Some cards are extremely well-named.
Rakdos, the Showstopper is one such card.
When you drop a Rakdos, the whole game stops and changes radically, depending on the outcome of this moment.
How much are we even paying for this ability? After all, Rakdos, the Showstopper is a 6/6 flying, trampler for a particularly easy to cast six. While that's pretty good compared to most six-drops, it's not like we'd actually play such a card in Constructed if it didn't have something else going on. I mean, Doom Whisperer is a 6/6 flying, trampler for five, and it has a pretty excellent ability.
So, how good is Rakdos' ability? Well, let's walk through this. First, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that we don't have any creatures on the battlefield that would get caught up in the carnage. If we drop Rakdos, the Showstopper on an empty battlefield, it's an overpriced Doom Whisperer without the activated ability. Not amazing.
If they have a single creature, Rakdos, the Showstopper has a 50% chance of killing it (assuming that creature is not a Doom Whisperer, itself). How good is that? Ravenous Chupacabra is pretty good and it costs four mana, despite having a body we'd only pay one mana for. From one perspective, Ravenous Chupacabra's ability is kind of a draw two, where one of the cards is a kill spell and the other is the mana to play it.
This makes it look like Rakdos, the Showstopper's ability is kind of similar to "draw a card," though it should be noted, when you drop a 6/6 flying, trampler the relative value of a lot of cards changes, muddying this comparison further. Would we play a 6/6 flying, trampler that draws a card, though?
Demonlord Belzenlok has some appeal, but it never really found a home, and its ability is pretty close to "draw a card." You get a little selection and have the chance of repeating, but you also reveal information and take one or more damage.
Once you get into the space of opponents with two or more creatures, Rakdos starts looking really good. Flipping coins on two creatures isn't as good as killing one, in general. The situations where you win both flips is usually not going to "win the game for you" in spots you otherwise wouldn't have, compared to killing one, as often as killing zero is going to "lose the game for you" compared to killing one. Besides, killing their best creature is usually better than killing a random creature; though admittedly, killing Carnage Tyrant sounds pretty freaking great.
One of the challenges to getting a lot of value out of Rakdos's ability is that you kind of need to let your opponent build a position. After all, if you are just killing everything, you aren't going to get as much value out of the enters the battlefield trigger.
When facing tokens or small creatures in general, Rakdos's ability is actually pretty awesome. Just killing half the enemy army can go a long way towards avoiding your spot removal spells being stretched too thin.
Bedevil is likely to be one of the absolute most important cards in Ravnica Allegiance and will surely be found alongside Rakdos, the Showstopper the overwhelming majority of the time. Vraska's Contempt was already one of the absolute best cards in the format, costing a mana more, in exchange for two life and exiling, though without the option of hitting artifacts.
Bedevil's rate is at least comparable to Vraska's Contempt; and depending on how you value killing artifacts, it could easily be better. What really makes Bedevil special, however, is that it costs three in a world supersaturated with amazing four-cost options, with far less competition at the three-spot.
If we don't factor in the harm caused by Rakdos killing our own creatures, the ability seems strong (though not busted); however, the Showstopper doesn't have to kill many of our own creatures to really tip the scales back the other way. It makes me think we should be careful about how many creatures we put into our deck (at least non-Imp/Devil/Demon creatures) and should imagine what the battlefield is realistically going to look like when we drop the Showstopper.
This list is a little schizophrenic (in the classical misconception, sort of way), fractured between aggression and midrange battlefield control. Doom Whisperer, Karn, Scion of Urza, and The Eldest Reborn make great threats to partner with the Showstopper, but it remains to be seen if we can get away with stuff like Goblin Chainwhirler and Rekindling Phoenix. At least Rekindling Phoenix might come back?
Okay, this one is pretty speculative, and it's clearly not a natural fit for this strategy. The thing is, it might just be a strong enough card that we should make it fit. Coming back tapped is a lot less off-message than "can't block," like Scrapheap Scrounger had.
I could sort of imagine Gutterbones serving as a crude sort of early game defense, with the promise of a little value later, when facing creature decks. However, it is against creature-light decks where the card would really shine. It's a fast, cheap, efficient threat that could really help put opponents on the backfoot. I could be way off-base here, but I guess I just think Gutterbones looks a little better than these kinds of cards usually are.
Carnival//Carnage is an interesting blend of early game interaction and mid-game disruption/card advantage. It's not just about killing Llanowar Elves, but rather, combining it with Goblin Chainwhirler to get a little extra mileage out of the lower end of the card's range. That it can be used tactically against Planeswalkers is also nothing to sneeze at.
Nowhere is this more evident than when facing a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria that just used his -3 ability.
While I think Cry of the Carnarium is a quality sweeper that will see plenty of play, it's obviously not a great fit with the Gutterbones experiment.
Another Demon we might consider is Spawn of Mayhem, though it would sort of necessarily require us to play several more cheap threats. Paying four for the Spawn of Mayhem isn't the worst, but we need to pay three a good chunk of the time to really be getting our money's worth.
Rakdos, the Showstopper being a Demon had me go back and check out what other sweet Demons might be able to go alongside it and Doom Whisperer, perhaps as part of a Liliana's Contract-fueled Demon tribal deck?
In addition to the aforementioned Spawn of Mayhem, we have only a few more options, and while some of them aren't embarrassing, their average converted mana cost is so high. Besides, how often are we going to have four Demons on the table and not already be winning handily?
Fanatical Firebrand is a really interesting card for enabling spectacle. That it can reliably provide damage without needing to spend any mana is pretty attractive (though the one damage from Carnival//Carnage is fine, too, it's just not getting the Spawn of Mayhem down early).
Judith, the Scourge Diva is another option we might consider if we had a meaningful number of cheap creatures, though the tension with the Showstopper is real. Judith is actually kind of a spectacle enabler, and she obviously works well with cards like Fanatical Firebrand but is not actually the worst with Rakdos, the Showstopper, too. At least you are getting some "value" out of your creatures dying.
I'm a big fan of Skarrgan Hellkite, in general. It's kind of a Stormbreath Dragon that has a lot of power in the option to become a 5/5 that keeps spitting fire. To really get the most out of Skarrgan Hellkite, it'd be nice to play it in a deck that had some ways of putting +1/+1 counters on creatures in order to grant it the Fire ability, even if we chose haste on the way in.
It's not necessary out of the question for a Rakdos, the Showstopper deck, but the prospect of losing our Hellkite 50% of the time is a deterrent. That said, if we drop the Hellkite and it lives, how much do we even need to play the Showstopper on the next turn?
Another possibility is to ramp into Rakdos. After all, this is definitely a creature that we'd really appreciate coming down a turn early.
- 2 Doom Whisperer
- 2 Druid of the Cowl
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Rakdos, the Showstopper
I'm skeptical of the whole Llanowar Elves into Rakdos Showstopper plan, but there are kind of a shortage of good ways to ramp at the moment. Interestingly, the printing of Stomping Ground and Blood Crypt could really open up Status//Statue alongside Goblin Chainwhirler as a sub-theme.
Previously, getting the mana to work for both of these cards was prohibitively difficult, but the mana in the new format is much, much better, for anyone that would dare try such a thing.
What about Rakdos, the Showstopper in some kind of a Big Mardu deck? Maybe we can get enough card advantage from Treasure Map, Karn, Scion of Urza, and The Eldest Reborn to make up for not playing blue?
While I do really like Revitalize as an early game play for a strategy setting up Rakdos, the Showstopper (buying you time and letting them overcommit), I'm not sure we're actually getting enough out of white. Is Mortify really what our Bedevil deck needs?
And Deafening Clarion is great, but we already had access to Ritual of Soot; besides, now we're actually getting crowded at the three spot.
What about Grixis?
One important consideration is how much Rakdos, the Showstopper isn't really compatible with Niv-Mizzet, Parun. If we try to build a Niv-Mizzet deck and just slot Showstoppers in, it is unlikely to work out, since we can only have so many sixes, and it isn't going to be better than Niv-Mizzet in a Niv-Mizzet deck.
Opening with cards like Treasure Map, Thought Erasure, and The Eldest Reborn looks like a solid plan for leading into Rakdos, the Showstopper, but I do wonder if Crackling Drake and/or Nicol Bolas are supposed to be Karn, Scion of Urza? I also wonder if we're just playing too much removal when we should be focusing on tearing apart the opponent's hand, before dropping the Showstopper on turn 6?
At the end of the day, it's a little surprising to see such a powerful coin-flip card, so there's a part of me that suspects the Showstopper might not actually end up lining up as well in the format as the card might promise, at first blush. After all, thinking about it from R&D's perspective, why would you actually push a coin flip card super hard? Maybe the card is just so outrageously fun that they said "the hell with it," but that kind of assumes a lot.
Obviously, they might have just missed, but I'm kind of reminded of another card that seems like it could be questionable, but doesn't exactly line up as well in the format as it could:
There is more than a passing resemblance between Tetzimoc, Primal Death and Rakdos, the Showstopper. Flying and trample are way better than deathtouch on a six-drop, and not having to spend the mana, tipping your hand is something, but Tetzimoc "wins" all its flips, so to speak.
Verdict: For now, put me down as cautiously curious. The card is strong enough to warrant exploration, but if the format ends up being about Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, or Experimental Frenzy, or Expansion//Explosion, or any number of other possible vectors, Rakdos, the Showstopper might be a major player at the wrong show…
...but if it is a good time for his particular breed of violence, well, at least it will be entertaining.