Well, the cards for Shoot to Kill didn’t get delivered in time for me to take a deck to Friday Night Modern, but I’ll have another opportunity in a month. Until then, I have a few weeks to work on my Standard deck. And I think I’m abandoning the U/B millgro concept I’ve been struggling with. Rather, I’m going back to my roots and resurrecting my Rakdos Deck Wins deck to see how much more competitive I can make it in a post-Gatecrash Standard.
At it’s core, the problem with Rakdos aggro is generic aggro can do aggro better. Look at the top R/B decks that claim to be Rakdos and note how many actual Rakdos cards they run. Almost none. Cacklers, maybe Dreadbore, and possibly a Slaughter Games in the sideboard, but that’s it. Much of the R/B aggro strategy is still stuck in the Innistrad block, using vampires as the engine of the deck. Get it while the getting is good, I guess. But I can’t argue with the picks in the decks that win.
1-drops in an aggro deck need to be able to pull their weight in the mid to late game and not just be a dead draw after turn 1 or 2. Stromkirk Noble is the premiere 1-drop for Red, and he gets out of control pretty quickly. Especially in a meta as jam packed full of Boros decks as mine is. You’d be surprised how many Humans hit the board once you start paying attention to what can and can not block your Stromkirk Noble. As for Rakdos Cackler, let’s face it: we’re not playing him as anything less than a 2/2 that can’t block. He may not be able to prevent incoming attacks, but that’s really not what he’s for. Cackler is pure aggression. For walling attacks, we have the 2-drops.
Naya, Boros, Bant, Azorius, Esper, Selesnya, Orzhov… all match-ups in which Knight of Infamy is relevant. Early game he can be a 3/2 for 2 with Exalted. Mid to late game he Exalts our bigger creature drops and walls the opponent pretty effectively. Ash Zealot is the real star in the 2cmc slot, though. She can be 2 damage from left field with Haste, and First Strike extends her chances of survival. If you’re running red aggro, always run Ash Zealot as a 4-of.
The best new addition to the red suite that Gatecrash as to offer, in my opinion. Boros Reckoner can trade with the best of them, and his ability to turn damage back around on the opponent is always a deterrent. I’ve heard of White deck players using him in infinite Life combos: give Reckoner Lifelink and make him Indestructible, put him in a pit fight with just about anything and have him direct the extra damage he deals to himself, which you get Life back for. Then, since he took damage, he deals damage to himself, which you get Life back for. Then, since he took damage… lather, rinse, repeat. Personally, I like him for the potential combo with Blasphemous Act, sweeping the board with 13 damage to each creature then having each of my Reckoners deal 13 damage to the opponent. But since so many other decks run a set of Reckoners as well, that’s sideboard tech at best.
Really, the only reason to run R/B aggro is Falkenrath Aristocrat. Aristocrat has evasion. Aristocrat can be fed to survive a Supreme Verdict. Arisocrat can be fed to survive a Blaspehmous Act, if I pull one off. Aristocrat can survive a pit fight. I’ve seen lists running Hound of Griselbrand in the 4-drop slot, but none of them splashed Black. Falkenrath Aristocrat is a real threat to the opponent. She’s so good that I don’t know what Rakdos is going to do once Innistrad cycles out of Standard.
A lot of thought had to go into what to include in the 5-drop slot, if anything at all. Careful not to overdo it on 5-drops because the RDW mentality of the Rakdos deck relies on smaller, cheaper creatures in larger numbers. Too many 5s and the mana curve gets screwed up. Especially since we are already committed to a set of 4-drops. There’s a lot of debate over which is better here: Hellkite or Zealous Conscripts. I tested with Zealous Conscripts for a while, and I decided that she’s not a bad card, but if I can’t play her, steal the opponent’s best creature and swing for game with everything, then I’m left with a 3/3 I feel like I overpaid for. Thundermaw Hellkite is at least a 5/5 flier all the time, and most other red aggro and midrange decks at my LGS run Hellkite so it’s nice to be able to match them. And if he lands on turn 5 or 6 he clears the way for my Aristocrats as well.
Tap dudes, deal damage. That’s the simplest version of the strategy. Opponent creatures make that hard to do, so we run a suite of spells to remove them as obstacles. Pillar of Flame is 2 damage that exiles, so no more Undying Strangleroot Geist or Pyreheart Wolf. Searing Spear for instant speed answers to creatures. Both are good for finishing a game off for that last 2 or 3 points of damage I need for a win. Mizzium Mortars is for larger threats, and can sweep if I need it to. Dreadbore is just a great all purpose removal that can safely eliminate an opponent Reckoner or Planeswalker.
The sideboard really just tool boxes the removal suite to whatever deck I might be playing. Opponent exploiting Indestructible? Auger Spree and/or Act of Treason (which then provides Aristocrat chow). Need more card advantage or precision removal? Rakdos’s Return and/or Slaughter Games. Pesky Deathrite Shaman? Annoyed by Trading Post? Getting aggro rushed? Rakdos Charm. And Blasphemous Act to combo with my own Reckoners, for when I can get away with it.
We’ll have a few opportunities to take this to FNM Standard before the next Modern tournament, so stay tuned for how well we do.
4x Ash Zealot
4x Boros Reckoner
4x Falkenrath Aristocrat
4x Knight of Infamy
4x Rakdos Cackler
4x Stromkirk Noble
1x Thundermaw Hellkite
3x Searing Spear
3x Mizzium Mortars
3x Pillar of Flame
4x Blood Crypt
4x Dragonskull Summit
2x Act of Treason
3x Auger Spree
2x Blasphemous Act
3x Rakdos Charm
2x Rakdos’s Return
3x Slaughter Games