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Can Ben take the underpowered Hellbent mechanic and make it work for a control deck?

Wrecking With Rakdos (Part 3 of 3) - Rakdos Control!

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The letter W!elcome back to Building on a Budget! You voted for Hellbent, and in my last column, you got Hellbent Aggro. In this week's column, I'm going to take Hellbent in the other direction, and build towards Rakdos Hellbent Control.

Before I go on, I'd like to address a couple of topics that were raised in the forums of my previous article. Don't worry – we'll get to the deck soon enough! (See, I don't get a card preview for Time Spiral, but I want to build some sort of suspense in my column.)

Questions: Why aren't you playing more Hellbent cards in your deck? How can you call it a Hellbent deck if the only Hellbent cards you're playing are Jagged Poppet and Gobhobbler Rats?

Answer: As I stated in my last column, many of the Hellbent cards are woefully underpowered, even when Hellbent is enabled (see Slaughterhouse Bouncer). If there were more Hellbent cards that were worth playing, by George, I would play them! Remember rule #3:

“Focus your goals, but don't be a slave to your theme.”

Building a Hellbent deck isn't about throwing in as many cards that say Hellbent as possible, and then going to town. Everyone has different goals as a deck builder – but everyone should be trying to build decks that are cohesive. Why play cards that will make your deck more likely to lose?

As far as calling the deck a Hellbent deck with only two Hellbent cards (Gobhobbler Rats and Jagged Poppet), this is perfectly fine. The entire focus of the deck is to enable Hellbent on these cards, from playing removal spells that double as permanents (to get them out of my hand) to playing creatures which enable discarding of cards (Rakdos Augermage and Rakdos Guildmage). The point of the deck is to viably win with only what's on the board – a.k.a. Hellbent.

There's a long precedent in Magic for naming/making decks around a central theme, even if that theme is only a couple of cards. For instance, Psychatog decks are built around Psychatog, but that's only a single card! U/G Madness decks regularly run only three madness cards (Circular Logic, Basking Rootwalla, and Arrogant Wurm), but are built around that theme (Wild Mongrel and Aquamoeba to enable madness, Deep Analysis, Wonder, and Roar of the Wurm to take advantage of discard effects). I'm very comfortable calling the last deck Hellbent Aggro, because it is 100% built to be both aggressive, and to work around the Hellbent mechanic.

Back to the deck itself! We started with the Rakdos Bloodsport theme deck:


I'm going to try an experiment this week. Instead of going through the changes from start to finish, I'm going to show you the final version of the deck, and work my way backwards to explain the changes made over the course of playtesting. I present to you, the final version of Rakdos Control!

Rakdos Control 4

As you'll notice, there ended up being only twelve total creatures in the deck – four copies of Rakdos Pit Dragon, Rakdos Guildmage, and Jagged Poppet. I ended up with eight acceleration cards (four Coldsteel Heart and four Rakdos Signet) and twenty-two lands. Normally this would be a low count for a control deck, but most of the cards in this deck have a low mana cost.

Rakdos_Pit_DragonAny good control deck worth its salt runs control elements, and this one is no exception. In addition to Rakdos Guildmage, I ended with three each of Seal of Fire and Seal of Doom, and three copies of Hit // Run. Bottled Cloister allows me to enable Hellbent on my opponent's turn (for Rakdos Pit Dragon), and allows me to block safely with Jagged Poppet without worrying about losing cards out of my hand (if there are any left). In addition, Bottled Cloister allows me to draw multiple cards a turn, and unless I draw two lands at once, I can go right back to enabling Hellbent with a spell/creature plus a land.

The last two card choices are Delirium Skeins and Loxodon Warhammer. The point of Rakdos Control is to get as many permanents to the board as possible (Hit // Run is the only non-permanent spell in the deck), enable Hellbent, and either strip my opponent's hand with Jagged Poppet/Delirium Skeins, or kill them in one/two swings with Rakdos Pit Dragon. The problem I found with this strategy is that both of these creatures could be chump blocked, allowing my opponent time to get back into the game/draw more threats. Loxodon Warhammer gives these creatures trample (and a healthy power boost!), allowing the Poppet to force a discard even when blocked, and allowing Rakdos Pit Dragon to double strike/trample over for a ton of damage.

Game 16: LMBYAG (U/R Control)

I play first, and get down Rakdos Guildmage, and he does not have any removal spells in hand. I begin hitting him for four a turn with the make-a-goblin ability of the Guildmage, while he begins Annexing and Stone Raining my lands. Eventually, I get a Jagged Poppet on the board, and he Confiscates it. I play a second Poppet, and use my Guildmage to make his attacking/blocking situation impossible. My Poppet strips his hand, and I ride my two creatures to victory.

Record: 10-6

Game 15: etai15 (B/W Flyers)

On the play, I drop a turn 2 Coldsteel Heart (naming red – I always want more mana for Rakdos Pit Dragon, unless I'm short on black mana entirely), and follow it with a turn 3 Rakdos Pit Dragon. Etai15 drops a couple of flyers, but I strip out three of his five cards, and all of my remaining cards with a fourth turn Delirium Skeins. Rakdos Pit Dragon instantly becomes a lethal threat (I can pump him to fourteen points of double strike damage a turn), and etai15 is forced into chump-blocking mode on turn 5. After a couple of turns of this, I draw Hit // Run off the top of my deck, clear his only blocker, and come in for lethal damage.

Record: 9-6

Game 14: r0369 (Ghost Dad)

R0369 gets two quick Tallowisps, and I do not have Seal of Doom to kill either one. This allows him to get multiple Pillory of the Sleepless, and I draw only Jagged Poppets and Rakdos Guildmages. I don't get a Seal of Fire to combine with the Guildmage to kill his Tallowisps, nor do I get Hit // Run – so basically I'm forced to make 2/1 haste goblins to stay alive while eating 3+ damage a turn, one at a time. I don't draw solutions, and I lose.

Record: 8-6

Game 13: Chilleo (Haakon Knights)

I get Rakdos Guildmage on turn 2, and he answers with Haakon. Fortunately, I have multiple Hit // Run in hand, and he ends up taking seven damage twice (three from Hit // Run, two from Haakon dying, and two from my Guildmage attacking). Even with this quick reduction in life total, Chilleo stabilizes with Haakon, Garza's Assassin, and multiple recover spells – including Grim Harvest and Krovikan Rot. The Rot kills my Guildmage, but I play a second one, and use it to immediately kill his Assassin, removing both of his recover spells from the game (he has only two mana open). I then draw Loxodon Warhammer, and use it on the Guildmage to trample over for enough damage to win.

Record: 8-5

Game 12: Reylance (Warp World)

I get a third-turn Rakdos Pit Dragon thanks to a Signet, throw down one of each Seal on turn 4, put Loxodon Warhammer on my Dragon turn 5, and enable Hellbent on turn 6, killing Reylance on a single swing. Reylance lets me know he's playing a Warp World deck, because I killed him too quickly for him to get set up.

Record: 7-5

Game 11: J Player (U/W Precon)

I run him over with Jagged Poppet and Rakdos Guildmage. He can't block because the Guildmage kills all of his early creatures, and Jagged Poppet strips all of the higher-cost cards out of his hand.

Record: 6-5

Game 10: Stipp75 (Elves)

He gets two Llanowar Elves, two Dryad Sophisticate, and a Silhana Ledgewalker. I drop a Rakdos Guildmage and a Jagged Poppet, and begin to stabilize the board – my Guildmage is able to take out an elf a turn, the Poppet can block any of his smaller creatures, and I have Hit // Run in hand to kill the Ledgewalker. Unfortunately, Stripp75 has Giant Growth and Might of Oaks, and slaps me around for eleven damage in a single turn, killing me. It didn't help that I drew five of my eight mana artifacts over the course of the game. Wherefore art thou, Seals of Fire and Doom?

Record: 5-5

Games 10-16 were played with the final version of my Rakdos Control deck. As you'll notice, three of the seven games were decided by Loxodon Warhammer. Unlike creature enchantments, equipment allows you to enhance your creatures without running the risk of losing two-for-one card disadvantage. My choices for this slot were either O-Naginata or Loxodon Warhammer – both give the creatures I care about trample (Jagged Poppet and Rakdos Pit Dragon). In the end, I decided that the swing in life totals with the Warhammer was more important than dropping a first-turn piece of equipment, thus helping the Hellbent cause out.

Rakdos Control 3

Out: Hit // Run, Seal of Doom, Seal of Fire
In: 3 Loxodon Warhammer

In order to make room for the Warhammers, I took out one each of my removal spells. Three Warhammers is the right number, because I'm already running a low creature count, and the last thing I want is to draw multiple Warhammers in a game, and not have a creature to equip!

I almost considered removing the Hit // Run from my deck entirely, for reasons that I'll go into below. If I had done that, I would have probably experimented with a single Pyroclasm in the deck – most of my creatures survive Pyroclasm, and many times I'll be able to cast it while my board is creatureless.

Game 9: BringerofWins (Rakdos Mirror)

I get an insane draw – turn 2 Coldsteel Heart, turn 3 Rakdos Signet and Jagged Poppet, followed by turn 4 Delirium Skeins. This enabled Hellbent on my Poppet, allowing me to strip BringerofWins' entire hand of six cards on turn 4. I draw Bottled Cloister off of the top of my deck, and the card advantage I generated was insurmountable.

Record: 5-4

In this game, I encountered a bug in Magic Online. It's pretty simple – if Bottled Cloister removes a split card from your hand, that split card stays removed from the game permanently. In my game against BringerofWins, I drew Hit // Run off of the Cloister, allowed it to be removed from the game at the end of my turn, and the Hit // Run was gone for good. This is why I considered removing all copies of Hit // Run from my deck at my upgrade to Rakdos Control version 4.0.

Game 8: MrJet (W/R Legends)

I kill his guys with multiple Seals of Doom and Fire, drop double Jagged Poppet and Rakdos Pit Dragon, enable Hellbent, and steamroll him.

Record: 4-4

It was about this game that I realized that regardless of whether you build Hellbent to be Aggro or Control, your deck is going to be fully aggressive once Hellbent is enabled. Rakdos Pit Dragon, when Hellbent, can kill on a single swing. Jagged Poppet wants to take out as many cards from your opponent's hand as possible. The difference between the two strategies is how you go about obtaining Hellbent, and which creatures you want to run. In aggressive Hellbent, your focus is around smaller creatures, and killing as quickly as possible. In control Hellbent, your focus is around larger creatures, and setting up the board so that your guys can swing through unmolested, ending the game in just a couple of swings.

Game 7: ArdyJay (U/R Izzet)

I get down Jagged Poppet, but before I can enable Hellbent, he Confiscates it! I throw a couple of Seals of Fire at the Poppet, making ArdyJay lose most of his hand. I drop Rakdos Pit Dragon down, but he has a couple of chump blockers, which allow him the time to cast Tidespout Tyrant. I don't draw a Seal of Doom or a Hit // Run to kill the Tyrant/force a block, and he grabs control of the game.

Record: 3-4

I had multiple games where my Rakdos Pit Dragon and/or Jagged Poppet were chump blocked, causing me to lose. This particular game made me start considering which piece of trample-granting equipment I wanted to add to the deck. You already know about the Warhammer, so let's move on.

Game 6: Tc1Magic (U/B Discard)

He gets Surveilling Sprite, Blizzard Specter, and double Dimir Cutpurse. I get down a Rakdos Pit Dragon, and use Seal of Fire to kill one of his Cutpurses. The Dragon holds Tc1Magic off for a turn, which allows me to draw a second Seal of Fire. I kill his other Cutpurse with the second Seal, cast Hit // Run to kill his Sprite, and start swinging with a Hellbent-enabled Rakdos Pit Dragon. Within a turn, he is forced to chump with his Blizzard Specter, and I coast to a win shortly thereafter.

Record: 3-3

Prior to this game, I had made some major changes to my deck. I went up to four of each Seal and each Hellbent creature in my deck, and added in four Coldsteel Heart. I really liked how Rakdos Signet accelerated me toward four mana (for Guildmage activation and to cast Rakdos Pit Dragon). Let's see how version 2.0 of Rakdos Control looked.

Rakdos Control 2

Out: 3 Gobhobbler Rats, 4 Hellhole Rats, 1 Rakdos Carnarium
In: Jagged Poppet, Seal of Doom, Seal of Fire, Rakdos Pit Dragon, 4 Coldsteel Heart

As you may have noticed, I had a full compleiment of Rats in the deck previous to game six. I found that Gobhobbler Rats were pretty ineffective control creatures – before Hellbent was enabled, they were Grizzly Bears. After Hellbent was enabled, I pretty much wanted to swing with them, not keep them back to block. Hellhole Rats worked pretty well for the deck, but they didn't do enough – my opponent would typically take two-to-three damage from the discard, and then I'd have another 2/2 on the board. My experience with Hellhole Rats is that they would make a fine addition to a highly aggressive deck as the finishing touch (maybe a deck with Hellhole Rats, Ravenous Rats, and other discard spells), but they didn't have a place in this deck.

I took out one Rakdos Carnarium because four was too many – often I'd draw them later in the game, and they would completely shut off Hellbent on my creatures.

Game 5: JusWannaPlay (Tidespout Tyrant/Urzatron)

He gets down a quick Tidespout Tyrant, and I kill it with a combination of Rakdos Guildmage and Seals of Fire. He drops a second one, chains it with Sensei's Divining Tops to bounce all my threats off of the board. He casts Azorius Herald, taking him up from two life to ten (thanks to a bounce), and then starts going bazonkers with the bounce, taking out several lands and creatures a turn. It was a great comeback, and I realized that I wanted to have more removal and less rats in my deck with this game.

Record: 2-3

I had made a couple of changes the previous game. Here was Rakdos Control version 1.0.

Out: Lyzolda, Twinstrike, 3 Wrecking Ball
In: 2 Rakdos Signet, 3 Bottled Cloister

I wanted to bring myself up to a full complement of Signets, and I wanted to try out Bottled Cloister – several forum members reported great success with Cloisters in their Hellbent decks, and I'm never one to shy away from card advantage. After all, if you're playing a deck where you want to unload your entire hand, chances are the Cloister is the last card you're going to play to the board. If it gets bounced/destroyed, you've lost nothing – and if it doesn't, you're seeing twice as many cards a turn as your opponent.

Twinstrike was just slow and cumbersome, and Wrecking Ball often sat in my hand – four mana is a lot to ask, considering my Seals cost one/three mana, and can just sit on the board. Every time I ended up wanting to cast Wrecking Ball, it was a turn that I couldn't cast other cards out of my hand, disabling Hellbent.

Lyzolda has a place in a deck with more creatures than this one. Nothing else to see here, please move along!

Game 4: Zamzi (Mono-White Soldiers)

I use Wrecking Ball and Rakdos Guildmage to kill his Field Marshalls, Veteran Armorers, and the such. I win with Hellhole Rats, Jagged Poppet, and Rakdos Pit Dragon.

Record: 2-2

Game 3: Bigguruk7 (Mono-Green Card Advantage)

He gets stuck at two mana, so I disable him completely by destroying a land with Wrecking Ball. I cast Gobhobbler Rats and Hellhole Rats, beat him down to seven, and then Hit // Run Wood Elves and Kavu Climber for the win. I wasn't very confidant that my only win so far with the deck came because my opponent was horrifically mana screwed. Record: 1-2

Game 2: Full Collapse (Leyline of the Void/Measure of Wickedness.deck)

Measure of Wickedness
He draws three Measure of Wickedness, and combines them with Leyline of the Void to prevent me from sending the Measures back to him. I can't kill him fast enough, and he ends up winning the game at two life. In my defense, I took a mulligan this game, and kept a hand one land and two Signets, and did not draw a second land until turn 5. Still, I probably should have taken the double mulligan – if any deck can deal with that, it's the Hellbent deck!

Record: 0-2

Game 1: Symbols (Tamanoa.dec)

This is my absolute nightmare matchup. He Pyroclasms my board away with two Tamaoa on the board, gaining him over twenty life. He drops Story Circle on Red and Reverence, and has plenty of White mana to spend on the Story Circle. Seeing as how my deck is lacking in any non-Red sources of damage, I lose the game. He ends up winning by getting two Searing Meditation on the board, and using Tamanoa, Faith's Fetters, and Lightning Helix to burn me out.

Record: 0-1

For the sake of completeness, here were the changes I made to the Rakdos Bloodsport deck for version 1.0 of the Rakdos Hellbent Control deck.

In: 3 Rakdos Pit Dragon, 4 Hit // Run, 3 Rakdos Guildmage, 4 Hellhole Rats, 3 Jagged Poppet, 3 Seal of Doom, 2 Wrecking Ball, 3 Delirium Skeins, 4 Rakdos Carnarium
Out: 1 Nihilistic Glee, 2 Demon's Jester, 2 Drekavac, 2 Ignorant Bliss, 1 Rakdos Ickspitter, 1 Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace, 2 Sadistic Augermage, 2 Cackling Flames, 1 Slaughterhouse Bouncer, 2 Slithering Shade, 2 Taste for Mayhem, 2 Torpid Moloch, 2 Scorched Rusalka, 2 Ragamuffyn, 2 Swamp, 2 Mountain

I took out all of the non-control creatures (Drekavac, Demon's Jester, Sadistic Augermage, Slaughterhouse Bouncer, Torpid Moloch, Ragamuffyn, and Scorched Rusalka), the Rakdos Ickspitter and Slithering Shade (underpowered), the temporary Hellbent enablers (Nihilistic Glee and Ignorant Bliss – control wants permanent Hellbent, not Hellbent for a single turn), a couple of lands (for Carnariums), the Cackling Flames (inefficient removal – I can play any number of removal spells that give me better than three damage for four mana – like Volcanic Hammer, if necessary), and Taste for Mayhem (down with enchant creatures!).

Tune in next week, as I jump back into Extended for a combo deck that's not to be missed!

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