The Making of a Murderous Enchantment: Ill-Gotten Inheritance

I’ve been playing a ton of Ravnica Allegiance Limited and one of the cards that has captured my imagination is Ill-Gotten Inheritance. I enjoy the card on multiple levels. In particular, I love the way it causes players to make difficult evaluations to accommodate for the fact that the card is so, well, weird.

How bomb-y the card feels on the table has a lot to do with the context you build for it and how well you are able to leverage its recurring trigger. You’ve got to earn a “license to Ill.”

Ill-Gotten Inheritance

Is this a Rakdos Burn card?
Is this a control deck card to stabilize with?
Is this a primary win condition in a combo-control deck?

It does all of these things if properly utilized. In addition to discussing the card in Limited, I’m also curious about Constructed applications in Pauper. Last, but certainly not least for today’s article: I was able to get in contact with Senior Game Designer for WotC, Sam Stoddard, who actually worked on designing the card, for a firsthand account of the process by which we got Ill-Gotten Inheritance.

My Favorite Card in the Set

There are many criteria a person might use to determine their favorite card in a set. Most likely, it’s a card you enjoy playing in some way shape or form.

I haven’t played Ill-Gotten much in Constructed, which makes it an unlikely choice. In Limited, it’s not even a first pick. There are two other black commons I would typically pick over it:

Blade JugglerGrotesque Demise

What I value about the card is that it isn’t obvious at first glance what you should do with it. It plays better than it looks and rewards you for building around it.

I’m also a fan of cards that find balance between flavor and function. I love cards where the effect mirrors the fluff in a clear, concise way. Some concepts are easier than others to depict through gameplay:

Lightning BoltCounterspell

These ones are to the point. I’m always fascinated by cards that find a way to express a complicated concept through gameplay. Ill-Gotten Inheritance is a bold thematic concept. My wife enjoys watching true crime mysteries and Ill-Gotten Inheritance is a common motive for murder.

It draws to mind a type of murder I’ve watched play out on these shows several times—slowly poisoning a person over a period of time in order to conceal the crime and to cash in on the life insurance policy. It’s a grisly concept, but you knew what you were signing up for when you put 7+ Swamps into a deck!

MortifyExpose to Daylight

If you’ve played a lot of Ravnica Allegiance Limited you’ve likely heard the consensus that Ethereal Absolution is the best bomb in the set. It’s obviously off-the-charts powerful, but it benefits from another contextual advantage: lack of enchantment removal. Not only does Absolution have a profound impact on the game—it is difficult to undo or interact with it.

I.G.I. benefits from living in an enchantment-removal-light format. Being difficult to remove is a premium characteristic in and of itself. Think about how good hexproof is. So, while Ill-Gotten doesn’t dominate the battlefield in the same way mythic rares like Biogenic Ooze or Hellkite do, what the card lacks in direct impact it makes up for by virtue of being reliably sticky.

Ill-Gotten Inheritance in Limited

Ill-Gotten was one of the most hotly debated cards among serious Limited players over the past few months. I attended multiple Limited MagicFests and people were all over the place with regard to where they place this card in their pick order.

It was also debatable whether its stock rises or falls depending on the archetype you are drafting. It’s still unclear whether this is a better Rakdos Aggro or Orzov Midrange card because it’s so useful in both.

My favorite MTG Arena Draft deck was based around Ill-Gotten Inheritance and I would describe it as a Limited combo deck.

Orzhov Combo

2 Orzhov Guildgate
8 Swamp
7 Plains
2 Twilight Panther
1 Orzhov Enforcer
2 Imperious Oligarch
1 Vizkopa Vampire
2 Grasping Thrull
1 Basilica Bell-Haunt
1 Pitiless Pontiff
1 Blade Juggler
1 Ministrant of Obligation
1 Summary Judgment
1 Grotesque Demise
2 Orzhov Locket
4 Ill-Gotten Inheritance
1 Consecrate/Consume
2 Revival/Revenge

I would consider this a Limited combo deck because it wins in a non-traditional manner, largely without combat. Sure, I’ve got some creatures to plunk away with chip damage, but this deck isn’t winning any games by dealing 20 in the red zone.

Revival // Revenge

The real “combo” of the deck was Revenge. I picked up two copies over the course of the Draft and didn’t know how they would play. My short answer is the card is extremely good and I wouldn’t hesitate to first pick it. It was frequently a deal 10 gain 15.

Once Revenge deals a large chunk, Ill-Gottens are really good at finishing the job. The rest of the deck is designed to block and trade bodies in combat with deathtouchers.

Sam Stoddard on Designing the Perfect Crime

When I started the concept for today’s article I wanted to talk about a card that I felt was really interesting and how I’ve enjoyed using it as a linchpin across archetypes in Limited. The “weirdness” of the card raised a lot of questions.

I reached out to R&D to see if they’d be willing to share the design process behind the card with me. I ended up in touch with Sam Stoddard, Senior Designer for Magic, and he was kind enough to share some great info with me.

One of the early questions I had about the card, “is it Rakdos or Orzhov?” is basically confirmed by the design log as it started off as a Rakdos spectacle enabler called “Twist the Knife” and slowly morphed into the Orzhov bleeder card we know and love (or love to hate!).

Stoddard:Ill-Gotten Inheritance started off life as a Rakdos card—an attempt to create a card that could be an enabler in a punch, but mostly existed to close out games.

Twist the Knife

Target opponent loses 1 life. If you paid the spectacle cost, that player loses X life instead.
Spectacle XB (You may cast CARDNAME for its spectacle cost if an opponent lost life this turn.)

As we worked on the mechanic more, and the designs moved around, the card ended up not really serving a purpose as an enabler, since you generally only save 2 mana on your spectacle costs anyway. What we really wanted was something you could play that gave you spectacle every turn, and the mana to curve the spells out. So it morphed into an enchantment.”

Not in my wildest dreams would I have guessed this was proto-Inheritance! First of all, it’s not even an enchantment. It’s a sorcery that deals a damage to enable spectacle or can be spectacled as a Fireball to the face.

Twist the Knife

At the beginning of your upkeep, CARDNAME deals 1 damage to each opponent.

We found that it wasn’t particularly interesting as an uncommon, and when we moved it to common, we found that Rakdos had all the cards it really needed to make spectacle work an appropriate amount of the time. That’s when we decided to move it away from something that was good in Rakdos, and instead put life gain on it so it could act as a ‘bleeder’ type card that Orzhov was somewhat lacking in this set compared to the previous two Ravnicas. It could work in either guild, but was more aimed for Orzhov or decks that wanted to play Mardu.”

The next version of the card was an uncommon Curse of the Pierced Heart that was designated as an uncommon, so not Pauper legal. Notice the life gain is absent.

Constant Debt

At the beginning of your upkeep, CARDNAME deals 1 damage to each opponent. You gain 1 life.

The card stayed like this for a long time, and it was unobtrusive in Draft. Not so weak that people were offended, and not strong enough to frequently make people’s decks. At some point, I was going through the set and looking for ways to improve cards that looked boring, which this card fit the bill for. I went with adding an invoker-type effect, since Orzhov is a late-game attrition type deck that doesn’t have a lot of stuff to do with its mana once it hits that point of the game.”

I love the name and hope they make a “Constant Debt” at some point in the future! Now, it’s starting to look familiar!

Ill-Gotten Inheritance

At the beginning of your upkeep, CARDNAME deals 1 damage to each opponent and you gain 1 life.

6B, Sacrifice Ill-Gotten Inheritance: It deals 4 damage to target opponent and you gain 4 life.

After asking around the pit, the consensus was that it still looked pretty weak, and 5B was safe for the sacrifice cost. We did some final Limited balancing after finishing the card, but we ultimately underestimated how strong the final card would be, especially in multiples. That’s not unusual—we over and underestimate a lot of cards’ relative strength within the environment in every set— the number of games we end up playing with the final set is dwarfed by the number in the first few hours of a set’s release. Beyond the card itself being a bit stronger, the format ended up a bit slower than I’d expected, so taking off a turn to spend 4 mana on a card that has no immediate impact on the board is less dangerous than it would be in a slightly faster format. Knowing what I know now about the card, I don’t think it’s particularly far off on raw power level, but I’d probably bump it back up to uncommon just to prevent the 3+ Ill-Gotten Inheritance decks from happening quite so often.”

I agree with Sam’s statement that the card feels like an uncommon effect, but I’m glad that it’s a common for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s not a top-top pick order common. I’ve Drafted between 75-100 times and I’ve never selected the card first, despite the fact that it is my overall favorite card to play with in the set. Even with my ridiculous bias, it’s not a card that I see as overpowering. The card is not busted, but it is tactically and contextually useful.

It gets better in focused decks that have a plan to exploit the types of games that will be played. I also enjoy the fact that I can pick these up beyond the first few picks as potential build around cards.

It’s also a cool bonus that at common Ill-Gotten Inheritance feels “uncommonly powerful” in Pauper. I don’t know if being “uncommonly powerful” is viable in a format with Gush and Brainstorm which are, well, really powerful, but I appreciate that the potential exists.

Creatureless Ill-Gotten Inheritance

Brian DeMars

4 Bloodfell Caves
2 Rakdos Carnarium
4 Piranha Marsh
5 Mountain
5 Swamp
4 Bump in the Night
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Chain Lightning
4 Rift Bolt
3 Curse of the Pierced Heart
3 Skewer the Critics
4 Blightning
2 Ill-Gotten Inheritance
4 Tyrant's Choice
4 Sovereign's Bite
2 Evincar's Justice

2 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Choking Sands
2 Terminate
2 Electrickery
4 Smash to Smithereens
3 Pyroblast

It’s kind of a sweet B/R Burn deck that also has access to sweepers. It felt pretty good in the games I’ve played, but I’m certain there’s an even better shell for the card. I’m interested in trying to find a nice Oubliette, IGI, and Gray Merchant shell, and siphoning those hit points away!

That is what I enjoy so much about Inheritance. Is it a Pauper Constructed card? It almost doesn’t matter what context we are describing using IGI. The answer is always, well, maybe… It depends on what you put around it!

The thing I enjoy about a card like this is that it asks questions that feel difficult to answer without actually seeing how the scenarios play out. Cards like these make me happy and I’m glad that at the end of the road Ill-Gotten Inheritance ended up coming off the press the way that it did. I really enjoyed learning the story of how this bizarro came to be and hopefully you did too.

As always, I look forward to hearing and discussing your thoughts in the comments below. What is the best Pauper shell for Ill-Gotten, or do you think it’s just too slow? What have your experiences been with the card in Limited and did you ever get a particularly sweet Inheritance deck?


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