Punisher is R&D slang for spells that force an opponent to decide how to punish themselves, usually giving them a choice between either two bad situations or between something bad for them and a bonus for you.
Punisher is primary in red, where one of the two abilities is usually damage to the opponent making the choice; the other option is often something red doesn't normally do in the color pie (e.g. card draw). Black is secondary, but doesn't tend to have the color pie–bending aspect.
Punisher cards were first printed throughout the Odyssey block and were red. In the "alternative reality" themed set Planar Chaos, black got two punisher cards, while a multicolored black/red punisher card was printed in Shadowmoor. In Avacyn Restored, Punisher came back again this time as a 4/3 creature for that punishes for 4 damage. Some Punisher cards from the Odyssey block got a modern card frame for the first time in Tibalt's deck for Duel Decks: Sorin vs. Tibalt. Another punisher card was printed in Oath of the Gatewatch, while a vertical cycle of them were printed in Hour of Devastation. These last three allowed your opponents to choose from one of three options, all of which were detrimental to them.
- When a punisher spell resolves, the player whose creature, land, or spell would be affected must choose whether to take damage or allow the spell's normal effect to work.
- Damage that the punisher spell would deal to the player may be prevented.
Any player may have Book Burning deal 6 damage to him or her. If no one does, put the top six cards of target player's library into his or her graveyard.
In the above example, your opponent must decide whether to punish themselves by taking 6 points of damage or putting the top 6 cards of their library into their graveyard.
List of punisher cards
- Sam Stoddard (February 28, 2014). "A Tribute to Punisher". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (January 16, 2017). "Are Browbeat like effects (Opponents chooses to hurt themselves or help you) still in Reds color pie?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (June 5, 2017). "Mechanical Color Pie 2017". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Melissa DeTora (June 23, 2017). "Cycle of Torment". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.