Stop Sleeping On Embodiment Of Agonies

Embodiment of Agonies presents a lot of hoops to jump through, but “The Innovator” is ready to take the leap! Check out his brews featuring the devious Demon from Core Set 2020 ahead of SCG Worcester!

How big of a flyer do you need to get for three mana before you’re really doing something?

I would say that a 3/3 flyer isn’t really attractive, whereas a 4/4 flyer would be excellent.

While Embodiment of Agonies isn’t necessarily going to get you your money’s worth on Turn 3, at least not reliably, the real value comes from just how well it scales throughout the game. It’s just not hard at all to cast it as a 5/5 flyer for three on Turn 5 (after you have a chance to spend two mana on something else efficient first). Besides, even if you do have to backup plan the Demon on Turn 3, undersized, it has deathtouch. Even a 2/2 flying deathtouch creature is a real game piece, and any you draw later should be much better.

So what are we supposed to be pairing with Embodiment of Agonies?

Discovery // Dispersal embodies all the primary ways to really amplify the Demon’s effectiveness. It can be played proactively early, before the Demon would come down. It goes straight to the graveyard (whereas permanents may sit on the battlefield for a while), while also cantripping so that you can further fuel your graveyard. It has a self-mill element, which is great with Embodiment of Agonies, since every non-land card you surveil away is potentially another +1/+1 for the Demon to come.

Finally, and this one’s important, it’s got great costs. You see, Discovery // Dispersal has a mana cost of 4BUD (where “D” is hybrid mana) while it is in your graveyard. This means that, despite being a solid two-cost play, it isn’t going to overlap in cost with any other cards in your deck.

In fact, even if we were to stay mono-black, it’s easy to play as many one and two-cost cards as we want, without much overlapping in costs. If it weren’t for these hybrid cards, how many cheap costs would we even have access to? You could use B, 1B, and BB, but then what? Maybe we could find a couple of artifacts or something, but for the most part, we’d either have to have a lot of overlapping costs (reducing the size of our Demons), or we’d have to settle for a meaningfully slower deck.

Here’s an example of this sort of approach in action:

Stitcher’s Supplier really accelerates the size our Demons come down, and the extra boost to graveyard size makes Mausoleum Secrets an interesting option.

Not only does it help us find our Demons faster, it plays naturally into the extremely diverse toolbox we end up with when we spread out our costs so much.

For instance, Finale of Eternity is a great Mausoleum Secrets target (counting as having just a converted mana cost of two); however, it’s also got great costs, since nothing else in our deck costs XBB (and yeah, X counts as its own thing for Embodiment of Agonies).

Cavalier of Night is a great silver bullet in some spots. It synergizes well with Stitcher’s Supplier, has a meaningful impact on the battlefield, and offers the perfect ability to get back a Demon. Besides, it even has a different cost from Doom Whisperer!

As awesome as Cavalier of Night is, Doom Whisperer is definitely Plan A among five-drops. Even if they kill it, you can surveil a bunch of times in a row, ensuring your Embodiments are massive.

I’m not sure if this is actually the best two-drop here, but it’s worth a try. It seems a fair bit stronger than Burglar Rats, and once we’re playing Cabal Stronghold, it is another mana sink (albeit a less efficient way to convert mana than some of our other options). Besides, it makes a good chump blocker while also being a fine target for Revival // Revenge, but who are we kidding? The real plan is Turn 1 Stitcher, chump block, and then Revival a 6/6 or something…

The Lotus Field here is super-speculative, but if we’re going to have all these hybrid cards with gold-split-card options, it’d be nice to have some way to cast them. That said, we may also just want to cut the whole Cabal Stronghold package and just play a few Temples or something.

Similar to Mausoleum Secrets, Mastermind’s Acquisition has more options when we’re already so heavily incentivized to spread out our costs. It’s slow, but having at least one lets us convert our Mausoleum Secrets into a nonblack card or a sideboard card, if we are so inclined.

While I did not include any in the list above, Dread Presence could be another way to take advantage of all our Swamps, while also adding yet another cost we don’t already have covered. Once I started down that path, however, I was tempted to try a Scapeshift build.

Drop a Dread Presence, then play a Swamp, cast Scapeshift, and that’s an eighteen-point drain right there (assuming you have eight lands; if you have nine, GG, even if you didn’t already deal a few points of damage).

Here’s an attempt to hybridize the Embodiment of Agonies deck with Scapeshift:

Explore creatures are particularly sweet with Embodiment of Agonies, so I could easily see going much harder in that direction. If you wanted to pick up Wildgrowth Walker, it might even be the case that you lean Seekers’ Squire over Merfolk Branchwalker for a better spread of costs.

While Cavalier of Night is a nice tutor target, Cavalier of Thorns is just straight-up banging.

It’s bigger, accelerates you into Dread Presence / Scapeshift, massively stocks your graveyard for bigger Demons, and gives anything you want back if it dies.

Rakdos actually has a huge variety of cheap costs available to us beyond just Bedeck // Bedazzle. Here’s an attempt to build a good-stuff Rakdos midrange deck that happens to push the Demon really hard. There’s no reason we couldn’t chill out a little on the weird cards if we were to find it too crazy. We don’t necessarily need 8/8 and 9/9 Demons all the time when a 7/7 might be almost as good.

Having access to both Discovery // Dispersal and Tormenting Voice means we’re going to be able to get our Demon online reasonably early a good amount of the time.

Of course, if we focus on blue instead, there are even better options, such as Chart a Course.

When trying a blue build, the first place that comes to mind is a Disinformation Campaign deck, since surveil cards synergize so nicely with the Demon.

Besides, leading with Duress and Thought Erasure means it’s going to be a lot tougher for some decks to answer Embodiment of Agonies.

If we’re willing to pay the price with shocklands and tapped lands, going three colors has the benefit of naturally giving us an even wider array of costs.


My Bolas, I hope this really is the right way to build these kinds of decks. It might be the case that playing so many ones and twos doesn’t give you enough extra +1/+1 counters to be worth it, but if it does, these lists just seem like they’d be so much fun to play.

As much as I love a good Nicol Bolas, the Embodiment of Agonies deck I am most excited to play is one pairing it with Kaalia, Zenith Seeker. If you draw even a single extra card off her, you are really doing it, since a 3/3 flying vigilance creature for three that draws a card (and with selection) is a fantastic rate. Heaven forbid you actually draw multiples!

This list generally has about a 49% chance of hitting an Angel, a 42.7% chance of hitting a Demon, and a 27.9% chance of hitting a Dragon. Together, that’s solidly better than a full extra card, and besides, digging so hard to one of the best cards in our deck is awesome.

It’s tough not playing Lyra Dawnbringer, but if we’re not careful, we’ll get really clogged at the five-slot. There are so many good options for Angels that cost less, we might just need to let Skarrgan Hellkite take most of the five-spot. That said, we could also just not care about Dragons that much (but Skarrgan Hellkite is a strong enough card, I’m inclined to start with it). Remember, in general, it’s better to have a smoother spread of Angels, Demons, and Dragons, since revealing two of the same type only draws you one extra card, whereas revealing two that are different nets you two extra cards.

Of course, if we really want to ball out of control, Niv-Mizzet Reborn is not only an absolutely fantastic Dragon to find with Kaalia, it’s also naturally quite synergistic with the wide array of gold cards that we already want to pair with Embodiment of Agonies.

Okay, this mana base is probably just too far out in left field, but if we can find a way to make it work, we’re going to draw so many extra cards, so consistently, there’s a good chance we can just power through a lot of midrange and control decks without breaking a sweat. I mean, how are they supposed to keep up with so much ability to dig to Niv-Mizzet when it draws an average of four extra cards each time?!

While I am going to try this one out, I’m more confident in the Mardu Kaalia list. Kaalia and Embodiment of Agonies are such strong cards that I’m really excited to figure out the best supporting cast to make them shine.