The Legend of Malfegor

Posted in Serious Fun on March 17, 2009

By Gregory Marques

Please welcome guest author Gregory Marques, who's going to tell you about Malfegor. Gregory has had hands-on experience with the legendary Demon Dragon both as an Ramp;D member and as a player. ("Legendary Creature – Demon Dragon," by the way, is easily the most guitar-riff-inducing typeline of all time.)

Malfegor would be the most awesome card in a lot of sets; in Conflux, he's got stiff competition. Today, though, the spotlight is his. From designing him to designing around him, this is Malfegor's story. Enjoy!

–Kelly Digges, editor

Who's the black-red creature
With the sexy subtype double-feature?
(Demon Dragon)

Who hits the board
Killing guys with a double-edged sword?
(Didn't need that hand)

Are you cats cool enough to hear the legend of how Malfegor came to be and how I built a Commander (Elder Dragon Highlander) deck around him? It all began when Conflux was in early development and the team sent around an e-mail asking for some designs to fill holes.

One of those holes was a legendary creature with the types "Demon" and "Dragon." When I read that, my eyes lit up like a child faced with a birthday present five times his size. After sending in my design I turned to my cube-neighbor at the time, Nik Davidson, and asked him what he had submitted. "When CARDNAME comes into play, discard your hand. You may destroy target creature for each card discarded this way," was his reply, and I immediately knew that it would win out over mine and probably all others as well. I was right.

Development quickly arrived at his current stats and mana cost. Because he was also going to be the Prerelease card they asked that the card be tested more in the Future Future League. I don't mind a little bit of downside alongside my huge upside, so I took up the challenge and built a couple of decks that used Malfegor as a combination Wrath effect and win condition in the FFL. He works surprisingly well for a six-mana creature, which can be a bit expensive for Constructed. In my first day of testing I had a hilarious moment when my opponent attacked me with several creatures and I used Makeshift Mannequin to bring Malfegor into play and wipe out the opponent's army, much to his surprise. The effect was very powerful and very entertaining. My opponent might have lost several creatures and be facing a huge flier, but he knew I didn't have anything else and that he be back in the game with just one removal spell.

It seemed like the design would sail through without a hitch, until someone found a problem: the number of creatures targeted by Malfegor was set when the ability was triggered (when Malfegor comes into play), but you can respond to that by playing instants out of your hand. If you did, the number of cards you actually discarded would be smaller than the number of things you targeted and it wasn't clear how to decide which creatures died. The difficulty the average magic player would have in interpreting what happened was a big problem. You can see in these multiverse comments where senior editor Del Laugel tracks the development team's struggle to smooth out the wording. "LS" is Magic Online rules mogul Lee Sharpe.

Del 5/28: The value of X needs to be locked in as the ability goes on the stack. Any rules issues, or can the text stand as is?
LS 7/16: There is a rules problem here. We could add "as CARDNAME came into play" to the clause determining X, but that's new also. Could also be untargetted: "When CARDNAME comes into play, choose up to X creatures, where X is the number of cards in your hand. Destroy those creatures, then discard your hand."
Del 7/21: That's not ideal. Need to lock MT in a room and figure out what this card should do.
Del 7/25: Team reviews options A–G and fails to find something worth doing. MT rejects the options with additional costs. Need to do more work on this, starting by figuring out exactly which rule is preventing this card from working now.
Del 7/25: I understand now. No rule is preventing this but no rule is making it possible, either. A rules-based solution is still possible.
Del 7/29: Most promising option is a combination of an "as CIP" ability and a "when CIP" ability, but the exact template is still up in the air.

Sooner or later something would have to give. Completely different designs for the card were briefly considered. After many deliberations, Mike Turian came to the rescue with a small change to the ability: "When Malfegor comes into play, discard your hand. For each card discarded this way, target player sacrifices a creature." He was able to skirt all the wording and rules problems by using sacrifice instead of targeted destroying. The number of things sacrificed could be checked at the last minute because nothing needed to be targeted when the ability went on the stack. However, this was a less powerful card because for small hands you would not get to choose what creatures to kill.

Since I had played Malfegor a lot in the FFL, Mike asked me how I felt about it. I told him I was saddened to hear that Malfegor would be weaker, but at least the intent of the ability was still there. Mike saw the pain in my puppy-dog eyes, and decided he could throw me a bone by expanding the effect to hit all opponents, not just one. He is a Demon Dragon, after all!

As you've surely realized, this new wording made Malfegor a much better card for the Commander format, also known as Elder Dragon Highlander. I first considered building an EDH deck around the Conflux legend just minutes after that conversation with Mike. I opened a copy of my own at the employee Prerelease here at Wizards and finally found the time to build the deck a few weeks ago.

When I build an EDH deck I like to focus on my general and make sure the deck is a stage on which the star of the show can give a dazzling performance. My Brion Stoutarm deck is all about throwing huge dudes at my opponent's face, my Kresh the Bloodbraided deck is all about killing and sacrificing creatures to make Kresh and enormous monster, and so my Malfegor deck should be about playing Malfegor and discarding as many cards as possible to wipe out my opponent's armies. You should also know that I like to build casual-style EDH decks without infinite combos; decks that follow a medium pace and win with big cool creatures in cool ways.

Malfegor's deck required cards that fill a few specific roles. The first thing I needed was plenty of card-drawing to refill my hand between castings of Malfegor. Second, there had to be some cards that wipe out token creatures and small fry, so that Malfegor's ability would always hit the real threats and make my enemies weep. Third, I desired a few cards to make Malfegor himself more awesome, because he needed a royal treatment befitting a Demon Dragon.

I turned to the new Gatherer beta, my favorite search engine. There aren't many red cards that have "draw" in their rules text (about 80, most of which are simply cantrips) but black has over 130 of them. In my first pass I picked out these fine cards:

Lyzolda, the Blood Witch – I knew I didn't have one, but like several others on these early lists I think you should consider the card if you build a red-black EDH deck.
Browbeat – Would any one player pay 5 life to stop you? Probably depends on the group you play with.
Dragon Mage
Fiery Gambit
Knollspine Dragon – One of the best topdecks after Malfegor. Also excellent (and extra funny) if you can get it underneath Spinerock Knoll, as your opponents are often dealing 7 or more to each other.
Psychotic Fury
Wheel of Fortune – It's not usually great to give everyone cards, but since my hand will be empty often it won't be too bad. Plus I love this card from my early days of Magic playing.
Wheel of Fate – I love the way everyone rushes to play everything they can when they can see this coming.
Ambition's Cost
Ancient Craving
Decree of Pain
Dregs of Sorrow
Dusk Urchins
Graveborn Muse
Hoarder's Greed

Infernal Tribute
– Probably a bad idea in EDH, but I have never tried it.
Night's Whisper
Phyrexian Arena
Phyrexian Etchings
Phyrexian Gargantua
Phyrexian Rager – Those Phyrexians sure love drawing cards.
Promise of Power
Skeletal Scrying
Syphon Mind
Yawgmoth's Bargain

You may have noticed that several of these cards involve losing life. To counteract this I did a search for life gain and picked a few cards that might help me out.

Absorb Vis
Swallowing Plague
Consume Spirit, Corrupt, etc. – A few "drain life" style cards that rely on Swamps or black mana.
Syphon Soul
Tendrils of Agony
Urborg Syphon-Mage
Vampiric Link
Demon's Horn
Ivory Tower
Loxodon Warhammer – One of many EDH classics.
Sword of Light and Shadow
Tower of Eons
Umezawa's Jitte

Oops, while I was side tracked on life gain I forgot to find the good artifact card drawing.

Memory Jar – Set aside my hand, draw seven, play Malfegor, then get my original hand back? Perfect!
Illuminated Folio
Candles of Leng – Another EDH classic.
Tower of Fortunes
Jayemdae Tome – A true classic.
Mind Stone
Mind's Eye
Sword of Fire and Ice

Next, without searching, I thought of several low-end board sweepers

Volcanic Fallout
Caldera Hellion
Scourge of Kher Ridges
Slice and Dice
Rough // Tumble
Yamabushi's Storm

I also thought of some other cool creatures I might want to include:

Flameblast Dragon
Vampiric Dragon
Thunder Dragon
Havoc Demon
Reiver Demon

A few cards that make Malfegor more awesome:

Lightning Greaves – Pretty much required for EDH.
Fists of the Demigod
Reliquary Tower – Why limit yourself to seven Edicts per opponent?
Sword of Light and Shadow

To round out the deck I'll need two more categories of cards: mana fixing / acceleration, and "something to do before I get to my demons and/or dragons"—in other words, some small, useful creatures. There are thousands of options here, but I just want a few that have synergy with Malfegor.

Dross Harvester – Probably not a good idea, but the potential to use a bad card to do a powerful thing is fun.
Goblin Sharpshooter
Hissing Iguanar
Khabál Ghoul – My second Magic deck ever focused on this guy. I don't think I still have one, though.
Nezumi Graverobber
Rockslide Elemental – Modern Khabál Ghoul #1.
Scavenger Drake – modern Khabál Ghoul #2.
Rakdos Signet
Sol Ring
Thran Dynamo
Iron Myr

Leaden Myr
Manaforge Cinder
Journeyer's Kite
Solemn Simulacrum
Gilded Lotus
Darksteel Ingot

My collection of cards is not impressive to the long-time player. I have some older cards, sure, but there are huge gaps and not nearly as many rares as there should be. Many of the cards on my list were not in my collection, but I also stumbled across a few more great options for the deck.

Oblivion Stone
Beacon of Unrest
Feldon's Cane
Winding Canyons
Demonic Tutor

Then I passed over Strangling Soot and I suddenly realized I had neglected two mechanics that are totally awesome with Malfegor: madness and flashback! Sadly, I lost most of my Odyssey block cards to a flooding incident in the basement of my first house, so I did not have any of those cards to choose from. Thankfully, Time Spiral block provided some old and some new cards with these keywords and I was able to gather a few juicy ones.

Strangling Soot
Call to the Netherworld
Dark Withering
Fiery Temper
Gorgon Recluse

At this point I really wished I had a Squee, Goblin Nabob.

It was time to build the deck. The vision for the deck was very clear, and I simply didn't have that many of the cards I wanted. This made the final building process easier than average. Here's the deck I built:


Download Arena Decklist

    Malfegor in Play

My first game with the deck had an auspicious start, winning the die roll and leading with Sol Ring into Lightning Greaves. My opponents were Dave Guskin, with Scion of the Ur-Dragon, Mark Gottlieb with Sharuum the Hegemon, Ken Nagle with Jhoira of the Ghitu, and finally Aaron Forsythe with Brion Stoutarm. All of these were my decks, because, due to both recent and impending travel, they had all left their decks at home.

On turn five I played Malfegor for the first time that game, discarding Anger and three other cards, forcing my opponents to sacrifice all of about three creatures in total. At least I got to attack for 6! Gottlieb soon built back up with Sharuum and other artifact fliers from Shards of Alara block and attacked Ken. On his turn Ken put a new twist on the game by playing Pandemonium. Aaron brought out Brion, gaining some life both with the comes-into-play trigger and again when he equipped his own Lightning Greaves to attack.

Dave summoned Scion and, with the Pandemonium trigger on the stack, used the Ur Dragon's ability to turn it into Hellkite Overlord. He sent both the "comes into play" damage and the attack into a defenseless Gottlieb. Wrath of God from Aaron cleared the board, which was fine with me. While others played their creatures out again, I built up my hand with Phyrexian Arena and Candles of Leng. This led to a satisfying Malfegor that wiped out the board again. Gottlieb had tutored for a Magister Sphinx the previous turn and now played it to set Aaron's life total to 10. Aaron didn't last long after that.

A couple of turns later, Dave was about to unsuspend a Living End to wipe the board again and bring a big pile of Dragons from his graveyard into play, but Ken seized an opportunity (when he saw Dave was at precisely 10 life) to finish him with Hidetsugu's Second Rite.

There were only three of us left. Gottlieb got rid of the Pandemonium, but not before he was reduced to just 7 life points. He played his Sharuum again, bringing back Magister Sphinx, this time setting his own life total back up to 10. Ken beat him down to 4 with an unblockable 6/6 kraken and then played a Hunted Dragon. This was the play that lost me the game, as he gave the three Knight tokens to Mark. On my turn, I played Malfegor for the third time this game, but had only three cards to discard. Mark merely sacrificed the tokens, but at least I wiped out Ken's team. Gottlieb played a Clone, choosing my Malfegor. I should tell you that we play with the rule that gives the generals legend-dominance, meaning that a general wins when the "legend rule" is invoked, so Mark's copy died and mine did not.

However, the clone's trigger was still on the stack, and Mark discarded six cards, wiping out all my creatures, including Malfegor. His follow up attack was enough to put me to 1. He then tried to play an artifact with a Sludge Strider in play. I could see the gleam in his eye and knew he was about to finish me off, so I used the last card in my hand—a Fiery Temper I had drawn with Candles of Leng on my turn—to kill the Strider before it could drain me for 1. Ken drew and played Jace Beleren, using his +2 ability to give everyone a card. I got a Mountain. On my upkeep, I stacked the Phyrexian Arena trigger that would kill me and checked the top card with Candles of Leng ... another Mountain. I died. Gottlieb attacked Ken for lethal damage and won.

    Forward Motion

The first trip out was not a total success, but I was able to play Malfegor three times during the game and wipe out around 25 creatures in total. It was very fun to play, especially because it makes you happy to see your opponents play out creature after creature. The more they play the more you get to wipe out! I only saw a quarter of my cards, but they all performed well except for one. Illuminated Folio is just too much of a non-bo with repeatedly discarding your hand. So I'll change that card and try again soon.

I hope this story of how I built a Malfegor EDH deck will help you build your next EDH deck. Maybe I'll be able to play against it sometime!

Latest Serious Fun Articles


January 5, 2016

Hedron Alignment by, Bruce Richard

When I first looked at my preview card, I couldn't really wrap my brain around it. The card does so much that I wasn't really understanding its value. Kind of a "forest for the trees" thi...

Learn More


December 29, 2015

Eternal Pilgrim by, Bruce Richard

When religious belief turns into religious fervor, things get problematic—particularly on Zendikar. When the Eldrazi were originally imprisoned, stories were told to ensure no one would t...

Learn More



Serious Fun Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All