Rakdos has been a dominating factor in Pioneer for quite some time. This, however, is not that deck. Instead, this is the tale of a fellow Rakdos deck that once upon a time was also a top deck that dominated the Pioneer Metagame. While Rakdos decks of various varieties have gotten new tools, Rakdos Sacrifice remains a mostly in-tact port over of the Standard incarnations of this deck that helped to dominate Standard and demanded a ban.
While many players have started switching over to a Jund variant of sacrifice that leverages the core of this deck with the top end of Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, this version of sacrifice instead focuses on only using two colors and grinding out the mid to late game with recursive value and not big dragons. While it is hard to know which version you should be playing for any one tournament, having an in-depth working knowledge of this deck will help you make that decision and play both decks better, whichever you choose.
So, let’s dive right into Rakdos Sacrifice!
While Rakdos Midrange has gotten plenty of new toys lately, the creature suite in Rakdos Sacrifice has stayed mostly the same over the years with one exception. The addition of a new piece of sacrifice fodder in Streets of New Capenna expands the creature suite beyond the familiar and now gives the deck even more means of card advantage in long, drawn-out games.
Unlucky Witness gives the deck additional resources in the mid game thanks to this 1/1’s death trigger, you can filter through your deck and set up the best possible engines to take out your opponents. In combination with the various sacrifice-based cards in your deck, Unlucky Witness allow you to take the best card from a pair of exiled cards and play it until the end of your next turn. This can include lands, spells, or anything else you can find. This can also deter opposing creatures from attacking as it can give you more resources to gum up the ground if your Witness trades or chump blocks.
Alongside Unlucky Witness, we have Cauldron Familiar, the long-stay staple of this archetype that was once even banned in Standard due to its ability to invalidate any ground-creature based offense. When paired with Witch’s Oven, this pesky cat becomes a two-card combo that drains out opponents and makes it exceptionally hard to race or kill through combat. While many cards become staples of various archetypes, when you think about contemporary sacrifice decks, no creature lingers quite as long on the memory as Cauldron Familiar.
The only other threat that may stick out as an eternal part of sacrifice decks and the major reason these style decks are so effective at controlling the board of opposing Aggro decks is Mayhem Devil. One of the strongest threats in the format, especially in multiples, rarely can creatures or opponents survive once this three-mana devil joins the fray. When paired with any number of sacrifice pieces, such as the cat-oven combo, this threat becomes a machine gun, mowing down anything in your way.
Lastly, we have the value creature that bolstered nearly every Rakdos deck in Pioneer and that’s Bloodtithe Harvester. A solid 3/2 that can attack down slower decks or trade off with aggressive creatures, this vampire also gives you a means to filter through lower impact cards and a permanent to sacrifice. While not as free a sacrifice outlet as treasures from a card like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Bloodtithe Harvester’s blood token helps give the deck even more tools to work with in conjunction with some of the other spells in the deck, such as Deadly Dispute.
While Witch's Oven is part of a two-card combo with Cauldron Familiar, it also serves to give you resources and value every time you’re able to sacrifice creatures to this artifact. While this version of the deck runs no creatures that clear the four-toughness threshold to get two foods, Witch's Oven does plenty of other neat tricks. In addition to the combo, this oven can negate removal spells that get value from resolving, notably Bonecrusher Giant’s Stomp mode, and gives you more tools to survive into the late game. You can also pair Witch's Oven with Claim the Firstborn and Deadly Dispute to continue to fuel your advantages in the mid to late game.
This powerful artifact is a great synergy card that helps power up Rakdos Sacrifice, even if it is dependent on other tools to really excel in this deck.
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
There are few decks in Pioneer that play red that aren’t using Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. This powerful enchantment gives you a body that also generates free sacrifice outlets, lets you filter through your draws, and threatens to make a token copy generating machine, that also sacrifices the tokens at the beginning of the end-step. It doesn’t take many times of turning Bloodtithe Harvester or Mayhem Devil into a machine gun for you to appreciate the immediacy of the threat that Reflection of Kiki-Jiji can deliver onto non-interactive opponents.
While there isn’t much left to say about Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, this card continues to rise swiftly in metagame presence, Magic Online ticket cost, and frustration levels as this once under-valued card creatures a multitude of value and threat for just three-mana.
Alongside the various threats of the deck, Rakdos Sacrifice also plays a handful of value card draw spells, sacrifice enablers, and removal to ensure that you can maintain parity while setting up your late game engines. We’ll start with the cards that allow you to sacrifice permanents for value as those help to fuel your various sacrifice synergies along with pay off some of the other spells we’ll discuss afterwards.
Let’s start with Deadly Dispute. One of the strongest commons we have seen in many years, Deadly Dispute allows you to turn any spare artifact or creature into two more cards and a treasure. The draw cards aspect can help you fuel further turns and the treasure can help ramp you into casting multiple spells in a turn along with giving you extra fodder to sacrifice.
When paired with cards like Unlucky Witness, blood tokens, food tokens, and more, this quickly becomes a two-mana draw two for two mana up front, but one mana is paid back with even more potential upside. It is incredibly efficient and one of the best sacrifice cards in the deck.
Next up, we have the two one-of spells in this list that also sacrifice creatures to get extra value: Village Rites and Eaten Alive. Village Rites is a slightly weaker fifth copy of Deadly Dispute as it also turns an excess creature into a draw two for one mana, but this time without the additional treasure. It’s still a powerful effect and you’re happy to see as many of this effect as you can, especially when playing against midrange or grindy decks like Rakdos Midrange.
Eaten Alive is an additional removal spell that can help contain larger creatures or Planeswalkers at the cost of a single sacrifice. One of the biggest elements of this card is that it exiles, enabling you to deal with the various green creatures like Cavalier of Thorns or Old-Growth Troll that otherwise would be difficult to clearly answer without giving the opponent value. This is especially effective when you steal an opponent’s creature and use Eaten Alive to kill the stolen creature and exile another threat. It can truly swing the game in a single turn.
After the sacrifice cards, we have Claim the Firstborn, a powerful threaten effect that allows you to take creatures with mana value three or less, give them haste, and deal a little damage before hopefully sacrificing them for free value. This card can enable you to get value while removing opposing threats. While not every creature can get claimed, by levering this card, you can help to buy time to build up your engines and ensure you reach the mid to late game at a high life total and with plenty of resources.
Lastly, we have the other removal spell alongside Eaten Alive and that is Fatal Push. While Fatal Push is one of the few non-synergistic cards in the deck, it is too efficient of an answer not to run as a four-of in this deck. Add in that Rakdos Sacrifice has the easiest time triggering Revolt in the format, and your one-mana removal spell now deals with threats up to four mana value with relative ease, making it somehow even more effective.
Matchup Feel: Good
Matchup Approach: There aren’t a ton of cards that you must care about from the Rakdos Midrange side. They are trying to kill you on the ground, and you can easily beat them with cat-oven combo. The combo is a big part of why they are unable to fight through your gameplan in the mid to late game, but they can’t often afford to bring in cards like Leyline of the Void just to attack one card in your gameplan.
Now that sacrifice is also leveraging the power of Unlucky Witness, Deadly Dispute, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, you are one of the few decks that can go toe-to-toe if not even exceed Rakdos Midrange’s ability to leverage two-for-ones. The best part being that your engines build on each other and allow you to take over the late game, so if Rakdos Midrange can’t kill you early, they aren’t generally able to kill you at all. Especially now that they are using Sheoldred, the Apocalypse over Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.
Matchup Feel: Close, mostly revolves around protection spells versus removal spells
Matchup Approach: You have the advantage in this matchup if you can leverage your Fatal Pushes along with your Claim the Firstborn as removal. The way that this matchup can become difficult is if they can protect their threats with protection spells and get their larger threats out of Mayhem Devil range. Though, if you can establish the cat-oven combo, you can stop them from getting in damage without a trample spell, which are limited and tend to come out against removal in post-board games.
If you play under the understanding that you win if the game goes long enough, you can easily pressure Heroic to move all-in too early and take advantage of their timings with removal. If you land your removal, this matchup gets much easier.
|+4 Thoughtseize||-4 Fatal Push|
|+2 Dreadbore||-4 Claim the Firstborn|
|+3 Ob Nixilis, the Adversary||-1 Eaten Alive|
Matchup Feel: Close, lot of exile effects can cause issues
Matchup Approach: Your recursive engines can easily overwhelm Azorius, especially since they come down early in the game. Lead on your discard effects and stick a card like Ob Nixilis, the Adversary as your main threat as the addition of March of Otherworldly Light and Temporary Lockdown have made cards like Witch’s Oven a little weaker in this style of matchup.
If you can keep the board clear of powerful Planeswalkers and start getting in chip damage early, it is easy to close out the game in the mid game. While Azorius can go over the top of you eventually, it is difficult for them to reset your engines outside of a one-of Farewell. Try to diversify your threats with at least one Planeswalker before Farewell can reset you and you’ll be in great shape even through their best cards.
Matchup Feel: Bad unless you find Leyline
Matchup Approach: Mulligan for Leyline. That’s it. You have revolted Fatal Push as your only real way to stop their gameplan and they will max out on discard for you post board. Unlike most creature matchups, you have no way to stop them in the air, so if they can get in a Parhelion II attack, it is curtains.
The only way to beat this matchup is to shut down their graveyard and then fight through the ground like with any other creature matchup. If you can’t shut down their graveyard, it is very difficult to close out the game before they can take over, especially with Can't Stay Away adding even more redundancy to their ability to keep a Greasefang, Okiba Boss alive.
Matchup Feel: Close
Matchup Approach: If you find Leyline, you’re very favored post board as you’re able to handle their fair hands and gameplan quite well. While you have a lot of clean answers to their threats since they all get hit by revolted Fatal Push and most can be stolen with Claim, you are still trying to race them to the late game and if they have access to delve, that can be very difficult. While you can keep the ground clear, Phoenix almost exclusively threatens in the air, invalidating your ability to keep the ground gummed up.
In this matchup, it is a race to see who can assemble their resources fastest and that’s something that a blue deck with card selection will often do faster than Rakdos. If you take away Treasure Cruise and recursive Phoenixes, it becomes a much closer affair.
Matchup Feel: Good, except for Embercleave
Matchup Approach: Just hit submit. This is a matchup where cat-oven is a near instant KO and you’re able to keep the ground completely gummed up from the word go. The only major thing to consider is if they are running Embercleave as it can get through your blockers, but if you hold up revolted Fatal Push to counter the cleave, you should be in great shape. Don’t over complicate this matchup and understand that cat-oven is objective number one and everything else serves to get you to the point where your combo goes uncontested.
Mono Green Devotion
Matchup Feel: Bad
Matchup Approach: This matchup is tough. Once upon a time, the amassment of threaten effects offered to help keep this matchup in check. With the addition of more Planeswalkers and less overall focus on taking over the battlefield from green and more of a focus on comboing, your main gameplan doesn’t work nearly as well. It is hard to push through for lethal even with threaten effects and it is hard to keep the board clear even with your Fatal Pushes. If they start finding a footing, they will get to the point of comboing and they are just miles faster than this deck.
While you can beat green with some timely discard, removal, and threatens paired with sacrifice effects, this is one of the main reasons this deck has seen a decline in recent months. Green is not a great thing to run into and it is a top player in the metagame.
Mono White Humans
Matchup Feel: Good, Mayhem Devil does a lot here
Matchup Approach: Much like against Mono Red, you’re able to control the board easily in this matchup with cat-oven and your various sacrifice fodder. Pair that with your removal and multitude of value cards and Mono White has a tough time ever getting through. Mayhem Devil, cat-oven, and claim all pull double duty in this matchup and it is tough for Mono White to beat any of these engines, and you have access to them all. Keep the board manageable early with removal and you can easily take over the mid to late game while keeping them from ever finding enough traction to threaten lethal.
Mono Blue Spirits
Matchup Feel: Close, Mayhem Devil does a lot here
Matchup Approach: This matchup is very similar to Mono White, with the exception that all their threats fly. You will need to try and sneak through a Mayhem Devil while keeping their main threats in check. You can slow down their clock with cat-oven, but it doesn’t do nearly the same KO impression that it does against other creature decks. This matchup is all about timing your removal and leveraging the power of Mayhem Devil. If you can get a Devil into play, it is very tough for Spirits to ever recover a semblance of a board position.
Tips and Tricks
· Pair Claim the Firstborn or sideboard Kari Zev's Expertise with any of the various sacrifice outlets to get value and kill opposing threats. This is especially effective with creatures with death triggers like Old-Growth Troll.
· You can hold priority when bringing back Cauldron Familiar from the graveyard to sacrifice multiple food to the single cat activation. This paired with Mayhem Devil can deal excess damage to help kill opponents or opposing creatures.
· One cycle of the cat-oven combo drains for one point of life. One cycle with Mayhem Devil out deals three and gains one. Each additional Mayhem Devil doubles the non-cat trigger damage. So, one cycle with two Devils deals five and gains one.
· You can bring cats back after damage with death triggers on the stack. This comes up when opponents have creatures that gain life if they die, you can drain them out with that trigger on the stack.
· You can use Reflection of Kiki-Jiji to set up repeatable sacrifice benefits, like with Unlucky Witness as it sacrifices at the end step, giving you extra cards every turn.
· You can activate Den of the Bugbear or Hive of the Eye Tyrant multiple times in the late game and each activation triggers the attack trigger separately. So, if you activate Den twice, you get two goblins when you attack. This can help get enough fodder to sacrifice to win in a late game.
· This deck can kill by miles extra, but many games come down to scrounging out one to two extra points of damage and will reward maximizing your sequencing and activations.
· Often, you will want to keep your cat in the graveyard if your oven is tapped, even on end step. While you can theoretically lose out on one point of attack damage, if you never leave your cat unprotected and in play, it is very hard to ever remove.
· Don’t forget to get Jegantha, the Wellspring in mid to late games. This deck will cast a companion often, especially since it is the largest creature the deck has access to in a long game.
There you have it, our in-depth guide to Rakdos Sacrifice, Pioneer’s premier synergy deck that continues to haunt various creature Aggro decks alongside Rakdos Midrange. While there are plenty of decks that can attack this engine-based deck, it remains one of the longest standing staples of Pioneer and while the metagames continue to shift, this deck continues to exist.
Much like some other long-standing decks like Izzet Phoenix, Rakdos Sacrifice rewards players who stick with the deck and learn to master the various matchups and combinations of cards to use them to their maximum value. If you take the time to learn Rakdos Sacrifice, the rewards can be massive, especially in smaller tournaments with heavier focuses on creature-based strategies and Rakdos Midrange. So, if you’re planning to play this deck, strap in for the long haul and be sure to work through all the various lines, damage thresholds, and tricky sequences that will help you win the close games along with the blow-outs.
Thanks for reading and be sure to stay safe out there!