Hi everyone! I’m Drifter and today, I’ll be doing a quick showcase and guide for a ridiculously powerful deck going into Ikoria’s developing Standard format. Crokeyz has been using a Lair of Behemoths-approved version of Cat Sacrifice, the popular Rakdos deck from the last meta, as his steel-capped boots to trample all over the meta, already having taken it to rank 1. The main difference is that you thought Cauldron Familiar was a Cat Nightmare, but he’s nothing compared to his big brother. This deck eschews all 3+ drop permanents to have Lurrus of the Dream Den, a card Crokeyz hails as “Ikoria’s Oko” for its immense power and ease of Companionship. Lurrus is often just a 2 for 0, as in it literally puts you two cards up for no card investment on turn 4 or 5.
This is a deck that’s capable of overwhelmingly aggressive starts, but that has such an immense amount of drain that it can overpower all manner of opponents in the late game too; we’ve seen how powerful Cauldron Familiar + Witch's Oven can be, but what if you took up up to 11 with a million other cards that also drain, burn, or discard them repeatedly? I have won games that haven’t seemed close to close, I’ve felt like taking a shower afterwards because my opponents have been ahead the entire game, I’m struggling to establish a foothold, to even be able continue my 1 point of drain per turn, and then bam Lurrus into Scorpion, play a Scorpion, sacrifice both Scorpions to Priest of the Forgotten Gods, attack with everything, and it’s all over. Even against sweepers, the natural nemesis of similar decks, it has a terrifying amount of resiliency; starting with eight cards in hand and Lurrus being able to rebuild boards at the drop of a hat means that the first and second sweeper almost never get the job done. On the other hand, if one tries to race this deck then I wish them the best of luck, for they will need it.
Another fantastic aspect of this deck is that the turns can be very complex, because you have so many choices and playing best around sweepers and removal can be very involved; the games feel very dynamic based on matchup and even something that seems simple like when to run out Lurrus and claim your free cards can have plenty of uncertainty involved.
Remember that we’re only on day two so take your crafting decisions with a grain of salt but honestly this deck has already made rank 1, iterated on one of the previous format’s best decks, is fun to play, and is clearly very powerful; I highly doubt this will be a flash in the pan like mono black devotion!
I suspect this deck is even better in best-of-one than best-of-three, so I’ll talk about it more in that context. I have been playing some best-of-three with it as well though, so I will try to cover some important factors/sideboarding decisions.
I know that some of you might be suspicious of the card choices at first; I had my doubts when I first saw Serrated Scorpion for example (that card is actually good in this deck), but I’ve been overwhelmingly happy with this list in my best-of-one games so far (my decktracker says I am 16-5), and the meta is still developing, so I have not built a specific version for Bo1 as of yet as I normally do for my deck guides. Sometimes I try out small things, such as trimming the fourth Dreadhorde Butcher for the third Rix-Maadi Reveler (Reveler is absolutely nuts in this deck, since if you untap with Lurrus or reach 7 mana, it’s often just Ancestral Recall), and I would recommend you do the same as it’s a really good way to learn and practice deckbuilding, but overall the deck is great and I wouldn’t change too much. Some people recommend Knight of the Ebon Legion, but that card is slow and doesn’t go that well with the sacrifice plan so I prefer keeping the core 1 drops with good synergy.
Card Explanations/Strategy Advice
- If you’re playing best-of-one, thanks to hand smoothing, I have been trimming down to 22 lands, and I would recommend people do that; add an extra Reveler or a Knight if you wish. I’m not yet sure which land is the best cut, but Mountain or Fabled Passage are both reasonable.
- This deck mulligans well, since Lurrus recoups so much of the card disadvantage, and I would recommend mulling hands without good payoffs like Kroxa/Priest/Cat Oven, or without 1 drops on the draw.
- The deck is, of course, better on the play, but less so than you would expect – being able to grind so well and make good use of the extra cards since you have so many 1s and 2s that you usually get to play them all anyway means that this isn’t like a traditional aggro deck in that way. You often want to side in Robber of the Rich on the play, since that card specifically is far better there. Priest of the Forgotten Gods is far better on the play also (but you rarely board out that card since it’s so powerful).
- Lurrus is the best card in the deck, combining an immediate 2-for-0 with being an ongoing immense threat that demands removal. You usually want to save him for post-sweeper/later on when they’ve thinned their removal, because he will almost always win you the game unimpeded. Kroxa can be used with Lurrus to discard them each and every turn until they kill him, Priest of the Forgotten Gods which midrange creature decks must kill on sight can be immediately gotten back to overload their removal on turn 5, recurring Scorpions is devastating when they’re on a low life total, Reveler can continually refill your hand, Whisper Squad can begin the chain as long as you haven’t gotten all four copies.. the list goes on. Lurrus’s lifelinking body is great against aggro too; he will prevent their small stuff from attacking and punish them hard if they ever let him through. Never play Lurrus on only 3 mana unless you are absolutely certain he won’t die, and even then it’s dicey since you should have other stuff to play anyway!
- Cat Oven (the combination of Cauldron Familiar + Witch’s Oven) has been great in many Standard decks, but is even better here where drain is your deck’s primary wincon anyway and many of its cards speed things along. Decks of old were much more reliant on Cat Oven than this one; it’s just another deadly tool in the arsenal but you really don’t need it; using your Familiars as sacrifice fodder and then recurring them later either with Lurrus or by sacrificing something else to Oven is common and great. One major change from regular Rakdos Sacrifice is that I often used to play Oven first when I had Cat Oven so that Cat couldn’t be removed, but now I’ve found that I just don’t care and usually just lead on Cat – Stomps used on Cauldron Familiar are Stomps not being used on Priest of the Forgotten Gods or Lurrus, and it’s much more important that those two live.
- Whisper Squad is another new inclusion from Ikoria, and serves as a great mana sink and good way to recover from/avoid playing into sweepers – it can represent 4 power by itself, and it’s fairly common in those matchups to want to dump the mana into it on turn 4 so you don’t have to expend extra cards from your hand.
- Priest of the Forgotten Gods remains your best two drop, and you usually want to lead on it, but don’t be afraid to sandbag it if they say pass the turn with two mana up in Red (and aren’t this deck). It becomes very easy to convert cards like Scorpions in your hand/off Lurrus into immediate damage with Priest, and on turn 3 it allows you to cheat on mana to a ridiculous degree; often you sacrifice two creatures to kill one of theirs and deal a bunch of damage, play Call of the Death Dweller to bring them back AND play another 2 drop on turn 3, or just play Lurrus and bring one of them back. Most games in which Priest lives for even a turn or two swing massively in your favour.
- Kroxa is especially great in this deck, because you can hold full control and sacrifice him to Priest of the Forgotten Gods or Witch's Oven when he first emerges.. It’s best to play your other 2 drops before Kroxa generally, though you want to play him before Rix Maadi Reveler in Control/sweeper matchups so that you can Spectacle later and refill your hand, and he’s a good way to still be doing something without overcommitting to the board.
- I’ve found Dreadhorde Butcher to be the worst card in the deck, since it often interferes with my desire to play Priest of the Forgotten Gods on turn two (I normally just do so anyway and ignore it), and is underwhelming in the creature matchups. That being said, it’s still good because the creature matchups are great anyway, and Lurrus into Butcher on turn 5 is great on an empty board against the sweeper decks.
- This deck really pays you off for having good aggro sense. Don’t play too conservatively because doing damage in this deck is well worth sacrificing one of your more disposable creatures, even if it’s only 2 or 3 – you have so much burn that that can easily turn the game. You can often kill your opponents from fairly high life totals through a board of creatures if you find the right line, and as always practice is key – don’t be discouraged if you lose a few games in the beginning!
The Fledgling Meta
This is by no means exhaustive; the meta is wide open right now, but I’ve given how the matchups play out against some decks I regularly run into.
Red Deck Loses
If you don’t usually enjoy playing against the Chandra portrait (I know Angrath costs gold, but honestly it’s just so much better…), you will now! Know that I still run into Mono Red regularly in best-of-one, which as you might expect just from looking at the list, I am always overjoyed about. I have not lost a game to that deck yet. I’ve been on the draw, had a mediocre start versus a Fervent Champion nut draw, been mana screwed at times, and yet there always came a turning point after which it dawned on me that my opponent no longer had any hope of winning a game that was looking nail-bitingly unfavourable for me just a couple of turns before. Anax, Mono Red’s frontrunner creature of late, is often straight up a liability against this deck thanks to our four copies of Claim the Firstborn. Embercleave is a lot less threatening when we’re constantly on 20+ life, and any damage they deal will quickly be sponged back, from their very own life total… They can dump their whole hand quickly with Steam-Kin, but when they can’t actually convert that into damage versus your myriad blockers and they’re trading real cards for Whisper Squad friends, they’re the ones who’ll want to Runaway.
I’m not claiming it’s impossible to lose, but this is a ridiculously skewed matchup. I’m not going to say it’s 80-20, since I wouldn’t want to infringe on that one guy at every local gaming store’s budget homebrew that has those kind of results against every tier 1 deck of every format. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it came close to that right now, before people have iterated on and improved Mono Red. I doubt the tools exist right now to stop this though, now that Rampaging Ferocidon is long gone, so I suspect it’s going to be pushed out of Bo1, its final frontier, hard in the coming weeks.
Fires of Invention
This is a harder matchup, but it’s still somewhere between favourable and very favourable in my experience; I have only really lost when my opponent had the the absolute nuts like Clarion/s into Fires into Kenrith against my medium draws, and even then it was close. The first Clarion really doesn’t get the job done, since Lurrus allows you to rebuild so quickly from nothing, and their Cavaliers are so ineffective against Priest of the Forgotten Gods; they absolutely have to keep Priest off the board. They can basically never OTK you; your life total will be far too high with all the drain. Elspeth Conquers Death is a complete joke against you, and their first discard to Kroxa; it can only hit Lurrus in the entire deck, and you already 2 for 0ed and got a gigantic mana advantage if that happens. They also really struggle with Cat Oven, and you don’t need to hold Cat since you can sacrifice something to Oven to get it back later.
I’ve played against decks similar to Huey Jensen’s Humans list, and found that matchup slightly unfavourable. It can be rough, especially on the draw, because cards like Hero of Precinct One and Chevill, Bane of Monsters are tough for this deck to deal with if you don’t draw Claim the Firstborn + sacrifice, and they have good removal for your stuff alongside plenty of lifegain. Priority one is really to find Claim for Chevill, but in the time before you do you can just try to avoid sacrificing the creatures with bounty counters on them to stop them gaining life. Unfortunately that deck is even better at stalling, so you do need to make something happen early. That being said, it’s still very close, and on the play I think you are favoured again since their cards are more expensive and you can just swarm over them early. Remember that General Kudro is very good against you, especially against Kroxa but just for hurting your Lurrus recursion too. If the meta shifts in that direction, I could see this deck wanting to tech in more removal/cards like Massacre Girl to beat it (since you’re much better at rebuilding boards than they are). I don’t expect the deck to actually be that big in best-of-one though, since it is significantly worse than this one against both aggro and sweepers.
There are plenty of decks going around which are trying to ramp up, often into Companions like Gyruda or Yorion. I’ve found these all to be good matchups, as long as you keep good draws, since they aren’t generally great at disrupting your creatures. Even if you start to fall behind, Agent of Treachery really isn’t that scary for this deck (especially if you have Oven out, but even if they steal one of your 1s or 2s, it’s not that frightening), and they don’t have that much lifegain (the Gyruda decks can’t even run Uro) so you can steal some really long games, especially as you’ll have a tremendous life total to stave off pressure. Recently I won a game because my opponent reanimated my Priest of the Forgotten Gods with Gyruda (that is not a good idea!), and I Claimed it, sacrificed two Scorpions, and attacked with everything the turn before they would’ve killed me!
I haven’t played against this matchup yet but I suspect it is about as good as the other Flash decks against this style of deck – absolutely awful. Take what I said about aggro, but instead they have a bunch of expensive counterspells and cards that don’t do anything… If this deck becomes big in the meta, which it definitely looks like it will, I would highly recommend not playing any kind of Flash deck, especially in Bo1.
A Brief/Rough Sideboard Guide
I won’t talk about decks here so much as the kind of strategies against/times when you should sideboard the cards, since the Meta is wide open right now, so I figure that will be more useful.
- Board Act of Treason against midrange decks with only a few big creatures; remember not to cut too many creatures of your own for these. You can cut/shave Claim the Firstborn for these, if their creatures are likely to cost more than 3, and you can also shave Scorpions/Grasp.
- Robber of the Rich comes in often on the play, since the card is so much better there. It’s not good against say Gruul, Adventures, or other decks which will commonly stop it in its tracks early, but even against Ramp/Fires it’s fine since their big creatures are so expensive. You can shave Dreadhorde Butchers/a Kroxa or two for it against aggro, and Scorpions/Claims for it against Control.
- Pharika’s Libation is good against Fires/Reclamation/other important enchantments, and you can also board it in against the same decks you’re boarding in Act of Treason against if you need to fill slots. It’s a bit awkward if the Fires decks are also playing Omens, but most have moved away from that.
- Against the Humans decks/other decks which hate on your graveyard, you often want to board out Call of the Death-Dweller; that card is also much worse on the draw in general, since Priest of the Forgotten Gods is less likely to work and it’s slow.
- Grasps come in against the Mirror/other decks with high value early targets a lot (especially Humans).
- Remember not to mistakenly board in Lurrus, would not recommend!
Thanks for reading!
As always, you can find all my articles, the whole shebang from Limited Set Reviews to Ikoria Draft Tier List to Strategy Articles to Deck Guides, at mtgazone.com/drifter. If you don’t see anything specific then I’d recommend Hypergeometric Calculator in Magic, my strategy article which teaches you how to tap into an invaluable resource pros already use to assist in your deckbuilding and mulliganning decisions!
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