Previous AKH Set Reviews
White | Blue | Red | Green | Gold, Artifacts, and Lands
Let’s take a look at the grading scale, with the usual caveat that what I write about the card is more relevant, as there are many factors that aren’t reflected in a card’s grade.
The ratings scale is slightly different as well:
5.0: Multi-format all-star. (Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Tarmogoyf. Snapcaster Mage.)
4.0: Format staple. (Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Collected Company. Remand.)
3.5: Good in multiple archetypes and formats, but not a staple. (Jace Beleren. Radiant Flames. Shambling Vent.)
3.0: Archetype staple. (Jace, Architect of Thought. Zulaport Cutthroat. Explosive Vegetation.)
2.5: Role-player in some decks, but not quite a staple. (Jace, Memory Adept. Anticipate. Transgress the Mind.)
2.0: Niche card. Sideboard or currently unknown archetype. (Jace, the Living Guildpact. Naturalize. Duress.) 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.)
Archfiend of Ifnir
It's funny that this having cycling in Limited is rarely relevant, because you usually don't cycle your best card. In Constructed, it makes this so much better, as it both lets you cycle it and trigger your cycling payoffs but also just makes it never a dead draw. Archfiend is powerful enough that it could be a good anti-creature finisher for a deck full of cyclers, and is big enough that it's not embarrassing to cast.
I'm not impressed with this except out of the sideboard against aggro, and even then you need to do a little work.
Unlike in Limited, this needs to cost 1 to be plausible. If you have a black aggro deck that kills or sacrifices creatures frequently, then dropping 1 or 2 of these in the same turn could be reminiscent of Delver of Secrets, albeit without the turn-1 potential. I'm also banning "Bone to Pick" jokes, myself included.
Bontu the Glorified
This isn't such a good deal that I want to do a ton of work, and draining for 1 isn't an engine worth fueling unless it's virtually free. That adds up to a card that could bolster a sacrifice theme, but isn't going to drive it. I'd be in for a glorified Falkenrath Aristocrat if the tools were there, which they don't quite seem to be.
A 7-mana The Abyss seems ludicrously expensive, and, well, it is. That doesn't rule it out completely, as there are matchups where this could dominate out of the sideboard, like slow midrange mirrors, and it's worth keeping this in mind if they become a reality.
As often as I bag on cards like this (see: my endless rants on Surgical Extraction), I could see Dispossess serving a legitimate purpose. Naming Torrential Gearhulk or Aetherworks Marvel could be an effective strategy against decks that employ those cards, as they are always the centerpiece of said decks. I'm wary of saying this is playable, given people's over-willingness to jam it in their decks, but it might actually be a good option this time.
If there's a good black aggro deck, this is going to be part of it. It's an annoying recursive threat, and gives you a Zombie 1-drop, which is relevant.
Faith of the Devoted
This looks speculative to me. Drake Haven is the cycling engine I'm interested in, but I have faith that this is at least a potential addition. Not adding to the board is a real drawback, though it can serve as a win condition.
Horror of the Broken Lands
I'm including this only as a 1-mana cycler, with a largely irrelevant hardcast mode. If this appears in a deck, that deck is probably broken, because this isn't a card you play fair with.
Lay Bare the Heart
Good discard at 2 mana is a boon to the format, and Lay Bare the Heart hits almost everything you care about. Missing Heart of Kiran is unfortunate, though bare in mind that it does hit planeswalkers, as they aren't technically legendary. This will see both main deck and sideboard play, especially if Torrential Gearhulk decks become more of a force.
Liliana, Death's Majesty
Liliana has a high loyalty and protects herself well, all while combo'ing with powerful creatures that you've gotten killed earlier. That's a good set of abilities, and despite being a 5-mana planeswalker, she looks poised to make a good impact. She shines if the format has a lot of non-flying creatures (which Glorybringer and Avacyn do make less likely) and she punishes control decks as planeswalkers tend to do. I like Liliana, and putting her in a deck with high-impact creatures like Ishkanah, Glorybringer, or Torrential Gearhulk seems like it could work out well.
By itself, Liliana's Majesty isn't quite enough. You can do better than two 3/3s for 5 mana in Constructed. Where it gets interesting is if there is a real Zombie deck, at which point this provides enough value to make the cut. Zombie decks often have low curves, but this could be the finisher they are looking for. Liliana herself is tough competition, so maybe this slots in as 5-drop number 4 or 5.
Lord of the Accursed
Here’s another entry into the “if there’s a Zombie deck” category. This is slightly below where I’d want to be in a vacuum, but the Zombies deck has some strong cards already, and despite Lords traditionally being drivers for a deck, this could make it in as one of the last cards. Menace to your team is substantial, and it’s not impossible to get 5+ power out of this on turn 3 or 4.
We are digging pretty deep here, but I don’t want to rule out any plausible Zombies. Plus, if you are tossing Dread Wanderers and they are tossing real cards, you get an advantage. Miasmic Mummy is even a combo with itself, since when you discard a second copy, you are almost assuredly discarding a worse card than the opponent.
Read the Bones (which is coincidentally Reid Duke’s nickname) is a lot better than this, but in a world without Read, black decks may lean on it anyway. If you’re starved for a draw 2, this is what you’ve got, and it even can finish off the opponent if need be.
Depending on the removal played, this could be a legit threat out of a deck with enough 2-drops that can receive the counters. The ping ability when Zombies die is relevant too, as it can punish removal and sweepers out of a Zombie-heavy deck. This definitely takes some work, but it provides a decent payoff if you get there (even if it’s jealous of its much more successful cousin, Sludge Belcher).
This is plausible as a 1-mana cycler for decks that care about that, while also being a legit piece of graveyard hate. It’s cheap and cycles, so the cost is low, and it does what it’s supposed to do well.
Shadow of the Grave
Shadow of the Grave is a speculative card. There’s not much middle ground here. Either it’s going off to return 6+ cards or it’s heinous, as this is purely a combo card. Discarding your hand to Noose Constrictor or cycling infinite with New Perspectives sounds awesome, and I’m excited by the prospect of it in Standard. Even in older formats, cards like Lion’s Eye Diamond could fuel a sick engine, and I want to see where this goes. Odds are it doesn’t quite get there, but the payoff is there, and a card that can draw so many cards for 2 mana is one I’m willing to take a shot on.
Stir the Sands
All the cycling-plus-effect cards are interesting because of New Perspectives, and this even looks solid to hardcast, but it’s relatively far down my list of ways to break cycling. My favorite thing about this is honestly the stirring motion you are required (by the rules) to make while casting it.
Trial of Ambition
Cruel Edict is borderline playable in Constructed already, and adding a bounce clause to it makes it worthy of consideration. I could see this as a card advantage engine if the format lines up such that sorcery-speed removal is playable (which is by no means a guarantee).
Never // Return
The battle between this and Ruinous Path will be a contentious one. The front sides of both are exactly the same, so do you want to pay 4 extra mana later for a 2/2 or be forced to spend it all at once for a 4/4 haste? I think the answer may be both, and if the exile is relevant, this could easily get the nod.
Top 5 Black Cards
Black got a solid set of additions here. Nothing mindblowing, but a nice range of threats, a combo card, and removal alongside a good planeswalker. It’s hard to complain about that, but I have faith that Magic players will be able to. The actual biggest gain black made is that Felidar Guardian left, as decks like G/B and U/B may be actual players again.