Historic Rakdos Arcanist Deck Guide

Dreadhorde Arcanist

When Claim // Fame was spoiled in Amonkhet Remastered, I knew I wanted to build a deck around it. The obvious direction was playing some really good two-drops, Young Pyromancer and Dreadhorde Arcanist, and backing them up with cheap interaction. Well, today that’s an established deck, the one Luis Salvatto is playing at the Mythic Invitational, and I’ll be discussing it here:

What is Rakdos Arcanist?

The game plan of Rakdos Arcanist is to stick one or two early threats, utilize cheap interaction to get ahead, and then out-grind the opponent or simply beat them down. The deck leans heavily on using its graveyard as a resource, with Claim // Fame, Dreadhorde Arcanist, Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, and Lurrus of the Dream Den all recurring themselves or other cards for value and damage. The deck also gets access to Thoughtseize, one of the most powerful cards in the format, and enhances its power even more with Young Pyromancer and Dreadhorde Arcanist. As a midrange deck, it can play both the aggro side and the control side, but it’s built to be proactive rather than reactive, with removal and hand disruption to clear the way for its creatures. The deck also has a sacrifice subtheme with Claim the Firstborn and Village Rites, and a singleton Priest of Forgotten Gods. Stitcher’s Supplier is the glue that holds this deck together, stocking the graveyard, and providing a cheap body to fuel all the many different cards which want those. The deck is an interesting mix between Legacy Delver and Standard Rakdos Sacrifice, and offers a lot of decision-making throughout the game.

Card Choices

The Threats

Young Pyromancer

Dreadhorde Arcanist: My pick for the single best card in the deck, and responsible for many of the card choices. At face value, a two mana 1/3 dies to a lot of the removal in the format, and only three toughness means it gets outsized in combat without much trouble. But when left unchecked, Dreadhorde Arcanist can take over the game, flashing back Thoughtseize to strip the opponent of their removal, recasting our removal to clear the way, or card draw in the form of Village Rites. Thoughtseize into Dreadhorde Arcanist is the best start in the deck, and one of the best starts in the Historic format, and when combined with Claim // Fame, you can start flashing back more expensive spells. 

Young Pyromancer: This card is pretty flimsy, as one toughness means it dies to a slight gust of wind, but left unanswered, Young Pyromancer will take over the game in short order. The 1/1 tokens are especially useful with Village Rites and Collateral Damage, and Young Pyromancer is an enticing target to reanimate with Claim // Fame as well. Keep in mind, if you sacrifice Young Pyromancer as a cost, it will not trigger and give you a 1/1. Remember that you can fire off dead Thoughtseizes in the late game just for the 1/1. 

Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger: On turn 2, this may feel like the worst card in the deck, as a two mana Raven’s Crime is not a very good card. However several land drops and a Stitchers Supplier later, it’ll be great. If you draw multiple Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger’s and Thoughtseize, your opponent will be empty handed in short order, and a milled Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger is even better, as you don’t need to cast it before escaping. Against more aggressive decks, it’s pretty mediocre, but it’s fantastic against any sort of control or ramp style deck, rivaling Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath for late-game power. You can also do some neat stuff with a non-escaped Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, sacrificing it to another effect before it sacrifices itself, or simply just not sacrifice it if your opponent happens to have a Hushbringer. You can also recur Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger for two mana with Lurrus, to keep having your opponent discard a card and/or lose three life, and once they’re empty handed, it’s a guaranteed Lava Spike each time. 

Claim // Fame: When I saw this card spoiled, I immediately wanted to build this deck. While it’s no Unearth, this deck doesn’t play any three mana creatures except for Lurrus of the Dream Den anyway, to fulfil his Companion requirement. Ideally you’ll reanimate a milled or killed 2-drop, but Archfiend’s Vessel is another strong reanimation target, and you can always get back a Stitcher’s Supplier if you need to. The Fame side of Claim // Fame actually does a lot of work, being castable even when milled over, providing a burst of extra damage, potentially out of nowhere, and buffing Dreadhorde Arcanist up to a 3/3 to flashback more expensive spells such as Bedevil, or a second Claim // Fame, which has a converted mana cost of three until it goes on the stack. Claim // Fame is especially weak to graveyard hate, as the floor is well, nothing, but even so it’s often fantastic game one, and one of the key cards of the deck. 

Priest of Forgotten Gods: This, along with Archfiend’s Vessel is more of a flex slot than anything else; it provides another sacrifice outlet for Claim the Firstborn, and it’s good against creature decks, but it’s nowhere near as good here as it is in Collected Company or Cauldron Familiar decks. 

Archfiend’s Vessel: In my opinion, one of the most overrated cards in the deck, Archfiend’s Vessel is actually pretty medium, and now that people have caught on, some lists are cutting it entirely; a fall from grace from its earlier role as a consistent three-of. It combos with Claim // Fame and Lurrus of the Dream Den, but the floor is quite low as a 1/1 lifelinker, and a 5/5 flier is not that much better than Dreadhorde Arcanist or Young Pyromancer, and sometimes worse. As a singleton back-up threat it’s fine, and when hasted with Claim // Fame it does do a solid seven damage, but it’s no powerhouse, and reanimating it consistently is harder than you may think. One cool trick is you can Thoughtseize yourself to get it in the graveyard to Claim // Fame it on turn two, but three-for-oneing yourself for a quick 5/5 isn’t that great most of the time, so don’t fall into the trap of making a play just because it’s cool.

Interaction

Thoughtseize-Invocations-MtG-Art

Thoughtseize: This card is busted. It’s a legacy power-level card, and easily one of the best cards in Historic. It even synergizes with the rest of the deck, especially when being flashed back by Dreadhorde Arcanist, but also making tokens with Young Pyromancer. One interesting corner case is that you can target yourself with Thoughtseize. It’s not a great value play, but it can get you a pretty easy turn two 5/5 with Archfiend’s Vessel, and you can even discard a Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger to escape the next turn, if necessary. There are entire articles written about Thoughtseize by people much more qualified than I, and I encourage you to check out Thoughtseize You, by Reid Duke, for a more nuanced and robust explanation. The basics are as follows; Thoughtseize is bad against decks with a lot of redundancy, because if the card you take doesn’t disrupt your opponents curve then you traded one-for-one but ended worse off in terms of mana spent and life. Thoughtseize is also bad against decks that pressure your life total like Mono Red, as you get behind on tempo and life, and taking a Lightning Strike with your Thoughtseize is only gaining you 1 life. Thoughtseize is good against decks that rely on a specific card, like a Song of Creation combo deck, or UW Auras, if you manage to snag a Kor Spiritdancer or their only creature. And finally, Thoughtseize is a great tool to clear the way for a threat on turn 2, or to clear out a counterspell.  

Claim the Firstborn: Without a copy of Village Rites or Collateral Damage, Claim the Firstborn is pretty lackluster, but it can be a huge blowout if you can get full value with a sacrifice outlet. Claim the Firstborn can also give haste to a creature you control, most commonly Dreadhorde Arcanist for extra triggers, or Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger for a huge burst of damage. 

Spark Harvest: The primary role of this is a fifth and sixth copy of a sacrifice outlet for Claim the Firstborn, but with Young Pyromancer you get the token back, and it’s good at getting Archfiend’s Vessel in the graveyard, or another trigger off of Stitcher’s Supplier. The effect itself is pretty strong; an unconditional removal spell for one mana is great, and you can pay full retail if you need to – it won’t come up often, but it’s free upside. Another alternative is Collateral, which I’ve seen some people playing, and Collateral Damage being able to target an opponent’s face even when their board is empty, as well being instant speed is pretty good, but it’s much worse in the face of an Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Bedevil: An overperformer. Three mana is the sweet spot for this deck, as the jump from two mana to three mana is lessened by the already stacked two drop slot, and it still gets flashed back by a Dreadhorde Arcanist that got +2/+0 from Claim // Fame. Being able to hit creatures and planeswalkers means it’s never dead, and especially post-board it can hit important artifacts as well, like Grafdigger’s Cage, God-Pharaoh’s Gift, or a God-Pharaoh’s Statue out of the sideboard of Mono Green Planeswalkers. While Murder is below-rate these days, Bedevil makes up for it with a lot of flexibility. 

Enablers: 

Village Rites: In many cases, having to sacrifice as an additional cost is an upside in this deck. Village Rites combines very well with Claim the Firstborn, and if you have some cheap fodder, can be devastating to flash back with a Dreadhorde Arcanist as well. You can use it in response to removal, but it comes up less than you might think, and don’t forget that you can sacrifice a non-escaped Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger in response to its sacrifice trigger.

Stitcher’s Supplier: This is the best enabler for this deck. Self-mill is great with Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, Dreadhorde Arcanist, Claim // Fame, Archfiend’s Vessel, and Lurrus of the Dream-Den. It also provides a cheap body to sacrifice to both Village Rites and Collateral Damage, and a fine chump blocker because of the Death Trigger. 

Sideboard

m20-097-duress-art-by-steven-belledin

Duress: Additional hand-hate for control matchups, it’s worse than thoughtseize, but a discard spell into Dreadhorde Arcanist is exactly what you want to do in those matchups, and Duress increases that consistency. 

Abrade: Creature removal that doubles as removal for Grafdigger’s Cage, and other random artifacts as well. The flexibility is great, especially against decks like God-Pharaoh’s Gift that both have small creatures and expensive artifacts.

Witch’s Vengeance: An I win button against goblins, and bonus splash damage against elves and merfolk. It can also be really clunky removal in a matchup where you need more of it.

Pack Rat: This is the way to beat Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void, which we can’t remove easily. It provides a really strong back-up plan when the rest of the deck gets shut off, and demands an answer, or multiples, in very short order. I am more hesitant to bring it in against Grafdigger’s Cage because we can answer that much more easily.

Redcap Melee: Removal, mostly for goblins, but good against gruul and mono red as well.

Magma Spray: More cheap removal; the exile clause is relevant as well, against a Cauldron Familiar or Woe Strider.

Sideboard Guide

Goblins

InOut
3 Witch’s Vengeance
1 Magma Spray
1 Redcap Melee
3 Abrade
2 Bedevil
2 Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
1 Claim // Fame
1 Archfiend’s Vessel
2 Thoughtseize

Killing Skirk Prospector is the first priority, as a fast Muxus, Goblin Grandee is how you lose. After that, try to avoid losing to Krenko by killing haste-lords, and try to end the game before they get to six mana. Post-board, Witch’s Vengeance means that even a Muxus, Goblin Grandee is beatable if you remove their haste. Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger isn’t great here.

Sultai Ramp

InOut
3 Duress
2 Abrade
1 Claim the Firstborn
1 Priest of Forgotten Gods
1 Archfiend’s Vessel
1 Young Pyromancer
1 Claim // Fame

If you see Grafdigger’s Cage you can bring in the third Abrade for it. This matchup is hard because of Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, so try to save your Claim the Firstborns for it, and possibly hold off on killing a Grafdigger’s Cage, because it hurts Uro as much as you.

Jund Sacrifice

InOut
3 Abrade
1 Redcap Melee
1 Magma Spray
1 Priest of Forgotten Gods
2 Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
2 Thoughtseize

Mayhem Devil is public enemy number one here. Try not to get blown out by Claim the Firstborn, by holding up Village Rites or not casting Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger right away. This matchup is pretty hard, but if you can stymie their early aggression then it’s pretty easy to take over.

Conclusion

Thank you all so much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed my article! While Rakdos Midrange is not the best deck in Historic, it’s certainly very powerful, and a ton of fun to play as well. You can reach me on Twitter, and I  stream on Twitch regularly on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings EST, plus some bonus streams if I have time.

Have a great day, good luck in your future matches, and may you always have turn-one Thoughtseize at the ready!

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