Ben Bleiweiss’s Guide to Everything Time Spiral, Part 3 (Black)

Ben continues his review of Time Spiral with Black. Unlike other set reviews, Ben’s unique look at Time Spiral includes a history of Charms, a spat over a cat, and a review of the most phallic piece of Magic artwork in years. You already know that Smallpox and Sudden Death are great cards – come learn about the rest of Time Spiral in today’s article!

Welcome back to my set review for Time Spiral! Unlike other set reviews, I’m not out to give cards a wonky star rating, or tell you, with absolute certainty, what will or won’t be played. I’m here to share thoughts, trivia, history, and musings about Time Spiral as a whole. Strap on in, as today’s installment deals with everyone’s favorite color of death and skulls, Black.

Royal Assassin, Rathi Assassin, and King’s Assassin. These are the creatures that tap to kill target tapped creature, and Assassinate is the logical choice for the name of a spell that kills tapped creatures. The flavor text even ties into Royal Assassin.

Too bad this card was better when it cost two mana and was named Death Stroke.

Avatar of Woe
How realistic is it to cheat the mana cost on Avatar of Woe? For years, Avatar of Woe has been a high-priced casual-player card, because it is extremely easy to have ten creatures in all graveyards in group play. I think that we can all agree that paying BB for a 6/5 Fear Visara is ridiculous. If this was printed at BB, everyone would be playing Black, and the metagame would revolve around getting and keeping Avatar of Woe in play.

Avatar of Woe will most likely cost 3B, 2BB or 2WW to cast in Standard, because it is an excellent target for Zombify, Dread Return/Vigor Mortis and Resurrection. I also would not overlook the applications of Avatar of Woe in a Dredge deck – there seem to be a good number of cards that inadvertently work well with Dredge in this set (Avatar of Woe is one of them), and it might be possible to build a competitive Dredge deck in Standard.

Speaking of Dredge – people seem to think that certain decks are completely unviable in certain formats because of the existence of new cards. In the forums of yesterday’s set review, someone discounted the viability of Psychatog in Extended solely on the existence of Sudden Shock. This is just folly – A) nobody’s given Extended extensive testing yet, and B) Psychatog is a more powerful card than Sudden Shock. Yes, Sudden Shock is good against Psychatog. I’ve also never seen a Psychatog deck, whether it be traditional, Blue/Black/Red, Friggorid, or Hulk Smash, that didn’t run a full compliment of early discard spells, be it Duress, Cabal Therapy, or Nightmare Void. Most copies run Haunting Echoes in the sideboard. You can’t counter Sudden Shock, but you sure can knock it out of their hands before they cast the Tog itself.

The same goes for Dredge decks in Standard. People go “woe is us, woe is us, Dredge is dead because of Withered Wretch and Tormod’s Crypt.” First off, the majority of decks won’t be running Withered Wretch at States. I wouldn’t give up on playing Wildfire decks because players are running Paladin En-Vec and Sacred Ground – I’m going to work my deck to get around those drawbacks, or I’m just going to work my deck to beat the 90% of the decks in the field that don’t run those cards. Tormod’s Crypt is slightly more problematic, except that the majority of the decks in the field don’t care about the Crypt at all. Yes, it’s a great sideboard card (or maindeck card) in Vintage, Legacy, and Extended. Standard doesn’t have the same problem decks or creatures (Threshold, Goblin Welder, Psychatog, Ichorid) as those other formats. Standard has Magnivore, Solar Flare, and Dredge, and nobody’s accusing Dredge of being a Tier 1 deck in Standard.

Don’t buy into the fearmongering that emerges from negative-thinking individuals upon the release of new answers/solutions to old problems. Sudden Shock will change Extended thanks to its interaction with Wild Mongrel, Psychatog, and Arcbound Ravager, but it’ll also cause Madness, Affinity, and Tog players to find ways to play around Sudden Shock, because those decks are inherently more powerful than any one single card.

Bad Moon
Now here’s a welcome addition to the Black Arsenal. After years of not reprinting Crusade, Bad Moon makes a return visit – and this is a mechanic that has more or less disappeared from the non-tribal aspects of Black. Is it any good? Chris Woltereck spoke to me of a critical turn that White/Black decks have:

Turn 1: One-Drop Creature
Turn 2: Two-Drop Creature
Turn 3: One-Drop/Two-Drop, or Drop plus Removal
Turn 4: Creature plus Crusade/Bad Moon

White hasn’t been able to have this turn in years, because the Crusade variants worth playing have cost WW1 (Divine Sacrament, Glorious Anthem – no Shared Triumph for you!). Black Weenie gets this critical turn again, thanks to a plethora of options available in Standard:

1CC: Festering Goblin, Mindlash Sliver, Plagued Rusalka, Shadow Guildmage
2CC: Dark Confidant, Dauthi Slayer, Drekavac, Foul Imp, Nether Traitor, Rakdos Guildmage, Sangrophage, Stromgald Crusader, Withered Wretch

1CC Removal: Darkblast, Funeral Charm, Riot Spikes, Disembowel
2CC Removal: Cruel Edict, Last Gasp, Smallpox

You got me if this deck is any better than White Weenie, Gruul, Boros, or any other weenie decks that’ll be floating around, but Bad Moon definitely helps against burn and Serrated Arrows, and that’s got to count for something.

Basal Sliver
A.k.a. Basal Thrull Sliver. Make your Mindlash Slivers generate infinite mana when used in conjunction with Enduring Renewal. That just seems plain embarrassing to do – I wouldn’t want to be caught playing with Basal anything.

Call to the Netherworld
Previous Madness cards in Magic:

Black: Psychotic Haze, Strength of Madness
Blue: Circular Logic, Obsessive Search
Green: Arrogant Wurm, Basking Rootwalla,
Red: Fiery Temper, Violent Eruption
White: Frantic Purification, Strength of Isolation

Current Madness cards in Magic (Standard):

Black: Call to the Netherworld, Dark Withering, Gorgon Recluse, Nightshade Assassin, Psychotic Episode
Red: Fiery Temper

Current Madness outlets (Standard):

One Shot, beneficial (ones you’d want to discard a card for anyhow): Avatar of Discord, Careful Consideration, Compulsive Research, Conflagrate (flashback), Delirium Skeins, Drekavac, Kindle the Carnage, Lightning Axe, Macabre Waltz, Magus of the Jar, Mindlash Sliver, Mindlasher, Restore Balance, Sift, Smallpox, Vanish into Memory, Wheel of Fate.

One Shot, detrimental (you don’t really want to cast these on yourself, if possible): Blackmail, Brain Pry, Coercion, Consult the Necrosages, Cry of Contrition, Delirium Skeins, Funeral Charm, Haunting Hymn, Hellhole Rats, Mind Rot, Mindlash Sliver, Mindstab, Nightmare Void, Perplex, Persecute, Ravenous Rats, Rise/Fall, Shrieking Grotesque, Strands of Undeath, Stupor, Surging Dementia, Void, Wit’s End.

Repeatable, beneficial (see above): Demonic Collusion, Drowned Rusalka, Flowstone Channeler, Glint-Eye Nephilim, Greater Good, Greenseeker, Icatian Crier, Jaya Ballard, Jolreal, Looter il-Kor, Lore Broker, Mindless Automation, Nihilistic Glee, Peace of Mind, Rakdos Augermage, Rakdos Guildmage, Rix Maadi, Sindbad, Skullmead Cauldron, Slate of Ancestry, Stormbind, Stormscale Anarch, Thought Courier, Tolarian Sentinel, Trespasser il-Vec, Undertaker, Urborg Syphon-Mage, Vexing Sphinx.

Repeatable, detrimental (see above again!): Cryptwailing, Dimir Guildmage, Disrupting Scepter, Jagged Poppet.

When I set out to make this list, I wasn’t expecting to see so many repeatable madness outlets in Standard. Many of them are quite bad (Nihilistic Glee is not for the win), but others seem extremely serviceable (Thought Courier, Vexing Sphinx, Lightning Axe, Smallpox, Stormbind). Proceed as you will, armed with this information!

This wasn’t played back in Constructed, back in the days of Rebels and Mercenaries, and so I’m pretty sure it won’t get played now. I also don’t have anything really interesting to say about Conspiracy, so let’s just move on.

Curse of the Cabal
It’s a shame that Wizards wouldn’t/didn’t/can’t just outright reprint Braids, so instead we get Curse of the Cabal. This card has received a ton of press, but I just don’t see why. With Braids, each player has to sacrifice a permanent each turn. One of the main strengths of Braids was the ability to drop Braids on turn 3 (with mana acceleration, of course), to deny your opponent the chance to get to their third land drop in the game. Curse of the Cabal, if suspended on turn 3 (with you playing), makes your opponent sacrifice a permanent on turn 4, turn 6, and turn 8. In other words: BB2 – target player sacrifices a permanent every other turn. That’s not very exciting in my books. You also aren’t going to hard-cast this guy.

Cyclopean Giant
What do you get when you mash together Cyclopean Tomb with Cyclopean Mummy?

(No Casting Cost)
Artifact Creature
Tap, Sacrifice ~this~: When ~this~ is put into a graveyard, remove it from the game instead.

Then you’d see Wizards of the Coast issue errata to this card, since it’s already in the graveyard before it can affect itself.

Dark Withering
So there are a lot of madness enablers in Standard. Are any of them any good? The formerly playable Madness cards were all independently usable (Arrogant Wurm, Fiery Temper, Violent Eruption, Basking Rootwalla). The two I’ve hit so far aren’t going to beat your opponent about the head for three-to-four damage, they are going to Raise Dead and Dark Banish. Also, Violent Eruption (four mana for four damage), Fiery Temper (three mana for three damage) Basking Rootwalla (one for a 1/1 that pumps to 3/3) and Arrogant Wurm (five for a 4/4 trampler) are all passable (or better) on their own. Dark Withering costs six for a Dark Banishing. That’s hardly good in-and-of itself. Just food for thought.

Darkness, fetch my slippers!

Dauthi Slayer
Crystal, married to Pete Hoefling, owner of the business, owns a cat named Blizzard. Like all cats named Blizzard, Blizzard is a black cat (or black with highlights). For a while, Pete insisted on rechristening the cat Darkness, much to the irritation of Crystal. This culminated one night with Pete demanding, in an authoritative tone, “Darkness, fetch my Slippers!” Crystal then beat Pete about the head with a pair of slippers, cause damage to both ego and footwear.

Oh, and Dauthi Slayer is a great weenie.

Deathspore Thallid
In general, Thallids are quite bad. The mechanic only works every three turns, but Selesnya Guild has a lot of ways to generate Saproling tokens on the cheap. Does this make the second ability on Deathspore Thallid worth playing? Hopefully not – Thallids are one of the more stupid ideas for a tribe.

Mark: Let’s bring back classic tribes from the past!
Aaron: Dibs on Merfolk!
Randy: Dibs on Morphlings!
Mark: Morphling was a Shapeshifter, not a tribe.
(Translation: Yum! Pizza Shoe!)
Henry: Less pizza, more Salad!

And thus, Henry Stern was misunderstood, and Thallids were brought back in Time Spiral. The end.

Demonic Collusion
I remember the good ol’ days, when Wizards of the Coast was targeted by several right-wing parental groups, and was forced to chase Demons, Devils, and all black-worship references from the game. Hell, the pentagram in Unholy Strength was even dropped in Fourth Edition! Nowadays, thanks to wholesome subjects such as Harry Potter and Yu-Gi-Oh!, devil worship and demon summoning are all the rage with America’s Youth.

Please pretend like you did not read the previous paragraph. Thank you.

Dread Return
Wizards of the Coast says that Mindslicer is the subject of this card’s artwork, but I say it’s Bob Marley.

Also, how many four-cost reanimation spells is too many? This makes four in Standard (Resurrection, Zombify, Vigor Mortis), with Yore-Tiller Nephilim and Hell’s Caretaker making guest appearances. I can’t see a deck playing Zombify, Vigor Mortis, and Dread Return, so maybe it’s time to either insert variance (Stitch Together) on this mechanic, or leave it alone for a little while.

Drudge Reavers
Mainland China has a law against depicting human remains in artwork. Many Magic cards that depict Skeletons or Zombies have had alternate art for Chinese/Asian release, and Drudge Reavers is no exception. You can see the alternate art Drudge Reavers here.

Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Poor Thrulls. Poor most tribes that were invented for Fallen Empires, as a matter of fact. You came at a time when Wizards of the Coast was finding their foothold as to the power level of cards, and you were on the Mercadian Masques end of Legends, Antiquities, and Arabian Nights. Because of this, you were woefully underpowered, and most of you have been relegated to the bins of one-cent commons and quarter-rares. Endrek Sahr is a combination of Breeding Pool (in that he makes Thrulls) and Phyrexian Devourer (in that he dies after you reach the number seven). Unfortunately, he’s a little fragile as a 2/2 for five, and he doesn’t do anything aside from producing 1/1 creatures. On the flip side, he triggers off spells played, so he can produce tokens through countermagic. Then again, you need him plus another high-cost creature to get things going, at which point you’re just begging to get wrecked by Wrath of God or Pyroclasm, or any other mass-removal-spell du-jour.

Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore and Evil Eye of Urborg
If you put them together, you only need the Evil Mouth of Mercadia, Evil Nose of Turian, and Evil Forehead of Rith-the-Awakener, and you too can wake Exodia!

Faceless Butcher and Faceless Devourer
I like having all these back-to-back homages in Black – it makes this set review a lot shorter than my Blue and White segments. For sake of argument, Faceless Devourer probably should have been a 1/1 for two, and Faceless Butcher is probably better than Nekrataal, thanks to his ability to remove Protection from Black creatures from the game, his ability to survive Wildfire, and the fact that he’s uncounterable.

Fallen Ideal
Now, let’s see how many people rushed to the forums to post about the inaccuracies in my Faceless Butcher evaluation, rather than contribute anything meaningful to discussion! It’s a lot easier to just nitpick inaccuracies then to write a 50,000 word set review. It’s fine to point out when I, or other people, make mistakes. It’s not fine to be rude, snide, or jerky about it. If you’re going to post something in the forums, make it count for something. Add to the discussion. Otherwise, you’re just some second-hand knucklehead who is riding on my coattails.

I can’t tell if this is a homage or a lazy rip-off of the 5th Edition version of Weakness.

Tribute or Cop-out? YOU DECIDE!

Personally, this one feels more like a lazy touch-up than a homage to me, but who knows. Either way, Feebleness is worse than…

Funeral Charm
People tend to dismiss a lot of the charms on first glance, because each effect, in and of itself, is pretty mundane. Charms are the original split cards, except each part of the split has the same mana cost. Funeral Charm can be broken down as:


Rip (B): Target player discards a card.
Tear (B): Target creature gets +2/-1 until end of turn.
Trash (B): Target creature gains swampwalk until end of turn.

The first is one of the few effective ways to force discard at instant speed. I’ve seen many players lose a key non-Instant spell when they draw into an empty hand, and lose their card to Funeral Charm. The second can be used to kill a one-toughness guy (Dark Confidant) or to allow your guy to swing through for extra damage in a pinch (4/1 Dauthi Slayer for the win). The third ability is probably the least used, but I remember Ihsan’s Shade swinging in for an unblockable five damage back in the day.

Many other charms have had varying degrees of usefulness, but none of the one-cost charms have been quite as good as Funeral Charm. If we rated each independently useful ability as a 1, and each situationally-useful ability as a .5, here’s what we end up with:

Gorgon Recluse
This is one reason you’d want to play a Black Madness deck, and it’s right on par with Basking Rootwalla and Arrogant Wurm. I’d say that cheating Thicket Basilisk into play on turn 2 or 3 is not irrelevant, and Gorgon Recluse can block and kill virtually all non-evasion weenies in the format. Will it be worth trying to incorporate madness cards into a deck? At this point, they don’t seem to be numerous enough/powerful enough as a whole in Standard to work around (remember, U/G Madness had Aquamoeba, Wild Mongrel, Deep Analysis, Roar of the Wurm, and Wonder to help with the whole discarding cards on purpose theme), but keep an eye out for Extended and future-block uses for Black madness cards.

Haunting Hymn
In general, Wizards of the Coast avoids printing discard effects that are useable at instant speed. This is to keep people from locking down an opponent’s draw step, once that opponent has no cards in hand (aside from the card drawn that turn). Haunting Hymn (and Funeral Charm) break this rule, but Haunting Hymn is at a prohibitive mana cost. In addition, since this card is a homage to Hymn to Tourach, it would have been nice to make that discard be at random.

Liege of the Pit
If Ancestral Visions is the most divisive card in Time Spiral regarding playable/unplayable, Liege of the Pit is number two. Some see it as a seven-mana 7/7 with a major drawback, and others see it as the second coming of Exalted Angel. Just to play devil’s advocate, let me put on my Al Pacino outfit.

Exalted Angel cost three to put down, and four to morph. That’s the same cost as Liege of the Pit.
Liege of the Pit has two forms of evasion, and hits for seven.
Even if you can’t pay the “sacrifice a creature” cost, chances are you’re going to hit for fourteen damage versus being hit for seven damage.

Exalted Angel was easier to cast, unmorphed.
Exalted Angel was splashable. Liege of the Pits pretty much requires mono-Black.
Exalted Angel could swing an entire damage race. Liege of the Pit only races.

I think Liege of the Pits has a place at the top of the curve of an aggressive Black deck. He’s not as good as Exalted Angel, but he’s far from unplayable as well. Remember, morph trumps Split Second. Your opponent casts Sudden Shock, and suddenly you’ve got a 7/7 with only five damage.

Lim-Dul the Necromancer
Lim-Dul continues the other fine WOTC tradition, that of printing a seven-to-eight mana Legend that is generally useless for tournament play, but that generally appeals to multi-player groups, Timmies, and Johnnies. See also: Borborygmos, Chorus of the Conclave, Razia, Sisters of Stone Death, Szadek, Bounteous Kirin, Konda, most Myojin, Oyobi, Patron of the Moon, Patron of the Orochi, Patron of the Nezumi, Sekki, Yomiji. Most of these are not good reanimation targets, either.

Living End
Seriously, there’s a dredge deck somewhere. Living End seems to be one of the few suspend cards that has a good time-to-preparation cost. Throw it in the air on turn 3 or 4 and then dredge a million cards for turn 6 or 7. It’s a lot harder for an opponent to play around Living End than, say, Restore Balance or Hypergenesis – not all decks are designed to put a ton of creatures into a graveyard.

Magus of the Mirror
Mirror Universe used to be one of the best cards in Vintage, before Sixth Edition rules changes. Back in the day, you didn’t die when reaching zero life – you died at the end of a phase where you had zero life or less. This meant that if, for instance, you were playing Mirror Universe, you could bring yourself to zero during your upkeep by using pain lands/City of Brass, and then switch life totals with your opponent via Mirror Universe. This was the primary kill condition of “The Deck”, the protypical U/W control deck developed by ancient Magic guru Brian Weissman. Once the rule changed to “instant death at zero life”, Mirror Universe went away.

Magus of the Mirror suffers from the same problems, and in addition is on a very-easy to remove 4/2 body. This is easily the weakest of the five-card Magus cycle, but think of it this way – what is the fair cost on a creature that can, potentially read as follows:

Tap, sacrifice: Target opponent loses 19 life. You gain 19 life.

If you think of it that way, Magus of the Mirror isn’t so bad. Still, it does die easily, it has major restrictions on usage (can only be used during your upkeep, so haste doesn’t help it), and it costs six to drop into play.

A note about elegance: This creature did not need to tap to activate, especially given the restriction about use only during upkeep. Having it sacrifice would have been enough (I doubt putting Magus of the Mirror in an Amber Prison is going to come up often), but it is a duplication of the text on Mirror Universe, which also should have not needed to tap to activate.

Mana Skimmer
Vito the pimp and Chutney the enforcer broke his hands for skimming. Don’t touch the Don’s money.

Also, is it just me, or is Mana Skimmer a giant, throbbing purple dong?

Mindlash Sliver
A.k.a. Earsplitting Rats Sliver? Rix Maadi Sliver? I call this guy playable – he’s discard spell #3 in the set that can go off at instant speed, he enables Hellbent and Madness, and he’s a sliver. He can be activated without summoning sickness, and he can block and then force a discard. This is one of the Slivers that is playable outside of a tribal setting.

Coming through that portal is ol’ Mindstab Thrull. Mindstab Thrull cost three. This costs six, or five turns, take your pick. I’m tired of talking about suspend cards that are irrelevant, so whenever one comes up in the rest of these set reviews, you’re going to get lyrics from Copacabana.

Nether Traitor
One of the better creatures of this type (coming back after other creatures die), and one that benefits greatly from Bad Moon. I can see this being used a lot in weenie decks, since it gives the Black deck one (or several, if you draw several) creature(s) after a Wrath effect.

Nightshade Assassin
First Wizards complains that Nektrataal shouldn’t have first strike, and then they reprint Madness Nektrataal with first strike. Actually, this isn’t Nekrataal – it’s less splashable, and it kills fewer creatures. It does kill Black and artifact creatures, which was a major weakness of Nekrataal (four for a 2/1 first striker with no special abilities is pretty awful).

This is, irrationally, my favorite card in the set.

From dictionary.com:

phthi·sis, also phthis·ic
A disease characterized by the wasting away or atrophy of the body or a part of the body.
Tuberculosis of the lungs. No longer in scientific use.

Many see BBBB3 and immediately discard this card as useless, but I see it as a major force out of the sideboard. For seven mana, you not only kill your opponent’s best creature, but you make them lose around 8-12 life in the process. Seven mana for a Fireball/Lunge variant sounds like a great deal to me. Unlike Draining Whelk (which I see as a win-more card), I see Phthisis as an alternate road to victory. The suspend cost on this card also puts your opponent on a clock – just make sure you’re not the only one with a creature on the board when it unsuspends!

Pit Keeper
Oath of Ghouls, meet Gravedigger. Gravedigger, meet Oath of Ghouls. Liege of the Pit, meet Pit Keeper. Pit Keeper… dammit, Liege of the Pit! I told you to stop eating the help. Bad Liege of the Pit *broom handle to face* bad, bad Liege of the Pit! You sleep outside tonight!

Plague Sliver
What’s the worth of Juzam Djinn? It may be sacrilege for me to say this as a dealer, but too damn much. Nobody is playing Juzam Djinn in Legacy or Vintage, yet he retains a three-figure value. There are other more-playable Rares from Arabian Nights that are of lesser value (Old Man of the Sea pops to mind), yet Juzam is the poster child for cards that have a value inflated almost solely on nostalgia. Is Juzam Djinn any good?

Plague Sliver will finally answer that question, once and for all. Grinning Demon and Moroii didn’t hack it, but each of those was not 5/5 for four plus a damage a turn. Yes, multiple Plague Slivers damage you exponentially – but a single Plague Sliver is equal to a single Juzam Djinn. Is there a market for a 5/5 Black creature with this drawback and that mana cost?

Plague Sliver has the added benefit of doubling as a Sliver hoser for random Sliver decks you might play against. It survives Char, Psionic Blast, and Sudden Death (remember, five is the magic Magic toughness now. This compares favorably to Rumbling Slum – even though it’s one-sided, it’s much, much easier to cast.

Premature Burial
I am not entering the debate regarding abortion/pro-life. Therefore, I refuse to acknowledge the existence of this card.

Psychotic Episode
This is, easily, the best Madness card in the set. It’s yet another discard spell that can be cast at Instant speed, but in this case, it’s Coercion. Coercion at three mana has been played before in Standard, and Coercion at two-mana strikes me as the playable Distress and Castigate. The difference between Psychotic Episode and those two is that you can get a free use out of Psychotic Episode (for instance, pitching it Wild Mongrel), and you can hit lands.

I can’t decide if this is good or not. I think it’s fine for a weenie deck (since you can shut it off any time you want – the payment is not mandatory), just like Flesh Reaver was fine for Suicide Black decks. It’s not as good as Carnophage (two damage for one damage is a better ratio than three damage for two), but it’s able to go face-to-face with Watchwolf and Scab-Clan Mauler – plus it gets a free turn of blocking on turn 2.

Sengir Autocrat
Sengir Autocrat seems so lonely without Hecatomb to light the way. Hecatomb is busy moonlighting as an entirely different game at this point, so Hecatomb doesn’t have time for Sengir Autocrat anymore. Poor, poor lonely Sengir Autocrat. No woman no cry.

Sengir Nosferatu
When you look back at Sengir Vampire, you realize that the only reason it got played was because the rest of Black’s creatures truly did suck back in the “good ol’ days.” In multiple returns to duty, Sengir Vampire has sat on the sidelines, along with Air Elemental. Sengir Vampire might as well be Air Elemental, because the +1/+1 counter ability has long been the ass-end of abilities that you can give a creature.

Players have been so conditioned to largely ignoring the latest vampire-du-jour (notable exception: Skeletal Vampire) that Sengir Nosferatu is another casualty of war. It costs seven mana to drop and protect, and nine mana if you think you might face double creature kill. It dies to Sudden Death, but it dodges other removal once online. Anyone care to chime in with their playtest results on this dude?

Shadow Guildmage
Possibly the best one-drop in Standard right now. This deals with virtually every other one-drop creature, contributes in the late game, saves your creatures from removal, and works extremely well in the Rakdos strategy. Granger Guildmage outshone him the first time around thanks to interactions with Quirion Ranger, but Shadow Guildmage may very well be the defining card in Black/Red at States – even more so than Magus of the Scroll.

Skittering Monstrosity
Skittering Skirge and Skittering Horror were good for two reasons – Dark Ritual, and because they broke the power/toughness curve via their drawback. Skittering Monstrosity is slower, and is Silverback Ape with a drawback. Wouldn’t you rather just play Juzam Sliver if you want a 5/5?

Skulking Knight
Joins the ranks of Skulking Ghost and Skulking Fugitive as cards that are marginally playable against decks without targeting and horribly bad against Shadow Guildmage/Scryb Ranger.

For two mana, you get Innocent Blood, mutual discard, Raze, and loss of life. This is backbreaking against an opponent who drops turn 1 Birds/Elves, turn 2 bounceland. This is actually backbreaking against any number of decks – now Black has a pretty good answer on the play to a turn 1 drop. Smallpox will usually trade three for three (you lose a land, a card and Smallpox – they lose a land, a creature, and a card), but is costed so aggressively that the loss of those cards will cripple the game plan of many opponents. Learn to play against this – you’ll face it many, many times at States and over the coming year. Heck, learn to play with it – it’s good.

Soul Collector
This does have some really awesome artwork, Ted. Too bad it falls under that “Vampires that don’t really matter much” category I mentioned above.

Strangling Soot
I tend to think that this compares favorably with Chainer’s Edict, although it can’t kill untargetable (Simic Sky Swallower) creatures. It still deals well with lots of other guys, and it can easily get a two-for-one over the course of a longer game.

Stronghold Overseer
I tend to think that Flying and Shadow are redundant on this card, since Shadow seems like enough of an evasion ability to matter. Still, the flying seems to be there for flavor reasons – and to give Green a chance to kill this guy. This is not as good as Kokusho – Kokusho could block and Drain Life for five, whereas this guy is made to swing. To his benefit, Wizards made the activated ability work as both an offensive and defensive ability – this will work heavily in Stronghold Overseer’s favor. Without the ability to give all opposing creatures -1/-0 (or, more likely, -3/-0), this would have been a slightly-improved Two-Headed Dragon.

In an age of Distress and Castigate, and Duress and Cabal Therapy (for Extended), Stupor just doesn’t seem to be on-the-curve anymore. Nobody is playing Mind Rot, and I don’t think the addition of one instance of random will make people want to play Mind Rot. See also: Rise / Fall, or the lack thereof.

Sudden Death
Split Second, such a good mechanic. Sudden Death deals with a ton of problem creatures, and moreso than Sudden Shock. Sudden Shock doesn’t kill Masticore, Morphling, Loxodon Hierarch, Magus of the Disk, Plaxcaster Frogling, or Ravenous Baloth. This was a major get for Black, and I fully expect Sudden Death to become a staple in both Standard and Extended. There’s not much else to say here – this is just plain good.

Sudden Spoiling
You’d think that they’d reference Sorceress Queen somewhere within the flavor of this card – in the art, in flavor text, somewhere – but no. Instead, we get the casting cost, the 0/2, and nothing else. It’s a one-way Humility, and a better Fog effect than Darkness. Will Black side this in against U/G as a way to kill Simic Sky Swallower through a wall of Countermagic? Possibly – I don’t see this having use offensively, but it’s definitely something to consider if you need to kill guys late-game defensively.

Swamp Mosquito
I’ll talk about poison in Green. Wait for it!

Tendrils of Corruption
Corrupt was a decent card, but cost six to cast. It could go to the dome, but it was a sorcery. Tendrils of Corruption turns Corrupt into a creature-only instant, and that’s something definitely worth looking at for mono-Black control. Compare this to Ribbons of Night – it will do more damage and gain more life, at Instant speed, but at the loss of drawing a card. I can think of several decks that would love to gain six life and kill a creature, for only four mana.

Traitor’s Clutch
Deep Analysis is so good, because even if you never hard cast it, it’s playable as 1U, pay three life: Draw 2 cards. That’s pretty close to Night’s Whisper. Traitor’s Clutch is nowhere near as good on either end of the card, and will likely be forgotten outside of Limited play.

Trespasser il-Vec
Wild Mongrel for Black. This might be as good as you get, if you’re looking to enable Madness in Standard. It’s quite worse than Wild Mongrel, but Dauthi Marauder was playable back in the day. Ogre Marauder saw block play, and Trespasser il-Vec will probably see block play as well. Will he make the leap to Standard? It depends on how good Madness ends up being.

Twisted Abomination
Overshadowed by Eternal Dragon the first time around, Twisted Abomination is another gift given to Black in this set. It can fetch Ravnica dual lands in the early game (or just Swamps, if you’re mono-Black), and it can hold its own on the board in the late game. One of the few cards that is genuinely useful both early and late, and it makes me wish that Wizards brought back the kicker mechanic for a full treatment.

Uncle Istvan
Reprinted, unlike Brother of Fire, Sisters of the Flame, or Auntie Anne.

Undead Warchief
Right on the cusp of playability the first time around, and able to work well with many Zombies the second time around. I hate to keep saying this, but Bad Moon may push this over the top. Bad Moon seems to be recurring a lot in my discussions today.

Some see this as a madness outlet, but I see it as a 1/1 creature that was pretty bad the first time around, and will likely be pretty bad today. At least we got this instead of Bog Witch.

Urborg Syphon-Mage
Syphon Mind and Syphon Soul are two cards which piss people off in multi-player games. Urborg Syphon-Mage will give a new definition to the word “Lighting Rod” in games of more than two players.

Vampiric Sliver
A.k.a. Sengir Vampire Sliver, except without flying. Look, I already said that this is one of the most useless abilities you can give a creature. Please don’t play this. It doesn’t even work well with Psionic Sliver.

Viscid Lemures
The in-joke here is that Hyalopterous Lemure was supposed to be a depiction of the undead spirits, and it ended up being a giant lemur. The flavor text of this card references that fact – and the mechanic/power/toughess/mana cost of this card references Hyalopterous Lemure as well. Well done, Wizards. This is a homage done right.

Withered Wretch
What’s to say? He was a staple of Black decks the first time around, he’s played a lot in Extended, and he’ll be a staple the second time around. Much more effective than Tormod’s Crypt in many cases – Tormod’s Crypt isn’t going to beat for two.

Check in next week, as I check into Red!