Well, they’ve done it. Commander 2019 introduced a Madness commander into the format, and it’s a great time to be a brewer. Today, we’re going to get into the place that Madness has in the format and where we can take Merciless Rage fresh out of the box.

Madness has been a mostly unexplored mechanic in Commander for a variety of reasons. For one, it hasn’t seen a lot of support in Magic’s history, with the mechanic only showing up on a total of 49 cards in the game’s 26 year history. Those cards often cost more than their regular counterparts, but offer either a cost reduction or some sort of value while being discarded and cast for their Madness cost.

For instance, Doom Blade becomes Dark Withering, and Grave Scrabbler is a Gravedigger that can be cast while being discarded from your hand. Due to this cost disparity, you are reliant on your discard outlets to get the most value out of Madness. However, if you lose that discard outlet, then you can find yourself a step or two behind the rest of the table. That fragility, coupled with the lack of card support, has held Madness back for a while now.

Merciless Rage only gave us four new cards with the word Madness on them, but a decent amount of things that synergize with discard. Is that enough?

To be honest, I still don’t think that Madness will suddenly become a powerful mechanic in Commander. However, I do believe that it’s a fun and interesting angle to take with deckbuilding. Through some thoughtful edits, this deck can deliver some enjoyable games and exciting stories to tell.

Upgrading Merciless Rage

Right off the bat, let’s address how this deck will handle the flow of a game. At face value, the stock list has a Madness and discard package, and the late game is helped by a reanimation strategy through the likes of Chainer, Nightmare Adept, Champion of Stray Souls, and Doomed Necromancer. Our games will be spent discarding cards for value, and then finding ways to recur them as time goes on. Anje Falkenrath is most critical in the early turns, but then she’s needed less as we get into the big spell territory.

As for table politics, you’re going to be in a strange position. Go off too early and you become an unpredictable threat. Rakdos lacks a lot of the recovery and protection cards like Heroic Intervention, Boros Charm, and Teferi’s Protection, so we are weak to major boardwipes. However, if we start off too slow, then we’ll be stuck trying to catch up to the decks that have Green. Finding the right balance will fall somewhere in between. We can set up our value engine, but not try to run away with the game before we have a reasonable shot at winning.

Through time, we could adapt the list to lean one way or another, but I think that it’s best with a blend of both. Here’s why we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in one of the two baskets.

If we moved in the direction of straight discard, then we run into the similar problem that I mentioned earlier. Discard strategies require a few key pieces to grind out value and if they get removed by any one of our three opponents then we have a long hill to climb back up. There’s nothing worse than running out of cards in hand, and then every card we draw involves discarding resources we don’t have. At that point, our deck becomes our own worst enemy.

Turning this precon into a pure Reanimator deck, on the other hand, has its fair share of challenges, because it can be a fragile way to operate in a multiplayer format. Reanimator strategies are found in other formats because you can do things like cheat out a Griselbrand on turn one, but cheating a big creature into play means a lot less when you have three opponents at 40 life each. Also, there are now three chances that your early threat will be hit by a Swords to Plowshares.

Because of these challenges, Reanimator in Commander can either take the shape of a combo strategy or try and set up value engines to grind through a game. Combo players will get their pieces out with things like Entomb and single target reanimation like, well, Reanimate. Value engine players will do things like fill their graveyard up and cast Living Death, so that they end up with more threats than their opponents after it resolves.

While Chainer, Nightmare Adept is an interesting outlet for turning this deck into a Reanimator strategy, it remains to be seen whether he can stand the test of time against Karador, Ghost Chieftain or Sedris, the Traitor King. Your testing may find that you want to go outside of Rakdos to make your strategy more viable.

So now that we have a vision for the deck, what could we change to make it more powerful?

I think best place to start is to clean up some of the fluff that doesn’t provide consistent value. Things like Boneyard Parley, Hedonist’s Trove, and Bloodthirsty Blade could become Rise of the Dark Realms, Living Death, and Phyrexian Reclamation. Archfiend of Ifnir is an easy include for cracking down on token decks.

If you want to lean more into a creature toolbox strategy, then Tortured Existence is a great way of using your graveyard as an extension of your hand. If you’re worried about lagging behind when it comes to mana ramp, then Ghirapur Orrery is a neat addition to help you refill your hand and speed up your land drops. Finally, if having everyone discard cards is your jam, then Waste Not and Liliana, Heretical Healer are fine choices. However, if you really want to take a walk on the wild side, then join me in Jankville, USA with Null Brooch

As with any mechanic that has a fresh push from Wizards, there are going to be plenty of players that are excited to brew. While I don’t think that Madness is the standout winner this year, it has potential to be a nice support mechanic for graveyard-based strategies. Merciless Rage looks like a great starting point for that brewer out there, and will offer plenty of directions to grow with. You don’t have to sleeve up One With Nothing just yet, but at this rate, who knows what we’ll see next?

Travis is a Connecticut-based player and writer, who has been turning things sideways since Starter 1999. He primarily plays Commander, Pauper, and Modern, and has a passion for introducing new players to the game. When he isn’t attacking with red creatures, he can be found mountain biking or playing the guitar. You can follow his exploits here on Twitter and Instagram.

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