Two Events, Two Decks

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This past weekend, I traveled out to Indianapolis to play in the TCG Player Invitational. To qualify for this event, you needed to earn twenty points by playing in TCG Player sponsored events. By earn I obviously mean you can purchase these points extremely easily with your own hard-earned money. Many people at the event were willing to trade their points for cards and if you didn’t have any cards to trade you could always buy points from any of the vendors. The cost for entry was about fifty dollars, which is a lot of money, but not really a lot of cards.

The other part of the event that was important was the byes. Players could redeem twenty or forty points to gain one or two byes. In my opinion this was broken. Because it was so easy to get the points if you wanted to, over 65% of players had two round byes. That percentage is staggering and should really be a wake up call for the TCG Player organizers. Byes stop being important or good if everyone has them.

The main thing to remember about this event overview is that if you want to play in a high stakes tournament, you can. TCG will hold this event next year and as of yet, they have made no changes to the process. I expect more players to take advantage of the easy access next year but so should you.

For the event, I chose to play the Four-Color Peddler deck I talked about a couple weeks ago with some changes. Here’s the list I registered.

The first thing I want to say about this deck is that I love it. It is so powerful and there are so many interactions. What I don’t like about it is the lack of consistency. The Tracker's Instincts help, but in the aggro matchups you do not really have time to be casting that card. The main problem is that some opening hands that are generally solid happen to be horrible against specific decks.

So, if you keep a hand that seems pretty reasonable, you could be in a bad position depending on what deck you end up facing. Some decks are amazing game one decks; this one is the terrible game one deck. Once you know what you are playing against, you can decide if the hand is keepable. Let me give you a couple examples.

If this was your hand game one, would you keep?

I think this is an auto keep every game one. How can you throw this hand back? Turn two Farseek into turn three Olivia. Then you even have a Trackers Instincts to look for a Nightshade Peddler to pair, or another threat to follow up with.

The problem is this hand is horrible against a lot of decks. Let’s say you are paired against UW or UWR this round. Obviously you don’t know that, but it could easily happen because that deck is gaining popularity again. I’m not sure you can beat them with this hand, even if you draw a Cavern of Souls. Unless they miss land drops they'll just use their Unsummons and Azorius Charms to stall you into oblivion.

What about this one on the draw?

Again, I think this is a keepable hand. This one is a little closer, but if you start mulliganing this type of hand, you will find not many hands are keepers. Against many decks, this hand is fine, but what about against Rakdos or GW Humans? If you find yourself paired against one of those two decks, you may not have time to stabilize before they kill you. I would say this hand is a trap, but I think it’s a keep the majority of the time.

Obviously your analysis can change depending on what you are playing against. Once you know your opponent’s deck, you can decide on a mulligan a lot more easily. I still see this deck putting up results at events, but it is a risky choice in my opinion. Until you play tons of games, you won’t realize the level of risk you are taking by showing up to a large event with this deck. If you are looking for a deck to take to FNM, this is a great decision, and you will probably win that event. Just make sure to scout your opponents.

Battling at the Invitational

So what happened at the Invitational? Well, those two hands I did keep, and I was paired against the deck they were bad against. Unsurprisingly, I lost those matches. The UW match was much closer than I believed it to be but it is still a very winnable match. The card you don’t want much of is Olivia and I proceeded to draw the other two that game as well. Game two I won quickly with an aggressive start, but game three I lost again by drawing two Olivias and nothing else of note.

In addition to losing to that deck, I also lost to two Rakdos decks and a Mono Red deck. Mono Red seems like a very bad matchup even with access to Pillar of Flame. Rakdos is very winnable though. In both matches I lost to the deck, game three I stalled the game so it went long and then I proceeded to flood out. One of the games I had eleven mana in play when I lost and another four on the top of my deck. The Rakdos match is not one you want to face with this deck though, as it is not in your favor.

Because of that, I don’t think I would take this deck to an event again. I did beat one Rakdos deck but other than that, my record was horrid. Despite not drawing well, losing a lot of games, and feeling like my deck was out-classed against the best deck in the format (Rakdos), I played very well. After the event I analyzed my play and there were only one or two plays that I made judgment calls on I was unhappy about. Neither of them were play mistakes, but rather a calculated decision that ended up not working out.

With no luck making day two of the Invitational, I struggled to figure out what to play the next day for the 5K. My friend wanted to test his Bant deck against Rakdos so I played the aggro side of the matchup. After destroying him the first five games without sideboard, I realized just how powerful the Rakdos deck is. Every card in the deck is inherently powerful and there is some synergy as well. The main feature is that the creatures are hard to kill, which is one of the things I look for in an aggressive deck. We played a bunch of sideboard games and he won about half of them which gave both of us a lot of information.

Based on how strong the Rakdos deck was, I decided to just play that the next day. It was similar enough to decks I had played before that I felt I could play it well. I didn’t change much from the main deck, but I did altar the sideboard quite a bit. Here’s what I played for the 5K.

This may seem like a very stock list, but I did actually put a lot of thought into the card choices. The sideboard especially, was my own creation. So what happened at the event?

Round 1 – Mono Red
Round 2 – Rakdos
Round 3 – Rakdos
Round 4 – Rakdos
Round 5 – Rakdos
Round 6 – Rakdos
Round 7 – GWb Humans
Round 8 – Rakdos

That’s right, six Rakdos decks out of my eight rounds! That many mirror matches in one event was insane. By the end of the day I was asking myself, are there other decks in the format? I also started asking my opponents what they had played against. Most of them said they played a variety of decks. One opponent said he had a similar experience to what I was having. Take a look at how I did.

Round 1 – Mono Red, win
Round 2 – Rakdos, win
Round 3 – Rakdos, win
Round 4 – Rakdos, win
Round 5 – Rakdos, lose
Round 6 – Rakdos, lose
Round 7 – GWb Humans, win
Round 8 – Rakdos, lose

You definitely do not want a play by play of the event but I can tell you a little about the mirror match. Go figure, right?

Despite the reputation of previous aggro mirrors, the Rakdos mirror is quite skill intensive. There are many opportunities to outplay your opponent. If you are considering this deck, make sure you test the mirror because it is the hardest match by far.

Most of the time, when you are on the draw, you need to consider yourself the control deck and be concerned about your defense. This is not always the case though. If you have a turn one play and they don’t, that can easily turn the tempo in your favor. Learning when to play a creature or hold for removal is important. If you are bad with combat math, this mirror is going to be tough for you to win. Often it comes down to attacking while playing defense to make sure you kill your opponent first. The biggest swing in the mirror is usually Hellrider so calculate how much damage your opponent could do with it before you make your attacks.

Tips for the Mirror

Treat every mirror different because there are many lists with unique features. Some of those features include Blood Artist, Rakdos Cackler, more removal, less removal, Tragic Slip, Vampire Nighthawk, Mark of the Vampire, etc. Some of those typically are sideboard strategies but I had to play against all of those cards throughout the event.

Sideboard differently for each mirror as well. I would want a sideboard plan for a stock list like the one that won the Grand Prix, but remember to change your plan depending on the specifics of your opponents deck.

Remember to make the switch from offense to defense when needed and vice versa. If you are keeping track of your opponent's plays and life total, you should be able to plan your line of attack based on the game state. If you are dead to a fresh Hellrider from your opponent, you need to leave back blockers.

The normal sequence of plays is not always correct. For example, normally you play Geralf's Messenger on turn three and Falkenrath Aristocrat on turn four. There are times when you want to play around your opponents Pillar of Flame by casting Geralf's Messenger the turn after you play Aristocrat. Each game is different and each game state unique so make your plays based on what has actually happened so far.

In the Hellrider vs. Falkenrath Aristocrat debate, Hellrider should win almost every time because your damage output is higher. The times when it is correct to play Falkenrath Aristocrat first are usually when they have passed with mana open. As long as you have another creature, you should probably play Aristocrat first.

Speaking of Falkenrath Aristocrat, knowing when not to play it is important as well. Almost always, if you don’t have any other creatures in play, you should play another creature first. By playing your most resilient threat without a way to protect it, you downgrade the power of the card significantly. Even though you could get in four hasty damage this turn, more than likely it is better to play your other creature first so you have a way to make Aristocrat indestructible.

One of my strategies for beating the mirror was boarding in Rakdos's Return. It may seem counter-intuitive but I liked the plan a lot on the play. If you make them discard two or three cards, they basically can’t win. This strategy usually won't work if you are on the draw or if they have Rakdos Cackler. Just keep it in mind while sideboarding.

As for what actually happened, this event was yet another close call. I started the day 4-0 beating RDW and three mirrors in a row. After that, I lost two close mirrors, beat a mana screwed humans player, then lost my last match to miss prize.

Of the matches I lost, one of them was a legitimate loss. My first loss of the day was to a mirror with two Blood Artists main deck and a third in the sideboard. He drew both of them game one and then all three game three. Because of that swing in life totals and the enormous amount of lands I drew game three, I lost that match. If I would have drawn a threat to go with my pile of removal, I would have moved to 5-0.

The loss right after that was to Christian Calcano, quite a good player. The games were close but ultimately I couldn’t draw a land for two turns game three, which sealed the deal.

Evolving Rakdos

On the drive home I was thinking about one version of the deck that uses the additional sacrifice outlet of Bloodthrone Vampire so you can play main deck Mark of Mutiny. I think this version should have the edge in the mirror because of the better removal and the life swings from Blood Artist in addition to the creature stealing effect. This is the list I will be working from. I like a lot of what it is doing. Might need some Hellriders though.

In closing, Rakdos is definitely a big part of the metagame. Make sure you are prepared to face it with whatever deck you decide on because you never know when you are going to have to play against six Rakdos decks in one event.

Until next time,

Unleash the Rakdos Crushing Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

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