An Introduction to 8Rack

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8Rack is a Modern monoblack discard deck created by Robert Leva — aka MemoryLapse on MTGSalvation — in 2013. Monoblack discard decks aren’t a new thing to Magic — Legacy has had the Pox archetype, which operates similarly, for ages, and even Standard has one or two now, and has before, but they are relatively new to Modern. The Treasure Cruise dominated meta put 8Rack out of business for a few months, but now it’s back and about as strong as ever.

If you’re not familiar with 8Rack but like the idea of tearing apart your opponent’s hand then punishing them for having no cards, or just want some insight into how to better play it, this article is for you.

Below is the list I currently run to reasonable success in Magic Online dailies, and have been for many months now (before that, I ran similar lists with Bitterblossom in the main and a much more linear sideboard). A few of the card selections and card counts come from me, but the majority of the deck can be credited to Leva, with a little influence from MTGSalvation users and Sheridan.

8Rack by Sean Ridgeley

Sorceries (16)
Thoughtseize
Inquisition of Kozilek
Wrench Mind
Raven’s Crime

Planeswalkers (4)
Liliana of the Veil

Enchantments (3)
Shrieking Affliction

Artifacts (8)
The Rack
Ensnaring Bridge

Instants (4)
Victim of Night
Slaughter Pact

Creatures (2)
Pack Rat

Lands (23)
15 Swamp
Dakmor Salvage
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Mutavault
Sideboard (15)
Pithing Needle
Surgical Extraction
Darkblast
Pack Rat
Bile Blight
Syphon Life
Nyxathid
Shrieking Affliction
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The Rundown

Cards in 8Rack can be broken down into three main categories: discard, board control, and win cons. Let’s go over each and how they apply to the strategy of the deck.

Discard

This includes precise discard and imprecise discard. Both are imperative for controlling the game and turning on the 8Rack win cons.

By precise I mean cards like Thoughtseize which let you see the opponent’s hand (thereby letting you play more optimally – optimal sequencing is extremely important with this deck) and pick a specific card for them to discard. This is great because you take their best spell, which often delays the game quite a bit – exactly what we want.

By imprecise I’m referring to cards like Wrench Mind and Raven’s Crime, which let the opponent choose which card to let go (obviously their worst card, often land). While this may seem terrible, the cards we use for this purpose let us 2 for 1 the opponent, or worse. Sure, lands discarded to Crime mean it’s not a real 2 for 1, but you didn’t need them anyway, right? Another benefit of this type of discard is you can hit lands – if we packed only precise discard, our opponents could stockpile lands easily enough and keep out of range of our win cons. Plus, this lets us reduce the amount of mana they have available — you’ll find your opponent in some games struggling to play anything 3cmc or higher because they’re so land screwed after your flurry of discard spells.

Some discard sources are known as persistent discard, which is to say they make the opponent discard every turn. This is vital, because once our opponent is within range of our win cons, we need to keep him there until he dies. Lily is the obvious one — the other is Crime, particularly when paired with a Dakmor Salvage in the graveyard, effectively emulating Lily’s +1 ability (very important in some games).

Board Control

While discard is effective at preventing threats from hitting the board, it can only do so much in 8Rack. So, we use Ensnaring Bridge to prevent creatures that do hit from attacking, and pack removal to back it up — Bridge gets blown up fairly often, and we have to watch out for activated abilities like the one on Grim Lavamancer. Pack Rat fits in this category as well: he doubles as a Bridge in stalled games (which are your aim).

Win Cons

Once you have your enemy down to 0-2 cards (and it’s usually not that hard to achieve, between your discard and them playing spells), The Rack and Shrieking Affliction start doing damage. Depending on how strong the lock is, one rack can be enough, but in many situations (like when you’re nervous about your opponent topdecking an Abrupt Decay and blowing up your Bridge, or when the Burn player has you at 6 life), you’ll want 2 or even more to close the game out quickly.

Your other win conditions are Pack Rat and Mutavault. Rat often can’t attack through Bridge (though you can manipulate this a bit sometimes), but if you’re at the point where you’ve built up a huge rat army, you can likely just wait until you have a Lily capable of using her ultimate, and then firing it off on yourself and destroying your own Bridge. The card may seem questionable, but if you try it yourself, you’ll understand how powerful it can be in topdeck mode, Bridge out or not. Mutavault usually just speeds up the Rack clock, but it can do a lot of work on its own sometimes.

The Sideboard

While the 8Rack mainboard is somewhat self-explanatory, the sideboard is a bit elusive. To put it succinctly, Needle is for Affinity and Tron, Darkblast is for Affinity and random/rare x/1 decks, Extraction is for combo and graveyard decks, Blight is for decks where Rat is bad and more removal is good (like Burn), and also for decks with tokens (Storm, BW Tokens), Syphon Life and Nyxathid are primarily for Burn (swap out Bridges), and the extra Affliction is for decks that dump their hand (Affinity, Burn).

Tweaking 8Rack

There’s not really much I’m interested in changing – after having played with and tweaked 8Rack for a good year or so now, I feel more confident than ever in the list. In some games I wish I had the third Rat main (and in others the third sideboard), the third Extraction in the board makes for awkward sideboarding sometimes, and I’ve considered splitting Nyxathid and Syphon Life 2-2, but other than that, it’s airtight. It’s not necessarily correct to “fix” any of these things – it’s entirely likely that while imperfect, it’s as close to rock solid as you can get.

Many 8Rack players are tempted to splash red, white, or green and while it could be correct, I’ve never played with or seen an 8Rack list that’s definitively better off for it. As we’re a slow deck (average win turn is probably in the 10-15 range), fetch damage on top of 4x Thoughtseize damage, even if mitigated, can really hurt our aggro matchups (which can be close or unfavorable). The idea of course is what we splash for should help prevent more damage overall, but I’m not sure such cards exist. In any case, we’ll likely put some splash 8Rack lists to the test against aggro in the future and compare hard results to monoblack version tests.

Sean is a Magic Online grinder that’s been playing Modern since 2012. His background comprises a combined 10 years of journalism study and practice. You can find him on Twitter @regalforce.

10 thoughts on “An Introduction to 8Rack

  1. Great article Sean. I wouldn’t change a word. You are one of the very few people that really understands the strat, and exactly what it’s capable of doing.

  2. Sean, I know you forgot about the prowess in M1, but it was imperative you killed the swiftspear instead of making him discard there. The only way you get punished is if he draws exactly 1-mana burn spell 1-mana burn spell on consecutive draws, If you had done that, you take three less damage that game (which negates one burn spell) and with the draws he actually had, would have won the game.

    On the bright side, you using the victim before the Blight (which I would not have done) let you play around Boros Charm, something I would have gotten blown out by. I think you waiting for a 2-for-1 while at six life against burn was not a valid reason to keep Blight, but the way you played it worked well.

  3. Impressive showing by 8-Rack in that tourney. Beating Abzan twice is no joke. I think the Wrench Mind may have underperformed a bit for you, but that’s something you kind of have to live with IMO.

    1. Abzan is a good matchup, much better than Jund. I’m not sure if it did underperform here (haven’t watched the footage in awhile), but it’s a strong performer overall.

      1. Do you have any thoughts or opinions on Smallpox instead of Wrench Mind? I’ve done some testing with it in 8Rack, and I’ve been pleased with the results, especially with Dakmor Salvage to fish lands back up (they enter the battlefield tapped, of course, but oftentimes you completely take the steam out of your opponent’s hand that way).

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