Thunderkin Awakener and Rakdos Elementals in Modern

Parker Ackerman
July 30, 2019

The best tribal deck in modern that makes heavy use of the graveyard is, of course, Zombies. Then again, it also happens to be basically the only tribal deck in modern that makes heavy use of the graveyard. You could say they’ve got the market cornered at the moment. But thanks to M20, that’s changing. There’s a new kid in town, and his name is Thunderkin Awakener.


His goal is to put Elementals as a deck on the map, and it’s a bit of an ambitious goal to say the least but one brave soul tried to do exactly that at the Mythic Championship in  Barcelona. Let’s take a look at how Patrick Kenkel  plans to do this. And note the sideboard is all 1 of's from the open decklists that were published, so individual quantities for sideboard cards weren't disclosed. A lot of them are pretty self explanatory and can be customized for your own metagame.

Everyone slept on Thunderkin Awakener during spoiler season but he’s what really makes this deck work. He brings back the two key pieces of the deck: Ball Lightning and Lightning Skelemental. Since both of these only have 1 toughness, they can easily be brought back, and the sacrifice clause is significantly less important when we can bring them back every turn. Young Pyromancer gives us a way to stall and synergise with all of our spells, and Seasoned Pyromancer helps us dig for important pieces and creates quite a few tokens. Dreadhorde Arcanist, while being a member of that other graveyard tribe and not elementals, still does a great job of advancing our gameplan. With 22 potential targets, we can get plenty of value out of him. 

For our spells, we have the classic Faithless Looting to help us assemble our gameplan and also put our Lightnings in the graveyard. Fatal Push is a top-notch removal spell that deals with most things in the format, and Lightning Bolt serves a similar function while also allowing us to take the damage upstairs and speed up our clock. Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize help us fight through hate, and also allow us to discard our own creatures in a pinch. Unearth is part of what really makes the deck function, increasing consistency while also getting back important pieces that have ended up in the graveyard through one way or another. And of course there’s the previously-mentioned synergy with Arcanist. Finally, Kolaghan's Command gives us a ton of versatility, acting as removal, burn, discard, artifact hate, and recursion all in one card.


Our lands are very straightforward, giving us the colors we need and nothing more. We’ve got the standard fetches, shocks, and fastlands, as well as a handful of basics and a spicy Fiery Islet


In the sideboard, we have Goblin Cratermaker and Shattering Spree to give us some extra artifact and/or creature removal. Spree is particularly gross with Dreadhorde Arcanist, as you can replicate after casting it with Arcanist. Collective Brutality to help deal with burn and a wide variety of other problems, and Alpine Moon and Magus of the Moon to fight against decks like Tron. Dark Confidant is a nice cheap value piece that can be Unearth 'd  helps us out against a variety of decks, Plague Engineer hurts tribal decks, and Leyline of the Void gives us potential turn-0 graveyard hate.


  • This probably goes without saying, but if you have a choice between getting back Ball Lightning and Lightning Skelemental, you should go for the Skelemental. The cards are exactly the same, except Skelemental takes cards out of the opponent’s hand as well.
  • Try to keep the path clear for your Awakener. He only has 2 toughness, which means it takes barely more than a stiff breeze to knock him out.
  • If your opponent tries to exile one of your Ball Lightnings while it’s on the battlefield (they probably won’t, but you never know), you can point your own Pushes and Bolts at the elemental to stop that from happening.

Extra Spice:

  • Spitebellows lets you swing for six, and then deal six to another creature when it leaves. The most important thing here though is that the damage dealing isn’t optional, so if the only creature is your own, you have to kill it.
  • Vesperlark is going a bit too deep on the jank for my liking, but it’s still worth considering. If you have the lark and an Awakener in your graveyard, you can swing with an Awakener to get back Vesperlark, then use Vesperlark’s leave-the-battlefield effect to get another Awakener.
  • Sunflare Shaman gives you a way to finish off the opponent quickly, assuming you’ve filled your graveyard up with enough elementals. It can also be used as removal in a pinch.

Overall, the deck is a really weird mix of grindy-tribal and graveyard-aggro, and it feels really good. There’s some room to play around with the exact 75, and a ton of completely off-the-wall and potentially-unheard-of cards you can throw in. Give the deck a try, tweak it to your liking, and enjoy the ride!