Thursday, August 2, 2012

CCDD 080212—Desperate Pact

Cool Card Design of the Day
8/2/2012 - As much as designers love forging hot new tools to show how innovative we can be, it's also hugely gratifying to iterate endlessly upon old designs, trying to perfect our craft by pushing something that was good to be great, or even simply by finding something perfectly common that hasn't quite been done before. The result is—arguably—the lifeblood of Magic. We need brand-new things to sell sets, and the tried-and-true to ensure quality and keep established customers happy, but it's the unnoticed variations that allow the game to shift radically while staying the same.

I wanted to find something that lives between Phyrexian Arena and Sign in Blood. Something that demonstrates how lopsided a deal with the devil can be.

Both Arena and Sign have great play value. They each net you N cards for N life; One does it immediately while the other draws it out over turns, killing you progressively even as you continue to profit. Those are similar and solid effects. My problem with them is that they don't hit the flavor of a demonic bargain as well as they could. Both spells offer equal cards for life. How many demons do you know that like to make fair deals? (Even ignoring that a card is usually worth rather more than a single life.)

Where I come from, a deal with the devil is an act of desperation:
"I need her to love me now!"
"Kill my enemies before they kill me!"
"Spare my son from this illness, I'll do anything!"
And like a dealer at a car lot, your friendly neighborhood demon is happy to make you an offer. You can have what you seek now, at the low, low cost of $265 a month—er, I mean your soul.

I love that casting Desperate Pact feels so powerful (and often is), yet is so dangerous. It will invariably make you question what you'd been thinking eight turns later when the game goes longer than you expected. And what can you do, as a black mage, to rid yourself of this burden? Either kill your opponent first, or tarnish your power by borrowing from one of the two most pitiful schools of magic. The choice seems clear.


  1. The flavor is a hit, and it looks like it would work well as an uncommon. I'd probably make sure there's no instant-flickering of "permanents" in the set, but with planeswalkers these days that effect is probably going to be pretty rare.

    1. Maybe change from "enters the battlefield" to "When you cast CARDNAME" in order to avoid this?

  2. awesome flavourful design

  3. This is, quite simply, awesome. Great work!

    My one concern with this setup is a developmental one: drawing cards now without losing life immediately has the potential to be broken in a combo deck in a way neither Phyrexian Arena nor Sign in Blood ever could be if you "go off" chaining these and Dark Rituals or what have you. I doubt that's actually an issue for this card, but it puts a damper on my excitement to use the effect all over the place as a new baseline.

    Then again, the fact that black no longer has rituals probably means it's not worth worrying about.

  4. Unbelievable bomb. Should probably have BB to make it harder to splash, and should probably cost 3BB to make it less broken, or lose 2-3 life per turn.

    In fast formats, this card is absurd. Basically, this card would be enough for almost any deck in any format to run black, and for any aggro deck to draw enough gas to win.

    Obviously better for aggro builds, but this card would be absolutely bonkers. Obviously comboing with "Flicker" or other cards would make it insane. If this resolves, you basically win. I don't even want to think about storm/combo.

    Black Ancestral Recall for 3, with minimal downside.

    1. As soon as you inserted "for 3" into that last sentence, you should have realized that what you were saying made no sense.

      Why would Modern Storm even give a damn about a 3 mana enchantment when it can already filter through its entire deck using free cantrips and efficient card selection without penalty? I mean, the deck doesn't even play black.

      And how do you propose black goes about "flickering" its enchantments? Or even recurring them? Oh, you're going to play it in your sick Venser deck? What a combo!

      Evaluating an amateur design under the premise that it would be too dangerous under hypothetical worst-case scenarios is ridiculous.

    2. This card is in the interesting space in between Meditate and Ambition's Cost. Nobody plays Ambition's Cost. Development would want to test this as-is and at lose-2-life-per-turn, but I suspect this card is printable as is. Very powerful, definitely, and likely to make an impact, but probably not out of the question.
      The more I think about this, the more I want to compare it to Jace Beleren, though obviously different decks want them.

  5. Another trick would be to have "Enchantment - Pact" existing in a similar way to Curses, with the second line being "At the beginning of your upkeep, lose 1 life for each Pact you control." Less elegant for this individual card, but laudable potentially as a subtheme or set of cycles in a set with this as the showpiece for the subtype.

    1. So the goal of the mechanic is to dissuade people from playing too many / more than one Pact at a time?

    2. You could ditch the parasitic nature by making it "lose 1 life for each enchantment you control" though that gets away from the point.

      They *could* hypothetically be all bonus-upfront drawback-upkeep. Just riffing, but if monoblack, maybe:

      When ~ enters the battlefield, destroy all creatures target player controls.
      At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice a land for each Pact you control.

      When ~ enters the battlefield, target player discards two cards.
      At the beginning of your upkeep, discard a card for each Pact you control.

    3. I really like the flavor and play value of the pacts. And in the sense of this particular card, it plays the same because you lose the same amount of life.

  6. I think this is too strong in eternal formats though. You get the draw power in CC better than blue, which front ends the good and tacks a slow death on the back end. But this is ultimately to playable with cards like: Forbidden Ritual or Infernal Tribute. The drawback goes away completely. This gives black way too much speed. Look at griselbrand, black needs draw and loves draw but it is OP in black to be to fast and efficient. Is there anyone that would not pay 4 life every turn for 12 cards initially? Especially when they could draw more with infernal tribute and not lose life.

    1. Forbidden Ritual and Infernal Tribute are both cards that shouldn't exist. That they're not overpowered makes banning them silly, but they give black answers to its own enchantments which cuts down on design space like this. Personally, I'd print Desperate Pact and then ban it for Vintage/Legacy, but increasing the up-front cost is also certainly an option.