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DeQuan Watson

    Many readers have gathered a lot of information about me through my writings.  For those of you that haven't though, this should tell you a little more. 

    I'm 25 years old and I own my own business. Well, more accurately I own a game store.  The Game Closet, my store, is one of the premiere places to play in the Texas.  I play Magic on a pretty regular basis.  I help people build decks and teach the game to people multiple times a week.  Owning a store is neat, because it gives me another perspective to write my articles from.  I can usually tell what the average player likes and can judge some of the tendencies of the average player a little better.  Of course, owning a store means I have knowledge of a lot of games and not just Magic.  I also find out my fair share of insider information on the industry.  But having other resources to pull from makes for more informative writings.

    However, I know a decent bit about pro level play as well.  I myself have
played on the Pro Tour.  I have multiple Top 8 finishes at Pro Tour Qualifiers.  I also have made Day Two at two Grand Prix tournaments.  I have also been invited to the Event horizons Invitational.  These are not stellar achievements, but high enough to let you know I have my head on straight when talking about the game. I also spend lots of time each week talking to, e-mailing, or chatting with top level players.  I get to see their perspective on a lot of things as well.  Between the two, I think I get a good sense of balance of the game.

    Most importantly, I still enjoy the game for the sake of the game itself.  I like the time, the competition, and the general interaction of players.  I plan to be playing it until it fades away...if it ever does.


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The Dragon's Den

Rakdos - Time to Get Hellbent!
By DeQuan Watson - May 11, 2006 

With Dissension now on the shelves, players have already starting making new decks. Of course, each of the new guilds brings its own strategies and ideas to the table. This is a good thing. Don’t be scared. Changes in the tournament environment are good. They keep the game from becoming stale and boring. But, I have to admit, it’s not a huge surprise when a new set changes an environment. Sometimes, that’s what we are hoping it does. In this case though, the Black/Red Rakdos guild seems to have put a new spin on things.

The Rakdos guild has one really interesting thing going for it. You get to play with no hand. Well, more specifically, the cards in this guild seem to give you amazing effects if your hand is empty. So often when we discuss Magic, we talk about things like card advantage. With card advantage you get more choices and options. The usually gives you an advantage over your opponent. This is one of the foundations that many card games have been built on through the years.

But, the Rakdos guild flips the
script on this whole idea just a little bit. Now, you are gaining a benefit from not having cards in hand. As a matter of fact, they even make use of cards that speed up the process. They’ll use activated abilities that cause them to discard cards. They’ll play cards that remove cards in their hand from the game. Whatever it takes to get their hand empty just might be worth it. This is all supported by a new and nifty keyword called Hellbent. Hellbent pretty much says, “I want my hand empty, NOW!“ You now get to enhance your board position by emptying your hand. It’s an interesting strategy and just like anything else, it comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

How do you defend against this new strategy? Well, honestly, it still remains to be seen what the best defensive strategy to this new and wacky guild is. We’ve had cards in the past that have emphasized card disadvantage, but this may be the first time that we’ve had a deck that is built entirely around the concept. The first thing you can do is take inventory of all the abilities that rely on the owner not having cards in hand. During the course of the game, this will at least give you a heads up on what to look out for. Nothing is worse than losing to something that was right in front of your face from the beginning. You shouldn’t get surprised by a card that was on the table for multiple turns. With no cards in hand, there should be no tricks that you are unaware of.

It’s also more important to learn the stack and how cards resolve. If you are aware of these facts, there will come a time or two in which you can manipulate the game state to your advantage. There will also be a time when the Rakdos player will try to reach that empty hand state to gain a strategic advantage. Using the stack to your advantage will allow you to disrupt this. Make yourself aware of what abilities can and can’t be used and when they trigger and how they resolve. This seems like a very simply thing, but it will be very important in winning a match or two against strong Rak
dos players.

The final point of defense is the obvious one. Don’t let the Rakdos player empty their hand. You may not be able to stop them completely. That’s understandable. But, even if you can manage to slow them down, it should help your case a little bit. If nothing else, it will buy you time. For instance, sometimes, Avatar of Discord may not be that critical to the immediate state of the game, but stopping it from coming into play will prevent the Rakdos player from dropping two more cards from their hand. So take those types of things into account. Even though you can deal with the creature by some other means, it could be worth wasting a spell counter to keep the Rakdos player’s hand clogged up.

Magic isn’t all about defense though. That being the case, what should the Rakdos player do to take advantage of this new game element? Honestly, it comes down to speed and trickery.

Speed can be deadly. Speed kills
(or so the saying goes). Rakdos can definitely emphasize that fact. The creatures that this guild has to offer are great in the early stages of the game. Gobhobbler Rats, Rakdos Augermage, and Jagged Poppet all lend themselves to forcing your opponent’s life total into the singles digits early own. They each offer a good power to casting cost ratio, which makes them awesomely efficient. There are even creatures like the legendary Lyzolda, the Blood Witch that serves double duty by filtering through cards and producing damage for you. Creature selection shouldn’t be an issue. There are plenty of ways for Black and Red to put the pressure on the opponent. There’s even a large array of spells to support this plan. For me personally Cruel Edict, Seal of Fire, and Char top the list.

But sometimes, to get the most out of your Rakdos spells you are going to need more than fast and efficient damage. So, the other strategy to help pave your road to victory is to empty your hand early. There are a few cards that were tailor made for this. The previously mentioned Avatar of Discord is one of them. For three mana, you get a 5/3 flying creature. To date, this is practically unheard and is completely unprecedented. And to boot, you get to discard two more cards. In some decks this discard effect would be considered a drawback. But for the Rakdos guild, this card might as well be the field general. However, if the Avatar of Discord is the field general than Jagged Poppet just might be your lead trooper. The Jagged Poppet can block creatures and keep your hand empty. But on top of that, while your hand is empty, he can punish the opponent by having them discard cards. Because of the Hellbent mechanic, having an empty hand can be extremely powerful.

Even with all of this being said, this isn’t a completely new theme. There have been many times in the past that when I’ve heard that life has a strange way of repeating itself. It’s interesting that this theory even applies to Magic. Back in 1997, when Tempest crashed the tournament scene, it changed the face of how competitive Magic was played. The set itself came with a lot of interesting ideas and concepts. More importantly though, one card really revolutionized the game: Cursed Scroll. Cursed Scroll made it acceptable to keep your hand size down. As a matter of fact, if Cursed Scroll existed today, Rakdos fans would be exploding with glee.

This time of lower hand sizes also brought with it a whole new style of play. Creature decks began to run wild and dominate the tournament scene. Many good players were baffled by this. Anyone paying attention knew why this worked though. The most efficient way to empty your hand is to play cheap creatures and efficient creatures. This would allow you to keep up the pressure while taking advantage of the Cursed Scroll damage. So, during the year or so following the release of Tempest, we learned a lot about how to play with a small hand size.

It simply causes you to change your perspective. Instead of worrying about option in your hand, you need to start looking at options on the board. Start maximizing your board position. Only play the best creatures. Be aware of potential combat tricks. Use the abilities of your creatures on the board to pick at your opponent’s game plan with every chance you get. Most of the creatures in the Rakdos guild get a extra bonus for having an empty hand. This makes your creatures on board superior in many ways. This seems like a fair trade though. You are giving up the element of surprise in exchange for brute strength. Make sure you are up to speed with what each creature you have is capable of. Without that knowledge, you’re giving up the biggest advantage that you have left for yourself.

It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out in the tournament scene through the coming months. Wizards of the Coast has done a good job of giving you a guild with flavor. You can feel the power and the urgency that Rakdos brings. It’s a happy go lucky feel that’s backed by a “go for the throat” type of attitude. For many players this is going to take some getting used to. As with anything all you can do is practice. For control players that are used to card advantage and keeping their hands full, the Rakdos guild presents a whole new plate full of challenges. That’s not a bad thing though. That’s why we love this game. We like the challenges. Hellbent and the Rakdos guild change things up. If nothing else, they force players to take a look at a different way to approach gameplay and deck building.




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