Sunday, March 13, 2011

Delivering Demons

One thing that's always bothered me about Magic is the imbalance in the iconic creatures in each colors. You know the ones I mean; the big bomb creatures that make you excited to open a pack. White gets angels, red gets dragons, blue gets relative newcomer sphinxes, green gets (...profit?) and black gets demons. Now, I sympathize with green's lack of an iconic creature type (they're probably worth a future post), but as you might notice from my avatar, I have a soft spot for the bad guys. In real life, I'm generally a good guy, but I try to indulge my evil side once I get a chance to play. So it could be that I'm biased on this, but I'm pretty sure demons are getting shafted in Magic.

Consider this...

There are 92 dragons and 75 angels in the game, with a wide variety of stats and abilities, and and they're spread across all colors. Since Ravnica block (when sphinxes first appeared as an iconic blue creature), there have been 34 new dragons, 26 new angels, and 20 sphinxes. Meanwhile, there are only 49 demons (with 11 of those in Kamigawa block alone), and only 19 new ones since Ravnica. Additionally, demons are heavily standardized - they have cookie cutter mana costs and stats: 9 out of the 49 are 6/6, 9 are 5/5, and 5 are 7/7 (and again, they're even more bland if you leave out the Kamigawa demons). And compared with the other iconic creatures - which have a wide range of abilities that explore a wide range of different effects characteristic of their colors, and frequently splash other colors - demons have a very tight set of abilities (look at the overwhelming prevalence of upkeep or sacrifice based effects), and have very almost no color splashes (80% are mono-black).

I suppose you could argue that these characteristics are demons' Magic trope, but considering how much variety there is in angels and dragons, it just seems like demons are suffering from lazy design. On top of that, there's a huge difference in the quality of those cards. Nearly every constructed format sees some competitive angels and dragons (and now sphinxes), but demons tend to get left in the binder. I'm willing to grant that there's been more demonic variety since Zendikar block, and Ob Nixilis and Abyssal Persecutor have seen some constructed play, but it still seems like demons are tremendously under-printed and under-played, and I'd like to see them get a refresh.

I think Pestilence Demon provides a good example of where demons could go. It has a nice reference to a classic enchantment, it's an all upside card, and while it's not quite constructed competitive, it's a limited bomb that anyone can be happy playing. Also, if it works out that the Phyrexians take over Mirrodin, it seems like there'll be an opportunity to make demons with some white and green abilities (I really like the current twist with evil green and white creatures - I think it does a good job of challenging the "white good" perception). Finally, I'd like to see a few demons drop into uncommon. While iconic creatures are generally rare or mythic, most of the other icons do make appearances at uncommon. With these things in mind, here're a few examples I'd like to see in print...

(Note: All of my card designs have been posted the Wizards Official Home Page. They are available on their wiki here.)

Underworld Dreamer
creature - demon
Whenever an opponent draws a card, CARDNAME does 1 damage to him or her.
B, Sacrifice a creature: CARDNAME loses defender and gains flying until end of turn.

Phyrexian Redeemer (mythic)
creature - demon
flying, vigilance, protection from white
At the beginning of your end step, put target creature card in an opponent's graveyard on to the battlefield under his or her control. That creature is a white spirit in addition to its other colors and types.

Furious Demon (uncommon)
creature - demon
Flying, Trample, Haste

Green Meanie (rare)
creature - demon
At the beginning of your upkeep, destroy target non-land, non-creature permanent.


  1. Interesting designs! I think it's worth noting that Black seems to often go for Vampires when it wants big creatures without downsides. That spreads it a bit thinner than Dragons in Red or Angels in White, which don't have any major competing creature types.

  2. True, though now that vampires have been shifted down to being a mostly weenie type, that should help free up the room for demons to take those slots.

  3. On the topic of white demons, I think they would be most probable if we were to see a return of the "possessed" style cards from Odyssey block. Otherwise, I think they'll remain exclusive to black and black-pairings.

  4. It's not necessarily the case in Magic that white equates to good, or black to evil, and I think there's a compelling case that Phyrexians make more sense as a white-themed villain than a black one. So within that context, I don't see why you couldn't see a white demon (even though I think it'd be a WB card, like the one above).

    Similarly, if a block was going to tell a Paradise Lost-style story, I think it'd make a lot of sense for the first set to have green and white demons.

    And this isn't to say there's anything wrong with black demons - there's a ton of unexplored space there.

  5. I like a lot of these designs, but the Redeemer feels neither black nor like a demon to me. Except for the slightly odd protection from white, I could definitely see that as a mono-white angel ala Reya Dawnbringer...