Tribal Attractions: Demons
- Gianluca Aicardi
With its strict, four-faction setting, Ixalan has been a very tribal block, and then Dominaria doubled down with some tribal focus of its own. Time for Kumagoro to have fun with Modern-legal concoctions for some less obvious tribes. In this installment: the big bad finishers from Hell.
After a long time in which the creature type was kept at a distance, mostly out of misplaced fears of potential outrage about Magic "promoting Satanism", the Demon type started to become a centerpiece of the black arsenal in Kamigawa block, when the cultural depiction of the plane, evoking ancient Japan and Shintoism, was as much divorced from the Christian conception of "demon" as possible. In fact, only 14 Demons even existed before that, and no Demons at all were printed in the five years between Exodus and Onslaught, which means the oni of Kamigawa ended up almost doubling the tribe's ranks. From that moment on, most sets would contain at least one Demon, and Avacyn Restored alone had seven, with no more concerns of upsetting the God-fearing masses.
Everyone remembers Magic's very first Demon, though, even if it was never a fixture of any real deck.
Like Sphinges, Demons are largely an expression of the Modern era, where they've gone to embody the same kind of midrange to late-game flying fattie, except in black rather than in blue. Due to their high average casting cost, going tribal with Demons is not an easy proposition, but it's nonetheless what we'll attempt to do today, building a deck filled with many demons (as many as we'd need to make the deck legal in Tribal Wars), as opposed to just a few copies of one, otherwise it would just be a matter of reanimating Griselbrand with Goryo's Vengeance or Through the Breach. But that's not a Demon deck by any metric.
Now, Modern doesn't really support fast reanimation, and we've already done a "discard into Living End" scenario with Sphinges (something the Demons aren't particularly good at that, anyway), while forcing more Demons in an instant reanimator list would just mean making a very bad version of Grishoalbrand; so let's try a different strategy, one where the Demons are actually hard cast. A lot of them make a definite impression on the battlefield, after all, though they're also typically not very fast to drop. But what if we moved their curve back one notch or, even better, two?
Decks exploiting Heartless Summoning usually go for the combo route, recurring things like Perilous Myr with Glissa, the Traitor, or a couple of Myr Retriever infinitely triggering Impact Tremors or Altar of the Brood. We want to use our little enchantment in a more straightforward way, instead, simply taking advantage of its massive discount to power the infernal march of our demonic army. And sure, that -1/-1 penalty that those combo decks happily embrace is more annoying for us, as it prevents our dear fiends from performing to their full potential. But don't despair! (That should be the Demons' opponent's job!) There's a solution for that, too.
Heart of Darkness
|3Cabal Stronghold||3Abyssal Persecutor||4Fatal Push|
|20Swamp||4Bloodgift Demon||1Torment of Hailfire|
|1Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth||1Carnifex Demon||1Claws of Gix|
|1Demon of Dark Schemes||4Mind Stone|
|4Desecration Demon||1Liliana, Death's Majesty|
|1Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis||1Liliana of the Dark Realms|
|1Pestilence Demon||4Heartless Summoning|
First of all, the mana base immediately reveals our plan B: Cabal Stronghold ramp. I like to be hardcore at that, so every land in the deck is either a Swamp or a Stronghold (or something that turns the Strongholds into Swamps). It's definitely not fast mana, though, with the ramp getting started only after we have five Swamps out, which with the help of a single Stronghold will generate seven mana, for a mere +1 bonus production; add another Swamp and it'll become +2, for a total of nine mana. We're going to find ways to make use of this late-game boost, but for now, let's just note it's a way to cast a seven-mana Demon one turn earlier, even in absence of a Summoning. Our other acceleration tool of choice is Mind Stone, which is able to replace itself when it's not needed anymore, sort of a theme of the deck.
And here comes our demonic host. At the bottom of the curve we have two straightforward beaters in Desecration Demon and Abyssal Persecutor. Both cost four mana, which means under Summoning they're two-drops. Well, let's say three-drops, since in turn two we'll need to cast either a Summoning or a Mind Stone. Either way, it'll result in a turn-three 6/6 flyer on our side of the table, which is nice. Of course the Persecutor comes with the built-in necessity to get rid of him at some point, but we'll get to that in a minute. It's important for our basic Demons to have sturdy native bodies, so that they won't feel too impaired by Heartless Summoning's downside.
Next up is another heavy hitter in the air (all right, they all are), whose role is however mainly to provide sheer card advantage. Bloodgift Demon is better at that game than its cousin Indulgent Tormentor, and pretty much than every other creature this side of Consecrated Sphinx, since he's basically a flying Phyrexian Arena. In a pinch, he can even hit the opponent with its trigger in order to push one final damage through. Along the same lines, but even more crucial, is the last demonic playset in the deck, Rune-Scarred Demon. Clocking in at seven mana, this is an expensive guy, but it can be seen as two different spells you're forced to play in the same turn: yet another 6/6 flyer, this time for five mana; and straight up Demonic Tutor.
And that's where the crucial part of our sulfurous equation reveals itself. Once we hit a Rune-Scarred Demon, we can tutor up whatever we want to cast next. Which could be any of the following:
- another Cabal Stronghold to push our mana production over the top;
- one of the mana dump cards, if our mana production is already over the top;
- one of the demonic silver bullets to fix a hostile board;
- another Rune-Scarred Demon, to populate the battlefield and repeat the process;
- the means to get rid of our Abyssal Persecutors.
Our demonic toolbox contains answers to creature-based problems. Carnifex Demon and Demon of Dark Schemes sweep away hordes of little guys, with the latter also providing a way to bring back a fallen comrade, specifically a Rune-Scarred Demon that we might even have sacrificed ourselves just to recur him. Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis and Shadowborn Demon handle single targets, with Nefarox being an Edict effect, therefore disregarding silly abilities like indestructibility, while Shadowborn Demon's sacrifice upkeep is both another way to eliminate an unwanted Persecutor, and a chance to set up recursions with Demon of Dark Schemes.
Finally, Pestilence Demon, the biggest and most expensive guy around, is able to kill the board (including your own Persecutors) AND the opponent, given enough mana. In this, he's similar to Torment of Hailfire, another singleton copy that Rune-Scarred Demon could go on and grab once the moment is right; a nine-mana Torment in mid- to late game is pretty much guaranteed to either seal the deal or at least maim the opponent beyond recovery. (Other possible bullets to sideboard: Ob Nixilis, Unshackled to hose fetch lands and tutoring; Reiver Demon for a more thorough board control; of course Damnation, and not just for the flavor).
The rest of the deck is made up of a set of Fatal Push, to stop early life hemorrhages; Liliana of the Dark Realms, to serve the Stronghold plan while also weaponizing all those Swamps; Liliana, Death's Majesty, to have another avenue for graveyard recursion (and in both cases, because you cannot not feature Liliana in a Demon deck, especially one that doesn't actually include any of her former demonic masters); and an unassuming key component in Claws of Gix, which is the little known, easiest, cheapest way to get rid of a permanent in Modern (it's actually a Urza's Saga card that's been timeshifted). And we already know we're going to need to get rid of those pesky Persecutors, but the Heartless Summonings themselves become a hindrance after a while; Claws of Gix is how we restore our Demons to their original glory for their final assault.
So, why not include Griselbrand, ultimately? He's never going to cost less than four mana, even with two Summonings, but his virtues certainly outweigh his cost; shenanigans aside, he's one of only two Demons with native lifelink (and the other one, Baleful Ammit, risks of being just a 2/1 under Summoning), and this list may probably use some lifegain. Plus, what deck doesn't want to draw seven cards? So, yeah, there's no really a reason not to include Griselbrand, in this as well as in any other Demon deck; except that right there is also the reason not to: because it's too obvious.
Tribal Attractions Archive
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