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An Artisanal Display Of Sacrifice: Top 8 At PT Arena 2 With Rakdos Sacrifice

This weekend I got to prove that I’m not a one trick pony. Winning the Mythic Championship (now called Player’s Tour) last year came with its share of impostor syndrome. I went on a really bad losing streak in Grand Prix. I couldn’t quite cross the finish line in the other two Mythic Championships I played in. Making Top 8 in this event finally lets me prove to myself that I’m not a fluke. It’s vindication for the arduous path I’ve taken to get here.

It’s a little bit sweeter that I also got to do it with my favorite deck in Standard, Rakdos Sacrifice. I took a break from Magic during the dominance of companions. So I got to pick up where I left off with Mayhem Devil and Woe Strider. Sacrificing C+ creatures and taking my opponents best ones, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Setting The Stage

When I first started qualifying for Pro Tours/Mythic Championships/Player’s Tours, there was a two week window in between the set release and the tournament. This event was similar to this old scheduling, except instead of Ikoria’s release date, the event was right on the heels of the June 1st Banned and Restricted (BnR) announcement. A banning is very different from a set release. Players would be able to derive a lot of information based on what was powerful during the “companion spring” but adjust it to a world without Agent of Treachery or Lurrus

The Format

Fires of Invention was taken off the table. Aggro would have to be reworked to not include Lurrus or Obosh, which was doable but would take some testing. A deck like Bant Midrange was mostly untouched by the BnR, but it requires a lot of tuning to be successful. It can be rewarding if your list is good, but you will be punished if you are incorrect in your meta-game reads. Tuning a deck like Bant becomes easier the further a format develops and the task is at its most difficult right after a shakeup. 

The two decks that did not require any adjustments were clearly Jund Food and Temur Reclamation. These decks had strong proactive game plans that made them viable choices during Companion Spring, and require little update for a new meta-game. Early on, it was clear that this was the meta-game to attack.

Deck Selection

As a modern player, I value experience with a deck a lot, so I turned to my trusty RB sacrifice. I had played it a little during companion spring, but I was not a fan of the Obosh and Lurrus versions of the deck. They say restrictions breed creativity, but I just wanted to be able to play with Priest of the Forgotten Gods and Mayhem Devil at the same time. With companions nerfed, I could start testing with the list I had played in the Magic Fest Online and move forward from there. 

Other Deck Considerations

I tried a few other decks mostly Jund Food and Rakdos Knights. Adding green to the deck made it much better against Bant Midrange. Trail of Crumbs dodges Elspeth Conqueror’s Death and Shatter the Sky, so you can use this card to out grind them. I didn’t like this plan against Temur Reclamation however. Sure, Temur has a hard time interacting with your card advantage engine, but they don’t care. Explosion you for 20, how’s that for card advantage? Neither Rakdos Sac nor Jund Food, could break up Temur’s combo draws, but at least Rakdos wasn’t messing around to try and win a long game vs Wilderness Reclamation.

Knights was an idea that came up around Wednesday before the event. I was told to test out a Rakdos Sac sideboard plan that involved siding in 4 Rotting Regisaur vs Reclamation. The plan was working pretty well so I thought, “why don’t I just play a deck that does this game 1 too.” Unfortunately, there was no blueprint for a strong Regisaur aggro deck. Lurrus and Obosh defined aggro for the entirety of Ikoria, so you had to start from basically a blank slate.

The people who played this strategy in the event were forced to take notes from Dylan Nollen’s GP Portland Rakdos Knights deck or Chris Kvartech’s GB adventure’s deck. Both of these decks would need to be updated, not just with Ikoria cards, but Theros ones as well because they were so old. As if this wasn’t enough, the 2nd most popular deck, Jund Food, was your bad matchup. Claim the Firstborn and Mayhem Devil stopped big and small creatures respectively and the Cat/Oven combo works like a Maze Of Ith vs big attackers like Rotting Regisaur. I didn’t want to use precious testing time to try and build a deck that might end up being a dead end vs Oven based strategies, even if it did beat Temur Reclamation.

“Artisanal” Deckbuilding

Fiend Artisan

The first thing I did once I locked in Sacrifice was adding a new card from Ikoria. Fiend Artisan was a powerful card that did not get a chance to shine because of companions. The Artisan did not work with Jegantha or Obosh, so the amount of play it saw was artificially reduced. Rakdos Sacrifice used to have a problem with the two drop slot. Before Ikoria there were not enough synergistic cards to build a 60 card deck with a good curve. You could add in extra three drops that worked with your deck, like Judith or play two drops that didn’t really fit with your sacrifice engines, like Robber of the Rich.

Playing Fiend Artisan makes it even more likely that you had a sacrifice outlet and it’s also a much better top-deck in the late game than Dreadhorde Butcher. Being able to tutor up various creatures helps with Rakdos’ inconsistency issues. However, you don’t want to go overboard on this ability when you’re building your deck. It’s expensive to get a 3 drop and half the time your graveyard will be stocked and attacking them will be juicier than taking your turn off to upgrade one of your fodder creatures. Don’t add too many cute one-ofs to your deck thinking you’re going to look smart when you tutor them into play. I promise you will look smart when you attack them with a two mana 5/5.

RVD: One of a kind (One Ofs)

I can warn people about the dangers of 1 ofs because it was clearly a trap I fell for when building my deck for the event. The first one-of that I played was Call of the Death-Dweller. I copied this idea from Magic Online user, ELYALLO’s list from the June 7th Standard Challenge. They were playing three Midnight Reaper and one Call of the Death-Dweller. Call was sort of like a triple split card between all of your different three drops, but only in long games where you had a stocked graveyard. Playing a lot of copies of this “reanimate” meant they got stuck in your hand, so I kept it at one. The real prize is putting a deathtouch counter on a Mayhem Devil and this interaction definitely makes the Call worth the inclusion.

The Lazotep Reaver got a small amount of ridicule during my feature match, but I put it on the stack and my opponent conceded. I’ll let you be the judge of that. This card first popped into my head when I was using a Fiend Artisan, and I wanted something that was two bodies, but cheaper than three mana. I think I was probably being too cute, but it ended up working out well. Deafening Clarion and Shatter the Sky were decreasing in popularity and Extinction Event was the sweeper Du Jour. Lazotep Reaver making a pair of even cost permanents helped to make Events less backbreaking. It also passes the “Teferi test”, although not with flying colors. Even though the card is somewhat well positioned, it’s pathetic in terms of power level, so it would be the first card I cut in a future version.

Dreadhorde Butcher I talked about how this one was just fine the last time I wrote about this deck and I think things have gotten worse. Scorching Dragonfire, Glass Casket, Brazen Borrower, and Aether Gust are all extremely popular. Vs other Food decks it’s weak to Gilded Goose, Cauldron Familiar and Mayhem Devil. It’s just not making the cut these days. The reason that I played one was simply that I ran out of time to test a replacement. 

Manabase

Once I had decided on playing Fiend Artisan, I had to make some minor adjustments to my mana base. Six mountains was too much of a liability with a double G/B hybrid card. Thankfully I remembered a deck tech from the Dragon’s Maze Pro Tour back in 2013. The Boros deck had off-color shock lands to cast Burning-Tree Emissary and Dryad Militant. If you’re confused why there are two Stomping Ground and no green cards, it is because it acts like a mountain except that it also casts Fiend Artisan. 

The Sideboard

Four copies of Rotting Regisaur is a must right now. Discard and removal for Reclamation itself is not what you want to fight Temur. Reclamation is very good at powering through disruption. It only takes one Nightpack Ambusher, Uro, or Explosion to take over a game. Their deck is so full of cantrips that they can find one of these cards even if you take the first copy out of their hand. Instead, you should just try to kill them. Regisaur beats all of their creature’s except for Uro in combat and it dodges any red removal. They can use expansion to copy a Dragonfire to trade two for two with you. This is why I want 4 copies. They can set up a double burn spell once, but forcing them to answer a turn 3 and turn 4 dino is hard for them. Be careful of Brazen Borrower bouncing it in your upkeep with the discard trigger on the stack. If you cast Agonizing Remorse the turn before a Regisaur, Borrower and Uro are the cards you should take.

Agonizing Remorse is a card that I do side in against Temur, but I find that it’s better vs Bant and Sultai Midrange. They don’t have quite as explosive top decks as Reclamation and they don’t play Opt to rip through their deck. 

Heartless Act is the best removal spell you can play in your sideboard, but do not make the mistake of playing four copies. It is the most versatile removal spell, but it does not kill everything. Mix in some Noxious Grasp to kill Krasis, Yorvo, and Nissa. It is actually correct to board in two Heartless Act vs Temur. Even though they play few creatures, answering a Shark Token or Ambusher can be insanely tempo positive that it is worth having removal stuck in your hand. If they have more than two Nightpack Ambusher, side in even more removal.

Embereth Sheildbreaker is for other Cat/Oven decks. I think it is correct to play one Irrelevant Revelers in order to make Fiend Artisan better. 

Blightbeetle was because I thought Crowkeyz and Zvi Mowshowitz would popularize Mono-Green Aggro. It was probably an over reaction and I wouldn’t play it in the future. The biggest strikes against the Beetle is that it does not stop Nissa lands or block Questing Beast.  

The List

Standard Rakdos Sacrifice Deck List - Eli Loveman Top 8 Pro Tour

The Updated List

Even though I had a good finish with the deck, I have still been thinking about what could have done better. The biggest update the deck needs is a better two drop. I think the best one available is something I missed during gatherer searches because its converted mana cost is actually 0, not 2. Stonecoil Serpent passes a lot of the tests that the interactive cards in standard ask of you. It can’t get bounced by Teferi at all. The snake can’t be targeted by Aether Gust, Elspeth Conquers Death, or Mayhem Devil triggers. It even has evasion so it is not blanked by Cauldron Familiar chump blocking. If there was a two colorless, 2/2 creature with all of the abilities of Stonecoil Serpent I would play that card, but it’s even better than that. 

The remaining changes are playing a copy of Irreverent Revelers as a tutor target for Fiend Artisan. Blightbeetle has been swapped for another Noxious Grasp because I suspect an uptick in Bant players as the metagame begins to settle down. I think Scorching Dragonfire and Act of Treason should still be included. You’ll still play against a fairly wide variety of decks even though Growth Spiral is so dominant. I wanted a clean answer for Anax out of Mono-Red and Act of Treason comes in vs decks with Spawn of Mayhem or Questing Beast

If you are considering picking this deck up there are a number of interactions that you need to learn. Many of these potential plays require rules knowledge that normally does not come up in standard. Some examples are holding priority and active/non-active player triggers going on the stack. I wrote an article back in April that still has a lot of relevant interactions. Rather than repeat them here I encourage you to check it out. 

Standard Rakdos Sacrifice Deck List Update - Eli Loveman

Going Forward In Standard And Rakdos Sacrifice

If you want to get ready for M21 standard, you’re in luck. There is a sacrifice subtheme in the set, so there are lots of cards to test out. One card I would recommend keeping an eye on Village Rites. It is a very powerful sacrifice outlet and it’s cheap and flexible. However it’s a one time use, not a repeatable effect so I’m not sure how it will turn out.

Temur Reclamation is almost certainly the best deck in standard, but it is a very niche playstyle that does not appeal to a lot of players. If you’re an aggro player or you’re looking for a way to escape playing Reclamation mirrors, I think Rakdos Sacrifice is the best choice. You have a very nice spot in the metagame where you are a very slight favorite vs reclamation, and a large favorite over “anti-temur decks” like Mono-Green Aggro or UG Flash. 

If you have any significant Arena, Magic: Online, or any other event going forward with Rakdos Sacrifice, I’d fully recommend it. Who knows what’s going to happen with the release of M21 though. So check back, and maybe you’ll see some more sacrifices going on from me. 

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