mixed with the variance of your 99 that creates such interesting and varied stories each time you play Commander.
When Razaketh is your Commander, it makes the rest of your deck play out the same way each time. Here is what will happen each and every game:
1. Protect Razaketh from removal.
2. Disrupt your opponents so they can't stop your plans.
3. Cash in creatures to assemble your combo kill.
I think most Commander fans can agree that having a super-consistent deck is not healthy for Commander, but many people seem to point at various "drawbacks" to Razaketh as justification for not banning the card. Some seem to think these are so severe that the card will not even be played! Let us dig into these so-called drawbacks.
"Razaketh is expensive at eight mana."
First, black, particularly mono-black, makes oodles of mana easily, especially once we are playing a Commander that is the very antithesis of variance. Cast early tutors to assemble Cabal Coffers plus Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and you are casting Razaketh as early as turn 6.
Crypt Ghast potentially gives you ten mana on turn 5. With several battlefield wipes, Black Market gives you an infusion of black mana each turn. That is just scratching the surface of what we could do, so mana cost is not really any sort of power-level check in Commander.
"Razaketh's ability requires creatures around to sacrifice and your opponents will keep creatures off the table."
First, good luck with that. Black is masterful at bringing creatures back from the dead. If you want to include creatures resistant to dying, there is no shortage of choices. It is going to be super-easy to ensure you have got at least one creature on the battlefield when you cast Razaketh (and you will probably have more). Use creature-lands you can keep dormant until Razaketh is ready for their sacrifice.
Second, when you are playing black, sacrificing creatures is a feature, not a bug. Black is a master of sacrificing creatures for profit, so while you are waiting for Razaketh to come online, you can cash in your reanimating creatures for profit.
"Razaketh's ability requires a life payment ."
Yeah, okay, everyone agrees this is not really stopping Razaketh from breaking things off, but I am including it for completeness sake. The life payment does theoretically limit the number of times you can sacrifice a creature to tutor.
"Your opponents will stop your plans with counterspells, removal, and so on."
If there is one thing that black can do just as well as making mana, it is disrupting your opponents from either executing their plans or stopping yours. Play lots of hand disruption early to put pressure on their resources so they will be thin when you cast Razaketh. Then it will be easy to cash in creatures to fetch answers to their feeble attempts to stop you.
I have seen some other counterpoints made about Razaketh's power level.
"It's no Griselbrand."
This is true. Griselbrand takes an abundance resource in Commander, life, and turns it into raw card drawing, with the only limitation being it has to be done in seven points of life and seven cards drawn increments.
But Razaketh is not far behind in power level. Creatures are also an abundant resource in Commander decks, and it is especially easy for black decks to play creatures that are hard to keep dead. Each other creature on your battlefield with Razaketh represents any card you need from your deck when you need it. That is what so insane about Razaketh: you do not have to tutor immediately! You can wait and see how things develop and go get the perfect card for the situation. If the coast is clear, boom…go fetch up your combo and win.
"Sidisi, Undead Vizier is better."
There is really no comparison. Sidisi has to go and tutor up one card the same turn it's cast, and it's just one card. If you want to push Sidisi's ability further, you can, but you will have to jump through some hoops (a sacrifice outlet plus a card like Nim Deathmantle) to do so. It will be extremely obvious to your opponents what you are up to and they will know that the card you want that is going to kill them is right there in your hand.
Razaketh on the other hand can wait and see what happens. You do not have to move all-in on the combo kill until you are ready. You can wait and pick apart everyone's hand first, or set up a smaller combo feint first. The ease of use, the repeatability, and the instant-speed reaction just push Razaketh way beyond Sidisi.
One last point:
You can't even really play Razaketh "fairly" and have it be good for Commander.
Let us say it is pretty deep in a game of Commander. On turn 9, you cast Razaketh and have four or five other creatures on the battlefield. On raw stats alone, Razaketh is a pretty big threat, so your opponents are going to want to deal with it. What if their pinpoint removal has been used up and the only option is a battlefield wipe like Wrath of God? What will you do in response? Are you just going to put all your creatures in the graveyard without activating Razaketh's ability? That seems silly, so you are going to pay some life and sacrifice your other creatures to tutor up some cards.
Let us also assume, in the interest of playing fair Magic, you do not have a game-winning combo in your deck. That means everyone else is going to sit there and wait for you to sift through your deck to choose four or five cards out of 80 or so. Which cards are you going to get? That depends on what is left in your deck and what everyone is playing. How much mana you have. What Commanders might be replayed after the battlefield wipe.
I am sure you have cast Demonic Tutor before and not known exactly what you wanted to get because there are many variables to consider; imagine doing that for four, five, or more cards all at the same time. Your opponents get to sit there and wait. This is why I generally do not play with cards like Demonic Tutor anymore unless there is a specific plan I am trying to execute and know what card I am going to search for.
I have a feeling that not everyone is going to be swayed by my arguments above, so I am thinking I may have to demonstrate by building and playing a Razaketh deck. It is not something I am going to be too happy to play, but I think it will be good to have around. My plan is to ask my opponents if they think Razaketh should be banned in Commander, and if they all say that he is fine, then I will break out the Razaketh deck to change their mind.
What should such a deck look like? Well, we know what the plan is, so let us start with that.
Protect Razaketh from removal.
When you cast Razaketh, it'll have a big ol' bullseye on it. If someone targets it with pinpoint removal, we can cash in a creature standing by to tutor up Not of This World. Since Razaketh has eight power, you can cast Not of This World for no mana; how awesome is that?
In the turns prior, I figured we could use Vampiric Tutor or Demonic Tutor to fetch up Lightning Greaves or Swiftfoot Boots. If we can't prevent our opponents from killing Razaketh, I figured we can tutor up Phyrexian Reclamation so that our mana "tax" will only ever be two mana (plus some life) if we just let it go to the graveyard.
Disrupt your opponents so they can't stop your plans.
When I was first thinking about how ridiculous a Razaketh deck could be, the first thing I thought about was playing Razaketh with a Mindslicer on the battlefield. Sacrifice Mindslicer to go tutor up Not of This World. This feels like a pretty good line towards winning that game.
Similarly, cards like Delirium Skeins and Liliana's Specter can put pressure on your opponents' ability to hold answers for the impending arrival of Razaketh. Banshee of the Dread Choir can do similar work but is even crazier with Razaketh on the battlefield, since you can cash in the myriad copies to tutor up cards.
Cash in creatures to assemble your combo kill.
Lots and lots of graveyard recursion and token generation to ensure we always have at least a couple of creatures on the battlefield when Razaketh comes calling. I kind of like the flavor of having Liliana, Heretical Healer here to generate a sacrificial Zombie token and then either pressure everyone's hand or bring back a creature from the graveyard. Keep in mind, once you attack, Bloodsoaked Champion's raid qualification has been met, so you can keep bringing it back from the graveyard to sacrifice over and over again for two mana.
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder is fun—if he is on the battlefield when you cast Razaketh, you get eight sacrificial Thrull creatures, and you can even sacrifice Endrek himself with his self-sacrifice trigger on the stack for one tutored card immediately and eight more on tap.
I have included quite a few creature-lands that activate cheaply to help bank on having a creature around to sacrifice to Razaketh.
So the classic mono-black combo kill is Exquisite Blood and Sanguine Bond, and then some sort of change in either your life total or one of your opponents'. Boom, everyone but you dies. If someone ruins the fun with an exile effect on one of the enchantments, for backup there is the classic land-based combo of Dark Depths and Thespian's Stage, or Exsanguinate plus some way to make an insane amount of mana. I mean, we are playing Razaketh, so we are playing lots of mana…
As I argued above, black easily makes tons of mana, and I have included a lot of it here. You know them, you love them. I would go fetch Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth with Expedition Map first, since having all of your lands be Swamps turbo-charges so many other cards in the deck.
Even though two life for each Razaketh activation is small, it is entirely possible that your opponents may have been aggressively going after your life total once they realized what a terrible mistake they made saying that Razaketh was totally fair for Commander. Exsanguinate and either side of the enchantment combo can help pad your life total, but I have also included some of these high quality cards. Darkness does not technically gain life, but it can save your life total from a particularly high-powered attack, because no one expects Darkness outside of Rick James.
Elixir of Immortality provides a modicum of lifegain, but it also lets you shuffle back in a card you might need to get with Razaketh's ability if your opponents have been successful in disrupting your plans.
Mono-Black "Good Stuff"
I am going to round things out with some generally good cards to have in your monoblack Commander deck. Razaketh should make it ridiculously easy to trigger morbid for Tragic Slip and Malicious Affliction. Gate to Phyrexia is an oldie but a goodie when you have lots of sacrificial fodder. If you have Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth on the battlefield, Lashwrithe can become a combo killer when equipped to your Commander or Inkmoth Nexus.
So check out this monstrosity that has no place in Commander:
- 1 Hangarback Walker
- 1 Scuttlemutt
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Banshee of the Dread Choir
- 1 Blood Artist
- 1 Bloodghast
- 1 Bloodsoaked Champion
- 1 Crypt Ghast
- 1 Deathgreeter
- 1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 1 Haunted Dead
- 1 Herald of Anguish
- 1 Liliana's Specter
- 1 Merciless Executioner
- 1 Mindslicer
- 1 Nether Traitor
- 1 Nirkana Revenant
- 1 Pawn of Ulamog
- 1 Reassembling Skeleton
- 1 Sifter of Skulls
- 1 Skirsdag High Priest
- 1 Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
- 1 Liliana, Heretical Healer
- 1 Blade of Selves
- 1 Caged Sun
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Darksteel Plate
- 1 Elixir of Immortality
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Gilded Lotus
- 1 Lashwrithe
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Black Market
- 1 Contamination
- 1 Exquisite Blood
- 1 Gate to Phyrexia
- 1 Grave Pact
- 1 Mind Slash
- 1 Phyrexian Reclamation
- 1 Sanguine Bond
- 1 Darkness
- 1 Imp's Mischief
- 1 Malicious Affliction
- 1 Sudden Spoiling
- 1 Tragic Slip
- 1 Undying Evil
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Beacon of Unrest
- 1 Damnation
- 1 Delirium Skeins
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Exsanguinate
- 1 Mind Twist
- 1 Syphon Mind
- 1 Not of This World
What do you think of the deck? Is there anything big that I have overlooked? How would you go about building it differently? Do you think Razaketh should be banned in Commander or not?
New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I've done (and links to decklists):