Take Ten: Merciless Rage

Take Ten is an article series that looks at the commander preconstructed decks. It breaks them down and then provides ten cards that will improve the deck from it’s preconstructed status. Since we are adjusting a preconstructed deck and not totally rebuilding around the commander, Take Ten looks to keep the cost of the cards to around a $100 budget for the ten card upgrades. . 

The final deck of 2019, we will upgrade is Merciless Rage. Merciless Rage is a deck that revolves around discard and value. The deck looks to discard cards as a part of an effect and then use the madness mechanic to play the discarded cards turning a drawback into a strength. The Deck looks to maximize the discard theme by playing reanimation spells from the graveyard. These cards produce a value engine that will help draw the deck into its haymakers then win the game. 

What The Deck Does 

Like many of the precon decks, Merciless Rage centers around the commander. Chainer is a tempting value commander. Unfortunately, the deck is not configured around him so Anje is the commander of choice for this Take Ten. Anje Falkenrath costs three to cast and you will be able to build your value engine early.  She also comes with haste. This is wonderful because it means we automatically get value out of our commander the turn that we cast her. As a 1/3 we will not be attacking with her.

Instead we will be using her activated ability. That ability has us tap her and discard a card in order to draw a card. If the card has madness on it we can untap Anje. This effect is called rummaging. It is not quite as strong as looting which allows you to draw a card and then discard a card. Whether it’s rummaging or looting the ability allows you to cycle through your hand and discard unwanted cards to craft a stronger hand. Anje adds value by being able to activate the ability again by discarding a card with madness. The madness mechanic allows you to cast a card that was discarded for it’s madness cost. This means you can discard a card with madness you want to play get the card draw and the spell. Plus you can do it again. 

You will not always be able to discard cards with madness. For this reason Merciless Rage is packed full of cards that interact with your graveyard. Just because you place a card in the graveyard doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be had.  The deck looks to reanimate creatures and put them on the battlefield. This increases your effective hand size by the number of creatures in your graveyard. Whether they were discarded there or they just died normally reanimation is a value for the deck. 

The deck is deep on win conditions. These are cards such as Warstorm Surge, Avacyn’s Judgement, and Boneyard Parley. Some of the win conditions will not win the game outright. For Example it will be difficult to generate enough mana to use Avacyn’s Judgement to burn out all your opponents. It can however take out a player late game. Combine several of these effects and Merciless Rage can cross the finish line as the winner.

Deck Breakdown

All decks have different packages of cards for what it wants to accomplish. The Merciless Rage preconstructed deck has the following card packages and totals

  • 10 Card Draw/ Card Quality
  • 7 Mana Ramp/ Mana Fixing
  • 17 Removal
  • 3 Discard Outlets
  • 6 Discard Payoffs
  • 7 Win Condition
  • 10 Miscellaneous
  • 40 Land

As with all commander decks some cards perform double duty. This is the case with Anje who not only is classified as card quality. She also fits into the Discard Outlet category. Because she is our commander, we can allow ourselves to be a little short on discard outlets for madness. We will always have access to her in the command zone. Outside of Anje, there are two other cards with a discard function raising the total to six.

There are 14 additional cards with discard payoffs, three additional card draw, and two additional win conditions or wincons. K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth is stretching the meaning of win con. He is so versatile I added it as an additional quality of the card to Mana Ramp. The same goes for Sanitarium Skeleton. While it costs three mana the ability to bring him to your hand to discard again counts as pseudo card draw/card quality as well. 

Upgrade Strategy 

The deck is short on mana ramp and fixing. With card draw being a part of the engine, we will keep the count at seven. Instead we will just upgrade the package. Seventeen removal cards is a lot. Some are ineffective but are in the deck because they have madness on them. We will reduce the removal suite of cards to fifteen. The deck also is heavy on lands. The land count can be dropped to thirty six and still run well. This means we will be discarding less lands with Anje. We will accept this trade off as it will increase the card quality of our hand.

The deck has incidental life gain. We will build upon that theme while including some heavy hitters that can impact the battlefield. With the amount of removal in the deck Merciless Rage should make an impact on the battlefield. This should keep the player engaged throughout the game with strong high impact cards. Finally we will strengthen up the recurring cards from the battlefield. 

The budget for this Take Ten had enough to include a Demonic Tutor. I elected to go in a different route. Searching for any one card is strong. Especially if there is a specific suite of cards that make the deck run. This deck is built such that it is not looking for any specific card to make it run efficiently. Tutor cards are not necessary. The upgrade slots were spend elsewhere. 

The following are the target card package breakdown for the upgraded deck..  

  • 10 Card Draw/ Card Quality
  • 7 Mana Ramp/ Mana Fixing
  • 15 Removal
  • 4 Discard Outlets
  • 6 Discard Payoffs
  • 9 Win COnditions
  • 10 Miscellaneous
  • 3 Additional CReatures
  • 36 Land

The Take Ten

Removed Armillary Sphere for Rakdos Signet

Armillary Sphere could be useful in a different build of the deck. Had it remained at 40 lands the ability to grab two of them and then use them as discard fodder to draw a card is not a bad strategy. Unfortunately it is still slow. It costs two mana to play the sphere and another two mana to activate it. It loses its value when you are in a pinch to discard a card and you discard it instead. We are going down to 36 lands so we want to actually play the lands we draw. The Sphere can be easily removed from this build. 

Nirkana Revenant was a strong consideration for this card slot. The ability to double mana from swamps is very strong. Add in an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and a Cabal Coffers, if you own one and this deck generates insane mana. It is also a vampire which has its benefits as well. If your meta will allow for the greed of casting the Revenant then by all means add it. But for this build we want to be quick and build our value engine, Then we exploit it. The goal isn’t to ramp up to the insane explosive plays. 

Instead the best choice for this build is the standard Rakdos Signet. At two mana it will ramp us on turn two or be able to fit in later in the game when we have extra mana. Rakdos Signet is incredibly faster than Armillary Sphere and an excellent include in this deck. 

Removed Skyfire Phoenix for Vampire Nighthawk

One of the ways to combat the value engine of this deck is to remove Anje. She could be cast multiple times in a game. But when you cast Anje you need to have the Skyfire Phoenix in the graveyard for it to trigger. It also goes to the battlefield which provides a 3/3 flier, but it does nothing for the discard strategy of the deck. It is quick to cast but there are faster creatures that can impact the board than this card. 

At three mana Vampire Nighthawk is such a fast creature. It is flying and has the keywords lifelink and deathtouch. It fits an early aggressive strategy or is an excellent deterrent to more powerful fliers attacking you. More Incidental lifegain is a bonus. Being a vampire as an incidental tribe will be an advantage for a later Take Ten addition. 

Removed Flayer of the Hatebound added Sheoldred, The Whispering One 

The deck does a lot of direct damage. Flayer of the Hatebound is one of those cards. It is a reasonable include in the deck as it will do damage to any target. As removal it is a little weak as it will guarantee only a creature five toughness or less. Then you are reliant on bringing other creatures from the graveyard in order to make it happen. This creature can target opponents but it targets a single opponent. Flayer of the Hatebound will not reduce all our opponent’s life total in chunks. While solid what this card does is not optimal in commander.

The flayer is six mana. That is expensive for a card that does not have madness to fuel our card draw engine. We can find better removal cards at the high end of our mana curve than what this card offers. We lose the ability to direct damage our opponent so we need to make sure that we replace it with a card that has a strong ability.  

Sheoldred, Whispering One is such a card. First it forces our opponents to sacrifice a creature on their upkeep. It also fits our reanimator theme and has swampwalk on a 6/6 body to smack people around. Sheoldred is a card that often will not remain for long. That is OK let our opponents use their removal on other cards and then bring Sheoldred out. At seven mana it costs more than the Flayer and is a strong upgrade for this card slot. 

Removed Mire in Misery added Pontiff of Blight

With a gluttony of removal it is easy to cut from the category. Mire in Misery only costs two mana but it comes with the sacrifice of control. Your opponents will make the choice of what they will sacrifice. This means the cards you really want gone will not be what they sacrifice. This card underwhelms as removal even though it can potentially remove an enchantment. With pinpoint targeted removal you want surgical control with that you remove from the battlefield. It is easy to cut it from the removal package.

In its place we will add a win condition. The Pontiff of Blight may not seem like much but the ability to give your creatures extort is quite powerful. When you cast a cheap spell you can stack multiple extort triggers from different cards you own. It hits each opponent and will help grind down your opponents life totals. It also adds incidental life gain. While the life gain is not infinite and win you the game. It can add some life in chunks to keep you in the game longer. 

An additional synergy to your creatures gaining the extort ability is K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth. With K’rrik on the battlefield you can pay for each extort trigger with two life.  As long as you have life to initially pay for the extort trigger. With two or more opponents in the game you will gain all the life back. This allows you to extort from each and every one of your creatures and have a zero net cost for doing so. Pontiff of Blight is strong. With K’rrik it’s brutal.  

Removed Violent Eruption added Torment of Hailfire 

Again Removal is an easy location to cut cards, Violent Eruption deals only four damage. It’s a small ping in commander if you target an opponent. In many cases it will not remove the haymaker that is impacting the battlefield. It does let you deal damage to multiple targets. However, commander is not a format where four damage will be effective if you split it up. With a hard casting cost of three red mana and a trend for the deck to be more black mana than red, means this is a card that if we cut we will have an easier time casting our spells. 

Again we will remove a middling removal spell for a win condition. Torment of Hailfire is a strong card. Once X is six or seven it wipes the opponent’s board and causes them to discard cards in order to stay in the game. If you can afford for X to be in the ten to twelve range it wins games. Do not be afraid to shoot this card off early. Sometimes you have to in order to power down your opponents. Merciless Rage is resilient enough that you should be able to power your way to the endgame and potentially win. 

Torment of Hailfire also wants lots of mana doublers. Although Take Ten did not have the room to include them if you want to explode in mana to pump into cards like Torment of Hailfire or additional extort triggers consider adding Cabal Coffers, Urborg Tomb of Yawgmoth, Nirkana Revenant, and Crypt Ghast. It is a reasonable build for some additional cost.  

Removed Aeon Engine added Phyrexian Obliterator

Aeon Engine has its uses. Primarily it is a unique way to take an extra turn. With a value engine deck it may be difficult to properly capitalize on the extra turn. Unless you can cast multiple large haymaker spells over your two turns. It also is a target for artifact removal and hate. Aeon Engine has its decks it want to be in. By keeping it in this deck we are not optimizing the deck as much as it can be. 

Instead we will include Phyrexian Obliterator. This card costs an insane four black mana. But it is a 5/5 with trample. What it does is change the equation of how players block or attack you. Whenever a source an opponent controls deals damage to it, it forces your opponent to sacrifice that many permanents. This card will allow you to generate value as opponents look elsewhere to attack or force out a removal spell. This bait will help you keep your more explosive plays later in the game. Finally the deck has a lot of reanimation and the obliterator can keep coming back causing more problems for the battlefield. 

Removed Exotic Orchard added Stensia Masquerade

If there is a 2019  precon deck that can live without Exotic Orchard it’s merciless rage. With only two colors your chances of encountering players that can make the mana you need to play cards from your deck is lower than the other three color combinations. I would much rather rely on my own ability to generate black or red mana as needed as opposed to my opponents. 

Stensia Masquerade has madness and this helps increase the madness count for our value engine. It also provides first strike to our creatures. While it is not evasion it does help our creates to survive and increase the play lines of attack. This card pairs phenomenally with any creature that has deathtouch. As a bonus, it will pump  up the few vampires that are in this deck. The Masquerade is an enchantment which means it is a little more difficult to remove. In and of itself it is not a game breaking enchantment. For this reason players with enchantment removal should look elsewhere first allowing you to accrue value from this card. 

Removed Ash Barrens added Liliana, Heretical Healer

Ash Barrens is mana fixing and many decks want this card. The build of the deck with the Take Ten adjustments has a black to red mana ratio of a little over 4:1. It also hasa black to red card ratio of over 2:1. As long as this deck is producing black mana we should be fine most of the time. This means we will not need to cycle the card to fix our mana all that often. If I am going to cut a land I would rather cut a colorless generator than a colored mana source. 

Liliana, Heretical Healer plays into what this deck wants to do. It is another discard outlet to help us fuel our madness cards. At the same time it forces our opponents to discard cards and we will out value our opponents. She also can recur cards from our graveyard if they are non legendary. This is on the theme for the deck as well. When evaluating planeswalkers do not consider their ultimate abilities unless you are playing proliferate or Doubling Season shenanigans. Planeswalkers are targets that normally do not last on tables for long. 

Removed Rakdos Guildgate added Chainer, Dementia Master

The next land we will cut is Rakdos Guildgate. We do not need as much fixing as discussed above. We will cut a land that comes into the battlefield tapped. Tapped lands slows our deck down. Our deck has a lot of low mana plays. Having a land come into play tapped can be detrimental to how the deck plays. Cinder Barrens could be the cut as well as functionally these two cards are the same. 

In its place we will include a second chainer. Chainer, Dementia Master returns creatures from the graveyard and makes them nightmares. It is expensive at three black mana and three life. When you can raid any graveyard and play a card like Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger you are getting an immense value for that mana. This card is also graveyard hate if you happen to have a graveyard deck in your meta. 

Removed Forgotten Cave added Charmbreaker Devils

We have recurred a lot of creatures from our graveyard and some from our opponents graveyard. With Wildfire Devils, we also can weakly attack our opponents graveyards for instants and sorceries. Although it will be a card of our opponents choice it is still value. The copy still casts for free. The card is inefficient in the quality of card cast.  We can build on this concept. 

Charmbreaker Devils targets our own graveyard and it will get us an instant or sorcery at random. This card can be broken depending on how you stack your graveyard. As your graveyard becomes depleted of instants and sorceries and there is only one of them in your graveyard. Even though the effect is random the Devils can only bring back that single card. Imagine playing a Torment of Hailfire for three or four each turn. This allows you to play other spells while repeatedly dealing damage to your opponents or weakening their board. We will add this recursion to our arsenal. The Devils also gains power as you cast more instants and sorceries. This is incidental power and if it is a factor in our game it is a bonus. 

To add this card we will remove Forgotten Cave. It is a red mana only land that comes into play tapped. We do not need as much red mana as black so we can safely remove the card. Just as with Rakdos Guildgate, by removing this land we will speed up our mana base.


Merciless Rage is surprisingly strong out of the box. It is a value engine with graveyard recursion that can be built upon to provide a fun play experience. The deck can be tuned up further by tightening up some of the removal spells and mana ramp. As well as swapping in shock lands and other dual lands that do not come into the battlefield tapped. This Take Ten ignored those upgrades for more cards that added value and fun synergies to the deck.  Commander if about cool interactions and awesome plays. This upgraded Merciless rage should provide those plays and a more focused play experience.

As always if you have any questions please feel free to email me at commanderclinicmtg@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.