The results from Grand Prix Memphis 2019 are in, and the top finisher of an almost one thousand person field was not, as many would have predicted, one of the more popular archetypes such as Mono-Blue or Sultai Midrange, but instead a Rakdos Aggro deck that incorporated powerful spells from both red and black. Similar to the points discussed in our previous article, this Rakdos list has numerous advantages over the more traditional Mono-Red Aggro decks, while still incorporating several of the red cards from Allegiance. In this article we take a look at what the most recent best MTG standard deck did right, analyzing both the cards it borrowed from previous archetypes and the spells it pulled from obscurity directly into the competitive MTG spotlight.
Although this specific deck list has not previously been considered a top tier MTG standard deck, several cards in Rakdos have seen competitive play, and many are individually considered to be some of the best cards in Ravnica Allegiance standard. To start, the biggest name is the list is Goblin Chainwhirler, a card that has terrorized the format since its release in Dominaria and continues to be played in a number of top competitive decks. A 3/3 first strike for only three mana, Chainwhirler effectively deals with some of the most powerful cards in the format, such as Jadelight Ranger and History of Benalia tokens, with its combat prowess alone. Chainwhirler additionally has one of the most devastating come-into-play effects on a red card printed in years, doing 1 damage to all your opponent’s creatures and Planeswalkers when it resolves. This effect dominates one toughness creatures like Llanowar Elves, Mist-Cloak Herald, and Runaway Steam-kin, and effectively keeps decks from going wide and attacking around this first-striking monster. This new Rakdos list is also incorporating a playset of Rekindling Phoenix, a permanent fixture in standard since its Rivals of Ixalan release. Although many of the mono-red lists were putting Phoenix in the sideboard to keep the main deck as low to the ground as possible, some of the best MTG Arena decks are putting them in the main, as Phoenix flies over the powerful ground creatures of Sultai like Wildgrowth Walker while dodging board wipes like Kaya’s Wrath. Finally, this Rakdos list makes use of Lava Coil, the premier red removal spell of the format. For only two mana, this sorcery deals 4 damage, effectively eliminating some of the best creatures in MTG standard such as Nicol Bolas, Shalai, and Tempest Djinn. Additionally, Lava Coil exiles the creature that it kills, making in exceptional against Sultai decks with recursion or creatures that have death effects such as Rekindling Phoenix or Hunted Witness.
Although many of the spells utilized by this top tier MTG standard deck were already recognized as competitive, this Rakdos list makes use of several cards that were otherwise unplayed or relegated to one-of sideboard tech cards without much recognition. The most notable of these underrated cards is Treasure Map, a card that sees virtually no play in the current meta despite its incredible potential. Entering the battlefield as early as turn two, Treasure Map helps smooth out land drops and dig to early removal like Shock through three instances of scrying, each costing only 1 mana. After the three counters have been placed on Treasure Map, however, it flips into its land variant and gives you three treasures, which can be used either to accelerate into late game spells or sacrificed, by the land itself, to draw cards. Treasure Map is also colorless, while its treasures can be used for mana of any color, making it perfect for a deck that is already straining its manabase to play double and triple costing spells of different colors. Beyond Treasure Map, another new card that Rakdos makes great use of is Rix Maadi Reveler, a creature that provides the deck with mid-game options. A 2/2 creature for two mana that makes you discard and then draw a card, Rix Maadi is a fine creature to play early against aggressive decks, allowing you to pitch excess lands to dig for early game answers while putting a body onto the board to prevent being overrun. Into the mid and late game, however, Rix Maadi possesses a powerful “Spectacle” effect: if your opponent took damage this turn, Rix Maadi can be cast for four mana and, when it enters the battlefield, you discard your hand and draw three cards. This alternative spectacle effect from Rix Maadi makes her extremely potent against control and midrange decks, allowing you to empty your hand aggressively only to then discard exactly zero cards to draw three. Most importantly though, Rix Maadi gives the player the run/pass option, meaning a full playset can be put into the main deck list and then used as the situation demands. This effect is similar to that of, Direfleet Daredevil, which can be played early as a 2/1 first strike to stall the early game, or can steal a spell later on to gain card advantage.
Ultimately, the success of this Rakdos deck can be attributed to a combination of its raw power and its excellent ability to adapt to situations in real-time. Cards like Rekindling Phoenix, Siege-Gang Commander, and Goblin Chainwirler are game-winning cards based on their raw damage dealing potential, but can also be used to grind the game to a standstill. Likewise, Rix Maadi, Direfleet Daredevil, and Treasure Map can all be played as early as turn two, but are also excellent top decks when neither player has any cards in hand. Although this was the only Rakdos Aggro list to make it to Day Two of GP Memphis 2019, there is a strong likelihood future tournaments will see more of this list, and it will likely become one of the most popular MTG Arena decks for ladder.