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:
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.)
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%)
All this does is assassinate your chances of winning a match if you put it in your deck.
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.
A roseWarpath Ghoul by any other name would smell as sweetputrid.
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.
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.
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.
I wish I could say there will be blood, but there really won’t. I wonder if this was designed for multiplayer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
More like Disappoint.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
I feel like I’m digging myself into a hole with all these puns, but I just can’t resist. Also, Gravedigger sucks.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
I’m going to ley down the law on this one: avoid playing it at all costs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
You should avoid this kind of card like”¦(I bet you can figure out what goes here).
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.
Better than a Giant Cockroach I suppose, though the opportunity for jokes is lessened.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The thought of playing this in Constructed makes me sick.
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 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.
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.
One could say that my puns are as relentless as these rats; there is no legal limit to how many I can play.
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
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).
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.
I don’t think it actually enters the battlefield tapped, since it is way too rotten to ever get cast in Constructed.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
And neither does being unholy.
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.
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.
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
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
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!