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Budget Magic: Rakdos Menace (Standard)


Aw ni ce, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we are heading to our new post-banning, post-companion-nerfing version of Ikoria Standard to play a deck built around the best mechanic in Magic's history: menace! I've made fun of menace ever since it was keyworded because making two creatures block your threat instead of just one isn't an especially exciting or even powerful mechanic, in most cases. However, thanks to Ikoria, we now have what is essentially keyword tribal decks, with cards like Labyrinth Raptor, Sonorous Howlbonder, and even Tentative Connection giving us a reason to fill our deck with menacing threats! As such, we're going all-in on the menace plan today with Rakdos Menace, a unique take on aggro built exclusively around the menace mechanic. Is menace better than I thought? Can a keyword tribal deck compete in Ikoria Standard 2.0? Are we really playing Rakdos Trumpeter? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Rakdos Menace Tribal

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The Deck

Rakdos Menace Tribal is a unique style of tribal deck. Rather than being built around a creature type, it's built around a mechanic. Thanks to Ikoria, we have several payoffs for playing a bunch of menace creatures. Our deck's main goal is to curve out with menace creatures, play a payoff or two to make those creatures even more powerful, and pick up some aggro wins before our opponent draws a bunch of removal or wraths to ruin our day.

The Payoffs

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So, why are we running a deck full of menace creatures? The answers here are Labyrinth Raptor and Sonorous Howlbonder, both of which work as payoffs supporting the rest of our menace creatures. Labyrinth Raptor might be the best card in our deck. Apart from being a 2/2 menace for two, Labyrinth Raptor works like a menace lord with its pumping ability. If we can curve out with menace creatures and get up for four or six mana, we can double- or triple-pump our team, which, combined with the evasion of menace, allows us to hit our opponent for massive chunks of damage. Plus, Labyrinth Raptor further punishes our opponent for trying to block our menace creatures by making our opponent sacrifice a creature whenever they block, which, at best, makes our team pseudo-unblockable and, at worst, clears the way for future menacing attacks by getting rid of some blockers. Meanwhile, Sonorous Howlbonder makes it even more difficult for our opponent to block our creatures by giving our team mega-menace, forcing every one of our creatures to be blocked by at least three blockers, which usually just amounts to most or all of our team being straight up unblockable. Add in Labyrinth Raptor's pump ability, and our deck can deal huge amounts of combat damage each attack with a mostly unblockable crew of creatures.

Menace Creatures

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The rest of the creatures in our deck are there because they have menace. Unfortunately, there aren't that many creatures with menace in Standard, which means that along with some powerful creatures, we have some relatively underpowered curve-filler creatures. Thankfully, our three-drops are solid. Hunted Nightmare isn't a card that I like in most decks, but it gets much better in a deck where every creature has menace. Giving our opponent a single deathtouch creature isn't that big of a deal since at least two creatures are required to block any of our creatures. As a reward, we get an above-the-curve 4/5 for three, which gets even scarier with the help of our payoffs. Meanwhile, Grimdancer is sort of a weird ground version of Vampire Nighthawk. Depending on the situation, we can give it menace and lifelink to swing the race against aggro or even deathtouch and lifelink if we are stuck in a position where we have to play defensively rather than offensively.

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In the two-drop slot, we have the very good Stormfist Crusader and the very bad (but menacing) Rakdos Trumpeter. Stormfist Crusader is great in our deck, not only offering an on-curve menace two-drop but also dealing direct damage and helping to keep our hand full. While giving our opponent a card each turn isn't great, since our curve is low to the ground, we can often take advantage of the symmetrical card advantage more efficiently than our opponent can and parlay it into a quick win before they can cast all of the extra cards they draw. As for Rakdos Trumpeter, it's pretty bad. A 1/3 for three, even with its expensive pumping ability, isn't especially exciting in an aggro deck, but it does have menace, and there just aren't many two-drops with menace available in Standard. Basically, we needed another menace two-drop to fill out our curve, and Rakdos Trumpeter is the best option, mostly because it's the only option.

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Our one-drop is Dreadmalkin, which is more powerful than it looks. A 1/1 for one isn't that powerful, but the ability to sacrifice a creature or planeswalker to add two +1/+1 counters is surprisingly strong. At worst, we can use Dreadmalkin to sacrifice a creature being targeted by a removal spell to get some extra value, and at best, we can use Dreadmalkin as a combo piece in conjunction with our removal package...

Removal

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The removal plan for Rakdos Menace Tribal is unique. Rather than straight-up killing opposing creatures, we are taking advantage of Tentative Connection and Claim the Firstborn to steal them for a turn. Tentative Connection is especially powerful in our deck since it should almost always be just a single mana, which is way above the curve for a Threaten effect. Not only does stealing opposing creatures help us force through more damage (both by getting a potential blocker out of the way to maximize the power of menace and also by giving us an extra attacker), but also, with the help of Heartfire and Dreadmalkin, we can (hopefully) sacrifice the creature for even more value after we attack!

The Lands

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There are two big reasons I wanted to take a minute to mention the lands in Rakdos Menace Tribal. First, Castle Locthwain is really key to our deck, giving us a source of card advantage to refill our hand after playing all of our cheap menacing threats. Second, the lands make up most of the cards of the deck. In paper, Menace Tribal is $90, but $75 of that comes from the playsets of Blood Crypt, Temple of Malice, and Castle Locthwain. Likewise, on Magic Arena, our deck technically has 25 rares, but 13 are lands. As such, if you already have the lands (or if you're willing to make some budget substitutions to the mana base), the price of the deck drops significantly in both paper and on Magic Arena.

Wrap-Up

All in all, we finished 4-1 in our five matches with Rakdos Menace Tribal, after playing about a million control decks in a row (technically, our record was actually 4-2, but the additional loss was a game I scooped on Turn 2 after realizing I was playing control for the fourth time in a row). We managed to beat Esper Control, 4C Enchantress, and Temur Reclamation while splitting 1-1 with Blue-White Control. While playing no aggro and all control was strange, the fact that our deck faced a gauntlet of mostly creature-free control decks and came out on top was pretty impressive. On paper, playing four Tentative Connections and four Claim the Firstborn should make control one of our worst matchups, especially in game one, before we can sideboard out our threatens for Duress and Agonizing Remorse, but our deck was up to the challenge, which suggests that maybe control really isn't that bad of a matchup.

As for changes I'd make to the budget build of the deck now that we've played some games, I'm not sure there are any. While cards like Rakdos Trumpeter aren't great, there just aren't better replacements available with the menace keyword, and we really want all of our creatures to have menace.

In the end, I was surprised at how competitive Rakdos Menace Tribal ended up being, especially considering the matchups we ran into. The combination of hard-to-block creatures and solid payoffs gives the deck a really fast clock despite the fact that some of our creatures are a bit underpowered in a vacuum. If you like being aggressive but are tired of decks like Mono-Red Aggro, give Rakdos Menace Tribal a shot! 

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Getting Rakdos Menace Tribal down to the ultra-budget price range (and actually pretty close to free in paper) is easy: it's all about cutting back on the rare lands. By trading Blood Crypt, Castle Locthwain, and Temple of Malice for Bloodfell Caves, Rakdos Guildgate, Evolving Wilds, and more basic lands we can drop the price of the deck down to $15 in paper, $1 on Magic Online, and 12 rares (and zero mythics) on Magic Arena. Of course, this comes with a cost: losing out on Castle Locthwain means we risk running out of cards against control, while adding more tapped lands to the deck reduce our odds of curving out, which is especially troubling for an aggro deck like Rakdos Menace Tribal. Still, if you want to start with the cheapest possible version of the deck and slowly upgrade as you earn wildcards (or buy / trade for the rare lands), this is a solid starting point. Just know that the tapped lands will cause problems every now and then. 

Non-Budget Rakdos Menace Tribal

No non-budget list this week. Rakdos Menace Tribal is one of those decks that just happens to be really cheap even in optimal form. While it is possible that the sideboard could be changed up a little depending on what Ikoria Standard 2.0 looks like once it develops, and playing "real" removal (especially something like Murderous Rider that can hit planeswalkers against control and midrange decks, which seem pretty popular at the moment) might be better than playing all eight Threatens, in reality, I didn't leave anything obvious out of the deck for budget purposes.

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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