Battle for Zendikar Limited Set Redo – Black

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Ratings Scale

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.)

Bloodbond Vampire

Original Rating: 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.

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Updated Rating: 3.0

Much like Serene Steward (and, spoiler alert, other cards that are good in BW life gain), Bloodbond Vampire is quite a bit better than I thought. BW Life Gain is one of the better synergy decks, and Bloodbond is a substantial payoff. Playing this and immediately triggering Kalastria Healer is a great start, and this exact interaction is a big part of why this card is great. BW often has an Ally subtheme, and Bloodbond providing value as a life gain payoff and as an Ally goes a long way.

Bone Splinters

Original Rating 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.

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Updated Rating: 1.5

Bone Splinters goes the opposite direction as Bloodbond Vampire, as it’s part of a synergy deck that very much doesn’t get there. BG Sacrifice is one of the worst decks on average, and the dream of Bone Splinters plus disposable creatures is not one that comes together very often. It’s playable in some decks, but it’s not a high priority for me at all.

Carrier Thrall

Original Rating 2.0

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).

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Updated Rating: 2.0

Still a fine card, but I’m way less excited about it. The poor showing of the sacrifice deck makes this a lower priority pickup, though it is a 2-drop if you are short on those.

Complete Disregard

Original Rating 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 2 should be fine. It is nice that it exiles, which lets it combo with any Processors.

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Updated Rating: 3.0

Completely disregard what I wrote previously. This is the premier removal spell in black, and the best common by miles (though I did have it as best common before, so I guess that part is still fine).

Demon’s Grasp

Original Rating 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.

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Updated Rating: 1.5

This is just a minor tweak, but reflects that this card is enough worse than previous removal spells that you do end up cutting it a good amount of the time. 5-mana sorceries are really not where it’s at, and now that I have a better grasp of the format I’m a lot more sure of that.

Grip of Desolation

Original Rating 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).

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Updated Rating: 4.5

This looked great before and ended up being even greater. It’s my pick for best uncommon in the set, beating out even the legendary Rolling Thunder. The combination of awaken spells and big creatures make this one of the best removal spells you can hope for, and I’m at the point where I only pass this for a select few rares.

Hagra Sharpshooter

Original Rating 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.

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Updated Rating: 2.0

As it turns out, there are mana sinks aplenty in this format, and Sharpshooter is on the low end. I still don’t mind playing the card, but I’m not that excited about it. You can usually shoot for something better.

Kalastria Healer

Original Rating 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.

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Updated Rating: 3.0

Kalastria Healer is by far the biggest winner in this round of updates. It turns out that BW is great, and Healer is one of the most important cards for the deck, as well as being the most important common. Note that it is still very much a synergy card, so the rating reflects that it’s an auto-include in life gain, not every black deck. It might even be a 3.5 once you are going deep on life gain, though it’s largely unplayable outside a dedicated life gain/Allies deck. I still wouldn’t be happy to first pick this, but I’m definitely much happier playing it than I thought I’d be.

Kalastria Nightwatch

Original Rating 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.

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Updated Rating: 2.5

What I wrote before remains true, with the main difference here being that a 4/5 for 5 lines up more nicely in this format than I expected. Nightwatch is a solid playable, and I like picking one or two up in any life gain deck (and it’s playable even in non-life-gain black decks).

Retreat to Hagra

Original Rating 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.

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Updated Rating: 2.0

This goes from fairly bad to playable in the life gain deck, and as such gets a bump like the other life gain cards. I mentioned that use originally, but it’s worth mentioning that this does do what you want in a deck with a lot of life gain payoffs.

Rising Miasma

Original Rating 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.

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Updated Rating: 2.0

I’ve been underwhelmed by how this plays, so unlike most of the cards on this list, it’s falling in rating instead of rising. There just aren’t enough x/2s to make this consistently good, though it does have moments of greatness. It’s a card I will still maindeck, and do like having access to in the sideboard.

Silent Skimmer

Original Rating 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.

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Updated Rating: 2.0

Skimmer is decent, but not really that exciting. I’ll still play it in devoid decks or aggressive black decks, but I’m not really on the lookout for this.

Sludge Crawler

Original Rating 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.

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Updated Rating: 3.0

Well, this was a huge miss. I’ve already mentioned this on Limited Resources, but Sludge Crawler is legitimately a great card. It didn’t take too many drafts before I realized how good this card actually is. It’s great for a number of reasons:

1) When it’s in your opening hand, it almost guarantees that you will get to ingest, which sets up many other cards in your deck.
2) This format is low on 2-drops, so having a relevant early play is important.
3) Later in the game, this is a 4/4 or 5/5, and will trade for one or more real cards. That’s a lot of value for a 1-drop, and cards that are good early and good late are exactly what you want.

In summary, Sludge Crawler is a very good card, and one I’d be happy to take early. It looks a lot like cards that are bad (Bellows Lizard, anyone?) and I think that’s why it initially fooled me. The upside of ingest was also not clear, and those two things combined are likely why I didn’t give this full credit. I really like looking at cards that change value so much, because figuring out why they are better than they look is long-term more important than getting them right (though it’s nice to do both).

This is my pick for the biggest change in the set in how I perceive it, as Sludge Crawler has gone from a card I don’t want to one I take 3rd.

Transgress the Mind

Original Rating 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).

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Updated Rating: 3.0

Transgress is another card that drastically overperformed compared to my initial rating. It turns out that the format is lacking in 2-drops, which means that a) you are happy playing this on turn 2 and b) people have more 3+ cost cards in hand. Add those together and you have a fine card that helps disrupt the opponent’s curve, and enables Processors while doing so.

Top 5 Black Commons

5. Mire’s Malice
4. Demon’s Grasp
3. Kalastria Healer
2. Sludge Crawler
1. Complete Disregard

Healer and Crawler made their way in, bumping Bone Splinters. Black’s commons aren’t the best, and after the first two, I’m not really excited to take any of these early. Black does have three of the better decks in UB or BR Devoid/Processors and BW life gain, so what it lacks in raw power it mostly makes up for in synergy. The fact that it is so synergy-based is likely why my ratings changed so much here—one of the decks I thought would be good isn’t (BG sacrifice), and cards for BW life gain and B/X devoid are better than I thought.

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