Diabolic Intent - One Bad Day

(Cruel Entertainment | Art by David Palumbo)

All It Takes Is A Little Push

Welcome back to Diabolic Intent, where we build decks around iconic villains and their diabolical schemes!

While we've had some very big players featured in this series, this week's villain is arguably one of the most iconic in all of American pop culture, which means that while the assertion that he "needs no introduction" is true on a practical level, it would completely betray the spirit of the character not to be as maddeningly ostentatious as possible, so here we go.

He's been portrayed by four different Academy Award winners, securing two of those awards, himself. He's become a symbol for thousands of Angry Internet Men. He's killed Robin and paralyzed Batgirl. He's the Harlequin of Hate, the Ace of Knaves, the Jester of Genocide, the Clown Prince of Crime—he's the Joker, baby!

The specific "diabolical schemes" being emulated here today come primarily from Christopher Nolan's version of the Joker in The Dark Knight (with a couple Killing Joke references to justify my article title). Given the character's 80-year history, it may seem like an odd choice to focus so narrowly on the Heath Ledger incarnation, but I've got three very good reasons to do so:

  1. He's the highly quotable version that everyone knows,
  2. The ethos he lays out captures a lot of the reasons we as a society (heh) find the Joker so compelling, and
  3. That ethos translates super well into Magic, specifically into Commander. In a format whose premise is four people trying to kill each other, it's not hard to make the case that, deep down, we're all just as nasty and crazy as the Joker.

Let's get started!

They'll Eat Each Other

If we want our opponents doing nasty, stupid things to each other, we've got to give them the proper motivation. While there are plenty of ways to force our opponents to go crazy and attack each other, we're taking a more insidious approach. We want to get in their heads. Sure, they don't have to swing, but aren't they just leaving resources on the table if they don't? A lot of people hold fast to those funky little unspoken rules about not swinging with utility dorks in the early game, which makes these kinds of Curses great for building up all kinds of weird animosity and resentment!

Once we've got some tensions riled, we can throw these into the mix. Give Xantcha, Sleeper Agent to someone who's been needling your Cursed player and watch them get served hot comeuppance with a side of value. And people are remarkably willing to use their extra mana on Scandalmonger, especially if they're nursing a grudge, Curse-inspired or otherwise.

I'd also like to call attention to Land's Edge's and Scandalmonger's capacity to make our opponents discard cards, since discarding is a tried and true stand-in for insanity, and deep in the clutches of insanity is right where we want our opponents. And if you're worried that they may not have reasonable motivation to use Land's Edge...don't be. It's coming.

The Entertainment Section

The very existence of this card is a hilariously compelling argument that EDH players are monsters. Just put two people at each other's mercy, and watch them go! It's somewhat evocative of the boat scene in The Dark Knight, or that very quick "we're gonna have tryouts" bit with the pool cue. Oh wait...can we give them pool cues?

For the cruelest possible entertainment, give the Viscera Seer to the first player, then use Harmless Offering to give Necropotence (or Doom Whisperer if they're at an even life total) to the player that goes second. How's that for "a social experiment"?

You'll Have to Choose

This Joker guy does love putting people in unthinkable dilemmas like "save Rachel or Harvey" or "kill Coleman Reese or I blow up a hospital". We've got all kinds of horrible dilemmas for our opponents, among which Captive Audience stands out on a flavor level for essentially being the plot of The Killing Joke.

Hot Potato

Speaking of horrible dilemmas, check this one out! With any luck, we can bounce our opponents' lands and then get them to discard them of their own free will. We'll probably have to discard some, too, but hopefully it'll be less than our opponents. Here's a step-by-step:

1) On the board: Witchbane Orb

1a) Optional: Furnace of Rath and/or another damage doubler (the more, the better).

1b) Optional: Play Damnation or any other creature wipe.

2) Tap all your lands for mana.

3) Play Sunder to numerous groans.

4) Play Lightning Storm targeting the player with the lowest life.

5) Activate Lightning Storm's ability enough times to make it lethal on whoever you're targeting. This amount will vary, but if you wait until fairly late in the game to do this or have multiple damage doublers out, you might only need to lose 3 or 4 lands.

6) Sit back and watch as your opponents pitch all of their lands to play Death Ping-Pong. If you board wiped, they won't be able to call a truce and fizzle it out on a creature! They'll "drive themselves mad" discarding cards, and then one of them dies! What a show!

Side note: The safe way to do this is with Witchbane Orb or its sibling Orbs of Warding, which are unfortunately our only options because I'll be damned if I'm gonna splash white in a Joker deck. The authentic way to do this is to deliver a rousing "agent of chaos" speech to our opponents and convince them to respect our craft and not target us.

You're Just a Freak, Like Me

If your response to seeing the above card is mostly fear, you sound sane and well-adjusted, and you should not be piloting this deck. But really, if our goal is "make our opponents do nasty things", how can we do better than a card that essentially reads "make our opponents copy our nasty things"?

And what nasty things they are! I'll note that we're also running Eye of the Storm as a backup for Hive Mind, which means we're mostly steering clear of X spells, but c'mon, how awesome is Rakdos's Return? If we're looking for some more Entertainment, Worst Fears is also a fantastic option. We'll want our Orbs from the previous section, but if we get in a pinch, we might not have to lose too much even if we end up being targeted and needing to discard.

Madness is the Emergency Exit

Aside from giving us incidental value if our discard sorceries come back to bite us, Madness is kind of the quintessential Joker mechanic. Embracing insanity and using it our advantage? Yes, please.

Land's Edge Incentive

I did say there would be reasonable motivation for our opponents to use Land's Edge, didn't I? What happens if we follow our Lightning Storm combo from before, (Sunder, damage doublers, etc.) but replace Lightning Storm with one of the above cards played into a Hive Mind? With Land's Edge out, our opponents get to decide if they want to take damage for all those lands in their hand, or discard them for 4 damage apiece! And if they don't want to take any damage, they're free to discard their entire hand! Wow, madness really is the emergency exit.

The Wheels on the Bus

Wheels can enable Madness, and digging for cards is always good, but with Hive Mind, these cards will frikkin' excavate. And if we dig far and deep enough, maybe we'll dig this up:

I'm usually very against this card because I think it's a lazy backup win condition, but if his flavor text isn't just the epitome of the "I'm like a dog chasing cars" monologue, I don't know what is.

Commander - Multiple Choice

"You wanna know how I got these cards?"

In keeping with the Joker's multiple choice past, I'm presenting you with a multiple choice poll for a preferred commander. Nekusar, the Mindrazer is the practical choice, seeing as we're running so many wheels, but he's also super overdone and boring. OG Nicol Bolas does force discard, and in an extremely dramatic and theatrical Joker fashion, but he's also kind of a terrible card. Gwendlyn di Corci is a little more subtle about it, and she does have some serious Harley Quinn vibes, but she is also One Hundred Dollars. Feel free to comment if you've got any other ideas!

Here's the final decklist! Don't let my commander choice influence your vote.

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

What do you think? Do these cards put a smile on that face, or does this town deserve a better class of criminal? Do I look like a guy with a plan, or is the plan horrifying? Let me know!

In regards to our next villain, I started writing a little bonus section at the end here with deck ideas for other Batman villains, and realized I had enough material to do a whole article of them! They won't be full decks, just little deck archetypes with some card ideas, but I'm going to cram in every dang Batman villain I can come up with a build for! See you next time!

Amos has been playing Magic since OG Innistrad, where in his first ever draft pack he passed a shiny Grimgrin for a Corpse Lunge. He hails from the icy wastes of Vermont, where he enjoys hunting Warhammer players on his dogsled and watching movies. You can follow his Tweeter at @Byrnenator.

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