Demon Level: Rising!

Posted in Feature on April 17, 2012

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Avacyn is back. With her, a holy legion of angels has returned to rekindle the fading flame of humanity. With no time to spare, the light of salvation finally shines upon Innistrad once more.

Now the roles are reversed—it's the demons who are on the run. Griselbrand is dead, and pure white magic is seeping into every corner of Innistrad. Suddenly, cultists are looking into a profession switch.

But demons have still not entirely vanished from Innistrad. As long as they have a single believer, their presence will always linger. As soon as the angels rest their guard, as soon as Avacyn conveniently finds her way into another enchanted prison, demons will rule the plane once more.

And then it'll be time for a demonic rising.

What are we going to do with this card?

Black has no dearth of powerful drops in the midgame. From Phyrexian Obliterator all the way up to Grave Titan, there are plenty of strong choices.

Demonic Rising | Art by Trevor Claxton

The strength of Demonic Rising is that it's more than just a single creature. Even if your opponent deals with your board, a 5/5 Demon is always just a single supporter away from returning and wreaking havoc.

The deck that will be able to make best use of this card is one that tops out at five mana. Our deck can't be creature-focused, but it needs to have enough that it can always juice a 5/5 Demon out of this enchantment.

Last week, I asked for a black deck that didn't play too many creatures. After pawing through all the submissions, I settled on Erick Lavandier's mono-black deck! Congratulations to Erick!

Let's take a look at what we'll be working with today:

Erick Lavandier's Mono-Black Midrange

Download Arena Decklist

The Battle Plan

How does this deck work?

This deck aims to use its mix of removal and discard to control the opponent's side of the board while simultaneously setting up creatures and attacking. It's poised to play a control style of game against the aggressive decks by removing their creatures while casting large creatures of your own. Against control decks, it attempts to play a more aggressive game by using discard in conjunction with creatures to overrun them.

Solemn Simulacrum | Art by Dan Scott

Its strength is in its versatility. Its weakness, however, stems from the same source.

Mono-black seldom has card filtering available to it, and without any here it means your draws are at fate's whimsy. In a deck where you want to draw specific cards against control and different specific cards against beatdown, and not draw cards from the other half, you risk drawing the wrong cards in the wrong matchups.

Some of my modifications are going to focus on improving that consistency. With that said, there's only so much that can be done—that's part of the risk of playing a mono-black deck.

Let's jump into the card-selection process.

Card Breakdown—The Creatures

This deck has, all things considered, about twenty creatures. Phyrexian Metamorph is usually a creature and, while not specifically in the creature column, Batterskull and Lashwrithe also count as creatures. Some of them are worth keeping—and some will definitely be put on the bench.

Lashwrithe | Art by Jason Felix

Let's run through them.

Solemn Simulacrum is a fantastic card for decks like this. It finds that crucial fifth land for Demonic Rising then counts as a lone creature the following turn, blocks and nets you a card, and even gets in some damage when the coast is clear.

Solemn Simulacrum
Phyrexian Obliterator

Phyrexian Obliterator is also very good in this style of deck. It's undercosted and has a powerful ability, though it is vulnerable to a lot of the removal people are using right now. The one problem with Obliterator is that manlands work very well with Demonic Rising, and Inkmoth Nexus is a card I am very likely to play. With colorless lands in your deck, Phyrexian Obliterator begins to look a lot worse.

Bloodgift Demon does provide the aforementioned card filtering, but if your opponent can't deal with your five-drop creature you are usually in good shape anyway. This is a card I'm going to want to trim in favor of our new five-drop enchantment.

Phyrexian Metamorph's main strength is versatility. Doubling up on Solemn or even Lashwrithe is certainly powerful. However, if you have a removal-heavy draw Metamorph looks a lot worse, since it doesn't start off as a creature on its own. The two life this deck will always have to pay to cast it is not inconsequential either. It's a strong card, but it's only above average in this deck.

Bloodgift Demon
Phyrexian Metamorph

Vault Skirge is great with Lashwrithe, but fairly unexciting otherwise. A 1/1 flying lifelinker in a deck that is trying to control the game while attacking with large creatures is fairly out of place. Considering I also need to cut creatures from this deck to ensure Demonic Rising is always active, Vault Skirge is a pretty easy cut.

Lashwrithe is the big bad wolf in a mono-black deck. While Inkmoth Nexus does make this card pump for slightly less, it's still perfectly castable, unlike the Obliterator. In fact, I'd even say that this card is better with Nexus in your deck than without, simply because this is an unbelievable card to equip to your Nexus.


Batterskull is powerful, and the lifelink is certainly valuable against beatdown. However, I'm really looking to top out with Demonic Rising and want to reduce my number of other five-drops. Batterskull can take a seat from the main deck.

Card Breakdown—The Noncreatures

Since this deck is just a few removal flavors short of opening its own Baskin Robbins branch (with ice cream names like Victim of Nougat and Tragic Strawberry) we'll start by looking at the other spells and coming back to the removal.

Liliana of the Veil | Art by Steve Argyle

The first question is the discard. This deck features Despise, Distress, and Liliana of the Veil. Is that enough? Is that too much? Are those the right pieces? It all depends on the curve and the metagame.

Liliana of the Veil

In general, I would say Liliana is the most powerful card there, followed by Despise and then Distress. Liliana's value to the deck does decrease a little in this token-and-flashback-filled world, especially when you consider this deck doesn't have any positive cards to discard with her. Despise is quite good against decks besides tokens, and even there it isn't terrible. Distress is the furthest back simply because it is more expensive than Despise to cast.

It's also worth noting that the newly revealed Appetite for Brains is another discard option. However, because Liliana of the Veil is good at stripping away the opponent's expensive cards, and Distress will probably do a similar job against most decks, I'm not that interested in eating brains here.

I think this deck wants at least six main-deck discard effects to ensure it often finds one early in the game, and likely more since the first few turns in this deck don't have many proactive plays if the opponent isn't playing a lot of creatures. While discard does tend to be for the late game, playing Liliana helps with that a little since she has other uses.

The other card to look at before we go over the removal is Surgical Extraction. Normally Extraction wouldn't be near good enough. You're trading a card to not affect the board at all, and there's no guarantee you're even going to hit a card in the opponent's hand.

This situation is a little different. You have some hand-peeking discard so you can try to maneuver to pluck a card with Extraction. The format also contains Snapcaster Mage, undying creatures, Gravecrawler, and various flashback goodies to give Extraction some extra power.

However, it's still a card I would rather keep in the sideboard. In a deck where one of the main elements that needs to be improved is consistency, Extraction is a very inconsistent card. It's never guaranteed to do anything, and in several early situations it's going to be a dead draw. There are certainly times when it will be good—but I'd rather sideboard it in against those decks.

Okay, so now we're back to the removal question. How do we even begin to choose from this group?

The removal spells we're looking for need to either be efficient pinpoint removal or some form of card advantage.

The leading pinpoint removal spell in my mind is Go for the Throat. Geth's Verdict will too often allow an opponent to keep a reasonable creature, and drawing Victim of Night against Zombies sounds like an exercise in wanting to smash your head against a brick wall. The mana efficiency of Tragic Slip isn't as crucial in a deck without Snapcaster Mage, and even if you get the morbid mode of the spell it's often going to be doing the same thing as your other removal.

Black Sun's Zenith fills the sweeper role against beatdown decks and seems important against tokens, red-green beatdown, and Zombies alike. Keeping a few main deck definitely seems worthwhile.

New Recruits

There are definitely a few cards worth talking about adding in. Since the deck is just a single color, Erick didn't miss too much—but there are a few options.

Dismemberis another good candidate for the removal debate. I'd like to play it in addition to Go for the Throat. It will kill most problematic creatures, and the flexibility on cost is nice.

Geralf's Messenger is another strong heavy-black card. He can't block the turn he comes down, which makes him a little weaker in this archetype. Like Obliterator, he also doesn't work well with the Inkmoth Nexuses I want to play. If you want to play him and Obliterator, Blue-Black Zombies is a great place to start—that's just not really what this deck is aiming to do.

Mortarpod plays nice with Demonic Rising and also serves as some additional removal. It can even carry a Lashwrithe in a pinch! While not immensely powerful, it is very versatile, which is something this deck is looking for.

Pristine Talismanhelps you hit all of your drops and gives you some excess mana—and life—to play around with. If this deck had more of a use for colorless mana or wanted to curve higher than five mana I would definitely look into the Talisman further but, as is, it's kind of lousy on the curve and the acceleration isn't that necessary.

Phyrexian Crusaderhas the very relevant protection from white ability. Between protection, infect, and first strike, a lot of decks will run into trouble with this guy. The infect also plays nicely with Lashwrithe, although it's a bit problematic considering Demonic Rising doesn't help the infect plan at all.

Reassembling Skeleton plays very well with Demonic Rising and Liliana of the Veil, giving this deck something to do when it forces itself to discard. It's also pretty nice with Mortarpod, if we make that addition, and blocks well. The downside, of course, is that the card just isn't that strong. A two mana 1/1 with a variant on regeneration isn't breaking any records. However, with enough Equipment to improve its power—which this deck has—it can be quite powerful and frustrating for the opponent to deal with.

Reassembling Skeleton

Sword of Feast and Famine makes your opponent discard, working well with that theme, and can create some pretty brutal turns with the untapping of lands. It's also great with Inkmoth Nexus. The problem is that this deck doesn't currently have a lot of creatures, let alone cheap creatures, so loading up on Swords isn't really something I want to do.

Tezzeret's Gambit

Tezzeret's Gambitis a way to draw cards, but the combination of Divination not being that good, the life payment, and the lack of proliferate interactions (save for Liliana and the occasional poison or –1/–1 counter upvote) lean me away from spending deck slots on this.

The Demonic Workshop

Taking all of this into account, there are quite a few ways to take this deck. You can go more control or aggressive or more poison-based or not, and the amount of removal and discard you can play wildly varies.

Go for the Throat | Art by David Rapoza

After building up several combinations using the available cards, I found one that I was clearly the most happy with. Here are the cards I want to play. Assuming twenty-five lands, how many of each card would you play?

Solemn Simulacrum
Reassembling Skeleton
Go for the Throat
Liliana of the Veil
Demonic Rising
Black Sun's Zenith
Sword of Feast and Famine

So, what would you do?

While you're thinking about it, enjoy these three Avacyn Restored haikus:

Avacyn costs eight
Griselbrand also costs eight
Unburials? Five.

Tamiyo is great
But really, socks and sandals?
Moonfolk are oddballs.

Now Tibalt wears suits
But in design he wore a
top hat. Was broken.

...Okay, all ready?

This is how I built it:

4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Reassembling Skeleton
4 Lashwrithe
4 Go For the Throat
4 Despise
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Demonic Rising
2 Black Sun's Zenith
2 Mortarpod
2 Dismember
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Phyrexian Metamorph

One nice thing about playing Liliana is that you're going to be discarding cards, so if you have a dead card in the matchup, a Demonic Rising you're far away from casting, too many lands, or just extra Lilianas, you can easily pitch them away.

Mortarpod | Art by Eric Deschamps

The four-ofs I have mostly talked about above and explained already.

On the three-ofs, I think this deck could get away with four copies of Liliana, but she's so poor against Zombies and tokens that I didn't really want the fourth. Demonic Rising is very strong in this deck, but you never want to draw two copies (the second copy has absolutely no effect since it checks again to see if you have only one creature) and it is a little expensive. This deck could play only two, but I would start with three. Even though extra copies are redundant, it's also true that if you have one in play you're likely ahead anyway.

While I normally strongly dislike two-ofs, they each have a purpose in this deck.

Black Sun's Zenith is a way to hedge your chances against beatdown. It can be mana intensive and you have enough discard and board control that containing single creatures is going to be fairly easy. The problem is games where you can't get to that point. Zenith is a crucial answer against tokens and accelerated starts, and I'd like to start two main deck while sideboarding another.

Mortarpod is a card you don't really want to draw multiples of since extra copies are mostly weak, and it mostly supplements your existing removal.


Dismember is just part of a four/two split with Go for the Throat to have six total instant removal spells.

Sword of Feast and Famine is great when it gets active, but there will certainly be draws where you don't have the creatures you need to make it work out. You already have a lot of Equipment to sink mana into as well, and so, despite this card's power, you don't want to load up on them.

In the singleton section, we come to the one-of Phyrexian Metamorph. It's a way to supplement whatever you need more of. It's your pseudo-third Sword, another Lashwrithe when you want to go crazy, and even an opponent's creature when you need something to equip onto. It's just there to supplement your draws by helping make them a tad more flexible and consistent.

Inkmoth Nexus

Finally, the mana base. I'll give you a pass on doing this one, as I think it's pretty clear how this has to be built: maximizing Lashwrithe save for the incredible Inkmoth Nexus.

21 Swamp
4 Inkmoth Nexus

Now we're off to one more section before we wrap up this deck...

The Sideboard

With Avacyn Restored and its 244 cards around the corner, a lot is bound to change in Standard. It's hard to know what the best decks are going to be, and if they're going to look anything like the field we see right now.

Sever the Bloodline | Art by Clint Clearly

With all of this in mind, I want to keep our sideboard very flexible and open.

The original proposed sideboard had a mishmash of cards, including several removal spells and cards like Hex Parasite and Surgical Extraction. However, what I didn't see was a concrete plan.

This is the sideboard I would propose:

4 Grafdigger's Cage
3 Distress
2 Sever the Bloodline
2 Curse of Death's Hold
2 Call to the Grave
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Black Sun's Zenith

It's full of disruption for control decks, removal for beatdown decks, and four Grafdigger's Cages for the combo decks you have trouble with.

That sideboard makes the final decklist look like this:

Demonic Rising Midrange

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (3)
3 Liliana of the Veil
Sorcery (6)
4 Despise 2 Black Sun's Zenith
Instant (6)
4 Go for the Throat 2 Dismember
Enchantment (3)
3 Demonic Rising
Land (25)
21 Swamp 4 Inkmoth Nexus
60 Cards

Now I'm going to run through each kind of matchup in general, telling what you should remove and bring in against certain decks. While there isn't an exact in/out sideboarding guide here, reading through these notes should arm you to sideboard against any decks you encounter in post-Avacyn Restored Standard.

Please let me know on Twitter, over email, or in the forums if this more "general" kind of sideboarding guide is more helpful for you than a specific-matchup sideboarding guide. I know a lot of you have diverse metagames, and this might work out better for many of you.

Versus Beatdown

If your opponent is coming out of the gates quickly, you want to get into attrition with removal spells and discard, then finish by having larger creatures via Lashwrithe or Demonic Rising. In the early game, plan to destroy everything you see and use Reassembling Skeleton as a speed bump to buy time. As soon as you can, set up a larger creature. Once you untap with a large creature, your opponent probably can't push past it and the attrition war should be yours.

Sword of Feast and Famine | Art by Chris Rahn

It's going to be much harder to attrition tokens. Zenith is crucial here. Try to rip apart your opponent's hand and then land a Zenith.

In these matchups, bring in all of your removal spells unless your opponent is playing tokens. I recommend not bringing in Call to the Grave against Zombies, for what is hopefully an obvious reason, or against tokens, because they will have plenty of creatures to sacrifice.

Sword of Feast and Famine

You will want to cut your slower cards and some of your Equipment to compensate for your opponent's speed. Solemn, Sword, a single copy of Demonic Rising, Liliana, and Despise are all cards you can move around here depending on the opponent's deck. You will likely want to keep a total of four discard spells after sideboarding, and you also want to make sure you have enough big creatures to stop the assault.

Versus Control

Against control, you want to destroy your opponent's hand then establish a threat and ride it to victory. Your discard spells are crucial here. Bring in Distress and the fourth Liliana to help you with this.

Distress | Art by Michael C. Hayes

Since control has fewer creatures, you can take out some removal. Zenith is likely going to be poor, as is Mortarpod. Dismember is the next card to go unless your opponent has Inkmoth Nexus, then you will want to take out Go for the Throat next. If the control deck isn't playing many planeswalkers, you can take out a single Despise—although it's crucial to remember it does discard Snapcaster Mage against all of them.


Otherwise, this is pretty straightforward: destroy their hands, and then destroy them.

Versus Combo

I am defining "combo" in Standard currently as three decks: Birthing Pod, Red-Green Ramp, and Reanimator.

Grafdigger's Cage | Art by Daniel Ljunggren

Beating Reanimator with a discard deck is extraordinarily difficult, especially now that it might be playing something like Griselbrand, and I think your best chance is to sideboard in four Cages and just hope to not get overloaded on them. Similarly, beating the card Birthing Pod is going to be extraordinarily difficult for this deck. I think the best way for a mono-black deck to fight it is Cage.

Grafdigger's Cage

While the Cage is normally not very good, it is crucial in those two matchups and you need to draw one. I opted to not play Surgical Extraction because I think Cage is just better against those decks, and those are the decks I would primarily want Extraction against. Do not board Cage in against other decks. It is likely to do almost nothing against them—it's only coming in here because you absolutely have to shut down the Reanimator deck or lose in the process.

Against Ramp, you don't want Cage—you just want extra discard. Cage is good against Zenith and Ramp spells, but I'd rather just hamper my opponent's hand. Bring in your discard and cut Dismembers and Zeniths.

Honorable Mentions

Each week, several great decklists come in, but I can only review one of them. Here are some others that caught my eye, which you could try alongside Demonic Rising.

James Cullen's Proliferate Control

Download Arena Decklist

Aaron Eisenman's Mono-Black Control

Download Arena Decklist

Jefferey Sweers's Black-Red-Blue Poison Control

Download Arena Decklist

Adam Carhart's Black-Green Discard

Download Arena Decklist

Justin McHugh's Black-Green Ramp

Download Arena Decklist

Nathan Cassidy's The Morbid Elite

Download Arena Decklist

Oh, Right, Avacyn...

During this article it might have been easy to forget that it's not Demons that are rising—it's Avacyn! And next week, it's going to be all about Avacyn Restored. It's time to show off the rules for next week's deck building contest:

Format: Standard
Restrictions: None!
Send all decklists via email by clicking the "Respond via Email" link at the bottom of this article
Deadline: Wednesday, April 18 at 6pm Pacific Time

That's right! No restriction! What I'm going to be doing, though, since the entire spoiler will be out by then, is tweaking your deck using only Avacyn Restored cards. If you're looking to see what your favorite deck gains with the new set, send it my way and I'll tell you which tweaks you should consider.

Feel free to contact me via email, on the forums, or on Twitter. I read every piece of feedback I'm sent, and try to respond to as many as I can. Every bit is invaluable!

Until next week, may your decks be better than my haikus.


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