Demonic Pact is very cool—it’s powerful, it’s unique, it’s interesting. It’s so cool, in fact, that it makes you wonder how Waste Not beat it in the latest edition of “You Make the Card.” But is it good? Well, honestly, I’m not sure. Let’s try to find out.
If you aggregate the effects of the card, then it’s certainly good—2BB for deal 4, gain 4, draw 2, discard 2,
you lose the game would be a stupendous deal. What if it’s staggered between three turns, none of it immediate? Well, still a good deal. I like that it denies your opponent resources, gives you more resources, and gives you the time to use those resources. It’s like a mini Cruel Ultimatum.
The fact that you’re not locked into choosing something until it actually happens is also interesting, as is the fact that you get to untap with a clear board. Say your opponent plays a guy on turn three, you Downfall it and now you untap and play Demonic Pact. Your opponent has Anafenza in hand. If they play Anafenza, you’ll just kill it for free, gain 4 life, and you have all your mana facing an empty board. If they don’t play Anafenza, however, you just draw two cards, or make them discard it. Then, next turn, they’re in the same spot. The fact that people might wait for you to run out of “charges” to play their guy can also end up benefiting you by buying you a whole lot of time, not unlike what happens when you play a card like Standstill.
Now that we’ve established that the payoff is good, we have to see how we can get rid of the “you lose the game” clause. If it’s not too much work, then the card can be good. I see 7 ways:
1) Give Them Demonic Pact
This is the best way to get rid of the card by far, since, well, it kills them. Demonic Pact remembers the choices that were already made, so if you draw two, discard two, and deal 4, and then you give them control of Demonic Pact, they’re going to die on their upkeep. Unlike Illusions of Grandeur, you still benefit from it even if they kill it pre-Donate, since either way you get rid of it. Unfortunately, Donate effects are in short supply those days. Donate itself is on the Reserved List, and we’re not likely to see such a straightforward effect anytime soon. Instead, we probably have to settle for exchanging it for something.
In Standard, that leaves us with Daring Thief and Shifting Loyalties. Those are complicated, because most people don’t have enchantments lying around. You can work around it if you give them enchantments—you could, for example, exchange control of Hypnotic Siren with one of their nonenchantment creatures, and then exchange control of Demonic Pact and Siren. Or you could give them an enchantment token with Pharika. But all of those seem to be too much work for not enough payout. Besides, you need Daring Thief to survive and be tapped on a very specific turn—you don’t want them to use the other effects, after all—and then if they kill Thief you just lose the game.
In Modern, there’s Puca’s Mischief, which could be great, but both cards cost 4 mana and have no immediate impact, and I think that’s too dangerous of a proposition for Modern because you could just lose the game before you can get it to work. This approach, given the cards we currently have, is unlikely to work in either format.
2) Play a “You can’t lose the game” Effect
You can select the 4th option at any time if you have Platinum Angel in play or if you’ve just cast Angel’s Grace, but if that is happening then I’d rather just cast Ad Nauseam and win. I don’t see this approach working either.
3) Win the Game Before it Kills You
This approach is unlikely for a deck that wants such a grindy effect. Of course, it can and will happen in a lot of the games, but I think you can’t put Demonic Pact in your deck in the hopes of killing them before it “runs out” – you need a way to get rid of it, and then killing them is plan B.
4) Counter the Ability
5) End the Turn
Upkeep, trigger on the stack, Quicken + Day’s Undoing. Broken. Except you undo all you did with Demonic Pact, since draw 2 and discard 2 are much worse when both players shuffle their hands and draw 7.
6) Bounce/Blink it
Now we’re talking! Returning Demonic Pact to your hand or blinking it somehow (Flickerwisp?) is great, because it not only stops you from dying but lets you make use of the effects all over again. If you can make that happen, then it becomes even better than a spell that has all those effects at once. This is where I believe you should focus your efforts if you want to make a Demonic Pact deck work. Of course, you do have to find a way to get rid of it again eventually, but hopefully you can just chain bounce effects and eventually win the game, since you will be up like 10 cards by the time this happens. Imagine a scenario in which you go turn-four Pact, turn-5 shoot their guy + Pact, turn six make them discard 4, turn seven draw 4 and, at the end of the turn, you pay two mana and cast Kiora’s Dismissal, returning both Pacts to your hand. Then you can repeat. Doesn’t that sound great?
Bounce effects also have a great quality—they are playable cards. They’re not great, but they aren’t embarrassing like Puca’s Mischief and Shifting Loyalties are, either. You can play a bounce spell and it will still have a use even if you do not draw Demonic Pact. It’s also relevant that if they pass the turn with one card in hand, you can bounce their permanent and then make them discard it by choosing the discard option.
In Standard, this is what we’re working with:
(For my sanity I’m going to disregard those, but feel free to brew with them.)
Kiora’s Dismissal is the outlier here, but all the other cards have at least some semblance of playability. I particularly like Disperse, since it’s cheap, convenient, and instant speed, so you can just replay Pact next turn. Jace and Displacement Wave are good to return multiple Pacts, though. Silumgar’s Command is a very interesting card that could become a lot better now that we have more planeswalkers coming with Magic Origins.
In Modern, our selection is greatly enhanced. We have Cryptic Command, which is already a format staple, and then a bunch of theoretically bad cards:
- Boomerang and other targeted bounce (Aether Tradewinds, etc)
- Clutch of the Undercity (you take 3, but can also tutor for Pact/Puca’s Mischief!)
- A bunch of creatures that bounce your own permanents (Drake Familiar, Dream Stalker, Emancipation Angel, Kor Skyfisher, yadda yadda)
- Deny Reality (cascade into more Demonic Pacts?)
Unfortunately, none of those seem particularly excited to me, other than Cryptic. I think in Modern that’s too risky of a proposition. Flickerwisp is potentially the best, since you don’t even have to recast it, but I can’t really think of a deck that would want both types of effects.
7) Destroy It
That’s the coward’s way, but it works just like any other. For this to be good, then I think you need to have a card that does something other than destroying the enchantment—you can’t really play a bunch of erases in your deck (though it would be great to do that and then get paired against someone playing GB Constellation).
In Standard, there are four clear choices:
Those are already good effects, and don’t ask much of you that you aren’t already doing. You will, however, be hard pressed to play all of them in the same deck. Other than that, a card that you could potentially play is Ugin’s Construct, though that is likely not good enough. Then there are cards like Reclamation Sage, which are rarely going to be awful and you could incidentally play in a deck like Whip.
There’s also the uber-mega-combo of casting Starfield of Nyx and having it active. Then, once you’ve drawn 2 and made them discard 2, you can use the damage ability to have Demonic Pact kill itself. Then, next turn, you can bring it back with Starfield of Nyx and repeat the whole process! It’s basically drawing infinite cards and gaining infinite life, except it takes a while and also requires five enchantments.
In Modern, you have a lot more options. Esper Charm is a playable enchantment removal card (though it is a cost to use Esper Charm to kill your own thing). Perilous Research is also legal, as is Hatching Plans—you can make a sort of combo deck there, and even play Claws of Gix. I’m just not sure what you’re doing with all those cards. For those who are desperate, you can always Liliana of the Veil’s ultimate on yourself and get rid of all your Demonic Pacts.
In the end, I don’t think Demonic Pact is good in Modern. It’s too clunky and too dangerous, and it’s not doing anything better than the rest of the format to justify it. I’m not interested in testing Modern Pact decks unless they reprint a card similar to Donate.
In Standard, however, I think it could be good. Do I think it will be good? Not likely, but I think it can be, and I will try it, because it’s a different enough card that I don’t fully trust my ability to judge it without playing it, and powerful enough if it does work that I want to see for myself.
I will likely try two decks—if they work, then I can try others. The first will be a normal Abzan deck where I will just jam 4 Dromoka’s Commands, perhaps a Reclamation Sage and 1 or 2 Demonic Pacts, or a Sultai Charm splash. The other is a dedicated control deck, something similar to this:
I’ll also be toying with the other bounce spells, as well as a green splash for Sultai Charm and perhaps something else (Courser? Satyr Wayfinder? Den Protector?). Den Protector plus Displacement Wave/Silumgar’s Command is also a combo…