Playing Magic: Cult of Rakdos

Hey everybody,
It’s been a long time since I have talked about Magic on my blog, but it’s been something that I’ve been drifting back towards in recent days, so I’ve been looking over some of the decks that I’ve had built over the years. I’ve written quite a few of these “playing Magic” blogs, focusing on a few of the Ravnica guilds such as Dimir and Orzhov, but not yet on the colour combination that I perhaps enjoy more than any other: red and black! So it’s finally time to get to “my roots”, as it were, and talk about the Cult of Rakdos!

Rakdos Lord of Riots

Rakdos is unlike any of the other Guilds on the plane of Ravnica, in that they’re a sort of madcap band of circus-folk who are all bound by their hedonistic worship of the demon, Rakdos. The black and red cult has appeared now in three different sets, starting with Dissension in original Ravnica back in 2006. The guild mechanic here was Hellbent, an ability word that gave additional or enhanced effects to a card if you have no cards in hand.

Return to Ravnica gave us Unleash, a mechanic that allows you to choose when casting a creature to place a +1/+1 counter on it. If you do, it then cannot block, but is obviously buffed for as long as it remains in play. (Indeed, a counter placed from any source will prevent the creature from blocking). As far as the link to Rakdos goes, it’s fairly thematic, given the fact that the creature will only be concerned with attacking.

Finally, Ravnica Allegiance has given us Spectacle, which is a sort of re-imagined version of the ability originally chosen for Rakdos – if an opponent lost life this turn, you can cast the spell for its Spectacle cost rather than its casting cost. It’s also thematic for being so similar to the ability of the guildmaster himself, Rakdos Lord of Riots.

Rakdos

So let’s get down to my deck!

Creatures
Rakdos, Lord of Riots
Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
Spike Jester (2)
Goblin Deathraiders (2)
Rakka Mar
Kiln Fiend
Hellrider
Rakdos Cackler (2)
Rakdos Shred-Freak (2)
Gore-House Chainwalker (2)
Rakdos Drake (2)
Exuberant Firestoker

Instants
Staggershock (2)
Shock (2)
Showstopper (2)
Virulent Swipe (2)
Rally the Forces

Enchantments
Lightning Talons (2)
Deviant Glee (2)
Madcap Skills
Anthem of Rakdos

Artifacts
Rakdos Keyrune (2)
Rakdos Signet
Rakdos Cluestone
Veinfire Borderpost

Land
Rakdos Guildgate (4)
Rakdos Carnarium (2)
Blood Crypt
Swamp (7)
Mountain (8)

There are a couple of things that I’ve considered changing about this deck, but I’ve had pretty decent luck with it so far that I’ve not really done anything about it just yet.

The bulk of the deck is of course Rakdos-centric, which is a lot of attacking power and Haste creatures. A lot of people don’t value Enchantments much, because of the fact that they die with the creature they’re attached to, but I do like to have some in my decks for the abilities they can grant. And I do recall one particularly memorable game where I had the Hellrider deal just one point of damage to my opponent, which let me bring Rakdos himself out, and the pair of them consequently won me the game while equipped with Deviant Glee and Lightning Talons, respectively! By contrast, the only artifacts included in the deck are concerned with mana-fixing, which is probably something that isn’t going to be a problem with the majority of the cards included, but they’re also really on-theme, so I find it hard to argue with that!

I mentioned Hellrider being a useful way to ensure Rakdos comes out, but there are a couple of direct-damage spells (of course!) that can help to ensure I’m able to deal damage to my opponent if need be, as well as the Exuberant Firestoker who, for quite a while, was almost cut from the team. However, even with creatures that have Trample or Flying, I need to make sure I can get the big guy out as much as possible. There are plenty of ways to pump him throughout the deck, which can win me the game if need be – Rakdos with Lightning Talons was a 9/6 Flying & Trample demon badass, but with Virulent Swipe he can be an 11/6 Flying/Trample/Deathtouch nightmare! Add in a Rally the Forces and he’s giving out 12 points of damage in the air – Trample ensures at least some of it gets through, and First Strike will kill off any chumps before they get a chance to kill him as well. If Anthem of Rakdos is added into the mix, there is the potential to one-shot a player! He can be such an incredible threat, it’s worth adding in the additional insurances to make sure he can be cast!

Exava Rakdos Blood Witch

Of course, the deck isn’t entirely about the Lord of Riots. He’s not an expensive card to buy, normally, but his availability has decreased significantly since I first got into the game, it has to be said. So the deck was never going to be a showcase for my favourite cult leader. We’ve got Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch, who acts almost as a focal point for the Unleash mechanic, allowing me to play those creatures on the turn they come out as she gives anything with a +1/+1 counter Haste. There are plenty of creatures and plenty of direct-damage spells that I can still stand a very good chance here, even if the Lord of Riots is stuck at the bottom of my deck. I don’t need him to win, but he’s really great when he hits the table!

I’ve talked before about encouraging the aesthetics of the deck in having cards in the same frame, and so on, and here I wanted to keep that sort of look of the deck as having the pre-M15 frame. I should probably try to make another deck from the new Rakdos cards in the new block, as I’ve got quite a few that I think might go together to make a decent re-imagining of the classic combo of black and red. Might be a blog for another day soon!

Rakdos

Outside of the Ravnica cards, I’ve gone pretty wide this time in the deck, including stuff from original Zendikar block, and even Shards of Alara. I feel it’s worth mentioning here the Borderposts that I’ve included in the deck – I’ve come across a lot of hate for these cards online, as people seem to condemn anything that isn’t a fetchland as worthless. However, it’s worth noting that you can pay 1 generic mana and return a land to your hand to play the card, rather than paying the three-mana casting cost. Turn one, then, being able to play the post provides some immediate fixing on the same speed as a Guildgate. Again, I’m aware that Guildgates are hardly the go-to lands but, playing against a lot of land removal allows me to keep my colour fixing in artifacts like these and the Keyrune etc.

Of course, it’s basically an aggro deck, so there are a lot of creatures involved, with a lot of combat tricks to buff them (and keeping the Kiln Fiend happy!) I’ve been thinking of more stuff like this going into the deck, to have more value coming from casting spells – Guttersnipe springs to mind, of course, but as I’d said before, I’ve had decent success so I’m not in too much of a rush to change things for now. I also have only 9 instant cards in the deck, which I don’t think is enough to consider building a spells-matter strategy into it at this point.

Rakdos

It’s a lot of fun playing these sorts of decks, I find, as you usually don’t find yourself playing for very long, so can get in multiple games and, thus, get to see a lot more of the deck.

There are a lot of great cards that can find a home in a deck like this, although they do tend to lend themselves to a certain type of card as time goes on. I’ve found myself having collected a large number of Magic cards over the years, and so find it a lot of fun to physically go through the collection and build decks that include all manner of weird and wonderful cards and effects. It’s also one of the reasons that I think this game is always going to be around for me – I might not play it anywhere near as often as I used to, but it’s something that has been a big part of my life for quite some time, and will doubtless always remain there, ready for me to come back to it when life allows! I suppose that’s the beauty of the game, in that a deck like Return to Ravnica-era Rakdos (and we’re talking 2012 here) will always be fun to play, no matter what has happened in the game. There’s another reason why I keep coming back to Magic – that timeless quality of it just being a really good game!

Playing Magic: The Orzhov Syndicate

Hey everybody!
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these “playing Magic” blogs, but in light of the fact that I’ve started to collect some cards again, and seeing as how we’ve just experienced another return to the plane of Ravnica, I thought it’s about time I wrote up a blog showcasing the Orzhov deck that I’ve been talking about in a number of my previous blogs! So without further ado, let’s get to it!

Orzhov Syndicate

The Orzhov Syndicate is a bit like the idea of a corrupt Church organisation, not all that far removed from real life, where the leaders are more businessmen than clerics, and who have a very temporal power through their control of all manner of deals. Indeed, one of the Guild-specific land cards in the original Ravnica block is Orzhova, the Church of Deals. There is a strong theme whereby even in death, a person’s debt is rarely paid, and so the Guild features a lot of ghosts and shades, with a few keywords that have come in over the years that play on that idea.

The original keyword mechanic for the Orzhov Syndicate was Haunt. Widely considered to be a terrible mechanic (head designer Mark Rosewater himself considers it “a mistake”), a card with Haunt will be exiled rather than placed in the graveyard, “haunting” another permanent on the battlefield. When the card it is haunting is itself then put into the graveyard, that action will trigger the Haunt effect of the original card, basically getting a second use out of it before both die.

During Return to Ravnica block, Orzhov had the mechanic Extort, which allows you to pay an additional white or black mana whenever you cast a spell, whereupon each opponent loses 1 life and you gain life equal to the total lost. Commonly referred to as “drain and gain”, it’s a great way to ensure cards have impact for you the whole game, and it’s the mechanic around which I’ve built my deck that I’ll talk about shortly!

During the latest Guilds of Ravnica block, the new Orzhov mechanic is Afterlife X, which creates X 1/1 Spirit creature tokens when the card with Afterlife X dies. I suppose you can think of this as a cleaner Haunt, or at least, a cleaner implementation of the idea of Haunt! It’s also extremely on-point for the idea of never quite paying off your debts to the Syndicate!

Unlike my Dimir deck, my Orzhov deck is all about the Guild, and goes heavily into the theme of Orzhov, using cards only from Ravnica and Return to Ravnica blocks.

Orzhov Syndicate

I’ll be the first to admit, this deck can be clunky as hell. Because of the fact that I’ve got the self-imposed limit of only including Guild-specific cards in the deck, it’s really difficult to reliably make the deck win. I’ve also included some cards in there for the sheer theme alone, and ordinarily wouldn’t consider using if I were trying to make the deck more playable. But it’s a lot of fun to build decks that are dripping with theme like this, so there is definitely that in its favour!

Creatures (25):
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Kingpin’s Pet
Treasury Thrull
Syndic of Tithes
Syndicate Enforcer
Souls of the Faultless
Maze Sentinel
Basilica Guards
Sin Collector
High Priest of Penance (2)
Tithe Drinker (2)
Orzhov Guildmage
Vizkopa Confessor
Thrull Parasite (2)
Crypt Ghast
Pontiff of Blight
Vizkopa Guildmage
Dutiful Thrull (2)
Basilica Screecher (2)

Instants & Sorceries (5):
Purge the Profane
Executioner’s Swing (2)
Obzedat’s Aid (2)

Artifacts (4):
Orzhov Signet
Orzhov Cluestone
Orzhov Keyrune (2)

Enchantments (4):
Gift of Orzhova (2)
Shadow Lance
Blind Obedience

Land (22):
Orzhov Guildgate (3)
Orzhov Basilica (3)
Orzhova, the Church of Deals
Plains (8)
Swamp (7)

Orzhov Syndicate

There are 15 instances of Extort as a keyword in the deck, though thanks to the Pontiff of Blight, every single spell being cast has the potential to gain Extort – and in case you were wondering, multiple instances of Extort on a card do indeed stack, so there is definitely the potential for some serious drain and gain shenanigans going on there!

Of course, Extort isn’t the only thing going on with the deck. There is a certain element of Control, thanks to stuff like Blind Obedience (a card I normally dislike playing due to the amount of hate it can attract) and the High Priest of Penance forcing some difficult choices to be made by any would-be attacker. The lifegain potential in the deck is high, due to the multiple instances of Lifelink outside of Extort, though one of the big areas this deck falls down is a failing to weaponize that. I’ve talked more in-depth on weaponizing lifegain in my Ayli Commander deck blog, though, and I think if I were to travel outside of the Ravnica block cards, it wouldn’t be too difficult to create a really punishing version of this deck.

Ultimately, this is meant to be just a fun deck that is really dripping with theme, and one that brings back fond memories for me when I was first getting into Magic the Gathering, watching Spellslingers and enjoying the interactions of the cards, as well as seeing just how much fun you can have playing this game!!

Playing Magic: The Boros Legion

Hey everybody!
It’s another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and this week I wanted to return to looking at some of the weird and wonderful decks I’ve been building for Magic the Gathering. Earlier this year, I started to write some blogs about the decks I’ve been playing, starting with the blue/black delights of House Dimir, and this is very much a continuation of that theme as I look at another of the guilds of Ravnica: the Boros Legion!

Boros Legion

Boros is red/white, and is centred around the idea of lots of attacking creatures with lots of buffs. While I like both colours, I usually prefer to have them each paired with black (though I have also experimented with blue/red in more recent times).

Boros is a complicated entity on Ravnica, as it is an army led by angels. In the original Ravnica block, the Boros Legion was led by Razia, Archangel of the Boros Legion. There are distinct factions of the Boros and the Wojek, with complicated relationships and a power banding that stretches from the angels through to the general officers. As with all guilds from Ravnica, Boros have had two keywords in each block: Radiance in the original set, and Battalion in Return to Ravnica. We’ll get to Battalion shortly, but as I don’t have any cards from original Ravnica in this deck, I’ll just briefly mention Radiance now: it provides an effect on a target card and all cards that share a colour with it. There are a number of spells that buff your own chaps, but also spells that destroy cards. Not having played with any of these cards, I think I prefer the later keyword for the theme of the guild…

It feels almost deceptively simple to play red/white, however. The basic premise for the deck is to have a lot of creatures out attacking, and play spells to buff them during combat. That’s pretty much it. Playing specific Boros cards, however, grants even more buffs thanks to their keyword, Battalion. This is an ability word that provides an effect whenever the creature with Battalion attacks alongside two or more creatures. There aren’t actually that many creatures in this deck with Battalion – I wanted just a couple, with enough generic chaps to keep the deck interesting.

Boros Legion

Indeed, I think building this Boros deck really helped to demonstrate to myself some of my key tenets of deckbuilding. I don’t like to have a strategy that hinges on just a couple of cards, but rather have a fairly wide strategy for the deck overall. This Boros deck really demonstrates that insofar as pretty much everything does the same thing, so no card or cards are more crucial than the rest, the deck will still work no matter what is removed. There are some things I’d like to swap out, as I’d really like to give all my creatures Haste, but I think I’d be too concerned with relying on a small number of cards.

Boros Legion

There are also a number of cards from Theros block that feature the Inspired keyword, granting effects whenever the card is untapped. I really like these sorts of things, where the effect will trigger almost automatically (hence why I love Landfall so much!) God-Favored General is probably the best example of this, with the very Boros-like ability of creating soldier tokens whenever he becomes untapped. I’ve talked about this before of course, but I love to see how the colour combinations have consistency even when on different planes.

I have two god-cards in the deck, but the overall strategy doesn’t truly depend on them. Sure, if I can keep Iroas out and give my creatures menace as well as preventing all combat damage to them on my turn, then that’s pretty great, but it’s not going to end my day if Iroas is killed off or continually bounced, or whatever. As usual, the gods serve as a distraction while I try to overwhelm them with other dudes.

Boros Legion

While legendary creatures do most often serve as distractions in my deck, I do like Tajic, Blade of the Legion, and am most sad when he dies quickly. It’s something of a shame for me that I’ve not yet found a good way to consistently get Haste for all my creatures, because I want to attack with him the minute he hits the battlefield – obviously, when I’ve got two other guys attacking with him. 7/7 for four mana is just too good to pass up!

I’ve also tried to get a lot of anthem-effects, which I always think are important in creature-heavy decks – the type of decks I like to play the most! Paragon of New Dawns is perhaps my favourite to play here, giving other white creatures +1/+1. There are more white than red creatures in the deck, and the muticoloured creatures count for this effect as well. Righteous Charge and Spear of Heliod are good for all creatures, though, and the combination has been quite effective when I’ve got a big board going all-in!

Creatures (23)
Heliod, God of the Sun
Daring Skyjek
God-Favored General (x2)
Paragon of New Dawns (x2)
Akroan Phalanx
Akroan Skyguard (x2)
Precinct Captain
Soldier of the Pantheon
Priest of Iroas (x2)
Towering Thunderfist
Akroan Hoplite (x2)
Iroas’s Champion (x2)
Tajic, Blade of the Legion
Iroas, God of Victory
Truefire Paladin (x2)
Wojek Halberdiers

Instants & Sorceries (8)
Martial Glory (x2)
Mortal’s Ardor (x2)
Boros Charm
Crowd’s Favor
Righteous Charge
Bolt of Keranos

Enchantments & Artifacts (6)
Spear of Heliod
Assemble the Legion
Gleam of Battle
Armory of Iroas
Boros Keyrune (x2)

Land (23)
Plains (x9)
Mountains (x9)
Temple of Triumph
Ancient Amphitheater
Boros Guildgate (x2)
Cathedral of War

This is a fairly basic red/white attack deck, with a fairly hefty landbase to accommodate those enchantments. It still needs a little bit of playing around with, to be sure, but it has been a lot of fun to play, especially when the board is just right and I can swing for 23 in a single turn!

Playing Magic: House Dimir

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day blog here on spalanz.com, and I thought I’d go for something a little bit different today, in rambling a bit about a deck I’ve been playing in Magic the Gathering of late. It’s always good to ramble, of course, and I’ve been playing a lot of Magic again lately, so it all seems entirely appropriate! So without further ado, I’d like to welcome you to House Dimir!

Dimir Guildgate

Enter and become a mastermind of spies, lies and deception.

House Dimir is one of the ten guilds on the plane of Ravnica, and was first introduced in the original Ravnica block (2005-6). This block introduced a number of new mechanics as per usual for Magic releases, centred around the lore of the ten guilds of the plane. Each guild is represented by a colour pair, and contained themes that built up the lore of Ravnica – for example, the Boros Legion (red/white) focused on massed-army play with card effects that affect all of your guys; the Cult of Rakdos (black/red) featured the maniacal, almost-suicidal attempts to just go all-out, and House Dimir (blue/black) was all about the secrets and deception.

I like to experiment with different decks and combos, and while I do tend to return to either black/red or black/white decks, I do like to see what’s on offer from the other colour combinations. However, I dislike a lot of the blue cards that basically shut down gameplay and don’t let anyone do anything, so have often stayed away from the colour. However, during the last Standard season, I built up a Jeskai deck with red/white/blue (which will probably feature in a future blog!) and have begun to re-evaluate some of the former thoughts on blue cards.

And thus, my House Dimir deck was born!

Dimir Keyrune

I love pretty much everything about Ravnica. Tarkir block is still probably my all-time favourite, not least because it was the current block when I started to play, but I do love the guilds and the theme from that. I’ve played a lot of Rakdos decks, and have dabbled with some Selesnya, as well as trying to build an Orzhov deck off-and-on.

There have been two mechanics specific to each guild, one each from original Ravnica and Return to Ravnica blocks. For Dimir, the original mechanic was Transmute, which allowed you to discard a card from your hand, pay its Transmute cost, and search your library for a card with equal mana cost and draw it. I don’t currently have any cards from the original block, however the deck I’ve built includes more than merely Dimir-specific cards, and I have one copy of Disciple of Deceit in there that has the same effect that triggers whenever it untaps. It’s really cool to me to see how effects like these can survive from set to set, and really help to build up the strategy even when you look beyond the block.

IMAG4640

The second Dimir mechanic is called Cipher, which I feel is really awesome, and was probably the prime motivation for wanting to write this blog! Basically, when you play a card with Cipher, you exile the card once it has resolved, ‘encoded on a creature you control’. This almost acts like an enchantment on the creature, and allows you to continually re-cast it from exile whenever that creature deals combat damage to a player, so long as the card remains in exile. I really liked this ability, so long as I was getting the damage through directly rather than being blocked, and can imagine it would be wonderful to have a whole army of people attacking and dealing damage, then all kinds of other stuff triggering off!

Of all the Cipher cards I have in the deck, Shadow Slice has got to be my favourite – ‘target opponent loses 3 life’. Encode it on something to get that triggering with every attack? Hell yeah! Of course, some of these cards are expensive to play, and Shadow Slice costs 5 mana, however blue/black can be pretty great for longer games, and while I’m still unfamiliar with the colour blue, I’ve made sure to get a few defenders and cancel spells in there to make sure I can last that long!

IMAG4641

I also have a lot of other stuff in the deck from Theros and Tarkir blocks, including the wonderful Silumgar cards, with which I’d tried to do something towards the end of last year, but couldn’t work out a good deck so gave up with them. While I haven’t actually gotten to play with him yet, I also have the Theros god Phenax in the deck, as I’ve recently gotten into the Theros cards and what they all do. Pretty much all the Magic I play these days is casual, so while it might not be Standard-legal, and would likely get ripped apart in Modern or Legacy, I still really like it. In about 6-8 games I’ve played with it so far, I’ve only lost once due to mana-screw, which is another reason for enjoying it! I’ve recently picked up some more thematic cards, including some of the Dimir legendary creatures, so might be changing it up for now, but here’s my deck for your general amusement!

Creatures (24):
Phenax, God of Deception
Dragonlord Silumgar
Sidisi, Undead Vizier
Dinrova Horror
Necromaster Dragon (2)
Mortus Strider
Dutiful Attendant (2)
Shambling Goblin (2)
Murmuring Phantasm (2)
Qarsi Sadist
Haunter of Nightveil
Hand of Silumgar (2)
Silumgar Assassin
Disciple of Deceit
Siren of the Silent Song
Deathcult Rogue (2)
Perilous Shadow
Notion Thief

Spells (13):
Cancel (2)
Dispel (2)
Shadow Slice (2)
Spell Rupture (2)
Silumgar’s Command (2)
Psychic Strike
Midnight Recovery
Hands of Binding

Attachments (1):
Dimir Cluestone

Enchantments (1):
Sinister Possession

Land (21):
Temple of Deceit (2)
Dimir Guildgate (4)
Dismal Backwater (4)
Swamp (6)
Island (5)