Today we bring you a guest article from local Magic Player and all-round decent chap Ian Firth (aka @IMagicF), as he talks about one of the best decks in Historic, Rakdos Pyromancer. If you have a guest article you would like to summit to the site, let us know below or contact me directly over on Twitter @MTGTengu. But without further adieu, lets jump into the article.
I’ve been playing a lot of Rakdos Pyromancer. When I get into a deck, I tend to play it a lot. Couple that with my tendency to absorb more online magic content than can really be considered healthy, I end up hording decklists and breaking down what each pilot has chosen to do differently. Now, I am not a world class player, so whilst I can’t give you the crispest play advice or a fully fleshed sideboard guide. I have however been able to create a break down of Historic Rakdos Pyromancer and the purpose of the card choices.
In this article I aim to break down the purpose, strengths, and weaknesses of particular cards, and card package choices within the boundaries of the archetype. There is real virtue to sticking with a deck archetype for a prolonged period as your knowledge of interactions, match ups, and winning lines will increase over time. However, as the meta game shifts around you on the ladder it is important to understand what options you have available to adapt your deck to the texture of the field. Swapping to another deck may often be correct, but you should not write off a match up just because your list didn’t have the tools to consistently defeat your foes. Twitter is full of people gladly sharing their successful lists, so it is worth taking note!
The Core of the Deck – The Linear Game Plan
To describe what makes up the core of the deck, as opposed to tech or metagame choices, I want to show how internal synergies shaped the card choices. If you allow me to be fanciful, I want to derive the deck from first principles.
The thing that has allowed the Pyromancer archetype to exist in Historic is the printing of Thoughtseize in Amonkhet Remastered. A powerful disruptive spell in its own right, its existence alongside Legacy staple Dreadhorde Arcanist allows for it to be cast far more times a game than most opponents can deal with. This deck is a great choice for those who to quickly get their opponents on the back foot. If Mike Tyson was a Magic player rather than a boxer, I’m sure his famous phrase would be: “everyone has a plan until they get Thoughtseized three times by turn 3”.
As Dreadhorde Arcanist casts spells without paying for the mana cost, Young Pyromancer is a natural fit in the deck because we are casting spells several times a turn. Just a few 1 CMC spells can quickly create an army of elementals. Shock fits the bill and can clear small blockers, mana dorks, and even 4 toughness creatures with the help of Arcanist. Village Rites has especially powerful synergies with our two drops, with being both 1 CMC, and Pyromancer replacing the 1/1 we just sacrificed when casting it.
The deck being in Red-Black, and us reducing our opponent’s hand size so effectively leads neatly into playing Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger. Kroxa quickly ends games, and Kroxa plus Village Rites on turn 3 can set us up with the gas we need for the rest of the game. Stitcher’s Supplier is now a brilliant support card because all cards milled fuel Kroxa, all spells that milled give more versatility to your Arcanist, and its cheap cost and death trigger makes it great Village Rites fodder.
At this point, all of our permanents are 2 CMC or less, and all our two drops have signs taped on their backs saying “remove me from the board or lose the game”. Lurrus as a companion, and Claim // Fame in the mainboard allows our small amount of threats to go a surprisingly long way.
At this point, we have covered the “Core” of the deck. Many players (myself included) play Archfiend’s Vessel as well, but I don’t consider it “Core” in the same way as the other cards. Archfiend’s Vessel has synergies with Stitcher’s Supplier, Lurrus and Claim//Fame (which we are playing to support Arcanist, Pyromancer and Kroxa) but Archfiend’s Vessel does not have any direct synergies with our core 2 drops. Due to this, it can be the clunkiest card in our draws, and most lists only play 2-3 copies.
With the core of the deck now assembled, we have something that looks like this:
Two colour aggressive decks in pioneer are not spoilt for choice with lands, and it won’t be getting any better for Rakdos in Zendikar Rising. The obvious land choices are 4 of both Blood Crypt and Dragonskull Summit, but after that there is split opinion on what is correct.
Each of our individual cards have a low mana costs and Village Rites gets us through our deck at quite a pace. It is very easy to flood with lands in this deck. One solution is to play as few lands as possible, 21 lands is about the lowest I have seen, but this can make your coloured mana strained especially if the mana base is mainly basics. The other option is to play more lands, and include cards such as Castle Locthwain, or Canyon Slough to enable us to draw through periods of flood.
The other big debate is around Fabled Passage. Whilst it is effectively another dual land, it is slow. This deck wants to make full use of its mana on turns 1-3, so a tap land is not appealing. However, Fabled Passage interacts so well with Kroxa, that it can be included for that relationship alone. When our fourth land is a Fabled Passage, and the extra card in the graveyard allows us to reanimate a Kroxa that turn, we really feel the benefit of Fabled Passage. Conversely, when our hand is Castle Locthwain, Fabled Passage, Dreadhorde Arcanist, we feel the downsides.
Phyrexian Tower also sees some play in the deck. Sol lands are always powerful, but by being a colourless land, it is a liability unless the deck list specifically supports the sacrifice ability (I will talk about later).
Even with playing 4 of every core card and Archfiend’s Vessel, we are still a few cards short assuming we play 21-24 lands. To fill these flex slots, we will need to look at what other players are trying to do and act accordingly. To do that we want to look at the cross over of what is inherently strong and what we have a hard time beating.
Rakdos Pyromancer is strong against many match ups. Thoughtseize and Kroxa both do so much to prevent opponents from doing anything our other spells can’t deal with, and our graveyard recursion leaves us less vulnerable to decks full of removal and counterspells. Decks that rely on resolving big spells such as Muxus, Goblin Grandee, Bolas’s Citadel, or Ugin, the Sprit Dragon will find that we have plenty of time to take that card from their hand one way or another. It will often be enough to see that they have their payoff in hand with the Thoughtseize to construct plan that involves taking a card that would have kept them alive through the mid-game, and leave their big mana card stranded in their hand.
There are main deck strategies that Thoughtseize can’t protect us against.
- Large amounts of efficiently sized creatures.
- Thoughtseizing an opponent to see two Garruk’s Harbinger and a Questing Beast leaves us unable to strip their hand fast enough and wanting to find some removal quickly. Kroxa is our biggest blocker and requires jumping through hoops to get it into play, and it is not always possible to set up behind Pyromancer tokens so we will sometimes get aggro’d out.
- Cards that want to be in the graveyard.
- Kroxa’s bigger brother Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath certainly wants to ruin Kroxa’s time in the spotlight. Being a “free” discard to Kroxa, as well as, sadly, often being the correct thing to take with Thoughtsieze gives Uro decks some immunity from our main form of interaction. Uro is the most common graveyard dwelling threat, but you occasionally Thoughtseize a hand of Unburial Rites and Scholar of the Lost Trove and find yourself wishing you hadn’t.
- The top of our opponent’s deck.
- Whilst ripping a board wipe off the top of your deck after having your hand emptied isn’t a strategy per se, there are cards and decks that are better at playing off the top of their deck. Collected Company is the prime example of this, quickly dragging an opponent back into a game they were very behind in. Narset, Parter of Veils also gets a special mention here, as being a top deck that quickly becomes two more cards whilst making Village Rites a lot less effective.
These gaps in the defenses of discard-based strategies incentivise us to;
- flesh out the deck with removal spells,
- have some light graveyard interaction, or cards that deal with resolved Uros,
- have some of our interaction is instant speed, and deals with problematic “haymaker” permanents
There are two main ways that we can fulfil those aims. The first is to put some broad removal spells into the deck, the second is adding a sacrifice sub theme.
Flex Cards – Removal
Adding Doomblade effects such as Heartless Act and Eliminate give you early game answers to threats that dodged being discarded. Cast Down is not in consideration due to Uro’s heavy presence, whilst Eliminate and Heartless Act both deal with. Heartless act gives us solid answers to big threats such as Elder Gargaroth, Questing Beast and Phyrexian Obliterator. Eliminate more consistently deals with Scavenging Ooze (whose presence can completely ruin our game plan) and tags problematic 3 CMC planeswalkers such as Narset, Kaya and Ashiok at the cost of not hitting the big threats Heartless Act does. Correctly choosing the right card for the current metagame will give us an edge.
Bedevil has finally found a home in this deck, as Lurrus prevents us from playing Murderous Rider, and lets us sneak a way to deal with artifacts into the maindeck, reducing pressure on our sideboard.
Flex Cards – Sacrifice Package
Priest of Forgotten Gods, Claim the First Born and Innocent Blood work well with Young Pyromancer and Village Rites whilst being very synergistic with each other. This package makes the deck slower, more controlling, and more tuned to fight creature-based match ups. Casting Claim the First Born on your own Kroxas and Arcanists can give the unexpected burst of speed needed versus hard control decks. We can play fewer Shocks when Innocent Blood and Claim the First Born allows us to interact with early creatures, and this package really rewards playing a Phyrexian Tower or two. It is also worth noting that the sacrifice package is more robust against graveyard hate with Priest being a threat that does not use the graveyard.
To construct a sideboard we need to know what match ups we need to sure up, and how our opponents are going to try to stop us. We have already identified what we need a helping hand with, and that is mainly dealing with our opponents threats. Depending on if we went for Innocent Bloods or Doomblades maindeck we can have the other in the board to give more choice games 2 and 3. Redcap Melee is very good at dealing with aggressive red decks, Goblins and, in a pinch, Questing Beasts. Noxious Grasp is an option if green decks rise in popularity.
Due to our discard strategy, we also know we have a vulnerability to opponents utilising their graveyard. Cling to Dust is spell based graveyard interaction that works well with Arcanist and Pyromancer well enough to consider playing it main. Soul-Guide Lantern not only tags Uro on the way in but can also be a late game card draw engine with Lurrus.
Our opponents, almost universally, will be trying to put our cards into exile, where they can no longer be recurred. This will come in exile-based removal, such as Extinction Event, Settle the Wreckage or Cry of the Carnarium, or in cards that exile our graveyard. Thoughtseize can deal with these whilst they are still in their hand, so boarding into more similar effects such as Duress increases our chances of their hate cards never being cast or lets us know which board wipes to play around.
The main forms of graveyard hate we can expect are Grafdigger’s Cage, Scavenging Ooze and Rest in Peace, listed from most to least beatable. Grafdigger’s Cage, on paper, shuts down what our deck plans to do, and because it is very effective versus Collected Company/Bolas’ Citadel decks, it is the most common form of hate we will play against. However, because Cage leaves our graveyard intact, we are only one artifact removal spell away from being back in the game. In almost every match up it is correct to take out some of our spells that rely most heavily on our graveyard (Claim//Fame, Kroxa, Archfiends Vessel) and board in versatile artifact removal such as Abrade and Angrath’s Rampage.
Scavenging Ooze slowly eats our graveyard, and is able to pick off cards as we target them with Arcanist or Claim // Fame. We need to ensure we have plenty of removal that effectively removes it. Shock rarely works, but Abrade, Eliminate, Legion’s End and Bedevil can often remove the pesky ooze before it has done too much damage.
Rest in Peace is a nightmare to beat because it is an enchantment and because it both removes our accumulated graveyard resources and prevents us gaining anymore. It is best dealt with from hand, but we don’t have long before it is on the table, so extra Duress effects and mulliganing correctly is key. Zendikar Rising is bringing black enchantment removal to the format and Ratchet Bomb can also be set up to destroy it. Often we just want threats that ignore the graveyard such as Pack Rat, Robber of the Rich, or Dragonmaster Outcast.
At the risk of being too fancy, there are some card choices that can power up our game plan.
Supernatural Stamina is a good multi-purpose card as it can save our threats from removal, allows us to sacrifice creatures we actually want to keep, allows us to flashback our 2 and 3 CMC spells with Dreadhorde Arcanist, and instantly triggers Archfiend’s Vessel. Maximize Velocity lets us flashback 2 CMC spells or give Kroxa haste with the bonus of being able to cast if milled.
@Samonsi1MTG had the clever idea of swapping out a Mountain or two for Sacred Foundry, as it is a dual land for the purpose of casting Lurrus. Be careful though, as the Auto-tapper will often tap RB duals to keep white mana open.
Now let’s look at some successful decklists and see what the card choices indicate.
Ryan Betrix @BetrixDad
Ryan Betrix’s 5th place list from the MTG Arena Zone Historic Open is a fairly standard list. It runs 22 lands, with the full set of fabled passage and two Castle Locthwain. Heartless Act is the main deck removal, lightly spiced with an Innocent Blood and a Call of the Death Dweller. Plenty of Abrades and Durreses in the sideboard fights hate and Spark Harvest does the Bedevil’s job of removing both creatures and planeswalkers. This list has plenty has the tools to battle a varied field, but with 3 Archfiend’s Vessel and 5 reanimation spells main, has a lot to sideboard out when facing heavy graveyard hate.
Piotr Głogowski @Kanister_mtg
Kanister’s list playing the same manabase as Betrix with notable mainboard technology of 3 Cling to Dust, 1 Abrade, and 1 Dragonmaster Outcast with no Archfiend’s Vessel. This configuration puts the deck in better shape to battle through maindeck graveyard hate than other versions and is slanted towards preventing enemy Uros from being reanimated.
In the sideboard there is a varied mix of removal options, which helps circumvent the problem of having the wrong type of Doomblade for the match up. There is relatively little to help fight graveyard hate, but plenty of ways to win without the graveyard in Pack Rat, another Dragonmaster and a Mazemind’s Tome. This list is well positioned to battle Uro decks or anyone that pinned their hopes on Rest in Peace winning them the game.
MadSalaryMan is a high mythic player and this is their take on the RB Pyromancer with the sacrifice package. The sacrifice package has negated any need for targeted removal mainboard. Notice that the increased mana requirements on turns 1-3 of this deck means that no Fabled Passage is being run, and that Phryrexian Tower’s utility has outweighed its downsides. Not having Fabled Passage does reduce the amount of red mana sources available, so Disfigure is being played over Shock or Redcap Melee in the side as early interaction. Abrades and Angrath’s Rampage are present for the inevitable Grafdigger’s Cages and a Soul-Guide Lantern compliments the maindeck Cling to Dust for graveyard interaction. This list also includes their signature Supernatural Stamina. The sacrifice package in this decklist means it is well suited to do well in a metagame of creature-based matchups.
Rakdos Pyromancer is a powerful deck built around a highly focused and synergistic core, but the rest of the deck can adapt to a wide variety of metagames. I hope that this article has shown that there are plenty of options to better position this deck for the popularity of decks on the ladder shift. We do not yet know how Zendikar Rising will affect the Historic metagame, but I hope that you can take the concepts here to have the best 75 cards for Rakdos Pyromancer for whatever happens.