Most people are familiar with the Cat Oven deck that surfaced in Eldraine’s Standard format, thanks to the release of the namesake cards, Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven. What would ordinarily be considered a cute (but certainly not format-defining) 2-card combo gained traction thanks to cards from the Ravica sets that were already around, like Priest of Forgotten Gods and Mayhem Devil, and the escape mechanic from Theros. With Ikoria, companions were unleashed into the world and Lurrus of the Dream Den found its ideal home in the Cat Oven deck, powering it up immensely. While Companions have been nerfed and Lurrus has since been dropped from the list, Cat Oven is currently one of the strongest options available in the Standard meta.
So, what does the deck gain from being ported over to Historic? Well, the Standard mana base has a lot of issues – any low curve deck doesn’t want to use tap lands, even if they scry, as they represent missed turns, especially alongside 1-drops, so having access to the pairing of Shocklands and Checklands is a huge upgrade. From M19, we have Stitcher’s Supplier as fuel for our graveyard synergies, such as retrieving cards via Call of the Death-Dweller and Lurrus, or providing fuel to repeatedly escape Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger.
The current build I would suggest that people use in Historic is a low curve midrange deck, with graveyard and burn components mixed in. It’s a versatile deck that can deploy threats/engines early but has a curve cut-off (even more so when using Lurrus). The graveyard synergies are clear but the reason I mention the burn components is because at least half the damage you inflict is direct rather than through attacking. Most decks in Historic have a couple of synergies to exploit at the same time, and Cat Oven is no exception.
Not to repeat myself too much, but most of the damage you deal isn’t through combat. That being said, you want to sneak as much combat damage as possible early on and deprive your opponent of resources, while you use recursion to replenish your own. It’s not uncommon for this deck to lower an opponent’s life steadily in the first turns and, at around turn 4 or 5, dish 8 to 12 damage out in an explosive burst of cards to end the game. Before you run out of resources, you should retrieve Lurrus from your Companion zone to get extra reach in games you can’t effectively finish by turn 5.
Against non-trample creatures, Cat Oven with its infinite chump blocks is a wall that’s hard to surpass, that drains your opponent and furthers your gameplan as it does that, and even against control, it makes for a very hard to disrupt clock. The deck is super effective in a creature-heavy meta, good around combo thanks to its race potential and the reach its burn provides, and perhaps struggles in a mostly midrange/control meta… or at least this streamlined Rakdos build does.
There’s a couple of lines one must learn and practice to be best prepared. One complaint I hear from some players taking up the deck is that they lose against random builds, but that can be due to inexperience and lack of familiarity with the deck, or just not knowing how to sideboard in a way that accounts for archetypes, rather than just individual decks. Right now, queues might be a bit punishing if you’re looking to start practicing a deck like this, but it has taken many players reporting on Discord and Reddit to High Mythic consistently and, while I wouldn’t say this deck is flawless, I don’t think it’s at risk of any bans in the near future and should therefore remain consistent.
Don’t be afraid to change the lists that I will share here, and don’t be afraid of dropping Lurrus and go for a composition with higher CMC permanents if you feel like it. While I will talk about this further below, the Cat Oven deck is very capable of adapting to changes in meta speed. Currently, most top decks are operating in a Combo or Aggro axis, making for a very fast Historic meta. While your build must take that into account, don’t rage if you find the occasional player sporting a control or very grindy off-meta deck in ladder, event, or even a tournament. It will happen and no one’s winrate is 100%.
- 0-2x Castle Locthwain
- 4x Checklands: Dragonskull Summit
- 4x Shocklands: Blood Crypt
- 7x Swamps
- 6x Mountains
When splashing Green:
- 10x Shocklands: Blood Crypt/Overgrown Tomb/Stomping Ground
- 7x Checklands: Woodland Cemetery/Dragonskull Summit
I will show a list that goes Jund and the mana base I tweaked for it, with some recommendations from other people, to best avoid mana screw and flood. The deck has some good lifegain to mitigate the cost of Shocklands, and that allows us to have more of those than Checklands. I would still suggest going Rakdos, unless the meta has a good reason to splash other colors, and if you aren’t running Castle, you can go as low as 22 lands with the Lurrus build. If you have 3+ cmc cards, then you will need up to 24 lands, including one Castle. Do not include Fabled Passage, even if you are using sacrifice payoffs like Mayhem Devil, because it is very detrimental to have lands that enter tapped.
Core Card Choices
- 4x Witch’s Oven
- 4x Cauldron Familiar
- 4x Priest of Forgotten Gods
- 4x Stitcher’s Supplier
- 3-4x Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
- 3-4x Call of the Death-Dweller
- 3-4x Claim the Firstborn
Witch’s Oven: This card is not only part of the namesake combo, but it’s also a sac outlet for creatures you control and those you steal. It also “blanks removal” by killing your own creatures to obtain a resource that can be useful later, and preventing exile (which would disrupt your graveyard synergies) and some add-on effects such as lifegain. You don’t always have to use it and, in time, you will distinguish when opponent is trying to bait you to use the Oven to then make a bigger play. While you will be using it automatically most of the time, consider the pros and cons whenever you are about to cook something.
Cauldron Familiar: The other part of the combo and defender of your life total! The fact that this little creature can jump in front of bigger creatures, “flicker”, and return itself, will win you most creature matchups that don’t involve a strong evasion component. When you have food to spare, you can also start attacking your opponent – whether they block the cat or not, they’ll still take 1 damage.
Priest of Forgotten Gods: Our mini-Planeswalker. Many times, the sacrifice won’t bother you much but your opponents will be hurt badly. An unanswered Priest can take over any game quickly. She pays-off splendidly with Call of the Death Dweller as it can bring her back plus a 1-drop, or you can use the 2 mana from her activation to pay for a Call and loop your sacrifice fodder. With luck on your side, you can turbo a turn 3 Kroxa (one or two Stitcher procs plus not tapping your red mana) or set her up on turn 4. She’s also the reason why Lurrus can still be slotted as a companion, given that she provides so much extra mana.
Stitcher’s Supplier: Perhaps this is the reason why the Historic version wants to be leaner and keep Lurrus around; this card is gas. It puts 6 cards into the graveyard to pay for a Kroxa Escape by itself, and it provides card selection and versatility for your graveyard recursion. This card is very straightforward to use, but remember that it’s an enabler, which are very low impact on an empty board, and you don’t want to draw multiples too much since the benefit of milling six cards starts to become worth less than the card you’re spending.
Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger: Unlike Uro, his first cast is usually unimpressive. Opponents will usually try to avoid getting hit for 3 and, at most, you can make some predictions and gain some information, based on their discard preferences. When you get to sac him on his first cast with Priest, then you are cooking something. Forcing an opponent to discard a card, sacrifice a creature, and lose up to 5 life, while you fuel your graveyard, draw a card, and add mana (to potentially escape Kroxa) is a pretty solid route to victory. There are some interesting interactions with Kroxa, as double casting him is a way to drain opponents’ life and hand, Tamiyo turns him into 3 damage per cast guaranteed, and you can also give him haste with your own Claim for up to 12 damage.
Call of the Death-Dweller: This card is pretty good. Depending on how many 1 and 2 mana creatures you have in your deck, you can play 3 or 4 copies, to recur 2 creatures with extra value. One of the best creatures to target with it is Dreadhorde Butcher, since he benefits from both the deathtouch and menace with all his abilities. If you have a Priest, we have already mentioned the obvious synergy, but you can also bring back a Kroxa to sacrifice to her. In a pinch, this card can also bring Lurrus back and still get one more creature with Lurrus itself. If you’ve chosen not to go for a Lurrus build, Mayhem Devil is a house with Deathtouch.
Claim the Firstborn: This card will often allow you to remove two creatures when combined with the Priest, or at least, bring back a Familiar through the food you gain. Remember that it untaps and gives haste to the creature; this means you can Escape a Kroxa and use an extra red mana to attack with it immediately, and discard them an additional time. You can also use Priest a second time, or on the turn you cast it. You can get pretty creative with this card, since it can target anything you include in your deck and it’s so cheap.
- 0-1x Lurrus of the Dream Den
- 3-4x Mayhem Devil
- 2-3x Woe Strider
- 0-4x Serrated Scorpion
- 0-4x Dreadhorde Butcher
- 0-1x Weaponize the Monsters / Lampad of Death’s Vigil
- 0-4x Mire Triton
- 0-4x Blacklance Paragon
- 0-2x Instant Speed Removal (Eliminate, Cast Down, Heartless Act, Noxious Grasp, Necrotic Wound)
- 2-6x Hand Disruption (Duress, Drill Bit, Necromentia)
- 0-3x Village Rites
- 0-4x Archfiend’s Vessel
- 2x Graveyard Hate (Tormod’s Crypt, Soul-Guide Lantern)
- 2-3x Hate-hate: Goblin Cratermaker
- 0-4x Fanatical Firebrand
- 0-3x Act of Treason
- 0-2x Ratchet Bomb
- 0-2x Dead Weight / Mire’s Grasp
- 0-2x Gruesome Menagerie
Lurrus of the Dream Den: Of the many reasons to still include Lurrus, the main one is the extra reach it provides. The extra cost of paying the Companion tax is partly mitigated by the extra mana Priest provides and unlike rushing to get Lurrus out on turn 4, as it was before, now the card is meant to give us more options as the game progresses. If the speed of the format favors combo and aggro, then our lower cmc cards may line up better than anything 3 cmc or higher anyway. When that happens, it is possible to include Lurrus without losing anything in deckbuilding and gaining extra reach for your game plan for free. If the meta gets saturated with midrange and control, those decks tend to run more interaction and are more likely to kill Lurrus after he casts a single card, so Lurrus might be worth replacing with some of the following options that don’t work with his CMC requirement in that case.
Mayhem Devil: When a format slows down and there’s space for midrange with valuable on-curve creatures, and the games get a bit grindier, then this card shines to the point where Lurrus is not worth leaving it out. When being Called, giving it deathtouch is brutal for opponents. This card is also very good against decks that sacrifice their own permanents, so it’s an all-star against mirrors and Scapeshift decks.
Woe Strider: This card is very good in midrange and control matchups. It can help you cash your creatures in when needed and is a recursive threat. A bigger mana base and curve benefits from having this card, since you can dig for spells and drop lands to the bottom. The faster a format is, the less attractive this card becomes.
Judith, the Scourge Diva: Usually, she acts like extra copies of Mayhem Devil, but she also hugely increases your combat damage. Consider this when balancing your numbers as, the more creatures you play, the more attractive an extra copy of Judith over a Mayhem Devil might become. If you’re sacrificing a lot of noncreature permanents, or if you expect your opponents to sacrifice stuff, then Devil is more attractive.
Serrated Scorpion: An underrated card I didn’t pay much attention at first, the drain for 2 becomes a really scary effect in multiples, and alongside all the other burn the deck has. That includes whenever you are recurring Scorpions from your graveyard via Lurrus and Call. This card is better when fairer aggro decks are around in the meta, and if those decks don’t have much evasion.
Dreadhorde Butcher: This card is strong and almost core quality; it’s excellent at racing, pairs well with the oven to give you an on-demand trigger, and becomes far more dangerous when brought back with Call. Against aggro, the deathtouch means you can kill two creatures at least when trading.
Weaponize the Monsters / Lampad of Death’s Vigil: I would suggest always considering one of these in the mainboard as it gives outs against graveyard hate and an effective use for your mana. Most players trying Cat Oven are partial to these cards before playing them, but really feel their power when given the chance to deal excessive damage and close the game. The Lampad deals less damage but is slightly better against Aggro metas, while the Weaponize is harder to interact with and deals more damage per activation.
Mire Triton: A solid blocker that trades with most attackers, while also fuelling graveyard synergies and providing some lifegain. When forced into splashing colors with Shocklands, this card goes up in value as an inclusion, since buffing your life total matters more there. Have it either as a replacement for a mainboard Stitcher or as an anti-aggro sideboard card.
Blacklance Paragon: Another anti-aggro card that works at instant speed, unlike most of our 75. Against decks with big attackers and some combat tricks that would disable the Triton, this card is better than spot removal, since it will provide 3 life and can be later brought back with Lurrus or Calls. It is also a pretty decent card against Tempo strategies.
Instant Speed Removal: Cards like Eliminate, Cast Down, Heartless Act, Noxious Grasp, and Necrotic Wound can find their way into the deck when the meta demands it. The more Combo oriented a meta is, the less attractive these cards become, even in the sideboard. The good thing is that there are many and have different applications. Remember that they are making the Stitcher and Reanimation effects worse, so you don’t want too many.
Hand Disruption: Some cards are very popular like Duress and Drill Bit, while others like Necromentia are more niche and less in consideration. When you can race and only need to slow down your opponent’s plan, the discard effects are much better. Necromentia is more effective when the opponents plan is centered on a single card or when taking out those cards is devastating. Unlike Unmoored Ego, Necromentia is harder to counter and forces an opponent to sideboard “bad counterspells” that they would otherwise never consider against this deck, making their mullligans and keeps awkward.
Village Rites: An excellent card that can be added as a format gets grindier and midrange/control strategies become more popular. The card pairs well with Kroxa, given you are not usually casting Kroxa on turn 2. If you have specific cards you need to dig for, this card goes up in value. I just feel that diluting your card quality to justify card draw is odd and a bit counterintuitive; I would use this card when games go long and you need to grind.
Archfiend’s Vessel: A great card to be included in any Aggro meta. Essentially a premium target for Call, many fair Aggro decks have a hard time beating the 5/5 demon, though it’s bad against Claim the Firstborn in the mirror. It also flies, providing racing options. Remember not to put any ability counters on the Vessel, since they don’t get moved onto the token.
Graveyard Hate: Evidently, there are strategies that revolve around the graveyard and it’s not just Cat Oven. The hate you want to have is one-sided, which cuts our options by at least half, with perhaps the better ones being Tormod’s Crypt and Soul-Guide Lantern, since they can potentially be rebought by Lurrus. The former is free to cast, and the latter targets a card immediately and sticks around as a ticking time bomb.
Hate-Graveyard Hate: Goblin Cratermaker is probably our default card to counter graveyard hate (Most players lean on the artifacts instead of the enchantments) but if the meta demands you to fight enchantment hate, our best choice would be to splash Green for Cindervines. Most relevant creatures that hate on the graveyard are usually dealt with by our normal game plan (Scooze, Apostle, Tymaret). Some other cards are harder to interact with (e.g. Erebos’s Intervention or Kaya, Orzhov Usurper) so it is up to you to decide what answers the meta calls for.
Gutterbones: This card pairs well with Priest of Forgotten Gods in that, if you have nothing better to do, you can return Gutterbones with the mana provided after sacrificing it. Other than that, there are better cards to include in Historic. The times this card is good are those when you are probably already winning.
Fanatical Firebrand: Card is good to deal with 1 toughness creatures, so mostly mana dorks and tempo cards. It can be returned with Call to destroy anything. This card by itself is very bad for racing against combo and control decks, so it is very dependent on the meta you face.
Ratchet Bomb: When you can recur this card, it is excellent. However, given that this card is too slow an answer to bigger mana spells, it tends to be relegated to aggro matchups. The Cat Oven decks are already good against most aggro decks, pushing this card to be at its best when the opponent relies heavily on tokens. Remember that this also destroys your side of the board, which is another factor that pushes this card towards being anti-token tech only.
Act of Treason: You can use this card as extra bad copies of Claim the Firstborn, or simply when the opponent is relying on only a few specific creature threats to win the game.
Dead Weight / Mire’s Grasp: This removal can be used again with Lurrus but, if you aren’t running the Companion, they become a single use tool. Dead Weight is probably the best of the two but will require the use of companions. When running the full set of Calls or no Lurrus, I would recommend the deathtouch creatures over these, since they all are good vs aggro.
Legion’s End: To contrast from the other removal I mentioned, this is sorcery speed, but it provides hand information and permanently disables some of the worst creatures for Cat Oven: Diligent Excavator from Kethis, multiple zombies from Field, Scavenging Ooze, and Llanowar Elves early on.
Jund and going bigger
If you find that the meta gets grindier and matches go longer, switching from Lurrus Rakdos into Jund Food might be the best way to adapt. There are great engines in the Jund colors in the form of Trail of Crumbs and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King. I am not a big fan of Gilded Goose being included in some lists I have seen, but mostly because it is not very clear what they want to accelerate to with it.
- 2-4x Cindervines
- 2-3x Trail of Crumbs
Cindervines: This is a card that merits splashing when there are powerful enchantments in the meta. I included it in my list back when the meta had both Wilderness Reclamation in the Nexus decks and Fires of Invention in the Lukka builds. As an upside, the card eliminates the most popular hate cards against Lurrus and speeds up your clock against noncreature-based strategies.
Gruesome Menagerie: For slower metas, this card can replace Calls since it will return up to 3 creatures if you are playing Woe Strider or Mayhem Devil.
Phyrexian Tower: Will definitively have one of these in the deck. The upside overshadows the downside by a lot. Most cards tend to require some testing, but this seems like a strict upgrade 95% of the time from a Swamp. Can sacrifice a Kroxa or a cat when you have spare food.
Phyrexian Reclamation: This card is unlikely to find a slot unless everyone is sporting some abusive graveyard hate, in which case it will help you circumvent a card that locks down your graveyard, that isn’t Leyline of the Void, and still play the game. Those kind of games at the moment are ones where we are forced to try racing and brute forcing the last needed damage via one-time sacrifices.
Deck Build examples and Reasoning
Builds with Lurrus and Mayhem builds are very different in their game plan. The “late” game plan of Lurrus builds revolves around Lurrus and Kroxa. You win by racing first, dealing with the opponents’ creatures, and later burning the opponent out. The Priest is very important here since it allows to deal with creatures and accelerates your game plan, while also being a fantastic hit for cards like Call and Lurrus.
Builds with Mayhem Devil can easily shoot the face with Cat Oven and do 3+ damage a turn. They are much less graveyard dependent, but heavily rely on Devil’s ping effect late game. Priests are less important here but still good, and you want to plan for the mid to late game. Given the higher costs, the deck is slower but favored against midrange and control. Gruesome Menagerie can be considered as a Call upgrade.
Pre-Ban Historic Rakdos Lurrus Sacrifice
This first list is a streamlined Rakdos version that is trying to develop its plan quickly and deal a burst of damage by turn 4 or 5. You will notice that it has Cratermaker in the Sideboard for anti-hate, was using 4 Necromentia since there was an uptick in Nexus (though it is now banned) and has Paragon as a way to trade with Gruul’s Questing Beasts and other beaters.
Once the meta scraped the barrier of two decks having more than 60% of the field, I decided to bring back the green splash to have better ways to deal with Reclamation and Nexus, while not losing points against Gruul by switching the Paragons for Tritons (since they mitigate Shockland damage and have a permanent deathtouch clause).
Another two mythic players instead opted to include the new cards from M21, showing that the core is strong and many different surrounding actors, when played properly, provide good results. Here are their lists.
Post-Ban Jumpstart Historic Rakdos Lurrus Sacrifice
Here’s what a Jumpstart list might look like if the format slows down and enables midrange after the bans. Considering Gruul has been weakened, Nexus got banned and other kind of aggro decks might surge, going back to enchantment removal isn’t far-fetched.
Budget Historic Rakdos Lurrus Sacrifice
Finally, I would also like to include a Budget list of sorts. It still uses the lands but those cards tend to find their way into many decks, so I don’t count them for budget considerations. Avoid any tap lands that can’t be cycled.
Tips and Tricks
- You can always Claim your own creatures to provide haste and untap them. This is particularly good with an escaped Kroxa and Priest (leading to a potential double activation).
- When blind, lead with Scorpion as it can block 1/1 haste creatures.
- When picking creatures to bring back with Call, the usual best 2-mana option is to recur Butcher, especially against Creature decks. Kroxa can be picked if it’s going to deal 3 damage or you need to discard their one card in hand. For the 1cmc creature, consider what you will need in the following turns. Scorpion is good with Priest to deal extra damage, Stitcher helps you dig for a Kroxa or Cat, and Cat is a great blocker if you have an Oven online.
- If you have Mayhem Devil in your list, it becomes a premium target for Call. Every ping he performs will kill a creature and, with the combination of Cat Oven, can immediately net you a few kills.
- Claiming a Llanowar Elf turn 1 is good if you can use its G mana to play an Oven and sacrifice it.
- If you have spare food you aren’t going to use, attack with Cat as it represents one damage. If they block it, just return it. If they don’t, free damage.
- Unless you have two cats in the graveyard or need the extra food, don’t sacrifice Kroxa to Oven, as it could cost you tempo. I tend to like having 2 food available but anything extra is overdoing it, even if you’ve always wanted to be a baker.
- Take some time to count the potential damage you can dish out. I have missed lethal sometimes just because I didn’t take 5 seconds to analyze the board.
- Also take time deciding how to use your mana and don’t trust the auto tapper. This is important when you are about to draw with Priest or Rites.
- You can choose to include a singleton Mire Grasp, to potentially return it with Lurrus. Feel free to use it to get rid of an early blocker.
- Weaponize the Monsters can serve as an additional sac outlet for creatures and provide extra (even absurd) damage when needed. Particularly good vs graveyard hate and control.
- Don’t bring Lantern/Tormod in against Uro. Even if you feel tempted, I haven’t found them nearly impactful enough. Lantern is there for Kethis and other highly graveyard-centric decks.
- Cratermaker is here for game 3s, unless you know their list and are expecting Grafdigger’s Cage to make an appearance in game 2. It can also be used in MonoU games as it provides another cheap way to kill their creatures. As you grow used to the meta, you will know what decks bring artifacts in against you in game 2 and so, when you should bring Cratermaker in. The same is true for Cindervines.
- The extra mana from Priest can allow you to cast instant speed removal to reduce the damage taken, considering you can block up to 3 creatures and destroy a 4th. Opponents will also have to sacrifice the creature before you cast your removal spell.
- Without Mayhem Devil, it is quite difficult to deal with Planeswalkers. In that case, it is usually better to ignore those Planeswalkers and attack the opponent. Ashiok (3cmc) and Tamiyo, for example, operate on different axes and don’t protect themselves, but you can probably kill your opponent in less time. Assess before you attack.
- A Butcher with Deathtouch can trade with two creatures. If you are being attacked by a creature with First Strike, remember that blocking it with the Butcher won’t kill the attacker, but can kill a different creature before it has the chance to assign damage.
- In some weird situations, remember you can target yourself with Priest… Or target no player, and still draw a card and generate mana.
- When using hand disruption, you usually want to take away an opponent’s most effective plan and not the win condition. Many times, their win condition will be too slow if you take a sweeper or engine card away.
- Remember that Cratermaker also deals damage to creatures on demand. It is not his main purpose, but don’t forget about it.
Thanks and shout out to all the members of the MTG Historic subreddit and my fellow Aristocat brewers!