Standard Rakdos Reanimator Deck Guide: Where Midrange and Combo Meld
A recurring motif in Standard is that everybody plays midrange. There are decks that will take advantage of it by going over the top with even more expensive spells. Some decks go under with hasty threats and burn spells. However, what if we embraced the midrange-leaning approach yet added a completely different angle of attack? Let’s add Atraxa, Grand Unifier to Rakdos Midrange!
Most games we will look as if we played a god honest Rakdos Midrange shell. A turn two Bloodtithe Harvester is going to be followed up by Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse later. We know that recipe works and there is no reason to fix what’s not broken. However, at some point we will place Atraxa, Grand Unifier in the graveyard thanks to one of many discard effects in the deck and slam The Cruelty of Giximmediately on the third chapter. Much to the opponent’s dismay, there they are staring at a 7/7 Phyrexian which has drawn us five cards. This is the story of many games with this deck. Reanimating Atraxa doesn’t have to be a late-game plan B though. I have had games where a turn-three Fable allows you to go off as soon as turn four, thanks to Goblin Shaman making a Treasure and the second Fable chapter being a discard outlet. I love decks with a combo finish and this one is definitely it.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start off by analysing the Angel in question. Is it really worth it to add an uncastable creature to your deck?
Yes and no. Yes – it is worth it. No it is not uncastable! With so many Treasure tokens made here and there, it’s happened to me more than once that I just hardcast it, leaving my opponent shocked with their Unlicensed Hearses which were supposed to keep the grave in check.
Atraxa, Grand Unifier is arguably the best card in Standard when looking at what it does. Clearly, the only thing holding it back is the prohibitive cost. That’s why we want to circumvent that restriction by cheating it into play.
Its size alone dominates all the board states. It also has four keywords: flying, vigilance, deathtouch, lifelink. They all contribute to Atraxa’s power.
- Flying – ensures that Atraxa isn’t chump blocked forever, but we can actually get the damage in. On top of that, she can block fliers as well.
- Vigilance – allows it to both attack and block. We never let our guard down.
- Deathtouch – kills everything in its way. While she usually out-sizes anything anyways, it’s a nice way to ensure that she never leaves combat without casualties.
- Lifelink – stabilises boards where we are behind. Allows to continue playing a grindy game with no fear of dying out of nowhere.
In addition to all of that, there is the trigger. We reveal 10 cards off the top and take one card of each card type from among them. Having played a multitude of games, the number of cards you get to take is roughly between 4 and 5. Furthermore, there is a card selection element baked in those raw cards that we are getting. Depending on the situation you may take a different removal spell, creature, or land. This trigger insulates us from removal, as the opponent might have Go for the Throat.
Speaking of Atraxa getting killed, it is far from the end of the world. We have filled up our hand with new spells and can now decide whether we want to pursue the reanimation plan or just play a normal fair game with all the new resources we’ve accumulated.
Last but not least, Atraxa digs ten cards deep so we might just find another reanimation spell and go again the following turn.
If you still doubt her power, I suggest playing with her a bit and you will immediately be hooked.
This is the other half of the reanimation combo. The third chapter of The Cruelty of Gix puts Atraxa into play. Thanks to the read ahead mechanic, we don’t have to wait a couple of turns to get the effect – we get it right away. There will be numerous games where you deploy Atraxa on turn five, perfectly on curve.
This saga has other chapters though and they are not irrelevant, far from it. The first chapter is literally Despise. In longer games, I will happily strip the opponent of Sheoldred, the Apocalypse or Ao, the Dawn Sky.
The second chapter is Grim Tutor. This effect allows you to find the ideal card for a given situation. It might be another grindy effect, a piece of removal, or Atraxa. I’ve tutored more copies of Cruelty often to just chain them together. The most frequent use though is finding Atraxa or a discard outlet for Atraxa that’s already in hand to set up the reanimation with the following chapter of the saga.
Against Grixis and Mono White decks, it is perfectly fine to play Cruelty as a five-drop value card and not rush reanimation. Holding it in hand until there is Atraxa in the graveyeard might be a losing proposition and a lot of value that you would be missing out on.
I started playing the shell with two copies of Liliana of the Veil, and soon after I had to add one more. This card is bonkers good. In this deck specifically, there is a clear interaction between Lily’s plus and being able to ditch Atraxa. She’s a super clean set up method for reanimation as your opponent is actively losing resources while you’re progressing your plan.
The minus comes up a lot as well. The games where you play Lily and make them sac their only threat which allows her to survive go out of hand pretty fast. All the game actions are then warped around removing her from the field. Once you get to minus against Tolarian Terror, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, or Sanctuary Warden, you will feel the power.
You may have games where you get to ultimate, but they will be rare. The way you should split the permanents is highly contextual. A popular method is to split the field into lands and nonlands, hence leaving the opponent with the field they’ve built or the ability to play Magic. Unfortunately, it is ultimately the opponent who decides which the best outcome for them. A more common approach is to split evenly-ish the permanents into two piles which are very close in value. In such a case, the ultimate isn’t a complete KO, but rather a way to strip the opponent of a lot of resources and change the texture of the game.
All in all, it’s a powerful planeswalker whose flexibility is really what sets her apart.
Fable, oh Fable. Much to nobody’s surprise, it is a Fable of the Mirror-Breaker deck. There are elements of Fable that help this deck specifically more than it would any other shell.
Goblin Shaman making a token on turn four, gives you access to five mana total. Coincidentally, it is exactly the cost of The Cruelty of Gix Deploying it a turn earlier can swing games. However, you’d need to have ditched Atraxa by that point.
This is where the second chapter of Fable comes in. You can discard Atraxa to it and not only would you be getting another card but also the payoff in the graveyard. If you’re missing the fourth land, it’s also a great way to dig deeper.
These interactions are what you’re getting on top of everything that Fable usually provides. It might just be the best Fable deck in the format.
Reckoner Bankbuster here is just as (bank)busted as in other midrange decks. The purpose is to draw a few cards from it in order to pull ahead.
However, there are two nuances that make it just a tad better in this shell. First, the Treasure it makes when its counters are depleted help hardcast Atraxa, Grand Unifier. It does not come up much, admittedly, but it does.
It’s also a card with an artifact type, so it’s one more potential draw off Atraxa.
If you couldn’t imagine how Bankbuster could be even stronger, here you can see it is possible.
Another card that’s great overall and even better here. It is still a two-drop which, thanks to 3 power, easily trades with other two-drops and some three-drops in combat. It also offers access to removal that circumvents indestructibility.
While in most shells Blood tokens provide generic card selection, here it’s also a discard outlet for Atraxa. However, with so many possible ways to discard our Phyrexian, one has to make a conscious decision which to choose, as they might be better utilised in a different way. E.g. it might be better to keep Blood tokens so that Harvester can kill opposing threats.
The most-played black card in Standard is here. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse warps games around itself in a fashion that benefits us. It draws out removal from the opponent’s hand, paving the way for Atraxa to resolve and stay alive. In this deck, there are also multiple ways to draw cards so it will trigger often. Furthermore, Sheoldred is an excellent secondary reanimation target for the games where you have drawn Atraxa.
This might seem like the weirdest inclusion in the deck, but it actually works great.
Curve-wise, it’s a way to ditch Atraxa and prepare for turn five The Cruelty of Gix You still get the Treasure tokens which is great for when you may have missed your land drop or want to play Atraxa and follow it up with something e.g. removal. You can also start by casting Duress to clear the path and then play The Cruelty of Gix.
A less obvious line includes hardcasting Atraxa! Turn four you play Big Score, and on turn five you will have 5 mana from the lands and 2 Treasures – perfectly assembled seven mana. The trick, however, is that you need specific colours of mana. This is where Ziatora's Proving Ground or Xander's Lounge come in. Some players even include a few copies of Sundown Pass or Battlefield Forge to increase the likelihood of that happening. Turn five hardcast Atraxa is impressive and it completely plays around graveyard hate.
This deck is very much interactive like your typical Rakdos Midrange shell would. Let’s look at what interactive tools are played here.
Duress is the least popular piece of interaction that you find across decks in Standard, certainly in the main deck. It disrupts the opponent’s draw and removes all the powerful threats that could be played such as Fable of the Mirror-Breaker or Planeswalkers. If well-timed, it can make the opponent unable to answer your Atraxa. Duress taking Make Disappear to resolve The Cruelty of Gix or discarding Go for the Throat to keep Atraxa alive are popular lines.
I am always happy to see it in my opener.
The best red piece of removal is indeed played in this deck. Kills most one- and two-drops whilst providing the value of killing the ever-presence Reckoner Bankbuster or occasional prototype creatures.
Weren’t it for Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, we might go for full four Abrade. However, it’s a card that needs to be dealt with and so we play Go for the Throat. The catch-ally nature of this card gives us a sense of safety, since it kills the vast majority of threats in the format.
Interestingly, the restriction that Throat has is covered by Abrade. If you have both in hand, there is no creature that could stand in your way.
Best of One
The version of Best of One is aligned with the maindeck of the Best of Three version.
It was quite difficult to adapt the deck to budget restrictions but if it were to exist, it’d look like this. Importantly, there are no substitutes to Atraxa, Grand Unifier so wild cards have to be spent on it.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
|+3 Graveyard Trespasser||-2 Duress|
|+1 Soul Transfer||-2 Big Score|
Grixis will often tunnel vision on the graveyard part of the deck. The best strategy against it is to either discard Atraxa and reanimate it on the same turn or play to hardcast it. If you think that hardcasting is super necessary, you may keep Big Score in. Most games will play out similarly to how a RBx midrange mirror would, so you still have to make good trades and eke value out of everything you’ve got.
Mono White Midrange
|+2 Abrade||-3 Liliana of the Veil|
|+3 Graveyard Trespasser||-2 Big Score|
Mono White players might be very well or poorly prepared to play against the graveyard. Based on the number of hate cards you see, you will have to adjust how much you want to lean onto the reanimation angle.
Crucially, late-game Atraxa can be exiled by their Lay Down Arms. If you also prolong the game too much, you can be hit with Farewell.
I trim Liliana of the Veil as the minus is essentially dead against a Spirited Companion deck.
|+3 Brotherhood's End||-3 Liliana of the Veil|
|+2 Cut Down||-2 Big Score|
|+2 Abrade||-4 Duress|
|+2 Parasitic Grasp||-3 Reckoner Bankbuster|
|+3 Graveyard Trespasser|
Post-board we are almost mono-removal and kill everything left and right. The Atraxa angle might come up and then it’s going to be lights out usually but bear in mind you can be hit with Brutal Cathar. Thankfully, you can kill it and get Atraxa’s trigger again.
I won’t keep reanimation-focused hands, as I will die in the process. Removal is more important.
Mono Blue Tempo
|+1 Soul Transfer||-2 Big Score|
|+3 Graveyard Trespasser||-2 Abrade|
There will be a cat and mouse game here as you have to play a god honest game where you trade resources. Early Reckoner Bankbuster is going to carry as you will keep pulling ahead. Duress is pretty strong, as you will poke holes in their hand. They won’t always have everything. Their countermagic is conditional, and if you know their hand, you will be able to play around it. E.g. if you see Essence Scatter, you can deploy Fable of the Mirror-Breaker; if you see Spell Pierce, you will go for Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.
|+2 Unlicensed Hearse||-2 Go for the Throat|
|+2 Abrade||-1 Atraxa, Grand Unifier|
|+3 Graveyard Trespasser||-4 Duress|
Mirrors will be very weird. Crucially, The Cruelty of Gix can reanimate opposing Atraxa, Grand Unifier. That’s why I want to lean less on it, as there will still be the opponent’s payoff. With so much disruption on both sides, the game will transform into a Rakdos Midrange mirror, similarly to the Grixis matchup.
Tips and Tricks
- You can use Liliana of the Veil‘s minus ability targeting yourself to kill Atraxa, Grand Unifier in order to be able to reanimate it again.
- If you are low on life and you have Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, it might be good to fire off all the draw effects on your turn before the opponent has the chance to kill her e.g. Big Score or draw off Reckoner Bankbuster.
- Even if you don’t have Atraxa, Grand Unifier, The Cruelty of Gix may be used to reanimate opposing creatures like Serra Paragon or Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.
- In some cases, it may be correct not to use any of Liliana of the Veil‘s abilities. It comes up when there are no creatures on the opposing side of the battlefield and you don’t want to discard any of the cards.
- Liliana of the Veil‘s minus ability circumvents all the protection, hexproof, or indestructible on creatures.
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