Symmetrical effects used to be everywhere in Magic: the Gathering. However, aside from board wipes they are something we seem to be getting less and less of as time goes on. As I understand it, it’s because newer players don’t understand that an effect on their card might hurt them, or help their opponent. Why would Goblin King buff our opponent’s goblins? Why would Deft Duelist‘s shroud stop me from helping him? These things are off-putting to people who are just learning the game. Every once in a while, though, Wizards prints an interesting symmetrical-effect card (usually at Mythic rarity). Rankle, Master of Pranks is one such card.
Rankle, Master of Pranks has a lot going on. A 3/3 with flying and haste for four is pretty solid on its own, especially in black. However, his symmetrical abilities that seem to hurt more than you gain (on the surface) might make you shy away from this prankster. What makes Rankle unique is the fact that you can choose any number of his effects. While you might be tempted to choose no effects, or just draw cards, there’s plenty of value to be had with the other abilities. After all, its symmetrical! That means it’s fair, right?
Who Needs a Hand?
Madness is an ability we’ve covered recently It should be fresh in most players’ minds, as it was the main theme of one of the four Commander 2019 decks. The gist of the ability is this: you discard the card into exile, and then you may cast it or put it into your graveyard. Rankle can make each player discard a card; if you have a card with Madness in hand, you can play spells instead of simply losing cards. Something like Dark Withering or Big Game Hunter can be used very effectively with Rankle, especially if we’re also picking the third mode which forces players to sacrifice creatures (more on that in a moment).
Making opponents discard cards isn’t a new strategy, and that’s good news for us. It means we can find plenty of supporting cards that increase the value of making opponents discard cards. Geth’s Grimoire will draw us a bunch of cards in multiplayer, while Liliana’s Caress and Megrim give us the ability to reach over blockers that a single 3/3 with flying can’t accomplish on its own. Waste Not is a valuable enchantment, giving us plenty of value from our opponents’ discarded resources. Sangromancer quickly gains us life, which helps counteract the life loss of Rankle‘s card draw ability. Speaking of which…
Rankle‘s second ability is a little painful, but it seems even worse that it’s also very beneficial to our opponents. However, there are things we can do to tip the table in our favor. You probably don’t want to be running Omen Machine or Maralen of the Mornsong since those cards shut down ALL card draw. Spirit of the Labyrinth is even worse, as it stops us from drawing off of Rankle but still lets our opponents draw. So what are our options?
Narset, Parter of Veils takes some setup to help us out in this situation. If we control something like Temple Bell, we can activate it in response to Rankle‘s combat damage trigger (or earlier in the turn) and then if we control Narset, Parter of Veils, everyone loses 1 life and only we get to draw a card. If we’re also selecting the discard mode, we’ll slowly chip away at their hand. Stacking this with the previously mentioned cards like Geth’s Grimoire and Liliana’s Caress, we’ll quickly out-value our opponents even when they do get to draw cards.
Rankle‘s second mode is the hardest to abuse, because stopping card draw is difficult when we’re attempting to only shut down our opponents. However, our Rankle deck is all about breaking symmetry and getting more value out of our cards than opponents get out of theirs. That means if we’re doing our job right, drawing a card is much better for us than it is for our opponents.
Sacrifice? I Hardly Know Her
Grave Pact turns Rankle‘s third mode into a devastating effect. As long as we have a creature to spare, we’re able to clear two creatures from each opponent’s board! Stack this with similar cards like Butcher of Malakir and Dictate of Erebos and suddenly our opponents will lose a big chunk of their boards with one combat trigger from Rankle. If we add in creatures with death triggers like Blood Artist, Massacre Wurm, or even Deathgreeter, just one attack with Rankle will drastically change the battlefield and put us at a serious advantage.
This does bring up the question: what do we sacrifice to Rankle? After all, we will need creatures to sacrifice in order for any of this to work. Since sacrificing Rankle is not ideal, what can we get rid of that we’ll be okay parting ways with? If we fill your deck with Reanimate effects, then the options are endless. We can go right ahead and sacrifice that Grave Titan and its zombies, or our Noxious Gearhulk, only to bring them right back! It’s a popular strategy for a reason, but there are other options.
Death triggers are quite fun to build around. If we know we’re going to be sacrificing a creature, we might as well make sure it does something upon death. Abyssal Gatekeeper is a simple example of this effect. Rankle makes everyone sacrifice a creature, we choose Abyssal Gatekeeper, then everyone has to sacrifice another creature. This isn’t even factoring in Grave Pact. We can laugh our way to the grave when we sacrifice Wurmcoil Engine or Mitotic Slime only for it to make a ton more bodies to be sacrificed as well. Throw in Teysa Karlov (A.K.A. Necromonicon) and we can turn that sensible chuckle into a maniacal cackle!
Alternatively, we could sacrifice an Archon of Justice or Ashen Rider to start exiling our opponents’ pesky permanents. Maybe you want to kill off your Corpse Augur to draw a bunch of cards from all the stuff that’s died. This list could go on for ages, so I highly recommend exploring cards and finding cards that feel like the right fit for your own personal Rankle build.
Rankle‘s three abilities are each representative of a staple mechanic in the black color pie. This means you can find tons of different synergies to pair with him. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the tip of the iceberg of synergies you can find, and I hope I’ve at least lubricated your creative gears! Join me next time when I just… use Razor Boomerang in a deck, intentionally.