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Magic 2011 Set Review – Black

 

Black has a few interesting cards to look at, some of which might be able to form the basis of new Standard archetypes. It also has some sweet reprints, which will undoubtedly keep some broken strategies in check, particularly in older formats.

As usual, the grading system is as follows:

Constructed

5.0: Multi-format All-Star. Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Tarmogoyf.

4.0: Format staple. Bloodbraid Elf. Baneslayer Angel.

3.5: Good in multiple archetypes, but not a format staple. Raging Ravine. Oblivion Ring.

3.0: Archetype staple. Sprouting Thrinax. Goblin Guide.

2.5: Role-player in some decks, but not quite a staple. Rampant Growth. Divination.

2.0: Niche card. Sideboard or currently unknown archetype. Celestial Purge. (Bear in mind that many cards fall into this “maybe” category, although explanation of why is obviously important)

1.0 It has seen play once. One with Nothing. (I believe it was “tech” vs Owling Mine, although fairly suspicious tech at that.)

Limited

5.0: I will always play this card. Period.

4.5: I will almost always play this card, regardless of what else I get.

4.0: I will strongly consider playing this as the only card of its color.

3.5: I feel a strong pull into this card’s color.

3.0: This card makes me want to play this color. (Given that I’m playing that color, I will play this card 100% of the time.)

2.5: Several cards of this power level start to pull me into this color. If playing that color, I essentially always play these. (Given that I’m playing that color, I will play this card 90% of the time.)

2.0: If I’m playing this color, I usually play these. (70%)

1.5: This card will make the cut into the main deck about half the times I play this color. (50%)

1.0: I feel bad when this card is in my main deck. (30%)

0.5: There are situations where I might sideboard this into my deck, but I’ll never start it. (10%)

0.0: I will never put this card into my deck (main deck or after sideboarding). (0%)

Assassinate

 

Assassinate 

Constructed: 1.0

All this does is assassinate your chances of winning a match if you put it in your deck.

Limited: 3.0

Assassinate can be pretty sick. Imagine if you have a Leyline of Anticipation out, and they attack. You then [card]Silence[/card] them to make sure they have nothing, and Assassinate their best guy! For the most part this is going to be decent removal, though in multiples it can be a little painful, seeing as you usually get hit before you can use it.

Barony Vampire

 

Barony Vampire 

Constructed: 1.0

A roseWarpath Ghoul by any other name would smell as sweetputrid.

Limited: 2.5

Three power is really the threshold creatures need to cross for me to like them. 2/2’s for two are almost unplayable, but a 3/2 for three is fine. Barony Vampire won’t often get you any tribal bonus, but is still a solid filler. Any deck that gets to cut this is pretty sick.

Black Knight

Black Knight

Constructed: 2.0

Every now and then Black Knight pops up in a Constructed deck (Black-Red Vampires has long been the scourge of Southern California), but for the most part it is relegated to the sidelines. I miss the old flavor text, but protection takes a lengthy block of reminder text, so I guess there was no room.

Limited: 3.0

Much like White Knight, Black Knight ranges from solid to awesome, and the double-colored mana cost is more than worth it. This is a little worse, since white has more fliers than black, but it is still good.

Blood Tithe

 

Blood Tithe 

Constructed: 1.0

I wish I could say there will be blood, but there really won’t. I wonder if this was designed for multiplayer

Limited: 1.0

It would take a really aggressive deck to want this, but it isn’t that much worse than Soul Feast. Ok, it’s pretty bad, but aggressive decks are all about bad cards getting there. The other use is as a sideboard card when the matchup is always going to come down to a race, since a six point life swing is pretty handy.

Bloodthrone Vampire

 

Bloodthrone Vampire 

Constructed: 1.0

Turns out the whole Bloodghast/Bloodthrone Vampire/Kalastria Highborn deck wasn’t even good enough for Block, which doesn’t bode well for its chances in Standard, even after Shards rotates.

Limited: 1.0

It is pretty drastic how much worse this is in M11 than it is in Rise draft. Without easy access to fodder, Bloodthrone Vampire is just a mediocre guy, and not one I would like to play under most circumstances. Core Sets not having a theme is just so much less interesting than the alternative, since cards (like this) that are weak on their face but actually very powerful in the right deck just don’t exist. Cards are basically only as good as they look, and that takes a huge element out of both the drafting and playing. Rant aside, I wouldn’t play this unless you are short on playables or want to side it in vs Mind Control (which is acceptable). It does combo pretty well with Reassembling Skeletons, so if you manage to pick up two Skeletons, Bloodthrone is probably fine.

Bog Raiders

 

Bog Raiders 

Constructed: 1.0

I don’t want to bog down this review with unnecessary words, so I’ll just say this is unplayable and leave it at that.

Limited: 1.0

You really don’t want to be starting this (this isn’t Saga block, after all) but sometimes a 2/2 body is what you need. It is obviously a great sideboard card, though not high-impact enough to go after it over decent playables.

Captivating Vampire

 

Captivating Vampire 

Constructed: 1.0

Vampires have captivated many people over the course of the last year, but I am not one of them. I never thought the deck was good, and even if it were, this card is clearly not good enough for Constructed.

Limited: 1.5

There are four common Vampires in M11 (plus one rare one), which isn’t enough to reliably trigger [card]Captivating Vampire[/card]. The pump isn’t all that relevant either, since all the other Vampires are pretty small and fragile regardless. For the most part I would avoid playing him, though if you manage to somehow pick up like eight Vampires I guess he is fine.

Child of Night

 

Child of Night 

Constructed: 1.0

I think I unfavorably compared Child of Knight to Knight of Meadowgrain last year, so this time I will mock him by pointing out how much better Putrid Leech is.

Limited: 2.5

Lifelink goes a long way towards making me want to play a bear, since hitting a few times buys you plenty of breathing room. When you have a t2 Child, the opponent is pressured into using a good removal spell or trading with (hopefully) a good creature, instead of just ignoring it like they would a normal bear.

Corrupt

 

Corrupt 

Constructed: 1.0

Sorry, but even Nantuko Shade isn’t going to bring back Mono-Black. Losing out on powerful cards like Jace, Bloodbraid Elf, Vengevine, etc is just not worth the rewards. Until Cabal Coffers returns, the incentive to play all Swamps is just not high enough.

Limited: 3.0

In most decks, Corrupt will do 3-4 damage at six mana, which is more than fine. If you are Mono-Black, it moves up to almost a 4, since it is both an awesome finisher and a great way to stabilize. I wouldn’t play this with less than half Swamps, and the color requirements in the set are easy enough that you shouldn’t have a problem meeting that threshold.

Dark Tutelage

 

Dark Tutelage 

Constructed: 2.5

This card isn’t bad, but Bob it is not. The comparison to Phyrexian Arena is much more apt, and the fact that this is much worse than Arena is somewhat telling. Arena was solid, but never super exciting (like Dark Confidant, which might just be the best creature of all time), and Dark Tutelage comes with way more risk than Arena. Luckily, it is somewhat splashable, which means a mono-red deck might be able to take advantage of the stream of extra cards. Most black-based decks are going to want to play cards like Grave Titan, Bituminous Blast, possibly even Cruel Ultimatum, and the damage from Dark Tutelage just adds up too quickly. Where I do like it is in the sideboard, since it has the potential to be awesome against decks that don’t actively attack your life total (mainly UW). Multiple Dark Tutelage is downright suicidal, so this seems like the perfect card to play 1-2 copies of. It is definitely powerful enough to see play, but it will take some very specific circumstances before most decks will want it.

Limited: 1.0

I don’t see how you can try and justify playing this in Limited, unless you somehow have a super low curve aggro deck with multiple ways to gain life. Once you play Dark Tutelage, you might be pulling ahead in the card department, but the opponent has a new win condition. All they have to do is not die, and the Tutelage will eventually kill you. The problem is exacerbated if they have any way of forcing through damage, since once you are forced to play defensively the game is just about over. I suppose if I had two Crystal Balls I would consider this one, since that should limit the damage you take to almost nothing.

Deathmark

 

Deathmark 

Constructed: 2.0

Sovereigns of Lost Alara is single-handedly pushing Deathmark out of sideboards, since all of a sudden the sorcery-speed drawback is a real one. I still like having access to Deathmark, but right now is not the time for it. I have actually played it in sideboards of every format, to give you perspective on how efficient it is.

Limited: 0.5

Like Celestial Purge, this is strictly a sideboard card, albeit one of the better ones. I haven’t done enough sealeds to fully tell, but I suspect no color dominates enough to the point where you want to run any color hosers main.

Demon of Death’s Gate

 

Demon of Deaths Gate 

Constructed: 1.0

Spirit of the Night was one of my favorite cards back when it was released, and this is obviously quite reminiscent of that. Of course, Spirit was never good (I guess he got Oathed up for a while, but that’s neither here nor there), and I don’t expect this Demon to make it out of the gates either. Sacrificing three guys just to get Pathed or Pulsed or bounced by Jace doesn’t seem like a recipe for success, and you certainly can’t expect to hardcast him.

Limited: 1.0

Actually casting the Demon is not very desirable, since nine is very difficult without the sort of acceleration we had in Rise. The alternate cost is somewhat interesting, but runs into the same problem of being exceedingly weak against removal. You should get the Demon fairly late, and having him in your sideboard seems fine to me (assuming you have enough black creatures to feed to him). Against a red-green deck or the like, you can turbo him out with a reasonable expectation that he will live, and presumably win you the race.

Diabolic Tutor

Diabolic Tutor 

Constructed: 1.0

I’m sure everyone is sick of hearing about how powerful four-mana spells are in Standard, or even about how tutors in less powerful formats can’t get anything that makes up for the mana spent, so I’ll go ahead and object to this on the basis of that insufferably smug look on the guy’s face in the picture.

Limited: 2.5

Hopefully you have at least a couple good cards in your draft deck, since otherwise you are in a bit of trouble. Assuming you do have cards you want to see, Diabolic Tutor gets you them for the cost of a turn. Depending on what you are fetching, that is often worth it. Even tutoring for Doom Blade and casting it on turn six is fine, since you just killed their best guy. If you have some especially ridiculous card, like Baneslayer Angel or Grave Titan, Diabolic Tutor is pickable over anything but premium removal.

Disentomb

Disentomb 

Constructed: 1.0

More like Disappoint.

Limited: 2.0

One Disentomb is fine in a deck with 13 or more creatures, though two is a little risky. Creatures die, and bringing them back for one mana is a fine way to double up on your better picks. This card should also see a lot of sideboard action, since it is pretty bad against the Pacifism/Blinding Mage deck and pretty good against the multiple red and black removal deck.

Doom Blade

Doom Blade 

Constructed: 2.5

Though this is basically only seeing sideboard play right now, it is cheap and effective enough to be maindecked if there ever is a black deck that doesn’t also play red. Though I wouldn’t call it the blade, having the black Core Set removal spell be this efficient is nice, since it gives you plenty of options while deckbuilding.

Limited: 4.0

Doom Blade is easily the best common removal spell, and will get splashed frequently. Even non-black drafters will snap this up, especially if they can pick up a fixer or two. The splashability and flexibility of this card push it to a 4, even though if I was already solidly in BW I would probably pick Blinding Mage over it.

Duress

duress 

Constructed: 4.0

If the rating was strictly Standard, Duress would be more of a 2.5, but it is pretty awesome in older formats. I really like when I have to choose between Duress and Thoughtseize, instead of instantly picking the ‘Seize, since that means that creatures aren’t necessarily the focus of every deck in the format. In Standard, Duress sees marginal play as a sideboard card against control decks, but even that hasn’t been all that common lately. As for other formats, it is pretty clear that Duress is a key piece of disruption, particularly in decks that don’t want to pay a ton of life (Ad Nauseam comes to mind).

Limited: 1.5

Much like Negate, Duress is a fine card to start in Sealed. In Draft, I really like having 1-2 in my sideboard, but I won’t usually play them maindeck. Missing is so brutal, and makes Duress way worse than Negate, which might rot in your hand for a while but will never flat miss as long as they draw a spell at some point.

Grave Titan

grave titan 

Constructed: 4.0

This is the real deal. Not only does the Titan stabilize the board as soon as it hits, it puts them in a huge hole if it ever gets to attack. Turboland played Rampaging Baloths specifically for the Jund matchup, and Titan is like a Baloths that comes out a turn sooner (since you rarely played Baloths at six mana) and requires no additional cards to work. There are few decks that can ignore the Titan, though Eldrazi Conscription does go over the top. I always thought Broodmate would be better in a true control deck, and now we have one that is way less awkward on the colors. I predict that Grave Titan is both going to show up in established decks and spawn new ones.

Limited: 4.5

Here is another case of “take everything I said about it in Constructed and apply it to Limited,” with the usual reminder that mass removal is scarce and card quality in general is vastly lower. It seems very difficult to lose once you slam the Titan; they need one of very few removal spells that deal, and you still get four power. Plus, the removal spells that do stop it keep it around (Pacifism, Ice Cage, Blinding Mage), so if you ever draw Unsummon or War Priest of Thune, they are probably dead. Even if you open this in pack three, seriously consider ditching a color if you can.

Gravedigger

gravedigger 

Constructed: 1.0

I feel like I’m digging myself into a hole with all these puns, but I just can’t resist. Also, Gravedigger sucks.

Limited: 3.0

Gravedigger can definitely be better than just a 3, but that will mostly depend on what else is in your deck. The more awesome creatures you have, the higher you want to take the Digger. Something like Triskelion in particular makes me look for Gravediggers and Disentombs, as does a ridiculous bomb like Baneslayer Angel. Early in the draft, Gravedigger is a solid pick, but generally worse than a removal spell.

Haunting Echoes

haunting echoes 

Constructed: 2.0

This was not even close to playable last year, but Vengevine wasn’t a card back then. I don’t really like the idea of spending five mana and a card to stop a guy I already killed from coming back, but it does stop all the Vengevines for the rest of the game. For the most part, decks that need to stop Vengevine and have to resort to such methods are not viable right now, but Grave Titan might make such a deck a reality.

Limited: 0.0

I really am hoping I don’t have to defend this particular rating. I can’t think of a scenario where I would ever want to draw Haunting Echoes, even with/against the mill deck with Time Reversal, if such a beast exists.

Howling Banshee

howling banshee 

Constructed: 1.0

Why Bloodbraid into Blightning when you can just slam down this beast?

Limited: 3.5

The life loss is almost always going to be in your favor, since you just played a 3-power flier, and black has a number of decent life gain spells. Sometimes Banshee will be a pretty awkward draw, but even if you are on the defensive the body will outweigh the life loss. 3/3 fliers for four with a slight advantage are what you might call “premium” in Limited, if that wasn’t abundantly clear.

Leyline of the Void

Leyline of the Void 

Constructed: 4.0

Leyline of the Void has proven itself as a sideboard card time and time again. I don’t expect to ever see it in Standard (even against Vengevine decks), but it is an important card to have available in all the older formats, from Extended on back. Leyline has always been the best card you could have against Dredge decks, since it not only stops them from accomplishing their game plan, they can’t grind it out like they can against Tormod’s Crypt or Relic. I’m glad this got reprinted, since it is a great card to have just in case, and I expect it to do good work against graveyard decks come Amsterdam.

Limited: 0.0

I’m going to ley down the law on this one: avoid playing it at all costs.

Liliana Vess

Liliana Vess 

Constructed: 2.0

All the planeswalkers have made some kind of Constructed appearance, and Liliana is no exception. She has never been great, but as a 1-of can be a beating against control. Planeswalkers as a whole are going to skyrocket in playability once Blightning and Bloodbraid Elf rotate out, so keep that in mind. Vengevine is a threat, but there are going to be way fewer Vengevines than there were Bloodbraid Elves.

Limited: 3.5

Liliana is better than most non-Doom Blade removal, and only gets better once you have a few sweet cards to tutor for. She doesn’t do that much when you are behind on the board, though she still can tutor for something that hopefully gets you back in the game. Using her ultimate is actually feasible, and should end the game under most circumstances.

Liliana’s Caress

Lilianas Caress 

Constructed: 1.0

Megrim was never playable (and if you try to justify it using the words “Memory Jar“ just think about what kind of card it took to make people put Megrim in a deck), and even cutting a mana off the cost doesn’t change that. I like that the card is cheaper, since might as well cut costs if you can, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that The Time Has Come.

Limited: 0.0

If you are making them discard four or more cards, presumably you can win off the card advantage. That is, unless you mulliganed by drawing cards like Liliana’s Caress.

Liliana’s Specter

Lilianas Specter 

Constructed: 2.0

Shrieking Grotesque was an actual card when it was in Guildpact, and actually reminds me of the first time I met Paulo Vitor. At PT Honolulu 2005 he knocked me out of the tournament with a stream of Grotesques and Ravenous Rats, and all I could think about was how I was losing to such miserable cards. Granted, Jitte is no longer a card, and neither is Okiba Gang Shinobi, but the Specter might be enough of a value card to find a home. File this away in the “after Shards“ section.

Limited: 3.0

A two for one without any work is always a nice bonus, and unlike Ravenous Rats, this is an actual two for one, since a 2/1 flier is definitely worth a card.

Mind Rot

Mind Rot 

Constructed: 2.0

Exactly one copy of Mind Rot has made its way into a number of sideboards, since sometimes you just want a fifth Blightning. Once Bloodbraid Elf goes away, I think Mind Rot will too, since it was never playable before. Spending three mana to get a two for one and not impact the board is pretty rotten in Constructed.

Limited: 2.5

The first two Mind Rots are pretty sick, but that is balanced by the fact that they are potential dead draws later. I wouldn’t play more than two, and picking them up really isn’t a high priority. In some matchups you want more, but I doubt you will end up with three most of the time anyway. Mind Rot being in the format is very important though; when you are playing against a black deck, always think about what your plan is if they have Mind Rot. Much like playing against Jund in Standard, you should be prepared to discard two at any time, so play out your lands accordingly. You don’t want to get one of your bombs discarded; it should be avoidable most of the time.

Nantuko Shade

Nantuko Shade 

Constructed: 2.0

I just can’t get excited about this card. It might have been awesome many years ago, but now we have no Cabal Coffers and almost ten years of power creep. Most mana curves in Standard are way too tight to mess around with foolishness like Nantuko Shade, and there still isn’t a reason to go mono-black. Clearly the card is powerful, but this time around I don’t think that’s quite enough.

Limited: 3.0

This really isn’t that much better than a Looming Shade, though I suspect people will overvalue it due to its rarity. Shades clearly get better in heavy black decks, and in mono-black probably edge out most removal spells. Passing this is probably a great way to make sure your neighbor is in black, since it’s NANTUKO SHADE!

Necrotic Plague

Necrotic Plague 

Constructed: 1.0

You should avoid this kind of card like”¦(I bet you can figure out what goes here).

Limited: 2.0

This looks kind of loose, but isn’t actually all that bad. You can play it when you have no guys in play, in which case it is just straight up removal, or you can trade off all your crappy guys for their best guy + crappy guys, until eventually everything dies. If you maneuver this right, it will break even on cards, which isn’t too bad. If you are winning on board, you don’t need to play it, and if you are losing it can get you back in the game. It is especially potent when you play it while on defense, since their guy dies, and they have the option of attacking into an untapped guy with Plague, and trading your Plagued guy off is a two for one.

Nether Horror

Nether Horror 

Constructed: 1.0

Better than a Giant Cockroach I suppose, though the opportunity for jokes is lessened.

Limited: 2.5

If you have a ton of four drops, maybe you cut this, but it should make the deck most of the time. It isn’t horrible, and you should be able to pick it up late.

Nightwing Shade

Nightwing Shade 

Constructed: 1.0

Sometimes you just want a flying Nantuko Shade so you can kill planeswalkers, and sometimes you decide you don’t want to win any matches. Nightwing Shade can help you with both those problems at the same time!

Limited: 2.5

5-drops and Shades both get worse in multiples, though Nightwing Shade is a pretty solid guy to have two of. Having evasion is always sick on a guy that pumps, since by the time he gets ridiculous they usually have plenty of chumps, which won’t work on Nightwing Duck here.

Phylactery Lich

Phylactery Lich 

Constructed: 1.0

With the current creature removal suite consisting of Maelstrom Pulse, Path to Exile, Oblivion Ring, and Journey to Nowhere, Phylactery Lich is not the kind of card you want to play. O-Ring and Pulse two for one you, and Path and Journey ignore the indestructibility you paid for in deck construction. Scars of Mirrodin is not only going to give the Lich plenty of artifacts to possess, but it will rotate out all of the above-mentioned cards except Journey, at which point this card will be a lot more interesting. I also want to echo PV and say that the flavor on this card is pretty insane, and exactly what Magic cards should evoke.

Limited: 0.0

You would need at least 4 artifacts before you could consider adding Lich, and not just any four. Creatures don’t count, and you don’t want to play with random Dragon’s Claws, so we are talking Crystal Ball and maybe equipment. That doesn’t seem feasible, so leave the Lich lying lonely in the sideboard.

Quag Sickness

Quag Sickness 

Constructed: 1.0

The thought of playing this in Constructed makes me sick.

Limited: 3.0

This is no Tendrils of Corruption, but I guess Tendrils and Corrupt would have been a bit much to ask for. Quag Sickness can shrink a big guy until you draw enough Swamps, and in general is going to consistently do 2-3 damage by the midgame, which is more than fine. It is also not exactly splashable, so you will get them way later than you are going to get Doom Blades.

Reassembling Skeleton

Reassembling Skeleton 

Constructed: 2.5

Reassembling Skeleton interests me for Constructed. Being able to throw away a guy early and bring him back whenever you have spare mana seems pretty awesome, and this guy just has “value” written all over him, and I like value! Black has gotten a bunch of pretty sweet control cards, giving me hope that some sort of black-based control deck might be viable again. Also, in case it wasn’t obvious: this guy is good against Blightning.

Limited: 3.0

He isn’t that much better than Drudge Skeletons, but Skeletons was always quite the workhorse. It is kind of awkward that green gets Yavimaya Wurm, though the Skeletons stop most anything else on the ground. I can just imagine a Cudgel Troll smashing a Skeleton to pieces ever turn with a confused and frustrated look on its face.

Relentless Rats

Relentless Rats 

Constructed: 1.0

One could say that my puns are as relentless as these rats; there is no legal limit to how many I can play.

Limited: 1.0

Worst-case scenario you have a Scathe Zombies with an awkward casting cost. OK, that does sound pretty bad. If you really need a creature, I guess you could Rats, and they get marginally better with two, though not enough for me to actually want to start playing them until I get like four.

Rise from the Grave

Rise from the Grave 

Constructed: 2.0

The only game in town for Standard reanimation spells, Rise drums up a little business here and there. I’ve never been impressed with any decks that use it, but it has definitely seen play. As a whole, using this is just too awkward, especially once you consider how bad Polymorph is (which is easier to get working) and how prevalent Jace is (which probably stops most Rise targets cold).

Limited: 3.0

Even if your deck has terrible creatures, every now and then you get to Doom Blade a Serra Angel and Rise it to victory. It isn’t the two for one that Gravedigger is, but the flexibility of targeting and mana you save makes it a little better, especially if you have a bunch of removal/counters.

Rotting Legion

Rotting Legion 

Constructed: 1.0

I don’t think it actually enters the battlefield tapped, since it is way too rotten to ever get cast in Constructed.

Limited: 3.0

Not being able to block makes this a bit worse than something like Mass of Ghouls fairly often, but it is much more formidable once it starts fighting. There aren’t many cards that kill it or beat it in a fight, and it even trades for Yavimaya Wurm straight up. This definitely gets worse in multiples, since if you play too many of them you risk dying to a fast draw on the opponent’s part.

Royal Assassin

Royal Assassin 

Constructed: 1.0

I heard vague rumors of this being “tech” against Mythic, but unsurprisingly that proved false. Cards like Royal Assassin have been useful against green decks in the past, but the original Assassin just isn’t what he used to be.

Limited: 4.0

He certainly is vulnerable, and they can sit back and not attack until they draw a removal spell, but some decks just won’t be able to beat Royal Assassin. Black is pretty good at raising dead creatures, so even decks with an answer or two to Assassin won’t be able to stop him two or three times in most games. It’s a shame that there is no Icy Manipulator to combo with him, but Blinding Mage and Air Servant both work pretty well. Even without any sort of combo, Assassin should give you the time to figure out a way to kill your opponent.

Sign in Blood

Sign in Blood 

Constructed: 2.5

Sign in Blood sees little play mostly as a result of there being no deck for it, and not any inherent weakness. The card is quite efficient, and most decks that can easily cast it are interested in it; there just aren’t very many of those decks right now. I said there are few incentives to go mono-black, but there are some, and Sign in Blood is certainly one of them. Plus, nothing is more frustrating to play against than the opponent who targets himself with Sign in Blood over and over while you are at two, since you usually lose anyway.

Limited: 3.0

I don’t mind paying a few life to draw some cards, even if double black isn’t always the easiest. Because of Quag Sickness, Corrupt, and Nightwing Shade, most black decks will be able to afford Sign without too much trouble, and it does its job well enough. Don’t play too many though; Sign in Blood definitely is a little draining in multiples.

Stabbing Pain

Stabbing Pain 

Constructed: 1.0

I remember Darkblast, and this is certainly no Darkblast. I kept looking for the “draw a card” text, though that would probably make this way too good (kill your Hierarch, draw a card is pretty busted). I like the flavor though, even if that doesn’t make this any less painful to try and play in Constructed.

Limited: 3.0

Starting one of these seems fine, though I wouldn’t want to play multiples in the maindeck. Most decks have at least a few 1-toughness guys, and tapping a big for a turn can definitely come in handy. The more aggressive you are, the better, unsurprisingly.

Unholy Strength

Unholy Strength 

Constructed: 1.0

And neither does being unholy.

Limited: 1.0

This is a little better than Holy Strength, since two power at least threatens to do some damage, but I still wouldn’t want to play this in the main. I forgot to mention that both Strengths are good against Ice Cage and Phantom Beast, so try and pick one up if you can.

Viscera Seer

Viscera Seer 

Constructed: 1.0

This does have a few characteristics that make it worth considering for Constructed. Any one-mana guy with a sacrifice ability that doesn’t take mana is certainly efficient, and he can get value out of plenty of common situations. Still, I just don’t see him being good enough, since Scry 1 is just not worth a creature, even if you have Thrinaxes to spare.

Limited: 1.0

Late game, Scry 1 is almost equivalent to drawing a card, at least the first time each turn. Lands might as well be blanks, so putting them on the bottom is good value. I wouldn’t want to trade a creature straight up for such an effect, and the 1/1 is almost a dead card too, so my visceral reaction is to pass on him. He is another card that works very well with Reassembling Skeleton, and even one Skeleton is enough to push the Seer into playability.

Top 5 Constructed Cards for Black

5. Dark Tutelage
4. Reassembling Skeleton
3. Duress
2. Leyline of the Void
1. Grave Titan

Black made out quite well here, with cards that could potentially lead to an entirely new archetype in Standard. Grave Titan and Reassembling Skeleton could help black-based control make a comeback, though note that I said “black-based” and not “mono-black”, since I think you still need Blue in order to remain competitive. Black also got some nice reprints, with Duress and Leyline of the Void sticking around to make sure degenerate strategies are kept in check, though this mostly applies to older formats.

Top 5 Commons for Limited

5. Liliana’s Specter
4. Nightwing Shade
3. Gravedigger
2. Quag Sickness
1. Doom Blade

Doom Blade is far ahead of the rest, and Gravedigger and Quag Sickness make up the next level. Past that, you have some fliers, Sign in Blood, and Assassinate, all of which are about the same power level. Black doesn’t give huge incentives for being heavy on Swamps, but they are there, and since the other colors don’t care much, you usually end up with more Swamps.

Join me tomorrow as I take a look at red!

LSV

84 thoughts on “Magic 2011 Set Review – Black”

  1. I’m very glad that you laid out such an incredible example of how powerful assassinate is. Without the silence though, I’m not sure if it is playable.

  2. I see someone copy and pasted the intro and grading examples/descriptions from the Blue set review for the black set review… *coughs and points at lsv*

  3. Man, i cant agree more on relentless rats and bog raiders in limited. But i played both of them in my sealed prerelease, because damnit sometimes you need a random 2/2 on turn 3. After 6 rounds, bog raiders never swampwalked, but Grave Titan + Corrupt were strong enough to win the whole thing for me (splashing 2 fireball and 2 lightning bolt had to have helped….)

  4. Your commentary is great, as is your Top 5 commons discussion, but the Limited ratings seem quite inflated relative to the scale described, and too flat to infer much of a ranking or pick order. You’ve got 13/20 commons at 2.5 or higher, with 12 at 2.5-3.0.

  5. I 3-0’d a draft with Bloodthrone Vampire in my deck because I managed to draft 3 Act of Treason (now common). Yes, the deck also had Grave Titan, but I lasted long enough to cast it in an otherwise mediocre deck (I switched into black when I opened the Titan in pack 2 and never got a Doom Blade or Sickness) because of my vampires.

  6. At the prerelease I had Dark Tutelage, Platinum Angel, some fat-assed fliers, some Scry, Elixir of Immortality, and a couple of counterspells. I’d estimate my average CMC was <2. The deck turned out really well could handle anything but r/g aggro w/ a turn 2 Garruk Companion.

    The elixir was the nuts since the lands were on the battlefield but the instants and soceries went back to the library for better gas:land ratio.

    Dark Tutelage is definitely good with Scry and, if you have ways of slowing the game down, the card advantage is insane.

  7. How does Necrotic Plague trade for crappy guys? Wouldn’t you and your opponent want to put it on each other’s best creatures?

    (Unless I missed something after reading it three times. Which might have happened.)

  8. @Howard: I think the whole point of the joke was, that Assasinate is still good when paired with horrendeus cards for limited 😉

    Regarding the Lich. I just want to know why everyone believes SoM is about artifacts. Is there an official statement? Sure, its possible or even probable but I still feel it could be another shocklands in M10. Something everyone was sure to happen just to end in disappointment. (considering people dig artifact blocks which I am not sure about)

  9. Dude, I think Bloodthrone Vampire got better in this set, if you can get multiples of some cards, he is bonkers. Roc Egg, Grave Digger, reassembling skelton, Squadren Hawk, these cards make it better, specially Roc Egg. Plus the fact that most cards for removal are worse, I love him if you can get some combo cards

  10. Cassius Vernon Weathersby III

    As much as I love black knight and his place in black red, once I started playing black red mirrors and the advent of vengevine I had to move on.

  11. “The only game in town for Standard reanimation spells, Rise drums up a little business here and there. ”

    No, there is another

  12. Just a quick question…
    Would you ever be interested in a replacement editor for your site?

    I imagine that it can be quite taxing to not only produce content, but also be the editor of the site, and if you were interested in somebody with pure technical editing skills, I could certainly provide them. Of course, I am posting this on a message board so even if you read the comments, you most likely have no reason to take this seriously (nor does anybody else that will read this comment), but for what it’s worth, if you are interested, I am willing.

    For some brief random proof: you used both your colon and semicolon appropriately. Congratulations. Most people never master that facet of grammar. However, I noticed that in several places, you use “since” as “because,” which isn’t right, and you used “though” instead of “although” at the beginning of a sentence.

    At any rate, this obviously has nothing to do with content, which I continue to appreciate, so if the thought to find somebody to handle the editing responsibilities of your site had not crossed your mind, please disregard what I’ve said enteirely.

  13. I slightly to completely disagree about {insert card name} and found that in my prerelease I managed to {insert boring story} and {insert card name} was good because {insert rare situation}. Sure I also had {insert actual good cards} in my deck but I think {insert flawed statement}.

    Cool Story Bros.

  14. The first comment on Assassinate was just fantastic. Golf clap for that.

    I would probably switch Quag Sickness and Gravedigger in your common rankings though. Digger and Doom Blade are both easy splashes in your draft or sealed pool while Quag Sickness is more on the level with Nightwing Shade. Really strong if you’re deep in black but definitely not splashable.

  15. @randomtask – “since” versus “because” is one of those things that a lot of people do not believe is an error at all. I guess we can debate this, but since the 14th century, “since” does not necessarily need to refer to time.

    If the sentence is ambiguous, then certainly a distinction should be made, but in this case, it is pretty clear what LSV’s intended meaning is. And it fits well with his writing style (Conley, on the other hand, tends to use “as” in similar spots) for a website like this, I don’t think there’s a need to make fine distinctions between “because,” “since,” and “(the implied seeing) as,” as they are all acceptable uses.

    The same goes for “though” and “although” – in a relatively informal setting like this one, either is fine. Now, if LSV was ending his sentences with “although,” we’d have a point of contention. 🙂

    But I’m not as much of a purist as some. I’ve gone on record as being opposed to the split infinitive rule because the origin of that rule is outdated (derives from Latin, where you cannot split infinitives), and sometimes leads to clunky (but technically correct) phrases. “To go boldly where no man has gone before.” Bleh. I mean, I’ll fix them, but I don’t *like* having to. But when it’s generally accepted (since/because, though/although), pshaw.

    Secretly the *other* editor of channelfireball,

  16. @LSV

    You are undervaluing bears in this format, which is faster than you currently appreciate. The mass of fliers available to UW and UB, in particular, makes for a clock, and 2cc creatures are important.

    Play has (so far) been different from M10 in this respect.

    Jeff

  17. @anonyay Yes the skeleton comes into play tapped from the Graveyard…At the end of your opponent’s turn.

  18. Pingback: MTGBattlefield

  19. The problem with the 2/2 in this format is that theirs so much 4 mana 2/4 guys that just stop you ice cold.

    And ofcourse theirs Pyroclasmn that just kicks you, and plenty of big spoilers.

    Most of the 4 mana cards will at least put a 2 for 1 out of your 2/2 guys (unlike the “flyers” which i dont count in that camp).

    So overall i would say hes damn right about the fact that 2/2’s are not really good.

    *However “flyers” are allways usefull, just the ground 2/2 suck a lot.

  20. “One could say that my puns are as relentless as these rats; there is no legal limit to how many I can play.”

    Best one yet i think.

  21. @ ProdigalT I totally agree. With act of treason at the common spot along with fling, bloodthrone vampire, and the 1/1 scry vampire, it can get pretty nutty. I won a pre-release top 8 doing just that.

    @ Randomtask You could also spell “entirely” correctly or have the appropriate use of “however.”

  22. Very nice review of black, although i think you’ve underrated Bloodthrone Vampire. As was stated above, threaten is common now which makes the vamp much more attractive, regardless of spawn tokens. Also, loved the Darkwing Duck reference.
    As a sidenote, the spanish version of Disentomb is incorrectly translated, since it brings the target creature to play rather than to one’s hand. Suffice to say, we all had plenty of laughs over the weekend events.

  23. LSV, I find it very interesting that you make most of your value ratings based on how good the card is right now instead of post-rotation. For example you mention Phylactery Lich isn’t good right now, but it has potential post-Shards. In future reviews could you put a rating in your comments for future value if you expect there will be a big change?

  24. @ krosniplus so you have to play 2 shitty cards to compliment another shitty card? nobody cares about your 1 stupid situation that bloodthrone vmapire was good. bloodthrone vampire was good in rise because it randomly killed your opponent when you casted a spawn producer like dread drone or hatcher. the same cant be said for this format.

    ps: nobody cares about spelling and grammar on the internet and it’s pathetic when you have to bring it up to try and win an argument.

  25. For sealed Deathmark should be at least a 3. For pre-release every single opponent played white and all but 2 (out of 7) played green. I main decked and was happy I did.

  26. @Jason Barnett –

    The post-rotation picture won’t be clear until Scars is spoiled. For now, all we know is what’s leaving and we’re speculating that SoM will be artifact-based. Perhaps the citizens of Mirrodin, after the mess of the last cycle, have revolted against artifacts and now embrace enchantments ;).

    And having to caveat the “Future rating” with “it might be better post-rotation” seems kind of… dodgy.

  27. “Aggressive decks are all about bad cards getting there” -LSV

    Magic quote of the decade.

  28. “Also, Gravedigger sucks.”
    The other people in the library looked at me weird when I was laughing about this.

  29. dowjonzechemical

    Haven’t read the whole thing yet, although I figure you are pretty spot on on these. I love your Romeo & Juliet ref for Barony Vampire…

    You know something? As far as pros go, I feel like you are one of the funniest and the least dickish. It also helps that you kick people’s ass on the reg. Please continue this trend, as I find it a breath of fresh air.

  30. Your puns are usually pretty eyeroll-inducing, but “so I'll go ahead and object to this on the basis of that insufferably smug look on the guy's face in the picture” made me chuckle. =)

  31. 2/2 for two are bad…
    next card: black knight: 3.0
    ?????? – do you consider white / first strike that strong?

  32. Okay, I know someone said “inb4” the phylactery lich rating, but to be honest, I just had to say something about it. To put it at 0.0 is just wrong.

    There are some just nutty artifacts in this limited, including whispersilk cloak, sword of vengeance, and crystal ball. If you had at least 2 of these, and 3 artifact creatures, you would honestly not even consider Phylactery Lich? Didja have one played against you LSV? You can’t kill this thing. Granted, you don’t want the phylactery counter on a creature thanks to all of the removal, but if you landed it on a crystal ball or even whispersilk cloak, what is your opponent going to do? They can Manic Vandal, Demolish, or Naturalize, two of which are board cards, and not all people run red for the Vandal. Forgive me if I missed some artifact destruction, it still isn’t prolific.

    I think the best archetype (maybe only viable one?) for the Lich is U/B, simply because you can run cancel/unsummon even if they do have artifact removal. I mean how else are they going to kill it? Excommunicate is absolutely terrible against the Lich, producing a 2nd counter on a separate artifact.

    A 5/5 indestructible is quite difficult to handle at any stage in the game and it isn’t that impossible to support the lich. I agree with pretty much all of the other ratings, but this bugged me a bit.

  33. As far as ways to deal with it, I had it in the original post before my computer went nuts: Pacifism is a good answer to the lich. But I just don’t feel like the 0.0 is justified.

  34. @lich proponents:
    3 black mana (already difficult), the requirement of an artifact in conjunction with it (and the artifact can just be destroyed for a 2 for 1), and the presence of other removal that just plain gets it (ice cage, pacifism, blinding mage). Not that the presence of removal for a creature is reason to not play it, but it is a VERY narrow range of decks that will even want to THINK about playing lich, and the situations where you just get blown out is very bad. After sideboard, 3 colors also have access to artifact hate – solomn offering, vandal, and naturalize, and none of it is terrible (for sideboarding).

    The other problem is that the good artifacts go EARLY at the table, so amassing 3-5 of them is difficult, and if you do, it skews the makeup of your deck with cards that don’t win you the game, or necessarily affect the board state by themselves. And putting the counter on artifact creatures is just a really bad idea: what is the purpose of a 5/5 indestructible if it can be killed as easily as whatever artifact creature it is linked to?

    All told, the situations that lich would actually be effective lead to a deck that is either ineffective (running sub-par cards so that the deck can support the lich), or a deck that will be plenty potent without the lich – such as one that has plenty of good artifacts anyway, and can still support the mana cost. Ether way, playing a random decent better enough of the time that you should just do that.

    And the same can be said of the Leyline of Anticipation.

    -FritzJaeger

  35. The second to last sentence should read “Either way, playing a random decent guy will be better enough of the time that you should just do that.

  36. I know that tarmogoyf is ‘good’ for the game in many ways, but seeing royal assassin always makes me think of the pre-creep days when he was good. Assassin was the first rare I sprung for a playset of back in the mid 90s. 🙁 nostalgia

  37. About Phylactery Lich: the debate about how hard it is to kill seems pointless given the difficulty of getting it into play in the first place. This set has no artifacts at common and about half a dozen playable ones at uncommon. If you don’t draw one of those with your Lich it’s a blank card. In the scenario with 5+ artifacts in my deck, and a good number of Swamps, I’d probably run the thing, but the probability of heavy black and 5+ artifacts seems very small. And then we get to the concerns about blowouts due to artifact removal, which means you’ll have to consider boarding out the Lich against certain colors even in the fantasy scenario. A well-deserved terrible rating.

  38. @ Phylactery Lich

    Fritzjaeger and Seth G summed it up perfectly. The combination of needing to amass a bunch of artifacts AND a bunch of swamps makes it highly unlikely that the lich will ever be playable. If by some stroke of luck you have a near-mono black deck with a ton of artifacts, feel free to run the lich, since me saying it is unplayable certainly won’t stop you. I just don’t think the situation will come up enough to really make the Lich worth picking.

  39. PlatypusPlatoon

    I.. maindecked Deathmark all the time in M10, and did it in M11 sealed too.

    *runs away in shame*

  40. @Fritzjaeger

    I saw a couple others agree like you with LSVs 0 rating of Leyline of Anticipation being a completely unplayable card in limited. You really should try playing a game with it. Your opponent can never be sure what he is attacking into. It is very easy to pick off attacking creatures and he/she will often hold back smaller creatures assuming you have a threat in hand. I am not saying its a top pick card, but it definately has playability.

  41. So the lesson is Grave titan smash basically got it.

    He’s so the best titan I like seeing people post these god hands for primeval titan to be awesome in an eldrazi ramp deck. Its like really when did that deck all the sudden become top tier? I’ll just play grave titan turn 6 while a I was able to clamly hold off the board. Don’t have a wrath aww too bad.

    Reassembling skeleton will be awesome, im somewhat liking him a lot more then bloodghast right now, believe me. He’s going to be good control got a lot of good stuff this core set.

    I do feel black is prolly tied in second place as one of the stongest colors for draft. Good efficent removal graveyard tricks that tend to 2 for 1. Its only problem is lack of fliers and good size fatties at common/uncommon which is where graveyard ticks offen picked up the slack or my second color. Well I rambled enough.

    Good article.

  42. See, I’m not talking about playing it myself. I’m talking about experiencing it played against me 3 times in sealed. I consider myself a more than competent player, and originally wouldn’t have tried the card myself, but since we can learn something from not experienced players as well…consider this experience, and remember it’s sealed, not draft, so snapping up artifacts is not so much of a problem if you’re given them:

    I played against mono-black, u/b, and b/w, all three of which ran the lich. 2 of these players had signed up for dci cards that day, and one was just running it because she enjoyed playing with the newer cards. The most common artifact amongst these three were whispersilk cloak and crystal ball, and each deck had at least 4 playable artifacts (one had 6). It is not very difficult to accrue the artifacts necessary to viably run the guy here. It wasn’t necessary for it to be a 3 drop at any point, and dominated combat whenever it was dropped. The White Black Lich didnt work as well as the others, since this player did actually run claws to support, but it was just another incredible creature in the blue black and mono-black decks, with incredible support in u/b and raw power in mono-black.

    For reference, I was playing white black, splashing red for double bolt. I had pacifism and Blinding Mage to combat the guy maindeck, with demolish as well in the board. But these were necessary to fight other things, particularly the titans, since creatures are such a huge part of this format.

    I simply believe that a 0.0 is way off for this little bugger. I’d give it a 2.0, since one of the decks was stretching way too hard. It just seems that in my own time against the guy, he was a monster, negating my board position a good amount of the time.

  43. And after going back and looking at LSV’s grading system, I guess it would be pushed back to a 1.0.

  44. And after going back and looking at LSV’s grading system, I guess it would be pushed back to a 1.0, but the sheer strength is has makes me believe it should be higher.

  45. I’m not saying that Lich isn’t a powerful card, but I don’t think the situation where it’s good comes up very often at all (and it opens you up to getting blown out fairly easily).

    I’m willing to concede that 0.0 might be a bit low, but I think that 9/10 times that people play Lich they shouldn’t, or are adding terrible cards to their deck to do so, or are picking it too early, and rating it a 0 is a way to hopefully steer them in the right direction.

  46. @ lilliana’s caress. right now in classic (online only pusedo vintage format) you can play 4 memory jar and 4 windfall. that card is pretty much a 10 star card with those other two supporting it. the shaved mana cost off of megrim is absolutly huge as well, when you factor in resolving 5 cc win cons.

  47. I think Captivating Vampire is seriously underrated. It deserves at least 2.5 and is almost as good as Nocturnus which is a key card in Vampire deck so far. Why? It’s allways active, instead of relying on top card of your library. It also comes into play a turn sooner. Mind Control ability might also be relevant sometimes. On the other hand, it doesnt give flying and 2 power. I believe it will power-up Vampires when M10 rotates next autumn…

  48. Man, I didn’t think set reviews of core sets would be so boring. You should set review Urza’s Legacy or something instead.

  49. @ whiffy

    While I did have fun with classic for a while last year, it doesn’t really influence any of my ratings all. I believe that caress is good, but that has more to do with Jar/Windfall than the card being good in and of itself.

  50. Regarding Necrotic Plague: I’m assuming you mean avoid it like every other aura? =P

  51. I 4-1d my sealed tournament on the back of a fauna shamn grave titan toolbox… Everygame where I cast titan was a win except for the match that I lost to a lucky bastard who opened 2 baneslayer in his pool …

  52. Since it’s out of the bag in this discussion- you’ve missed that there’s an entire draft archetype revolving around the Vampire in B/R this time around.

  53. What do you think of Stabbing Pain as a card against RDW? It shuts down every card you care about in that match (including Hell’s Thunder) for a very very efficient price. The virtual card advantage of Unearth sucks, but the loss of stabbing an unearthed thunder or a ball lightning is probably going to be enough to get your game plan going and stabilize.

  54. Nice article, but you missed out on the application of Haunting Echoes in limited: the brutal UB mill deck. This format encourages people to draft multiples of the same card, like squadron hawk, so a well-timed post-traumatize echoes can shave entire cards off your milling strategy. I saw a friend of mine that once beat a pro do this at the prerelease. He still lost but everyone agreed the card was pretty sweet.

    @ krosniplus: “Enteirely” is actually the original gecko Roman spelling, which was unearthed a few years ago by a group of very dedicated linguists. Thusly, while a plebeian might be more comfortable with a more common(er) spelling, enteirely has had numerous defenders in academia and, as the old saying goes, “whoever slings it the best gets everyone else covered in poo.”

  55. re: Liliana’s Caress:

    It’s also “lose 2 life” rather than “~ deals 2 damage” which is also an upgrade. I mean, okay, it’s not great, but it’s better than Megrim in two, count ’em, two, ways. Not just one. 🙂

  56. ಠ◡ರೃ

  57. I LOVE the Assassinate, Leyline of Anticipation, and Silence combo/tech.
    Thanks for that insight (after spending far too long reading the leyline debate a few pages back).

  58. “It's also "lose 2 life" rather than "~ deals 2 damage" which is also an upgrade.”

    I’d rather kill planeswalkers than worry about damage prevention cards.

  59. @ Phylactery Lich

    I can’t see it being worth anything in limited based on limited artifact selection in m11. Only a third pack where you have sword, crystal ball, cloak and bell all warped up in 1 and 2. Not sure why there is any argument about that. Side-boarding a white, green or red artifact kill along the way is not exactly hard.

    But In standard, well, nothing right now because of the intensity of white removal, but something needs to be said; the Lich does not die when you kill it’s counter, it dies when all such phylactery counters are gone.

    2 Lich’s counters each protect both of the Liches. If one Lich is exiled or removed via non-kill scenarios a counter remains. The next Lich will have two counters unless the artifact goes as well. If you cycle Lichs in an artifact heavy deck nothing short of All is Dust or the return of Shatter Storm might be enough. Maze one or O-ring it and the O-ring dies? More counters.

    Come Scars this card might turn out to be a lot more than it looks.

  60. Aww, no super-love for the RE Skeleton? he’s much more than a hulk blocker, the combo potential of having a body jump into and out of the graveyard is tremendous, for a mere 1B you can play Bloodthrone vamp like a Rootwalla. I know you mentioned this, but it also gives Viscera 1b: Scry 1 and it’ll only get better as more cards come out.

  61. I dont really understand your logic in using Silence in an example when you ranked it at 0.0, which according to your scale means you would never put it in your deck…

  62. I dont really understand your logic in using Silence in an example when you ranked it at 0.0, which according to your scale means you would never put it in your deck…

    not to end on a positive note, It is really nice to see a pro (even one such as LSV) giving positive opinions on Dark Tutelage. I thought the card was crap before, but seeing you review made me think twice, and a lot happier about opening two at the prerelease.

  63. Viscera Seer’s (Limited) value goes up if you also have Necrotic Plague or Roc Egg. You can board it in versus Plague, and also versus Mind Control.

  64. Viscera Seer also might see play in any deck that needs anti-exile tech in constructed on the cheap. Does your opponent really want to use a Ring or Path against a 1/1 vampire?

  65. So there was this match where your opponent signed in blood himself when you were at two, and ripped a bloodghast to kill you….that was pretty amusing 🙂

  66. “I saw a friend of mine that once beat a pro do this at the prerelease. He still lost but everyone agreed the card was pretty sweet.”

    Well, I’m sold.

  67. I always thought Gravedigger was an “okay” draft but in last night’s draft I found out that WOW they become MAD FUN when you get 2 or more in a loop, and just keep running one at your opponent, when it dies, cast another to pull the previous one from your graveyard. Rinse and Repeat….Repeatedly!!!!

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