Someone at Wizards is deeply invested in pushing Rakdos Planeswalkers, and I’m as grateful as they are dedicated. First we had Tibalt, who made up for his role as a decade-long punchline by briefly snapping Modern in half; now we have Ob Nixilis, the Adversary, who is closer to the Oko side than the Nissa side of three-mana Planeswalkers. Ob Nixilis is deceptively powerful—while it doesn’t help you catch up, it can slam the door on a game where you have an advantage, particularly when sacrificing creatures is more of an advantage than a drawback. Luckily, we’re in a sweet spot where Standard, Pioneer, and Modern all have respectable decks based on sacrifice synergy, and all are primed to be under the iron thumb of Oni Soprano.

In Standard, the base-Black decks with Shambling Ghast, Eyetwitch, Lolth, Spider Queen, etc. have embraced the Adversary. Anvil-driven Rakdos and Mardu variants have sprung up, but it’s the Jund variant that has the most legs, as it gets to run several armies-in-a-can card, from Ob Nixilis to Lolth to Esika’s Chariot. Chariot plus Ob Nixilis isn’t exactly Cascade into Tibalt—if you have an Ob Nixilis, his token, and a Chariot out, you were already going to win that game—but it is an interaction that Wizards perhaps didn’t fully anticipate. When the design team was working on Esika’s Chariot, I doubt that they considered the extreme corner case of “Planeswalker tokens.” In addition to that interaction, Jund gets to play Prosperous Innkeeper, who jump starts the deck, ramping us to a turn three Chariot and providing a willing corpse for Ob Nixilis.

In Pioneer and Explorer, Ob Nixilis gives Rakdos Sacrifice another angle of attack, so this is where I’m most excited for him to shine. Mayhem Devil turns on the life gain mode of Nixilis without needing to create a Devil first, but the Devil tokens can gum up the ground against Stompy decks. Rakdos Sacrifice is a game of inches, where you might squeeze the last three life out of your opponent with various Mayhem Devil and Cauldron Familiar triggers, so it’s great to have backup from Ob Nixilis and his host of Devil tokens.

Since Explorer launched, I’ve been playing the format extensively, adulterated with dips into New Capenna Limited. It’s refreshing to have a wide-open format without the frequent “rebalancing” of Historic, and I’ve been able to fuse my dearly-missed Ravnica/Throne era Rakdos sacrifice deck with the current Standard base-Black sacrifice deck. The core of the deck is the Mayhem Devil, Cauldron Familiar, Witch’s Cauldron synergy, with Korvold to close the game out and a smattering of Thoughtseizes and Fatal Grudges to clear the way.

It doesn’t match up very well against Winota, although The Meathook Massacre ameliorates that a bit. But in an open field, it’s flexible and powerful enough to compete. I also have won a game by cracking with Korvold for seven, then dropping a post-combat Ob, sacrificing Korvold and forcing them to draw seven and take seven. That’s infrequent, but you really can’t put a price on it. Here’s the list:

Explorer Jund Sacrifice

Creatures (18)
Cauldron Familiar
Prosperous Innkeeper
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
Mayhem Devil
Rankle, Master of Pranks
Korvold, Fae-Cursed King

Planeswalkers (4)
Ob Nixilis, the Adversary
Vraska, Golgari Queen

Spells (14)
Witch's Oven
Deadly Dispute
Fatal Grudge
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
The Meathook Massacre
Lands (24)
Fabled Passage
Cragcrown Pathway
Darkbore Pathway
Blood Crypt
Overgrown Tomb
Stomping Ground

Nothing really earth-shattering here—it’s an evolution of the old Standard/staple Historic Rakdos sac deck—but Ob Nixilis has given it a new level of adaptability. My axes of enjoyment are generally “how fun is this to pilot” and “how likely is this to get a long pause and a concession,” and this hits the top quadrant on that with aplomb. Originally, I ran more copies of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, and may end up running it again as the format evolves, but so many of our creatures are Legendary that it underperformed. Nothing wrong with copying a Cauldron Familiar, but we can set our sights higher.

Finally, in Modern, I’ve begun exploring Jund Yawgmoth, Thran Physician combo. The addition of Ob Nixilis gives us another route to drain our opponent out and a Devil token to start the Yawgmoth chain if we’re light on available creatures. Branching into Red also has opened up the Imperial Recruiter variant of the deck—the main advantage of this is that we can shave down some of our combo cards. In addition, Recruiter can fetch our Undying creatures, Yawgmoth, or Grist, and provides a dependable body to sacrifice to Ob Nixilis.

Recruiter wasn’t enough to splash Red by its lonesome, but with another compelling reason to dip into Jund (and Ob Nixilis is about as compelling as it gets), we can run something like my current list:

Modern Jund Yawgmoth

Creatures (25)
Ignoble Hierarch
Birds of Paradise
Blood Artist
Zulaport Cutthroat
Strangleroot Geist
Imperial Recruiter
Devilish Valet
Geralf's Messenger
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician

Planeswalkers (5)
Grist, the Hunger Tide
Ob Nixilis, the Adversary

Spells (7)
Eldritch Evolution
Chord of Calling
Lands (23)
Verdant Catacombs
Bloodstained Mire
Ziatora's Proving Ground
Overgrown Tomb
Stomping Ground
Blooming Marsh
Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Boseiju, Who Endures

Yawgmoth Combo has a couple of weaknesses. It has a punishing mulligan threshold, since we need to come out of the gates fast and in proper sequence. And we can hit some rough draws, since we’re running eight mana accelerant creatures. We’re still running the max of one-drop mana critters, but unlike earlier iterations of the deck, our turn two becomes hyperexplosive. We can drop a turn two Grist or Ob Nixilis, forcing our opponents to overextend and burn removal—our goal becomes to outlast their resources rather than to power out the fastest version of the combo.

We can, of course, still run the traditional line of turn one Hierach, turn two Strangleroot, swing for three. Recruiter has changed the game: the only creatures we can’t snag with Recruiter are Geralf’s Messenger and Endurance, so we’re still running the traditional Chord/Evolution, although I’ve been testing and eyeing those Chords as potentially redundant. Honestly, they may become copies of Unearth, as rebuying a Grist or Messenger or even Recruiter can revive us.

Speaking of three-drops: Devilish Valet? Absolutely. If you’re lower on life than your opponent and/or unable to land the full Yawgmoth combo of two Undying creatures, a Blood Artist/Zulaport Cutthroat, and Yawgmoth, you can cycle through a couple of Yawgmoth runs and attack with a 16/3. This may be more “style points” than “next level tech,” but I’ve been running into a lot of combo hate, and having an out to Extraction effects is crucial. Endurance is a one-of currently, but the anti-Tarmogoyf may acquire some friends. Aside from the graveyard hate, he’s a great Flash blocker and can reset our dead combo pieces for future Recruiting.

I don’t expect Ob Nixilis to go the way of Oko, Thief of Crowns, but I do expect him to continue to define Standard. He may go the way of other Standard-dominant cards, and be Alchemized into a slightly different form, or he may be hated out by more aggressive decks. My hope, though, is that he becomes a relevant pillar of older formats—like all good mob bosses, flashily omnipresent yet plausibly innocent of any wrongdoing.

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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