Deck Guide: Pioneer Rakdos Rock

While a huge chunk of the popular decks in Pioneer are composed of linear strategies like Mono Green Devotion, Boros Heroic, Lotus Field Combo or Izzet Phoenix, there is one traditional midrange deck that’s holding its own in the tumultuous Pioneer metagame. Red/Black Rock one of MTG’s most traditional strategies.

Bloodtithe HarvesterBonecrusher Giant // StompFatal Push


The “Rock” formula usually consists of playing cheap discard spells like Thoughtseize and the most efficient creature removal in your colors to support a suite of aggressively costed threats. With a Rock deck you plan to use these cheap interactive spells to slow your opponents down and buy time for your threats to either race your opponent or give you an incremental advantage over time that you can leverage for a win. In my experience there are usually three factors that draw players to this archetype:

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  1. These decks usually have relatively flat and unpolarized matchups. While many players love riding the highs and lows of variance in MTG, other players prefer to play closer matchups and try to leverage their play skill and format experience to find victories. This kind of dynamic usually appeals to tournament grinders and format veterans, and even if these decks aren’t particularly well positioned experts of the archetype usually can find some tournament success with them anyways.
  2. Rock decks tend to be extremely flexible in their construction, with the opportunity to slot in different threats and interaction from weekend to weekend based on the pilot’s perceived changes to the metagame.
  3. Rock decks are also simply very fun to play, at least in my opinion. The archetype is usually very popular if it’s viable at all and is typically a little over represented in formats due to this popularity.

Like I mentioned earlier i’ve found Rakdos to have a relatively even matchup spread across the format. However i’ve found the deck to be particularly bad versus Lotus Field combo and Niv Mizzet, slightly unfavored versus mono green devotion, and azorius control, and Rakdos Sacrifice, while being slightly favored versus the various flavors of aggro like mono blue, mono red, heroic. I’ve also found Rakdos to have a pretty even matchup versus most of the various Izzet variants with those matchups usually revolving around the Rakdos player aggressively using graveyard hate to try to stop any of the powerful delve spells from being cast. I typically find if the Rakdos player is able to control the Izzet player’s graveyard early thing things will usually work out for the Rakdos player and conversely if the Izzet player is able to resolve their Treasure Cruises in a timely manner then their overwhelming card advantage is almost impossible to beat.

While there are a few different variants of Rakdos Rock in Pioneer and lots of talented players working on the archetype, I’m particularly fond of the following 75 from MTGO user and Twitch Streamer misplacedginger. Derek has been grinding the deck nearly nonstop for the last few weeks and I recommend Rakdos pilots watch him play the deck on his Twitch channel: twitch.tv/misplacedginger.

Rakdos Rock - Pioneer

In my opinion the most interesting deckbuilding choice here when compared to other choices made by other Rakdos pilots is the decision to only play one copy of Kroxa. This decision looks odd at first glance, especially to Modern players who are used to Kroxa being a total powerhouse in Red/Black/x variants. However Pioneer decks have a much harder time filling up their own graveyards and there’s also more maindeck graveyard hate in Pioneer than you might expect with cards like Graveyard Trespasser, Unlicensed Hearse, and Karn the Great Creator all being quite popular. The combination of these two factors makes Kroxa much less of a premium threat than it might seem. That being said, the card does get discarded to Fable of the Mirror Breaker for value, is one of the few ways the deck can trigger revolt for Fatal Push, and is a nice late game value engine, so I think you should almost always play the first copy. This list does have a few other interesting cards that can be discarded to Fable for some incremental value:

Tenacious UnderdogCut // Ribbons


What I like about these two cards (especially when compared to extra copies of Kroxa) is that they both represent early two mana plays that offer value in the late game. The numbers here (two Underdog and one Cut // Ribbons) feel just right, but I could definitely see viewing these cards as flex spots. If graveyard decks like Izzet Phoenix and Greasefang ever become more widely represented I would recommend cutting two of these for copies of Unlicensed Hearse and I also think you could cut the copy of Cut // Ribbons for the fourth copy of Dreadbore if Mono Green ever rises to absurd levels of dominance again (like we saw in the first couple of weeks post Iteration/Winota bans). I could also of course recommend playing more Kroxas if graveyard hate ever becomes less popular.

Another card here that i’d really like to highlight is Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Kalitas is an old favorite of mine, I played the card all throughout standard and there was a long time in Modern where my Grixis decks in Modern would always have one copy in the sideboard. I’m really happy to see this vampire lord thriving in today’s Pioneer. One of the more important things Kalitas does is deny the death triggers of Old-Growth Troll, and Cavalier of Thorns. Four toughness is also a really crucial stat to have for a four mana creature as dodging Strangle and Fiery Impulse is really important. I have a hard time imagining that i’d recommend playing less that two copies in the maindeck anytime soon.

Here’s some general advice I have for piloting Rakdos

  • Fable of the Mirror Breaker is the best card in your deck, and I would keep almost any hand that has a Fable and the mana to cast it game one in an unknown matchup
  • One of the main reasons to play Bloodtithe Harvester is to enable revolt for Fatal Push. If you feel that is a relevant point in a matchup (most commonly vs Crackling Drake, Old Growth Troll, and opposing Kalitas)
  • Your manlands and Castle Lochtwain are a key piece of fighting the control matchups, while I usually find myself discarding manlands to Fable of the Mirror Breaker since they’d enter tapped I generally recommend holding onto them versus control.
  • The deck has a lot of three mana spells (this is partially due to the fact that Pioneer’s quality of two drops is generally pretty low) Keep this in mind when making your mulligan decisions as having at least three lands in your opening hand is pretty important and you probably want to mulligan most of your three-drop clogged hands on the draw (except ones with Fable of the Mirror Breaker)

For pilots looking to play this list in Explorer instead of historic you’ll need to replace the Kalitas, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Lifebane Zombie. This is easy enough as Mono Green isn’t present in explorer due to the lack of Nykthos and Lifebane Zombie and Kalitas aren’t nearly as needed. I would recommend replacing the Kalitas with the third copy of Chandra, Torch of Defiance and the second copy of Kroxa. I’d recommend cutting the Urborg for the first copy of Fabled Passage and the Lifebane Zombies can be extra copies of Unlicensed Hearse for the Greasefang matchup.

As always thanks for reading, here’s how i’d recommend sideboarding with this 75:

Azorius Control

In: +1 Invoke Despair, +2 Lifebane Zombie, +2 Go Blank, +1 Unlicensed Hearse

Out:-4 Fatal Push, -1 Strangle, -1 Cut/Ribbons

Mono Blue Spirits

In: +2 Lava Coil, +2 Hidesugu Consumes All, +1 Ritual of Soot

Out: -2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, -1 Kroxa, -2 Tenacious Underdog

Lotus Field

In: +1 Invoke Despair, +2 Lifebane Zombie, +2 Go Blank, +1 Unlicensed Hearse, +2 Alpine Moon, +2 Hidetsugu Consumes All

Out:-4 Fatal Push, -1 Strangle, -2 Kalitas, -3 Dreadbore

Izzet Phoenix

In: +2 Hidetsugu Consumes All, +2 Go Blank, +1 Unlicensed Hearse, +2 Lava Coil

Out: -1 Strangle, -1 Dreadbore, -4 Boodtithe Harvester, -1 Tenacious Underdog

Boros Heroic

In: +2 Lava Coil, +2 Hidesugu Consumes All, +1 Ritual of Soot

Out: -2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, -1 Kroxa, -2 Tenacious Underdog

Mono Red Aggro

In: +2 Lava Coil, +2 Hidesugu Consumes All, +1 Ritual of Soot

Out: -2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, -1 Kroxa, -2 Tenacious Underdog

Mono Green Devotion

In: +2 Epic Downfall, +2 Lava Coil, +2 Lifebane Zombie

Out: -1 Cut/Ribbons, -2 Tenacious Underdog, -3 Bonecrusher Giant

Rakdos Anvil

In: +2 Lava Coil, +2 Hidesugu Consumes All, +1 Unlicensed Hearse

Out: -2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, -1 Kroxa, -2 Tenacious Underdog

Niv to Light

In: +1 Invoke Despair, +2 Lifebane Zombie, +2 Go Blank

Out:-4 Fatal Push, -1 Strangle


In: +2 Go Blank, +1 Unlicensed Hearse, +2 Lifebane Zombie

Out: -1 Strangle, -3 Dreadbore, -1 Bonecrusher Giant


4 thoughts on “Deck Guide: Pioneer Rakdos Rock”

  1. Alejandro Sepulveda

    I am unable to see how is Fable good vs Mono G.

    It took me only one instance of me feeling miserable after landing a fable to recognize that I want to see 0 copies in that match up.

  2. Agreed. It’s too slow. Your best hope is thoughtsieze into 2 drop, followed up with as much exile removal you can get.

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