Playmat Icons: Demons
- Gianluca Aicardi
Tormentor of souls, brokers of deals, or just plain deliverers of vicious brutality, Demons often make for the scariest presence on the battlefield. They come in all sinister shapes and horned forms, and black is their favorite color. So if you're willing to strike a bargain with them, be ready to plunge into darkness.
As of Kaldheim, there are 119 different black-bordered Demons in the game. Let's see what we can build with the iconic creature type in a series of increasingly wider formats, from Standard to Legacy.
There are currently thirteen Demons in Standard, almost half of which come from Kaldheim, a set that considerably lowered their curve. (The same is true of Angels, so these days their Standard concoction would look much different from the party build presented in last December's Playmat Icons.) The smaller Demons are all specialized fellows: Dream Devourer cares for foretell, Frenzied Raider for boast, Scourge of the Skyclaves is a Suicide Black superstar, and Taborax is more of a Cleric tribal card. These can all lead to legitimate builds, if probably not of the kind that involves more than their signature Demon.
Overall, the tribe's most interesting build-around card in Standard right now comes from the depths of the Ikorian seas.
|Gyruda Ramp, Standard|
Secondary Gyruda targets bring different forms of utility, and we prioritized Demons in particular in this build. A straight Nightmare Shepherd offers a degree of guarantee against Gyruda's destruction, as the ensuing baby Gyruda would just trigger again, and it can also be actively exploited by sacrificing the demonic Kraken to Immersturm Predator. Burning-Rune Demon is a big evasive threat that provides more gas, while Goremand has a built-in edict effect that can be crucial against Dream Trawler. On a crowded battlefield, Kardur, Doomscourge can wreak havoc among the opponent's ranks by setting up an unfavorable attack, or even resulting in a lethal alpha strike on the way back.
Thassa's Oracle is there to enable an empty library win, on the off-chance the Gyruda plan actually managed to get there. The sideboard supplies a number of other valid non-Demon additions that this kind of build is known for running.
Pioneer adds 37 more options to our demonic pool, not counting Ormendahl. At this stage, we have all the tools to build a fun Demon deck with a reasonably low curve.
|Demonic Sacrifices, Pioneer|
This is not a sacrifice build, per se, since there aren't cards that care about permanents being sacrificed. (Devils and Dragons seem to get that mechanical flavor lately.) But it's still a deck where we like to send our creatures to the graveyard for profit. This is one strategy that always requires recursive or continuous sources of sacrificial fodder, and the relentlessly persistent Bloodsoaked Champion and the expendable little Zombie from Dreadhorde Invasion play that role here.
And those who benefit from their deaths are all Demons, of course. For one, Baleful Ammit would love to be a three-drop 4/3 lifelinker by giving that pesky −1/−1 counter to someone else—and sometimes that someone else might even be fellow Crocodile Demon Ammit Eternal, which has a way to get rid of the counter, and is very large-sized to begin with. Moving up along the curve, the big finisher Demon of Catastrophes can't even descend onto the battlefield without a blood tribute paid first. Same scary size and reduced cost, Desecration Demon is similarly appeased by sacrifices, but it's the opponent who's called to perform them, which makes the eventual reckoning even harder to withstand.
The early aggression from the sacrificial lambs gives Spawn of Mayhem a good (if not optimal) chance of being able to drop for three mana. Finally, Varragoth can sculpt the next draw while possibly trading for something juicy, thanks to deathtouch and a decent toughness.
48 additional Demons are only legal in Modern, Withengar excluded, and we find a lot of midrange goodies among them. It's time to play into that territory more explicitly.
|Heartless Masters, Modern|
Heartless Summoning and, to a lesser extent, Mind Stone are the means the deck employs to reach converted mana cost 5 ahead of time, as that's the point where a few card-drawing Demons enter the fray, namely Bloodgift Demon and its country cousin Indulgent Tormentor. When you have the technology to empty your hand more quickly than it's due, finding ways to replenishing it seems to be the next logical move.
The list also includes a few cheaper Demons that you actively want to get rid of eventually—they're heartless in their own way! One is the celebrated Abyssal Persecutor, a 6/6 flier that is more assured in its beatdown than the deal-prone Desecration Demon from the previous build but also prevents you from ever winning the game while it's around. Ditto for the bloodthirsty Demonic Taskmaster, a three-drop that's wildly above the curve, but not exactly a team player. The poor Bitterblossom Faeries might be thrown into the pit to placate the Taskmaster, but the opponent will eventually be forced to help us with this specific problem, lest they succumb to the aerial threat. As for the Persecutor, the control elements of the deck—the highly thematic Damnation and the in-tribe sweeper on legs Kagemaro) are designed to clear the board symmetrically, which could even result in an instant win as long as the Persecutor's clause was the only thing keeping the opponent alive.
To round out the list, Reaper from the Abyss is a payoff for the Taskmaster's sacrifices; and Liliana is also there, being any Demon's best customer but also capable of get rid of one of them when it has become too much of an annoyance.
The move to Legacy unlocks the final 21 Demons. They're all kind of expensive, since that was their whole jam in early Magic. Cards like Grinning Demon, which traded a comparatively lower casting cost for a steep downside, feel almost silly nowadays, despite having seen serious play in their time. But we know Legacy is all about cheating big guys onto the battlefield; and we're gonna do that outside of a reanimator shell for once. It's the moment to be sneaky about it.
|Sneaky Fiends, Legacy|
In order to be functional, a Sneak Attack deck has to procure a steady flow of new creatures to drop through the enchantment, since they'll only have a shelf life of one turn. But first, you also have to make sure your engine is in your hand, and that's where the white tutors come in; and then you want it online as soon as possible, which this list accomplishes through Ancient Tomb, the red rituals, and Simian Spirit Guide.
Once all of that is in place, the Demons start doing their part. Griselbrand, the greatest of them all, is here in its full playset magnificence, ready to sneak onto the battlefield to turn a single hasty connection into seven fresh cards, if not fourteen. Rune-Scarred Demon fetches another copy of itself (or whatever you need) by just hitting the floor. Razaketh, the Foulblooded can do the same, but only if there was a fellow sneaking Demon to sacrifice before it's time is due at end of turn anyway.
Good synergy exists between Sneak Attack and Havoc Demon, whose trigger is guaranteed to happen and functions as the deck's board wipe. Meanwhile, Overseer of the Damned from Commander 2014 takes the role of spot removal, and the Zombie tokens it creates can feed Razaketh. Finally, Vilis, Broker of Blood is a mix between removal and card-drawing.
And those were just a few examples of what the dark lords of Magic have to offer. Make like Liliana and don't be afraid of drawing up all manners of pacts and contracts with whatever forces are able to make you win, no matter how dangerous, demanding, and unpredictable they prove to be.
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