Beginners Guide to Drafting: Return to Ravnica Rakdos with Chris Boyle

Beginners Guide to Drafting: Return to Ravnica 101 with Chris Boyle

Beginners Guide to Drafting: Return to Ravnica Rakdos with Chris Boyle


So you’ve all read the article about drafting Return to Ravnica, now we’re going to move on to drafting a specific guild.

Today’s article will be all about the “Daddy of Death” Rakdos the Defiler and all his little minions!

Black and red… need I say more? I guess I should…

Running a Rakdos build is the best way to go if you want to get early damage in fast. The creatures are cheap and powerful: Rakdos Cackler a 2/2 for 1 mana, Gore-House Chainwalker a 3/2 for 2. The guild is all about reducing your opponents life total as fast as is humanly (or ‘demonly’) possible. The unleash mechanic is designed to allow you to do this. Curving out with early pressure can finish off opponents before your opponents have gotten to turn five, which is pretty impressive when you consider it’s a limited format.

On top of the obscene creature speed the colour combination of Red and Black provides easy access to the best removal in the game. Cards like Auger Spree, Ultimate Price and Stab Wound can and will lead to an opponent conceding. But it’s not all good for Rakdos…

The reckless abandon of the guild can also be its undoing. The inability to block sees the Rakdos player open to the potential for a brutal counter-attack and because of the guilds early game strength the Rakdos creatures can also find themselves dominated mid/late game.

So how do we go about building an awesome Rakdos deck in draft? What goes into it?

Well firstly let’s assume that we’ve already established that Rakdos is open for us. We already know we will be getting passed strong Rakdos cards. For the sake of this article I am not going to talk about bomb rares or mythics. In any given draft you are unlikely to see or get passed any given rare. It’s just your luck. You are however very likely (especially if the colours are open) to see the uncommon and common cards that make this deck so powerful; so let’s start there.

The Uncommons


Hellhole Flailer – A guy with ‘fling’ built in. Not only does he swing for four each turn but he also provides a little bit of evasion in that his sacrifice ability can’t be countered. Getting those final points of evasion through can be crucial for Rakdos and the Flailer gets us there.

Rakdos Ragemutt – Five mana for a 3/3? I’m not sold. But wait, he has lifelink AND haste? Ok I might be interested…

Rix Maadi Guildmage – Hands. Down. Bomb. This guy has removal on tap AND evasion with his ping for 1 ability. Way too good to be an uncommon. Your opponent will definitely think twice about every single block as long as this guy is on the table!

Rakdos Charm – …let’s not.

In terms of the multi-coloured cards there are only two that I would deem ‘First Pickable’. The Hellhole Flailer and the Rix Maadi Guildmage. They are both fantastic Rakdos cards and if you are getting these passed to you 3rd or 4th pick I would definitely put a lot of thought into running Rakdos.

The Rakdos Ragemutt is ok. The fact he has haste can be a bit of a surprise for an opponent but in reality I am looking for something with bit more of a ‘bite’ for 5 mana. If this was in my first booster I would definitely look at the strength of the other cards over this, but by all means, if you are getting passed these or you open it in pack 2 or three and are already in red & black, he is a nice addition up near the top of your curve. The charm is just bad. Do not first pick the charm.


Bloodfray Giant – By far, my favourite Rakdos card. I would pick this over pretty much anything else (other than a bomb rare) in my first booster. I have played in over fifty Return to Ravnica drafts on Mtgo and have never seen one of these table. There is a reason it doesn’t happen.

Guttersnipe – This guy has more of an ‘Izzet’ feel about him. That being said with the amount of instant and sorcery speed removal open to Rakdos it would be silly not to include as he provides another excellent way to get damage through.

Streetspasm – This card is just nuts. One sided board wipe at instant speed? Sure I’ll have that. It’s removal, its red, and it hits for X. I want this in every Rakdos deck.

Rakdos Cackler – A 2/2 for 1 mana. Nothing wrong with that. Id happily pick this guy if I was already in this colour or opened him in pack 2 or 3 – first pick though? I’d look at the strength of the other cards.

First Pickable from the above? Bloodfray Giant & Streetspasm. If I opened the Guttersnipe I would look at my other options first, if there wasn’t a stronger option (which usually there isn’t) then I wouldn’t feel bad about taking it. The Cackler I am much less likely to pick first. There are lots of uncommon and even some common cards that I would pick ahead of this guy. But he’s a nice filler if you’re in either of his colours.


Thrill Kill Assassin– I like the flexibility of this card. He can be a suicide bomber in that he swings every turn and takes someone down with him regardless of how big they are, or he can be a well placed defensive weapon that slows down the pace of your opponents attack. First Pickable, yes.

Ultimate Price – Nothing wrong with a bit of removal. The restriction in my opinion puts this card into the category where I check what else is available before I pick it. But more often than not it’s a valid pick.

Slum Reaper– Can I be honest? This card, and cards like it are why I never drafted black during the AVR drafts. Firstly, his removal gives your opponent an option. We don’t like doing that. Secondly he hurts me too! I don’t want to kill my own guys; I certainly don’t want to invest time and mana into casting them only to have them die by my own hand next turn! Thirdly he is a 4/2 with no evasion; he dies to the bulk of your opponents three drops.

The only card here that is a snap first pick is the Thrill Kill Assassin. The likelihood is that you will be passed Ultimate Prices and Slum Reapers and apart from that, there are better removal spells at common rarity (Auger Spree) and better creatures for your turn four drop.

So that’s the uncommon cards. I know I haven’t covered all of the ones that are available, I have only included the ones I think most fit the theme of the deck. Sure you might want to first pick a 7 mana Minotaur Aggressor, but if you do, you’re probably not building a Rakdos deck…

“But wait Phoenix! How do we know which uncommon is better than another? What if we open more than one in the same booster!?!”

Well, below is the pick order I would place these cards in:

1)      Rix Maadi Guildmage

2)      Street Spasm

3)      Bloodfray Giant

4)      Hellhole Flailer

5)      Thrill Kill Assassin

6)      Guttersnipe

7)      Rakdos Ragemutt

8)      Ultimate Price

9)      Rakdos Cackler

The rest just don’t justify being a first pick, I can’t imagine a situation where there is no better card in the pack. From number 5 down, it is not unusual to get passed these cards. Particularly into packs 2 and 3. But if you are getting passed any of the top 4 early in a draft, I would seriously consider moving into Rakdos colours.

So now that we have had a look at the uncommon cards let’s have a look at the commons.

The Commons


Auger Spree – My favourite removal spell. It’s instant speed AND it gives you options! You can kill one of his guys, or make one of your five toughness guys stronger. Don’t expect to see many of these getting passed, if you are then you may want to consider switching. This common will be picked higher than a lot of the uncommon cards listed above.

Rakdos Shred Freak – He’s small, fast and lethal in large numbers. Just what Rakdos likes.

Spawn of Rix MaadiThis guy is pretty strong, he’s going to be a 6/4 unleashed which is pretty tough to deal with, or he can be a 5/3 blocker which is going to trade with pretty much anything on the board. I like this card more than I like the uncommon Rakdos Ragemutt, he’s just more durable.

Skull Rend – Expect to see a lot of these getting passed. It’s just not efficient. Sure if it was cheaper it would be playable, but it’s not.

Auger Spree is the only one of the above that an argument could be made for taking first, even at that, I don’t think this should be picked over any of the uncommon cards from 1-4.


Dead Reveler – One of the bread and butter Rakdos cards. Having four toughness unleashed makes him very difficult to kill if he is attacking relentlessly. In a worst case scenario you are going to find he trades up which is never a bad thing.

Grim Roustabout – This guy is a blocker. I cringe when I see people unleash him. Your unleashed guys should be attacking every turn, they are not much good for anything else. The regenerate ability means this guy never need die in an attack, but it will get to a point when attacking is just a silly way for you to spend two mana. It makes more sense in the long run to sacrifice a few points of extra damage getting dealt to your opponent and have a blocker on the table they can never get through. Only stick a counter on this guy if you are sure you that extra +1/+1 is going to leave your opponent knocking on death’s door.

Stab Wound – What. A. Card. At worst it’s three mana removal. At best it is a clock your opponents can do nothing about. It is constant, consistent damage. One of the best things about it is it isn’t even damage, ‘Prevent’ abilities do nothing to stop it. Your opponents just lose life. I prefer to slap this onto a 1/3 than to kill a guy out right with it, but its versatile enough that you can play the situation with it.

Launch Party – The Auger Spree’s are going to be snapped up early, quickly followed by the Stab Wound. If you are in Rakdos then you will have access to these at some point. Yes, they do require you to lose a guy to kill a guy. But it is at instant speed, it kills anything regardless of colour or toughness and it is a bread and butter removal spell for Rakdos and black in general.

Mmmmm BREAD!

These cards should really not be going first, but don’t expect the removal spells to table. You will get passed these early and you need to take these early. Creatures are ALWAYS going to be available. They may not be the best creatures but they will always be there. Removal won’t. That’s why it comes 2nd in the acronym “B.R.E.A.D”…see? Right there between Bombs and Evasion?

Before we move on a thank you to Mr Barnett for pointing out that I didn’t fully explain BREAD in my last article. BREAD is an acronym that a lot of players use to make picking cards easier. Each letter represents a word we associate with Magic the Gathering cards:

B = Bomb – I like to reserve the term ‘Bomb’  for a card that turns the tide of a game every time it is played.

R = Removal – A card that Kills/Exiles or renders your opponents creatures/enchantments/artifacts useless

E = Evasion – A card or creature that allows you to get damage through. This is not solely reserved to creatures with flying. Trample is a good example of evasion along with many other abilities.

A = Aggro – Guys that attack and do damage. The majority of your creatures, regardless of toughness or mana cost will fall into this category.

D = Draw/Defence or most recently (and from now on!) Dregs! God I love that word! It just sums up the cards in this category so well. Dregs are, in my opinion, the fillers of a deck. They are the cards that go in to make up numbers, bulk out a curve or fill a minor role as a 23rd card. Now I’m not saying all ‘Dreg’ cards are bad. But they are not as powerful as the Bombs/Removal/Evasion/Aggro cards that come before it, so unfortunately they are at the bottom of the picking ladder.

Right, back to commons and Red:


Gore-House Chainwalker – Another bread and butter pick for Rakdos. It staples into the early aggression for cheap mana and is another one of those cards that can trade up.

Splatter Thug – This guy is snapped up right after the common removal is taken. As I’ve already mentioned I have done a lot of drafting with this set and I haven’t seen many of these table. A 3/3 that hits first is just nuts. You definitely want a couple of these guys in your deck.

Traitorous Instinct –This card is very versatile. It removes a blocker, pumps an attacker. It can be combined with things like Launch Party and in some cases it will force your opponent to kill his own guy when the damage is too much and he is forced to block. Clever trick. I usually try to run one of these if I’m in red.

Annihilating Fire – The only thing I don’t like about this card is the double red. Other than that it is another fab removal spell, if your opponent doesn’t have any guys…then hit him on the head!

Dynacharge – “Wait a minute Phoenix!” I hear you cry, “That’s an Izzet card!” …is it? In my opinion this fits well into exactly what Rakdos is all about. Damage. It gets those extra points of damage through which is going to swing games for you. Not a first pick, but definitely worth considering if the pack has nothing more to offer.

Frostburn Weird – By no means is this an ideal two drop for Rakdos. But it is a strong play. It’s not going to die any time soon. If your opponent is off to a slow start he swings for four. Another one to consider if there are no Shred Freaks in the pack.

The Pick Order

A pick order for commons is pretty tough. Each is better than all the rest on any given day in any situation. There are a few things you have to remember when it gets to dividing up the commons that should influence your picks:

1)      Your mana curve. Your curve should have a gradual incline until it gets to about turn 4, then a gradual decline until turn six (and if it goes to turn seven I usually feel a bit sick :S). If you are offered the pick of A Gore-House Chainwalker and a Dead Reveler, look at your curve and let it decide. If you have too many 1 and 2 drops the chances are your deck lacks the power it needs later on. If you have no 2 drops but lots for turn three the chances are it’s not consistently fast enough to do what it needs to be doing. Perfect curves aren’t always possible, good curves are.

2)      Your Creature/Removal ratio. I tend to run decks with 14-16 creatures, 4-5 removal spells and the rest made up of combat tricks or fillers. If you have the option of picking a Launch Party and a Splatter Thug, and you already have 7 removal spells. Chances are you side with the creature.

3)      What’s going to table? This is a big deal and I don’t think it can be taught because each draft is different. But let’s say in pack 1 you have the choice between a Hellhole Flailer and a Dead Reveller. You take the Flailer and the Reveller comes back around. Remember this. Now if a pack offers you a tough choice between say, A Reveller and a Splatter Thug, take the thug, the Reveller may just wheel.

As a general rule of thumb removal is going to be picked up first, after that it comes down to the points above.


Now, so far as I am concerned the biggest problem Rakdos has is that it possesses no natural evasion. Very few guys trample, if it flies it is a rare or bad. This can put you in difficult situations mid to late game and indeed can cost you the game because you are unable to knock off those final points of life. I don’t know about anyone else’s Pre-releases but in general Rakdos ran out of steam early (Mr Shanks, the exception to the rule.)

The following are cards that will probably wheel the table… but are definitely worth considering.

Deviant Glee – Now, I have a great dislike for static enchantments. Particularly of the creature variety. But as a 23rd card, I have no problem with Deviant Glee. I’m not so into the fact it pumps up a guy, that’s just a bonus but the ability to give one of your creatures trample makes a HUGE difference. It adds an element of evasion to a Guild which has access to very little.

Pursuit of Flight – Another card I dislike, but again not terrible if you’re struggling for a 23rd card. Worst case scenario it makes one of your guys a little bit stronger, a bit more equipped to bully your opponents defenders out of the way. Best case scenario your splashing blue for something else and you can make your dude fly.

Rogue’s Passage – I see this wheel so often and can never understand why. Do people have something against un-blockable creatures? Is it just me that likes to play: Turn 5 – Spawn of Rix Maadi, Turn 6 – Rogues Passage and win? I don’t get it. This card is good in Rakdos period. You can make big guys THIS guarantees they can get through.

Remember what Rakdos is trying to do, lots of damage early, blast the other guys creatures out of the way and get in with your own. Think long and hard about whether or not to unleash a creature, are you going to need it to defend in a few turns?

The best way to learn how to draft a guild is to play a guild. Try it, if it doesn’t work, look at why it didn’t work and change it. If you don’t want to risk your own money check out the videos on YouTube, speak to guys (and girls, cause ladies play Magic too!) you know who have drafted it and ask them how they got on, what worked and what didn’t.

Above all else have fun!

Thanks for reading! Comment below!



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One morning I woke up and decided I was going to be a rock god. I realised soon after (around about lunchtime) that I did not possess the hair required to lead the rock and roll lifestyle and opted to be a writer instead. I have written and published fantasy fiction with some degree of success over the last four years and have sworn that one day I will retire to a small island which I will buy with profits from book sales...probably. I started playing Magic The Gathering when Serra Angel was still a rare (and a damned good one!) and nationals were still churning out the pedigree players. After an eight year break the Innistrad block threw me into the thick of it once again and my passion for the game has returned in a way only my bank manager can truly comprehend. A big thanks to ManaLeak & MtGUK for allowing me to combine my hobby and my craft, and a huge thanks to you guys reading the articles!