Come, let us leave prowess behind as we take a look at all black has to offer. It has removal spells, discard, and plenty of things that care about the graveyard, as well as a dash of aggressiveness here and there.
5.0: The best of the best. (Pack Rat. Umezawa's Jitte. Wingmate Roc.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Butcher of the Horde. Savage Knuckleblade. Crater's Claws.)
4.0: Good rare or top tier uncommon. (Triplicate Spirits. End Hostilities. Necropolis Fiend.)
3.5: Top tier common or solid uncommon. (Lightning Strike. Woolly Loxodon. Suspension Field.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Debilitating Injury. Mardu Hordechief. Flesh to Dust.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Glacial Stalker. Bitter Revelation. Hunt the Weak.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Dragonscale Boon. Defiant Strike. Cancel.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Scout the Borders. Aeronaut Tinkerer. Ranger's Guile.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Tusked Colossodon. Bronze Sable. Oppressive Rays.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Naturalize. Feed the Clan. Congregate.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Search the City. Pyxis of Pandemonium.)
Given that the first card has dash, this is as good a time as any to talk about the mechanic. On vanillas, it’s not super powerful. It lets you hit them out of nowhere, but is a huge mana sink, and spending turn three dashing a card like this is not what you want to do at all. It becomes the most valuable at the end of the game, where an attacker out of nowhere can threaten to kill the opponent, but that isn’t something that matters during all other stages. Random free damage on a turn where you couldn’t do anything else is fine, and the cheap cards with dash enable raid, but overall dash is not the kind of ability you should build around too heavily (and it doesn’t even stack well. Having multiple dash cards in hand is not optimal).
Given all that, this is not much better than a Hill Giant, and Hill Giants are pretty bad in this format. They don’t come out too early and get outclassed late, and dash doesn’t change that.
I’m happy enough paying two mana for a +1/+1 counter and -1/-1 to a creature, especially once you start looking at combining this with Abzan creatures that want counters. The casting cost is a tad restrictive, but the power level is here (with a vengeance).
Archfiend of Depravity
You can’t really go wrong with these stats, and the ability is a nice little bonus (or a nice big bonus, if they have a full board). The one-turn delay really reduces the power of the ability, but you don’t need much more than the stats to be impressed here.
The rating here is clearly contingent on having a red or white permanent reliably by turn three, but in such a deck, this card lives up to its name. Aggressive Warrior decks want nothing more than 2-drops, especially good ones, and it doesn’t get much better than this.
In decks without such goals and with less ways to turn this on, it's pretty mediocre, so keep that in mind. This is also vulnerable to midcombat removal taking away first strike, so try not to get destroyed by a bounce spell or the like.
Even if you can’t activate the ability, draining the opponent for 1 for each attacker is a brutal beating in any sort of race. Playing this and draining for 2 extra immediately is the perfect setup for bashing with everything on turn five and putting the opponent to low single digits. The ability is very powerful as well, and you can always make all their creatures block your smallest if you want to get damage through, as well as the obvious “make bad blocks” option.
The power level of this drops off significantly if your deck isn’t aggressive, but it’s solid even in control, if not an actual bomb.
Crux of Fate
I’ve liked End Hostilities a lot in this format, much more than I’ve liked wraths in the past. Maybe it’s because I like drafting Goblinslide control, maybe it’s because the format lends itself to creature-heavy games, or maybe it’s because nobody ever plays around it. Whatever the case, this is basically End Hostilities, with the slight upside of you potentially having a Dragon balanced against the slight downside that they might. Of course, you could just blow up their Dragon in that case, and either way there should be a way to maneuver this to your advantage.
This is like Taigam's Scheming in that it’s a delve enabler that you should basically never play (and as much of a trap as Schemings is, I think it’s better than this card). This is a bad deal in every way, and it even says so in the name! You end up down a card for dubious benefit, and it isn’t even that punishing to the opponent.
Diplomacy of the Wastes
Coercion is almost as much of a sideboard card as Naturalize, even a Coercion that sometimes hits them for 2. I’d bring this in against a deck that has insane high-end cards, but past that I’m not interesting in tapping out for this on turn three.
Douse in Gloom
Douse in Gloom is back, and it’s still a fine card. It’s never been exciting, but killing their morph on turn three and gaining you a couple life is a good way to get to the late game. There isn’t such an abundance of removal that we can afford to be super picky about it, and this is Throttle-level filler at cheaper cost, which is always nice.
I don’t like paying five mana for what is usually going to be a creature of that cost or less, especially when I can’t always cast it on turn five because my graveyard is empty.
I’d like this card a lot more if delve weren’t a mechanic, as having your big finisher just randomly do nothing is pretty ghastly. This card occupies the strange spot of being the kind of card not that many decks want and still being situational in those decks, which I’m not too excited about. I guess you can sideboard it in as a finisher, which is a very odd thing to do, making me suspicious about the card in all situations.
There’s just no color combination that doesn’t have at least one delve color, and that makes this always a liability. When you can’t depend on your 7-mana card to finish them, it calls into question why you are even playing it.
While I wouldn’t say it’s a grave mistake to play this, I don’t like that most of its strength doesn’t show up until the late game. You need this to give +2/+2 in order to be even worthy of consideration, and having to wait on more than that isn’t where I want to be.
It’s funny that decks that care about the milling are also the decks that end up delving away the creatures that make this stronger, but this could be playable in a creature-heavy delve-heavy deck, if such a thing exists. This also gets a little better in combination with Abzan counter collectors, as tossing a creature into the air or giving it +5/+5 and lifelink is a nice sequence.
If you cast Scout the Borders, you can choose to pick nothing and play this and morph on turn four. That’s called seeing all the angles, even if it’s not actually a play you will often want to make. Borderline plays aside, this adds another giant monster to the delve decks, which I like. Any deck that has interesting pick orders and play patterns is fine by me, and this has the additional bonus of making it so fewer people want Treasure Cruises.
The split card of a 2/3 for three and a 1/2 that finishes off a wounded creature is not the most powerful, but it’s still decent. This gets much better in a deck that naturally wants to attack, and works especially well with tokens that you don’t mind chump-attacking with. That this card is in the format means that you should treat all attackers as if they could gain deathtouch and think twice about putting your 5/5 in front of their 1/1.
A 2/1 for 1 that isn’t really a 2/1 when it comes to creature combat is a significant downgrade. Pulse Tracker worked well in Zendikar because of how aggressive the format was, but this format is much less so, and even the addition of dash doesn’t make this into a card I want to play.
Mardu Strike Leader
This, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of card that strikes my fancy. The normal use case is to trade this for their morph after you attack on turn four, which is a mana-neutral 1-for-1 that gives you a free 2/1, and it can be much better. Any removal spell or trick opens the floodgates, as multiple attacks with this are hard for your opponent to come back from, and if you draw this later in the game it even has haste. This is an excellent card, and one that offers great potential while demanding little to no support.
This isn’t as flavorful as the Shards of Alara version, but it may be better. It plays very nicely with Mardu Hordechief and the like, and can often just default to being a turn-three play that kills their morph. It does get a lot worse the longer the game goes, so it’s better to execute any plans involving this sooner rather than later.
The extra ability on this is a lot more obnoxious than the ones on most of the other Dragons, which makes this a half-step better. It will often take out another creature when it dies, which mitigates a lot of the risk of tapping out for it. If the opponent kills it, they lose one of their attackers, and you take that much less damage. I like 6-drops much more when they don’t set you up to just lose to a removal spell, which this does (though it is still vulnerable to bounce).
I’m pretty sure this is good. It’s got decent stats and a very annoying ability, an ability which doesn’t even cost you mana to use. It just sits there taking shots at your opponent’s smaller creatures, and it even lets you attack into big creatures by threatening to finish them off post-combat. In a creature-light deck, it may not always make the cut, but it’s big enough that you aren’t losing much efficiency even if you don’t trigger it that often.
As long as you don’t die immediately, it’s pretty difficult to lose a game where you’ve besieged your opponent with this, and one of the modes even makes it more likely that you don’t die. If you are behind or think you are likely to fall behind, draining them for 2 is a nice way to get a life cushion going, and it even lets you attack their life total without doing anything but trying to survive. If you have a well-stocked graveyard, drawing an extra creature every turn is also a big game, which makes this a great card even when life totals aren’t the most important thing (and they aren’t in many games).
Qarsi High Priest
There is a slight conflict between this wanting small creatures and token makers to sacrifice and wanting good things to flip off manifest, but if you have enough enablers I think this is still a reasonable card. Neither the cost or payoff is huge, making this more of a niche card that some decks will want and most won’t.
It’s also a good sideboard card against a removal-heavy deck—either they use a spell on your one-mana creature or you get to manifest every time they kill something else.
Reach of Shadows
It may literally be a reach, but I think this is an incredibly important card to have. The rating reflects how little unconditional removal is running around, and how valuable the first copy of this is. Like other 5-drops, it becomes a much lower priority once you have one or two, but being able to pull the trigger on any threat is a big deal. The wording here is hilarious, though the fact that it can't hit face-down creatures or artifacts is somewhat relevant to gameplay.
Give me a Rotting Mastodon any day. Even the ability here isn’t a clear-cut bonus, as your opponent could also easily be running delve cards.
The expensive delve cards all compete for the same space, as they require more dedication and resources than the cheaper ones. This is a powerful card, I just don’t want to take it early because there are plenty of delve options that can replace it, and you are usually better off taking cheaper cards. The tension between delving and having a creature to bring back is interesting, and almost makes this cost virtually one more mana, which is also a big deal.
At the very worst, this is a vanilla delve 4/4 for 6, which is playable. At the very best, this is a 4/4 with a million abilities for two mana, and for it to be insane it really only needs a couple of those abilities.
Flying, lifelink, hexproof, and haste are the most important ones, and roughly in that order (hexproof becomes the most desirable once you have a couple of the others, but is somewhat irrelevant if you don’t have the abilities to make this a real threat). I wouldn’t drastically change my pick order if I had this, but I would prioritize keywords a little higher than normal, and especially creatures that have multiple keywords.
Once you really start stacking them up, this becomes the best card in your deck, though clearly you won’t have that info when you decide whether to first-pick it. It is a shame that all the Abzan creatures don’t work with this, as their +1/+1-counter dependent clauses mean they don’t have the keywords when it matters.
A 1/1 that dies into a 2/2 would already be a high pick, and that 2/2 sometimes is a whole lot more than just a 2/2. You don’t need to draft any fancy combos to make this good, but fancy combos do make it great, and this is the exact creature you want to sacrifice to Qarsi High Priest and the like. Turn-two Emissary turn-three Merciless Executioner is probably just game.
Deathtouch is not the ability that I want when I’m giving something +2/+2, as that should be enough power to take down just about anything already. This is basically just Giant Strength, and that’s not a card I want to play under most circumstances.
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
A cheap 4/5 that draws you extra cards sounds like the sort of thing I’d be interested in. If you don’t have a bunch of other delve cards, you may not get the choicest selection of cards, but drawing any nonland is still a card. I at least try not to play with cards I don’t want to draw, so getting extra cards in the midgame should be as good as gold. Between the short-term value of a large delve creature and the long-term value of the activation, Tasigur lives up to the excellence that this cycle of cards brings.
He’s also apparently not a very nice guy, as this card demonstrates. It takes a lot to make this more efficient than Rakshasa's Secret, and even then you are missing out on the sweet sweet self milling. I don’t mind siding this sort of effect in, but I’ve found that most decks don’t want maindeck Mind Rots in this format. Normally they are good at making your opponents discard their expensive spells, but all the expensive spells are usually in play, in the form of morphs that now are going to get flipped.
Is it too soon to run the "Rats Off To Ya!" image again? Nah, definitely not.
Typhoid Rats continues to be a stalwart, as it trades for cards that cost more mana, and doesn’t particularly care what their morph turns into (as long as it’s not Efreet Weaponmaster). That’s a good card in my book, and it even enables both raid and delve nicely.
Top 5 Black Commons
Black has a lot of kill spells, to nobody’s surprise. As important as the first Reach of Shadows is, I do want to emphasize that you don’t need three of them, and I’d consider taking Sultai Emissary over the second (and potentially even the first, if you have other expensive spells already). Rats is a safe pick, but can end up being worse than a lot of the other cards if you have early plays, as it is very defensive. Gurmag Angler varies in value wildly, and I wouldn’t want to snap it up until later in the pack, whereas cards like Douse in Gloom and Ancestral Vengeance (number six) are both good just about always.
Black looks more defensive than aggressive, partially because the aggressive mechanic, dash, doesn’t strike me as being very powerful. It might be great, but I think I’ll start by building my black decks with a bunch of kill spells and value cards, which is probably not a shocking revelation (and will soon be a bitter one, once I realize it doesn’t work).
Note: My Red Limited Set Review will go up at 11 a.m. EST tomorrow.