Rakdos’s Return by Daarken

Rakdos is the black-red guild from Ravnica. It revels in the glee of destruction, carnage, and carnivals. Your challenge this week is to design a card for the Rakdos guild. It must be black and/or red, though it can be any card type except for legendary (as legendary is reserved only for the guild leaders themselves).

All-Out Aggression

Rakdos likes to keep things simple. Start attacking early, and don’t stop until someone loses. Naturally, any low cost creature with high power you design will fit in perfectly. Even better are creatures with aggressive abilities, such as Rakdos Shred-Freak with haste which allows Rakdos to start attacking immediately, or Avatar of Discord which can attack freely in the early game since it will be the largest creature with flying for several turns.

Moving to the mid game, Rakdos has a particular fondness for Auras that increase power to complement their difficult to block creatures such as Riot Spikes or Taste for Mayhem, and Auras which increase power and also give some form of evasion, such as Deviant Glee and Madcap Skills. Any Auras you design should be cheap, and turn any creature into a reasonable threat by increasing its power.

For the late game, Rakdos has several cards which give it inevitability, from damaging players every turn with Havoc Festival to making blocking painful with Carnage Gladiator to the brutal efficiency of Rakdos’s Return and Demonfire or a few higher cost creatures like Carnival Hellsteed which can threaten to end the game on their own. Here, any of your designs which make the opponent feel a sense of dread and fast-approaching doom would work well.

Throughout the game, Rakdos backs up its creatures with some of the strongest removal in Ravnica, able to kill any creature with cards like Auger Spree and Dreadbore which help get rid of potential blockers and keep up the aggression. Removal can also be combined with Rakdos’s sense of inevitability for a more potent effect as well, for example with Rakdos Ickspitter which snipes small creatures while pressuring the opponent’s life total, or Mark for Death which can both kill a creature and set up the opponent to take a lot of damage.

As for new design space, one possible idea is playing with a sacrifice theme. Rakdos already has cards like Rakdos Guildmage and Crypt Champion which create multiple creatures to sacrifice, and has cards like Macabre Waltz and Morgue Burst which help it gain value from dead creatures. Combine that with cards like Rakdos Riteknife and Lyzolda, the Blood Witch which are repeatable sacrifice outlets and the start of a new archetype emerges.

Some ideas for how to design cards to support this archetype include

  • More sacrifice outlets
  • Effects which temporarily gain control of creatures (allowing you to sacrifice the opponent’s creature with your own sacrifice effects)
  • Effects which trigger from creatures dying
  • Cards which create multiple creature tokens which can be sacrificed.

Though if you do design a card which makes tokens, be careful that it feels more like a Rakdos card than a Selesnya card. The easiest way to do this is to make the tokens temporary, for example like Thatcher Revolt.

A Performance to Die For

Hellbent is an ability word which makes a card stronger if its controller has no cards in hand. For example, Cackling Flames increases from 3 damage to 5, and Demonfire becomes uncounterable. Hellbent has a lot of options in how it’s used, but typically works one of two ways:

  1. Getting in the last few points of damage
  2. Helping to regain resources

For getting in the last few points of damage, hellbent usually upgrades a card to make it more efficient, or otherwise generally more threatening. For example, Demon’s Jester goes from being a clunky creature to a huge flying threat, and Rakdos Pit Dragon becomes truly brutal in combat by gaining double strike.

Regaining resources usually means drawing cards in some way, as with Ragamuffyn or Blood Scrivener or it could also be more like Twinstrike which becomes an insane two-for-one if a player is hellbent, or Infernal Tutor which allows a player to get back with a literal Demonic Tutor.


For cards which support hellbent, obviously any cards which make a player discard cards can work, though there are some trickier designs possible here. For example, temporarily discarding cards, either like Ignorant Bliss does by temporarily exiling all of them, or like Spellgorger Barbarian and Thought Gorger do by discarding cards now and returning them later. Also possible are cards which use the discard as part of a larger effect, for example Delirium Skeins which makes each player discard cards.


Unleash is an ability which allows a creature to enter the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it, though it also makes that creatures unable to block as long as it has a +1/+1 counter on it. Of the two abilities, unleash is easier to design for but more difficult to get exactly right, since it has a very narrow line where it’s interesting. It needs to be on creatures which want the +1/+1 counter most of the time, since players like using their cards’ abilities, but those creature also need to be relevant enough for blocking that it is sometimes correct not to use unleash. The easiest way to work around this is to design cards with abilities that reward having higher power, such as trample or first strike, and assuming that players will always choose to use unleash unless they need a creature to block with immediately. As for cards which help support unleash, any card that cares about a creature’s power could help, as could any card which cares about life loss. For example, Cryptborn Horror can get significantly better with only a single point more of damage, which is exactly what unleash provides. One last possible way to support unleash is to just punish players for blocking in general, for example as Carnage Gladiator does.

Design Example

For this design, I began with the idea of supporting the sacrifice archetype I mentioned earlier. It began as an enchantment which made a Spark Elemental each turn, but I decided to change it to allow a player to sacrifice any creature to make it a little more versatile in how players use it, allowing them to sacrifice smaller creatures or creatures they gained control of with Act of Treason style effects. The final step was to add the hellbent clause preventing sacrifice to make it more relevant in the late game.

Nightmare Surge

Well, I hope Nightmare Surge lives up to the Rakdos guild. And I hope I’ve provided some ideas to help you design your own Rakdos card for the contest. Just remember that all the world’s a stage, and the audience hates a bore and loves bloodshed and I’m sure you’ll all do great with your designs.

A photo of Andrew EvansAndrew Evans

Andrew Evans has been playing Magic since 2000, and designing custom cards since 2007. He's a regular at FNMs, and enjoys dissecting games to figure out how they work.