Light Up the Stage | Illustration by Dmitry Burmak
Each of Ravnica’s 10 guilds has a unique identity that pairs nicely with its color combination. The hedonistic Cult of Rakdos is dedicated to entertaining the demon they worship, putting on circus-like performances with a bit more of an emphasis on pain and suffering. To capture this attitude, cards representing the cult were given a new mechanic to represent their showmanship: spectacle.
As of now, spectacle has only appeared in one premier set, and a single one-off card from New Capenna’s Commander supplement. That being said, Mark Rosewater has yet to give the ability a ranking on the Storm Scale, so it’s possible we’ll see it again. With yet another return to Ravnica, Murders at Karlov Mansion, planned for 2024 it’s possible we’ll see some new spectacle abilities on cards related to Rakdos.
I’m going to go through what exactly spectacle is, and each card it’s appeared on so far. I’ll also discuss some helpful cards to include in a deck if you want to get the most out of this mechanic.
Spikewheel Acrobat | Illustration by Deruchenko Alexander
Spectacle is a static ability that allows you to cast a card for an alternate cost if an opponent has lost life the turn you cast it. This manifests in two separate ways on the existing spectacle cards. For some spectacle cards, the spectacle cost is lower than the original cost. Since these cards are balanced for their original mana value, it can be very powerful to play them for less. Other spectacle costs are actually higher than the original mana value, but also add an additional effect to the card. This way the card is still technically getting more powerful thanks to spectacle, but you’ll just have to pay a little extra for that benefit.
When ranking the spectacle cards, I did so based on how good they are with and without their spectacle cost active. This is because there will be times when you aren’t able to pay the spectacle price, and will get stuck with this card in your hand or paying full price for it. It’s worth considering how these cards work in practice as opposed to just in their optimal situations.
The best spectacle cards are slightly more expensive than a card that does the same thing, and cheaper than that card when paying their spectacle price. Blade Juggler on the other hand, is priced appropriately for what it does at its spectacle price, and is way too expensive at its normal casting cost. For comparison, Phyrexian Rager is essentially the exact same card and its regular casting cost is the same as Blade Juggler’s spectacle cost. Both these cards are printed at common, so it isn’t even like one is better simply because it’s more rare.
Spikewheel Acrobat’s power might seem impressive, but without trample or any other meaningful keywords, a lot of the time it’ll just die to a chump blocker or a cheap removal spell. Managing to get it out early for its spectacle cost does give you a slightly better chance of attacking without a blocker, but I think this card would be a lot better if it could get out on turn two consistently. One good aspect of this card is that its high power can make it a decent blocker, as you can take out one of your opponents’ more powerful creatures that they likely spent more than 3-4 mana on.
Decks that are built around forced discard can get good use out of Rafter Demon. Just one extra mana on top of its normal cost to cash in on any discard triggers you may have onboard is a good trade. That being said, this is not a generally good card that could slot into any deck, but more one that works well in specific circumstances.
Initially, I had ranked this card higher on the list, but I think that’s due to having played a lot of Ravnica Allegiance Limited when the set came out. While this card was great in that setting, and pretty good in its Standard rotation, it’s now a bit expensive as far as burn cards go. When put into formats where Lightning Bolt exists, this card’s a bit less useful due to its inconsistency.
Hackrobat is the first spectacle card on this list that I would consider worth playing at its original casting cost. Its ability to gain deathtouch makes it a good form of removal through blocking, or it can be a decently effective attacker if swinging unopposed thanks to its potential buff. A 2/3 for 2 mana with several useful abilities is also a great deal, making the spectacle cost here an actually effective discount.
Drill Bit is a pretty good way to get a look at your opponent’s hand and remove a threat from it. At its spectacle cost, it’s on par with a card like Thoughtseize, though it does lose points for being a less likely turn one play. Still, I think any deck that utilizes discard effects or just a mono-black deck looking for ways to remove threats before they hit the battlefield can make good use of this card.
Dead Revels is a card that I like to use in aristocrats decks. If you’re running a lot of death triggers like Blood Artist that make your opponent lose life when you sacrifice creatures, you’ll consistently be able to pay this card’s spectacle cost. You’ll then be able to get back some of the creatures you sacrificed and run them through the meat grinder a second time for a pretty low cost.
Rix Maadi Reveler’s spectacle ability makes it a versatile source of card draw. In a deck that’s running through a lot of cheap spells, discarding your hand for three cards will usually end up netting you cards. This card also has fun flavor as juggling is a decent representation of the way you’ll be moving cards between your hand, graveyard, and deck.
Impulsive draw like Light Up the Stage is always better when it’s cheaper, as it gives you the chance to play some of the cards you exile right away. Mono-red aggro decks are pretty consistently going to do at least some amount of damage to their opponents on their turn, so you’ll usually get to pay less for this card. Even if you don’t it’s not terrible value at full price, especially since you have until the end of your following turn to play the exiled cards.
Body Count is the only spectacle card that isn’t from the original Ravnica Allegiance set. It’s also easily one of the best. Being an instant makes it way easier to play this card for its spectacle cost. It can also be a huge swing in your favor especially if you use it following a board wipe that one of your opponents played. It’s a great tool for sacrifice decks, as you can often dictate how many of your own creatures die on a given turn, and popular death triggers like Bastion of Remembrance will make it easy to reduce this card’s cost.
Spawn of Mayhem is a creature that already feels more powerful than it should be at its normal casting cost, let alone its cheaper spectacle one. This card works really well with other spectacle cards or any card that has a triggered ability when your opponent loses life such as Savage Gorger or Arrogant Outlaw. Flying and trample also make it a pretty effective attacker, especially once it starts buffing itself.
It’s hard to say that there’s one definitive best payoff for spectacle, since what the ability actually does changes from card to card. That being said, there are definitely cards that synergize well with spectacle cards.
The first is cards like Spawn of Mayhem or Twilight Prophet which will automatically deal damage to your opponents at the start of your turn. This makes it much easier for you to cast any of your spectacle spells for their alternate cost, making them a bit more consistent than they’d normally be.
As I mentioned when talking about a few of these cards, death triggers like the ones on Zulaport Cutthroat or The Meathook Massacre can also be good ways to help meet the spectacle requirements. Rakdos is a good color combination for sacrifice decks, as is Jund, meaning you can likely find a home for at least a few spectacle cards in these decks, especially Body Count.
Rix Maadi Reveler | Illustration by Sara Winters
I think spectacle is a good keyword ability and one I’d like to see return. None of these cards are so powerful that the ability becomes broken, but it also isn’t overly complicated or confusing like banding or flanking. I think it fits nicely into the color identity that it was associated with, so it would be nice to see it in future visits to Ravnica or in more supplemental sets like New Capenna Commander.
Which spectacle card is your favorite? Would you like to see it and other Guild-specific abilities return in the next Ravnica set? Let me know in the comments or on Draftsim’s Twitter/X.
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