Commander Spotlight: Demon of Dark Schemes

Welcome back to week fifty-five of Monday Magic: COVID Edition. It’s been 422 days since my last summoning. In and of itself that number isn’t at all significant except in that it’s a stepping stone towards the quickly approaching number that’s as saddening as it is monumental: the record for the longest time I’ve had between Magic games.

When that that record-setting break happened it was under significantly different circumstances. It was a time of great change for our Magic cohort – not just in the degree number of life events happening to us at the same time but in the actual makeup of the group itself.

It was a bittersweet time to say the least. There were a fair number of graduations occurring between high school and college, and several members were in the process of changing jobs. The resulting fallout meant (unsurprisingly) a sizable shift and, by extension, a notable constriction in overlapping schedules. In this period we also saw two of our more frequent players announce they were moving out of state for several years. Another had decided for unrelated reasons they were quitting the game. And to top it all off, several had been less engaged with the game at the time due to a series of sets that weren’t appealing to them for one reason or another. Life. It happens.

Eventually the group dynamic would restructure itself and some new friends to the group would became some of the most energetic and steadfast advocates for getting together to play. In fact, the few years after this collective reshuffling of time and priorities would lead to the largest and most active makeup our collective of casual multiplayer players would ever have. Like the majority of Magic players, the frequency and ferocity of one’s involvement with the game will ebb and flow over the years, and while we didn’t know it then, at the end of this particular shakeup period we were headed for one of the most sustained periods of Magic-related entertainment we’d known.

We just had to get through a rather sizable game-playing desert in the meantime.

Ultimately, that process took more than a year. It largely relegated me to the sidelines, and though I generally kept up with the contents of the sets during that time and continued to buy cards (albeit in smaller quantity), when it came to actually playing something, it was a pretty extensive period of inactivity.

When things were finally on the upswing and the outlook was again more prosperous, I definitely recall thinking – perhaps naively – that it was unlikely I’d ever go through another drought as long as that one unless I retired from the game. At no point did I envision that we’d endure a near-cataclysmic global pandemic over the span of more than a year.

To be fair, part of me also didn’t really think I’d be commiserating over another forced break some 17 years later. Yet here we are. So, until the day soon arrives when we are around the table once more for some rambunctious Commander fun, the pause continues.

To that end, per usual instead of discussing Magic-related topics or a larger point around the card being showcased, we carry on by looking at Magic cards I’ve personally wanted to put into an EDH deck for some time but haven’t for one reason or another. When it comes to this week’s card, the reason has tended to mostly be due to cards competing in the same design space.

Today we have: Demon of Dark Schemes

Name: Demon of Dark Schemes

Edition: Kaladesh

Rarity:  Mythic Rare

Focus: Creature Removal / Creature Reanimation

Highlights: Personally, I adore when a set does something truly different mechanically. When you boil them down, far too often a standard set contains some derivative of +1 or -1 counters, Kicker-style cards, or Flashback-style cards. Just browse through the litany of keyworded mechanics sometime.

It’s not that new iterations of these ideas are inherently bad, but they often can feel a bit…uninspired. There’s an understanding that to maintain a player base, keep complexity creep in check, and not exhaust the well of design ideas, a game like Magic needs to slow walk its more innovative ideas. This also has the added benefit of energizing your audience when something truly new does come along, such as Morph, transform, colorless non-artifact cards, or the introduction of the planeswalker card type. The most recent case of this is probably Ikoria’s Mutate effects which plays around with the creatures-as-Auras motif seen in other forms in the past with Bestow or the old Tempest licids but with a very distinctive and unique take. Before that, you’re looking at Kaladesh and its use of Energy.

At its most basic, Energy is simply another type of counter that can only be gained or spent under the conditions the card spelled out. It effectively gave you an additional resource pool besides mana that you could work with. The idea behind Energy made it particularly fun, letting you potentially get counters from one card and spend it on another, depending on your strategic and tactical needs. Energy operated completely independent from other counter types that existed, creating an entire ecosystem within Kaladesh that only perpetuated the flavor and theme of the plane further. As an innate tinkerer, Kaladesh was especially enjoyable, in part because although ultimately it was another artifact-matters set, Energy prevented it from feeling repetitive.

Of course, having a block-limited counter type is also a double-edged sword. For one, if you want to play with Energy you only have a finite pool of cards to work with (albeit at a larger volume than many other mechanics). However, in most cases Energy is a parasitic design: it generally works best in tandem with other Energy cards. What’s more, because it needed to also function as the de facto counter type for draft formats, there are quite a few Energy cards that aren’t particularly exciting when you stand them by themselves. A good percentage of them feel like you’re being forced to jump through a hoop to interact with the Energy concept.

Demon of Dark Schemes, on the other hand, has no such problem. It can easily fly solo and right into a welcoming Commander deck should you desire it.

As with most notable in-game demons, Dark Schemes is neither small nor cheap. At six mana, with a triple Black mana cost, it sits pretty on par with most of the game’s heavier hitting creatures of this type. In exchange, it arrives you with a fairly standard a 5/5 Flyer frame, which alone is pretty useful on the battlefield. But where it truly shines is its triad of linked abilities.

First, when Demon of Dark Schemes enters the battlefield it states that all other creatures get -2/-2 until end of turn – pretty much anything besides itself. Even in EDH settings, a global Infest can be both dangerous and powerful at wiping away large swaths of tokens and utility creatures. Casting it after combat could also seal the fate of several creatures which may have been softened up by damage but survived, acting as partial creature wipe. -2/-2 never sounds like much on paper, but it tends to do more damage than people give it credit, and Dark Schemes happily reminds them of that fact.

Additionally, as if creatures dying wasn’t beneficial enough, this Demon also states that whenever a creature dies, you generate an Energy counter, making it one of the minority of Energy cards that doesn’t give you a one-time finite amount to work with. This effect pairs exceptionally well with its ETB trigger, but it’s also useful on its own after the fact, letting you accumulate Energy whenever anything else dies for any reason.

And of course, no good Energy card would be worth its crystals if it didn’t have a useful means of spending them. Here, the Demon of Dark Schemes definitely delivers – rather literally – with an activated ability that states for 3 mana and 4 Energy you can put any creature from any graveyard onto the battlefield tapped under your control. Its low activation ensures that so long as you have enough Energy it can be activated numerous times, and since it doesn’t require tapping to use, you don’t need to choose between using the ability or attacking. Used at the right moments, it can lead to some particularly demoralizing one-two punches.

As with any Demon, however, nothing is ever perfect, and Dark Schemes does have two limitations. The first and most obvious is that its biggest asset is its reanimation trick, and your ability to take advantage of that is completely dependent on both the demon surviving while other creatures don’t. There certainly can be some occasions where its impact on a game can be blunted due to when it’s used and which creatures you’re facing down. The second, and more subtle, is its competition. Commander players tend to fall in love with certain cards and if they only have one slot to work with will stick with those cards even if similar variations come out later. For the Demon of Dark Schemes, it means perpetually living in the shadow of Massacre Wurm. While very similar, the Wurm doesn’t affect your creatures at all, and instead of gaining energy, your opponents lose life. Massacre Wurm can be a devastating if not lethal card in Commander games, and it makes sense why many opt to use it. But the Demon is not without merit. For aside from its life loss trigger the Wurm is largely a one-shot creature; the Demon can continue to gain and spend energy bringing creatures back to fight for you again. Plus, unlike the ground-based Wurm its ability to fly also makes it much more capable at dishing out combat damage – especially if it has cleared away the litany of smaller airborne creatures able to block it.

It’s also different, which if an of itself is a worthwhile reason. As Commander has continued to get more popular, sometimes its players forget that variety is very much part of its ethos, and it’s ok to use such variations when they do arise.

Given that variety is part of what generates the energy around the format to begin with, using a card that makes some Energy seems all the more apropos, no?

Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

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