The Evolution of Rakdos Sacrifice
Brad dives deep into the history of Rakdos Sacrifice in Pioneer, before looking at where the archetype is heading with the release of Dominaria United!
Namesakes & Non-Sense
Rakdos Sacrifice, in Pioneer, is a deck that has had various forms and builds over the course of the format. Focusing on the namesake game plan of sacrificing your own creatures for value, the deck looks to utilize interactions such as Cauldron Familiar and Witch's Oven, Oni-Cult Anvil and Blood Token Generation draw spells such as Deadly Dispute or Village Rites, and sacrifice payoffs in Mayhem Devil and Ob Nixilis, the Adversary. It is without a doubt one of the most if not the most grindy decks in Pioneer, and while it has a plethora of cards and interactions to choose from — it can’t utilize them all all the time.
The History of Rakdos Sacrifice
During the first year of Pioneer, Rakdos Sacrifice was straightforward. It leaned on the Cat-Oven combo and Mayhem Devil to either clear the board of your opponents creatures, or just shooting their face while going for the kill. Other supporting members of the deck would include cards like Priest of Forgotten Gods, Scrapheap Scrounger, Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger and even Midnight Reaper. The tools back then that were available to the archetype weren’t as strong as they are now, and they even weren’t as strong as their sacrifice counterpart in the format had in Jund Food. For the longest time Jund was the king of sacrifice decks as the inclusion of green added a food production engine to go along with the Cat-Oven combo with the likes of Gilded Goose and Trail of Crumbs. This added another grindy element to the sacrifice game plan as the deck was capable of churning through their deck at ease with Trail of Crumbs, while also generating lifegain against more aggressive decks in the format with all of the food token production. The other thing that Jund gained access to that basic Rakdos didn’t have was a true finisher in the form of Korvold, Fae-Cursed King. So for quite a while, Jund reigned supreme in the Archetype, boasting both a food version as listed above, and as a Bolas's Citadel version more focused on a big combo-kill that played as much sac fodder as possible to sac to Citadel for a one turn kill. Rakdos was focused far more on the Arcanist archetype for much of this time, as the pieces were all there for that streamlined game plan to work more easily than sacrifice. Sacrifice strategies? Jund was king.
Return to Innistrad Block
This trend would continue throughout the entirety of 2020 and 2021, as it wasn’t until the release of Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow that we would start to see the tools fall in place for Rakdos to come back to dominance in the sacrifice archetype. That said, even with the release of The Meathook Massacre, Voldaren Epicure, and Bloodtithe Harvester, Rakdos Sacrifice would be outshined by Rakdos Midrange as receiving a buff in the midrange strategy was more immediately apparent. As Graveyard Trespasser would be easily the most impactful card from the return to Innistrad; it quickly became an all-star. Sacrifice as an archetype in general had fallen off greatly over that year, as the likes of Winota Decks, Rakdos Midrange, Mono Green Devotion, and Control variants became the premiere decks of the format.
A New Neon Dynasty
It wouldn’t be until the release of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty where Rakdos Sacrifice would once again take its place as the predominant Sacrifice deck. Oni-Cult Anvil would breathe new life into the archetype, encouraging players to utilize artifact driven synergies between the blood tokens of Crimson Vow and card value generation artifacts like Experimental Synthesizer. It seemed like the perfect fit, slotting the cat-oven combo in tandem with other heavily synergistic artifacts for sacrifice. Unfortunately however, two things were starting to keep the deck at bay within the meta. Mono Green Devotion began featuring Karn, the Great Creator, and the realization that Fable of The Mirror-Breaker was an absolute house in Rakdos Midrange. As such, hype around the deck fizzled out for a bit, because Karn was such a prevalent player in the format and he completely shut down any artifact driven strategy. Karn was being played in Mono Green as always, but even Sac decks themselves started playing Karn with the intention of shutting down the mirror. Then on the other side more attention was being driven towards Rakdos Midrange and its new shiny toy. So the deck was in a weird place for a few weeks. Players were seen dropping Anvil all together in most lists, but still playing things like Experimental Synthesizer, Voltage Surge, and Blood Tokens. Having this mini-engine was far less stellar without Anvils in the deck to truly give value to the card advantage you were generating.
Streets of New Capenna
Luckily for sac players everywhere, Streets of New Capenna arrived… and with it, a new sac staple. Ob Nixilis, the Adversary was an absolute bomb for the deck — providing a new top-end threat to help close the door on opponents by either forcing mass discard or life drains. Now, Ob Nixilis is a great card, but was wildly overhyped during his reveal in Streets of New Capenna’s spoiler season. However, that ultimately was a good thing for the deck in the long run. This overhyping of Ob and the chatter floating around the magic community of Rakdos Sac decks being potentially one of the best decks in Pioneer, got more eyes on the archetype. Something it needed desperately for it to flourish, as we had seen the success and popularity of Rakdos Midrange result in far more players picking up the deck and fine tuning it at the highest level of play. Prevalent streamers such as D00mwake started playing Rakdos Sac with Ob and they put up incredible successes with the deck. As players started seeing their favorite streamers play the deck, it became more common in leagues and challenges. One of the first things players realized was that Ob Nix wasn’t the only card in Streets that slotted perfectly in Rakdos Sac. Unlucky Witness was shown to generate great amounts of card advantage, similarly to Experimental Synthesizer in the Anvil versions of the deck. Next players started to take a page out of Rakdos Midrange’s playbook and began running Bloodtithe Harvester as well, eventually also leading to the inclusion of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Of course the numbers of all of these will vary, and there are decks posting results in RCQ’s and Challenges with some playing Epicure over Witness, or Fable over Ob, or a mixture of some number of all of these aforementioned cards. For the most part, Ob is seen heavily as a one or two-of in the main with an additional copy in the side for the control matchup, so he’s certainly fallen a bit from grace when comparing to the full playsets we were seeing shortly after SNC’s release. But without the hype around him in the first place, players would not have tested the deck extensively to discover what the deck needed to survive.
Today, Dominaria United is right around the corner and we are in the midst of spoiler season for this new set. With it, a potential new player for the archetype has been revealed. Weatherlight Compleated , a two-mana artifact vehicle that is a 5/5 with flying, and no cost to crew. Rather than be crewed the traditional way, Weatherlight instead wants your own creatures to die to put wind in its sails. It reads:
Whenever a creature you control dies, put a phyresis counter on Weatherlight Compleated. Then draw a card if it has seven or more phyresis counters on it. If it doesn’t, scry 1. If there are 4 or more phyresis counters on it, it becomes a phyrexian creature in addition to its other types.
This card screams Rakdos Sac on paper, potentially replacing the occasional one or two-of Kroxa that pops up in the main deck from time to time. Being able to act as a way to filter your library every time you sac a creature in the early game is already pretty valuable, but throw-in a 5/5 flying beatstick that can eventually start flat out drawing you cards for every Cat you throw in the oven seems too good to be true. Of course, there are downsides however. Since it flat out becomes a creature when four counters are placed on it, therefore it becomes a bit more fragile to removal than you would normally expect from a traditional vehicle. Sorcery speed removal from control in the form of sweepers usually don’t do anything vs uncrewed vehicles, but Weatherlight Compleated unfortunately doesn’t dodge them. In addition this card isn’t particularly a great top deck in the late game for most board states, especially on an empty board. Though still, a one or two-of in testing should absolutely be worth giving a try. Of course, Weatherlight Completed could go the route of being deemed “not good enough” and cut after the first week of release, but that is why we playtest!
Sacrifice is a wonderful example of how decks evolve overtime with extensive playtesting and enough hype to give people a reason to play the deck. It’s something we need more of in Pioneer with other archetypes. Just imagine what breakout decks are just a couple cards away from becoming truly competitive. The best thing about Pioneer is its sandbox-like environment of a brewers paradise. It’s an unsolved wide open format with existing players, but will always have room for more to jump in and give the others a run for their money. It just takes committed pilots to find those players and bring them to the forefront.
So we have seen versions that eschew the anvil package in favor of the cat/oven package is it possible with all the artifact sets coming down the line that the deck could end up leaning the other way towards keeping the anvil package instead of the cat/oven?
As long as Karn, The Great Creator is legal and at a high representation in the format, it’s going to be difficult to justify a more artifact driven sac deck. Though, if they give us a card that’s similar to Eaten Alive but you sac an artifact as cost, that could push us back in that direction. Karn is just so back breaking unfortunately
So I am currently playing a mardu version of anvil which allows me to run both eaten alive as well as rite of oblivion which i believe would be close to the kind of card you are thinking of.