Betrayers of Kamigawa Limited Review – Black

If you’ve read any of Nick’s articles recently, you know that unlike most pros, he hates Black. Well Betrayers of Kamigawa is out now, but were there enough good commons and uncommons to change Nick’s mind, or is Black still so bad that even the totally sweet power of rat ninjas isn’t enough to sway his opinion?

I read somewhere that it’s bad for you to watch television or be on the computer in a dark room.

Seems pretty likely that it’s true, because I’m doing it right now and anytime I take my eyes off of the screen and look at something else in the room for even a second, I’m left with blurry vision momentarily. I should probably get up and turn the light on, but I’m pretty comfortable and actually just feel like unloading all of my thoughts on Black in Betrayers. Right here, right now, in my pitch black room… fitting.

Betrayers Black seems to contain a large number of marginal cards that make better sideboard options than maindeck ones. Let’s take a closer look.


Bile Urchin

I know what you’re thinking. Another 1/1 with a mediocre ability right?

I know I’ve said it before, but I really like this cycle of guys. All of their abilities are pretty relevant and they provide nice little Soulshift targets and Spiritcraft triggers. The Urchin in this case complements Black nicely, since he is a cheap spirit for Greed and also helps deal that last point (or couple points if you can shift him) when you’re sneaking damage through with Kami of the Waning Moon and a ground man. I wouldn’t mind playing one of these in most Black decks and sometimes more if synergy warrants it.

Blessing of Leeches

A few people have played this on me recently and it only cemented my already negative opinion of it.

The benefit here is obviously that it regenerates for zero mana and can be played at instant speed. Paying one life a turn for this is just awful, if you ask me. Serpent Skin is widely considered to be a playable, but unexciting card and this thing is much worse than its Green counterpart. I understand that it’s not in Black’s nature to have a “Regeneration” creature enchantment, but the cost is simply too high here.

This is playable if you have absolutely nothing else, but I generally don’t like casting Relic Bane on myself.

Call for Blood

This reminds me of Waste Away, except that it’s worse.

Sure you can do it with combat damage on the stack, and it does have Arcane. But what does all of that effort get you? An even trade off.

As far as Black goes in this format, it’s pretty overloaded with removal and you’re usually going to be taking a creature over this unless you find yourself without any kill in pack three. I will say that it is a nice outlet if you have something like Kokusho or Ryusei that you may need to sac off and have no other way to do so.

In the end, it’s playable, but not exactly desirable.

Crawling Filth

Last I heard, Severed Legion cost three mana.

How in the world does adding “Soulshift 5” to a card make it cost three more?

This is another of those timeless questions that great minds have sat and pondered but never found the answer to. Some things in life just don’t make sense.

Our friend the Filth is still a fine sideboard card against U/W or G/W or simply an addition to the top of a long Soulshift chain if you’re lacking late-game plays or your opponent has a lot of removal. He’s yet another marginal common for Black.

Horobi’s Whisper

It was about time for a change of pace.

This is easily the best common in the set for Limited. While it’s at its best in U/B where you can quickly fill the graveyard as well as have plenty of cheap Arcanes to splice it onto, Dark Banishing was never an unwelcome addition to any Limited deck that could cast it.

Unfortunately Wizards decided to discourage any trickery by adding the “If you control a Swamp” clause to the splice cost. Otherwise you’d have players like me running it in Arcane decks without a Swamp in sight. I can still dream, can’t I?

Okina-Gang Shinobi

Sick of Waking Nightmare?

I dunno why you would be, it’s a great card.

But, if you are, Betrayers has the remedy. Waking Nightmare with legs here is simply nuts. Even if he only gets through once and attacks your opponent’s hand, he leaves behind a hefty 3/2 body. After that, you should be able to force him through with Kami of the Waning Moon or just trade him off for a decent creature and a massive amount of total card advantage. I really like this card and suggest you take it highly if you have some evasion to get it through. It will usually make it through the first time though, which is plenty good enough even if you don’t have a ton of fliers.

Psychic Spear

This is yet another ugly stepchild.

They may try, but none of them will live up to the standards of the all-powerful Duress.

This may end up being really good in Block Constructed, and I think it has its place as a niche sideboard card in Limited. I also wouldn’t run mind running it maindeck if I had to, as it doesn’t miss very often seeing as Spirit and Arcane is the best theme in the format. It’s no Duress, but it does its job well.

Skullmane Baku

So I hear you’re short on top-end creatures?

This really isn’t as bad as it looks, I promise. A 2/1 for five doesn’t usually fit the bill, but the format has slowed down and if he’s able to activate a couple of times in a control matchup it could easily turn the tide. Just beware of First Volley or your five mana investment will be shot right into the toilet.


Say it’s turn 2 and you have a Bile Urchin in play and another Swamp in hand. You attack for one, cast Skullsnatcher and pass the turn, right? Wrong!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone miss this seemingly obvious play. They will just attack for one and then cast Snatcher after combat. Hello people, he does have Ninjitsu for one Black mana! So please, if you happen to find yourself in this spot, do the extra point of damage and recast your one-drop. Sheesh.

Other than that, he’s a fine 2/1 for two mana that I’m only really excited about if I have Shuriken or my opponent likes fooling around with the stuff in his graveyard.

Stir the Grave

This is basically a form of Raise Dead since you are “casting” the creature by paying X colorless mana. This may help if you can’t actually cast said creature, but more often than not this is simply going to be worse than Raise Dead would be in this format.

How so, you ask?

There are quite a few cards that say “If you play a Spirit or Arcane spell, this happens…” Wouldn’t you rather take advantage of all those triggers at the cost of having the right colored mana (which is almost never going to be an issue since there’s no way to discard things easily to begin with)? I know I sure would, and that’s why I’m sticking to my Soulless Revivals. Again, play it if you must, but I hope you aren’t happy about it.

We got a Bleeder!

Takenuma Bleeder

“What are you going to do, Bleed on me?”

Shameless, I know.

What a wonderful three-drop for Black. The drawback is very manageable and he’s an Ogre to boot.

I don’t really see a need for a pick order here, as it’s clear that Whisper is on top and followed by Bleeder and Shinobi. The choice between these two is really dependent on what you’ve got up to that point. If you have lots of evasion I’d definitely take the Shinobi, while decks with lesser evasive potential and possibly lacking in the three-slot should take a look at the Bleeder. The rest of the commons are pretty basic, and if a choice should come up, your deck will dictate which card you should take.

As far as the Uncommons and Rares go, it’s basically a question of whether or not they’re better than Horobi’s Whisper.



Remove from the game you say? Hmm…

Even though this is the best card of the returning cycle, I will still take Whisper over it because Whisper is cheaper, an Instant, and can kill multiple guys. Eradicate is nice because it doesn’t allow for Soulshift or any other silliness and lets you see your opponent’s deck, which can prove to be vital in avoiding whatever combat tricks he has. I’m not even going to get into actually hitting other copies with this card simply because that’s just gravy.

Genju of the Fens

Even the ugly duckling of the Genju family has a place in some decks.

This little guy offers a nice late-game option to anyone packing more than ten Swamps. He will certainly aid in breaking stalemates, and causing general frustration for your opponent. I wouldn’t always play it, especially if my deck was fast and not dominantly Black in color, but it’s not a bad card by any means.

The Hitman Classifieds

Hired Muscle

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what this name means.

My best guess is that he’s some kind of bodyguard or fighter. Not sure exactly why I care either, it’s just a weird name for a card I guess. You have Budoka Pupil, Cunning Bandit, and now Hired Muscle? What the hell is a Hired Muscle? Do you know anyone that’s ever hired a muscle?

“Drop it, Nick, it’s not funny.”

“It’s also not funny when you try to add an outside voice to your already terrible jokes.” [It’s nice that I don’t even need to add comments to bash the bad jokes these days, the writers do it for me. -Knut, chillin’]


As I was saying, the card is clearly insane. Beyond the obvious uses granting a big man fear, it’s a 4/4 for three mana, which is sick. If you have Horobi, Death’s Wail you get to annihilate your opponent’s team for the grand cost of zero mana and a few Ki counters.

This is always better than Horobi’s Whisper unless you have some weird boycott against Spirit and Arcane spells.

Mark of the Oni

I think the printer at Wizards headquarters malfunctioned when printing this card.

I believe the actual text should have read “Gain control of target Demon and cackle maniacally at your opponent.”

Minus the cackling part of course, this is the best use for the card. Since it’s rare for you to have multiple Demon’s, you generally don’t want to play this maindeck, as it won’t do anything unless you draw the Demon to go with it. You can, however, use it as a sideboard card to steal your opponent’s Demons and you’ll find it works wonders. I wouldn’t want to steal Scourge of the Numai without the proper equipment (an Ogre), however, as that could be painful.

Nezumi Shadow-Watcher

I usually would rather have Bile Urchin than this, though this it is somewhat better in Sealed Deck. The fact of the matter is that there just aren’t enough Ninjas right now to warrant this being played as hate.

Now, if you just want a one-drop so you can get out your own Ninjitsu guys, then this guy is fine for the job. I like him if I can grab him late for my board, but I’d generally rather have the Urchin or something else if at all possible.

Ogre Marauder

Upon initial review, this guy looked simply insane.

After playing with and against him a bunch of times though, I’m sorry to report that I’m a little disappointed. While he’s still a great threat on turn 3, he’s not exactly a huge deal in the mid- to late-game. What happens is that the board clogs up a little bit and they get down a 1/4 or other annoying guy that will Soulshift something back and the Marauder just becomes a crappy 3/1 that wishes he was Nezumi Ronin.

He’s really strong in an aggressive deck if you can drop him after playing something like Wicked Akuba or Nezumi Cutthroat on turn 2, but I think as time goes on, he will end up with the same fate as Nezumi Graverobber: Initially considered to be almost a bomb, but eventually realized to be quite mediocre in most spots.

Pus Kami

The opposite side of the spectrum, then, is Pus Kami.

“3/3 for seven? Yeah okay buddy, you have fun with that.”

This seems to be the general consensus on what is known as The Pus. This guy is actually quite deceiving.

Black is quite good at Soulshifting, with frontman Scuttling Death leading the way followed by Gibbering Kami and others. Pus Kami ensures that you will get to start the chain again from the top while also probably blocking and banishing a creature in the process. This thing is invaluable in control matchups and even better with acceleration. Give him a chance and I think you’ll like what you find.

Scourge of the Numai

While I have my own personal opinion on this card, I don’t think many people share my view.

All I remember is the days of Grinning Demon back in Onslaught block and how many people I killed simply by chumping the Grinner and racing them back. The Scourge here is merely a 4/4 with the same ability unless you control an Ogre. So if you do happen to have an Ogre, this guy is quite good, but otherwise I think you’re entering a world of hurt. Also consider that it can’t morph and therefore have theoretical haste on turn 4 like the Grinner could.

I’ve seen people playing this on multiple occasions with one or even zero Ogres in this deck, and I really don’t understand why. Yeah a 4/4 for four is good, but at what cost?

I could easily be wrong about this, as this format is very different from Onslaught, but my advice would be to be careful with this guy as you just may wind up killing yourself with it if it doesn’t belong in your deck to begin with.

Three Tragedies

I tried to come up with something witty for this, but failed miserably.

I won’t usually recommend playing this unless you’ve got a bunch of one for one removal spells and you’re hoping to induce a war of attrition. If you do manage to hit your opponent with this when he has exactly three cards left in hand though, it will be devastating to say the least.

I prefer Waking Nightmare mainly because it’s cheaper. With that said, Mr. Aten seems to really like this card, and his arguments are very solid as to why he thinks it is good. I’ve only tried it once and wasn’t happy with it, but I think I’ll have to test it out more. It could end up being huge in the environment now that it’s slowed down a bit.

Throat Slitter

Could a creature possibly be more annoying?

The posterchild for Ninjitsu here is a very solid pick, and easily better than Whisper. He is essentially guaranteed to kill one guy, and possibly many more and does so with ease. If you manage to get Phantom Wings on him or have a Soratami Mirror-Guard in play, your opponent will probably pack in a hurry. Hats off to the design team as well, as I think he’s costed just right so that he’s good, but not broken for Limited.


Goryo’s Vengeance

The legendary limitation on this card will likely prove too daunting for Limited applications, with the possible exception of a deck that could recycle Kokusho (if you have a way to keep sacrificing it like Blood Rites) for loads of damage or one of my classic Through the Breach creations.

I bet it will have some impact in Constructed since it is a strong card, as any reusable Shallow Grave would be.

Hero’s Demise

This is a solid mid-to-late pick that serves best as a sideboard option.

If you do see a bunch of decent legends roaming the draft, then by all means feel free to maindeck it. A great answer to most of the bombs in this format, but not something you can pick highly and definitely worse than Whisper because of the restriction.

Ink Eyes, Servant of Oni

Bomb rare anyone?

It’s the best Black rare for Limited in fact. And make no mistake, there are a number of very good ones. This girl is near impossible to kill or block and once she starts reanimating your guys, you better reach for the sideboard for that Heart of Light.

If your opponent gets Inky into play, good luck dealing with her. That’s all I have to say about that. Oh yeah, she also has Ninjitsu. Wooonderful.

Kyoki, Sanity’s Eclipse

Quite a big man to have a Spiritcraft trigger on it, but a solid body and a nice trigger nevertheless.

This is certainly a high pick, though Whisper is probably better unless you can get Kyoki out early and activate it multiple times before your opponent empties his hand. A big guy is something that Black is usually lacking though, so I’d still take him very high. Especially nice with everyone’s favorite 1/1 flier for three as well.

Patron of the Nezumi

Another big man, though this time the ability can become painful very quickly if they start chumpblocking him or you kill some of his guys with removal spells.

His real strength is in the Rat Offering ability as you can have a 6/6 goof out there on turn 4 and also snag an unsuspecting attacker. If you have lots of Rats I wouldn’t even consider passing this guy, and don’t forget that there are a bunch of Rats in Betrayers as well.

Without Rats he’s just a big clunker that won’t be overly difficult to deal with.

Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker

Tim Aten was right to move this guy up on his list, since when you get him working, he is completely nuts. There are plenty of ways to abuse this ability and Tim went over most of them. I particularly like the Moonlit Strider idea as you basically recurse your entire graveyard of Spirits while still protecting Shirei. Frostling and Sakura-Tribe Elder are also quite potent. I’d take this over Whisper if I had a few ways to abuse the ability.

Don’t forget that it also creates an infinite blocker.

Sickening Shoal

Now this is something to get excited about.

A powerful rare for both Limited and Constructed, this thing is good whether you pay the alternate cost or just hardcast it. It has no “non-Black” limitations and has everything you look for in a removal spell. The fact that it can be cast for free is just ludicrous. Don’t pass it. Tim has this slightly below Whisper, and while it may be too close to call, I feel that being able to kill Black guys, as well as an annoyance like an Indestructible man pushes this slightly above Whisper. Not to mention that it can be free. Honestly though, I’d be happy to be making the decision to begin with and they aren’t that far apart in power level.

Toshiro Umezawa

I’ve had this guy once, and in a deck with plenty of instants, and he turned out to be excellent. I took it over Whisper at the time, and ended up happy with that choice as well. Your deck needs to be set up for it or else it’s just a 2/2 Bushido 1 for three, but if you have around 6-7 instants, I’d say don’t pass him for anything, so long as your instants are mainly removal spells.

If you’re able to cast the same kill spell twice in one turn, your opponent will get wrecked pretty quickly.

Yukora, The Prisoner

This is without a doubt the best Juzam ever. The drawback will be more meaningful in Limited, but still well worthwhile. If you play this on turn 4 or earlier, I feel bad for whoever has to deal with it.

The other nice thing is that it’s at its best in B/R where there are tons of Ogres that don’t even care if it dies. Definitely better than Whisper for most decks.

Final Thoughts

The big change in Black now that Betrayers is in the format is that Kami of the Waning Moon is now very important. I remember a time when people were calling him unplayable and now he’s one of the key elements of any Black deck. Heck, I’d be happy to have two to three copies most drafts. I also think that the removal from Champions went down a notch, as I’d much rather have a Scuttling Death than Befoul in most of my decks. Maybe this isn’t the widely accepted opinion, but I think we’ll be seeing some changes in the cores of Black draft decks over the next couple months as the new set works its way in.

I am warming up to Black slightly, and definitely want to try out Three Tragedies some more, but it’s still my least favorite color and it would take a lot to change that. Reprint Faceless Butcher in the last set perhaps? Unlikely. A man can still hope though.

Next week we’ll wrap up the colors with Green, and then one final installment of this series with Artifacts, Lands, and general format overview on archetypes, fluctuating values of Champions cards, and anything else I feel is necessary to talk about.

Nick Eisel

Soooooo on MODO

[email protected]