5, Mar, 21

Rakdos Arcanist Historic Deck Guide

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Article at a Glance

I’ve been playing a lot of Historic since the February 15 Banned & Restricted update that kicked Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath out of the format. Historic has felt fresh since this shakeup, with people trying brews out on ladder or tuning their favorite archetypes that were previously tier 2. Of course, decks like Azorius Control, Jund Sacrifice, and Goblins will surge in popularity now that the top deck Sultai Midrange has been gutted by the ban. But the deck I’ve enjoyed playing the most is Rakdos Arcanist.

I’ll be competing in the Kaldheim Championship on Magic Arena on March 26, and I’ve been taking my preparation for this split-format premier event seriously. Apart from it being a lot of fun, I think Rakdos Arcanist has what it takes to compete with the three decks I mentioned above. It’s interactive, it’s resilient, and it plays a lot of cards that can singlehandedly win a game of Magic.

I’ve put together this guide on the Rakdos Arcanist. I’ll break down the archetype, go over my card choices and numbers, and explain why I think Rakdos is one of the best decks in the format.

What is Rakdos Arcanist?

Rakdos Arcanist, also called Rakdos Pyromancer or even Rakdos Lurrus, is a Historic 

Red-Black hybrid Midrange/Control deck. The current Historic build leverages the cheapest Black and Red spells in Historic to power up Dreadhorde Arcanist, Young Pyromancer, and Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger. Lurrus of the Dream Den rewards you even more for cheap spells and helps you grind out the late game.

This style of deck has been playable in different formats since the printing of the card Young Pyromancer in Magic 2014 Core Set. This 2-cost 2/1, combined with cheap removal and disruption spells, threatens a powerful engine and a quick clock.


In most formats where the archetype is playable, the deck gains a pretty serious mana advantage over the opponent by playing the best cheap spells available. If all of your spells cost one mana, then every spell you play will likely trade from a more expensive card from your opponent’s hand or board board. You get even more bang for your buck when your spells come with a 1/1 Elemental token.

You get to play what is arguably the best card in Historic. Better players than I have written a lot of good things about Thoughtseize. Suffice it to say, poking a hole in your opponent’s game plan and gleaning information about their hand is an incredible effect in Magic, especially when it costs one mana. Thoughtseize is even better now in Historic without Uro, because you don’t have to worry as much about fueling the titan’s Escape, and because it’s easier to force a low-resource game when they don’t have access to Explore-like effects.

A Brief History of Rakdos Arcanist

Gerry Thompson took a Mardu Pyromancer list to the finals of Pro Tour Ixalan in Bilbao in 2018. Back then, that Modern deck complemented the Pyromancer and cheap spells plan with a Faithless Looting engine that powered out Spirit tokens and discounted Bedlam Revelers. The deck was a joy to watch, so I suggest catching Thompson’s feature matches if you’re interested in learning about the evolution of the archetype.

More recently, Luis Salvatto took the Historic version of the deck to 3rd place at the 2020 Mythic Invitational. Young Pyromancer had just been introduced to Magic Arena through the Jumpstart supplemental set, and Salvatto dominated the field by combining the Chandra cosplayer with a pair of powerful two-drops.


Dreadhorde Arcanist is the perfect card for a deck like this. It combines so well with Pyromancer by giving you access to more spells and therefore more elementals. It’s also capable of winning a game single-handedly. I’ll discuss play patterns more later, but if you manage to curve a one-mana Black spell into Arcanist and attack with the Arcanist on turn three, you’ll feel like you’ve got the game locked up. 

Arcanist was just banned in Legacy, and if that’s not a ringing endorsement of the card, I don’t know what is. 


Kroxa is the third card in the deck that fits the theme of “two-mana creature that snowballs.” While your cheap spells disrupt your opponent, generate 1/1s, and give you options with Arcanist, they also fuel Escape. This deck doesn’t actually draw many cards, but when your graveyard is also your hand, you don’t need the top of your deck. 

My Current Rakdos Arcanist List

Rakdos Arcanist Historic deck image


1 Lurrus of the Dream-Den (IKO) 226


4 Fabled Passage (ELD) 244

1 Fatal Push (KLR) 84

4 Stitcher’s Supplier (M19) 121

4 Village Rites (KHM) 117

2 Valki, God of Lies (KHM) 114

4 Blood Crypt (RNA) 245

4 Young Pyromancer (JMP) 372

3 Claim the Firstborn (ELD) 118

4 Dragonskull Summit (XLN) 252

4 Claim /// Fame (AKR) 229

2 Bloodchief’s Thirst (ZNR) 94

1 Phyrexian Tower (JMP) 493

4 Thoughtseize (AKR) 127

4 Blightstep Pathway (KHM) 252

1 Spark Harvest (WAR) 105

4 Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger (THB) 221

4 Dreadhorde Arcanist (WAR) 125

2 Mountain (ANA) 31

2 Swamp (ANA) 28

1 Agadeem’s Awakening (ZNR) 90

1 Castle Locthwain (ELD) 241


1 Lurrus of the Dream-Den (IKO) 226

3 Duress (M19) 94

1 Feed the Swarm (ZNR) 102

3 Fatal Push (KLR) 84

2 Bedevil (RNA) 157

1 Necromentia (M21) 116

2 Abrade (AKR) 136

2 Soul-Guide Lantern (THB) 237

I’m sharing this list with the caveat that Historic is still in flux. I’m trying out new cards every day, and I’ve played against a host of different archetypes on the ladder. I think this is a good place to start if you want to rank up but aren’t sure what you’ll face. 

I’ll spend a few paragraphs talking about the other cards in the deck and why I settled on the numbers I’m currently running.

4 Stitcher’s Supplier


Most of the deck’s win conditions require the graveyard to be nice and full. Stitcher’s Supplier may look dorky, but getting as many as six cards into the yard for one mana makes this little zombie essential to the game plan. The card is so important that I would consider taking a mulligan if my opening hand had neither Supplier or Thoughtseize. 

4 Village Rites, 3 Claim the Firstborn


Because we’re playing Stitcher’s Supplier, generating 1/1 tokens, and trying to play as many cheap spells as possible, Village Rites is the perfect addition to the deck. You’ll usually cast this spell to recycle a creature targeted by a removal spell, to get card advantage by sacrificing a token, or to use it with Claim the Firstborn as a build your own removal plus divination for two mana. It has enough cool applications that I would never go below four in the maindeck, and I would think hard before deciding to cut some post board. 

It’s also important to know a couple of tricks with the card. First, you should be looking to cast Kroxa from your hand on a turn where you have the spare Black mana to convert it into two cards with Rites. You’ll be pretty far ahead when you’ve drawn two and made your opponent discard a card for a measly three mana. Second, remember that you will not get a 1/1 token if you sacrifice a Young Pyromancer to Rites. Because of how the rules work, the Pyromancer is in the graveyard when Rites goes on the stack.

Claim the Firstborn is a very powerful card, but it’s bad enough against control decks that I don’t want the full four in my deck. I could see going down to two, but right now the format is full of players testing out their favorite creature deck. Claim absolutely wrecks creature strategies when you combine it with Rites and other sacrifice effects like Phyrexian Tower and Spark Harvest.

1 Phyrexian Tower


Okay, I need to emphasize how incredible Phyrexian Tower is for this deck. It can be very awkward when it’s one of two or three lands in your opening hand, but its upside more than makes up for those occasions. It’s a very tricky card that you’ll have to play with to master, but there are some things you should know. 

Similar to Kroxa and Rites, you can get a Black mana discount on Kroxa by sacrificing it to Tower with the discard trigger on the stack. This little trick helps you achieve the deck’s goal of squeezing every little bit of value out of each mana. Sacrificing a Supplier to Tower also gets you two mana and three cards closer to Escaping Kroxa, so be mindful of when that kind of game state comes up. Finally, you should be looking to keep up the Tower when your opponent might be playing exile effects. Even if you don’t have an instant-speed use for the mana, putting another card into your graveyard adds to your precious pool of resources.

Having said all this, I don’t think the deck can afford to play more than one copy. I’ll discuss the manabase a little more below, but just remember that it’s a colorless land when you don’t have sacrificial lambs in play.

2 Valki, God of Lies


Valki and his back side Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor may have broken Modern and caused a rules change, but in Historic Rakdos Arcanist this new card from Kaldheim is simply powerful and flexible. If you get to seven-mana and haven’t won or lost yet, Tibalt will help swing the matchup in your favor or shut the door. Having said that, I’m not likely to sandbag Valki in the hopes that he can show his true form in the late game. 

Think of the card primarily as a disruptive creature that you can get back with Lurrus and Claim//Fame. Once in every 15 games or so, you’ll find out why he’s arguably the most suspicious Planeswalker in the Multiverse.

4 Blightstep Pathway


When Luis Salvatto finished 3rd at the Mythic Invitational, a lot of players were surprised that he managed to do it with Arcanist.The deck was very powerful when it got going, but it was held back on the ladder in large part due to a lack of consistency. 

The mana base was awful for a two color deck, because you needed several things to be true at the same time. You needed a low land count because of the cheap spells, but you had to hit your land drops so you could get to Lurrus Kroxa Escape mana. You also wanted to play utility lands like Agadeem’s Awakening, Phyrexian Tower, and Castle Lochthwain. Last but not least, you needed enough colored sources to do things like Escape Kroxa on turn four or cast Claim the Firstborn, Village Rites, and another colored spell on the same turn.

While you still run into mana problems once in a while, I believe that the printing of the Black-Red Pathway has done a lot to help the deck get to tier 1 status. 

If your opening hand has several lands with a Pathway among them, I would wait as long as I could before playing it so I don’t lock myself into a color I won’t need more of later in the game. You also get some awkward hands with Pathway, and Dragonskull Summit, so aim to have your land come into play untapped on a turn when you can chain two important two spells together. Good examples of these key double or even triple spell turns are Claim plus Rites, Pyromancer plus Thoughtseize, or Supplier into Escaping Kroxa.

2 Bloodchief’s Thirst, 1 Fatal Push, 1 Spark Harvest


I think the removal suite is the aspect of the deck that should change the most between runs on the ladder. I’m trying out these numbers for now because I don’t have a clear picture of the metagame yet. It’s nice to have a versatile complement of cheap removal spells, with each one shining in different situations. 

If you want to play the deck at a high level, it’s important to know that Dreadhorde Arcanist interacts favorably with Kickers and additional costs. If you cast a Spark Harvest from your graveyard, you can pay either additional cost. This can come up in spots when you have Arcanist in play and you’ve stolen a creature. 

Likewise, you can pay the Kicker of Bloodchief’s Thirst from the graveyard to snipe a higher-cost threat. 
If you want to try different cards in the deck, there are some flex slots in this list. I would look to swap out a Valki and/or a Claim the Firstborn for other cards you think would be good in the deck. One card I’m interested in trying is Magmatic Channeler from Zendikar Rising. It plays somewhat like a worse 5th copy of Dreadhorde Arcanist and can help dig you out of flood or screw games.


Rakdos Arcanist Game Play

I discussed some important play patterns in the card choice section, but I think it’s worth going over some general guidelines in a separate section.

First, I think any potential Arcanist pilot should understand that the deck is not a linear strategy. An example of a linear deck in Historic right now is Goblins. That entire deck is designed to play Muxus as quickly as possible and as many times as possible.

Arcanist is a very open-ended deck where you starting hand, and more importantly, the two drops you have access to, will determine how you attack the game. To illustrate this, imagine a hand where you either have an Arcanist or a Pyromancer and a Fatal Push. If your opponent plays a two-drop you want to kill and you have the former, you probably want to fire it off right away so you can play your Arcanist and get value when it attacks next turn. On the other hand, you may want to wait if you have a Pyromancer instead, so you can cast the two-drop and the Push on the same token.

I don’t want to make it sound more complicated than it is, but I do want to emphasize how important it is to get value out of each and every spell you cast. 

One corollary to the theorem that Arcanist is very open-ended is that you need to work a little bit to find functional opening hands. The spells and two-drops work very well together, but there are some dead ends that you need to look out for. You should be ready to throw back these hands and keep one that has a plan.

I’ve saved some opening hands to try and illustrate this point. 

Keep or Mull 1

Rakdos Arcanist Keep or Mull 3

This hand’s mana is a little awkward because you can’t cast a Supplier on turn 1. Nonetheless, this hand is an easy keep because it gives you a card draw engine with Village Rites. 

Keep or Mull 2

Rakdos Arcanist Keep or Mull 3

This is another opener with a sketchy sequence of land drops, but it’s still a keep in my book. This hand brings up the exception to my rule of Arcanist not being linear. Kroxa gives the deck a linear angle. The last Elder Giant standing makes it your main goal to fill the graveyard and Escape Kroxa. 

The way this deck wins essentially is to lock both players into a low resource game through discard and one-for-one removal spells. Pyromancer and Arcanist help break the symmetry, but Kroxa is the true payoff for whittling away your opponent’s hand and board. 

Keep or Mull 3

Rakdos Arcanist Keep or Mull 3

Okay, Kroxa is good. But the card is not good enough to get me to keep this hand with no plan. This seven has two of the cards I want to see in my opener, but it has no way of enabling either payoff. I have seen many six and five-cards hands more functional than this.

A hand like this involving Arcanist would be something like 4 lands, Arcanist, Claim the Firstborn, and Claim//Fame. You need access to certain clusters of cards to make the deck work: Claim+Rites, Arcanist+Discard, for example.

Early Matchup and Sideboard Thoughts

I’m a little hesitant to discuss matchup and sideboard guides because I believe the format is still adjusting to the Uro ban. My sideboard is very much in flux, so instead I’ll provide some general pointers on how to approach what should be common matchups in the new Historic. I plan on updating this guide once I’ve gotten a better feel for the metagame. 

The first cards I cut are usually the Black spells that don’t line up well against the opponent’s deck. Against an aggro deck, I’ll remove the Thoughtseizes, while the Push and Claim the Firstborns make way for better cards against control. Beyond that, I usually trim on some number of graveyard cards, beginning with Stitcher’s Supplier. Supplier is fantastic when you’re trying to goldfish your opponent to Kroxa, but it’s much worse when you expect graveyard hate.

One strength of playing Rakdos is that the removal spells are extremely versatile. Your Abrades and Bedevils can deal with anything from Goblin Chieftain to Grafdigger’s Cage, while the latter can also kill a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. 

I’m less sure about the Feed the Swarm slot. I haven’t seen many copies of Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace, but if this deck gets more popular I know I’ll have to devote more slots to tackling hate. 


Goblins is probably going to be the most played deck after the Uro ban, so I want to have a very strong sideboard plan for this matchup. This is the perfect example of a matchup where I don’t have time to durdle with Stitcher’s Suppliers and Claim//Fame while my opponent ramps to Muxus. Some numbers of these cards will come out, to be replaced by removal spells. 


The game plan is to simply deal with most creatures your opponents play, and to delay your Thoughtseize until you can deny them a Muxus with it. This could also mean casting it before they have three mana to check for Goblin Matron, but it’s also fine to let them spend the mana to cast it before discarding Muxus. 

It can get extremely tricky when they have a grip of multiple Muxus, because it can be very difficult to deal with a resolved Goblin Grandee. I absolutely hate cards like Necromentia, but this is a spot where you can get some good use out of it. 

Thankfully, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about winning the game once you have control of the board. Kroxa loves to see you trading removal for creatures in the early game. They may board in Abrades to deal with your smaller creatures, but the deck is cold to a 6/6, save for a huge Gempalm Incinerator. But if they have enough gobs in play to kill your Kroxa, I don’t think you’re winning that game anyway.

Sacrifice Decks

This is a really interesting matchup where the onus is on you to deal with their threats before they assemble sac-tron. You should be looking to save your Claim the Firstborns for their three-drops like Mayhem Devil and Midnight Reaper. 


Pyromancer is a little lacklustre against Sacrifice, and your other creatures are great but vulnerable to your opponent’s Claims. You need to defend your threats by holding up Village Rites as much as you can. If they go for the Claim, you can tuck your threat safely away in your graveyard before bringing it back with Claim//Fame. 

I’m cutting some or all of the Suppliers in the matchup in favor of removal. If they’re playing the version with Collected Company, I wouldn’t bring in Lantern. It might be more useful against Rakdos Sac, but I’m not convinced.

Abrade is your best sideboard card in this matchup. It deals with all their threats and takes care of Witches’ Oven or Bolas’ Citadel, if your opponent is into that kind of thing.

Azorius Control

Of the three decks I’m covering, I think Arcanist has the biggest edge against control variants. You have a lot of dead removal spells and Claims in game one, so they can certainly steal it, but pretty much any Rakdos sideboard will be configured to match up well against counterspells and removal.


For the former, you bring in as many discard spells as you have access to but not the Necromentia. I may have forgotten to mention that I hate Necromentia. It doesn’t actually do anything against Azorius because that deck plays win conditions not named Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. And it’s card disadvantage in a deck where every resource matters.

You should time your discard spells to mess up their mana and sequencing. If you have a Thoughtseize on turn one I do suggest you fire it off, but you can cast a second one on turn three to protect a two drop. You can also cast a cheap threat on turn four before you attack, so they need to decide whether to counter it or play the Settle the Wreckage they have.

Stitcher’s Supplier also comes out in this matchup, because a 1/1 is not a threat on its own, it makes you vulnerable to graveyard hate, and you don’t need help filling your graveyard when your opponent is happy to do it for you by casting sweepers. 

Because each of your two-drop threats can take over a game on their own, you are heavily incentivized to play them one at a time to fade sweepers. It’s important to consider that you’re not killing them quickly, barring an early unanswered Kroxa. Your priority should always be protecting your investment with Thoughtseize and Village Rites. 

Arcanist the Omnipotent?

As you may have been able to tell from the near-4000 words about the deck I’ve written, I think this Rakdos Arcanist is extremely rewarding to play. It’s a top tier deck to boot, as long as you get your removal suite right and are mindful of your spell sequencing. 

It’s possible, however, that we could start seeing more and more graveyard deck aimed at pushing this deck and Sacrifice variants down. If that is the case, I do think it’s better to just play a different deck than to formulate a sideboard plan that plays around 4 Leyline of the Void.

Until that happens, I’ll be fine tuning the deck and possibly taking it to the Kaldheim Championship in a month’s time! 

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