Commander is a fun format. There are decks that are strong and competitive. They usually follow a specific archetype or decklist. Often that is not where Johnny Deckbrewer lives. Instead, he brews in the margins developing strong decks for casual but have a twist that players are often not suspecting as the deck strays from the well-worn path through the woods. These are alternative decks. They are fun to play but do not underestimate them because these decks are capable of some amazing things.
The deck contains a calculated risk. This lowers its ability to respond to threats and reduces its power level to a six for evaluation purposes. As such the deck does involve some politics. There will be times when you will need to get your opponents to do something for you. However, with how the deck plays It’s powerful enough that it can play as a seven to a seven and a half. If you want to read about our deck rating system.You can also find the decklist here
Several years ago I started with a goal of building one of every Ravnica color pair in commander. I slotted out deck ideas for each color pairing and slowly began to build them in paper magic. This allowed each deck to have a different personality and help prevent building similar decks in different color pairings. Rakdos was unique in that it would have the tutors in black but red would not be much help supporting what black does. Red’s personality was impulsive and a lot of the effects can be a gamble. This left me with slotting Rakdos as some sort of chaos build
When it was time to build the deck, I took the time to brainstorm where to go with it. Warstorm Surge was an effect I knew I wanted. I daydreamed about different synergies I thought about the mechanics on Relentless Rats. Any deck can have any number of Relentless Rats and as more and more enter the battlefield they would do increasing damage to my opponents. Then I thought more about the chaos cards in red. With a critical mass of rats in my deck, the negative effects of the chaos cards would affect me less than my opponents. It was at this point Rakdos Rats was born.
I knew chaos decks would draw hate from the table and the deck was going to be political to play. The goal would be to cause havoc as long as I could before it was taken out. The deck goal wouldn’t be to win but cause a lot of crazy interactions and entertain the table too. I wanted to stay in the game as long as possible. Others might want to kill me as I disrupt everybody. It was for this reason in the design process I decided to move from playing Relentless Rats to Rat Colony. The card would still be effective for the power they would bring. With one toughness they would be easily removable and less of a threat. If I could buy an extra turn or two then maybe I could buy enough time to play another chaos spell and warp the game.
The deck started with Garna the Bloodflame as the commander. It would be difficult to cast at flash speed because holding up five mana can be difficult to do. It would allow me to bring rats lost to a board wipe back to the table giving a tactical advantage. Garna rarely ever was cast to save my battlefield. Garna was inefficient and often she was cast because I just needed another body on the battlefield.
In the late summer of 2019, Anje Falkenrath was released in a supplemental commander product. She was cheaper to cast, had a rummage effect to help dig for cards like the ever-elusive Thieves Auction. She also gave me a little more to do in a turn if necessary. The deck was short on removal and slightly light on mana ramp to make room for chaos. This deck was always in danger of getting blown out. Despite having a goal of playing chaos cards and not winning, the deck lost some entertainment value when scrabbling to stay in the game constantly. It still was missing something.
The something the deck was missing was Torbran, Thane of Red Fell. With it, the philosophy of the Rakdos color pair changed. It went from chaos strategy to direct damage. With enough direct damage cards, the deck could bring the game to a quicker end and potentially take out a player or two. The commander then changes to Kaervek the Merciless to guarantee a direct damage card when I needed one.
The Rakdos Gambit
In chess, a gambit is a calculated sacrifice in material in order to gain a better position on the board. The most notable gambits are the King’s Gambit and the Queen’s Gambit. In these openings white sacrifices a pawn in order to gain control of the center of the board. It’s a calculated risk that white will overcome its disadvantage of material through board position. This position can help gain back the pawn it has lost.
In our deck building we have also two different gambits. The first is our package of rats. With 29 rat colonies, We sacrifice the individual power of creatures for a cheap mana cost and synergy. This allows us to attack early before we shift into defensive mode and let direct damage take over. There is a certain satisfaction to be able to attack early while players are setting up.
The real gambit lies in its lack of removal. This is a great risk because it means short of alternate uses of a card like Liliana of the Dark Realms we have no way to hinder our opponents. We will have to rely on the other players at the table to disrupt our opponents’ threats. The gain for the deck is we maintain a critical mass of rats and pack in additional direct damage cards.
While some of these cards will allow us to target creatures. In most cases, this is not the correct line of play. Whenever direct damage is triggered, target an opponent instead. This way you are maximizing your resources in order to kill your opponents. It also means your opponent will have to spend their resources in order to disrupt every other player at the table. They may target you. When an opponent stares down a couple of Rat Colonies or any other powerful creatures on the battlefield. Odds are they will target elsewhere.
The Key Three
As with all deck techs on Commander Clinic MTG we highlight three cards in each deck that helps it run smoothly. These are the Key Three cards.
The rats grow in power as more of them enter the battlefield. However, it is the other cards that synergize with them that will help you win the game. Akroma’s Memorial grants all your creatures keyword soup. With Akroma’s Memorial in play, your rats become evasive and able to withstand being blocked if your opponent happens to have flying. Vigilance protects against players attacking you. This card turns your rats at the table into a threat. There is also some entertainment value for flying rats as well.
In commander Thrumming Stone is a jank card. In a “one of” format, Thrumming Stone sees little use. Although granting all your rat colonies ripple four will allow several rats to be cast for free in a turn. Playing multiple cards a turn at a mana discount is powerful and it allows for explosive turns. Thrumming Stone is just a supporting card. With it direct damage cards like Warstorm Surge or Pandemonium so much more efficient. Akroma’s Memorial will grant all these new attackers to allow you to finish out the game quickly from that point. It also has a little chaos to it as you will never know if you are going to whiff.
Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
This deck is aggressive in that it attacks with rats early and then keeps the pressure up with direct damage. Torbran puts all the direct damage spells on steroids by pumping up the damage output. Most of the direct damage cards are one-sided. Torbran increases unbalance in most cases. For other cards, it creates one. This allows you to feel good knowing you are losing less life than your opponents.
Half of our ramp cards are quick to cast artifacts which is no surprise for a deck that contains red. The others are different than expected. We did not lean heavily into mana doubling or Black Market which fit well in this deck. You will not find Cabal Coffers and Nirkana Revenant. What we did instead uses Burst Mana. Burst mana is a card that makes mana in clumps for one turn only. This allows for explosive turns. This is what most storm decks use. Our deck is not a storm deck, but we will often want that one turn to build a critical mass of cards on the battlefield that will win us the game. Often it comes out of nowhere catching our opponents off guard. This makes Dark Ritual, Bubbling Muck, and Treasonous Ogre excellent includes in helping us achieve this goal.
Alternate Win Conditions
Because we pivot from attacking to direct damage, we can say that the deck itself is built on an alternate win condition. However, we expect to direct damage our opponents to death really the early attack damage is incidental damage. That damage helps us get there faster. In case our opponents kill all our enchantments we have two alternate win conditions in the deck.
The first is less likely to win but may take our opponents out of the game. In Aetherflux Reservoir. Its life gain will help keep us alive. If we can play enough rats in a turn, then our life total can skyrocket to take someone out. This is possible if we assemble it with a Thrumming Stone. Playing the Thrumming Stone with one rat and rippling through nine rats the Reservoir will gain us 66 life. This play is reasonable and can go higher. Even if Aetherflux Reservoir doesn’t remove a player, some incidental life gain helps keep you around longer. Then your enchantments will do work for you.
The second is written about in our Key three. It is Akroma’s Memorial. Being able to swing out with flying rats is evasion that not all decks can cover. If they have fliers, then protection from black and red increases their evasion. Vigilance allows them to be aggressive. If your opponents have some blockers, then first strike will keep them alive while killing the blockers. After that trample will push the damage through. In this alternate win condition, we will be pivoting back to an aggro strategy.
In all but the optimized decks, there will be cards that are played that may not be the strongest or have other cards equally strong where a personal choice comes into play. These are pet cards and Kaerevek’s Rats has several of them.
There normally is a social contract where players don’t mass remove lands. That is great for green decks as they can ramp and not be punished for it. Mana Barbs punishes the land ramp decks and the expensive spells they play. Your cards are lower on the mana curve allowing you in many cases to spend less mana than your opponents. This will help create an imbalance that will bring opponents life totals low. I compare this card to Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger. Both cards are must remove cards and whoever spends the mana deal with the threat is going to be punished.
Teferi’s Puzzle Box
By playing the removal gambit and letting other players answer threats, your deck is not a toolbox deck. Often a card is a card and you use it as you draw it.You want a specific type of card, not a specific card. A Card like Teferi’s Puzzle Box does not hurt you at all. Your deck plans do not change too much from hand to hand. However, in many cases, this is not true for your opponents especially control players. It’s a creative way to dig through your deck for the pieces you need to close out the game.
This card originated from a friend of mine Tom. He is a fellow brewer and when it comes to commander we are definitely similar. When I told him about the original concept he gave me a foil copy of The Meiser and it was an auto-include ever since. Least of all It’s a rat and it fits the theme of the deck. More importantly, it’s disruption. The ability to reduce your opponent’s hand size by two is great versus decks that are greedy and draw cards. He’ll get killed quickly but while he is on the table he changes the rules of magic in your favor.
This was a surprising discovery when I was doing research for this deck. Since then it has become one of my favorite cards in black. It causes players to lose life in chunks which can be lethal. If they do not want to lose life they will have to lose cards denying them resources. It’s delicious. Much like Mana Barbs, if an opponent is going to deal with it they are going to be punished. You break even when they deal with it. any extra spell cast nets you a profit.
There is not an Exquisite Blood-Sanguine Bond combo in this decklist. It would be very easy to do. However, if you play one it gets removed because of the fear of the combo. Tell the players at the table there is no combo in the deck. Include if they want to search the deck after the game they are welcome to do so. They may remove it, but it often buys time allowing some value to acrue. This deck causes life loss in chunks and there are cards that will hit my life total too. Also, the deck can be susceptible to attack.once they all start losing life from enchantments. Life gain helps to offset these factors helping to keep you alive and let your passive enchantments do the work for you.
In the end, this deck is a unique mix of cards and is aggressive early. Aggro decks have a tendency to use all their gas and lose effectiveness as the game goes long. It is still possible to be aggressive early and then pivot to a midrange strategy in commander and that is what this deck does. It also uses enchantments which is one of the hardest card types to remove in the game. You can expect the first couple of enchantments to get removed. Normally most decks do not pack enough removal to stop them all. This is a great alternative deck from the common commanders out there. It’s worth giving a try.You can find the link for the decklist here.
If you have any questions about the deck or in general feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org