Welcome back to my set review! If you missed the previous installments, check them out:
Here’s the ratings system I’ll be using:
2.5: Role-player in some decks, but not quite a staple. Azorius Charm.
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.)
5.0: I will always play this card. Period.
4.5: I will almost always play this card, regardless of what else I get.
4.0: I will strongly consider playing this as the only card of its color.
3.5: I feel a strong pull into this card’s color.
3.0: This card makes me want to play this color. (Given that I’m playing that color, I will play this card 100% of the time.)
2.5: Several cards of this power level start to pull me into this color. If playing that color, I essentially always play these. (Given that I’m playing that color, I will play this card 90% of the time.)
2.0: If I’m playing this color, I usually play these. (70%)
1.5: This card will make the cut into the main deck about half the times I play this color. (50%)
1.0: I feel bad when this card is in my main deck. (30%)
0.5: There are situations where I might sideboard this into my deck, but I’ll never start it. (10%)
0.0: I will never put this card into my deck (main deck or after sideboarding). (0%)
Nature abhors a vacuum, and I abhor paying seven mana for my Grave Titan instead of six. I do like that the high end here is much higher, with veritable hordes of Harpies in the offering, even if that does take a little work. Unfortunately for the Overlord, there’s yet another catch, as it comes with its very own The Abyss. The game should end fairly rapidly when you have a 6/6 flier out, but it’s still a pretty severe drawback. This goes on the list of potential finishers, but is not incredibly high up on said list.
Even by its lonesome, Abhorrent Overlord can probably outrace its own ravenous maw, and it isn’t very hard to keep a random black creature or two in play when you know this is coming down on turn seven. There aren’t many cards better at seven mana, and if they do manage to kill this, the drawback leaves and the Harpies stay.
Agent of the Fates
Heroic still seems like a tough mechanic to get working properly, especially for black and its whole two reasonable heroic creatures. If you do manage to find good enablers, Agent of the Fates is one of the best targets, as he both cruelly and diabolically will dispatch anything your opponent can throw at you. Deathtouch isn’t a bad ability to have either, and it makes sure that the Agent can trade for something good even if he’s not feeling particularly heroic that day.
I’d always play this even without the heroic ability, and the heroic ability is very good. I wouldn’t go nuts trying to draft around this, because if you go too far and end up with only this as far as heroic goes, you could be stuck with a bunch of enablers when this dies or you fail to draw it.
Keep on wandering.
Paying a full three to regenerate this makes this about as unappealing as it gets. If you are very short on creatures, this is passable, and it’s a fine sideboard card against a deck full of 2/1s.
Another point of stats or a slightly lower cost could have baled this out, but as is it’s not close to being Constructed-worthy.
Slamming deathtouch onto something isn’t the most aggressive play, but the body this leaves behind is among the best of the common bestow creatures. I’m a sucker for a 2-for-1, and this offers one at a fairly low price.
This is slightly less feared than its cousin, the Blood-Tollhouse Harpy, which demands both blood and cookies.
Blood-Toll Harpy beats down reasonably well, and the ping for 1 can be nice if you are the aggressor. However, some decks aren’t interested in either, and would much rather have a nice 2/3 Minotaur or some other unexciting card. If you have to, you can side this in against opposing fliers, as painful as it may be.
Boon of Erebos
It’s the black Gods Willing, or something to that effect. Boon of Erebos may not look like the most powerful card (and it isn’t), but it both protects and triggers Agent of the Fates, which is something. It also lets something survive Supreme Verdict, which may actually be good enough to make this a sideboard card.
The life loss definitely matters, so don’t go playing three of these just because it’s a decent trick. It is a decent trick, too, letting you trade one mana for a creature or removal spell most of the time and trigger heroic to boot.
The casting cost here is pretty intimidating, and the weak abilities certainly don’t come close to making up for it.
Cavern Lampad works very well as a finisher or an evasive threat early, which is a good place for a card to be. It’s slightly more expensive than some of the other ones in the cycle, but that’s not a huge problem.
In the cutthroat world of Constructed, cards that cost four mana need to get pretty close to winning you the game. Giving two creatures +1/+1 and lifelink certainly does not meet that bar.
Four mana is on the high side for combat tricks, though Cutthroat Maneuver will usually give you enough life to somewhat make up for the fact that you aren’t likely casting another spell on the same turn. Playing around this card is going to be one of the more necessary skills in this format, because denying them full value from it is very important. At four mana, it shouldn’t be too hard to spot and deal with appropriately.
Because black already gets removal spells, this isn’t quite as exciting as Glare of Heresy, but it’s still efficient enough to be interesting. Now that we have both Doom Blade and Hero's Downfall, black has good removal options once again, and Dark Betrayal offers a nice backup to those if there are enough reasonably-sized black creatures being played.
As per my last couple sideboard card evaluations, I’m giving Dark Betrayal a rating that should come with the understanding that it’s not a maindeck card. A removal spell is a removal spell, and this does its job well enough that I’d pick it over most mediocre maindeck cards, around 6th-7th pick.
Disciple of Phenax
Before discarding Disciple of Phenax, let’s take a look at what she offers, even if she does look a tad expensive. At four mana, she really has to be more of a Coercion than Ravenous Rats for it to be worth it, which means a focus on devotion. That does dovetail nicely with Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Erebos, God of the Dead, especially since all of these cards make each other better. Disciple providing BB and some disruption could be enough to make her a solid 4-drop in this hypothetical mono-black deck.
Disciple powers devotion, gives you a free target for bestow cards, and most importantly, is a disruptive 2-for-1. I like all of those things, especially the part where Disciple can nab the opponent’s sick five- or six-drop much of the time. Worst comes to worst, she’s a 4-mana 1/3 Ravenous Rats, which is actually fine in Limited.
Erebos, God of the Dead
Erebos provides two very powerful effects even when dormant, and they even happen to have good synergy. Aggressive decks are the main audience for the life gain prevention ability, and those decks just so happen to be the same ones that often empty their hand and have extra life of their own laying about. Of course, Greed has no borders, and the range of decks that might want to draw extra cards is pretty big, even if most of those decks don’t really care about stopping opponents from gaining life. Plus, the ability to transform into a 5/7 is pretty big, and seems like it fits well into the Gray Merchant-powered mono-black deck.
Erebos is dead last when it comes to the Gods' impact on Limited, mainly because of how niche his static ability is. Preventing life gain is negligible, and it’s tough to play a 4-cost card that doesn’t affect the board and then still have time to pay mana and life for extra cards. He’s still a good card, but just not on the level of his peers.
This brings both a reasonably-sized body and a good discard outlet to the table, and that’s without even considering the bestow ability. It’s an interesting combination of niche effects, and even if it’s unlikely that a deck exists that wants all three, it’s possible.
Not having to pay mana to activate this makes it much more threatening, as it’s very tough to block when the opponent has a bunch of cards in hand. At some point you just have to suck it up and throw a creature in the way, aware that you are trading a good creature for your opponent’s worst creature in hand and no mana investment. A vanilla 3/3 bestow creature would already be strong, and this is much more than that.
I like hiding puns in my set reviews every now and then, and the more devilishly clever I think I’m being, the more likely I am to incite a riot of unhappy readers.
Oddly enough, cards like this are among the hardest to evaluate for Limited. Clearly the card isn’t great, but the value from format to format varies wildly, since it’s all contextual. On the other hand, something like Doom Blade is awesome in all but the strangest formats, which is a little easier to see. Right now I’m leaning toward running Fellhide Minotaur reluctantly, but that may go up or down depending on what I see myself playing against most often.
Even if you need to flesh out your curve, you’d have to be mad to think that this has the horsepower needed to see play.
This is very similar to Fellhide Minotaur, though a 2/2 for 2 is better in most formats. The drawback here is more flavorful than anything else (mmm, delicious meat), though it does make precombat removal relevant. Also, don’t play this before attacking if you are planning on blocking with it.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Tendrils of Agony has returned, and now it’s on wheels! As someone who has cast Tendrils in the high hundreds if not thousands of times, I have to admit that this may not quite be a Tendrils, though I still like it. This really pays you for showing the proper amount of devotion, acting as a finisher, a defensive card, and making cards like Rescue from the Underworld awesome. Between Gray Merchant, Erebos, Dark Prophecy, potentially Disciple of Phenax and more, there is the beginning of a sweet mono-black deck.
Gray Merchant doesn’t need much help to be great due to the minimum of a 4-point life swing he represents (barring the opponent killing him in response, of course). It’s easy to ramp up higher, and all the life you gain makes up for the attacks you had to let through to avoid trading. This is a dangerous card, and one of the most important cards to keep in mind when battling against a black mage and deciding how much damage to take.
Murder was always on the edge of playability, making it in to some decks and barely missing in others, so adding a very powerful bonus makes Hero’s Downfall quite interesting. One of the biggest risks of removal is having it sit dead in hand, and this evades that problem quite neatly. It does cost three, so there is a price, but I suspect I’ll be trying two to four of these in many of the black decks I build.
Terminate isn’t exactly a bomb rare, but it’s a great card and one you will rarely pass.
Hythonia the Cruel
We’ve come a long way since the days of Desolation Giant, but that’s probably a good thing. A 4/6 deathtouch is nothing to sneeze at, and Hythonia only has to hold the fort for two turns if you play her on curve, which seems very doable. She is definitely weak to removal like Hero’s Downfall, seeing as how she costs six and doesn’t give you anything immediately, but in matchups where they are unlikely to remove her right away she seems awesome. I wouldn’t mind trying 1-2 of her as a finisher, and she seems even better post-board against midrange green decks.
Yeah, this is real. Unless you are playing against the Gorgon tribal deck, Hythonia seems nearly impossible to beat. She can get killed or bounced, but she wins almost any fight, and wipes their board very soon thereafter. I’d strongly consider switching in pack 3 for her, and almost certainly would in pack 2 (though my colors tend to be a little more... distributed than most people's).
I don’t mean to keep harping on this, but creatures that cost four mana need to be absurd to see Constructed play, and this most certainly isn’t.
Every now and then you will end up with enough 4-drops to be satiated, but for the most part you will always want to make room for the Harpy. It’s fairly hard to race, even if it doesn’t fight other creatures well, and is an excellent target for any bestow creatures you might have lying around.
For your sake, I advise you to keep this out of any Constructed deck you build. Shave a mana off each end and this could be interesting, but with this kind of investment you are much better off just going for the grand slam and playing Hythonia.
As a 2/5 deathtouch, this is very hard to get past (or passed, if you are drafting), which naturally lets you survive until you hit seven mana and get to cast Terminate for free. Keepsake Gorgon is great at any point, and because it just works once you can activate it, there isn’t any investment risk. You cast it, it’s good, and if they kill it before you get to seven, so be it.
Lash of the Whip
Seeing as how this is a five-mana conditional removal spell, I don’t think it’s going to be the scourge of Standard.
I don’t love paying five mana for a removal spell that can’t even kill my opponent’s best creatures, but removal is removal. You can’t really be too picky, and you are deluding yourself if you think you will be leaving this on the sidelines. Even though mana curve is a consideration, it’s unlikely that this is your worst expensive card.
As strange as the name is, the Catoblepas is a classic D&D monster, which is about the only interesting thing I can find to say about it.
Pitchburn Devils this is not, even if it’s somewhat close. If you are black/green and are in desperate need of a six-drop, I don’t loathe playing one of these. You can even play it without green if times are tough, or if your opponent has an abundance of three-toughness ground creatures.
March of the Returned
The last pure Raise Dead I can remember seeing play is Grim Harvest, and that’s a fair bit better than March of the Returned. This is a conditional Divination that costs four mana, and as much as I love Divination, I can’t justify this.
Value is value, and even at four mana, this is a good way to lock up the lategame. It is expensive and slow, so I doubt you will often want multiples unless you have an abundance of cheap creatures that you expect to die. Getting back creatures with good etb abilities or bestow can lead to a cascade of card advantage, and if you have the time to get this going it can be backbreaking.
The prospect of giving your whole team intimidate is somewhat interesting, and definitely the best part about the card. Haste is cool too, though it mostly applies to the Marauder directly. Siding this in against a midrange deck that tries to throw out a bunch of large blockers seems sweet, and I can see it playing the part of a (much worse) Hellrider.
Unsurprisingly, with a name that contains “Marauder”, this is first and foremost an aggressive card. This delivers the beats when you curve out or as a lategame finisher, and both are valuable additions to any beatdown deck. It’s even powerful enough that you don’t have to be fully aggro to play it, and still is a 2/2 for three at the worst.
Nighthowler is cheap enough to cast or bestow that it’s got a shot of making it into Constructed. Giving a creature +5/+5 and leaving an even bigger monster behind when its host dies is a sick counter to Supreme Verdict, and in creature mirrors this could make something into an unstoppable force.
Nighthowler not granting evasion is unfortunate, since by the time it gets really big they probably have a bunch of chump blockers. The card is obviously quite good still, but not as far ahead of the other bestow cards as you might think. It being cheaper isn’t even as sick as it looks, because you don’t get any value by casting this early anyway.
Ordeal of Erebos
It’s been a while since Mind Rot was playable, and this is much slower than that. If there is an Ordeal combo deck, it won’t involve this.
If you are going to go to the trouble of triggering an Ordeal, I’d rather fire off the red or blue one. Discard just gets dead eventually, and that’s adding another situational element to an already situational card.
Making this an instant makes it quite the vicious little number, and this might be the cure control decks are looking for. Mono-black midrange or control might want this main, with the aggro decks potentially siding it for the mirror. Killing the opponent’s 1-drop and gaining back the life it took is a good start to any game, and this might slightly stem the bleeding against all the insane 1-drops they’ve printed recently (this even hits Soldier of the Pantheon, much like my friend Detention Sphere).
Double-colored spells aren’t that hard to cast if you are already drafting around devotion, and even if you aren’t, Pharika’s Cure is strong enough that I’d even play it off 7 or 8 Swamps. It might not come out early, but even late it’s still a fine effect.
Read the Bones
Regardless of how good this ends up being, I will be trying it, and consequences be damned. Paying 2 life is a significant cost, but scrying twice is a tantalizing enough upside that I’m going to have to find out for myself if it’s worth it. It’s even splashable, unlike Sign in Blood (which is now gone anyway).
Unsurprisingly, I chose to play this at the prerelease after opening it. It was great, and all but guarantees that you will hit your fifth land drop, which is more important in this set than most. You can get a little far behind if all you are doing is casting spells like this, something I must constantly remind myself of.
Rescue from the Underworld
This is no Unburial Rites, which I’m actually glad of. Unburial Rites was so absurdly good that putting together a reanimator deck was just too easy, and it saw a ton of play as a result. Rescue from the Underworld is still very powerful, but so much less easy to use that if you want to make a sweet deck you have to work for it this time. I like that, and I think that there are enough cool synergies with this that it will get there in some form or another, if not at the same power level as previous reanimator decks. Sacrificing Voice of Resurgence is a good start, or perhaps Gray Merchant of Asphodel.
If you have a good range of creatures to bring back, this can lead to some nice turns. Casting it in response to a removal spell is a huge blowout, and even just chump blocking and getting your best creature back is a nice little bonus. If you don’t have any particularly impressive creatures, it’s reasonable to pass on this, though.
Where do I go to return my Centaur? I think it’s broken.
Once you have a critical mass of mill cards this gets much better, but that seems like a challenge in this set. A 2/4 for four isn’t the worst set of stats, and if you need another workhorse, here it is.
There’s not much I love more than a good defender, and there’s an edge chance that Returned Phalanx happens to match up well against an attacking deck. The presence of Lightning Strike makes that fairly unlikely, but I can dream.
Limited: 2.0 to 3.5
If you have blue mana, this is great, and I’d always play it. If you don’t, it’s decidedly less exciting, though still a good way to ensure that you survive until you start casting good spells.
This is markedly less good than most spells you could cast for two mana, so unless your heroic deck is that hard-up for targeting effects, I’d pass.
By itself, Scourgemark is a fairly innocuous cantrip, and something you might play as a 23rd card here and there. Once you add heroic into the mix, you are talking about a solid playable, and a card you might even be excited to pick up. As usual, context is king.
Sip of Hemlock
You are sipping something if you think a six-mana removal spell is remotely close to Standard playable.
Even a six-mana sorcery is a big game in this set, because cards that unconditionally kill 10/10’s are few and far between. The two life isn’t irrelevant either, and as marginal as this might be in some formats, it’s a good card in this one.
I never thought I’d seize the day, but this is back in Standard again. While I don’t hate it as much as Brian Kibler does, I do agree that it’s a somewhat frustrating card to have to deal with. Trying to have a cohesive plan is just worse now, and synergy decks are a lot of what makes Magic fun. It’s a reasonable point to say that black has few ways to deal with enchantments, and Theros is an enchantment block, but I wish that didn’t result in two more years of Thoughtseize.
Enough with the bad, let’s talk about the world we live in. Thoughtseize is a huge player in every format where it’s legal (I literally just got Thoughtseized by Jund in Legacy two minutes before writing these very words), and having it back in Standard will certainly change things. Don’t take that to mean that it’s an auto 4-of in every black deck, because that’s definitely not the case. It’s a good maindeck card in low amounts, and a great sideboard card, but a mana and two life is not something every deck is interested in spending for this effect. My initial recommendation is to play around two in most midrange maindecks, zero in aggro, and zero to two in control. After board, I would expect most black decks to want three or four, just because of how good Thoughtseize tends to be against slow decks, though the very presence of Thoughtseize may impact how those decks are built.
Thoughtseize is back, so get used to having your thoughts revealed, written down, and ruthlessly taken.
The ability to take your opponent’s best card and get a look at their hand is worth the both the two life and the risk that this goes dead late. You don’t even need to run this out on turn one, unless your curve dictates that you should. Casting it on turn three or four can often net a better card, since you hopefully weren’t taking a 2-drop anyway. If you have a slow draw, you might need to take that 2-drop, but if you have some early blockers I’d try and wait in order to give the opponent time to draw their awesome 6-drop.
I guess it’s better to represent the Pantheon than be tormented, though that sounds pretty obvious now that I say it. Tormented Hero is still pretty good, even if it can’t block the first turn it comes down. The heroic part of the card isn’t a huge draw, so it’s mostly offering a 2/1 for one, which is appealing when there aren’t many other options in the color.
A 2/1 for one is a reasonable card, and you might net a couple life off the ability over the course of a game. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Your activated abilities will be hisssstory! Seriously though, just kill their creatures, don’t half-poison them.
I’ve usually been happy playing one copy of a 1-damage spell in Limited, and the additional bonus here can be very relevant. I’m quick to side cards like this out, but for now will try playing one in the main.
Whip of Erebos
I don’t mean to whip people into a frenzy, but I really like this card. Lifelink to your team is a strong ability, and in some matchups is almost worth a card itself, so add that to the powerful Shallow Grave ability and you have a very strong threat. It also combines extremely well with both Aetherling and Obzedat, Ghost Council, as you get to keep them forever. Whip has what it takes to provide a good source of card advantage for many different midrange black decks, and is a very interesting card to try and put into action.
Where there’s a whip, there’s a way. All you need is a deck full of creatures and the Whip will deliver a win. Each creature gains you life, which buys you time to get value off Whip, and the cycle repeats. In a creature-light deck this isn’t spectacular, but if you have the Whip, just draft creatures!
Top 5 Black Commons
The most variable card here is the Gray Merchant, as it can go from reasonable to insane depending on the rest of your deck. The other cards are all pretty strong by themselves, and even though black's removal is worse than in other sets, in context it's still quite good.
Top 5 Black Constructed Cards
Not only did black get one of the best cards in the set, it got a bunch of interesting and different build-arounds. Barely missing on the list are also Rescue from the Underworld and Gray Merchant of Asphodel, both of which also seem awesome. Black has a wealth of options here, and in true black fashion, they often conflict with each other.
The set review continues tomorrow with red, the color with by far the mightiest of the gods.