Welcome to my Magic 2015 Set Review! I'll start by looking at each card for Limited, as the prerelease is coming up this weekend, and next week I'll dive into my Constructed review.
If you missed white and blue, you can find them here:
As usual, here is the ratings system I'll be using:
Three-power evasive creatures are still good, and the combination of intimidate + removal means that this should be able to mount a pretty spirited offense.
Unless you have some neat combos with this, it’s best left in your sideboard (where it is quite effective against x/1’s). Your opponent will mostly get to choose when this triggers, and unlike drawing a card, discarding a card gets much worse later in the game.
Eating other creatures for fun and profit is always an interesting mechanic, and this card giving you extra life makes it much stronger than most sacrifice outlets. Given enough fodder, Blood Host will be the life of the party, and will keep you alive through all but the most ferocious beatdowns. Making it so you don’t die while attacking as a 5/5 or bigger is a nice combination, and this looks like a good card to draft a deck around.
Even though it can’t block the turn you play it, this is still a Wind Drake, and as a result it’s pretty hard to cut. Get enough of these and you will murder your opponents with ease.
This is an aggressive rating for such an expensive card, but if I recall Odyssey block correctly, there’s no stopping the tar. It is unblockable and has haste, and is extremely hard to kill, making it the perfect top of the curve in an aggro deck or a good finisher in a control deck. I could see moving this up in my rankings pretty easily, and almost gave it a 3.5 based on how difficult it is to deal with (but the high cost held me back, for the first time in history).
Child of Night
Rarely spectacular, always reliable, and never bad. Limited decks are built upon cards like this, and if you have a few Auras to make this bigger, I may even take back the “rarely spectacular” part.
Covenant of Blood
While this is pretty bloody expensive, it’s still a flexible removal spell that will often buy you at least a turn’s worth of attacks, and that turn does make up for having to tap a bunch of creatures. Even if you look at this as a 5-mana spell, it’s a bit clunky, so I wouldn’t want a ton of these, though in a dedicated Convoke deck it can be good.
I recall liking this card more than I thought I would, both because it kills 2/1’s early and because it removes blockers late. I still don’t want a ton of this effect, but I like having it as a low drop in control and aggro alike (though it is much better lategame in a beatdown deck).
The Sadist’s power goes dramatically down the later the game gets and the lower your life gets, but as a 1-drop she can just dominate early. Even as just a 1/1 for 1 that gets bigger, she’s frightening, and the fact that she can shrink herself to pick off their creatures makes her incredibly hard to play against.
I’m not in love with Zombify, even if it can take from their graveyard as well. Spells like this are a bit on the situational side, enough that I won’t always play them despite how powerful they can be in the lategame. Plus, Convoke decks don’t always have good targets, and relying on your opponent to provide them can be dicey.
If I had to guess, this is going to be one of the more overrated cards in the set (along with Ensoul Artifact). People love their best-case scenario cards, and while I can’t argue that assembling those scenarios is part of what makes Magic awesome, rating cards as if they always perform at their best is just asking for trouble. Getting +1/+1 counters off this is just not something you can rely on, and needing to have a reasonably-sized creature to begin with makes me wary. I don’t mind it as a sideboard card, like most powerful Auras, but I assume most opponents will have enough removal that I don’t want to maindeck it.
Feast on the Fallen
If you are attacking, you get to keep attacking. That’s interesting, and I can see it working well in an evasion deck, but I’ve fallen for cards like this before and always regretted it. Cards that need you to be doing a good thing before they work are exactly what I was talking about with Eternal Thirst, and getting a few +1/+1 counters isn’t insane. I’d try this in BW or UB fliers before anything else.
Killing Gladecover Scout: 5.0
As long as you don’t have a bunch of nonblack creatures with one toughness, I’m all for glooming it up. Don’t be afraid to side this out, but it’s powerful enough to maindeck, especially with all the token making in the set.
Flesh to Dust
Doom Blade this is not, though I am well aware that Doom Blade is no longer a common. Five mana is enough that I just can’t rate this any higher, though I’d happily play a couple of these in just about any deck (with the awareness that they do take up valuable real estate at the top of the curve).
I’ve been a fan of Gravedigger since it got back Bottle Gnomes in Tempest, and will continue to be one until Limited changes dramatically. Not only is this a solid 2 for 1 with minimal effort, the card you draw off it is always a spell, and with a little planning, usually a good one. Plus, the double Gravedigger dream is very much alive if you draft one of these early.
In Garruk’s Wake
I want to like this, but I’ve woken up to the fact that nine is just SO much mana. Plus, how often are your opponents really going to have planeswalkers in play, and if they don’t, aren’t you losing value?
Three toughness means this is a bit more fragile than I’d like, but the fact that it bashes for five to eight damage a turn makes up for that. Bear in mind that giving your opponent the choice of three different ways to appease the demon is way weaker than if any one of them was mandatory, but all of them are unpleasant enough that you aren’t going to be too unhappy.
If you play this, the only thing this will be leeching is your win percentage. I suppose there's a sliver of a chance that you get a deck where this is good, but I'm not holding my breath.
Despite costing five mana and not affecting the board, Liliana is awesome in any game where you can protect her. She dismantles your opponent's hand, threatens a sick ultimate, and if you are lucky enough to have more good cards, she can even go fetch them.
I like card advantage as much (more) than most people, but even I won't auto-include Mind Rot in my draft decks. It's just too rotten when you are getting beaten down, and not very helpful when you are attacking. It is a fine card in a midrange deck, and does punish other midrange/control decks, just keep in mind what your goals are when including a card like this.
As far as combat tricks go, Necrobite always has the last laugh. It trumps any other trick, can save your creatures from removal, and lets a lowly 1/1 take down an 8/8. Of course, you end up paying three mana for these privileges, which is expensive for a trick, and Necrobite doesn't help deal extra damage to the opponent at all. If you don't have many small creatures, or just a low creature count in general, Necrobite is not an auto-include.
Losing three life is a very real cost, but getting a 3/3 flier for two less mana than normal ranges from solid (in a control deck) to awesome (in an aggro deck). While Scudder can go in any deck, I would tend to try and draft a more aggressive one to make sure that the life loss is less of a big deal. This card also gets punished pretty hard by bounce spells, so at least consider siding it out if your opponent has a couple.
If X/1's end up being particularly bad in the format, I can imagine cutting this, but a 3-power creature for three mana is hard to resist. The ability will also more often be an advantage, because milling is rarely a drawback (it only matters if you get decked), and there are a number of cards that care about graveyards.
Cycling non-Zombie creatures is not a great deal; the idea behind looting is to stockpile lands and trade them for creatures, not the other way around. With three common Zombies, though, there is a reasonable shot of picking up 5-6 Zombies, and with Necromancer's Stockpile you can turn them into Striped Bears. Everyone knows that Striped Bears is the pinnacle of creature technology, and this becomes pretty strong if you can consistently pitch Zombies to it.
A 5-mana 5/4 that shoots things for two is a big game, and bigger still when you realize that the threat of the activation will warp how your opponent plays even without you doing anything. The usual caveat about gold cards applies, but like other cards in this cycle, this is definitely worth splashing for.
Ob Nixilis, Unshackled
Without the last ability, this wouldn't be more than a 3.5, but picking up a counter whenever something dies is a threatening ability indeed. Even if you assume the searching clause never happens, this obviously still flies over for a ton of damage, and does an extremely good job of punishing chump blockers. Plus, the search text might be so invisible that your opponent will slip up and actually do something that involves searching, at which point you better remember that trigger.
Paragon of Open Graves
Your opponent will be in grave danger once you start giving your Black Cats deathtouch, making this one of the better Paragons to keep mana up for. All your crappy black creatures all of a sudden become a little less crappy and are now lethal in any fight. Sounds like a good deal to me.
According to Shuhei Nakamura, Thraben Purebloods was already the pinnacle of Limited excellence, so adding the ability to gain a couple life makes this truly unstoppable. Jokes aside, this is a good five-drop, as it has decent stats and should buy you a little breathing room by eating some fallen friend or foe.
A common four-power flier is not what I expected to see in black, yet here we are. It is worth noting that this only hits for a net of 2 life advantage if you are forced to give it flying every turn, but the fact that it's very threatening on defense and great at killing the opponent makes up for that. Before you ask: yes, the extra point of power really is worth a lot, even if you have to pay some life in exchange.
Sign in Blood
Even at a 90/10 split of targeting yourself vs targeting the opponent, having the option is very powerful, and two cards are definitely worth two life in the early game.
Soul of Innistrad
I quite like the Souls for Limited. They are awesome, powerful, and yet still not just unbeatable (though Soul of Theros does a pretty good job of it). Soul of Innistrad provides a hard-to-stop threat that digs up all your dead creatures, regardless of whether your opponent deals with it or not. That sounds like a good deal to me, and I like the fact that it's almost impossible to stop the dark ascension of creatures that will soon emerge from your graveyard.
The best common in Return to Ravnica is back, and it got a promotion. I can't say I'm sad, since Stab Wound was absurd, and playing against it isn't particularly pleasant (which definitely means its got the correct flavor going). Stab Wound provides a very fast clock that's hard to get rid of, and when that isn't convenient, can also just be used as removal. The optimal play is generally to toss this on something that'll live and that you can ignore, with a 2/3 being the dream.
Stain the Mind
Barring a very strange matchup, like your opponent having 7 Triplicate Spirits, this should never touch the non-sideboard part of a Limited deck.
There's never been anything wrong with a 1/1 deathtouch for one, and until something really punishing to X/1's comes out, that will continue to remain true. I also would again recommend getting the foil version of this, if you can.
All these life payment cards are great, and they all add up. Even if they are all individually very powerful (which they are), you have to keep in mind that you are drafting a deck, and not just a pile of cards. This is one of the better ones, just realize that every card that requires you to pay life makes all such cards worse, as a deck full of Ulcerates and Necrogen Scudders might run itself out of the most precious resource.
Unmake the Graves
This is no Urborg Uprising, but what is? Convoking things that don't affect the board isn't my favorite play, but you probably can't go wrong with one of these if you have a creature-heavy deck. Card advantage is card advantage, after all.
Wall of Limbs
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a) this is generally not good and b) I will try my hardest to make it good. Without lifegain it does nothing, and even with lifegain it's a very slow road to 20. I'd recommend leaving this one to the experts/unrealistic buffoons.
I don't want to call this a wasted opportunity, because the community surely designed this with Constructed in mind, but Limited is not where it belongs. To even have a shot of getting your card back, you have to have many ways to make your opponent discard, and then they have to discard nonlands. That does not seem like a scenario worth going for.
This seems familiar. I guess every set has to end up with a 2/3 for 3 in order to make the great machine that is Limited continue to rumble along.
An untargetable and virtually unblockable 2/1 is cheap at three mana, and if you have some nice Auras you can even go kind of deep. I also like the flavor present, and think even Ben Stark would approve (be sure to ask him: @BenS8528 on Twitter).
If you need a lategame mana sink, you can do much worse than Zof Shade. It's not an exciting card, but it gets the job done.
Top 5 Black Commons
5. Sign in Blood
4. Child of Night
3. Carrion Crow
2. Shadowcloak Vampire
1. Flesh to Dust
Besides the first two, all of these cards seem extremely close together. None of them are awesome, but they are all very solid, so which you take will depend on what the format looks like (are 2/1's good? Is drawing 2 more important?), what your deck looks like, and what other cards you have (especially when it comes to your mana curve). I know that isn't the most definitive, but an ordered list can only go so far, and in this particular case, the cards are so close together that I can't realistically tell you more than what each card's strengths and weaknesses are and let you figure out the context that will determine which is best.