My favorite line of text to see on a card is, “you lose the game.” Not only is it a powerful effect in itself, albeit one that you’ll want to avoid resolving for yourself, but it usually gets tacked onto the end of a card that is otherwise powerful, possibly even too good without it. The poster child for this in standard is of course, Demonic Pact.
Now before we get into my Standard brew, I’d like to flash back to a time when I played another card that had those beautiful four words: Nefarious Lich. Now, Lich was a little bit trickier to play than Demonic Pact, and the deck I built then was lacking an efficient way to push the enchantment to my opponent like Donate. In fact, with no mana acceleration, I liked to brag that it couldn’t win before turn 11 or so. It was a terrible deck, that used the broken combo of Counterspell or Boomerang imprinted onto Isochron Scepter to lock my opponent out of the game while I found Nefarious Lich, a bounce spell and Avarice Totem.
Why Avarice Totem? Well, there’s a little known interaction with Avarice Totem and the stack that allows you to trade any non-land permanent you control for any non-land permanent your opponent controls.
Here’s how it works. Let’s say you have 10 forests, Avarice Totem, and an Elvish Visionary on the battlefield, and your opponent has a Siege Rhino and no untapped lands. You could pay 5 to trade the Totem for the Rhino, but that leaves your opponent free to untap, pay 5 and trade back. The tricky way to do it would be to first, activate Avarice Totem targeting your own Elvish Visionary. This normally doesn’t do anything, since you can’t trade with yourself, but conveniently, Totem doesn’t care who owns it, so you are allowed to target anything, regardless of whether the ability will resolve normally.
Unfortunately, this is where the stack and priority comes in, so feel free to skip this paragraph. Normally, you would activate your artifact, pass priority to your opponent, and assuming they didn’t want to play anything in response, your effect would resolve. If, however, you keep priority, and choose not to let your opponent respond, you can cast or activate as many spells (with flashback or instants) and abilities as you want, and your opponent can’t do anything till your done putting things on the stack. So, you put a second Avarice Totem activation on the stack above the first, targeting the theoretical Siege Rhino.
What happens is that, assuming your opponent doesn’t respond, the last activation of Totem resolves first, trading Totem for Rhino. Now, your opponent controls Totem, and the first activation wants to resolve and switch controllers with Elvish Visionary. If it does, you’ve just traded your 1/1 for your opponent’s 4/5 trample creature. The deck I put together back in the day, used this interaction to push Nefarious Lich to the opponent, and then use a bounce spell to make it leave the battlefield, killing the controller.
Do note, there is a point after the first exchange happens, when the opponent can pay 5 mana to activate the totem targeting something you control. That was a lot more about Nefarious Lich than I had initially intended to write, but it’s largely because my latest Standard brew continues the fine tradition of making my opponent lose to effects meant to kill me. Enter Demonic Pact.
3 Polluted Delta
3 Flooded Strand
3 Windswept Heath
3 Sunken Hollow
2 Prairie Stream
2 Canopy Vista
2 Llanowar Wastes
1 Caves of Koilos
1 Shambling Vent
1 Lumbering Falls
There is so much about this deck that I love. Playing Demonic Pact feels exactly the way I expect R&D intended. You feel incredibly powerful, and yet it’s terrifying to play if you don’t have a plan to avoid that fourth ability. The deck really takes advantage of Jace and Ugin, with the former giving early card selection and recurring key spells later, and the latter acting as a safety valve, clearing the board of Demonic Pact for -4. There’s even a Shifting Loyalties for the games where you can trade for an opponent’s enchantment, preferably after using 2 or 3 modes on your Pact. Before Battle for Zendikar came out, I had a similar build that used Daring Thief instead of Shifting Loyalties, and I felt that was a better deck overall, but Standard giveth and Standard taketh.
I initially was running Painful Truths because of the potential to flash back early with Jace. What I found was that this particular deck leverages its life total enough that it’s worth playing the more expensive, but instant speed Dig Through Time. The various one-ofs in the deck benefit more from the selection, and being dedicated to a control strategy means we’ll be able to cast it on the cheap on end step eventually.
On the subject of one-ofs, I’ve been torn in many directions on the Commands. I suspect that I should be running a second Silumgar’s command or Utter End, but Ojutai’s Command has been the difference between a win and a loss on more than one occasion. Meanwhile, Dromoka’s Command, one of my best tools to remove Pact, is in the sideboard, mainly because I don’t always have a creature of my own to target for a counter or to fight, making it often uncastable, despite having mana.
I’m sure I could tune it to eke out a few more wins at FNM, but Demonic Pact has one fatal flaw that is pretty much going to keep it out of competitive builds, and that flaw is that there is no subtlety. You slam a Pact on turn 4, your opponent knows more or less what the next 3 turns are, not to mention the rest of the match. Even through the significant card advantage that Demonic Pact grinds out, a savvy opponent can often craft a sideboard strategy and play through it, so I’m going to go ahead and say this is a fine deck to take to FNM, but don’t expect to take down a PPTQ or any tourney that has a money prize with it. You will be disappointed.
Bottom line, playing a card that makes you lose the game is not a way to excel at tournament Magic. I’ve sure had a lot of fun with it, but I think I’ll be moving on to something more powerful. Control isn’t really my preferred archetype, so maybe it’s time to pick up Atarka Red, or go back to Eldrazi Ramp. Perhaps I’ll even pick up an Abzan build again; Eldrazi Displacer seems like it might have some interesting targets before Khans of Tarkir rotates.