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Budget Magic: $66 (16 tix) Rakdos Aristocrats (Standard, Magic Arena)

Gwe’, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! War of the Spark Standard has been unique. Thanks to the epic number of planeswalkers in the set, a lot of the early focus of the format has been on planeswalker decks, so much so that one of the archetypes people were hyped about during preview season—Aristocrats—has mostly been forgotten. Well, we're remembering Aristocrats today, in the form of a Rakdos Sacrifice shell that's looking to chip in for early damage with some aggressive creatures and then close out the game with some powerful sacrifice synergies. The end result is a deck that sort of walks the line between aggro and combo. While we get plenty of wins by simply beating our opponent down, we also pick up some victories by catching our opponent by surprise with something like Dreadhorde Butcher and Heartfire or God-Eternal Bontu to sacrifice all of our permanents with a Mayhem Devil or two on the battlefield. Can a $65 version of Rakdos Sacrifice Aristocrats compete in the planeswalker-heavy War of the Spark Standard? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Rakdos Aristocrats

The Deck

Rakdos Aristocrats is basically a hybrid Rakdos Aggro and Rakdos Sacrifice deck. It's looking to get in early damage with cheap, efficient creatures and then finish off the game by sacrificing our own creatures for value. Probably the easiest way to look at the deck is to start with the Aristocrats package of sacrifice payoffs, sacrifice outlets, and sacrifice fodder and then move to the support cards and backup aggro plan.

Sacrifice Payoffs

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When it comes to sacrificing our own board for value, we have two main payoffs in Mayhem Devil and Judith, the Scourge Diva. While each has different benefits and drawbacks, on the most basic level, the cards are similar: when we sacrifice a creature, we get to deal a damage to any target. This means that in the late game, if we have a bunch of creatures and can sacrifice them all to something like God-Eternal Bontu, it's possible we can 20 our opponent without dealing any combat damage at all!

The main upside of Mayhem Devil is that it triggers when any player sacrifices a creature, and while it doesn't come up often, every once in a while, we get some extra damage from our opponent sacrificing a land or activating something like Liliana, Dreadhorde General. On the other hand, the drawback of Mayhem Devil is that it only triggers when something is sacrificed, so trading creatures in combat or having them die to a removal spell doesn't generate any extra damage.

As for Judith, the Scourge Diva, it triggers whenever one of our non-token creatures dies, so the damage stacks up during the course of the game as creature die to removal spells or in combat. Plus, Judith pumps our team +1/+1, which is a key aspect of our backup Rakdos Aggro plan. 

Together, Judith, the Scourge Diva and Mayhem Devil mean that once the game gets going, we're likely to have at least one sacrifice payoff on the battlefield for our Aristocrats plan. And they give us enough copies that we sometimes end up with multiples, which is fine—with more than one sacrifice payoff on the battlefield, it becomes really easy to ping opponents out of the game as we sacrifice our own creatures for value.

Sacrifice Outlets

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God-Eternal Bontu is our most powerful sacrifice outlet, allowing us to literally sacrifice our entire board for just five mana and also draw a bunch of cards along the way. In the late game, this gives us combo-kill potential with Mayhem Devil in particular since we can sacrifice all of our creatures and lands and potentially kill our opponent with a huge stack of Mayhem Devil pings. Outside of the combo, God-Eternal Bontu is a fine value card. A 5/6 menace for five is a solid deal on its own, and if we can sacrifice a few random creatures or extra land, we can refill our hand after dumping all of our cheap threats onto the battlefield. Then, if our opponent manages to deal with God-Eternal Bontu, it's only a few turns away from coming back to give us another giant threat.

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While lacking the combo potential of God-Eternal Bontu, Priest of Forgotten Gods and Plaguecrafter give us backup sacrifice outlets for one or two creatures that also work as removal spells. Priest of Forgotten Gods is one of the most powerful cards in our deck if it just sits out on the battlefield, forcing our opponent to sacrifice a creature each turn while also drawing us cards to replace the creatures we sacrifice. On the other hand, it does die a lot, sometimes before we get any value from it at all. As for Plaguecrafter, the biggest upside here is that it forces our opponent to sacrifice a creature or planeswalker, making it one of our better options against not only decks relying on big creatures but superfriends and Teferi decks as well. Plus, both of these cards give us extra ways to trigger our Mayhem Devil and Judith, the Scourge Diva as we sacrifice our own creatures.

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Our final sacrifice outlet is also our primary removal spell: Heartfire. Four damage for just two mana is insane, but most decks can't play Heartfire because of the extra cost of sacrificing a creature or planeswalker. In our deck, sacrificing one of our creatures is often a benefit rather than a drawback, making Heartfire the perfect way to kill blockers, bring down the loyalty on planeswalkers, or just hit our opponent's face for a bunch of damage. Heartfire is also an essential part of our aggro backup plan, where we can sometimes win games like a weird Rakdos Burn deck by playing cheap creatures, attacking, and then finishing the opponent off with four or eight damage from Heartfires (and potentially even more, with the help of our sacrifice fodder and sacrifice payoffs).

Sacrifice Fodder

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In theory, any of our creatures can be sacrifice fodder if we have enough copies of Mayhem Devil and / or Judith, the Scourge Diva on the battlefield, but we have some creatures that especially enjoy being sacrificed for value. Footlight Fiend gives us an aggressive one-drop that deals an extra damage when it dies, giving us an extra way to stack up direct damage with our self-sacrifice plan. Tibalt, Rakish Instigator basically makes two Footlight Fiends while also giving us some main-deck hate against lifegain. Cards like Wildgrowth Walker can be devastating if unanswered since it can be tough for our deck to deal 30 or 40 damage. 

Meanwhile, Dreadhorde Butcher might be the best card in our deck since it is great with our sacrifice Aristocrats plan and also great with our Rakdos aggro beatdown plan. When we can play Dreadhorde Butcher on Turn 2, it quickly grows into a meaningful threat; then, it ends up dealing a big chunk of damage when it dies. It works especially well with Heartfire—sometimes, we just grow a Dreadhorde Butcher up to four or five power and sacrifice it to Heartfire for somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 damage to our opponent's face (at instant speed, no less), and that wins us the game all by itself. It's also a fine creature to sacrifice to Priest of Forgotten Gods or Plaguecrafter, giving us some extra damage for our effort. Basically, Dreadhorde Butcher is great sacrifice fodder but almost works like a sacrifice payoff as well, especially if we can draw it early and start getting +1/+1 counters on it, while also being one of the best cards in our deck for the Rakdos aggro beatdown plan.

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Next on our sacrifice fodder list are a couple of creatures that do most of their damage when they enter the battlefield, which makes them expendable as sacrifice fodder afterward thanks to their small bodies. Lazotep Reaver puts two bodies on the battlefield to sacrifice, which is especially helpful with Priest of Forgotten Gods since a single Lazotep Reaver gives us enough creatures to activate Priest. Rix Maadi Reveler is especially good if we can cast it with spectacle to refill our hand. Our deck is fairly cheap. In fact, apart from our two copies of God-Eternal Bontu, every card in our deck costs three or less mana, so we have a tendency to empty our hand quickly. Rix Maadi Reveler gives us a way to refuel. Even without spectacle, Rix Maadi Reveler is a good way to rummage away extra lands in search of action on Turn 2. Or, if we happen to keep a land-light hand (which happens since we only have 22 lands in the deck), it gives us a way to dig for a land to play our more expensive spells. 

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Last but not least is Fanatical Firebrand, which is nice enough to sacrifice itself to trigger Mayhem Devil and Judith, the Scourge Diva. The one-drop helps us get off to aggressive starts and force through early damage. Then, in the late game when we have our sacrifice payoffs, its tap ability often generates two or three damage, making it a weird sort of Shock or even a Lightning Bolt. This flexibility of being solid with both our Aristocrats plan and our backup aggro plan makes Fanatical Firebrand a solid addition to our deck.


Before talking about our record, I wanted to take a minute to mention the backup aggro plan because it's pretty important in terms of how to play the deck. Some Aristocrats decks are basically combo decks (think of the old Rally the Ancestors builds). These decks are almost 100% all-in on winning with a sacrifice-based combo. Rakdos Aristocrats, on the other hand, can win with a sacrifice combo (especially with the help of God-Eternal Bontu) but is an aggro deck. A lot of our wins come from getting in early damage with our cheap creatures and then using our sacrifice payoffs and sacrifice outlets to push through the last few points of damage after our opponent stabilizes. We also win some games as a pure aggro deck—just curving Fanatical Firebrand into Dreadhorde Butcher into Judith, the Scourge Diva can steal some games, even more so when we top that off with a Heartfire or two for 5 or 10 direct damage to bring our opponent to 0. As such, if you pick up the deck, don't focus too heavily on the sacrifice plan—sometimes, draws or matchups dictate that we're basically a Rakdos Aggro deck, and things will likely end poorly if you try to focus on sacrifice combos with an aggro draw.

As for our record, we played five matches and ended up going 4-1, which is pretty solid. In reality, our one loss to Sultai Midrange was probably self-inflicted. We had both of our God-Eternal Bontus in hand but only four lands and decided to spectacle the only non-Bontu card in our hand: Rix Maadi Reveler. We discarded our two God-Eternal Bontus, drew three lands, and proceeded to flood out. If we had just cast Rix Maadi Reveler and discarded one God-Eternal Bontu, it's pretty likely we would have won that game and match too and finished 5-0.

As for changes to make to the deck, I don't think there are that many. It felt solid in its current form, except for maybe some non-budget sideboard changes. One of the upsides of Rakdos Aristocrats is that it's one of those decks that just happens to be budget friendly even in near-optimal form. Of course, if you have Blood Crypt in your collection, you should play it over Rakdos Guildgate; otherwise, you're pretty much good to go as-is.

In the end, Rakdos Aristocrats felt really solid. The clock is fast, and the sacrifice finish gives a really interesting line of attack that most aggro decks are missing. The combo of Dreadhorde Butcher and Heartfire was especially impressive, allowing us to finish games out of nowhere and steal wins that would otherwise likely have been losses. If you like sacrificing your own board for value and being aggressive, Rakdos Aristocrats feels like a really solid budget option for War of the Spark Standard!

Since the build of Rakdos Aristocrats we played for our video this week was already just $66 in paper, rather than an ultra-budget list, we have an Arena budget list with two mythics and 14 rares between the main deck and sideboard (discounting the one Rekindling Phoenix and one Vraska's Contempt that you should have in your collection for free from completing the new player experience). The main cut here is in the the mana base, where Evolving Wilds replaces Dragonskull Summit. While adding more tapped lands is clunky, Evolving Wilds actually has some cute synergy in our deck since it triggers Mayhem Devil for an extra damage when we sacrifice the land. Otherwise, we drop the Experimental Frenzy from the sideboard and replace them with Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage. While the two cards are very different, they serve the same purpose: to help our deck grind out card advantage against control. And Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage being an uncommon makes it an especially good option for an Arena player without many extra high-rarity wildcards.

We don't really get that many upgrades to our non-budget list this week, with Vraska's Contempt showing up in the sideboard (along with The Immortal Sun) over Spark Harvest and Blood Crypt in the mana base. Rakdos Aristocrats just happens to be a cheap deck, even when optimal. On the other hand, if you want to spend more money, there have been a couple of Mardu Aristocrats decks floating around. While I'm not sure that going into white actually makes the deck better, there are some sweet upgrades, like Cruel Celebrant and Seraph of the Scales, that aren't available in straight black-red.


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

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