The Wrath of the Punisher

Posted in Feature on May 8, 2002

By Ben Bleiweiss

In Randy’s article two Fridays ago, he explained that red is the color of passion, emotion, and rage. But let’s not fool ourselves, when you have a mechanic like the Punisher mechanic, you don’t want your color to sound like it's sharing feelings at a group hug session. No my friends, the Punisher mechanic is red, and red shouts. And what it shouts is, “Give me what I want or I’ll punch you in the face!” Doesn’t matter if it’s three points of damage, a Hymn to Tourach, or this week’s Judgment card, Breaking Point.

God Frowns

Breaking Point melds together the Punisher mechanic and Wrath of God. Ordinarily, red wouldn’t be given an effect that outright destroys all creatures in play, since the color finds its roots in dealing damage. Look at Wildfire or Inferno if you want a more typical red board-clearing card. And sure, there are a lot of people playing Red these days, but haven’t we all missed BURN!™? I’m talking the scorch-your-eyebrows-off, take-20-to-the-dome, turn-your-opponent-into-a-crisp-type BURN!™ One of the traditional weakness of a BURN!™ deck comes from the decision of whether to kill creatures or send damage to the opponent’s head. A few cards fill both needs, like Earthquake, but most require trading a win mechanism in exchange for not losing. For instance, a Lightning Bolt used to kill a Dragon Whelp (foreshadowing here, folks) can’t be used to deal three damage to the opponent.

What does Breaking Point say to this?

“I’m gonna kill all your creatures or you’re gonna get punched in the face!”

And what a mighty wallop indeed! Six damage weighs in at the heaviest of all the Punisher cards, at nearly a full third of your opponent’s life total. If you’re packing a library full of BURN!™ and direct damage, where’s the choice? Does your opponent take six damage, making this three casting cost sorcery the most efficient burn spell in you deck? Or do they allow one very undercosted sorcery to decimate his entire team of creatures?

Breaking the Curve

In most mono-red decks, including Sligh, the casting cost of cards are the most essential part of winning. Fireblast would be nearly useless in these decks if it didn’t effectively cost zero. Mogg Fanatic, Jackal Pup, Orcish Conscripts, and Shock trade one mana for two damage. Price of Progress can take out an opponent in and of itself, for a paltry two mana. Traditionally in such decks, there’s been one mainstay of the three casting cost slot. Many have argued whether it’s a creature or a burn spell, but undeniably one of the red hallmark cards is Ball Lightning. For three mana, you get six points of damage. Does this sound familiar? Breaking Point fits into that exact curve, offering 6 damage for .

Now please, and I disclaim the above sentence, Breaking Point is NOT Ball Lightning. It’s not even functionally identical. Ball Lightning attacks, Breaking Point defends. Ball Lightning is a creature, Breaking Point is a sorcery. Ball Lightning really enjoys it when your opponent has no creatures in play or stalled on two lands. Breaking Point is useless against a creatureless deck or players that haven't committed anything to the board. But undeniably, each of them offer a potential two damage for each mana invested, a much better return than on, say, a Ghitu Fire or a Fireball.

The Origins of the Punisher

Frank Castle’s parents' family was murdered in Central Park… oh wait, that’s the wrong Punisher. The real Punisher mechanic came from, of all places, an Alpha edition ante card. The original Demonic Attorney offered your opponent a choice: ante an additional card or concede the game. That doesn’t seem very red though, does it? In fact, it’s rather dainty.

Breaking Point says, “Smash your creatures or smash your face!”

Demonic Attorney says, “My good fellow, would you care to trade your soul for a continuation of our sporting event?”

I mean, look at the obvious difference in tone there. They may have functional similarities, but it’s all about attitude. You have to imagine a muscle-boundbarbarian screaming, “Get the hell out of my way or I’ll kill you!” when you play Breaking Point. Otherwise you have this:

“I am Mind Bomb. If you enjoy doing simple arithmetic you’ll see that I’ve just possibly dealt to you an slight smattering of damage. However, my good chap, I’d be delighted to have you discard up to three cards to prevent some of this damage. Please pardon the inconvenience, though I have taken the liberties of affecting both parties at this gathering. Cheerio!”

Or how about this one, as long as we’re picking on blue, the color of control and manipulation, trying to emulate red’s pure emotion:

“I am Giant Albatross. I am bad luck to kill. Please spank yourself on the buttocks as a penance for killing me, unless you’re really really really grief stricken, in which case, go ahead and commit suicide.”

And god forbid me from even going into Rhystic cards. Good idea, bad execution.


Demonic Attorney, Mind Bomb, Giant Albatross, and Rhystic Lightning all give your opponent two bad choices, not unlike modern Punisher cards.

The Odyssey Continues

Aaron wanted for me to brainstorm a deck which would show a good way to use Breaking Point. I simply couldn’t do it. “Oh,” you think to yourself, “it’s not quite Wrath of God and it’s not very good in red.” I’m happy to report the problem is quite the opposite: it’s rather amazing in a straight burn deck, such as one which utilizes Ensnaring Bridge to hold off the enemies while massive balls of flame fire down from above. I’m unfortunately limited to talking about a select few Judgment cards over these preview weeks, and the deck I came up with, after accounting for basic lands, totaled nearly 40% Judgment cards! It was one thing when Randy threw in a mention of Benevolent Bodyguard. It’s another when my decklist goes like this:

Ha! I slipped in the Type 2 decklist anyhow!

Download Arena Decklist
Instant (8)
4 Urza's Rage 4 Violent Eruption
Artifact (4)
4 Ensnaring Bridge
Land (22)
18 Mountain 4 Barbarian Ring
Other (10)
4 other Punisher card from Judgment 4 burn spell from Judgment with flashback AND threshold 2 replacement for Fireblast in Judgment
60 Cards
Sideboard (15)
4 Judgment card that totally shuts down CoP: Red 4 Boil 3 Flaming Gambit 2 Obliterate 1 Disorder 1 Epicenter

Punisher cards have gotten more powerful as the Odyssey block has progressed.

The Grand Finale

When Molten Influence, Lava Blister, and Blazing Salvo heralded the arrival of the Punisher mechanic in Odyssey, people thought to themselves, “Ho hum. Bad Flash Counter, bad Wasteland, bad Strafe.” Torment livened things up with Skullscorch. “Oh ho! This card replicates Hymn to Tourach, yet with giving your opponent a choice of effects. There is potential, but it is not yet great.” Longhorn Firebeast can be summed up as, "This card can be a Balduvian Barbarians or a Lava Axe, whichever would be better for you. Your pick." I can’t say for sure what happened in Judgment development, but one of two things occurred: Either R&D decided to keep ramping up the power level of Punisher cards as a natural progression during the block, or they saw that the Odyssey ones weren’t getting played in constructed and wanted some Punisher cards which were powerful enough to break through in those formats. Either way, the Punisher cards in Judgment deal more damage, have greater effects on the game, and give you more bang for the buck. On the top of this mountain (unfortunate pun intended) stands Breaking Point, aptly named for what R&D reached as a halfway point between casual Punisher and tournament Punisher cards.

Ben may be reached at uncommonknowledge@wizards.com.

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