Here’s the rating system I’ll be using, though I won’t be reviewing “1s” today.
5.0: Multi-format all-star. (Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Tarmogoyf. Snapcaster Mage. Judge’s Familar)
4.0: Format staple. (Sphinx’s Revelation. Supreme Verdict. Thoughtseize. Pack Rat)
3.5: Good in multiple archetypes and formats, but not a staple. (Geist of Saint Traft. Nightveil Specter)
3.0: Archetype staple. (Underworld Connections. Thassa, God of the Sea)
2.5: Role-player in some decks, but not quite a staple. (Rapid Hybridization. Divination)
2.0: Niche card. Sideboard or currently unknown archetype. Naturalize. (Bear in mind that many cards fall into this category, although an explanation 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.)
I covered blue and white in Constructed yesterday.
If you’re looking for my Limited reviews, I did those separately:
As I’ve mentioned before, any mechanic that can cheat on mana as much as Convoke deserves a close look, and that includes an overpriced Zombify. This is basically Dread Return, as long as you have six creatures in play, and this in your hand, and Dread Return is broken. This, unfortunately, is not, but it may be the high-impact Convoke card a token deck is looking for (though it is much more likely that such a slot is filled by Chord of Calling).
In Garruk’s Wake
Costing two more mana than Fated Retribution is big, but so is blowing up everything your opponent has while leaving your side of the board untouched. I could see this being a one-of in a ramp deck, potentially something like Gb Devotion, if there is a matchup that goes long, has lots of permanents, and does not have counterspells.
Indulge me as I review every card that draws extra cards. As I’m sure you are well aware, giving the opponent three punishing options is way less powerful than any one of those options, but this still does threaten a lot of damage or a lot of cards. The most common case is that this deals 8 a turn, which is pretty good for five mana (assuming the three toughness isn’t a liability in the matchup), and even if it’s five a turn + the opponent sacrifices their worst creature, that might be enough. I doubt you will almost ever get to draw extra cards off of this, which is more tormenting than the card itself.
Leeching Sliver: 1.0
Original Liliana is still powerful, and her absence from Standard has probably led people to forget that. Her main drawback is that she doesn’t affect the board in any way, which does limit which matchups she’s good in, but she’s got a lot going for her. A high starting loyalty makes her quite hard to kill via damage, she generates a card per turn of advantage at the very least, she gets you out of most situations if you can afford to wait a turn (or less, with Underworld Connections), and her ultimate is very powerful. While I don’t think she’s going to show up all over the place, she is a very strong card in slower matchups, and she will be very valuable when she does see play.
The list of Zombies that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to play in Standard is actually pretty long, and a number of them even have Scavenge:
Between the raw power of Lifebane Zombie and Lotleth Troll, and the relevant Scavenge abilities of Dreg Mangler, Slitherhead, and others, there might be a GB deck that is looking to turn Zombies into 2-mana Striped Bears. If you aren’t making too big a sacrifice to play all these Zombies, which you may not be, you can accumulate quite the stockpile of cards, all while building up a solid board advantage. I like recursive and powerful card advantage engines, and this has potential to be such a thing.
Nightfire Giant: 1.0
Ob Nixilis, Unshackled
While I don’t think Ob Nixilis is going to cause any reshuffling of the good Standard decks, this is a cool enough card that I wanted to mention it. It’s a little too expensive, but the ability sure does punch your opponent, and because it happens so rarely they get to put this heinously punishing text on it. Neat card.
Finally, Black gets its own Thragtusk! I look forward to drafting with CFB and calling this Thragtusk every time I cast this, and I don’t think it’s 0% to be a Constructed card. Granted, it’s not all that likely, but if you can maneuver this to gain 5+ life every time, and sometimes eat opposing Souls, that’s at least bordering on playable. Also, it’s Thragtusk.
Shadowcloak Vampire: 1.0
Sign in Blood
Sign in Blood is one of the more powerful ways to draw cards, because you really can’t beat the price, even if the cost extends past just mana. It does compete with Underworld Connections and Read the Bones, but I like it more than Read (though not more than Reid Duke, obviously), and it costing less than Connections goes a long way. It requires lots of Swamps, but I can think of a deck or two that is already playing those, and it seems pretty scary to give Mono-Black a good two drop to help the deck flow even more smoothly. Once Connections rotates out, this will be even more important, and it’s already pretty good.
Soul of Innistrad
This is my pick for the second-strongest Soul, behind Soul of Theros, and that’s mainly because of how well it synergizes with strategies that can dump massive amounts of cards into the graveyard. BG Dredge has so many tools at its disposal, and having a 5-mana draw three that you can cast from the bin is a huge addition (really big, like 6/6 big). Even in a more “fair” deck, casting this and daring the opponent to kill it is not a terrible plan, and I can see this as a good lategame addition to black Devotion deck. Getting back multiple Gray Merchants might be ambitious, but what else are set reviews for other than to talk about ambitious plans and make great jokes?
Stab Wound: 1.0
Stain the Mind
I don’t love Cranial Extraction cards as a rule, but they have their place. Letting you play this for a discounted price is interesting, and it’s probably for the best that any black deck, not just ones that have red mana, have access to this effect. It’s rare that the format demands such an answer, and Sphinx’s Revelation is probably the only card I’d even consider naming, but there’s no harm in having this tool around.
Typhoid Rats: 1.0
This is pricey removal, but it’s a cost that aggro decks will be happy to pay. I don’t mind pushing more removal that is best in beatdown, because removal at its core tends to promote control decks. It’s always more interesting when there are a lot of different incentives for each different deck, and Mono-Black Aggro will likely be able to make use of this. Killing their 3-drop and casting a 2-drop on turn three is a big swing, and much better than taking a whole turn off to cast Hero’s Downfall. The three life does make this less likely to show up in non-beatdown decks, yet it doesn’t completely rule it out. It’s got potential as a spell that can kill Mutavault, Nightveil Specter, and Pack Rat, so even at this cost it could be a solid 1-2 of in Mono-Black Devotion.
I don’t want to waste too much time talking about this, but I have to mention that while the card does a bunch of wacky things, combining discard + this just doesn’t seem like a high-tier Constructed combo. Too much has to go right, and I just don’t see the pieces coming together well enough to merit their inclusion (though it is cute that this somewhat hoses Pack Rat, besides them just discarding land and you being unable to use the mana).
Act on Impulse
This is a lot of work for a Divination, but in a low curve deck, it can be much more than just an Impulse. I could see playing one or two of these in the sideboard of an aggressive red deck against attrition decks like mono-black, as casting this on turn six and playing a land and two creatures does seem pretty sweet.
This is an aggressive rating for a very interesting card. I could see this seeing zero play, because it certainly is hard to utilize (and very dangerous when implemented incorrectly), but the card is just so powerful that I can’t help but imagine it being awesome in the right deck. One way to approach this is to play it as the top of the curve in a deck that really doesn’t need lands past three or four. Playing this on seven lands makes it close to a draw six, and that really isn’t that bad.
The more interesting and powerful way is to find a way around the drawback. That can either be cards that cheat lands into play (Sakura-Tribe Scout seems like a good candidate) or if you can find a good way to destroy your own Aggressive Mining once you’ve gotten sufficiently aggressive. Ideally, you are even blowing it up for value, or at least removing it efficiently, so playing a card like Reclamation Sage or Void Snare could be the answer.
This is my pick for sleeper of the set, and has the most intriguing text box by far.
Red decks aren’t exactly seeking more 2-drops, but given that this is potentially a 4-power haste 2-drop, they may be open to suggestion. On turn two, this is a step behind almost any other choice, but once you have the mana open to Shock your opponent’s creatures, it gets way stronger. It also is difficult to block, as midcombat removal can lead to blowouts, and all that combined makes this a solid potential. What Altac Bloodseeker really needs is the assurance that other decks play cheap creatures for you to Shock, because it fares quite poorly against creatureless control decks.
This, on the other hand, is one of the lower variance 2-drops. It doesn’t really matter what your opponent has, this will attack for 3 very consistently. Comparing this to Gore-House Chainwalker is actually pretty useful, and I think Borderland Marauder may actually come out ahead. It can always block, albeit at one power, but still attacks for the same amount. I think you want the ability to block and attack at the same time more than you want the option to play your 3/2 as a 2/1 that can block, so I’d be in favor of making the swap. Granted, not many red decks really want Gore-House Chainwalker at this point, but as far as borderland 2-drops go, I do believe this one is better.
I really like this Chandra. She plays well in both aggressive games and more controlling ones, all while having a lot of loyalty and a very relevant ultimate. Red card draw engines like this feel perfect, as they don’t reward the normal decks that want to draw cards (flipping counterspells off Chandra is pretty miserable), yet do provide the same kind of lategame quality that aggressive decks often lack. She still shows up in Modern, and is always a viable choice somewhere in Standard.
Foundry Street Denizen
Red will take as many Savannah Lions as it can get, and as this last year has demonstrated, this plays the role adequately. With Burning-Tree Emissary around, sometimes this even hits for 3!
Maybe I’m overvaluing this because of the last time it was in Standard, but I remember Frenzied Goblin laying the beats. It kills their first blocker regardless of size, and all you are giving up is a point of power (and a mana when you want to use the ability). That’s actually very strong, and anyone who’s been mauled to death by an original Ravnica red deck can attest to that. It’s great against green decks, and shines in a world of 3+ casting cost creatures.
I don’t know what we are generating (besides excitement), but surely it has to be something! The prospect of a Dark Ritual, even with a one-turn delay, is exciting, and I can’t fault people for wanting to play hasty five-drops on turn three. Doom Blade and company does dampen that excitement somewhat, but there are removal-resistant cards you can Ritual out, and just because this gives haste doesn’t mean you have to play a creature with it. Turn three planeswalker is pretty sweet, and this being a 2/1 for one in the fail case is a solid consolation prize. It might even be awesome to sideboard these in against removal-light decks, and just turbo out Stormbreaths when you know they aren’t going to die. This has a lot of potential, which seems to be the case for many red cards in this set. It’s not a bad place to be; throw enough “has potential” cards at a wall and something is going to stick.
If there are enough matchups where each Mine trades for a card, this might actually make an explosion in Standard (or more, if you are lucky). I know I look forward to flipping coins to see how many Precinct Captains I get to kill.
Red and white both are full up on 3-drops for their aggressive decks, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t powerful. It’s less likely to be picked, given how fierce the competition is, but this goldfishes very rapidly, trades well with removal if the opponent lets it live for even a turn, and does neat things with cards like Foundry Street Denizen.
A four-mana 4/4 is slightly behind, but giving trample and +2/+2 to any creature is potentially enough to let this see a little play. Sometimes you need a few more 4-drops, and you could do worse.
Krenko’s Enforcer: 1.0
Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient
How else can you double your The Cheon Veil activations? I don’t actually see much that I want to use Kurkesh on right now, but this is cheap enough and big enough that something might eventually come to light.
Lava Axe: 1.0
As this has already proven, three damage for two mana is an acceptable deal in Standard.
Far be it from me to tell Shrapnel Blast that it might not be good enough without Affinity in the format. I’ll let someone else take 5 damage, thank you very much. There’s still some chance this works, given that an artifact deck actually has all the pieces it needs (after which this will turn it back into pieces). Shrapnel Blast requires a lot of work to put into a deck, but once there does a lot of damage at a very efficient cost.
Siege Dragon: 1.0
Soul of Shandalar
As much as I like the other Souls, I don’t think this is what red really wants to be doing in this format. Red decks are way too aggressive for six drops, even ones that provide so much value, so if this sees play it will likely be in a midrange/controllish shell that is playing cards like Anger of the Gods. Perhaps if Red Devotion makes a comeback and wants more high end, since this is pretty good with Hammer of Purphoros…
Stoke the Flames
This reminds me of Fireblast, and that alone makes it worth a mention. It’s a little harder to cast, but a deck with a ton of Goblin tokens might be interested in going deep.
Top 5 Black and Red Cards
Lightning Strike should be on the list, but it’s boring, and I’d rather focus on the sweet cards. I again am admitting that Aggressive Mining likely doesn’t get there, but I can dream, and the rest of the list does have a lot of power. Sign in Blood helps Mono-Black increase its stranglehold on the format, Soul of Innistrad is good in Dredge, and Ulcerate and Chandra, Pyromaster are just good.
I’ll be back with Green and the rest next!