Bang for Your Buck: Black

Welcome back to Bang for Your Buck! Black cards in Commander are the subject of today’s article. Will they leave you reveling in riches or be your Hero’s Downfall? The goal may be greatness at any cost, except when the card isn’t worth an excessive price tag. Just like previous weeks, I will be looking at the top cards in the format based on popularity. If they are over $5, I will discuss the merits of their inclusion based on price. ChannelFireball.com provides the prices and EDHrec.com provides the stats. Let’s go!

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own. Just because I dislike a card doesn’t mean it may not be great for you. Experiences will vary, and my goal here is to save you money while improving your deck’s quality.

There is always a darker power. Black’s strengths include:

  • Access to card draw (often in large but painful amounts)
  • Unconditional tutoring
  • Excellent removal
  • Powerful stax cards
  • Graveyard utility

Black serves as the best support color in EDH. It allows you to smooth out your draws with card draw spells like Night’s Whisper and Painful Truths, and finishes off a game with tutors to find a combo. Black can also provide the speed bumps you need to set up with its plethora of excellent removal or stax pieces. Additionally, black is an excellent primary color. Mono-black strategies can combo in multiple ways, with reanimation being the primary avenue. Decks like Sidisi, Undead Vizier and Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon are both capable of quick kills despite just being 1 color. I would rank black as the third best color in Commander, narrowly losing to green. When it comes to cEDH though, I would rank black as the second strongest color.

Black’s weaknesses include:

  • Lack of mana acceleration
  • Difficulty answering artifacts and enchantments
  • Lack of permission
  • Often too much reliance on graveyard

Black’s weaknesses can be mitigated by other colors, which prevents it from truly suffering in the format. While base-black decks perform well, decks that splash black as a support color generally perform even better. Providing tutors and removal to any of the other colors really comes in handy as those are common holes in the color pie. Black often has a difficult time charging out of the gates, so combining it with green or fast mana rocks is optimal. Combined with green or white, black decks can answer any permanent type thrown at it.

Black is all about greed, but it doesn’t need to be about spewing value. Let’s examine which cards make the cut for the portion of your sacrificed soul.

Demonic Tutor

Price: $29.99

Black deck usage: 34%

The king is here! Demonic Tutor is the most used black card in all of EDH, and for good reason. In a 100-card format, there will be great variation in the power level of your cards. Demonic Tutor has the upside of being able to reliably tutor up the most powerful cards in your deck without suffering the setback from a “top-of-your-library” tutor like Vampiric or Mystical Tutor. Demonic Tutor also encourages creative and efficient deck building since you can find a particular answer card or combo piece at the right time for any given situation. Hopefully, there will be a reprint of this iconic staple of Magic, since $30 is getting kinda crazy for an uncommon, even if it is an old one.

Verdict: The price is unfortunate, but the effect will grant you power and utility for years to come. Buy.

Phyrexian Arena

Price: $4.49

Black deck usage: 31%

My jaw hit the ground when I saw the usage of this card. Granted, EDHrec.com is just one site for information on statistics, but still, I can’t believe this card sees almost as much play as Demonic Tutor. That being said, Phyrexian Arena is an incredibly strong card that earns a spot in many black decks because it provides a steady supply of card advantage at reasonable cost. Will this ever be a Necropotence, Ad Nauseam, or Necrologia? No. But it doesn’t have to be. Different groups have different power levels and for all but the most cutthroat of EDH groups, the Arena is an excellent selection.

Verdict: The price is right, and the effect/rate excellent. Enter the arena without fear!

Vampiric Tutor

Price: $39.99

Black deck usage: 21%

Wait a second. Didn’t this just get a reprint in Eternal Masters? Ah, it was at mythic. So that explains how it has maintained its high price tag. Vampiric Tutor is likely the second best tutor in Magic. 2 life is chump change in EDH, and being instant speed allows you to make more informed decisions after the rest of the players have acted. The sorcery speed of Imperial Seal puts it far behind Vampiric Tutor in terms of power level.

Verdict: Sadly, this card is still extremely expensive, but the added redundancy in your 100-card deck is welcome. A good buy if you picture yourself playing lots of black in Commander.

Dictate of Erebos

Price: $5.99

Black deck usage: 15%

Grave Pact’s little brother makes an appearance with 15% of all decks on EDHrec.com using this card. The fact that it is easier on the mana than Grave Pact as far as black symbols go is desirable, but an extra mana is hardly worth it being an instant. But at half the price of Grave Pact, Dictate of Erebos is a great addition for decks that like this effect like Savra, Queen of the Golgari, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, and Meren of Clan Nel Toth.

Verdict: If your deck can utilize this effect, the price is still somewhat cheap. I like this card much better than Butcher of Malakir.

Toxic Deluge

Price: $9.99

Black deck usage: 15%

Okay, prepare yourself. I’m going to voice an unpopular opinion here.

Toxic Deluge is the best black sweeper in EDH. Damnation gives it a run for its money, but nothing compares to that low rate and single black in the cost. Toxic Deluge does a great job of dodging regeneration and indestructibility, and because of the higher starting life total in EDH, the impact on your life is softened.

Verdict: I recommend this spell to all EDH players, casual and competitive alike. A great use of $10.

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

Price: $4.99

Black deck usage: 15%

Sidisi, Undead Vizier has impressed me quite a bit since her release in Tarkir block. Sidisi does a great job as part of the 99-card deck because there are many ways to abuse her ability through recursion and reanimation. As a general, Sidisi is a powerhouse and can be used in Ad Nauseam builds and Reanimator decks that utilize Necrotic Ooze combos.

Verdict: I wager that it’ll be easy to find a home for this card and at $5 the price is right.

Sheoldred, Whispering One

Price: $11.99

Black deck usage: 14%

Psst, did you hear that? It was me whispering to you that Sheoldred is da bomb! I love the Praetors in EDH, and no playset is complete without this 6/6 reanimator on a stick. Sheoldred manages most board states and she scales well even at 4-player tables.

Verdict: She is a tad on the pricey side, but she is so much fun that I’d be doing a disservice not to recommend her.

Damnation

Price: $19.99

Black deck usage: 14%

Let Damnation be your salvation. Commander players rejoiced when this finally got a much needed reprint. This powerful black sweeper was pushing close to $70 before being reprinted in Modern Masters 2017, and for good reason. Damnation offers an excellent return on your 4 mana in a color that doesn’t have all the goodies white does in the “blow everything up” category. And let’s not forget the killer artwork on this card. Swoon.

Verdict: $20 isn’t cheap, but it’s much better than where this card sat before. Highly recommended.

Grave Titan

Price: $12.99

Black deck usage: 13%

Grave Titan is my favorite of the Titans and Commander is his number one home. The Titan provides a steady stream of Zombies to be used for all sorts of things and 10 power for 6 mana is more than acceptable even before considering his attack triggers. Another spectacular piece of artwork (both promo and regular), Grave Titan always packs a punch the likes of which black seldom has access to.

Verdict: Though he has crept up in price, he is still a fun, solid card in many black decks. Baetog approved.

Liliana Vess

Price: $7.99

Black deck usage: 11%

A villainess by every definition of the word, Liliana Vess is a well designed planeswalker that can take over a game if left unchecked. Her +1 ability is lackluster in multiplayer, but she makes up for it by being at worst a Vampiric Tutor on a stick. It’s rare for her to be able to ultimate in a multiplayer game, but hey, a girl can dream, right?

Verdict: She is fun, but a bit of a “one ability only” planeswalker. Fine for her price.

Grave Pact

Price: $13.99

Black deck usage: 11%

What I like about Grave Pact: The effect synergizes well in certain decks.
What I dislike about Grave Pact: $14 and 3 black mana symbols.

Verdict: If you want to imPact the board, fewer options are more grave. But seriously, it’s a strong card with a lot of fun combos.

Erebos, God of the Dead

Price: $9.99

Black deck usage: 10%

Erebos is a card that has jumped a little in price since rotating out of Standard, which is rare for mythics, but common for Gods. I like Erebos more than Greed or Dark Tutelage, but less than Dark Confidant or Necropotence.

Verdict: $10 is better spent elsewhere most likely, but if you really need access to both the card draw and the life gain prevention, Erebos is your deity so send your prayers. He accepts cash or credit.

Living Death

Price: $5.99

Black deck usage: 9%

An oxymoron! Who doesn’t love themselves some Living Death? It’s a sweeper and reanimation spell all at once. Though it does take some preparation to set up, this card can wreck an entire board and leave you in an advantageous position afterward. It combines really well with Buried Alive to boot.

Verdict: For the price, you are getting a great deal for this sweeper/reanimation spell hybrid.

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

Price: $29.99

Black deck usage: 9%

Mikaeus is half of the famous Mike and Trike duo—a combo where you have Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Triskelion on the battlefield together and kill every creature and player at the table on command. Mikaeus also combines with Walking Ballista and a sacrifice outlet to do the same thing. Mikaeus is crazy expensive and in desperate need of a reprint, but his power is unquestioned.

Verdict: A combo card that does the dirty deeds of black. The price is high, but the wins will rack up.

Reanimate

Price: $21.99

Black deck usage: 9%

Speaking of crazy prices, I can’t believe that I am living in a world where Reanimate is a $20+ card. Even the Graveborn printing is worth a lot, despite the awkward foiling. I predict this spell will see a reprint in an upcoming product in 2018, so I wouldn’t go crazy on one just yet. This card is a must have for dozens of competitive EDH decks, but others looking to use the cash on other cards can do just fine with Animate Dead, Dance of the Dead, and Necromancy.

Verdict: At $20+ I would pass, but only because a reprint in likely on the horizon. The card is ridiculously powerful for its mana cost, though.

Entomb

Price: $11.99

Black deck usage: 8%

Hello there, Entomb, I was just talking about your best friend and partner in crime, Reanimate. Entomb is a powerful combo and engine card that works wonders in a format like EDH. You can get combo pieces like Dakmor Salvage or Necrotic Ooze, big fatties like Iona, Shield of Emeria or Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur, or just value cards like Unburial Rites and Life from the Loam. Entomb does it all, and with its recent reprintings, you can find relatively cheap copies.

Verdict: For just over $10, Entomb is worth every penny and you will get use out of it for as long as you play black in Commander.

Exquisite Blood

Price: $19.99

Black deck usage: 7%

I feel like there are so many one-two combo cards in black. Exquisite Blood combines with Sanguine Bond (or Vizkopa Guildmage) to defeat everyone at the table in beautiful destruction once a life total changes. I feel like $20 is way too much for this combo and I cannot advocate something so costly, especially with the possibility of reprints.

Verdict: Don’t have blood on your hands… at least, not for $20.

Liliana of the Dark Realms

Price: $9.99

Black deck usage: 6%

I dislike this version of Liliana. The ultimate is gimmicky and the effects marginal, especially in multiplayer. The art is pretty awful as well. There are far better ways to spend $10.

Verdict: Easy pass from me. She can stay in her realm.

Sorin Markov

Price: $17.99

Black deck usage: 6%

Now this is a mean planeswalker. Sorin Markov excels at making one particular player your enemy with a minus ability that is supposed to cut a player’s life total in half, but instead quarters it in EDH. It’s mean, but I like it. I don’t expect a reprint of this card anytime soon, so if you want the fun times with Sorin, you’ve got to pay.

Verdict: A bit on the expensive side, but cruel and mean—black’s favorite attributes in MTG.

Kokusho, the Evening Star

Price: $9.99

Black deck usage: 6%

Kokusho is a sweet card in multiplayer EDH. It can lead to huge swings in life totals and is a great card to recur over and over. $10 seems a little high for my tastes, so hopefully it will go down with the release of Iconic Masters.

Verdict: A fun, casual card for EDH. I’d wait for this to hit $5-6 before getting one.

Rise of the Dark Realms

Price: $11.99

Black deck usage: 6%

This card is one of the best big payoff spells in black. Black doesn’t ramp as hard or fast as green does, but Rise of the Dark Realms doesn’t need you to. Unlike Tooth and Nail or Omniscience, casting Rise of the Dark Realms doesn’t need to happen as fast as possible. Just play the game as usual and hope that you have the mana when the time is right and the shields are down. Boom!

Verdict: Super flashy and fun—worth the dough if you know that you’ll enjoy the effect.

And that leads us to the end of Bang for your Buck: Black cards. I feel as though there were more cards that were solid playables as well as value for your money in this color than previous ones. It might be because there weren’t any $50-$60 baddies in the list, but also because the best cards are fewer than in blue and green. What are some of your favorite black cards and are there any that you’d like me to examine? Let me know in the comments and until next time, may every day be Doomsday!

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