Blood Scrivener | Illustration by Peter Mohrbacher
No city would be complete without entertainers and artists, and no social system is complete without dissidents, rebels, and troublemakers. If there’s one thing to learn from punk rock, it’s that you get a lot of chaotic fun when these two are combined.
The Rakdos cultists are the counterculture of Ravnica. Demon worshippers, circus artists, unconventional artists, self-destructive maniacs, blood witches… all the freaks in the city are drawn to the guild built around the cult of the ancient demon Rakdos.
The guild of the freaks is characterized for abandoning strategy and intellectualism in favor of loud, explosive action. You can’t overthink things when you’re juggling blazing swords while balancing on a tightrope. You also can’t overthink them when you’re just an insane goblin rushing against the well-trained Boros forces. You either win or you go out with such a bang that you also kinda win symbolically.
All this proclivity for chaos and insanity got its first Ravnican representation with the hellbent mechanic. Let’s get into it!
What Are Hellbent Cards in MTG?
Bladeback Sliver | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov
Hellbent is an ability that replaces, expands, or somehow modifies a card’s abilities as long as you don’t have cards in hand. There are 22 cards with the hellbent mechanic along with 8 “honorary” hellbent cards with “if/as long as you don’t have cards in hand” abilities.
#30. Gathan Raiders
Gathan Raiders’ stats make it a pretty uninteresting card all around. Having to either pay five mana or two mana and discard a card for a 3/3 creature is far from any kind of gain.
You get a 5/5 if you manage to get rid of all the cards in your hand, but it remains a very demanding card.
#29. Demon’s Jester
Demon’s Jester suffers from a similar issue as the previous card. Its mana cost is pretty steep for its original stats, and hellbent doesn’t make it all that much better.
At least this imp has flying, which gives it some good evasion.
#28. Slaughterhouse Bouncer
Slaughterhouse Bouncer isn’t the strongest card you can get for a 5-drop, but I think it’s death trigger ability can be pretty useful since giving a creature with indestructible -N/-N can still get rid of it, so there’s some benefits to it.
#27. Slithering Shade
Slithering Shade is a weird card, but I like it from a flavor perspective. A 0/1 defender with a firebreath ability that can lose defender if you have hellbent isn’t a great card. But I think it’s a fun way to represent the idea of someone’s shadow going berserk and turning against them.
This is a fun design, but not much more.
#26. Cackling Flames
Cackling Flames perfectly represents the kind of design behind some hellbent cards that I personally don’t like at all. It’s a card that’s basically unplayable for its base cost and effect. If you get to play it with hellbent, then you get a decent upgrade on Lava Axe.
This isn’t terrible, but it absolutely shouldn’t require you to have no cards in hand for it to be playable. It’s not at the bottom because it can be useful in the right context, but I dislike this type of design.
#25. Cutthroat il-Dal
My opinion of Cutthroat il-Dal is similar to the last card. This is a decent card as long as you have hellbent. It’s almost unplayable if you don’t.
#24. Idle Thoughts
There are other cards on this list with a pretty similar effect that allow you to draw a card as long as you have no cards in hand. Idle Thoughts gets a much lower position than those other cards because blue specifically has a ton of other (and better) card draw engines.
There are basically no reasons to play Twinstrike if you’re not casting it with hellbent. Such a high mana value just to deal two damage to two creatures is super underwhelming. Paying five mana to destroy two creatures maybe isn’t the single best option but it’s definitely much better.
#22. Gobhobbler Rats
Gobhobbler Rats is a passable vanilla creature without hellbent. It gets a minor boost to its power and you can regenerate it if you manage to empty your hand.
While this isn’t exactly the most powerful card, it’s a good example of better design around abilities like hellbent. You get an okay card for its mana value, and it can get better if you meet a requirement as big as having no cards in hand.
#21. Bladeback Sliver
What puts Bladeback Sliver higher than it probably should be is that it’s a sliver. It’s almost impossible to have a sliver be a truly bad card considering how they benefit other slivers while also benefiting from them.
#20. Taste for Mayhem
Taste for Mayhem only costs a single red mana, and that’s all it needs to be a decent card. It’s cheap and gives some improvement to a creature’s stats. It’s not the most powerful aura you can have, but at least it doesn’t have any significant drawbacks.
#19. Brink of Madness
Brink of Madness is a weird card overall. There’s definitely more immediate ways to discard your opponent’s hand, but I like this card thanks to its political aspect. You’re placing your threat right on the field for everyone to see, and you could use it to make some political moves in an EDH game.
#18. Keldon Megaliths
Keldon Megaliths is a great use of hellbent because it gives you something to dump some mana into when your hand is empty. Hellbent stops being a condition to make a card useful and becomes a way to take advantage of something that should be bad.
A big part of the philosophy of black mana is that nothing really comes for free. Ragamuffyn’s effect is pretty costly considering you have to sacrifice a creature and tap it to draw a card, and only if you have no cards in your hand.
But this can have some advantages considering how Rakdos () decks tend to have pretty empty hands and ways to benefit from sacrificing your own creatures. It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty functional card.
#16. Nihilistic Glee
Nihilistic Glee is pretty similar to Ragamuffyn in its effect. The card draw cost here is definitely lower, and it has two other advantages: its first effect can allow you to get rid of cards you may not want and prevent you from drawing, and the hellbent effect can be repeated more than once each turn if you can keep playing the cards you’ve drawn.
#15. Necromancer’s Familiar
Necromancer’s Familiar is an okay creature. I think its last ability is what boosts it up a little. Having a way to discard your own cards for cheap and at any time can help push forward some specific strategies, like madness.
#14. Headless Specter
Specters are one of Magic’s most underrated tribes. They’re a fun design and can be pretty powerful if played right.
Headless Specter is a perfectly decent addition to any specter tribal deck, but requiring you to have no cards in your hand to have the discard ability can be a bit underwhelming.
#13. Bloodhall Priest
What better deck to have some hellbent cards than in a madness one? Bloodhall Priest rewards you with a free Shock any time it attacks and you have no cards in hand. It also has madness, so you’re likely to play it in a deck with a strong self-discard theme.
#12. Jagged Poppet
Being forced to discard cards from your hand any time your creature is dealt damage would be a mostly huge drawback in almost any deck, but you’re gonna be playing Jagged Poppet in decks that already want to keep their hands empty, reducing the risk of that drawback being a problem. And you get to inflict a similar drawback on your opponent if you have hellbent.
Demonfire is another great example of great design around hellbent. The base effect of the card is already perfectly viable and good, and hellbent grants it an extra advantage that makes it stronger.
#10. Rakdos Pit Dragon
My main issue with Rakdos Pit Dragon is that it requires a big extra mana investment to make it as good as it should be. If you get hellbent then you probably have some spare mana that’s not in use. This card’s two abilities are a great place to sink some of that mana.
#9. Fool’s Tome
Not many things are better when there are no cards in your hand than actually drawing cards. Fool’s Tome is a pretty useful resource to keep refilling your hand in hellbent decks.
#8. Hollowborn Barghest
Hollowborn Barghest is a 7/6 for seven mana at worst. It’s not an ideal or perfect creature, but it’ll consistently damage your opponents for free if you’re playing it in a deck with a strong discard strategy.
#7. Tragic Fall
I remember a lot of players absolutely losing it over Tragic Slip when it came out back during the Innistrad block. It was a cheap way to get rid of some massive threats, especially indestructible ones.
Tragic Fall is a continuation of that idea, though a little weaker in my opinion. Even so, this card is still a solid removal to have in any deck that’s gonna have its hand empty more often than not.
#6. Anthem of Rakdos
Anthem of Rakdos’ first ability is decent, but nothing to lose your head over. It goes well with the guild’s theme and can give you an advantage in combat, but it’s hardly a good investment of five mana.
This becomes a great card for any deck that has any kind of focus on damage as soon as you get hellbent.
#5. Sea Gate Wreckage
The cost of Sea Gate Wreckage’s card draw ability is higher than its counterparts’, like Fool’s Tome. What puts this card higher up on the list is the fact that it’s a land so you can play it for free, and it generates colorless mana whenever you’re not using it to draw cards.
#4. Barren Glory
I almost don’t want to place this card so high up because it’s outside Rakdos colors and this is a Rakdos-based ability. Barren Glory has a relatively high cost considering you have to get rid of your entire field and hand, but I’d say it’s a decent trade-off considering that means winning the game.
#3. Blood Scrivener
We all know Phyrexian Arena is one of the most played cards in black decks, but it can also be a bit daunting for some players to lose life each turn, even if it grants them a free card.
Blood Scrivener is a somewhat more accessible version of the Arena. You give up a life in favor of a card, but only when you have no cards in your hand. That can be a great time to take advantage of drawing an extra card.
#2. Infernal Tutor
Infernal Tutor can be a bit of dead weight in EDH games if you can’t empty your hand by the time you need to play it. It’s still a 2-mana tutor if you have hellbent, so it’s still a great addition to your decks.
Plus, this card can be consistently useful in non-singleton formats.
#1. Gibbering Descent
Gibbering Descent is a great way to punish your opponents every upkeep and keep putting pressure on them. It also allows you to skip your upkeep, which can be huge against certain strategies used in EDH.
It’s a weird and unconventional card, but a good one.
Best Hellbent Payoffs
There aren’t that many mechanics I can come up with good payoffs for off the top of my head, but hellbent is one of them. Madness and any kind of self-discard strategy is the perfect home for your hellbent cards.
That said, trying to have hellbent as the main strategy of your deck is hardly a good idea. The mechanic is more of a reward for having something that’s usually a drawback, so placing them in a deck that’s focused almost entirely on giving yourself that very drawback makes more sense.
Bloodhall Priest | Illustration by Mark Winters
Hellbent is a more-than-decent mechanic, but it has some issues. I think the ability is at its worst when its cards are basically unplayable unless you have no cards in your hand. It makes the cards way too circumstantial, and the hellbent effect is usually not that good.
This is an ability that shines brightest when it’s on an already decent card that gets better when your hand is empty. An ability like this needs to reward you for playing into a major disadvantage, not force you into it just so you can play your cards.
But enough about what I think. Do you like hellbent? Do you agree with the order of my rankings? What’s your favorite Rakdos-inspired keyword? Leave a comment below and let me know! And don’t forget to visit the Draftsim Discord where you can join an amazing community of Magic fans.
That’s all from me for now. Have a good one, and I’ll see you next time!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: