Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
How to Use Demons in Magic
Swamp-using black Magic builds have long enjoyed the focus of the demon creature type, powerful denizens of the dark who offer fierce abilities—for a price. Often accompanied by drawbacks in exchange for their high strengths or low mana costs, demons take skill and planning to use effectively but easily prove their worth in the right build.
With dozens of hellspawn to choose from, which treacherous monsters are worth your time? These are the 10 best demons in Magic: The Gathering!
10. Ob Nixilis, Unshackled
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 6
Ob Nixilis offers strength in both creature and planeswalker forms. This time around, his Unshackled variant is paid for using six mana, and while it only arrives with four power and four toughness, it can easily gain power. In addition to flying (soaring over ground blockers) and trample (dealing excess battle damage to opponents when blocked), Ob makes opponents lose 10 life and sacrifice a creature whenever they must search their library (deck).
Aware of the condition, most opponents won't search while Ob's out, stalling their strategy as they struggle to get needed cards into the hand. Additionally, whenever any creature dies (including tokens), Ob gets a +1/+1 counter, soon increasing his battle prowess to monstrous heights.
9. Silent-Blade Oni
A rare demon-ninja blend that adds a pinch of blue to the expected black hue, Silent-Blade Oni costs seven mana to cast normally, but you'll likely use his six-cost ninjitsu ability instead. When you do so, you return one of your unblocked attackers to your hand, substituting Silent-Blade in its place. This helpfully triggers Silent-Blade's effect that activates upon dealing combat damage to the opponent, which you should since it isn't blocked.
And boy is it an effect. You look at your opponent's hand and can cast one of their non-land cards for free! This nets you a free spell of your choice while simultaneously reducing your opponent's hand. Beyond that, Silent-Blade wields 6/5 and will overpower most foes in future combat.
8. Lord of the Void
Black is in once more with triple-seven Lord of the Void. Costing seven mana and arriving with a 7/7 power-toughness ratio, he's no slouch in battle. He also has flying, which lets him skip over ground blockers, useful since his ability (like Silent-Blade's) triggers upon landing some combat damage on your opponent.
When this occurs, Lord of the Void exiles the top seven cards of your opponent's library, then lets you place one of them onto the field under your control. Not only are you gaining a free creature, you're milling through your opponent's deck and potentially setting up a no-card-left-to-draw win!
A demon formidable enough to warrant a ban in commander format, Griselbrand shares Lord of the Void's seven cost, 7/7 stats, and flying trait. It also lets you pay seven life at any point to draw seven cards.
Yep, seven cards. That's an absolutely ridiculous draw engine that ensures your options never run dry. Plus, if you're worried about the life loss, consider Griselbrand's final lifelink ability, allowing you to gain life whenever it deals damage (whether to opponents or their creatures). Definitely a horrific self-comboing monster.
6. Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis
One of several legendary demons, Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis wields a decent 5/5 for its six mana cost, but more importantly, it offers three tantalizing abilities:
- Exalted (when you attack with one creature, that creature gets +1/+1 for the turn)
- When Nefarox attacks alone, the defending player must sacrifice a creature
Another card that plays off itself well, Nefarox forces opponents to lose a creature when it attacks alone, conveniently triggering its own exalted ability along the way to temporarily boost itself. Forced sacrifices are particularly useful creature removals since they circumvent defenses like the indestructible, hexproof, and protection traits, earning Nefaroz a spot in many black builds.
5. Master of Cruelties
Throwing some red into black's territory, the aptly-named Master of Cruelties may appear harmless considering its mere power of one. However, it also has four toughness, first strike (letting it deal combat damage first and potentially avoid a counterattack) and deathtouch.
First strike/deathtouch is a formidable combo on its own since it kills any creature before they can strike back, winning almost any battle without harm. And although Master of Cruelties can only attack alone, if it attacks and isn't blocked, the defending player's life becomes one, putting them in an extremely dangerous position.
Master of Cruelties works particularly well in a commander Kaalia of the Vast build (which also employs angels and dragons) since her ability lets both of them attack at once—winning the game if not blocked by reducing an opponent's life to one with Master, then finishing them with Kaalia.
4. Rakdos, Lord of Riots
Another black/red mix, Rakdos, Lord of Riots only demands four mana yet arrives as a 6/6! However, you can only cast it on a turn where an opponent has lost life, so be sure to use cheap instants like Lightning Bolt to nick them.
Once out, Rakdos has flying, trample, and reduces the mana cost for your creatures by one for each life an opponent has lost during a turn! This works especially well with trample, making it difficult to block all damage from attackers, and functions as a great way to cast high-cost creature cards—maybe toss some Eldrazi into your demon build.
3. Overseer of the Damned
Yep, yet another seven-mana black demon, Overseer of the Damned arrives with 5/5, the expected flying ability, and some neat bonus effects. First, upon entering the field, Oveerseer destroys a target creature of your choice, immediately offering some creature removal to your build. Then, whenever a nontoken creature dies, you get to create a tapped 2/2 black zombie token.
Since Overseer kills a creature upon entry, you should instantly receive one tapped token, and because the ability triggers regardless of the owner of the fallen warrior, you'll soon amass an undead army ready to swing at foes for an unholy amount of damage.
2. Ob Nixilis, the Fallen
Don't let Ob Nixilis, the Fallen's low 3/3 initial stats fool you. He costs one less mana then his earlier counterpart and brandishes an awesome landfall ability: whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you can have a target player lose three life; if you do, put three +1/+1 counters on Ob.
This means that whenever you play a land (typically once per turn), you both land (I'll stop) three damage to a foe and drastically strengthen Ob. After only a few boosts, his stats will be in double digits, eclipsing just about any rival.
Pro Tip: consider giving Ob trample or unblockable with artifact-equipment cards to ensure this damage isn't wasted on weak blockers.
1. Harvester of Souls
Harvester of Souls offers a little bit of everything, but without the expected demon tradeoffs. He's a bit costly, yet cheaper than some demons, requiring six mana and arriving with a decent 5/5 power and toughness. He also has deathtouch, ensuring that even creatures able to withstand five damage fall when battling him. But his real draw comes from, well, his draw ability: Whenever a nontoken creature dies, you may draw a card.
This is one of very few reusable black draw engines that doesn't drain your life (looking at you, Phyrexian Arena), activates regardless of who owned the defeated creature, and is optional, meaning in rare cases where you don't want to draw, you don't have to. A longtime fan favorite, this demon proves a creature doesn't have to be legendary to be lethal; in fact, nonlegendary status offers the additional advantage of being able to employ multiple Harvesters at once.
A strong addition to any black deck, Harvester makes an appearance in most Swamp-using decks I build, and I'm typically more than happy to see it drawn. Thankfully, you can often snag it for less than three dollars (with free shipping)!
How to Support Demons in Magic
Just like white with its angels, demons have long served as a black Magic staple. Although more recent MTG expansions (like Ixalan) have focused on other creature types, demons remain a competitive and viable option; just look at banned black entries like Griselbrand and Demonic Tutor. Expect to encounter them in any tournament, and be sure to find ways to counter (or employ) their fierce powers.
Use cards that swarm with weak tokens or have lifelink to fuel the effects of your hellspawn, and remember you can field them for free with Kaalia. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's upcoming demonic expansions, vote for your favorite card and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
Questions & Answers
Question: I am making a Magic: The Gathering demon-focused deck, and I plan on using mono-black. The only problem is that I have a red-and-black deck, and this deck has Rakdos the Defiler. It is by far my most powerful card in my arsenal (surpassing Griselbrand, Razaketh, Kothophed, Belzenlok, and Orhmendahl. Should I scrap Rakdos and employ my demons into a mono-black deck or keep my current red-and-black for Rakdos?
Answer: Both strategies could work. In fact, you could keep your deck as mono-black but run some multi-color lands, (like "Temple of Malice"), essentially getting the best of both worlds. The Defiler is definitely a worthy demon commander, and adding a pinch of red would also access the ever-useful "Lightning Bolt" and powerful demon "Master of Cruelties".
Remember, even if you incorporate multiple colors, you don't have to devote to them equally; you could create a mostly-black build with a few red spells here and there.
© 2018 Jeremy Gill
Shadeslinger on October 06, 2018:
This is the best top 10 demon list I have seen in Magic. It's basically the demons in my deck with just a couple of exceptions. Most top demon lists have demons that have major drawbacks against the player. I never play those. This list rocks. I also play Crypt Ghast for ramp and a couple or royal assassins to keep opponents creatures at bay. To add insult to injury my deck also includes Sheoldred the Whispering One.