Magic 2013 Set Review – Black

Welcome to my black set review, and take a look at the ratings scale before heading on to the cards. If you are wondering why I didn’t review a card, this time around I decided to pass on reviewing reprints that didn’t seem relevant, since one can review Zombie Goliath only so many times before cracking.


5.0: Multi-format All-Star (and undoubtedly worth too much money). [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. [card]Tarmogoyf[/card].

4.0: Format staple. [card]Mana Leak[/card]. [card]Moorland Haunt[/card].

3.5: Good in multiple archetypes, but not a format staple. [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card]. [card]Primeval Titan[/card]. [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card].

3.0: Archetype staple. [card]Gut Shot[/card]. [card]Tempered Steel[/card].

2.5: Role-player in some decks, but not quite a staple. [card]Think Twice[/card]. [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card].

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

1.0 It has seen play once. [card]One with Nothing[/card]. (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%)

As usual, I caution you to both look at the rating and read the comments, since even cards rated the same might have very different evaluations. Enjoy!

[draft]Blood Reckoning[/draft]

Blood Reckoning

Constructed: 1.0

I reckon this ain’t too good.

Limited: 2.5

It won’t be all that hard to lock someone out with this. If any amount of racing is going on, there will be blood, and every aggro deck plus most midrange decks will be interested in it. Actual control decks generally won’t, but the effect is powerful enough that it still might make it in. I would recommend siding this out against decks with large creatures, but it’s incredibly punishing against a deck full of two-power guys. With Blood Reckoning in play, all you have to do is survive, and attacking will get progressively worse for them. This plus even just one evasion guy might be enough, given a few chump blockers.

[draft]Bloodhunter Bat[/draft]

Bloodhunter Bat

Constructed: 1.0

[card]Blind Hunter[/card] made it into Block Constructed, but you add vision and a thirst for blood, and you get a strictly worse card. Funny how that works.

Limited: 3.5

I’ve always loved [card]Highway Robbers[/card], and the addition of flying takes the card from decent value to very good. Cards like this also just get better and better the more you have, so grab as many as you can (which usually won’t be all that many).

[draft]Cower in Fear[/draft]

Cower in Fear

Constructed: 2.0

Sometimes you just need to ping their team, and I fear that this is among the viable options. It isn’t a particularly exciting card, but “exciting” and “playable” are not the same thing (though they do overlap much of the time).

Limited: 3.5

This is both a combat trick and a removal spell, and does a sweet job at both. In fact, it will often do both at the same time, and it isn’t that unlikely that you get to save a creature in combat while picking off a random 1/1 on their side.

[draft]Crippling Blight[/draft]

Crippling Blight

Constructed: 1.0

Unless I’m dead wrong, this has a long weight before it’s even considered for Constructed.

Limited: 2.5

One damage ping effects have diminishing returns. I’ll almost always play the first one, and usually the second. The third ends up in the sideboard fairly often, though this even has a very relevant upside, so I might just keep jamming them in aggressive decks. Cards like this also are great to sideboard in and out, so pay close attention to the creatures they play.

[draft]Diabolic Revelation[/draft]

Diabolic Revelation

Constructed: 2.0

If evil plans are ever going to come to fruition, this might be the card to make them happen. Paying seven or eight mana to presumably win the game in short order is certainly “fair”, so the challenge is finding plays good enough to actually end the game even if you are behind. Casting this on a stable board will win, but so will something like [card]Grave Titan[/card]. This might be a nice one for my upcoming [card]Battle of Wits[/card] deck…

Limited: 2.0

While I don’t advocate just jamming 7+ drops into your deck (wait, that’s exactly what I do), this is a nice way of finishing up a game. You do have to build around it and make sure your deck is defensive enough to survive until seven or eight mana, there are certainly rewards when you do. It also gets much better once you have sweet things to get, so even as a finisher you are going to need some large creature that actually wins the game. You could even go so far as to tutor up three [card]Mind Sculpt[/card]s and get really filthy.

[draft]Disciple of Bolas[/draft]

Disciple of Bolas

Constructed: 2.5

The idea of drawing three or four cards and gaining some life definitely appeals to me, and doesn’t seem that hard to pull off. Sacrificing a [card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card] seems awesome, as does eating anything that’s been the beneficiary of a [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card] (or the Silverheart itself). What’s also interesting is that [card]Birthing Pod[/card] both competes with this guy for spots and potentially works with him. If you are spending four mana and sacrificing a guy, it isn’t clear that fetching a guy directly into play isn’t better than drawing some amount of cards and gaining some life. The possibility of using Pod to get the Disciple is potentially even sweeter, and still fits quite well in the Geralf’s Messenger curve. The power level here is high enough to make it worth building around this guy.

Limited: 3.5

If you intend to study under Bolas, make sure you have powerful minions. Barring that, draw 2-3 cards and be happy. This card is awesome, and seems too sweet to pass under most circumstances.



Constructed: 3.5

Hurray! Duress is back. As before, Duress is a great sideboard card to have around and one of the more well-designed cards in the game.

Limited: 1.0

I almost never maindeck Duress, though sometimes you really do need a 23rd. Much like in Constructed, it’s an awesome sideboard option, but creatures are the name of the game nowadays — and whiffing on Duress happens too often for me to love maindecking it.

[draft]Duskmantle Prowler[/draft]

Duskmantle Prowler

Constructed: 1.0

It’s unfortunate that Prowler doesn’t have the actual prowl mechanic, particularly because that ability was equally unplayable in Constructed.

Limited: 3.0

Hasted [card]Hill Giant[/card]s (otherwise known as [card]Talruum Minotaur[/card]) are pretty sweet, and the downside of this not blocking as a 3/3 is certainly mitigated by the ability to pump other attackers, if that becomes strategically sound.

[draft]Duty-Bound Dead[/draft]

Duty-Bound Dead

Constructed: 1.0

I’m duty-bound to inform you that this is dead for Constructed, and no amount of regeneration will save it.

Limited: 1.5

Almost any exalted guy is worth looking at, even ones that have fairly anemic stats. Four mana to regenerate is a really tall order; leaving regen mana up defensively is going to be a losing proposition until well into the late game. Control decks should definitely not be running this, but beatdown ones are still likely interested.

[draft]Harbor Bandit[/draft]

Harbor Bandit

Constructed: 1.0

Kird Ape was so good they band it. The black one harbors no such aspirations.

Limited: 3.5

The rating reflects his worth in a blue-black deck, and unlike some of the others in this cycle, the three-mana 2/2 version just isn’t that interesting. He’s still worth splashing some Islands for, but only if you really need the win condition (and your mana base can support it).

[draft]Knight of Infamy[/draft]

Knight of Infamy

Constructed: 2.0

In a completely unsurprising turn of events, the black version and the white version are not equally matched. Although white is fielding many of the current creatures in Standard, the presence of [card]Blade Splicer[/card] and her colorless Golem complicates things. That, combined with the popularity of Zombies, makes me think that the Plains are the best place to find a good Knight, even if the power-level of both cards is roughly the same.

Limited: 3.5

Black has a whole crew of exalted creatures, and this is one of the better ones. Prepare to be beaten down! Much like [card]Knight of Glory[/card], this is good value even without the protection, and when that’s relevant, it’s insane.

[draft]Liliana of the Dark Realm[/draft]

Liliana of the Dark Realm

Constructed: 2.0

I’m loathe to call any planeswalker unfit for Constructed, but as is her wont, Liliana did tempt me. If she survived at one loyalty after using her second ability, that’d be something, but the fact that you can’t kill a creature immediately is tough. You play her, fetch a Swamp, then hope they can’t attack her at all, at which point you get to kill a guy? It feels like all of her numbers are just a tad off of being awesome, though that does point to her potential. Planeswalkers are notoriously hard to evaluate, and if there is a deck that wants all of these abilities badly enough, maybe Liliana is the card. I’m still skeptical, but there’s a chance.

Limited: 3.5

It turns out that planeswalkers are still awesome in Limited. Liliana may not be the best of the bunch (the opposite, in fact), but she is a kill spell and can provide significant value. Think of her as a 4-mana removal spell with a bonus, and she won’t disappoint.

[draft]Liliana’s Shade[/draft]

Liliana’s Shade

Constructed: 2.0

This bears a striking resemblance to Liliana, coincidentally enough. Instead of a planeswalker that can be attacked, you get a Shade, with all that entails. While this still doesn’t bring back mono-black, I like value creatures, and this at least has value.

Limited: 3.0

The shade fueling itself is cute, and certainly goes a long way towards making it good for Limited. Any time you can cast it, it’s at least a 4/4, and it did draw you a card. That’s about all I look for in a card, anyway.

[draft]Mark of the Vampire[/draft]

Mark of the Vampire

Constructed: 2.0

In a shocking move, I’m not immediately marking this as “unplayable” and moving on. It may not grant the trample that [card]Armadillo Cloak[/card] did, but as a life-gaining sideboard card against burn decks, you really could do worse ([card]Peace Strider[/card], anyone?). If there is a black deck that has large monsters, slapping this on and taking a bite out of crime really isn’t out of the question.

Limited: 3.0

You can’t outrace this, and it’s hard to beat the guy in combat, so you’d better have a removal spell or else. That’s about the power-level auras need to be at to compete, what with the built-in card disadvantage present, and this certainly gets there.



Constructed: 2.5

I’m not used to paying three mana for my removal spells, at least not my targeted ones. This card is clean but inefficient, and at least while [card]Doom Blade[/card] and [card]Go for the Throat[/card] are options, it’s going to be a rare metagame where one isn’t just a better choice than Murder. Once they rotate, all bets are off, and Murder might be back on the menu. It’s still a playable now, but I see it more as a 1-2 of after you’ve met your quota of Doom Blades.

Limited: 3.5

You can’t ask for more than this, and it’s definitely in the spirit of the card to keep the explanation to a minimum.



Constructed: 2.5

Could this be it? Is Mono-Black Control a thing once again? Perhaps, and Mutilate is certainly a step in the right direction. Things get way more interesting once [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card] and [card]Day of Judgment[/card] rotate out, making Mutilate the king of the hill in terms of sweepers (barring something really awesome in Return to Ravnica). Right now, multi-color decks aren’t interested in this, since it requires the sacrifice of [card]Darkslick Shores[/card] or [card]Isolated Chapel[/card] (and their respective cycles), so it will have to be Mono-Black or nothing.

MBC does need a Mutilate before it’s even worth looking at, but the want list doesn’t end there, and I’m not sure Mutilate does everything it needs to do. It’s still a very powerful card, and one that would thrill a very large contingent of Magic players if it did indeed herald the return of MBC. Like Murder, this needs revisiting come Return to Ravnica, both because of (presumed) shocklands, and because of rotation of the competition.

Limited: 3.5

I actually like how this plays much more than straight Day of Judgment. Sure, you might not be able to kill all their monsters every time, but the advantage of being able to choose how it scales is huge. I’m assuming you are a two-color deck, even if heavier in black, and ideally you can play the correct number of Swamps such that your good creatures live and their guys die. If you can, this turns from Wrath into [card]Plague Wind[/card], and that’s a good place to be.

[draft]Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis[/draft]

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis

Constructed: 2.0

If this is where [card]Grave Titan[/card] landed, that’s perfectly fine by me. Having to wait a turn to get the real bonus makes this fair, which granted, isn’t really what Constructed has been about recently. Still, I have hope that when all the [card]Vapor Snag[/card]s and Titans fade into memory, this might actually have a fighting chance. It’s a powerful effect, and wins fights singlehandedly (in fact, the singlehandedly part is mandatory).

Limited: 4.0

Giant flying dragondemon that pumps a guy the turn you play him, and devours a guy each time he attacks? Yep, story checks out.

[draft]Phylactery Lich[/draft]

Phylactery Lich

Still terrible in both formats, still incredibly awesome flavor. I’m actually really glad this is back.

[draft]Public Execution[/draft]

Public Execution

Constructed: 1.0

This card is gross. I mean, it’s actually kind of disturbing. That being said, it’s obviously not fit for Constructed, not at six mana. Good execution on flavor, but not designed for Constructed.

Limited: 3.5

Six mana is still reasonable for unconditional removal, and you will get a two-for-one (or more) a reasonable percentage of the time. It is somewhat telegraphed, but what are they going to do about it, really? It’s a powerful effect, and even if you end up spending more mana than their creature is worth, most of the time you are getting your mana’s worth.

[draft]Servant of Nefarox[/draft]

Servant of Nefarox

Constructed: 1.0

I hope Nefarox’s nefarious plan doesn’t involve Constructed, because relying on this to get there won’t serve him well.

Limited: 3.0

These exalted creatures really power up black’s lineup. I’m not used to black having actual quality creatures, and I don’t see myself leaving many of these in the sideboard. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: exalted is a great mechanic. It is powerful, rewards good attacks, can be answered even when it’s going off (chump blocking, for example), and just leads to fun games. Granted, sometimes there are six exalted guys out by turn five or something (more common in Shards drafts), but the usual case is just one or two, at which point it’s quite manageable.

[draft]Shimian Specter[/draft]

Shimian Specter

Constructed: 1.0

Despite playing against this in a Nationals Top 4, I don’t think this is going to be shimian back into Constructed this time around. All manner of Specters have been printed, but none of them have brought the tribe back to the glory days of the original [card hypnotic specter]Hypnotic[/card] (not that it’s a bad thing).

Limited: 3.5

Lobotomy on wheelswings is sweet, and it should only take a hit or two before you are far enough ahead on cards to win the game. It won’t help you that much when you are behind, and doesn’t get by a lowly Wind Drake — but unchecked, this is a beating.

[draft]Sign in Blood[/draft]

Sign in Blood

Constructed: 2.5

I’m a fan of decent Constructed card draw, so sign me up! Having this back again is nice, even if I didn’t cast it all that much last time around.

Limited: 3.0

Card draw/player removal (but mostly card draw) is always welcome, and I expect this to be pretty good still. If this set is more aggressive, Sign gets a little worse, but it should still be fine.

[draft]Vampire Nighthawk[/draft]

Vampire Nighthawk

Constructed: 3.0

This might be an aggressive rating, but I really like Nighthawk. This format is also way more creature-based than the one Nighthawk last inhabited, with 100% less broken [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jaces[/card], [card valakut, the molten pinn]Valakuts[/card], and [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card]s. Nighthawk is cheap enough that getting it killed isn’t the end of the world, it’s extremely impactful against any creature deck, and still a great sideboard option for control decks. Plus, if [card]Battle of Wits[/card] doesn’t kill them, my Nighthawks will!

Limited: 4.0

Nighthawk may not be the actual best card in the set, like it was in Zendikar block, but it’s still awesome. All the abilities are hugely relevant, and even though it dies to way more common removal than it did in Zendikar, it’s not going to disappoint.

[draft]Vampire Nocturnus[/draft]

Vampire Nocturnus

Constructed: 2.0

Now that [card]Bloodghast[/card] and [card]Kalastria Highborn[/card] are gone, the Nocturnus is going to find itself a little lonely. It’s a powerful enough card that it has potential, but I don’t expect the moon to rise quite as high this time. I’m also vaguely annoyed that I had to relearn how to spell “Nocturnus”, because I certainly didn’t get it right the first time.

Limited: 3.5

Depending on how heavy into black you are, this can obviously get quite a bit better than a 3.5, but I don’t expect you to be able to go mono all that often. It’s still a fine card, if a little difficult to cast, just don’t assume it’s always going to be a Dragon, or even half the time.

[draft]Veilborn Ghoul[/draft]

Veilborn Ghoul

Constructed: 1.0

I don’t know if having this and [card]Gravecrawler[/card] legal at the same time is acceptable, for power level-reasons. Now you have yet another unkillable Zombie, and a 4/1 at that! Ignore the fact that it costs five and goes back to your hand, and the previous two sentences actually make sense.

Limited: 2.5

There probably isn’t a more painful way to die than to trade with this every turn, and get slowly ground out by a procession of Swamps. If you are looking for a finisher, or are vaguely aggressive, this is a poor man’s Dragon, but be aware that your curve can’t have too many five-mana guys that are bad at blocking (or in this case, incapable of doing so).

[draft]Vile Rebirth[/draft]

Vile Rebirth

Constructed: 2.0

I’ve seen worse value out of graveyard removal spells, though that is what this is. A one-drop you can’t really play on turn one isn’t really a one-drop, so aggressive decks shouldn’t be relying on this.

Limited: 1.5

Saving a mana and getting a bear at instant speed is cute, but I’m not sure they outweigh the fact that this will be straight up uncastable some portion of the time. There are games where you just won’t be able to play it until turn six, at which point it’s not likely to be very relevant. It’s still a creature if you are short, but don’t get excited about it.

[draft]Wit’s End[/draft]

Wit’s End

Constructed: 2.0

Against some decks, [card]Sorin’s Vengeance[/card] ends the game. Against others, this does. It isn’t cheap, and likely isn’t maindeckable, but it definitely is sweet. I’m also curious to see if the misspelling in the flavor text is actually present on real cards, because that would be very fitting for a card of this name.

Limited: 0.5

As much as I like value, I’m not playing this in my maindeck. Were I to play against the durdle mirror, I’d probably side it in, but until then — keep it in the sideboard.

[draft]Xathrid Gorgon[/draft]

Xathrid Gorgon

Constructed: 1.0

As petrified as I am about getting cards wrong, I think it’s pretty safe to say that this isn’t Constructed-worthy. Much like Nefarox, this costs six and kills a guy if you untap; but unlike Nefarox, it doesn’t really kill them and costs a bunch of mana, as well as having way less impressive stats.

Limited: 4.0

Bear in mind that the ability is very much not [card visara, the dreadful]Visara[/card], because you will still have to find away to win the game through defenders, whether it be a flier or a giant Shade or whatever. That being said, this still is a 3/6 deathtouch that stops them from attacking you, so I have no (more) complaints.

Top 5 Black Commons

5. [card]Liliana’s Shade[/card]
4. [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card]
3. [card]Essence Drain[/card]
2. [card]Bloodhunter Bat[/card]
1. [card]Murder[/card]

The top two commons are great, and head and shoulders above the rest. Mark of the Vampire is the most variable on the list, as sometimes you won’t be interested in it at all, and sometimes you are grabbing it over anything but Murder. Similarly, the Shade changes in value greatly, though is overall less powerful than Mark of the Vampire (up until you are actually mono-black, at which point you have decisions to make). Black got a solid roster of creatures this time, with a few exalted guys and the oft-underrated [card]Giant Scorpion[/card], so I’m curious to see how it plays it out in draft.

Top 5 Constructed Cards

5. [card]Mutilate[/card]
4. [card]Murder[/card]
3. [card]Disciple of Bolas[/card]
2. [card]Vampire Nighthawk[/card]
1. [card]Duress[/card]

Unsurprisingly, I’m the most excited about Vampire Nighthawk, though Disciple of Bolas is pretty spicy too. I know it’s a bit boring to have Duress in the 1-slot, but it is going to see a decent amount of play, and is a proven winner. It would be cool if Mutilate was a big player, and we shall see what ends up happening. I don’t think black did too badly for itself here; it got a much-needed discard spell, a really sweet utility guy, a cool combo card, and some nice removal spells.

Next up is red, which has the second coming of [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card]!


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