Battle for Zendikar Limited Set Review – Black

Previous Reviews – Limited

White

*Retired and inducted into the Limited Hall of Fame: Pack Rat. Umezawa’s Jitte.

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.)

First, a quick note on 5.0s: I am slightly relaxing what I consider a 5, as reserving it for just the top cards ever in Limited isn’t as useful. Yes, Umezawa’s Jitte and Pack Rat are on another level, but cards like Citadel Siege or Atarka should make the list as well. You are going to see more cards get the highest grade, even though I’m not going so far as to say that the best card in a set automatically gets it. It’s possible for the best card to still not quite get there.

This time around, black gets to go before blue. It’s not for any particularly special reason, but because of some buffoonery involving me saving the blue file I wrote incorrectly. Regardless, blue will be here tomorrow, and black is going today. Exciting!

Altar’s Reap

Limited: 1.5

Despite the abundance of Eldrazi Scions, this still isn’t an awesome card. It’s decent, but sacrificing a 1/1 is still a cost, and there’s only so far I’ll go to build a Divination. The only Threaten effect costs five mana (and solves itself, since it’s an instant, letting you take their creature and block with it). When you draft a deck full of Blisterpods, this gets a lot more appealing, but most decks will pass on it.

Bloodbond Vampire

Limited: 2.0

You aren’t overpaying by all that much for this by itself, and just a couple incidental ways to gain life make it quite exciting. It’s also an Ally (for real this time, I even double-checked). The life gain theme in this set seems worth going for if it’s available, since it is relatively free, and has a solid upside when the pieces come together. It’s like BW enchantments in Origins, where most of the cards are fine on their own, and when they combine you get an extra bonus.

Bone Splinters

Limited: 2.0

I like this significantly more than Altar’s Reap, card draw notwithstanding. The ability to kill anything is an important one, and even 2-for-1’ing yourself is often worth it. Building a Terminate is a lot stronger than building a Divination, and even decks that don’t have a ton of synergy will play Bone Splinters. If you do have all that synergy (multiple copies of Blisterpod or Carrier Thrall are high on the list), Bone Splinters becomes a legit high pick, but I’m starting it at the middle of the pack.

Carrier Thrall

Limited: 3.0

I’m not enthralled by the “sacrifice deck” but I do like value, and this offers a good bit of it. It’s a 2-drop that’s good early, good late, and good in combination with many cards in the set (while requiring absolutely no combos to be a solid addition to your deck).

Complete Disregard

Limited: 2.5

This is the first card with devoid, which is as good a time as any to mention the keyword. In short, it’s basically devoid of relevance. There are cards that do care about colorless cards, but if you don’t have those, it’s not intrinsically important. The presence of the devoid text doesn’t change the value of any of the cards that have it, though you should at least have a rough count of how many colorless cards you have in case you do see one of the cards that interact with it.

As for the card itself, the fact that big creatures disregard this is very relevant. It’s still a fine card, but it’s not a particularly special one. It also gets worse in multiples, though the first two should be fine. It is nice that it exiles, which lets it combo with any processors.

Culling Drone

Limited: 2.0

This card has a lot of rules text, but it’s not clear how much of it actually matters. Devoid is basically blank, as I mentioned, so it’s really ingest that might throw us for a loop.

By itself, ingest doesn’t matter. You aren’t actually milling your opponents out by exiling a card per hit, since the damage you are dealing will quickly outpace the exiling. What ingest does do, and this is the part that should be interesting to figure out, is interact with “processors.” Processors are cards like Mind Raker, which do something good if you can put an exiled card of your opponent’s into their graveyard. The way to do that is to exile your opponent’s cards, which is where ingest comes in.

Looking over the set, there aren’t a ton of processors. They are powerful, so if you pick up one or two that do something like bounce a creature, give a creature -3/-3, or counter a spell, you have incentive to ingest. That isn’t going to be every time, so for the most part you aren’t going to value ingest a whole lot. Luckily, you aren’t really paying for ingest either, as Culling Drone demonstrates, being a 2/2 for 2.

I’ve droned on enough about the extraneous abilities on this card, so to summarize: if you want a 2/2 for 2, this is a playable card, with minor upside. If you really want to exile your opponent’s cards, this isn’t even the best way to go about that, since it doesn’t have evasion, but you at least aren’t paying extra for that ability. Likewise, if your deck cares about colorless cards, this is an easy way to up that count too.

Defiant Bloodlord

Limited: 1.5

7 mana is enough more than 6 that the bar for power level goes up significantly. This does not meet that bar, and even in a life gain deck I’m suspicious. Defiant Bloodlord doesn’t stabilize the board except by being a pretty big flier, and requires you to untap and combo other cards to do anything extra. You can get more for 7 mana in this set, making this a fringe playable if you just want something at the top of your curve.

Demon’s Grasp

Limited: 2.5

It’s not pretty, but you are going to play this. The common 5-mana removal spell has basically always made the cut over the last bunch of sets, and even if this misses the most giant of monsters, it’s still fine. It isn’t hard to grasp that this is how much we pay for removal these days.

Dominator Drone

Limited: 1.5

The 3/2 for 3 is a little worse than the 2/2 for 2, and adding the possibility of hitting the opponent for 2 when you play it doesn’t change much. I’d say that “Dominator” is an ambitious name for this card, though it will occupy the filler spot admirably. Again, non-evasive ingest creatures don’t seem like the best enablers, so consider them extra ways to enable ingest that you play alongside primary ones (like Benthic Infiltrator).

Drana, Liberator of Malakir

Limited: 4.5

Drana is from the “win the game on turn 3” school of bomb, which is different from the “win the game on turn 6” school. She isn’t going to turn around a game you are losing badly, nor is she going to trade for three of your opponent’s cards. What she will do is bury the opponent rapidly, and end games where you cast her on turn 3 and she isn’t answered. That’s still a bomb-worthy level of quality, as she can destroy an opponent before their 6-mana insane cards even have a chance to do anything, it’s just a different type of game-ender. Either way, she’s an awesome card, and you should take her. She triggers before normal damage, which is presumably the punchline, and when unchecked seems just about impossible to beat.

Dutiful Return

Limited: 1.0

This has returned a lot sooner than I’d expect, given that we just played with it in Khans. It was a medium card there, and I can’t imagine much has changed. There is no delve, so you aren’t eating your targets, but this is still just a slow value card that you can’t even always cast until later in the game. I don’t mind having one of these to side in against slow decks, but I’m not that likely to start it.

Geyserfield Stalker

Limited: 1.5

From the makers of Prickleboar comes Geyserfield Stalker, terrorizing blockers and attacking for 5. If you are planning on being the aggressor, there are worse ways to top off your curve, but I’m generally not in love with 5-drops that don’t block well. Even if you normalize for the fact that I love blocking, this is still a card that only plays one side of the court, and that isn’t what you want from your expensive cards.

Grave Birthing

Limited: 2.5

There’s a lot going on here, but what it boils down to is that you are getting an Eldrazi Scion and drawing a card, all at instant speed. Exiling one of their cards is also an upside, even if a minor one. I’m happy enough playing a 3-mana 1/1 that draws a card and sacrifices for mana, so it’s unsurprising that I like this. Note that your opponent doesn’t need to have a card in their graveyard for you to cast this.

Grip of Desolation

Limited: 3.5

In a normal set, this would be a 2.5 or 3.0 (probably the latter). In a set full of awaken cards, I’m giving this a little bump. The ability to take out essentially two creatures seems good enough to warrant a higher rating, and even if they don’t have awaken cards they may still be looking to hit 6+ mana (which this disrupts).

Guul Draz Overseer

Limited: 3.0 (Edit: 2.5)

The stats may not be the most impressive, but this attacks for 5 damage often enough to be a real clock, and that’s without counting the bonus it gives to the rest of your team. Add that to the ability to play this and then play a land, getting a bonus instantly, and you have a solid way of ending the game.

Edit: In today’s version of “I misread the card”, Ghul Draz Overseer doesn’t affect itself. Rating has been adjusted slightly downward, though the card is still pretty strong. – LSV

Hagra Sharpshooter

Limited: 3.0

I like mana sinks, and this seems like it would be an annoying card to play against. That’s usually a sign that you want it on your side, and the threat this presents will affect your opponent’s play in a significant way. Sometimes they will just be forced to cast x/1s into it, and you then get the option to kill them or cast whatever you planned on casting. It also messes up combat, and overall is a sharp thorn in your opponent’s side. The ability may be expensive, but it’s a good one, and I think this does enough to warrant a spot in your deck.

Kalastria Healer

Limited: 1.0

Kalastria Healer is the kind of card I like. It’s bad in most decks (that’s not the part I like), but it can do great things with the right support. Granted, this particular buildaround might not get there all that often, but it enables both heavy-Ally decks and decks with the life gain theme. If you are going hard on either of those decks, Kalastria Healer could be an integral part, and luckily for you, nobody else is likely to want it. If I had to guess, people are going to play this more often than they should, but there will be a time and a place for it. I enjoy finding that time and place, and that’s why cards like this make Limited much more interesting.

Kalastria Nightwatch

Limited: 2.0

If you want a 5-drop, a 4/5 with minor upside is a not a bad place to land. The value doesn’t go up significantly in a life gain deck, but it doesn’t go down all that much if you can’t trigger this. Plus, your opponent doesn’t know you can’t trigger this, so they have to watch out whenever they consider attacking with fliers and this is untapped.

Malakir Familiar

Limited: 3.0

I’m in for a 2/1 flying deathtouch for 3 mana, so the life gain ability is just gravy. Don’t worry about building around this, it’ll do just fine without support. If you do end up with some ways to gain life, maybe take this a little higher, but don’t expect to see this late.

Mind Raker

Limited: 1.5

A Hill Giant with minor upside? Don’t mind if I do. I’d want a couple ways to have the hope of triggering this, but it’s not a disaster if you can’t, since it fills out your curve either way.

Mire’s Malice

Limited: 2.5

I’ll take any excuse to play Mind Rot, and tacking a 3/3 onto the card certainly qualifies. You don’t have infinite slots for expensive awaken cards, and this isn’t that efficient on its face, so keep that in mind when deciding how many of these types of cards to play.

Nirkana Assassin

Limited: 1.0

If you think of this as a 2/3 for 3 with no ability, you won’t be disappointed. In some decks, it will be better than that, but the high-end here is not very high. If your life gain trick is on the board, your opponent won’t walk into it, and if you have to cast a spell to enable this, it’s unlikely you got a 2-for-1. All those factors kill its chances, and relegate it to filler at best.

Ob Nixilis Reignited

Limited: 4.0

This is obviously good, and it’s hard to get less than a 1-for-1 even in the worst cases. It doesn’t catch you up when you are behind, which is what’s keeping it from being a 4.5, but it’s otherwise quite solid. Ob Nixilis crushes an opponent who is relying on removal spells, can pick off whatever the biggest threat is, and sits there drawing cards on an empty board.

Painful Truths

Limited: 3.0

I’m playing this even in a 2-color deck, and it really becomes the truth once you can reliably make 3. It’s on the slow side, but this format doesn’t look like it punishes you for that, and in some matchups this is going to be amazing.

Retreat to Hagra

Limited: 1.0

I was a little high on Retreat to Emeria, but I hagra better idea of this card’s power level. If this just did what it said every turn, the card would be solid, but needing to hit a land drop makes this not quite powerful enough. The two outputs just aren’t super exciting, and the thought of playing this and triggering it every other turn sounds mediocre. One way to think of it is how many triggers you would want to hit before this becomes great, and the number here is five. That’s a bit high for my tastes. One exception is in the life gain deck, where this enables all your cards, so if you are going that route this could easily be a key addition.

Rising Miasma

Limited: 3.0

Some decks won’t care about facing this at all, but the ones that do really don’t like to see it. It’s nice that this can save you against a fast draw while still being relevant in the lategame, and having this effect at your disposal can be awesome. The value certainly doesn’t rise in multiples, but the first one of these helps cover some important bases.

Ruinous Path

Limited: 4.5

Killing anything for three mana is great and a 4/4 that kills anything for seven mana is also great. Would it surprise you if I said that the combination was great?

Silent Skimmer

Limited: 3.0

This is silent but deadly, and fits into both aggressive and control decks alike. It blocks well, is hard to stop on offense, and is resilient to many of the removal spells. As odd as this card is, it will get played every time.

Skitterskin

Limited: 2.0

Skitterskin is great in aggressive decks and unplayable in control decks. The text “can’t block” will do that, and that’s what makes this a somewhat risky early pick. I don’t like having to leave my third pick in my sideboard even when I’m in its color, and that will happen with Skitterskin sometimes. Later in the draft, feel free to take this early, because once you know you are beatdown there’s nothing wrong with the card at all. It’s large and hard to stop, and doesn’t cost a whole lot of mana.

Sludge Crawler

Limited: 1.0

Early in the game, this isn’t very impressive. Late in the game, well, it’s still not all that impressive. Sludge Crawler is an appropriate name, as paying two mana to give it +1/+1 feels like you are crawling through sludge to reach a playable creature. There’s just no point where this is awesome, and even a deck that has processors shouldn’t be overly excited to play it.

Smothering Abomination

Limited: 4.0

Even though this eats a creature every turn, you never end up down a card. That alone is impressive, given the stats you get, and the synergy this has with Eldrazi Scions is very strong. Smothering Abomination is a worthwhile build-around that also happens to function even in a normal deck, though you do want some amount of creatures in order to keep it fed. If it has to eat itself, it’s not a disaster, but it’s certainly not the optimal situation.

Swarm Surge

Limited: 1.0

I was set to give this a solid grade, until I realized it was a sorcery. Given that you can’t ever trick your opponent, this becomes a mediocre Overrun rather than anything truly exciting. It doesn’t work well with any creature that has a color, and even in the all-colorless deck it’s a marginal finisher that does nothing when you are behind.

Trangress the Mind

Limited: 0.5

This misses way too often for my tastes. I don’t mind siding this in against a deck full of giant things, but even then I’m not excited. The risk of missing is just too high, since being down a card can be disastrous (and when you do hit, it isn’t like you got away with anything—it’s just a 1-for-1).

Vampiric Rites

Limited: 1.5

I like the idea of a Rites deck, but it’s clearly not a card you can just play for no reason. In a deck full of Blisterpods, Eldrazi Scions, and Vampires that care about life gain, this could be incredible. Conveniently enough, you are unlikely to face much competition for that deck, so if you open Vampiric Rites you can probably wheel it (or at the very least, find out that you shouldn’t be in that archetype).

Voracious Null

Limited: 1.5

This loses at least half a point for the disturbing picture, with the other three points being docked because its ability is sorcery speed. That forces you to commit before attacking, and opens you up to combat tricks and removal spells in a way Nantuko Husk does not.

Wasteland Strangler

Limited: 3.5

I’m giving Wasteland Strangler the benefit of the doubt here, and assuming that processors are worth going for. This effect certainly is, and if you can trigger this reliably this is an excellent card. The fail case of a 3/2 for 3 is also not bad, and overall this is the kind of card I don’t mind doing some work for.

Zulaport Cutthroat

Limited: 3.0

Cards like this tend to be way more annoying than they look, even if this particular incarnation only cares about your side of the board. Zulaport Cutthroat is often going to drain for 4 or more life over the course of the game, and it doesn’t take much work before that number goes up. The natural combination is this plus Eldrazi Scions, but he also helps enable a life gain deck, and is an Ally to boot.

Top 5 Black Commons

5. Mire’s Malice
4. Silent Skimmer
3. Demon’s Grasp
2. Bone Splinters
1. Complete Disregard

The black commons are not very impressive this time around. A bunch of them are tied into the sacrifice and life gain themes, and those combined with ingest and processors eat up a ton of space. Complete Disregard seems like the most consistently good common to me, though Bone Splinters could easily be the one that ends up being most important. The rest are just medium, with Demon’s Grasp and Silent Skimmer being serviceable and unexciting. The last spot was not going to be good no matter what, with Mire’s Malice barely beating outKalastria Nightwatch and Mind Raker for the coveted fifth slot.

I’m not sure what drives you into black, but from the look of things, it’s not the commons.

LSV

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