Death Pits of Rath

Killing your opponents’ creatures is something you typically want to be doing. A sizable creature or group of creatures can really hinder your progress, and if you’re unable to politically bargain your way out of a combat phase or two you’re probably up a creek without a paddle. Today’s gem is rude to any deck running creatures: Death Pits of Rath.

Probably should’ve been named Sludge Pits of Rath

This card hates creatures and their very existence. Unless a creature has some form of Indestructibility, they’re going to die the moment they go into combat against any blocker whatsoever. Outside of combat, they’re still in a bad situation: Cards like Volcanic Fallout can wreck the entire board for just three mana, and that spell can’t be countered. Talk about value! So what are the different ways can we make Death Pits of Rath useful?

One Damage is too Much

Me irl

Pestilence is a classic card, so much so that it got stuck onto a creature in the form of Pestilence Demon. Equipping Pestilence Demon with Basilisk Collar was always something I wanted to achieve, but I never got around to building a deck around it. Instead of using Basilisk Collar, however, Death Pits of Rath accomplishes the same without lifelink: all creatures without indestructible are going to die. And the added benefit of using Pestilence over it’s creature counterpart is that creatures enchanted with totem armor auras (like a Mask granted by Estrid, the Masked) only need to be dealt a few points of damage.

Pestilence does have a few downsides. First and foremost, your creatures will die. Then again, that is the risk you run if you play Death Pits of Rath. The second problem is that Pestilence is sacrificed at the end of any turn if there are no longer any creatures in play. This means that if you’re doing your job correctly, you won’t have a Pestilence anymore. What can we do about that?

Shoot the Messengers

A crossbow that uses a mallet for ammo? Efficient

We essentially have two options with how we run our deck: play creatures or don’t. If we don’t play creatures, we can fill our deck with ways to kill our opponents’ creatures. Otherwise, we need to get clever. Goblin Sharpshooter is one hell of a political tool with Death Pits of Rath. While it can basically be a one-sided board wipe, you have the power to threaten killing any creature that attacks you. And since death triggers untap the sharpshooter, you can machine-gun down any creatures that come at you. Keep in mind you’d be unable to kill creatures that have totem armor, unless you have spells to spare to deal damage at instant speed, like Lightning Bolt for instance.

What a flavor win. The Sludge Pits are getting lit on fire!

To truly dive into one-sided board wipes, look no further than Blazing Volley (or its distant cousins Scouring Sands and Boiling Earth). Since any damage kills our opponents’ creatures, dealing one damage to all of their creatures and preserving our own seems to be the best of the Pestilence-style world. What’s really great about these cards when combined with Goblin Sharpshooter is the death triggers cause him to be untapped, regardless of if he is tapped or not. This means if we cast Blazing Volley and kill ten creatures with it, our Goblin Sharpshooter will trigger himself to untap ten times. We can respond to each of these by tapping him to deal one damage. This not only gets around those Mask wearing nuisances but also can allow us to deal direct damage to our opponent. Ten damage might not feel like much but considering we only paid one mana for it, that’s a good deal.

Improving Combat

A different approach from wrathing your opponents’ creatures would be to ensure your creatures just kill your opponents’ in combat. While this could be achieved by combining Archetype of Courage and Archetype of Finality, why not double down and throw Death Pits of Rath into that mixture? Since first strike damage occurs before normal damage, any blockers will be immediately killed unless they have double strike, in which case the creatures will trade with each other.

Alternatively, you could go defensive and run Avatar of Hope or Hundred-Handed One. The problem is that those creatures can only kill a number of creatures equal to their power.

Infinite?

I contemplated whether or not Goblin Sharpshooter was an “infinite combo” with Death Pits of Rath. The problem we run into with Death Pits of Rath is that it ultimately is not a combo enabler. The combos I found were just existing ones we had to throw more pieces into to get Death Pits of Rath to be relevant, so instead, how about we just ruin our opponents’ plans to play creatures?

I wouldn’t call that guy foul

With Death Pits on the battlefield, Aether Flash becomes one of the rudest cards you can play. Only indestructible creatures can survive entering the battlefield! Throw Mark of Asylum into the mix and your creatures are safe from the flash. Your opponents will hate you, but it’s a small price to pay. Theoretically, you could pair Sun Titan with Unhallowed Pact alongside these two cards for infinite enter-the-battlefield triggers, but it’s probably easier to just pair that combo with Ashnod’s Altar.

Get Busy Rathing

Death Pits of Rath is quite a rude card. Being able to kill anything the moment it takes a point of damage can be devastating. One-sided board wipes for the cheap price of one to two red mana or mowing down creatures with Goblin Sharpshooter are some of the best things the pits have to offer. Force your opponents to remove your enchantments, or force them to play a noncreature strategy. The choice is theirs.

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