The much-maligned Mercadian Masques block deserves a fair amount of the criticism it gets. It was oppressively dull in Standard (“untap, Port your Port”) and unfocused in casual, where Rebels and Mercenaries were meant to create new archetypes, but were too predictable and insular to be a success. There are individual cards that are exciting (or were—the Prophecy Avatars were the Titans of their day), but the one that first caught my attention back in the day was the all-but-vanilla Horror: Delraich.

Back then, a 6/6 Trample creature with no drawback was a big game. Black players were used to Derelor, Eviscerator, and Minion of the Wastes—and the alternate casting cost was tantalizing. I remember trying to modify my old-school mono-Black Hatred deck to fit in the massive Delraich instead of Phyrexian Negator (I was, I have to admit, ahead of the curve but still learning the game) and trying to sacrifice Sarcomancy tokens and Carnophages to power him out on turn three.

That didn’t end up doing much, of course—slamming down a Delraich means putting all your eggs in a sturdy but singular basket. Plus we only had access to actual hardcast creatures to sacrifice, instead of, say, Bitterblossom tokens or Cryptbreaker Zombies.

Wizards of the Coast revisited the Delraich cost—with an added life payment—in Demon of Death’s Gate, which saw even less play than Delraich, before fixing the situation with Dominaria’s Torgaar, Famine Incarnate. That evolution is the evolution of Magic in a microcosm: from giving you a requirement to giving you an option. You can cast Torgaar for his full eight, or for six, or for four, or for BB, and that flexibility makes all the difference. Still, Torgaar wasn’t exactly a Standard powerhouse—he was superb in Limited, where a couple of outclassed Knight tokens could power him out early. But I have high hopes for a recently-revealed Strixhaven card that has the vibe of a Delraich: Awaken the Blood Avatar.

Instead of being a 6/6 Trampler or a 9/9 Flying, Trampling Demon, Awaken gives us a much stranger payoff: a 3/6 Haste creature that deals three unblockable damage upon attack (and a one-time sacrifice for your opponent, which is potentially potent).

I’m ignoring the front side of Awaken—Extus, Oriq Overlord is fine, but we’re not building a grindy Mardu spell slinging deck. Instead, we’re trying to get out as many sacrificial bodies as we can on turns one and two so that we can hit Awaken the Blood Avatar for RB on turn three. One plan of action if we want to go down this route is:

This assumes no interaction from your opponent, which is asking a lot, and involves you registering a deck with Inquisitive Puppet. Rather than go all-out with an Awaken the Blood Avatar on turn three, I’m more drawn to playing it on turn four or five for BR as a top-end in a sacrifice-heavy Jund deck. The tools are our disposal are well-established by now—Claim the Firstborn, Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, Valki, God of Lies—but backed up by an almost combo finish in Awaken the Blood Avatar.

The unassuming Eyetwitch is Thraben Inspector reborn—it’ll never be impressive, but it’s crucial to the deck. Upon dying to Village Rites or Tend the Pests, Eyetwitch can get you two cards closer to Unearthing Kroxa by discarding a redundant Claim the Firstborn or land. Speaking of Tend the Pests—effectively a better Carrion—it wouldn’t even be close to Standard playable were it not an instant, allowing you to sacrifice a Kroxa in response to the trigger or a Firstborn you’ve Claimed from an opponent.

Here’s where I’ve landed on the decklist after a few days of brainstorming and revisions:


Creatures (26)
Valki, God of Lies
Skyclave Shade
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
Woe Strider
Blex, Vexing Pest
Extus, Oriq Overlord
Korvold, the Fae-Cursed King

Spells (11)
Claim the Firstborn
Plumb the Forbidden
Tend the Pests
Lands (24)
Fabled Passage
Darkbore Pathway
Blightstep Pathway
Cragcrown Pathway

The sideboard presumably would run a couple of copies of Pest Summoning to find with Eyetwitch—while the Eye Bat is better as a rummaging creature, it can’t hurt to take a sideboard slot or two for a Lesson. As I write this, none of the other Lessons revealed seem worth the opportunity cost, but there may be more attractive Lessons spoiled in the week to come—worth keeping an eye out (or an Eyetwitch out).

I’m trying out Plumb the Forbidden in lieu of Village Rites—it seems like it’s worth the extra mana for the opportunity to copy it, but it may get cut in favor of the old standby or a 3/1 split. Blex is probably too cute, but Search for Blex can provide enough Unearth fodder by itself to justify experimenting with two copies.

I’m defaulting to the current Pathway manabase I’ve been using—the Snarls are helpful, but the reveal criterion makes me leery until I can get my hands on a pile of rare wildcards and shuffle until the ratio is right. Once Strixhaven drops, I’ll update accordingly.

Strixhaven seems like a blast! I’m already angling to counter Tendrils of Agony with Weather the Storm at some point in Limited—and the creativity of the cards matches the “Wizards College” ethos of the world. I’ve been playing Kroxa decks for well over a year now, but it’s encouraging to know I can still be inspired to revisit the Titan with each new set. Kaldheim didn’t add much—beyond the mana base and the ubiquitous Valki—but Strixhaven has brought fresh inspiration.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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