With the release of Throne of Eldraine, MTG has added two new creature types – Warlock and Noble.
About a year ago I did an analysis of three of magic’s main spellcasting groups – Wizards, Shamans, and Druids. Currently, it’s hard to say where Warlocks fall mechanically with these others since there are so few cards with the type. However, I decided to go into a deep dive more into the flavor of warlocks in magic to see if we can begin to glean where the type is going in the future, mechanically.
What is a Warlock?
The term “warlock” is derived from a word in Old English, “wærloga,” meaning “traitor,” “liar,” or “oath-breaker.”
Over time it has also come into usage as a male term for “witch,” though interestingly the term “witch” was already gender-neutral. That could be a topic of its own. Basically, the phrase “warlock” brings to mind a typically evil or sinister magic user who is typically male.
However, much like many fantastical terms, the definition of a warlock can vary depending on the medium.
When I started writing this, I remembered there was a brief mention of warlocks in the Harry Potter books, so I looked into this further. According to the Harry Potter wiki, a warlock is defined as a wizard of great power. It’s a title of prestige, much like a knighthood.
Other properties, like World of Warcraft, define their warlocks by the use of dark and destructive magic in tandem with summoned demons.
However, to best see where Wizards is pulling their definition of warlocks, we can look to their other big property – Dungeons and Dragons. Here, Warlocks are defined as magic users who draw their power from their pact with a powerful entity.
While the typical example involves a pact with a demon, warlocks in DnD can make pacts with any suitably powerful beings. In fact, if you look in the Ravnica DnD book, you’ll see warlock is one of the recommended classes for Selesnya, the idea being you can draw power from Trostani herself. Themself. Itself?
How Magic Defines Warlocks
Magic has also taken their definition of a warlock in DnD and move it right over to their own warlocks.
When I read this, I was honestly initially confused. In looking over how warlocks are shown in the game, it’s hard to see how they’re meant to be drawing their magic from a pact. We don’t see them consorting with any powerful beings ala Diabolical Tutor or Dark Confidant.
However, when I thought about it more, it suddenly hit me – Nearly of the warlock cards we have currently deal with quid pro quo.
Quid pro quo, or “something for something” in Latin, is a term I have burned in my brain because I help edit the websites of lawyers.
It is defined as a favor granted in exchange for something. “This for that” or “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” are all ways we typically understand quid pro quo.
Quid Pro Quo and Warlocks
What does quid pro quo have to do with warlocks in MTG? Most of the warlocks require trading external things for value, something that isn’t inherent to themselves.
Piper of the Swarm, for example, creates rats, and after a certain point, you can sacrifice three rats to steal a creature. That’s three creatures of a specific type that, unless you have some other means of creating rats, you must dedicate at least three taps of the Piper to create.
Tempting Witch will create a food token upon entering and requires specifically sacrificing food tokens for its effect. This not only requires a dedication to food tokens but also giving up 3 life gained for yourself for causing your opponent to lose 3 life.
Barrow Witches specifically returns Knight cards from your graveyard. This requires dedication in your deck to Knights to ensure the card gets value.
Alela, as a legendary commander, is an interesting case, but still falls into this rule. While she makes faeries and pumps fliers, she specifically requires the casting of artifact and enchantment spells to create these fliers. This, again, requires a dedication to artifacts and enchantments when building your deck.
Chittering Witch is a little more flexible than the others on this list, as you can sacrifice creatures of any type to get its secondary effect. However, it still very much plays into the idea of sacrificing resources for advantage, a very black thing to do.
So I think this aspect of encouraging devotion to some aspect in deck building in addition to sacrificing resources will very much play into how warlocks are designed in the future. And to best illustrate this, I want to take a look at
Cards That Could Be Warlocks
So far the only card that has been errated to warlock was “dread warlock,” for obvious reasons. It’s also understandable that Wizards would want to errata as few cards as possible for consistency reasons. However, as a fun exercise, I want to argue some cards that could see some errata.
First, Wizards has stated this will be the preferred type for witch cards, which were typically previously shamans. So pretty much any card with “witch” in the name could become a warlock, such as Accursed Witch, Bitterheart Witch, Caligo Skin-Witch, Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch, you get the idea.
However, I think it’s interesting that many of these witches already exemplify the warlock idea of quid pro quo.
Bogbrew Witch is a perfect example. She tutors only cards with specific names, which all also have text that work with each other. That is a dedication to a deck-building archetype if I’ve ever seen it.
Also, the previously mentioned Bitterheart Witch is meant to go into a curse deck, again similar to Barrow Witches in that the card is dedicated to a card type.
With that, there are also several other not so obviously named cards that I argue could become warlocks:
- Bloodthirsty Ogre – Literally devoted to demons
- Blightcaster – Devotion to enchantments
- Bone Miser – Devotion to self-discard
- Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder – Devoted to thrulls
- Marchesa, the Black Rose – Devoted to creatures with +1/+1 counters
- Puppet Conjurer – Devoted to homunculi
The Core of Warlocks in MTG
In summary, this is what I think warlocks will be in magic’s future.
- Devoted to something that isn’t necessarily inherent to themselves. This is notably distinct from, say, tribal lords, who are going to encourage you to play more of their own type. Warlocks don’t want to help others like themselves, because those like themselves aren’t suitably powerful. Bloodthirsty Ogre isn’t himself a demon. Blightcaster isn’t itself an enchantment. Marchesa doesn’t give herself dethrone.
- Play around with some form of quid pro quo, which is inherent to black itself. Bone miser encourages you to discard your own cards. Endrek Sahr will literally sacrifice himself once you have too many thrulls.
And while warlocks have so far only been in black, and are said to be black’s spellcasting class, it’s not impossible that we’ll see a non-black warlock in the future. Given this, I’ve decided to end this article with my own personal hot take:
Gilded Goose is a Warlock