This is the final installment in a five-part series on the top ten commons of each color, in Avacyn Restored Draft. I have received a ton of feedback so far, most of which has been positive. Most readers said they enjoyed the series, but would have liked it more if it were released a bit earlier in the format, which I understand.
I didn’t actually dedicate myself to drafting the format until a bit later in the game, so my timing was a bit off. But, I still had half the articles come out before GP Vancouver, and now with the 12-6 Drafts on Magic Online, I feel the information is still interesting and relevant. Having already covered each of the other four colors, I’ll just wrap it up this weekend with the consensus worst color in the format.
Death Wind is easily the best black common. It’s a card that lets you interact with soulbond at instant speed, the importance of which cannot be overstated. In a format like Avacyn Restored, where spot removal is at a premium, you really do want as many copies of Death Wind as you can get your hands on.
When the set first came out, a friend of mine said, “Death Wind and Homicidal Seclusion are the only good black cards, and you can just splash those.” While I do not fully agree with that statement today, it did resonate with me, and should give some context regarding just how good Death Wind is. If you get passed one, I would take that as a very clear signal that black is open and a color you want to be in.
Bone Splinters is ranked second overall, and for good reason: it and Death Wind are the main reasons you want to be playing black in this format. Access to unconditional removal is so powerful, and these two cards in particular are impressive. If you drafted a red-green deck, and your opponent casts a Druid’s Familiar or, god forbid, a Wolfir Silverheart, then you just lose immediately; but this is not the case for black decks that contain Bone Splinters.
I can all but guarantee that you don’t value the color black or Bone Splinters as highly as you should. On the surface it’s going to two-for-one you, but with cards like Butcher Ghoul, Undead Executioner, Driver of the Dead, and Evernight Shade you can really do a good job of mitigating this card’s drawback if you try.
Butcher Ghoul is ranked pretty highly overall, but it really isn’t all that surprising to me. He is an integral piece of any mono-black deck, since black has no playable two-drops except Crypt Creeper, which is absolute garbage. Not only is Butcher Ghoul important as a defensive measure against red’s cheap one-toughness creatures, but is also quite good at buying time against green’s enormous fatties.
I also like this card since it can combo really well with the aforementioned Bone Splinters and another card I like quite a bit — Bloodflow Connoisseur. I think both my general appreciation for black and win rate went way up the day I decided that I needed to take Butcher Ghoul higher. This comes up less often, but I like Butcher Ghoul with Homicidal Seclusion. When you have the Seclusion in play every creature needs to be dealt with, and you can really extract some serious value from his undying.
Undead Executioner is next up, and is another card I like to have in my black decks, usually in multiples. It’s a solid answer to almost any green creature all the way from Trusted Forcemage and Druid’s Familiar up to Pathbreaker Wurm and Nettle Swine. It has excellent synergy with Bone Splinters and Bloodflow Connoisseur, which is important. He can stop one of red’s aggressive draws dead in its tracks for fear of getting two-for-one’d, with the rare exception of Pillar of Flame exiling it, and Fervent Cathar which can neutralize it for a turn.
Black doesn’t have a ton of four casting cost cards, which makes this Zombie just a little bit better, and can serve as a road block or potential removal in decks lacking that type of effect. He works great in a blue/black deck that aims to be controlling, or a black/green deck that just wants to stall until it can start plopping down Vorstclaws. Make no mistake, this card is good.
Bloodflow Connoisseur is a card I have talked about a lot so far. It happens to work quite well with many of the black commons, and exceptionally well with the undervalued powerhouse bombs black has Demonic Rising and Homicidal Seclusion. Bloodflow Connoisseur is similar to Bone Splinters and Butcher Ghoul in that on its face it appears to be an underpowered card that not many decks will want, but in actual game play he goes above and beyond, and routinely impresses me.
I’ll admit that some percent of the time he ends up as a three mana 1/1 which is bad — but when he is good, which I think is well over half the games you play against non-green decks, he consistently changes the game in a favorable way. Chump blocks no longer feel as bad, since you can grow a threat of your own. My favorite interaction with this card has to be Treacherous Pit-Dweller. You can trade off the Pit-Dweller, and when it comes back into play it triggers to “fork him over,” and you can respond by sacrificing it to the Blowflow — a reasonable tradeoff for a BB 4/3 with no drawback.
Searchlight Geist is a weird one for me. What I said about Moonlight Geist remains true for this card. Every instinct I have as a Magic player says this should be a high pick and a solid card, but in the context of this format it’s just not all it’s cracked up to be. I like that it can be a machine gun with Lightning Prowess, and it fits well in just about any black deck — but with Ghoulflesh and Guise of Fire running around, and the high impact of the two casting cost creatures that are actually good, Searchlight Geist will often be trading for a card that costs less than it does, which is not where you want to be.
All that said, it’s still a two-power flying creature for three mana with upside (albeit close to irrelevant upside), and that is powerful enough for me. He is never super impressive, but always solid.
I really didn’t like Driver of the Dead much at all when the set was first released. It was one of those cards I would look at as similar to Soulcage Fiend, and I would just think, “these are black’s creatures?” But in reality, Driver of the Dead is quite good in a black/green deck since you can return high quality creatures like Wandering Wolf, Timberland Guide, and Nightshade Peddler.
Driver works well with many of the “sacrifice” effects I have talked about a lot so far, and at absolute worst he is a 3/2 for four mana — which isn’t terribly poor in this format. The downside is that about half of the time that is exactly what he ends up being. Most of my good black decks end up with zero or one copy of this card in my deck, and my really low-end black decks have a couple Driver of the Deads, and a couple Crypt Creepers for the super-combo.
Ghoulflesh is about exactly as good as it looks. This may not sound like helpful or useful information at first, but let me explain. Ghoulflesh is a removal spell that doesn’t actually remove the powerful creature that you want to kill, but it is good at removing some of the lower-cost, troublesome creatures.
When I think of good Ghoulflesh targets, the cards that come to mind are Kruin Striker, Nearheath Pilgrim, Ulvenwald Tracker, and Latch Seeker. There are many more, and Ghoulflesh is quite nice against 2/1 common creatures like Wandering Wolf and Thraben Valiant.
I love a couple of Ghoulflesh in an 18 land blue/black deck with 2 Amass the Components, and I prefer to have 1 or 0 Ghoulflesh in a black/red aggressive deck. It is entirely possible that this should be ranked above Driver of the Dead, but I believe that this pick is totally color-dependent, so consider it more of a tie to be broken by the specific archetype in which you find yourself.
I have grown to utterly hate Soulcage Fiend. I find myself playing it well over half the time, but it just always upsets me. The times I like this card are when I have a removal-heavy hand, or my opponent is manascrewed and I can put on a ton of pressure quickly, then use his leaves-play ability to great effect getting them even closer to death. Soulcage Fiend is a good card in these circumstances.
The times I hate Soulcage Fiend are when I have to cast it already behind on board (usually to a red or green deck), and I have to hope to trade off with a creature, which usually doesn’t even prevent damage because I’m burning myself in the face for three, on top of using up my turn. Often I can’t even cast it when I want to, because he costs double black. As I said, I usually always play this card, but I continue to have a complicated love-hate relationship with it. You kind of need it as a black drafter, but you hope you don’t have to end up playing it. Many times when I go 3-0 in a MtGO draft with a black deck and that window pops up with all the cards you drafted, I sit there and realize, “oh yeah, my deck seemed good because I never drew that Soulcage Fiend.”
Renegade Demon is the textbook definition of mediocre. He is best used in a black/green deck as an additional fatty, and he works reasonably well with Essence Harvest. Essence Harvest is not a card I usually touch, but the card quality in this set is so low that knowing when you can use “bad” cards to good effect is an important skill. If you can consistently cast Essence Harvest for 4+, it actually becomes a fine card, and to do that you are going to want some big vanilla beaters in your deck like Nettle Swine, Renegade Demon, and Vorstclaw.
I chose not to include Crypt Creeper in my top 10 because it’s just a really bad card overall. That kind of effect isn’t what a good black deck wants, and usually has very little effect on the game. If I take a mulligan and one of my spells is a Crypt Creeper, I’m hating my life at that point unless the rest of my draw is perfect.
Well, that wraps up my five-part article series on Avacyn Restored Limited. In the end, it’s not my favorite format ever, but it had some nuances to it, and if you want to improve and crush the new 12-6 drafts on Magic Online I suggest you read each of these articles, as I practiced this format a lot and put a ton of effort into these articles. If the United States was in a war, and the war was decided by Avacyn Restored draft, I would feel confident handing over this article series to our soldiers.
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