Playgroup Brews – Ravnica Allegiance (Pt 2)

(Rakdos the Showstopper by Viktor Titov | Nikya of the Old Ways by Ryan Pancoast | Teysa Karlov by Magali Villeneuve)

The Authors’ Brew

Hey readers! It certainly has been a while! Work caught up with me and, sadly, the Part 2 of Guilds of Ravnica Playgroup Brews never made it to completion. Instead, we writers decided to finish it up this second installment with Ravnica Allegiance! 

For this Playgroup Brews, we’ve brought in the underdog, Mason Brantley, and our resident chaos expert, Kya Vess! We picked three of legendary creatures from this sets guilds, and we hope you enjoy this edition of Playgroup Brews! Considering we’re all familiar with this time around’s writers, let’s jump right into our articles!


First Impressions: Rakdos, the Showstopper

Christian: I have to be honest, I originally read that you flipped coins whenever Rakdos attacked, and I was much more excited for that. However, the ability is still goofy and ridiculous and exactly the types of shenanigans one should expect from Rakdos! I’m excited to see what Kya brews!

Mason: That is… not what I was expecting from Rakdos. I don’t like coin flips as a mechanic, personally, and I was shocked to see it introduced into Standard. With that said, it’s a unique effect, and while I may not be the Captive Audience for Rakdos, I am very much excited to see it in action. My favorite idea I’ve heard for the Showstopper so far is “Hell tribal.”

Kya: Rakdos, the Showstopper definitely shows us how being bad can look so good! That’s why I’ve chosen to write about him in today’s article. I’ve always loved Rakdos himself and how he was always a destructive force against the typical political struggle of the guilds. Seeing him reborn gave me new inspiration for a deck I always wanted to make.


Kya’s Rakdos Deck Tech: The King of Chaos

A 6/6 flying, trampling Demon for 6 is always nice. Get it? 666? I hope that was intended, at least.

I feel as though this ETB ability really hit a home run for Rakdos. He’s always been a win for flavor, but this time he does what I love most: stopping the show! While your opponents are doing the same mundane thing with their little schemes and hopes for glory, our new commander will come crashing in to stop it all! His coin flip ability is pretty fun, causing chaos and letting the fates decide who is worthy.

However, why stop there with the chaos? We all know my opinion on spreading a little mayhem, so lets kick it up a notch and pepper in a little something that I’ve always wanted to add into the mix, but couldn’t before…

 

Krark gives this Two Thumbs Up!

Coin flip effects! That’s right, we’re going to make a Chaos Coin Flip deck! Cards involving coin flips are admittedly few and far between, so a commander who waves the coin flipping banner is a great place to sprinkle a little randomness into the game, and sow a little fear into the hearts of our enemies! We’re going to jam in as many impactful coin flip effects as we can, sprinkling in our usual chaos along the way.

For those who know me, I typically like my chaos to stretch into as many colors as possible. Luckily, Rakdos and his colors gives a dark element to our chaos, and I like that so much that I don’t even need other colors! It’s mayhem with an underlying theme of destruction. And of course, it’s Rakdos, so we’re going to make sure the chaos stays in our favor. Krark’s Thumb is the centerpiece, ensuring we get the results we want… hopefully. As they say, two heads are better than one!

Now let’s look at some of these coin flip cards! We can weed out a lot of low-impact spells from the pool of potentials, but some really resonate with me. Chance Encounter is going to be our ticket to win town, especially with Krark’s Thumb ensuring we double our chances of success! (Do remember to keep an eye out for cards that specify whether you ‘win or ‘lose’ a coin flip, though, rather than cards like Rakdos who just are if the coin comes up heads or tails!) Fiery Gambit lives up to its name, and Boompile is a Commander classic from C16. As you can see, we still have plenty of coin flip effects worthy of a decent and fun Commander deck!


Beauty in Destruction

Of course our commander’s big party trick is the destruction of all those who oppose him, so we can add some cards that support this theme along with our layers of chaos. Want to see people cringe? Watch as Rakdos blows up half the board and then Endless Whispers scatters them across the field! Or as </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">Revel in Riches goes crazy when your commander goes off and you get plenty of mana to cast your insanity! Finally, if your commander isn’t doing enough in your mind, be done with it and cast Last One Standing!


Return of the Classics

Many might think that because we’re missing blue, our chaos is missing important cards like Eye of the Storm, and will end up weaker as a result. However, I laugh at this notion! I say we revolt in the streets and burn down their house for saying such things! Red will give us countless chaos cards to play with. Scrambleverse and Thieves Auction are an obvious go-to. One must also never underestimate the number of artifact chaos cards, allowing us to go ham in any colors. Black also allows us to add fun tricks like Cruel Entertainment to contribute to our mess!


The Splash Zone

I wanted to make a special mention of Captive Audience, as you’ll see it missing from my decklist below. When this was first spoiled I was stunned by the absolute beauty of this card. I immediately looked at a few decks I could cram it in.

However, after a little thought, I would not recommend playing it in a chaos deck. To be honest, I wouldn’t add it into multiplayer in general. This is a level of targeting has the sole intent of slowly shutting a single person down. Although it’s just a game, and the object of the game is to win, I see nothing but drama when playing with a card like this.

You of course, know your friends and playgroup better than me or anyone else. If you think your friends can handle it, have at it! If you’re going to an uncharted waters against a group of folks you don’t know very well, though… maybe leave this card at home.


Now Behold! The Show We’ve All Been Waiting For!!!!

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Buy this decklist from TCGplayer


First Impressions: Teysa Karlov

Christian: This just seems like the perfect card to capitalize on sacrifice effects. Naturally my go-to would be a deck that focuses on making Zombie and Spirit tokens when creatures die. I think that this will be a very streamlined deck with lots of repeatable effects. Extremely strong and straightforward.

Kya: She seems like a fun commander if you have the right support. Double the effects of Skullclamp, anyone? Lots of value here. As if that wasn’t enough, she gives your tokens some nice keywords. I have to say I’m jealous of the Orzhov color combination overall for commander; you could have Teysa in the command zone or in the 99 with any other legendary creature in these colors and they’ll all synergize beautifully with one another. It’s up to you if you want your main centerpiece to be a sac outlet or the creature that benefits from the sacrifices themselves.

Mason: I fell in love at first read with Teysa. After just one look, I immediately started putting a list together. I had always wanted a BW-Aristocrat deck, but the other legends didn’t necessarily do it for me. She has strong synergies with many cards I’ve always wanted to use, and I am so excited to play her.


Mason’s Teysa Deck Tech: The Past, Present, and Future of Aristocracy

I have always wanted a BWx Aristocrat commander. I recently wrote about Krav and Regna in my own series, the Underdog’s Corner, and I really enjoyed the concept behind the Partner pair. I put off committing to them in anticipation of the release of Ravnica Allegiance, and my wait was rewarded with Teysa Karlov. As mentioned in the ‘First Impressions’ section, it was love at first sight.


Dreams Coming True

If you somehow have dodged all discussion of Teysa (or this is your 24th time reading an article on her), indulge me for a second. Simply put, Teysa doubles our death triggers. “Death-harmonicon” is a common nickname, and it’s an easy memory device. She also gives creature tokens vigilance and lifelink, but she already excited me even without that last line of rules text.

As my career as a primarily EDH player has progressed, I have slowly amassed cards that I have wanted for certain decks and archetypes. Sometimes it works out and I have permanent homes for those cards, but more often than not, they end up stranded in my binder waiting for their time to shine. The archetype that’s built up the most unused cards so far? You guessed it: Aristocrats. Now, they finally have a home.


Why does she matter? 

If you couldn’t tell, I love tokens. These cards all uniquely make tokens. Twilight Drover utilizes +1/+1 counters, Hallowed Spiritkeeper cares about the number of creatures in your graveyard, and Requiem Angel just wants to watch everyone die. I’ve usually viewed those cards in just that context, but Teysa pulled them into focus.

When creature tokens die, the Drover gets twice as big and continues to make tokens. We’ll start off making two spirits with the Spiritkeeper, and it will scale with the game. Then there’s the biggest of them all; Requiem Angel can turn every single non-Spirit death into two spirits. Notice that she doesn’t have a “nontoken” or “token” rider. Everything is fair game for the afterlife.


Greasing Death’s Wheels

I’ve seen a lot of focus on Teysa’s death triggers, but my puzzle so far has been balancing the other aspects of her deck: sacrifice and recursion

While this deck will make its money on the back of death triggers, to my mind, sacrifice outlets will actually be the most important aspect of the deck. We want to dictate the terms of our creatures’ deaths, and without outlets, we’ll rely too much on our opponents. These outlets give us value and let us set the tempo of our engine. While the Altar Sisters are incredibly well-known, Spawning Pit and Yahenni, Undying Partisan will make their presence just as known.

The whole point of this deck will be to continually generate death triggers. That means we need to be able to recur bodies to keep the engine running. This can be through one-shot recursion like Wake the Dead or Rally the Ancestors, repeatable recursion like Phyrexian Reclamation, or through bodies that don’t stop coming back like Reassembling Skeleton and Bloodsoaked Champion.

All of these are important, and this balance is one of the hardest aspects of building the deck so far. For my decklist below, this will by far be the roughest part of my draft. This is how I’ve approached my version of Teysa Karlov, and I’m excited to sleeve the deck and put her to the test.


And now, Teysa Karlov!


First Impressions: Nikya of the Old Ways

Kya: She’s what Gruul wants in a gal! Focusing on the ‘might makes right’ philosophy and giving yourself a boost for doing so. I’d argue the flavor hits well, forgetting fancy spells and remembering where true strength comes from. At the end of the day, Commander is a really tough game for creature-heavy decks, especially if you can’t use noncreature spells to help pump your creatures or assist in making tokens. I think it would be fun to float tons of double-mana, then sacrifice her to cast some huge, nutty spells. Sounds silly, but so is she.

Mason: Commanders that generically add mana usually are a “no” for me; I typically like to have some direction within the text box. However, Nikya breaks that mold by adding a significant drawback. I personally love it, even despite the restriction. My mind immediately jumped to an old favorite of mine, Obsidian Fireheart, and I think I could revisit her in the future.

Christian: While I started out with Grixis colors in EDH, I have quickly come to love the addition of green. I have a four color Yidris Landfall permanents-only deck, and Nikya not only is going straight in there, but is also right on theme with what I like to call “Mega-Mana-Mayhem.” She definitely has a ‘go big or go home’ playstyle that I was really excited to brew with.


Christian’s Nikya Deck Tech

Wowza, this is a fun commander. I really like a mana doubler in the command zone. It seems very similar to a Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger deck. Just take out some spells and add red instead. There are a few key attributes to this deck that make it work effectively, but otherwise it has a very simple strategy: make big mana, use big mana, fight fight fight, win. Sound good? Let’s do this.


Make Big Mana

To begin with, Nikya’s mana doubling is great… but what if we could do more of it? We’ve already mentioned Vorinclex, so let’s add him into the pile. I know that this goes against Nikya’s ‘only creatures’ clause, but I also included two enchantments in the mix that duplicate her ability: Mana Reflection and Zendikar Resurgent, the latter of which adds vital card draw, considering how many creatures we will ultimately run in this deck. In addition, this deck seems useful for Helm of the Host. You can either get more and more mana, or repeatedly duplicate a stronger creature.

Obviously we will play big creatures, but we need some fast ways to get to them. Normally I would add some ramp like Skyshroud Claim to pull out some lands or Rampant Growth, but here, it’s not worth it, because Nikya could make them dead spells later in the game. Instead, we’ll use creatures like Wood Elves, which will still be useful at any time. Realm Seekers is a great choice too, because it can have a big board presence and can use excess mana to get a large influx of lands.

Creatures that fetch lands are good, but so are creatures that untap lands. An Elvish Mystic will produce one mana every time you tap it. An Arbor Elf will effectively make two mana due to Nikya’s ability. This is especially pertinent with cards like Magus of the Candelabra, where you can, for example, tap 8 lands, make 16 mana, tap the Magus to untap those 8 lands (with 8 still floating), and then make 16 more mana! Crazy combinations!


Use Big Mana

In my opinion, there are two good ways to use “big mana.” You can either make really big creatures, or you can flood the mana into abilities. The big creatures are even better if you have an X cost in their casting cost, such as Hydras. For example, Genesis Hydra has the potential to be absurd in this deck, along with Protean Hydra and many others. Meanwhile, you can use something like Wolfbriar Elemental to get an army quickly with Multikicker.

Repeatable effects can be very beneficial as well. Hoard-Smelter Dragon lets you use an excess of mana to not only trash your opponents artifacts, and also buffs itself. Ashling, the Pilgrim can help act as a boardwipe and general removal, and Ant Queen can create an army at your command. Duskwatch Recruiter allows for important card advantage. (Thanks for the suggestion, Mason!)

Of course, there are plenty of Hydras like Polukranos, World Eater and Savageborn Hydra, which are a good blend of both uses. You can put a huge amount of effort into the mana cost and also utilize abilities to manipulate the field and buff creatures. Monstrosity is especially good in this deck.

It’s also wise to capitalize on your opponent’s turns, too. We have cards like Seedborn Muse and Patron of the Orochi, which allow us to untap our lands to use abilities on our opponents’ turns. Flash is a great mechanic, and Yeva, Nature’s Herald and Vedalken Orrery will let us play our creatures whenever we need. This is especially crucial for creatures with utility effects when they enter the battlefield.


Fight Fight Fight

Now that we have an idea of what our deck does, how do we win? The game plan is to get Nikya out as soon as possible to make big mana, and protect her as fast as possible. Not only that, but we should try to restrict opponents to our same limitations by using cards like Ruric Thar, Unbowed and Nullstone Gargoyle.

Basically, though, the main win condition is to just beat down with big creatures. Tilonalli’s Summoner is a force to be reckoned with, making tons of little creatures that will be hard to deal with. Meanwhile, Stonehoof Chieftain, Nylea, God of the Hunt, and Xenagos, God of Revels are all incredible at buffing creatures. In addition, Hellkite Charger gives us an absurd number of attack steps with all our mana.

Then, of course, we have the true endgame: Primal Surge. ‘Permanents only’ works with Nikya very well, and can end the game very easily, but its a ‘go big or go home’ scenario.


Streamlining

When we have this much mana available, we’re going to plow through our hand. We’ll play so many creatures that it’ll be crucial to have a significant portion of our deck devoted to card draw. Soul of the Harvest, Garruk’s Packleader, and Regal Force are all very good ways of capitalizing on our creatures. Not only that, but cards like Vizier of the Menagerie help us use our mana to play cards from the top of our deck, while something like Paleoloth capitalizes on our big creatures to add in some recursion.

One thing that I’ve learned playing Commander is that variety isn’t always better. Variety is good when it comes to utility, but you also need a significant amount of repeatability within those cards. More consistency with Nikya’s ability, card advantage, and the use of activated abilities will all help the deck become more streamlined and effective.

Reflecting on this deck, there may be some cards missing in the lower-cost areas, and maybe more mana dorks could be added, but I think it’ll be fine; the deck gets explosive once you hit five mana, which is fairly easy to do in Commander, particularly in the casual settings where this would be played.


Now it’s time to BEAT. SOME. FACE.

MAKE BIG MANA, USE BIG MANA

Commander (1)
Creature (54)
Sorcery (1)
Artifacts (4)
Enchantments (2)
Lands (38)


The End Step

Thank you for reading, everyone! I’m glad we could finish out this Ravnican round of Playgroup Brews.

What did you think of these decks? Does Rakdos need even more chaos than Kya gave him? Does Teysa need to hold back on her death shenanigans before she gets in over her head? Should Nikya have more low-cost cards to help her explode out of proportion? Let us know in the comments!

While getting a degree in evolutionary biology, Christian spent all of his free time in college building commander decks after being introduced to the MTG in the Theros block. After spending the last several years building and playing biologically-themed tribal decks and surprising people with wonky builds of well-known commanders, he decided to share his thought and design process with the community, incorporating ideas from his many playgroups into articles, while also spending way too much of his life underwater. Find him on twitter @Evol_Leap!