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Budget Magic: 16 Rack (Modern)


Buiti binafiBudget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to Modern to play a new twist on a classic Modern archetype: the discard-heavy 8 Rack deck! However, in 2020, eight The Racks simply isn't enough, so we're upping the ante with 16 Racks, with the help of two new-ish discard-focused planeswalkers: Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage and Liliana, Waker of the Dead. The goal of our deck is pretty simple: empty our opponent's hand with discard as quickly as possible and then kill our opponent with free Lava Spikes every turn from our Racks: The Rack, Shrieking Affliction, Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage, and Liliana, Waker of the Dead. How many Racks are too many in Modern? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: 16 Rack

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The Deck

16 Rack is a discard deck. Our primary goal is to use our ample discard spells to quickly empty our opponent's hand, which will then allow us to burn our opponent out of the game with direct damage from The Rack, Shrieking Affliction, Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage, and Liliana, Waker of the Dead.

The Racks

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Our first eight Racks are traditional: four copies of The Rack and four copies of Shrieking Affliction. While these cards have slightly different wordings, the end result is the same: if we can get our opponent out of cards, they will deal three damage to our opponent on their upkeep. Most importantly, these effects stack up, so if we can get multiple copies of The Rack and Shrieking Affliction on the battlefield at the same time, we can deal a ton of damage to our opponent each turn, which they will be unlikely to be able to stop since they won't have any cards in hand.

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The Racks numbers nine through 12 come in planeswalker form in Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage. As a Rack, Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage is weaker than our other options, only dealing two damage to our opponent on their upkeep if they have one or fewer cards on hand. However, Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage has a huge upside: along with being a bad The Rack, it's also a discard spell, potentially making our opponent discard two or three cards (over the course of a few turns) with its −1 ability, helping to empty our opponent's hand and turn on all of our Racks.

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The Racks 13 through 16 also come in planeswalker form: Liliana, Waker of the Dead. While Liliana, Waker of the Dead isn't obviously a The Rack as first glance, in reality, it is: if we can get our opponent empty-handed and +1 Liliana to make our opponent discard a card, they will take three damage—the same amount they would take from The Rack or Shrieking Affliction on their upkeep. Apart from being a Rack, Liliana, Waker of the Dead is an extremely powerful card (maybe one of the most underrated cards from all of Core Set 2021). Much like Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage, Liliana, Waker of the Dead is a The Rack that also forces our opponent to discard cards, turning on our Racks. While technically, we have to discard cards too, this isn't really a big drawback since we often have leftover discard spells in hand that won't have much value after our opponent is out of cards and because we have Castle Locthwain to refuel. Meanwhile, the −3 offers some extra removal, and in some matchups, the ultimate can be powerful. Even though we don't have any creatures in our deck, since Liliana, Waker of the Dead's emblem reanimates creatures from any graveyard, we can potentially snag some good stuff from our opponent's deck that were discarded earlier in the game. Basically, while Liliana, Waker of the Dead is in our deck to be another Rack, in reality, it does much, much more than our other The Racks. 

Discard

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While our discard package is somewhat restricted by our budget (we don't have access to Thoughtseize, for example), it's still solid. Inquisition of Kozilek is arguably on par with Thoughtseize in terms of power, especially in a format like Modern, where most cards cost three mana or less, allowing us to often snag the best card from our opponent's hand. Meanwhile, Raven's Crime gives our opponent the option of which card to discard but makes up for this drawback with the retrace mechanic allowing us to discard extra lands to cast it from our graveyard and keep our opponent's hand empty. With the help of dredging Dakmor Salvage in the late game, we can guarantee a Raven's Crime every turn if we are willing to give up our draw step. Finally Wrench Mind is a great deal, forcing our opponent to discard two cards for just two mana, unless our opponent randomly happens to have an artifact, which makes it somewhat weaker against decks like Tron, Hardened Scales, and occasionally tribal decks with Aether Vial. But most of the time, we will end up with a two-for-one as our opponent ends up down two cards in hand while we just spend one.

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Smallpox walks the line between removal and discard, putting each player down a life, a card in hand, a creature, and a land for just two mana. Since we don't have creatures in our deck, we naturally break at least some of the symmetry of Smallpox. Furthermore, forcing the opponent to sacrifice a land is especially powerful against decks like Tron. While we do occasionally have games where we don't want to cast Smallpox, in others, it is one of the most powerful cards in our deck, making it an easy four-of in 16 Rack.

Removal

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Rounding out our non-land cards are some additional removal, with Fatal Push for the early game and Dismember to kill more expensive threats. Combined with Liliana, Waker of the Dead's −3 and some sideboard sweepers, these cards give us ample answers for any sweepers that happen to hit the battlefield before we can force our opponent to discard them.

The Mana

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Along with a bunch of Swamps, we have a handful of powerful utility spells. Dakmor Salvage combos with Raven's Crime and Smallpox, giving us a land that we can discard or sacrifice that can come back to our hand thanks to the dredge mechanic. Castle Locthwain is one of the most important cards in our deck. Since cards like Smallpox and Liliana, Waker of the Dead make us discard along with our opponent, we usually run out of cards fairly quickly. Castle Locthwain allows us to refill our hand while also giving us a way to fight through pockets of discard spells that become less powerful in the late game once our opponent is empty-handed. Finally, Mobilized District is our budget-friendly version of Mutavault. While four mana to activate is a lot, Davriel and Liliana can help reduce the cost. After we get our opponent empty-handed and don't need to use our mana to cast discard spells, we can spend our turn activating Mobilized District to get in some extra damage and speed up our clock.

The Sideboard

  • Ashiok, Dream Render / Cling to Dust: One of the weaknesses of 16 Rack is that some decks, like Dredge or even some Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath builds, don't really mind discarding cards because they'd rather have their threats in the graveyard than in their hand. Having graveyard hate helps to solve this problem after sideboarding and make sure that we aren't accidentally helping our opponent by forcing them to discard cards.
  • Ratchet Bomb / Bontu's Last Reckoning / Collective Brutality: These cards offer some customization to our removal package, with Bontu's Last Reckoning giving us a wrath against creature decks, Ratchet Bomb being a good way to deal with tokens and cheap creatures (along with artifact and enchantments which can be problematic for a mono-black deck), and Collective Brutality being great for killing small creatures while also giving us a bad Duress and some lifegain against burn.
  • Delirium Skeins offers a great rate for discard but also makes us discard three cards. When we cast it, the end result is very often both players ending up empty-handed, which can be risky. However, against combo decks and some control decks, we are more than happy to empty our opponent's hand, even if it means we will also end up out of cards since we should hopefully be able to kill our opponent with our Racks (or refuel with Castle Locthwain) before our opponent can reassemble the cards they need to combo off.
  • Sorcerous Spyglass is mostly a catch-all removal spell for planeswalkers while also shutting down answers to our The Racks, like Engineered Explosives, Ratchet Bomb, and Blast Zone.

Wrap-Up

16 Rack was pretty impressive. While we played a lot of close three-game matches, we ended up going 5-0, taking down Tron, Fairies, Storm, and Humans twice—a nice mixture of combo, control, and aggressive creature decks. 

One of my concerns going into our matches was the lack of Ensnaring Bridge, which is often used in 8 Rack decks to stay alive against creature decks, as a weird sort of permanent wrath. However, thanks to Liliana, Waker of the Dead and the rest of our removal spells, we didn't really have a problem dealing with creatures. I'm actually not sure 16 Rack would want Ensnaring Bridge in the main deck even if it was cheap enough for the budget. 

Once again, Liliana, Waker of the Dead was extremely impressive. Every time we play the planeswalker, be it in Historic, Pioneer, Modern, or Standard, it outperforms. It's very close to a Liliana of the Veil, except it costs one more mana more and something like $50 less. If you haven't tried Liliana, Waker of the Dead yet, you should—she is way, way more powerful than she looks at first glance.

As far as changes to make to the budget build of 16 Rack now that we have played some games, I don't think there are any. I was extremely happy with how the deck played. I'd run it back exactly as-is. 

All in all, 16 Rack was great. It felt like one of the strongest (and most fun) Modern budget decks we've played in a while. The new planeswalker The Racks—Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage and Liliana, Waker of the Dead—are huge, huge additions, giving us cards that both make our opponent discard and punish them for being empty-handed. If you're looking for a new Modern budget deck that is powerful in budget form, unique, and fun to play and has upgrade potential, I've definitely recommend 16 Rack. It's a blast and surprisingly strong!

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The main goal for the ultra-budget build of 16 Rack is to not cut any of the central cards. Even though the easiest way to get the cost of the deck down near $50 would be to cut Liliana, Waker of the Dead and Castle Locthwain, those are two of the most important cards in the deck. Instead, we trim the mana base (minus Castle Locthwain) and sideboard to the bone while turning Inquisition of Kozilek into Stupor and Fatal Push into Victim of Night. The end result is a less powerful deck than the one we played on video but one that should be a functional enough starting point for kitchen table play.

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Finally, for our non-budget build, the biggest non-land additions to the main deck are a couple of copies of Liliana of the Veil, as another discard-based planeswalker with upside, and Thoughtseize. In the mana base, we get Mutavault over Mobilized District and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to allow our Mutavaults to tap for black mana. While playing four copies of a legendary land probably seems like a lot, it works in 16 Rank since we can always discard extras to our Lilianas, Smallpox, or Raven's Crime. In the sideboard, we get Leyline of the Void as graveyard hate and Ensnaring Bridge as an additional way to keep creature decks in check. If you're thinking of taking the upgrade plunge, I'd probably start with Thoughtseize and the sideboard cards, in part because they are strong in the deck and in part because they are currently cheap-ish thanks to recent reprintings.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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