Commander 2019 Set Review – Merciless Rage

(Anje Falkenrath | Art by Cythia Sheppard)

M-M-M-M-M-Madness

Greetings, readers! It’s that time of year again, where black and red come out to play and prove once again that they are, in fact, the spiciest combination of colors you can put together. They always come out strong and are always decidedly entertaining. After all, there is no party like a Rakdos party.


Anje Falkenrath

The face card of this year’s Rakdos Madness deck is Anje Falkenrath. First of all, a black-red commander under five mana is where you want to be. Getting quick, early value, then finishing out the game with your big-mana spells (or a perfectly timed Rakdos Charm) is exactly how these decks get ahead and how they win. Her tap ability will help you filter down into your deck to help you get out of board stalls while enabling all sorts of Shenanigans. The added bonus of untapping her when you discard a Madness card is just gravy as far as I’m concerned; this gets better with Madness cards in the 99, but she has a lot of potential as a commander even outside of the Madness strategy.

Notable inclusions for this commander will be the strongest of the Madness cards, such as From Under the Floorboards or Avacyn’s Judgment. She will also increase the effectiveness of some of the more overlooked Madness cards to be a lot more playable because she is such a great enabler for the mechanic. I’m looking at you, Dark Withering. Remember also that casting a spell with its Madness ability evades normal timing restrictions; if someone is attacking you with their beefy Tuvasa the Sunlit, you can block with Anje, tap her to discard a Strength of Lunacy, and soup her up with instant protection. Take a picture of this moment and send it to me if it happens, because it sounds super sweet.

Even without Madness in your deck, she offers a relevant creature type to the colors, with all the flavor you could want from such a storied family on Innistrad. One issue that should be addressed is that the discard is part of the cost of Anje’s ability, not the effect, so a card like Library of Leng will not actually put the discarded card back on top of your library. Luckily, though, Anje doesn’t have to be the one to do all the discarding; if you discard a card with Madness through other means, Anje will still untap. This is honestly my pick for best face card this year by a mile.


Chainer, Nightmare Adept

A new Chainer for a new era of Magic cards. It is a little unfair to compare the original Chainer, Dementia Master to this new Chainer simply because they’re trying to do two entirely different things. Dementia Master is either trying to grind out the table or to combo them out, whereas Nightmare Adept is more likely to be an aggressive Aristocrats deck that’ll have some sweet haste-fueled attacks to take chunks out of players’ life totals.

Just remember to pack in every enter-the-battlefield and draw effect you can think of, or you’ll never be able to keep the momentum going with this guy. We’re looking for cards like Combustible Gearhulk or Phyrexian Rager, cards that either replace themselves or, better yet, put you in a position where you don’t care if those cards are in your hand or your yard. I mean, you’ll just be casting those creatures again soon anyway, right? And if you have something like Flayer of the Hatebound or Burning Vengeance, that damage will really rack up. The guide to building any good Chainer deck is to use your creatures like the disposable tools that they were always meant to be.

Outside of being the commander, Chainer, Nightmare Adept will do great in Aristocrat decks, offering both a free discard outlet to get creatures into your yard and a way to get creatures out of your yard. Chainer will also be great in a generic Reanimator deck, bringing back bombs over and over again from the yard. With any luck, this will allow Chainer, the enabler, to effectively dodge spot removal because everyone is more scared of the Inferno Titans and Grave Titans you keep bringing back.


Greven, Predator Captain

Another legendary creature who moved from mono-black to Rakdos, and who shaved off a bit of his converted mana cost (see Commander Greven il-Vec). The best part of this commander is the flexibility of its last ability, where you draw cards equal to the power of the creature you sacrificed and lose life equal to its toughness. This lets you refill your hand after playing out a bunch of creatures, then boost up Greven’s power for a hard-to-block attack. Use Hatred to power Greven up twice, or steal your opponents’ creatures with Act of Treason effects and sacrifice them to draw more cards!

Not only does Greven as the pilot of a deck give you a nice gameplan, but he also slides into decks like Najeela, the Blade-Blossom or ones that makes use of cards like Raiders’ Spoils or, if you’re feeling really spicy, Ball Lightning.

I can see players running this card in any deck that already runs Disciple of Bolas, gaining more and more card advantage if he’s allowed to stick around. Not only does he go into what is probably an aggressive deck, but he gets even better with multiple attack steps; his power just keeps growing and growing each time you sacrifice a creature to his ability.

Pro tip: unless you really like doing silly things, don’t sacrifice Tree of Perdition after switching someone’s life total with the Tree’s toughness. That’s a lot of life to lose, and drawing no cards doesn’t really seem super worth it.


K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth

If there is one thing the history of Magic: the Gathering has taught us, it’s that if you can cheat the cost of a spell by paying life, you probably should. The effect is so powerful that those cards tend to get banned. Does that mean K’rrik will be banned? I don’t think so. But he’s certainly no amateur. Chances are good that every time you see him, he’s going to do something splashy and impressive. Chances are also good that he’ll leave his controller with so little life that they might die if someone so much as breathes on them, so make sure you get rid of K’rrik before he’s able to lifelink or Exsanguinate his owner back up to a halfway-decent life total.

How best does one utilize K’rrik’s ability? With as many black pips as possible, of course! Ever want to get three black mana for two life from a Dark Ritual? How about a really scary Phyrexian Obliterator or Temporal Extortion for the low, low cost of 8 life? Or for the same amount of life, and a bunch of cards in your yard, you can go really wide with Empty the Pits. Who pays mana for spells anymore, right, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis?

We shouldn’t forget about the second ability on K’rkkik: he gets permanently bigger with each black spell you play. This brings to mind a card like Retribution of the Ancients, giving us additional use of our counters, and a two-life activation at that. Then make him even bigger with effects like Lashwrithe and Blackblade Reforged. Really, though, any creature that grows over the length of the game tends to be a good one.

In the 99, he plays well with any mono-black shell, and will likely save you a respectable amount of mana even in two-color decks; sometimes it’s hard to get your colors, and K’rrik’s life payments are actually pretty decent at color-fixing in addition to outright ramping you. Remember, though, when paying life for spells or abilities, that if you don’t have the life to pay in full, you cannot activate or pay it. Remember also that paying life is life loss and not damage, meaning cards like Glacial Chasm will not stop your life total from going down.


Aeon Engine

EDHREC’s own preview card! For those familiar with the Planechase cards, this effect probably looks pretty familiar. If it’s about to be your turn and then someone uses this effect, yeah, that doesn’t feel good. That isn’t what I’m usually looking for when I sit down for a game, though perhaps you can use this to really mess with the player who’s pulled too far ahead from the rest of the table. Regrettably, this card also does stone nothing when the game is reduced to just one opponent. Ultimately, I can’t say that I love it as much as Kya does.


Anje’s Ravager

This is the kind of card advantage that mono-red loves. When you have unplayable cards in hand or just bad cards for the current situation, you get to get rid of them and replace them. Better yet, you don’t even need cards in hand to discard, so you just get to draw cards even if you’re empty-handed! Frankly, this is a very situational card, but it gets better when you have haste enablers and a generally aggro-focused battle plan. Anje will make good use of it, and Vampire tribal decks will probably want a taste as well.


Archfiend of Spite

Sometimes these rattlesnake effects are exactly what you need to stop an aggressive opponent. Other times, they don’t matter at all. I take issue with the Archfiend, especially if an effect like Chandra’s Ignition (or even just some big creature with trample) deals damage to it but also deals enough damage to you, the trigger will be exiled as you lose the game.

That being said, there are worse Demons to run in Magic. To really take full advantage of this Demon, you’ll want to utilize that sneaky Madness cost, which not only allows him to slip into play for a cheaper cost, but can also slip him into play at instant speed, fashioning yourself a wicked blocker that egregiously punishes the attacker. Otherwise, you may find him roaming the odd Rakdos, the Showstopper list here and there.


Bone Miser

For those not in the know, this card is the creature version of Waste Not. Sadly, it’s also quite a bit worse. Five mana, and it only looks at the cards you discard, not everyone else’s. On balance, that’s easier to manipulate in a Madness deck. Varina, Lich Queen will probably enjoy the excess discarding, and a Cycling deck does discard quite a lot of cards, too. Personally, I would love to see the Miser in play with a Seismic Assault or Ayula’s Influence. Something something The Gitrog Monster, maybe?

Those options are interesting to consider, but all in all, I don’t think this card really has the makings for anything super special and is likely to get replaced fairly early on in any deck upgrades.


Curse of Fool’s Wisdom

Again, another card that is probably going to get cut early on in an upgrade to the base deck as it is too slow and way too person-specific. That said, I could see it becoming another option for a targeted kill in a wheel deck that forces everyone to draw tons of cards with Windfall spells. Or, with the right setup, you can potentially Madness this Curse on an opponent in response to their Blue Sun’s Zenith and make those pesky blue players pay life to draw cards, like every black player does. Still, it all seems like a bit of a stretch to make the card work. Wheel decks aren’t hurting for this kind of effect, and the single-target mass-draw punishment of this card is very situational.


Nightmare Unmaking

Do you know what spells are great in EDH? Board wipes. Even better are modal board wipes that get rid of things forever. Having this in hand allows you to really set up the board state in such a way that you profit from way more than anyone else at the table. That’s already true of most Wrath effects, but even more true when they have modality in addition to the timing advantage they already represent. I don’t think I can stress this enough, this is a really great card, whether you’re loading up on cards or actively discarding them. It will likely be ignored by most players, but it shouldn’t be: exile is powerful.


Sanctum of Eternity

Frankly, this seems like a no-brainer in Gonti, Lord of Luxury and Zacama, Primal Calamity decks right from the get-go. It’s an infinite combo with Zacama, but really, there’s very little that doesn’t combo with Zacama.

Let us not forget that your commander is always your commander, no matter what’s attached to them. Darksteel Mutation really bugging you? Song of the Dryads not leafing you alone? Try a Sanctum of Eternity to cure what ails you. Even if this effect is restricted to your turn only, that doesn’t mean sorcery speed. Make those inadvisable attacks and bounce your commander back to hand when your opponent makes the advisable blocks. If your commander are about to be destroyed or exiled, just return them to hand instead! It slices, it dices, and it even taps for mana!

I don’t see this becoming a much-needed land for most decks – there are just too many utility lands out there nowadays, so you have to be choosy with your nonbasics – but if your commander likes being played over and over, this land is your land.


Skyfire Phoenix

Like most other Phoenixes (Phoenices?) in Commander, this one feels really lackluster to me. The requirements to get them out for free are usually too difficult to meet consistently, and the payoff is a relatively low-power flyer. This is probably among the best Phoenixes for our format… but that isn’t saying much, and it still isn’t worth running.


Wildfire Devils

This card is the one I’m most conflicted about in the review. It highlights the classic problem of ‘doing the sweet play’ vs ‘doing the correct play.’ Is it sweet getting to play your opponents’ instants and sorceries? Yes. Is it correct to play Wildfire Devils? Probably not.

The issue isn’t even that the opponent is chosen at random. It’s that they choose the spell you get to cast. Yes, you get the spell for free, but since when has a random opponent acted in your best interest? You’ll very rarely get the exact card you want unless you’re able to eventually go through every card in the graveyard. Even if there’s just one good spell in an opponent’s graveyard, you’re not guaranteed to be able to choose them. If you’re in a red-inclusive blink or recursion deck with Panharmonicon, then maybe I can see this being worthwhile, but that’s a small window of opportunity.

Sorry, Devils. Wield your pitchforks elsewhere.


Madness, I Tell You!

There you have it, folks. The cards that only a Madness-themed Rakdos deck could give us, with a number of spicy pickups for just about everyone out there. I am definitely hoping to crack open this deck and see how it plays. Do you think my evaluations are correct? Am I going mad? Let me know in the comments!

If you see me at Magic Fest Las Vegas this year at the Commander party, come say hi! I hope to see you there!

Patrick is a co-host of the podcast Commander Time! and all around combo player. Some say, he might one day see a build around card he didn't like, but there is no proof of such a thing.