Historic Myths and Tales: A Rakdos Kroxa Sacrifice Guide

Kroxa-Titan-of-Deaths-Hunger-Theros-Beyond-Death-Art

Stay a while and listen! Sit at the campfire, as today at dusk I shall begin the tale of a legendary elder giant called Kroxa and his little cat familiar, as they ventured into the perilous world, encountering fields full of zombies, ferocious goblin tribes ready to attack anyone who stood in their way, and wise magicians who possessed the power to manipulate time. Kroxa and his companions had to make many sacrifices along the way, but ultimately they reached their mythical destination…

Welcome to Historic Myths and Tales part I, with myself, sage Albert “Alan” Andrzejewski, as your guide and mentor.

There are many different versions of this tale, but here’s the one I was told:

Allow me a brief digression, for I’m afraid that from time to time I will have to change the way I impart my teachings, to help you younglings understand this old man’s prattling.

Vices and Virtues

Kroxa and his companions had three main virtues: the willingness to make sacrifices, death-defying persistence, and bravery in combat. Together, they formed a magnificent team, but when split apart from each other and cast out into exile, they struggled against their foes.

1) The core of the deck is a well-known package of: Cauldron Familiar, Witch’s Oven, Priest of Forgotten Gods, Mayhem Devil, Woe Strider and Claim the Firstborn. Having great synergy with each other, they help a lot vs other creature-oriented decks. Kroxa provides a lot of value with each of those cards, because he can be sacrificed for free value when you cast him from your hand, and to generate a ping with Mayhem Devil

2) This deck loves to use and abuse graveyard shenanigans. With Stitcher’s Supplier’s efficient self-mill, Kroxa and Woe Strider become much easier to Escape, giving us great resilience and late-game value. Every card put in our graveyard can be used to our advantage.

3) This is the kind of deck that takes a defensive role vs more aggressive decks like Goblins, MonoG, or Gruul, while being the beatdown vs slower decks like Esper control, Field of the Dead, Temur Reclamation, or turbo ramp. We’re not as big and fast as other aggro decks, but have some tools to deal non-combat damage to the opponent, like Priest, Cat, Kroxa and Devil, which provide such reach and longevity that we can win in many late game scenarios where the faster aggro decks have long been left for dead.

4) This deck is at its best when it combines multiple cards together: Cat is weak without Oven, Priest is poor without creatures to sacrifice, Devil is a vanilla 3/3 without anything being sacrificed, and Kroxa is a weak discard spell without a way to fill our graveyard. If opponents disrupt our key pieces, especially by removal that exiles, we struggle. When they stick around and we can combine them, we thrive.

Manabase

4 Mountain

4 Swamp

4 Blood Crypt

4 Fabled Passage

4 Dragonskull Summit

2 Castle Locthwain

1 Phyrexian Tower

According to pro player and mathematician Frank Karsten’s calculations on how many colored mana sources are needed to cast one’s spells consistently, we need at least 16 black (18 if we include sideboard Ashiok) and 14 red mana sources in this deck. I didn’t include paying BBRR for Kroxa’s escape on turn 4, as it rarely takes place that early. Karsten’s article uses 24 lands as a calculation base and we’ve got only 23, but with a total of 16 red and 18 black sources (19 when counting Phyrexian Tower), we are well above the minimal requirements. Fabled Passages are important not only as a mana fixer, but also as a way to ping with the Devil and fill the graveyard with escape fodder. I know that they sometimes slow down our early turns, but this build of the deck doesn’t aim to be the fastest possible and I feel that greater ability to find the right mana (especially second red mana for Kroxa) and the synergy they provide is worth it. Dragonskull Summit is a historic addition that allows us to keep the tempo without losing consistency. Two Castles Locthwain seem like a good compromise between long-term value and speed. Phyrexian Tower from Jumpstart is a great tool that lets us ramp up and sacrifice a creature at instant speed. While some builds play as many as 3 of them in the maindeck, I wouldn’t play more than 2 here to avoid further undermining our early game speed and consistency. Dreadhorde Butcher turn 2 is harder to cast with early Tower; we don’t run as much cheap Tower-fodder as Lurrus versions and don’t have Bolas’s Citadel that we want to put into play ASAP.

Kroxa and Friends

4 Stitcher’s Supplier: One small creature from Historic, one giant leap for the whole archetype. This is the most efficient self-mill card in the format, together with a 1/1 body that can be easily sacrificed to Priest, Oven, Strider or Rankle. After death, it gives us a total of 7 sources of additional “graveyard card advantage”, including itself. That’s a lot of escape fodder and potential to “draw” a Kroxa, Strider, or Cat by putting it directly in the graveyard and recurring it.

4 Cauldron Familiar & 4 Witch’s Oven: These two like to pair up. It’s more important to draw the Oven, as it’s a sacrifice outlet, and Cat can be found by self-milling with Supplier.

3 Claim the Firstborn: In this deck, this is a split card with the first half being nuts and the one you use most of the time: “Destroy target creature with CMC less than 3. Gain a free attack before it dies and gain 1-2 food / 1 Priest fodder / scry 1 / add BB”, but the second can be just as important: “Untap target non-Rankle creature you control and it gains haste.” Sounds like a lot for just 1 red mana.

4 Dreadhorde Butcher: In slower matchups, a Butcher on turn 2 or 3 is almost a death sentence for the opponent. Against aggro, he serves as a suicide squad that attacks the opponent once or two to get +1/+1 counters, and then trades well with other creatures or gets sacrificed to kill one immediately.

4 Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger: this card shows its true power in this shell. If it enters the battlefield from hand, it usually gets sacrificed with another card to get more value. Kroxa has forced my opponents to discard so many crucial cards and taken away so much of their life, especially late game when they didn’t have cards in hand. With Supplier delivering fresh graveyard fodder, we can sate its hunger multiple times so it keeps coming back.

4 Priest of Forgotten Gods: together with Claim, she’s the first nemesis of creature decks everywhere; the second being Devil with Cat-Oven. I prefer to use Priest’s ability during my main phase to utilize the mana, although sometimes versus aggro I block on their turn and then sacrifice the blockers to prevent some more damage. When I don’t need to activate it, I usually leave it untapped on the opponent’s turn while having 2 or more creatures, to have the option to sacrifice as a response to whatever they do.

4 Mayhem Devil: this deck has 21 other spells and 5 lands that include word “sacrifice”. Capitalize on those, make some mayhem! Every Cat-Oven activation gives 2 pings, and every Priest activation gives 3, provided your opponent has a creature to sacrifice. Remember that opponents’ triggers from cards like Fabled Passage, Uro played from hand, and Fanatical Firebrand also count.

3 Woe Strider – a goat can always come in handy for some dark rituals, right? Priest knows something about that. The scry is invaluable in searching for the right cards in a given moment. You might have the dilemma – scry with the goat, or leave it for later? Usually, I only scry right before drawing if I have no playables for the next turn or want a specific card. If you wait, the topdeck might always bring Devil or Priest to get better value off the goat. Strider also provides an infinite sacrifice outlet, allowing you to sacrifice Cat to scry 1 and return it as many times as you have food tokens accumulated.

2 Rankle, Master of Pranks – Hasty, evasive creature, able to push 3-4 damage? Check. Dodges some removal, like Eliminate or Magmaquake? Check. Trades your 0/1 goat for a more valuable creature? Check. Forces your opponent to discard, while allowing you to discard a land as an escape fodder? Check. Draws a card when you’re out of gas? Check and I’m in! The draw option is best when you’ve played your hand on curve, and your opponent is slower on tempo and has more cards in hand than they can play over the next few turns. However, I prefer to avoid drawing in scenarios when my opponent might get a game-changing card (like a mass removal) and you’re ahead on board.

1 Lurrus of the Dream-Den – this legendary cat can turn the tide of the battle if kept alive long enough, bringing insane value over just a few turns. It’s a nonbo with escaping Strider and Kroxa and that’s why I only have one. The possibility of drawing Lurrus forces you to watch carefully which cards you exile while escaping, leaving 1- and 2-drops as the last to get rid of. Why Lurrus maindeck, not as a companion? See below.

Exclusions

A tale with too many heroes on too many adventures bogs down the plot and is hard to remember, tedious to tell. For this reason, I’ve spared you some details too trivial.

Most Rakdos Sacrifice decks in historic I’ve seen play with Lurrus of the Dream Den as a companion – here’s a sample decklist. I wanted to include some pros and cons of both strategies:

Non-companionLurrus as a companion
Valuable 3 and 4-drops (most notably: Mayhem Devil), instead of some 1-drops that are weaker on their own.Consistency of playing Lurrus and having one additional card, although the companion nerf means a significant tempo loss. Lurrus can provide absurd value, but is vulnerable to many removal spells.
Stronger alternative gameplan without access to graveyard recursion.More susceptible to graveyard hate.
More sac outlets with Woe Strider – more consistent usage of Claim as removal.You can play Village Rites as another sac outlet, although with Claims, Ovens, Calls and Rites you increase the risk of drawing too little creatures.
A bit slower curve and Fabled Passage as a tapland in the early game, but on the other hand it provides Devil’s pings and escape fodder. Good mana consistency.Faster, more low-to-the-ground. Can play some Passages or Temples, but it hurts more while playing more 1-drops.
“Lost because couldn’t draw the third land” syndrome.Can do better off two lands, although more lands are still needed sooner or later.
Access to more sideboard cards, most notably Ashiok, Dream Render and Virulent Plague.Can give up Lurrus as companion postboard to access more cards.
 Less competition in graveyard resources.Escaping Kroxa is a nonbo with Call and Lurrus.

Overall, I’m more sold on the non-Lurrus version. The deck feels more resilient, instead of putting too many eggs into the Cat Nightmare’s basket. Mayhem Devil seems too good not to play it, considering the big advantage it gives against aggro and the mirror. Although, please keep in mind that I have less experience with Lurrus versions than with this one, and I might be a bit biased.

Here are some other exclusions:

Village Rites and Call of the Death Dweller: I feel like these cards could work well in this deck, but the 60-card space is too tight to have everything. Call can be great to give Devil deathtouch or make a Butcher with both deathtouch and menace. It does a similar job to the 1 maindeck Lurrus, but Call is more of a faster 1-time boost that is useless with an empty graveyard, while Lurrus is always a 3/2 lifelink body, gives more value over time, and allows us to recur Ovens we mill with Supplier. On the other hand, it’s slower and can’t bring back Devil, so perhaps I’m mistaken not to include any Calls. I could also imagine cutting Lurrus and Rankle for 1-2 Rites and 1-2 Calls to play Jegantha as a companion, at least for game one and the post-board games where we don’t need to side in Ashiok.

Bolas’s Citadel – a build with this has become more popular lately. It helps in mirrors or versus control, but is expensive and bad vs aggro. I haven’t tested it very much, but I feel this card belongs more to the Jund version.

Field of Ruin – In my previous versions of the deck I was running one in the main – destroying opponent’s Azcanta, Sunken Ruin, Castle Loctwain, Castle Vantress or Field of the Dead has won me a few games. It also served as a Fabled Passage with a 2-mana activation cost, so our mana wasn’t that much hurt by running it. However, with Jumpstart I replaced it with Phyrexian Tower, which is much more universal and I don’t want both as that would reduce our early-game consistency.I might think about it in the future, depending on how the metagame shifts.

Robber of the Rich and Judith, Scourge Diva: I feel these would be better in a more aggressive build that doesn’t use Kroxa, although Robber synergizes a bit with Rankle, who’s also a Rogue.

Mire Triton and Tymaret Calls the Dead: less efficient self-mill and weaker cards overall. I don’t want to rely on graveyard synergies too much, in case of some hate post-board.

Gutterbones, Serrated Scorpion, Fanatical Firebrand: we already have 8 1-mana creatures and don’t want to cut other cards to include more. Firebrand’s value depends on how many Llanowar Elves, Pelt Collectors and Skirk Prospectors are in the meta. It would also make more sense together with Call of Death Dweller to give it deathtouch.

Slaughter-Priest of Mogis – I played with it for some time and it worked fine, but Dreadhorde Butcher is so much better against aggro due to the death-ping trigger. The minotaur might be better in racing scenarios or in dealing with opponent’s early blockers, like Arboreal Grazer. The greatest power I managed to achieve on a Slaughter-Priest was 18.

Tactics

The followers of Kroxa employed a wide range of tricks and strategies to turn the tide of the battle. Some of you may already possess some standard training and knowledge of them...

Don’t forget to turn on full control or put a stop in your main phase while playing Kroxa from hand, to sacrifice it to other outlets.

If you play Kroxa from hand while already having another on the battlefield, it doesn’t get sacrificed. Instead, it just leaves the battlefield immediately due to the legend rule (assuming that you don’t want to remove the one you already had in play) so you don’t get sacrifice triggers or a window of opportunity to sacrifice it with another card.

Watch out for the autotapper with Phyrexian Tower on board – it usually gets autotapped first, while you often want to leave it untapped for possible later usage. The ability to sacrifice something with it doesn’t hold priority on its own, contrary to Witch’s Oven, so putting a stop may be useful. Remember that sacrificing a creature with the Tower is a mana ability so your opponent can’t respond to you adding BB, which can be useful if you want to use the mana on a sorcery-speed spell before they can react.

You can Claim your opponent’s mana dorks to break even on mana or sometimes even gain it with something like Selvala, Heart of the Wilds.

At the opponent’s end step, return your Cat from the graveyard only if you plan to attack with it. If you don’t, there’s always a chance to topdeck a Devil and get an additional ping.

With multiple food tokens on board and a Cat in graveyard, you can enter full control to sacrifice them one after another in response to your own triggers. It’s useful with Devil on board to quickly kill a threat or deal lethal damage, but don’t tell anyone I told you to waste food, okay?

When talking about food – you can’t go on a diet while playing this deck. Don’t hesitate to eat your food for Mayhem Devil pings or to get more life vs aggro.

It’s hard to fully emphasize how important it is to have a way to sacrifice your creatures at instant speed whenever you can. Don’t attack with your Priests while having two other creatures on board. In some situations, a turn 1 Oven is better than a Cat or Supplier, especially if you can play a Butcher on turn 2. Leave your Ovens untapped as long as possible. Sacrificing a creature in response to:

  • Adventures, such as Bonecrusher Giant’s Stomp – prevents your opponent from casting the card later as a creature.
  • Exile removal – lets you keep your creatures in graveyard for later usage. The only exception is Cry of Carnarium, which exiles creatures that died earlier and will die this turn, so if your opponent might have it, consider using Oven on Cat on your turn.
  • Tef3ri’s -3 ability – negates the card draw (but it’s not always worth it).
  • Oath of Kaya – prevents your opponent from gaining life.
  • And so on…

Sideboard

3 Duress: For control, Temur Reclamation, and FotD matchups. I prefer it over Drill Bit and Agonizing Remorse because it costs less mana and is castable on turn 1, provided you get an untapped black source. This allows us to take cards like Search for Azcanta out of the opponent’s hand before they have a chance to play them, even if we start the game on the draw.

3 Ashiok, Dream Render: Shutting down opponent’s Uro, Search for Azcanta’s transformation, Lurrus, and Elspeth Conquers Death’s third chapter is nice. Shutting down Fabled Passage, Cultivate, Golos, and Scapeshift is very nice. Milling yourself for 4 cards every turn to escape Kroxa and Strider so many times is freaking awesome. Be aware that it’s not always good to spam its loyalty ability every turn, in case your opponent plays their own Ashiok or Soul-Guide Lantern – that will ruin your work.

2 Virulent Plague: A removal dedicated for the Field of the Dead match-up. Yes, it negates Woe Strider’s goat, but that’s a small price for saving us. Don’t play it too early though – wait for your opponent to have some zombies to use it as a zombie-wrath. Otherwise, your opponent might destroy it with Knight of Autumn before it does anything. Once, I boarded it in vs White Weenie – it’s fun to watch their Legion’s Landing and History of Benalia spawn no creatures.

1 Claim the Firstborn: I like to play only 3 maindeck, as it’s not that good in some matchups like Esper Control or Temur Reclamation, and I want to avoid the situation of having too many Claims without a sacrifice outlet.

2 Eat to Extinction: I’ve been trying different kinds of removal in this deck since the release of Theros. I found out that I wanted something that 1) is unconditional creature removal 2) exiles the target to get rid of some troublemakers like Klothys, God of Destiny or Rekindling Phoenix 3) targets planeswalkers, like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. There’s also Vraska’s Contempt available in Historic, which might be better if the meta gets more aggressive, but in vacuum, surveil 1 synergizes much better with the rest of the deck than lifegain.

3 Embereth Shieldbreaker: I bring them in against: artifact-based grave-hate such as Grafdigger’s Cage, Embercleave vs aggro, and Witch’s Oven / Bolas’s Citadel vs the mirror. They are also useful vs artifact aggro based on Tempered Steel.

1 Witch’s Vengeance – for Goblins and other tribal matchups. It’s a new sideboard addition instead of Eliminate and I’m still wondering about its usefulness. Eliminate is a bit redundant with Claim the Firstborn, but is also useful against 3-mana planeswalkers.

Before analyzing particular matchups, I’d like to say that sideboarding may be a bit different based on what kind of grave-hate you expect to see and if you see any in game 2.

Vs Aggro

The strategy is simple: survive the early game, as we have better late game. If they play Embercleave (usually Gruul or MonoR), try to keep their creature count low to potentially increase its casting cost. Trade your Butchers off. A sorcery spell for 2 mana that forces opponent to discard a card and maybe lose 3 life, which is essentially Kroxa in the early game, is a weak play that doesn’t affect the board. The elder giant is better once you stabilize to become a beefy 6/6 blocker. Siding out Lurrus is a bit dependent on the amount of grave-hate opponent has. A 3/2 lifelinker isn’t that bad when struggling to survive, but unfortunately it dies to Bonecrusher’s Stomp.

Rankle is an expensive curve-topper and is usually considered an offensive card and for those reasons it’s sided out vs aggro. On the other hand, it has this weird ability to defend by attacking, through trading your little creatures for more valuable ones on your opponent’s side, e.g. a lone Questing Beast. It’s also another enabler of Claim as a removal spell. So as long as you’re not losing right away, Rankle might be useful and I like to leave some in the main.

InOut
2 Eat to Extinction
1 Claim the Firstborn
1 Stitcher’s Supplier
2 Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
Against artifact-based graveyard hate or Embercleave (as well):
3 Embereth Shieldbreaker
Against artifact-based graveyard hate or Embercleave (as well):
1 Lurrus of the Dream-Den
1 Stitcher’s Supplier
1 Rankle, Master of Pranks

Vs Goblins

The idea is the same as vs other aggro. Remember to kill Skirk Prospectors as fast as you can to deny their ramp. Goblin Chieftain and Goblin Warchief are also important targets, as they grant haste to the whole tribe. I also tried siding in 1 Virulent Plague to deny token creation of Krenko, Mob Boss and Goblin Instigator, but I’m not yet sure if it’s worth it.

InOut
2 Eat to Extinction
1 Claim the Firstborn
1 Witch’s Vengeance
1 Stitcher’s Supplier
2 Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
1 Rankle, Master of Pranks

Vs Temur Reclamation

Historically, this matchup has been bad in standard and it feels similarly so in Historic. They burn our creatures, gain absurd amount of mana from Reclamation, and it’s hard to kill them before they gain upper hand. In Standard, they have problems dealing with larger creatures, but Magmaquake from Jumpstart makes it easier for them to burn our biggest one – Kroxa. It’s hard to answer their threats, as they attack from so many diffent angles – big Explosion, Uro, Shark Typhoon, zombie tokens from FotD, etc.

In terms of sideboarding strategy, Rankle is a bit of a gamble – it dodges Magmaquake and Flamesweep, but gets blocked by their Elder Gargaroth or shark tokens. I leave Claims mainly for Uro and Scavenging Ooze. If opponent play Cages as their grave-hate, exchange those for Shieldbreakers.

InOut
3 Duress
2 Ashiok, Dream Render
1 Eat to Extinction
1 Claim the Firstborn
4 Priest of Forgotten Gods
1 Rankle, Master of Pranks

Vs Kethis / Breach Combo

These tend to be rather good match-ups – just Claim their important creatures or kill them with Devil, exile their graveyard with Ashiok, and you should be in a good spot. I side out 2 Butchers because of some early blockers like Diligent Excavator or Lazav, the Multifarious, and 2 Suppliers because Ashiok already fulfills the self-mill function.

InOut
3 Ashiok, Dream Render
1 Claim the Firstborn
2 Stitcher’s Supplier
2 Dreadhorde Butcher

Vs Mirror

This is the most stressful matchup of all, but sadly it is often decided by whoever draws the most Devils, Claims, and Ovens with at least 1 Cat. Remember that if both you and your opponent have a Devil, the player whose turn it is (active player) gets their Devil triggers resolved last. So if you want all hell to break loose, better do it on your opponent’s turn to have your triggers resolve first.

InOut
3 Ashiok, Dream Render
1 Claim the Firstborn
3 Embereth Shieldbreaker
1 Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
2 Stitcher’s Supplier
2 Dreadhorde Butcher
2 Rankle, Master of Pranks

Vs Bant Field of the Dead

This matchup is a race. Stay aggressive early game and look for sideboard cards, as Ashiok with Virulent Plague can shut down the opponent’s deck pretty hard. If they play Hydroid Krasis, you can consider leaving some Claims in post-board.

InOut
3 Duress
3 Ashiok, Dream Render

3 Claim the Firstborn
3 Priest of Forgotten Gods or 3 Dreadhorde Butcher if you see a lot of Grazers or Walls of Blossoms

Vs Esper / UW Control

Unless you have a very aggressive opening, these games tend to be long and drawn-out. Fortunately, constantly recurring Kroxa can be quite painful for them, especially since it dodges Elspeth Conquers Death and forces the discard. Watch out for T3feri, as returning your Kroxa to hand not only slows down your tempo but also costs you 5 graveyard fodder. If they play a lot of Glass Caskets or Grafdigger’s Cage, consider boarding Shieldbreakers in.

InOut
3 Duress
2 Ashiok, Dream Render
2 Eat to Extinction
3 Claim the Firstborn
4 Priest of Forgotten Gods

Conclusion

I think that RB Kroxa Sacrifice is an interesting deck to play with lots of choices, and that it can hold its own against most decks in Historic. The metagame is still shifting after recent bans followed by Jumpstart’s release and the place of this deck will change alongside it. Who can predict what the future holds?

That’s the end of my story, but the night is still young. What’s your tale?

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