If you were wondering where the exciting cards in this set were, we found one. If the goal was to make an iconic Dungeons & Dragons foe into a flashy and powerful card, Demilich seems like a smashing success. If you are missing the context, look up the Tomb of Horrors adventure. I’m not a Dungeons or Dragons expert by any means, but that is an iconic piece of game literature.
There’s a lot of excitement comparing Demilich to Dreadhorde Arcanist. Dreadhorde Arcanist has seen success in Pioneer, Historic, and was banned in Legacy.
But there’s also an argument for comparing Demilich to Emry, Lurker of the Loch. Not that Emry is a bad card, but it underperformed for how scary each of the lines of text was.
Where does the truth lie? Let’s examine this skull from top to bottom.
Blue Pip, Blue Pip; Blue Pip, Blue Pip
I swear that One Fish, Two Fish header joke sounds better in your head than it looks on the page. Moving right along.
I did mean that last line literally. The first thing that comes to mind is the quad-blue cost propping up some of the soon to rotate devotion to blue cards from Theros Beyond Death. I’m unconvinced that’s the best home for the rest of the card since instants and sorceries aren’t known for their devotion synergies, but I can imagine finding a way to put Sea Gate Restoration into my graveyard to flashback with Demilich or just playing Mythos of Illuna.
The other issue with a quad-blue cost is the anti-synergy with Pathways. While Pathways are extremely powerful lands, they don’t mesh well with extreme costs in a single color. Any Standard deck with Demilich is more in the market for Triomes, Temples, and Snarls rather than using Pathways to stretch to a third color.
Ok, maybe still not Snarls, we don’t need to stoop that low yet.
All Bones, Still Brains?
I’m also skeptical of the Wizard or party tribal synergies involving Demilich. Similar issues to devotion arise involving permanent-heavy plans with your spell-heavy payoff.
I would make one exception for Relic Amulet. While I doubt it applies currently against the Adventure creatures with a million stat points to absorb damage with, Relic Amulet was dominant enough in Limited burning through the tribal bodies of Zendikar Rising that I wouldn’t be shocked to see it play a similar role in a future Standard with smaller creatures.
Notably, Demilich isn’t a legendary permanent. It does have some of the same characteristics of a legendary permanent though. The second copy is significantly worse than the first, but who cares because there are two outcomes. Either the first copy lives and you win easily, who cares about a dead card. Or the first copy dies, and the best possible thing to do is probably slam the second one right?
If It Could Be Free, It Could Be Me?
The fate of casting Demilich for free rests on Manamorphose. There aren’t enough proactive free spells like Gitaxian Probe these days for good reason, and once you start casting Pyretic Rituals it feels like you should be converting that mana to something closer to a win or finding better things to recast with the Demilich. That said, casting the copy with Demilich does trigger storm on Grapeshot or Brain Freeze so feel free to dream away.
But once you start Manamorphose-ing, the equation gets a lot easier. You don’t get the turbo starts of Stormwing Entity on Turn 2, but a Demilich deck is less interested in going that hard and more interested in burying your opponent in resources. A Turn 3 Manamorphose into some cantrips and a Lightning Bolt for a free Demilich is exactly what you are trying to line up.
There’s a small chance you even want to Strike it Rich and double up on Demilich and Stormwing Entity. In this theory world you might also want Faithless Salvaging, both because drawing Strike it Rich is often bad and because rebound also plays well with stacking up spell casts on a turn. Sadly recasting Faithless Salvaging with Demilich recasts a copy, as opposed to the typical flashback-style recast where the Salvaging would exile itself to rebound, and even more sadly that’s a lot of low power cards to be playing.
In non-Manamorphose formats, you are largely trying to set up a double spell Turn 5 with Demilich. Think of it as Goldspan Dragon in reverse, but with the also common option of just slamming the full cost Demilich on Turn 4 if you don’t need to interact that turn.
On that note of Lightning Bolt, the other big use of the cost reduction is laundering colors of mana. Demilich costs quad-blue, but you can cast it off triple-blue and a red if you have a Lightning Bolt. This is going to be extremely relevant in Historic and Pioneer, where you are at the mercy of non-fetchland mana but reasonable one mana removal also exists. Drawing two Swamps is yet another reason for the Turn 5 double spell Demilich in Standard.
Imagine Snapcaster Mage Cost Zero
First rules thing: you do have to pay for the spell you recast with Demilich. It would tell you on the card if you didn’t. We don’t live in the world where you get to Turn 2 Magma Opus for a Treasure, Turn 3 Demilich, and go wild like Demilich is a Mizzix Mastery.
Similar to Dreadhorde Arcanist, the baseline of Demilich’s recast ability is that you get to pull way ahead on cards if it lives. It is the classic Ophidian play pattern, but recasting a spell from your graveyard that assures a one-for-one or better trade is way better than a random card. While a lot of the stuff you would want to recast in older formats does cost one mana and would be recastable with Arcanist, that isn’t true of everything. Archmage’s Charm comes to mind as a card I would gladly flashback as Divination after casting it as Counterspell, and is another card that points to the same blue mana constraints as Demilich.
In Standard, this difference will be massive. People actually just play spells that cost more than one mana because those cards are good and much more impactful than the limited selection of one-cost spells. The most powerful mode of Demilich is likely to be Visara-mode, where you just recast a removal spell on each attack. Not only is this netting you cards, but the requirement of leaving back two things to block a Demilich attack feels near impossible. What if you just have another removal spell in hand and can cast both? Decks aiming to play creatures will typically need a removal spell to beat Demilich, which in turn bodes well for Skyclave Apparition’s future stock.
There’s also a big gap in how good a three-cost removal spell is with Demilich as opposed to a two-cost one because of this pattern. If you just cast Demilich early without a removal spell in graveyard, you are likely to be able to Heartless Act from hand before an attack and recast it via the attack trigger. The same isn’t true for more expensive spot removal.
I also want to note how much better recasting a removal spell with Demilich is than recasting a draw spell. Getting ahead on cards is great, but trading your mana for your opponent’s mana while also getting ahead a card is so much better.
The other thing to note on the recast is that Demilich really pushes you towards proactive interaction. You don’t need to play zero Counterspells in a Demilich deck, but a critical mass of proactive stuff to recast is required first.
What Is Dead May Never Die
Are we actually casting Demilich from our graveyard?
Sure, once a game. Maybe twice on a good day. And always eventually. If this card had unearth or eternalize, would you be sad about it? If not, don’t worry so much about the cost of the recast being a large number.
Is the flashback on attack ability anti-synergy with the four spell count for a recast? Sure, but if Demilich attacked and recast a spell who cares. If it’s that big a deal flashback a draw spell and draw more spells to fill your graveyard with.
It’s not like this is the initial gateway to casting the card. Even if it is hard to accumulate four instants or sorceries plus the things you want to recast with the Demilich and only a fraction of games go that way, the rest of the text box still functions in the rest of the games you play.
It is pretty sick that your primary win condition can also be your anti-Rogues card. I’m still likely to play Cling to Dust since cheap cantrips for black mana help you cast Demilich, but it isn’t a sideboard priority the way it used to be.
My one word of caution is that Demilich is a partial graveyard threat. It’s less of graveyard threat than many of the other traditional spells-based options, since a 4/3 with cost reduction is better than a 3/2 flying haste (Arclight Phoenix) or a 2/1 flash (Snapcaster Mage), but if this is your least graveyard-centric threat that’s an exploitable weakness.
- 3 Demilich
Dimir Control was an interesting deck at the start of this Standard rotation that got quickly eclipsed by Emergent Ultimatum once Kaldheim entered the format. Demlich gives the deck a new value proposition: you are no longer some long game deck that is incorrectly omitting the seven mana auto-win. You get the big control deck with a lower to the ground threat to undercut the Sultai decks and win games against aggressive decks without needing all your cards to be perfect lands and spells.
Not that you would expect him to be wrong, but Paulo is right about how good Hall of the Storm Giants is. Having played enough creature and midrange decks in Modern, there’s an issue that regularly occurs playing against Celestial Colonnade where if they can get in a single early free attack with it, often they are favorite from there to win any race and the game is unrecoverable. That’s on top of the fact that you can’t profitably attack into an open Colonnade with most small things.
Imagine that, but bigger. If your opponent controls a Hall of the Storm Giants and you have a single turn where you miss on forcing them to do something other than attack, it’s basically over. How many times can you take seven damage? Not that many. Just another thing that pushes this deck towards being a control deck that can undercut anyone who tries to play a longer game against it.
You may want some Brazen Borrowers in addition to Shark tokens to help you close the damage gap to two-shotting someone with Hall, likely in the slot of the more expensive threats in this list. Demilich is technically also damage, but honestly if you successfully connect with Demilich you probably aren’t losing to damage finesse issues.
The Historic situation is a no brainer. You get to play Brainstorm, and Demilich is probably good enough for every Brainstorm deck, and if you don’t play Brainstorm that sounds like a mistake, so… play Demilich?
I think the discussion about the card in Izzet Phoenix is the most interesting. You have to make basically no changes to the deck to accommodate Demilich, but I only expect people to play one or two copies. It is still a card that actually requires four mana to cast in Historic, even if you spend some or all of that mana on spells first and even if you Finale of Promise boost into it, and even if Demilich is basically free to discard to Faithless Looting and cast later there isn’t a ton of room for four-drops in the deck.
Moving onto Modern, you start to have real competition between Demilich and Murktide Regent and between Demilich and the larger planeswalkers and between Demilich and Lurrus of the Dream-Den. That’s a pretty tight squeeze.
This list is almost less of a direct suggestion and more a culmination of a lot of ideas I’ve had playing the format lately and thinking about Demilich.
It feels like every Demilich deck in Modern is going to be an Archmage’s Charm deck. That reduces the competition issues with Murktide Regent, which is just a big idiot in those decks as opposed to a one-shot close the game card like it is in more aggressive decks.
I think the biggest issue of those prior competitors for Demilich is Lurrus of the Dream-Den. Lurrus offers a very similar effect with immediate value and with the companion standard of being an eighth card each game. Maybe an Esper Control deck wants a couple Demilich next to Teferi, Hero of Dominaria because Jace, the Mind Sculptor is too fragile for 2021, but I expect most Demilich decks to be unable to produce white or black mana.
Within those Temur colors, I wanted to transfer over a few things that looked good in other shells. The Abundant Harvest, trim lands, but still support a higher curve plan was great in the Bant Ephemerate deck from a few weeks back, and pairing good cantrips with Demilich seemed obvious. I had also tried the Indomitable Creativity Turns deck, and while the deck in general was terrible right now the end game of a Wrenn and Six emblem with a Time Warp or Cryptic Command was stellar. Demilich plays well with those cards in a similar fashion.
The two cards that might deserve slots in this deck that I ended up trimming to fit all these speculative things in are Growth Spiral and Force of Negation. Force of Negation makes a bunch of sense with a sorcery-speed threat like Demilich, but I’m concerned about it alongside Counterspell with Demilich. Growth Spiral into a Turn 3 Demilich or a faster Time Warp is also exciting, but I haven’t mixed Abundant Harvest with Growth Spiral and there’s some real problems with a twenty land Growth Spiral deck.
Going back to those initial comparisons, it sure looks like Demilich is closer to the multi-format staple Dreadhorde Arcanist side of things than it is to the scary but underwhelming Emry side.
The final truth on Demilich? I’m fairly sure it’s the best non-land card in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms.