Oath of the Gatewatch Limited Set Review: Black

Welcome to my Oath of the Gatewatch Limited Set Review. As usual, there are a few things that inform these ratings:

• The numerical rating is an easy way to get a sense of where the card is, but context is everything. I strongly encourage you to read what I think about the card, why I gave it a certain rating, and what sorts of factors make it better or worse. For example, a card like Mist Intruder is quite good in the right deck, and quite bad in the wrong one. I’ll do my best to describe when and where these cards shine (or don’t), but the rating doesn’t have that subtlety.

Oath is designed for Two-Headed Giant play. I’ll try and mention when a card has particular relevance there, which usually will be when it targets multiple players or provides benefits to a teammate.

• The ratings scale is below. It gives you an idea of what kinds of cards belong in each ratings group, but is certainly not absolute. I expect the cards I review here to change based on actual gameplay experience, and I’ll be revisiting those that change drastically in a month or so.

5.0: The best of the best. (Citadel Siege. Wingmate Roc. Dragonlord Atarka.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Tragic Arrogance. Whirler Rogue. Icefall Regent. Hangarback Walker.)
4.0: Good rare or top-tier uncommon. (Abbot of Keral Keep. Jhessian Thief. Ultimate Price.)
3.5: Top-tier common or solid uncommon. (Separatist Voidmage. Fiery Impulse. Epic Confrontation.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Deadbridge Shaman. Skyraker Giant. Watercourser.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Read the Bones. Silumgar Butcher. Dragon-Scarred Bear.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Throwing Knife. Chandra’s Fury. Artful Maneuver.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Vastwood Gorger. Aeronaut Tinkerer. Cobblebrute.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Thornbow Archer. Deep-Sea Terror. Akroan Jailer.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Vandalize. Vine Snare. Congregate.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Fascination. Infinite Obliteration.)

Previous Set Reviews


White | Blue| Red | Green | Gold & Colorless


White | Blue | Red | Black | GreenGold & Colorless

Battle for Zendikar Set Review and Set Redo


Bearer of Silence

Limited: 3.0

Today I get to be the bearer of good news: this card is sweet! It’s not a bomb, but if you can pay the kicker most of the time, it’s very good. Even if you just cast it as a 2/1 flying beater, you should be pretty happy, though being unable to block is unfortunate. I suppose if you are a defensive deck that can’t pay the additional cost, this isn’t great, but meeting both those conditions isn’t the normal occurrence.

Dread Defiler

Limited: 3.0

Black apparently gets a reverse Ruin Processor here (of sorts), and it looks good to me. It’s gigantic, has an ability that can end the game quickly, and isn’t very hard to cast. I wouldn’t be excited about this if I couldn’t make colorless, but even a couple of sources are enough for such a late-game card.

Essence Depleter

Limited: 2.0

I don’t mind a 2/3 for 3, and the ability is pretty good once it gets going. If you pick up one of the few life-gain-matters cards, this enables it, and in any colorless-themed deck this offers a good early play and a good late-game ability.

Flaying Tendrils

Limited: 2.5

From looking at the common creatures, Flaying Tendrils is going to be decent, but not amazing. There isn’t an infestation of 2-toughness creatures, and having some of the common fliers be 2/3s, 1/3s, and 3/3s makes this a lot worse. I’d still maindeck it, but be ready to side it out if you see the wrong creatures on the other side of the board.

2HG: Sweepers usually get better in 2HG, as your team can play to maximize them, but this is still going to be hit or miss. I would play it, but don’t hesitate to just pick up a 2- or 3-for-1 if you have the chance—it won’t often get better.

Havoc Sower

Limited: 3.0

A Hill Giant that can threaten to grow gigantic is a pretty good deal, and you don’t need that many colorless sources before this becomes a real temptation. At 1-2 sources, it’s playable if you need a 4-drop, with 3-5 it’s good, and at 6+ it becomes very strong.

Inverter of Truth

Limited: 3.5

Much of the true strength of a 4-mana 6/6 flier is lost when you can’t cast it on turn 4, and this will rarely be a good play that early. It’s still a huge threat late, and sets you up to draw all spells (or mostly spells at least), which makes it a good card. Playing this with 3-5 cards in your bin is a pretty big risk, so I’d lean toward waiting until you can shuffle a few more than that.

Of course, the lower your opponent’s life total, the more aggressive you can get, but you want to avoid the opponent removing this and killing you. Bounce is also quite strong against this, so watch out for that.

2HG: I think you should pass on this. It gives your opponents a new win condition, which is to survive until you deck, and you have to contend with a lot more removal than a normal game. I guess you can just wait until turn 10+ to play this, but at that point I’m not sure how much value you get by including it in your deck.

Kozilek’s Shrieker

Limited: 3.0

Besides the picture, which I think is great, this is a solid addition to almost any deck. The stats are fine, the ability is cheap, and it’s useful even in the late game. This is the kind of card that makes me want a couple colorless sources, not the kind that makes me build around the strategy.

Kozilek’s Translator

Limited: 3.0

“What’s he saying?”

“Something about feeding me. Yeah, that’s it.”

(This is how I imagine any work I would do as a translator, and I assume what this thing is up to. It’s even got flavor text about sustenance!)

The actual card is good too, as it plays a slightly more painful Kozilek’s Channeler. It can still attack and use its ability, so the pain is well-distributed at least. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a colorless-specific card—it’s good in any black deck, and just happens to be better in ones that care about colorless. Remember to use this on your turn in order to leave a land untapped so you can use it on the opponent’s, essentially getting double value if you have the requisite life to spare.

Oblivion Strike

Limited: 3.5

Common removal rarely gets much better than this, at least in terms of effectiveness. 4 mana and sorcery isn’t insane, but killing anything is very strong, and this is going to be a high priority for any deck.

Reaver Drone

Limited: 1.5

I don’t see the colorless deck as being all that aggressive, and this is definitely a beater. I’m not in love with 2/1s for 1 to begin with, so adding a drawback doesn’t sell me on them.

Sifter of Skulls

Limited: 4.0

A Summit Prowler that gives you a lot of value is something I’m always on the lookout for, and I’d gladly take this in any deck. It even gives you a way to get colorless mana, all while racking up a pile of Scions at very little cost.

Sky Scourer

Limited: 1.5

Kozilek’s Sentinel now flies, but shed some toughness in order to become light enough. That makes it a much worse blocker, and that was always a big part of sentinel duty. I wouldn’t play this outside of a very focused colorless deck, and even then am not chomping at the bit to run a maybe-2/2 flier.

Slaughter Drone

Limited: 2.5

A 2/2 for 2 that can trade up in the late game sounds like a fine deal to me. Even if you can never activate this, you still sometimes need a bear, and it isn’t hard to pick up a few sources of colorless.

Unnatural Endurance

Limited: 2.5

While it may seem like I have an unnatural hate for combat tricks, I’m not against every single one. This is an example of a trick I do like, as it’s cheap, stops removal, and lets you win combats against larger creatures. The only thing holding me back from including this in every deck is that some don’t have enough creatures total, in which case you might have to pass. I really do like that this doesn’t get wrecked by other combat tricks as the regeneration shield can save your creature still, though removal in response still does it.

Visions of Brutality

Limited: 2.5

This is an odd card, but it seems like it can be as brutal as the name suggests. You need to be aggressive to get full value, at which point it’s very close to an actual removal spell. The fact that it’s uncommon may give us a clue that the effect is more powerful than it may look, and I have visions of curving out and using this to remove a giant blocker, which then can’t attack. As long as you aren’t playing this in a control deck, it’s going to do what you are looking for.

Witness the End

Limited: 1.5

How good this is will depend on the speed of the format. Mire’s Malice ended up being very good in BFZ, but if the format were faster it would have been much worse. Witness the End is not as good as Mire’s Malice, and my guess is that it’s mediocre unless two slow decks are battling.

Corpse Churn

Limited: 1.0

I don’t want a Raise Dead all that much, and certainly don’t want to pay 2 mana for one. It may increase your selection, but that’s not worth a ton.

Drana’s Chosen

Limited: 3.5

Getting a 2/2 every turn is a good deal, and it shouldn’t be hard to find enough Allies if you are willing to draft BW. The token entering tapped is pretty big, as this already puts you on the defensive, but I’m willing to live with that drawback in order to get a steady stream of minions.

Grasp of Darkness

Limited: 3.5

It’s not hard to grasp that incredibly efficient removal is great, even if the colored mana symbols are a bit tricky in this set. It’s funny that this is a perfectly appropriate uncommon right now, even though it was in Scars of Mirrodin at common, and that too felt right.

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Limited: 4.5

A 3/4 lifelink for 4 is already awesome, and it’s not hard to ghet the Zombie machine going. Your opponent gets punished by removal, can’t effectively trade creatures in combat, and still has a giant lifelinker to contend with. This is a huge upgrade to the last Kalitas, and this time I won’t get yelled at when I first pick it.

2HG: Not even close to real in 2HG. Granted, your opponents have a lot of removal, but playing this with counterspell backup seems like it’ll just end the game.

Malakir Soothsayer

Limited: 3.5

The Soothsayer is surprisingly beefy for a card-drawing machine, and that makes her quite a bit more appealing. Even if you don’t have the life or Allies needed to draw extra cards, she attacks and blocks with the best of them, making this a very well-rounded card. I’d strive to include a bunch of Allies in my deck, but would still play this even if I only had a couple.

Null Caller

Limited: 3.0

I’m gonna go ahead and call this a good deal. It’s got decent stats and a powerful ability, even if it’s a little slow. You don’t need to go out of your way to enable this, but trading in combat never hurts.

Remorseless Punishment

Limited: 1.0 or 5.0, you choose.

I’d “officially” give this a 1.0, because there are just too many combinations that let your opponent off the hook. Losing life is often irrelevant, and it isn’t that hard to have a crappy creature to throw in the way. Worst comes to worse, they can discard two cards, and letting them pick the punishment has historically been very poor for the person casting the spell. Yes, there are some games where every combination is great for you, but I’m telling you now that most games this won’t be nearly as good as it seems in theory.

Tar Snare

Limited: 3.0

Nothing wrong with some good, clean removal. Or in this case, some filthy, sticky removal. This kills plenty of things and weakens the others during combat, which is fine by me.

Untamed Hunger

Limited: 1.0

My hunger for situational Auras is well and truly tamed. Thanks though.

Don’t open yourself up to 2-for-1s for marginal benefit, which is exactly what this is.

Vampire Envoy

Limited: 3.0

While not quite a 2/4 flier, this does give you a 2-point life swing each time it attacks. I like this card, and would gladly play it in everything but the most aggressive of decks.

Zulaport Chainmage

Limited: 2.0

4/2 for 4 is not one of my favorite set of stats, as this will often trade down for a 2- or 3-cost card. The ability does mitigate that, and I’d probably run a couple of these in an Ally-heavy deck.

Top 5 Black Commons

5. Kozilek’s Shrieker
4. Vampire Envoy
3. Tar Snare
2. Kozilek’s Translator
1. Oblivion Strike

Oblivion Strike is far and away the best common, and I even checked multiple times to make sure it wasn’t uncommon. I like Translator the best after that, because of how good the body + ability are, though I could see passing on the 5-drop if your deck is too top-heavy. The next couple slots are pretty close, with Slaughter Drone being a legit contender as well.

Black seems a little split, as it’s got a lot of colorless cards alongside a couple powerful Ally incentives. It’s got a mix of aggro and control elements too, which makes it hard to tell where exactly the color is meant to head.

We’re burning the list down, and red is up next!

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