Rakdos Aristocrats – A Modern Approach to Combo Deck Building

Hi again everyone, as promised in my last article, today I’m going to be writing on something I’m sure many people have been theorycrafting, playing with and building. That is the combination of two cards – Witch’s Oven and Cauldron Familiar:

There’s a lot to say about this combo. Drains for 1 every turn. Provides a blocker that you can sacrifice off during combo. Generates free value. And all that recurring value every turn for only 2 mana of investment. So, who wouldn’t want to build around this deck.

In my last article I was trying to provide you immediate value along with analysis to explain why my selection was correct in an effort to convince you to play my pick for the best deck in the BO1 format, Selesnya Adventure featuring Hushbringer. This time, I’m going to do things a bit differently and take you through my iterative deckbuilding process (in this situation) and how I came to the list I eventually ended on.

Deck Building Theory

When building a deck, there are two options:

  1. Find an engine or a buildaround card and then find synergies that fit in
  2. Play generally good threats that are individually strong cards

The first approach oftentimes makes decks with combo elements, while the second approach results in decks that fit the typical categorizations, that is aggro, midrange, or control.

For today, we’ll be focusing on building combo oriented decks, as we started with the aforementioned core.

So, here are some basic guidelines for building combo-esque decks:

  1. Attempt to find synergistic elements that play into the overall strategy
  2. There are three components, all of which are necessary in similar ratios:
    1. Starters: cards that initiate cards
    2. Payoffs: Cards that reward you for executing your strategy
    3. Extenders: A term many of you may not be familiar with, I picked this one up from Yugioh. An extender allows you to continue comboing consistently by providing free value in the context of your combo.
  3. Typically, you’ll want your starters and extenders to be lower mana cost elements with the payoffs being the higher cost threats that you play to help close out the game. This has the function of allowing you to play replacable low cost spells and deploy multiple in a turn, and then only deploy your elements when winning

With all that in mind, I’m now going to take you through iterations of the deck.

Breaking Down Our Options

There are tons of good starters that are all quality cards, including Witch’s Oven, Priest of the Forgotten Gods, Mask of Immolation, Fireblade Artist, Rankle Master of Pranks, and God-Eternal Bontu.

There are multiple potential payoff cards in standard, including Cauldron Familiar, Cruel Celebrant, Cavalier of Night, Ayara, First of Locthwain, Mayhem Devil, Midnight Reaper, and Revival//Revenge.

Best candidates for extenders are Gutterbones, Hunted Witness, Orzhov Enforcer, and Order of Midnight.

Clearly, we’re going to be in some category of Mardu based decks, but what colors we end up in, who knows.

First things first I try to build what I see everyone else playing. At the time, that was Mono-Black. That list looks something like this:

4 Cauldron Familiar (ELD) 814
4 Witch's Oven (ELD) 237 
4 Knight of the Ebon Legion (M20) 105
3 Order of Midnight (ELD) 99
4 Yarok's Fenlurker (M20) 123
3 Ayara, First of Locthwain (ELD) 75 
2 Priest of Forgotten Gods (RNA) 83
4 Murderous Rider (ELD) 97 
3 Rankle, Master of Pranks (ELD) 101 
4 Cavalier of Night (M20) 94
4 Castle Locthwain (ELD) 241
4 Witch's Cottage (ELD) 249
17 Swamp (ELD) 261

4 Duress (M20) 97
4 Blightbeetle (M20) 87
3 Legion's End (M20) 106
4 Noxious Grasp (M20) 110  

This deck performed mediocore. Murderous rider is obviously a good card, but it didn’t really advance our game plan. Same with Yarok’s Fenlurker. Strips a card, yes, gets returned with order of midnight, yes. But it’s mana intensive and not all that powerful.

I played around 8 matches with this deck and wasn’t impressed (though Blightbeetle is a great sideboard card if you’re expecting a lot of green stompy).

So why not kick it up a notch and try for a full power all-in Mardu list!

4 Hunted Witness (GRN) 15
4 Witch's Oven (ELD) 237
4 Cauldron Familiar (ELD) 81
4 Gutterbones (RNA) 76
2 Mask of Immolation (M20) 151 
4 Revival // Revenge (RNA) 228  
4 Priest of Forgotten Gods (RNA) 83
4 Cruel Celebrant (WAR) 188 
4 Mayhem Devil (WAR) 204
4 Midnight Reaper (GRN) 77
3 Castle Locthwain (ELD) 241
3 Godless Shrine (RNA) 248
4 Blood Crypt (RNA) 245
6 Swamp (ELD) 261
4 Plains (ELD) 253  
2 Mountain (XLN) 272  

4 Duress (XLN) 105
4 Legion's End (M20) 106
4 Noxious Grasp (M20) 110 

This list looks super powerful on paper. Like really powerful. Tons of sacrifice outlets, tons of payoffs. Just kills them dead.

Except it doesn’t. The mana base is painful, and the cards aren’t individually good enough to get there on their own. And that’s a big problem because all our draw requires us to lose life (see Castle Locthwain, which is way more mana intensive in this deck, and Murderous Rider).

The Decklist

Which brings me to the final list I settled on, and my personal best iteration of the deck.

4 Gutterbones (RNA) 76
4 Cauldron Familiar (ELD) 81
4 Witch's Oven (ELD) 237
4 Orzhov Enforcer (RNA) 79
4 Priest of Forgotten Gods (RNA) 83
3 Mask of Immolation (M20) 151
4 Mayhem Devil (WAR) 204
4 Midnight Reaper (GRN) 77
2 God-Eternal Bontu (WAR) 92
4 Blood Crypt (RNA) 245
4 Castle Locthwain (ELD) 241
6 Mountain (ELD) 265
10 Swamp (ELD) 261
3 Rankle, Master of Pranks (ELD) 101

4 Legion's End (M20) 106
4 Duress (M20) 97
4 Noxious Grasp (M20) 110
3 Blightbeetle (M20) 87

This deck has almost all of the upside of the Mardu Deck with far more consistency and all the Castle Locthwains. This makes the deck way more powerful as it let’s us draw way more and curve out into Bontu (which if I’d been smart I’d have included in earlier iterations of the deck). The deck’s super fun, and likely tier 1.5.

Hopefully, this provides some insight into how to build a combo oriented deck. Please, let me know your thoughts down below in the article. Look for my followup post on how to build the best non-combo deck!

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