Shadowborn Demon caught my eye almost immediately when I saw him in the spoiler for M14. It’s an interesting card because it bears some resemblance to many of the black creatures higher on the curve that currently see play. So called “187” creatures have been a staple of black for some time, and rarely do we see them with such loose targeting restrictions as this.
It also fits nicely into the Recursive Black Aggro archetype that has been gaining popularity, which makes it of particular interest. A Pox or Contamination deck may already be playing Gravecrawler, Bloodghast, Bitterblossom, or any number of other enablers to negate exactly this kind of drawback. However, we have to consider that sometimes the drawback won’t come into play at all given that these types of decks will often play an Oversold Cemetery based purely off the number of bodies it can flood the graveyard with, given its nature as an aggressive deck.
While not everyone supports these types of recursive themes, other decks like reanimator (which is always filling its yard with Ideas Unbounds and Frantic Searches) may well find him to be a playable body as well. I think he deserves a look, so let’s match him up against some other, more familiar options.
This is a card that’s seen play in most Cubes since its printing due in large part to its versatility coupled with a sufficient evasive body. The Demon has a far more threatening body, albeit with a less powerful form of evasion. (Though Fear gets continually worse as the proliferation of hybrid cards continues) That’s not all, though. He also offers 4 (!) extra points of toughness, as well as the ability to actually destroy the types of creatures that could theoretically block him (flyers), an ability Shriekmaw can’t boast.
Here is a card that was enthusiastically embraced by Cubers recently, and sports a similar body at five mana for five flying power. Here again, though, the new Demon has certain advantages. Two points of toughness may not be a staggering number, but it does put Shadowborn Demon out of Char or Fireblast range, a critical threshold when you’re on the defensive against an aggressive start from your opponent.
The Demon also offers value up front. Everyone loves a Phyrexian Arena, but it’s an up front investment for value down the line, and in a form that can become a liability at that. Often this is simply too little too late on a card that costs five mana. Shadowborn kills their most threatening attacker dead immediately and stares menacingly at their remaining crew with threats of blocking.
While I don’t want to downplay the significance of an increase from four to five mana, the returns here are undeniable. For one additional mana we’re now looking at not only a drastically bigger body, but real evasion. Our Demon friend plays equally well with Blink Effects, and does’t get blown out by any old Arc Trail from the opponent.
Still played in many cubes, poor Koko has seen better days. Power creep has turned a once formidable body with value into a sketchy proposition. For one less mana we get not only a better body with the same evasive properties, but we get our value up front instead of (like Bloodgift Demon) waiting for it to matter. An opponent with a Swords or similar exile effect will probably take the game from us if our stock is with KoKo, whereas the Demon stands a far better chance to have made the difference for us.
I believe that Shadownborn Demon compares favorable with all of the above, save perhaps Shriekmaw due in large part to his function as a Terror, and fringe value with sacrifice effects. In many modern black sections the drawback is more or less negligible, if not outright planned for. I have high hopes for Shadowborn Demon, and I think he deserves a chance in any black section that focuses on recursion, and many that don’t.
All told, I’d say that Bloodghast just made a new friend.