How Did We End Up with Rakdos Knights?

Goncalo Pinto

Goncalo Pinto

My Testing Process for MC VI

Mythic Championship VI (MC VI) was an interesting one. Much like the previous tabletop in Barcelona, everybody had a solid idea on what the best deck was but this time the card pool was much smaller. This meant that not only the answers were more reduced and ineffective but there were also much less opportunities to create a different a strategy to fight against it.

Oko, Thief of Crowns

With that said, the Hall of famer Willy Edel said from the beginning in our group chat that he was not going to play 《Oko, Thief of Crowns》 in Richmond. I guess the only time a Jund-like deck is proven to be the best deck in the field, it’s the time he refuses to play it. #Edelgenious

Noxious Grasp

We wanted something that punished the maindeck 《Noxious Grasp》s that people were already maindecking to have an edge on the Oko mirrors, but at the same time, no one was not impressed with the Azorius Control and Temur Reclamation decks that popped on the MC VII qualifier weekend.

Cauldron FamiliarWitch's OvenMayhem Devil

Willy then moved to the Rakdos Sacrifice deck and came to the same conclusion most of us in the group had. The deck was too clunky. Sure, when you draw your pieces and your opponent fails to interact efficiently with you it seems like it is the best deck in the world, but in most of the games, your game plan is like a giant castle of cards and not much needs to go wrong for it to fall on the floor.

Knight of the Ebon LegionRankle, Master of PranksEmbercleave

His next adventure was the Mono-Black that Fabrizio Anteri was playing a while ago. Now this one caught my attention. I played this deck back in the Golos meta after Fabrizio beat me in one of the last rounds of the last MOCS playoff. I liked the deck, but on the other hand, I couldn’t see myself playing an aggro deck, if it didn’t run 《Embercleave》. I played Gruul for a while too and was really impressed with that card. If only we could run it on the Mono-Black…

Fabled Passage

Now this is the part I’d like to take credit for. We refused to play tap lands, even 《Fabled Passage》 was out of question, since the first turns are crucial. You need to develop the best board state possible, in order to make a limit for your opponent’s blocking options and profit the best from your combat tricks. That’s simply not possible when your lands come tapped in your first three turns.

Blood CryptTournament Grounds

With that said, it left us only with 《Blood Crypt》… and 《Tournament Grounds》. The deck has already a bunch of knights in it. The red we want is mostly for the equipment anyway, so what if we replace all the other creatures for knights in order to have better mana?

Stormfist CrusaderOathsworn Knight

I quickly used the keyword “knight” on my MTG Arena collections and saw some interesting options such as 《Stormfist Crusader》 and the Oko proof 《Oathsworn Knight》. I built a sketch of it and shipped the list to Willy.

On the next day, when I returned from work I had a message from Willy saying that the mana actually is working well and the Crusader, Oathsworn and Javier (Dominguez) were actually pretty good. Probably better than the 1, 2 and 3 drops of the original Mono-Black.

On the other hand, there were something he didn’t like too much:

Now I will let you think for a while on what 《Phage》 is.

A Side Note on Willy’s Madness

If you know Willy, he is famous for calling new cards a renewed and better version of an existing card. Let me give you some examples:

Old Cards Correspondence
White 《Death’s Shadow》 《Champion of the Parish》 on 5C Humans
《Pack Rat》 《Cryptbreaker》 on UB Zombies
《Lingering Souls》 《Haunted Dead》 on UB Zombies
《Sol Ring》 《Cogworker’s Puzzleknot》 and 《Servo Schematic》 on Grixis Improvise
《Bloodbraid Elf》 《Gonti, Lord of Luxury》 on Mono-Black
《Tarmogoyf》 《Dread Shade》 on Mono-Black
Phage the UntouchableRotting RegisaurTrue-Name NemesisBlightbeetle

In this case Phage is 《Rotting Regisaur》, but due its incredible combination with 《Embercleave》, both were rebranded as the Standard 《Splinter Twin》 combo. The best one though, was when he referred to 《Blightbeetle》 as the 《True-Name Nemesis》. Now you know why we call him The Witch (Bruxão).

Willy

Willy “Witch” Edel

Registering Rakdos Knights at MC VI

So, the deck was legit, but let’s not get crazy over here. We didn’t break it. It was 50-50ish against Oko and quite polarized against the rest of the field. Having good matchup’s against Temur and Azorius, while having a hard time against Rakdos Sacrifice and Golgari Adventures. One thing I liked a lot was how on even the bad matchups you can just 《Embercleave》 them to death. Another good thing about this deck is how much easier it is to play with and how much harder it is to play against, to the many different tricks you can have.

On the flipside 《Wicked Wolf》 was really hard to deal sometimes. And this deck gives you very little margin to outplay your opponent. Sometimes you just play your creatures and attack and hope that they play around the wrong tricks you have.

Also, Oko is a really good deck! There was a reason for almost 70%(!!) of the players decided to play it. Add to that the fact that I just 8-0ed the MOCS the weekend before and you can imagine how difficult it was for me to pull the trigger.

My reasoning was that if Rakdos was 50-50 against Oko, it was pretty much the same as playing Oko mirrors. Sure, you have a little more room to have a playing edge with Oko, but the fact that people were not prepared for Rakdos is also something that you shouldn’t ignore. Even with open decklists. Also, a ghost from a past MOCS came to my head, when I 7-1ed the MOCS the week before MC IV in Barcelona with Hogaak to then 2-7 the constructed portion of it.

In the end the tiebreak was the fear of unintentional draws. I don’t have the reputation to draw many games, but I can see an Oko mirror drawing more often than average percentage of the time, while with Rakdos Knights I was not going to have that problem.

In the end, this is what I’ve registered.

Card Selection and Updates

One Drops

《Fervent Champion》, 《Knight of the Ebon Legion》, and 《Gutterbones》

Fervent Champion

4

Knight of the Ebon Legion

4

Gutterbones

4

All the one drops were fine. 《Gutterbones》 is the worst of the 3, but it still has some applications. Keep in mind that the nut draw from this deck is double Javier and 《Knight of the Ebon Legion》 by turn 2, so keep that in mind when playing your lands on turn one, because sometimes you might want to take 2 off a 《Blood Crypt》 in case you draw one of the missing pieces.

Javier is by far the card that impressed me the most in this deck. It seems so innocent but he really does a lot. First strike combined with 《Blacklance Paragon》 makes it kill pretty much every creature that he blocks or gets blocked with. The ability to pump the knights also works very well with 《Embercleave》, and its ability to equip for free makes it a good treat to play around sweepers, once your equipment was deployed.

Two Drops

《Rimrock Knight》, 《Blacklance Paragon》, and 《Stormfist Crusader》

Rimrock Knight

2

Blacklance Paragon

4

Stormfist Crusader

4

As I said before, we started off with 4 《Rimrock Knight》, but then realized that the red mana for the Adventure was not so trivial. We tried 《Order of Midnight》 too, but much like 《Murderous Rider》, it didn’t fit the plan all that much. We ended up using those slots with 《Drill Bit》. Rimrock is usually the first card to get sideboarded out, especially in matchups where you are expected to do some blocking.

Don’t forget that 《Stormfist Crusader》 is a symmetrical effect, so sometimes consider playing something else, if your draw is already really good. 《Blacklance Paragon》 does a lot for the deck, not only in combat tricks, but is also a nice way to play around sweepers. Its combination with 《Embercleave》 is usually 8 damage against Jeskai Fires.

Keep in mind that once your opponent targets one of your creatures with 《Wicked Wolf》, they have to fight it, so leaving some Rimrock and Blacklance shenanigans up for that turn can bring you some benefits.

Three Drops

《Oathsworn Knight》 and 《Rotting Regisaur》

Oathsworn Knight

4

Rotting Regisaur

3

We felt like 8 three drops were a bit too much, so we decided to cut one. I decided to cut 1 Regisaur, while Willy decided to go for the Knight.

I think the decision is very close, but I’ve realized that having hands with multiple Regisaur was a bit more awkward than hands with multiple Knights. Also, I found that there were some matchups where the Regisaur was actually quite bad (both Selesnya and Golgari Adventures). With that said, Regisaur + 《Embercleave》 is Standard’s 《Splinter Twin》, so…

Other Cards

《Embercleave》

Embercleave

4

Best card in the deck. Sometimes you board one out on the draw, but it is usually correct to leave all in. A good rule of thumb, especially for a new format is: If you think the matchup is bad, keep 4 《Embercleave》.

《Drill Bit》

Drill Bit

3

We wanted some cheap interaction. Also, because this deck’s problematic cards are 《Wicked Wolf》 and 《Massacre Girl》, so creature removal wasn’t going to the trick. Remember, if you have 《Stormfist Crusader》 you can use Drill Bit pre combat for 1 mana.

Lands

After the tournament we both felt like we could have some utility land, in order to prevent a bit from flooding (happens sometimes with this deck, because you don’t have that many mana sinks).

Castle Locthwain

I’ve been running 2 《Castle Locthwain》s and I’ve been happy with it. It has happened that it coming in tapped was annoying, but not enough that I decided to cut them. Drawing one or two extra cards, on o the other side, has come handy sometimes.

Sideboard

Leyline of the Void

3

Massacre Girl

2

Duress

2


Epic Downfall

2

Legion's End

2

Noxious Grasp

2


Embereth Shieldbreaker

1

Drill Bit

1

This is the sideboard I am running at the moment on MTG Arena (post ban), here are some other cards you might want to consider as well:

《Cavalier of Night》

Cavalier of Night

Good against midrange decks. I usually take out some (or all) Regisaur when I board the 5 drops, as you can’t really get rid of the excess lands.

《Bedeck/Bedazzle》

Bedeck+Bedazzle

It looks silly, but it’s actually a 2 mana instant speed removal that is easy on your mana. I’ve played it before, it was alright, if you are in the market for cheap instant removal you can consider this one.

《Experimental Frenzy》

Experimental Frenzy

Good against control decks, obviously.

《Murderous Rider》

Murderous Rider

Again, the Adventure mana is not so easy, so don’t abuse on these. It’s fine against midrange decks, especially those with annoying planeswalkers, such as 《Liliana, Dreadhorde General》, 《Nissa, Who Shakes the World》 or 《Vraska, Golgari Queen》.

Sideboard Guide with Updated List

Golgari Adventures

Against Golgari Adventures (On the Play)

Out

Rimrock Knight Rimrock Knight Gutterbones Gutterbones
Drill Bit

In

Noxious Grasp Noxious Grasp Legion's End Legion's End
Epic Downfall

Against Golgari Adventures (On the Draw)

Out

Rotting Regisaur Rotting Regisaur Rotting Regisaur Gutterbones
Rimrock Knight Rimrock Knight Drill Bit Embercleave

In

Noxious Grasp Noxious Grasp Legion's End Legion's End
Epic Downfall Epic Downfall Massacre Girl Massacre Girl

Selesnya Adventures

Against Selesnya Adventures

Out

Rotting Regisaur Rotting Regisaur Rotting Regisaur Gutterbones
Rimrock Knight Rimrock Knight Drill Bit Drill Bit

In

Noxious Grasp Noxious Grasp Legion's End Legion's End
Epic Downfall Epic Downfall Massacre Girl Massacre Girl
Giant KillerRotting RegisaurFoulmire Knight

I don’t really like Regisaur when you board 5 drops. It also matches up poorly against both versions of 1 drop Adventure (《Giant Killer》 and 《Foulmire Knight》).

Gruul Adventures

Against Gruul Adventures (On the Play)

Out

Drill Bit Drill Bit Drill Bit Gutterbones
Rimrock Knight Rimrock Knight

In

Noxious Grasp Noxious Grasp Legion's End Legion's End
Epic Downfall Epic Downfall

Against Gruul Adventures (On the Draw)

Out

Drill Bit Drill Bit Drill Bit Embercleave
Rimrock Knight Rimrock Knight Stormfist Crusader

In

Noxious Grasp Noxious Grasp Legion's End Legion's End
Epic Downfall Epic Downfall Embereth Shieldbreaker
Questing BeastOathsworn Knight

Don’t forget that 《Questing Beast》 kills your 《Oathsworn Knight》 (or trades if it still has the 4 counters).

Temur Reclamation

Against Temur Reclamation

Out

Stormfist Crusader Stormfist Crusader
Embercleave

In

Duress Duress
Drill Bit
Bonecrusher GiantStormfist CrusaderFlame Sweep

《Stormfist Crusader》 is probably your weakest card in this matchup. It dies to 《Bonecrusher Giant》 and 《Flame Sweep》, while give your opponent some free extra draws to develop their game plan and find ways to deal with both your nightmare 3 drops.

Jeskai Fires

Against Jeskai Fires (On the Play)

Out

Stormfist Crusader Stormfist Crusader Rimrock Knight Rimrock Knight
Embercleave

In

Epic Downfall Epic Downfall Duress Duress
Drill Bit

Against Jeskai Fires (On the Draw)

Out

Stormfist Crusader Stormfist Crusader Stormfist Crusader Stormfist Crusader
Embercleave

In

Epic Downfall Epic Downfall Duress Duress
Drill Bit

Rakdos Sacrifice

Against Rakdos Sacrifice

Out

Blacklance Paragon Blacklance Paragon Blacklance Paragon Rimrock Knight
Drill Bit Drill Bit Drill Bit Rimrock Knight

In

Legion's End Legion's End Epic Downfall Epic Downfall
Leyline of the Void Leyline of the Void Leyline of the Void Embereth Shieldbreaker
Mayhem DevilPriest of Forgotten GodsClaim the Firstborn

The 1 toughness creatures are quite bad in this matchup, for obvious reasons. For that reason, I like to have the one drops better. Not only they put in more damage in the early turns, but it makes you at least have some mana advantage against the 《Diabolic Edict》 effects. 《Embercleave》 is your biggest weapon so don’t even think about cutting some on the sideboard. Also be aware of 《Claim the Firstborn》 when you have your 《Embercleave》 equipped on a big boy. An easy way to play around it is to free equip Javier before passing the turn. Or kill them, that’s even better.

Jund Sacrifice

Against Jund Sacrifice

Out

Blacklance Paragon Blacklance Paragon Blacklance Paragon Blacklance Paragon
Drill Bit Drill Bit Drill Bit
Rimrock Knight Rimrock Knight

In

Legion's End Legion's End Epic Downfall Epic Downfall
Leyline of the Void Leyline of the Void Embereth Shieldbreaker
Noxious Grasp Noxious Grasp
Leyline of the Void

《Leyline of the Void》 is not as important to have early in this matchup as it is for the Rakdos version. Also, you get much more punished here for drawing multiples, as this deck can actually win easily against it, if you make your draws much more clunkier.

Mono-Red

Against Mono-Red (On the Play)

Out

Drill Bit Drill Bit

In

Legion's End Legion's End

Against Mono-Red (On the Draw)

Out

Drill Bit Drill Bit Drill Bit Rotting Regisaur

In

Legion's End Legion's End Massacre Girl Massacre Girl

Rakdos Knights Mirror

I have to confess that it feels weird to play mirrors. I’ve never been this involved in the creation of a deck that became so popular. I feel robbed, when I lose.

Against Rakdos Knights Mirror (On the Play)

Out

Rimrock Knight Rimrock Knight Gutterbones Gutterbones
Drill Bit Drill Bit

In

Legion's End Legion's End Epic Downfall Epic Downfall
Massacre Girl Massacre Girl

Against Rakdos Knights Mirror (On the Draw)

Out

Stormfist Crusader Stormfist Crusader Rimrock Knight Rimrock Knight
Drill Bit Drill Bit Drill Bit

In

Legion's End Legion's End Epic Downfall Epic Downfall
Massacre Girl Massacre Girl Embereth Shieldbreaker

On the Standard Bans

As I finish writing this article it was announced the much expected Oko ban in Standard. With him 《Once Upon a Time》 and 《Veil of Summer》 also say goodbye to the format. I must say that I’m pretty happy with these changes.

Oko, Thief of Crowns

Oko was just too busted. It was too much loyalty for a 3 mana planeswalker with 2 good plus abilities. Just too miserable to play against. I certainly won’t miss you in Standard.

Once Upon a Time

《Once Upon a Time》 is also a messed up magic card. I talked about it on my most recent podcast. I wish it had never been printed. It’s not like it is super broken, its power level is fine, but the combination with OUAT, London Mulligan and open decklists makes it that the games all play out the same. Pretty boring, if you ask me.

Veil of Summer

《Veil of Summer》 is also too much. The reward is just too much for something that in the worst case scenario cycles for 1 mana. Not only green had the best removal, card selection, card advantage and creatures it also had the best sideboard card, by far. And it isn’t even a 《Leyline of the Void》 kind of card, that is very good, but also very specific. It is good against a lot of different strategies. It counters counter spells, removal spells, discard spells you name it.

What does it mean for Rakdos Knights?

So… nothing of our deck was banned. A good sideboard card against us (well… it was OK, not even THAT good, but as I said, it cycles, so it is never dead) was also banned so this should be good news, yes?

Well… yes and no.

Noxious GraspVeil of SummerDuress

On the good side what I said above is true. Veil is gone, so we can even increase the number of 《Noxious Grasp》 and 《Duress》 in the sideboard, that we were careful to not overboard. 《Wicked Wolf》, one of the best cards against us lost his buddy Oko and I doubt he sees play in Standard after this, as other than 《Gilded Goose》 I don’t see other good enough for constructed food generator that can help him.

Once Upon a TimeMassacre Girl

《Once Upon a Time》 getting axed, also means that it gets more difficult to draw 《Massacre Girl》, which is also good news for our deck.

On the dark side of the spectrum, as I said before this deck has some polarized matchups. With the bans, the format will open up, and 70% of the field is enough decks that I can see a scenario where the metagame is filled with more bad matchups than good matchups. Also, people will start to devote a lot more sideboard and maindeck slots for aggro decks, something that they didn’t have to do before, because how weak those strategies were against Oko.

Embercleave

I think this deck will do well in the first weeks of the new Standard, while people durdle around with some less tuned strategies. Eventually the metagame will adapt and keep it in check, but I think it will still be a viable option for the future and definitely 《Embercleave》 will become a format defining card in Standard.

I hope you like it, if you have any question, please let me know on the comment section down below!

To finish it off, a much-requested picture of my dog Chillin.

Chillin

See you next time!

Gonçalo (Twitter)

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Goncalo Pinto

Goncalo Pinto A veteran player from Portugal. He has a good relationship with Hareruya Latin members especially his countryman, Marcio Carvalho. His best finish was alongside with Marcio, both made top 8 at Pro Tour Dominaria and he won the closest match against his closest friend. The result was good enough to become a Gold Level Pro and he joined Hareruya Pros after his highest season. Read more articles by Goncalo Pinto