The next coming of the deck is here, and it's purrfect. But first, a little bit of history on the archetype.
Aristocrats has been the recent name given to any deck that features sacrificing your own creatures for value and profit. Falkenrath Aristocrat and Cartel Aristocrat led the way for the naming convention. It's surely a catchier tag than "that sacrifice strategy" or whatever.
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Cartel Aristocrat
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Doomed Traveler
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 3 Knight of Infamy
- 1 Restoration Angel
- 2 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Skirsdag High Priest
- 2 Zealous Conscripts
After Tom Martell won Pro Tour Gatecrash the name kinda stuck.
However, it's not that new of a deck idea and will likely be a concept that decks are built around for years to come.
- 4 Epochrasite
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 4 Greater Gargadon
- 4 Keldon Marauders
- 4 Mogg Fanatic
- 4 Mogg War Marshal
- 1 Nantuko Husk
- 4 Scorched Rusalka
Antonino De Rosa rocked out US Nationals in 2007 with his take on Threaten plus Nantuko Husk on his way to the Top 8. The strategy was so good he was willing to risk losing ten life to Dark Confidant revealing Greater Gargadon. Stealing a creature, attacking, and then sacrificing it for value proved worth it enough for the risk.
A classic from 1999, Fruity Pebbles was one of the first combo decks to create a loop by sacrificing zero-mana creatures like Shield Sphere and Phyrexian Walker to Goblin Bombardment while you have an Enduring Ideal on the battlefield. Fruity Pebbles was one of the first decks to showcase that zero-mana spells and sacrifice effects without a mana cost to use an activated ability can and will be broken.
Enter 2019, where Throne of Eldraine introduces a new take on the Aristocrats playstyle…this time with Cats.
- 4 Cauldron Familiar
- 1 Cavalier of Night
- 2 Gutterbones
- 4 Mayhem Devil
- 4 Midnight Reaper
- 1 Murderous Rider
- 2 Orzhov Enforcer
- 2 Priest of Forgotten Gods
- 1 Ayara, First of Locthwain
The deck's namesake combo is to recook Cauldron Familiar over and over with Witch's Oven to slowly drain out the opponent while getting in free chump blocks and some life points along the way. Doesn't sound like an exciting gameplan at first, but it's surprisingly effective, especially when the rest of the deck offers up similar sacrifice synergies to make use of both Cauldron Familiar and Witch's Oven.
Rakdos isn't lucky enough to get a Temple like the enemy guilds and has to rely on Fabled Passage to get by. Fortunately this is the best two-color shell for the deck, since we're a sacrifice-themed deck that is fueled by Mayhem Devil. Heck, Evolving Wilds might even be playable here.
Mayhem Devil deals one damage to any target whenever any player sacrifices a permanent. This is obviously good in your sacrifice strategy. It's especially good with Fabled Passage, which is a four-of land in your deck as well as many other decks in new Standard. Mayhem Devil triggers off Food being sacrificed too, giving the card a lot of incidental value without having to draw a ton of synergistic cards.
Witch's Oven and the Food itself are two additional triggers per looping of the "Cat Food" combo. That's three life for zero mana per iteration. That adds up quickly, especially if multiple Witch's Ovens or Mayhem Devils are involved.
Angrath's Rampage is a fine option that conveniently triggers Mayhem Devil. It's nice that it can hit planeswalkers, artifacts, or even the stray lone huge creature. Alongside Mayhem Devil you can usually shoot down the smaller creatures with earlier Mayhem Devil triggers to corner that one big creature. With planeswalkers like Oko, Thief of Crowns and The Royal Scions running around that enter the battlefield with effectively six loyalty, Angrath's Rampage will often deal with a planeswalker where a simple damage spell could not.
Creating tokens is nice when you have a Witch's Oven to turn them into Food. The tokens get sacrificed at the end of turn which triggers Mayhem Devil. You do want a few interactive spells in the deck like Bedevil and Angrath's Rampage which Chandra can flashback from the graveyard.
Witch's Oven and Cauldron Familiar are both one-drops, but the deck wants a few more. The deck nickel-and-dimes the opponent to death with annoying recursive threats and damage sources. A small trick with the deck is to use a Claim the Firstborn on a freshly cast Gutterbones to untap it and give it haste when you otherwise don't have targets for Claim the Firstborn.
Claim the Firstborn is the Threaten in the deck. It's cheaper and thus easier to use in a combo than previous cards like Zealous Conscripts or Threaten itself. Your sacrifice outlet is primarily Witch's Oven, an artifact and thus typically difficult to remove, like a Nantuko Husk variant would be. You do need more sacrifice outlets, though, which is where some of the one- and two-ofs come in.
Each of these is pseudo-interchangeable with each other. Priest of Forgotten Gods is best when you're heavy on one-drops. Ayara, First of Locthwain is best with a bunch of Cauldron Familiars and Midnight Reapers, but then again most of your deck is humming if you have those. Cavalier of Night is fairly good on its own and doesn't need Claim the Firstborn to nab a creature to be strong. Mask of Immolation is poor in multiples but a nice tool to have access to exactly one of. The pings from Mask of Immolation and Mayhem Devil add up to take down bigger threats or surgically remove planeswalkers.
The deck doesn't have any four-drops, which seems to be a glaring hole in the design. Rankle, Master of Pranks seems like the perfect fit for the slot. Sometimes you want a touch of card draw, sometimes interaction like discard, and very often a means to make the opponent sacrifice creatures or to sacrifice your own. Adding some Rankles would be my first step to improving on the list.
Judith, the Scourge Diva is similar to Mayhem Devil. Judith is better at attacking with a wide creature presence. She's typically bad in multiples, yet can at least do a Forked Bolt impression if two are drawn. With that said, the three-drop slot is quite bunched up as is.
Lazotep Reaver is similar to Orzhov Enforcer in that it's the same size and comes with another 1/1 body at some point. Orzhov Enforcer is better at blocking large creatures and against sweeper effects like Kaya's Wrath. Lazotep Reaver is better if you plan to go wide and does a better job at attacking immediately.
God-Eternal Bontu is an alternative to Cavalier of Night on the top-end. As a sacrifice effect Bontu is the largest one around and has the potential to make great use of a pile of extra lands or Cats lying around. With a Mayhem Devil, the opponent is likely to be dead on the spot.
Not exactly the best shell for Irencdrag Pyromancer, but it's something to think about when you have Midnight Reaper, Castle Locthwain, and Rankle, Master of Pranks to draw cards. I was mostly looking over cards for four-toughness creatures to try to squeeze the most juice from Witch's Oven.
This is the build that I've come to recently:
- 4 Cauldron Familiar
- 2 Grim Initiate
- 2 Lazotep Reaver
- 4 Mayhem Devil
- 4 Midnight Reaper
- 2 Murderous Rider
- 1 Priest of Forgotten Gods
- 1 Judith, the Scourge Diva
- 4 Rankle, Master of Pranks
It was often difficult to turn on spectacle for Light Up the Stage. A three-mana sorcery that sometimes drew two cards wasn't what I was in the market for. With Rankle you can get some card flow when needed.
Light Up the Stage ups your spell count for Chandra, Acolyte of Flame, but what I really want to be flashing back after sideboard is usually Duress. The maindeck felt constrained trying to accommodate a Chandra package for only the singleton copy. After sideboard you can adjust the numbers to be spell-heavy and slot in two copies of Chandra as needed.
Rankle has to connect in combat to work where the rest of your deck doesn't necessarily need that to function, but the hoop is well worth it. Rankle is a must-kill. I don't typically love four copies of a legend, but in this case Rankle is so critical to the archetype that I always want it. If the first copy survives you're in pretty good shape. You can just discard extra copies to itself anyway.
Aristocrats-style decks have come and gone with various spikes in success. When the sacrifice outlets are cheap and don't have mana attached to the activated ability, they've historically been the most potent. Witch's Oven and Cauldron Familiar are checking similar boxes to what we've seen in the past. The deck isn't just a one-trick pony either, as it offers a whole package full of synergies, so many that you have your choice of customization from many interchangeable parts. That's quite an attribute to have for a deck freshly entering a newly rotated Standard format.
I'll be keeping a close eye on this little black Cat.