A Deal With The Devil

Magic Origins is turning out to be quite an exciting set full of quirky, interesting, and powerful cards… and Michael Majors is intent on putting one of the riskier, more dangerous ones to work!

Whenever a Magic set is being previewed, authors will typically stress that the key to properly evaluating the influx of new cards is to make comparisons. Sometimes, however, we are gifted with an opportunity to do something unique, exciting, and – best of all – powerful. Demonic Pact is precisely that.

Any card that we choose to play with that has the audacity to literally lose the game by itself had better be incredibly high-impact. The only real comparisons to make are the aptly-named Pact cycle that see marginal play in Modern yet fuel a large degree of the redundant degeneracy in the Amulet Bloom deck.

So what do we receive from Demonic Pact? Essentially we are able to generate six cards staggered over three turns for four mana, which is an incredible rate. Of course, the devil is in the details, and on the fourth upkeep Dean has to answer to the crossroads.

How do we plan to go about leveraging this powerful new tool? There are actually a surprisingly large number of routes to take when calling in your Demonic Pact. It can both give (and deny) a surge of cards, and its Soul Spike impression is in and of itself a large amount of reach. Bounce can allow us to rebuy the Pact to generate even more resources from it, and incidentally destroying it with cards like Perilous Vault and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are valid options that decks are already incentivized to play. Then of course there is always the fact that giving us a four-turn window means we could just leverage its benefits and kill our opponents before that time expires.

Let’s start with some control decks:

Demonic Pact takes U/B Control in some interesting directions. First, we’re using the Pact in the place of some of our other more-general card drawing with the intention that they will pick up a lot of slack, and similarly since we’re interested in deploying a four-mana sorcery-speed permanent, our countermagic gets a little worse and the deck gains more of a tap-out feel. Void Snare is a great tempo tool for both buying time and resetting our Pacts, ensuring that they are never dead at any stage in the game and also giving us a backdoor burn-out plan rather than having to play any dedicated win conditions besides Ugin.

Ugin, of course, is probably the most important part of the puzzle. We can aggressively jam Pacts and bleed our opponent out of resources before Ugin cleans up the board and rips up our contract. He is the perfect card to curve into after playing a Demonic Pact on the fifth turn.

That all being said, I think we can do a little bit better:

Hearkening back to this style of Sultai Control deck that was successful at the beginning of the year makes a lot of sense in a Demonic Pact shell. As previously stated, we are a lot more interested in a tap-out style of deck than sitting back on a bunch of countermagic. Playing Satyr Wayfinder and Den Protector gives us a great deal of stability and redundancy on making sure we never fall to our own Pact. Sultai Charm is a perfect complement to the new Mythic Rare, giving us a straight-up way to remove it in a pinch while serving a variety of other uses.

While this style of deck has started to resurface utilizing the entirety of the Megamorph engine with Deathmist Raptor, I think we can just take a page out of Abzan Control’s book and simply use Den Protector as a powerful insurance policy for protecting our Pact – it should be able to grind our opponent out until Ugin gets online.

Just because Ugin and Perilous Vault naturally synergize with Demonic Pact doesn’t make it a strict control card. What kind of midrange offerings are there available?

First, let’s start with the boring one:

We aren’t winning any awards for creativity here, but I think this is a fine example of how easy it is to support Pact with incidental effects. While I certainly feel less comfortable just tapping out for Demonic Pact on turn four in Abzan, the point is that Dromoka’s Command is already a great card and it now has a lot of extra utility. Further, with Siege Rhino in the mix, Pact’s life-draining mode can becoming very threatening incredibly quickly. We aren’t really making any sacrifices to configure our deck to support the card, and it can supplement the already-great grinding power the deck has.

What’s a tribe that gained a lot of new tools with Magic Origins that already had a great way to destroy enchantments?

This take on Elves may serve to just being able to do something “because we can,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a viable route. The biggest payoff card for Elves from Magic Origins isn’t even the new Lord Dwynen, it is Shaman of the Pack. As a result, rather than simply playing a linear aggressive attacking game, Elves could just be a deck interested in repeatedly Fireballing its opponent to death. Playing a few copies of Reclamation Sage is largely incidental for this tribe, and when supported by Chord of Calling and Woodland Bellower (who can just grab another Shaman of the Packs as well), we have a great deal of redundancy for destroying our Pacts.

The fact of the matter is that heavy creature-based decks may have a lot of trouble in a new world where Languish exists, and insulating yourself from the sweeper and using diverse means to further your board position may be necessary – a fine window for Demonic Pact to prove its power.

One aspect of Demonic Pact we haven’t touched on yet is that it has BB in the casting cost. I can think of an old friend who might be interested in that:

Now, the fact of the matter is that it’s pretty difficult to build a Mono-Black deck that can reliably answer its own enchantment. That being said, I think this is a reasonable compromise that also looks to be a good home for the new Jace. While not a card that I’ve personally talked about yet, I think Jace is a strong role-player that is overall average in power level. He probably is too appealing of a lightning rod for a true control deck, so something a little lower to the ground like this might be ideal. In this deck in particular, his immediate “Snapcaster Mage” option post-flip is easy to use with so many cheap interactive spells, and he grants further redundancy on Pact-friendly interactions. This deck looks a bit soft to Siege Rhino and its pals, so I could see that being an issue, but a more tempo-centric version of a Pact deck is an interesting concept and this list utilizes a variety of powerful permanents that will all be difficult to answer – especially when supported by Thoughtseize.

The final aspect of Demonic Pact I’m going to touch on is the “Necro-Donate” angle. The seemingly best way to pull this off in Standard right now is Shifting Loyalties, so hang on while we get a little weird:

Essentially, the plan here is to tick our Demonic Pact down to Doomsday and then cast Shifting Loyalties to swap it with our opponent’s enchantment. If you’re wondering how that can be a remotely reliable interaction, the answer is Pharika, God of Affliction. We can activate the God targeting an opponent’s dead creature to give them a 1/1 Snake Enchantment. Of course, cards like Courser of Kruphix and Whip of Erebos see a fair amount of play, so against a reasonable amount of decks it’s pretty easy to just “get ’em” straight up.

While it felt natural to put this interaction in an old Sultai Reanimator-type shell, the fact that you’re sacrificing the actual Whips may be too great a cost to the core of this deck. Another avenue may just be a small splash in G/B Constellation.

In this deck in particular, Demonic Pact has a far more “combo” feel to it, you probably won’t be afforded the luxury of playing it early for value until you’ve come close to assembling all your pieces or are in Ugin range, but it does allow you an unfair angle of attack in what is typically a deck that is very straightforward about what it’s capable of doing.

While these types of decks do have a certain appeal, it feels like we’re spreading ourselves a bit thin here to fit everything. Once we get to the point we are more likely to have to wait before we cast our Pacts, the card feels significantly weaker. Of course, perhaps this is a reasonable cost to pay for an effect that at best says “win the game” and at worst is something that needed to be destroyed in order for you to get to keep playing Magic.

Demonic Pact is an incredibly unique Magic card, and I’m excited to work with it. Needless to say, what I’ve discussed today is merely scratching the surface of what is possible and the design space surrounding it for deckbuilders is incredibly vast. What do you think about Demonic Pact, and which decks are you interested in playing it in?