A month ago Kelly Digges tapped me on the shoulder. "Hey Mike, did you want to write the Duel Decks: Divine vs. Demonic feature article?"
"Sure," I said.
I jotted down some notes (which are after the battle below), but after that nothing happened for almost a month—until Akroma, Angel of Wrath looked over my shoulder and realized how much I was procrastinating.
Akroma: Hey, Mike. You had better get writing. No rest, no mercy, no matter what.
Mike: I'm so busy working on more super-secret, super-cool projects. Maybe I could get co-designer Nate Heiss to write it, or developers Steve Warner or Peter Knudson. Peter is an intern. I'm sure he has the time.
Akroma: Get over yourself, Mike. Remember when Divine vs. Demonic was the super-cool project?
Mike: Yes. You are lucky that we didn't pick some of our other ideas for the next Duel Decks project. We almost picked Wizards vs. Lizards or Pirates vs. Ninjas.
Akroma: I'm glad you realized that the epic battle between Akroma and Lord of the Pit was the way to go.
Enter foil Lord of the Pit.
Akroma: Speak of the demon.
Lord of the Pit: I'm hungry.
Lord of the Pit eats Mike.
Lord of the Pit: I always felt he was an Overeager Apprentice, now I realize how delicious an apprentice he could be.
Akroma: I will avenge you, Mike!
Lord of the Pit: Mike was delicious. Now I just need to kill Akroma, Angel of Wrath.
Reiver Demon: That is why they put me, Reiver Demon in the deck! I love killing white creatures. They have no defense to me! Just cast a Dark Ritual and sacrifice an Overeager Apprentice, and I will wipe out those Divine schmucks.
Reiver Demon comes into play. Akroma screams!
Lord of the Pit: Serves her right!
Reya, Dawnbringer: I can't believe you killed Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Akroma asked for only one thing from her troops: unwavering, unconditional loyalty. She won the vote for most popular Legend of all time and she is a foil! I will bring her back next turn. While we wait, let me use this alternate art Faith's Fetters on the silly Reiver Demon.
Mike (from inside Lord of the Pit): Why didn't you cast Faith's Fetters on the Lord of the Pit?!
Lord of the Pit: Mwahaha! I would usually want to eat a little Imp or a Breeding Pit Thrull token, but I'll settle for eating a giant Reiver Demon. Eating another demon feels unholy. How about two Unholy Strengths for more power? Die angels!
Stinkweed Imp wanders in. Lord of the Pit grins.
Stinkweed Imp: Kuro, Pitlord told me that I should come over here for a special treat. I can't wait!
Reya, Dawnbringer: Akroma, Angel of Wrath you have not died until I consent! Come back to life! Let's save Mike!
Akroma: It is good to be back! First I will bash that all-black deck. Then I have a little trick up my sleeve for those demons.
Akroma: I will save you, Stinkweed Imp! It is time for you to go on an Otherworldly Journey.
Lord of the Pit: I'm hungry. Only choice, must eat my master!
Kelly: Will Mike be saved or will Demonic forces rule the day? Find out for yourselves at your local store, when Duel Decks: Divine vs. Demonic is released this Friday, April 10. Here is what Mike had written before he was devoured to keep you entertained until then.
Brady Dommermuth, Devin Low, Nate Heiss, and I all met to discuss what the theme for our next Duel Decks was going to be. Our last two Duel Decks products had green vs. red (Elves vs. Goblins) and then blue vs. red (Jace vs. Chandra), so we felt it would be a good time to explore another natural rivalry in Magic: The Gathering, Angels versus Demons. Brady ran the project by its art director, Jeremy Jarvis, and with his approval we began.
Right away, Nate and I recognized one of the challenges of doing Divine vs. Demonic would be getting as many Angels and Demons in the deck as possible. While Magic has printed a number of Angels as commons and uncommons, the only uncommon Demons in Magic either are red (Lady Orca, Oni of Wild Places), talk about Ogres (Scourge of Numai, Gutwrencher Oni, Painwracker Oni), or prevent black creatures from blocking (Razorjaw Oni).
We didn't want to add red, because each of the previous Duel Decks had a red deck and we liked the monocolored play of Duel Decks. Razorjaw Oni felt silly in an entirely black deck. We also didn't feel Ogres felt "demonic" enough.
We decided to rely heavily on Demons, Imps, Minions, and Spirits to get the Demonic feel across. Also, we knew that this would be the perfect opportunity to return an old classic, Demonic Tutor, to a product. We get to include three tokens in each Duel Decks, and we took advantage by including Promise of Power and Breeding Pit for the Demonic deck. Also, the Thrull token art, made by Breeding Pit, has never been released in a paper Magic product before. So that is one more goodie you can get your hands on.
One tough decision we made was whether or not to include Fallen Angel in the Demonic deck. Nate and I asked around the Magic R&D Pit for opinions. Most people liked the idea of the traitor Angel being included in the product. It felt right that a "fallen" Angel would be battling against the race she had turned her back on.
There were a few dissenters, but Nate and I took the demonic stance and acted selfish. We wanted Fallen Angel in the deck, so we included her. Even though we included Fallen Angel, we decided to leave out other black Angels like Crypt Angel (no blue or red in the deck) and Desolation Angel (bad gameplay). Likewise, white Angels that had a black feel, such as Wayward Angel and Haunted Angel, were left out of the Angel deck.
Packing the Divine deck with Angels was easier. We stuffed fourteen Angels into the white deck! That doesn't even include cards that are clearly angelic like Angel's Feather or Angelsong.
The Demonic deck came together quite quickly, while the Divine deck really benefitted from playtesting. Originally the Divine deck was filled with "protection from black" Angels such as Karmic Guide, Voice of Grace, and Akroma, Angel of Wrath. We were concerned that the Demonic deck had too much removal and that the Angelic deck would need all of these protection from black creatures to be able to compete.
After testing though, the protection from black creatures proved to be too much for the all-black Demonic deck. One concept Erik Lauer used to balance Jace vs. Chandra was giving one deck the early and late game while the other deck got the midgame. Nate and I embraced this strategy. We removed all of the protection creatures except for Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Then we pumped up the sacrifice spells in the Demonic deck, including Cruel Edict, Barter in Blood, and Abyssal Gatekeeper. I have never Demonic Tutored for Barter in Blood so much in my life. Another fun trick we included is the ability to sacrifice Abyssal Gatekeeper to Barter in Blood. The Demonic deck will make any sacrifice to kill Akroma, Angel of Wrath.
To give the battle a more back-and-forth feel, we included life gain for both decks. We gave the Demonic deck fewer ways to gain life (Corrupt, Consume Spirit, and Demon's Horn), but we liked that both Corrupt and Consume Spirit could be used to finish off the Angelic deck. In exchange we gave the Divine deck a lot more life gain. Including cards like Angel of Mercy and Angel's Feather was an easy decision. Then we added extra life gain, such as Faith's Fetters to double as removal and Healing Salve to protect the Divine deck from a lethal Corrupt.
We wanted to make sure that the big hitters from both decks had a chance to come out. The rares in the deck are all expensive to cast. For the Demonic deck, cards like Dark Ritual and Overeager Apprentice would let Kuro, Pitlord and Reiver Demon come out. For the Divine deck, we included a couple of Marble Diamonds and even more life gain!
Nate and I chose Luminous Angel for alternate artwork for the opportunity to give it a less Mirrodin-specific look.
Reiver Demon was proving to be a real problem for the Divine deck—too much so. Nate, Peter, and Steve felt that the Divine deck needed a good answer. Twilight Shepherd was the Angel for the job. Twilight Shepherd was a great answer for all of the removal contained in the Demonic deck, and a totally awesome Angel as well. She was a great addition.
Another card the development team added after the design handoff was Healing Salve. One of the tenets Magic developers value highly is that Magic games should be interactive. Healing Salve provided that interaction, effectively neutralizing a key Consume Spirit or Corrupt. Other games the Healing Salve would get pulled by a timely Duress. The back-and-forth game play of Duel Decks was enhanced by adding a simple Healing Salve. To increase interaction even more, two Otherworldly Journeys were included in the Divine deck. Then to power up the Angel deck they added two Icatian Priests. With all white mana in the Divine deck, the Icatian Priests can swing combat in the Divine deck's favor.
Before I go, I wanted to call out the seven pieces of alternate art that are available exclusively in Duel Decks: Divine vs. Demonic. That is one additional piece of art over what both Elves vs. Goblins and Jace vs. Chandra offered. Nate and I got creative to squeeze in that extra piece of art. How did we do that? We knew what cards were going to be in Magic 2010 and used one of those pieces of art for the Divine vs. Demonic release. I won't give away which of the seven cards will be in Magic 2010, but I can guarantee you that at least one of the seven will be!
Here's the complete list:
Akroma, Angel of Wrath by Chippy
Faith's Fetters by Brian Despain
Luminous Angel by Jason Chan
Demonic Tutor by Scott Chou
Duress by Steven Belledin
Lord of the Pit by Chippy
Stinkweed Imp by Nils Hamm
Faith's Fetters by Brian Despain (notice the Reiver Demon being bound)
Duress by Steven Belledin
To see more large-size alternate art from Divine vs. Demonic, check out the Divine and Demonic Wallpapers of the Week.
I hope these pieces of art have gotten you as excited about Divine vs. Demonic as I am. I've had a blast working on each of the Duel Decks products, and I think Divine vs. Demonic will be the best one yet.
As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or feedback I'm happy to listen. Just email me using the link below. Thanks for reading!
Duel Decks: Divine vs. Demonic
Duel Decks: Divine vs. Demonic