For brief reference, here is what the”funky animal” parts mean:
- Rattlesnake, for its ability to warn off opponents;
- Gorilla, for its ability to smash the board;
- Spider, for its ability to bait and surprise into card advantage;
- Pigeon, for its feeding off of large groups of people; and
- Plankton, for their general willingness to supply the entire animal kingdom with sustenance.
I have to say I’m really happy with this rating system so far! (As am I – The Ferrett) Readers seem to like it from first week response, and it saves me saying the same thing about cards with similar dynamics over and over. Instead, I can spend the space on more cards to include, and more interactions. You folks can keep sending in your ideas; even if I’ve already covered a color, there’s always version 5! (And yes, I do hang on to those emails and include as many ideas as I can with each new edition. So it can make a difference in what you, and everyone else, reads.)
A brief reminder that the first card in each color (that is to say, the 25th ranked slot) is the”splashable” slot, which allows me to give a nod to some of the fantastic cards in Invasion block that are not gold, but not quite mono-black, either.
It should come as little surprise to most of my readers that I have a strong affinity for powerhouse black cards. Only red can compare with black’s tendency for relentless, smashmouth group play. And with Masques and Invasion block, black received some excellent tools for backing up its aggressive threats with loud warning signals. When viewed from any angle — the broad choices of strategy within mono-decks, what it provides in splashing with other colors, its tendency to put everyone in the same miserable boat without any oars — black SHOULD be the strongest multiplayer color.
But it’s not. Black’s complete inability to deal with enchantments and artifacts make splashing another color almost a necessity. At the very least, you’ll want your own meddling artifacts — like Smokestack and Phyrexian Splicer — to complicate the board situation for other players. When you use the cards below, black might very well be the primary color of your deck. But it shouldn’t be the only color.
In any case, an interesting note about this color in the Hall is that what creatures are to green, horrific global enchantments are to black. (This list has twelve…Well, twelve and a half, with Takklemaggot.)
I have been making a huge error of omission to this list. There is a”new” number one, which I cannot believe I never remembered in the past three versions of the list. I’ve known about the card almost since I started Magic in earnest three years ago, but for some reason I never put that card, and this list, together. No no no, don’t scroll down and read it right away! You’ll wreck the suspense! (And regular readers know full well that I have ways of penalizing scrollers. Trust me on this: You don’t want to scroll.)
(It’s true: I know for a fact that Anthony is always anxious to use his Cursed Scroll – The Ferrett, wondering whether Alongi was setting him up for this or whether it’s just the happiest pun he’s been able to make lately)
25. PHYREXIAN INFILTRATOR
[2B, 2/2 Creature. 2UU: Exhange control of Phyrexian Infiltrator and target creature.]
Similar Cards: None in black, but see some older blue cards (e.g., Legerdemain) for interesting history.
Infiltrator is used in Limited formats to trade eventually for the best creature in your opponent’s play area. In multiplayer, it’s used differently. It almost is a 7cc creature, because you want to be able to use it immediately. Of course, 90% of the time, you don’t use it immediately — but you need to show that you can.
Typically, the most effective way to use the Infiltrator is to block a large creature with it, and then trade with that creature (or another) when damage is on the stack. They trade, damage resolves, and your opponent watches their new recruit go to your graveyard. Make sure your table knows how that trick works; otherwise you’re not scaring them enough. The idea, after all, is for them not to attack you at all.
While the”rattlesnake” element is high, it’s worth noting that most people still don’t expect a predominantly black deck to steal their creature from them. So with some careful baiting (see enhancements below) and seven mana, you can get some considerable”spider” value out of the card as well. In this case, the Infiltrator reads more like a 7cc sorcery. Really for use only on large bombs, where gaining control of the creature immediately will make a difference independent of you having a big, cool creature. (I’m thinking of Verdant Force, here, and little else.)
The Infiltrator is largely useless against blue mages, who can put their own trading ability on the stack if it ever passes into their control. That’s bad; but since group games where everyone is playing blue are rare, the Infiltrator can almost always find someone to scare.
Enhancements: Even blue mages will fear the card if you have the ability to sack creatures at instant speed, say with Altar of Dementia or Attrition. If you plan on that block-and-switch tactic, you should also be packing recursion.
Countermeasures: Two islands is still your best bet. Small but efficient creatures are also great: The Infiltrator’s controller doesn’t want to give up a good 2/2 to get… Another good 2/2. Sackable creatures work, too.
[2BB Enchant Creature. During target creature’s controller’s upkeep, put a -0/-1 counter on that creature. If the creature is put into the graveyard, its controller chooses a new target creature for Takklemaggot. If there are no legal targets, Takklemaggot becomes a global enchantment; during his or her upkeep, Takklemaggot deals 1 damage to the controller of the last creature Takklemaggot enchanted. Control of Takklemaggot does not change when its target changes or when it becomes an enchantment.]
Every time I revise the Hall, I add five more slots to each color. Every time I do this, I push Takklemaggot further down the list. Really, I’m not crazy about the card… But I got so many people telling me how much they loved it when I first started Casual Fridays, I’m afraid I’ll hear much grief if I ever take it off the list! (My more politic term for cards like these are”Readers’ Choice”.)
In all seriousness, I can see the sentimental value of a card with an ability — and a name, like Takklemaggot. Like a true soldier, it bears the grim barbs of ridicule and periodic ineffectiveness with measured grace and unswerving consistency. Rage on, Takklemaggot. We salute you.
Enhancements: Please don’t ask me to enhance this.
Countermeasures: How about a multi-tiered strategy, involving Varchild’s War Riders, Legerdemain, and a rubber band, to assure yourself you don’t have the last… What’s that? You don’t care if your 24/24 Beast of Burden has -1/-1? Well, then, never mind.
23. YAWGMOTH’S AGENDA
[3BB Enchantment. Play no more than one spell per turn. You may play cards in your graveyard as though they were in your hand. If a card would be put into your graveyard from anywhere, remove it from the game instead.]
Similar cards: Yawgmoth’s Will is a sorcery with only one part in common with the Agenda, but it’s the important part: Spell recursion.
The Agenda is a great late-game tool to knock the wind out of opponents who figure you’ve used up most of your removal, creatures, land, etc. You must play instants when you play this card; otherwise it goes from top 25 to one of the worst black multiplayer cards, ever.
Enhancements: Magma Burst and Rushing River are safer to play with kicker (before the Agenda comes out, please) since some day you’ll get that land back. I also like instant-speed creatures like Raging Kavu, Defender of Chaos, and Simian Grunts with this. According to D’Angelo rulings, buyback spells are up to you how they work, since two replacement effects are going at it at once. So if you want the spell later, go ahead and pay the buyback.
Countermeasures: Agenda needs a full graveyard to be effective when it comes out. So you could be cute, and take pains not to put anything in the graveyard of a player you know has the Agenda in his deck. Watch the guy as he sits and looks at his hand, with one or two copies of the Agenda essentially showing off only their drawbacks.
22. WALL OF SOULS
[1B, 0/4 Creature. Whenever a creature deals combat damage to Wall of Souls, it deals an equal amount of damage to that creature’s controller.]
One of the best early plays for control black in multiplayer. In the mid-game it often becomes less useful, and even acts as sort of a magnet, as flyers come out and opponents seek to make up lost ground.
Enhancements: If your black deck is splashing green for enchantment control, consider that Emerald Charm also drops flyers to ground level so your Wall can block that Fairie Squadron. (Hey, look! It’s a green Lighting Bolt!) Another good mid-game strategy is to bolster the toughness of the wall — say, with Conviction.
Countermeasures: The damage only applies if it’s taking it from an attacker (or, in some weird scenario, a blocker). So burn away. Green mages often make the mistake of leaving the Wall alone, since they don’t want to take the damage. Just plow through as soon as you have a four-power creature, and be done with it. You don’t want to wait until there are two of them out.
One indicator that I have been spending entirely too much time playing Limited format (as the red/black mage on Mom Has the Kids…Again) was my immediate thought, upon putting this version of the Hall together, that Stun would be a good tempo card against the Wall.”Turn one, Nightscape Battlemage, turn two Rogue Kavu, turn three, Stun your Wall, swing for three and draw a card…” Ahem. Anyway, red mages probably have other ways of dealing with a wall.
21. URBORG STALKER
[3B, 2/4 Creature. At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, if that player controls any non-black, non-land permanent, Urborg Stalker deals one damage to that player.]
An excellent early to mid-game creature for black decks of many types. As punishing a blocker as the Wall of Souls (but in a different way), the Stalker fends off weenies, but also productively whittles away at multiple players’ life totals, all without tapping or sacking or any of that other annoying stuff that requires your concentration.
The damage is not optional. If a player forgets, you go back and tick the life off later. This is a card that requires some attention by the group, in a rules sense.
Enhancements: You’ll have to look out for other mono-black mages, and their creatures. What to do? Well, artifacts are not black, and they are not lands. So why not turn black creatures into artifacts with Forge[/author]“]Thran [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]? Not the most efficient path to victory, but certainly doable and fun. (Plus, you’ll get to use your Dark Banishing on the creature as well.)
Countermeasures: Darkest Hour is a bit overboard. But then again, so was the Forge[/author]“]Thran [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]! Simple spot removal should do the trick.
20. DEATH PITS OF RATH
[3BB Enchantment. Whenever a creature is dealt damage, destroy it. It can’t be regenerated.]
Similar cards: Fatal Blow is the instant, spot-removal version of this dynamic.
What’s surprising to me is how many opponents like seeing a Death Pits of Rath come out. It’s been a while since I’ve played it, but I can distinctly remember great cheers coming from the weenie section when this ugly thing dropped onto the board.
Enhancements: Well, you’re broadcasting Dry Spell or Pyroclasm, so you might as well put them in there. Less conventional choices include Prodigal Sorcerer or Bullwhip.
Countermeasures: If creatures aren’t taking damage, they aren’t dying, are they? Bubble Matrix.
19. ASCENDANT EVINCAR
[4BB, 3/3 Creature. Flying. All other black creatures get +1/+1. All non-black creatures get -1/-1.]
Similar cards: Crovax has a touch of Bad Moon, in this incarnation.
Changing the battlefield in a single stroke, as you get a quality creature, is always a good deal. Since the effect continues for as long as Crovax is in play, it’s even better. Other players with black creatures will appreciate your good taste; while token generators will frantically search for solutions to cope.
Enhancements: There are several Pestilence-based creatures (one of whom is up high on this list) who get just that much better with an extra point of toughness. You can pump your own creatures up even more with Death Pit Offering or Glorious Anthem. And heck, if you’ve got extra slots open, you can use Takklemaggot to enhance your basic strategy.
Countermeasures: While many players will want to kill Crovax, a more innovative solution may be bouncing him (or removing him with Parallax Wave) at strategic times. You can also negate the uneven effect of the creature by playing Darkest Hour.
[4B Sorcery. Destroy all creatures of the creature type of your choice.]
Similar cards: Engineered Plague is an enchantment that sinks the offense and defense of a particular creature type. (And before you say anything, Tsabo’s Decree only affects one player, as both Anthony and I learned during the Multiplayer Invitational – The Ferrett)
One feature of multiplayer black is its ability for mass removal at sorcery speed. With elf, goblin, and saproling decks making a resurgence in many casual groups, this is an excellent card when you want to show some old-school (well, not old school… Maybe middle-aged school) metagame savvy.
Enhancements: Your best bet just came out in Apocalypse: Unnatural Selection, which lets you pick and choose what creatures become what type.
Countermeasures: Of course, you could use Unnatural Selection; but that seems unlikely if you’re playing a creature theme deck. Instead, use recursion for card-based theme decks (and note that Lord of the Undead and Lin Sivvi may push you toward particular creature types), and simple Regrowth-style cards for all those green decks with strong token generation capability (Verdant Force, Deranged Hermit).
[3B Sorcery. Each of your opponents chooses and discards two cards.]
Similar cards: Mind Swords makes everyone including you remove two cards in your hand from the game.
A card that slides down the list as I see how it compares in this rating system. Discard really is a challenging choice in multiplayer. Even with two other discard cards joining Unnerve in the Hall (higher on the list), don’t kid yourself: people avoid multiplayer discard for a reason. With several opponents, the risk is just not worth the reward. It speaks well of Unnerve that it is one of the few discard cards out there that makes up some of the card disadvantage you flirt with in this strategy.
Enhancements: Good timing. An Unnerve in the late game is often more devastating than one played on turn two with the help of Dark Ritual.
Countermeasures. Again, good timing. Play out your hand appropriately for your deck: An efficient weenie strategy can just play itself out with low risk; a high-maintenance control deck may need to keep a couple of land back. Either way, if you see any kind of discard from the black mage, expect the Unnerve: It’s a staple.
16. SPREADING PLAGUE
[4B Enchantment. Whenever a creature comes into play, destroy all other creatures that share a color with it. They cannot be regenerated.]
Extremely situational, but so strong across so many aspects, Spreading Plague is a nice, unusual card for multiplayer. Many players have already forgotten about this Invasion”trash” rare; remind them of the possibilities.
Enhancements: My three initial strategies for this card still hold. First, you can be flashy: Sliver Queen and Cromat are both fun little”Wrath of God” creatures now… But they’re also the most fragile beings on the planet. Second, you can be coy: Play creatureless, and just watch the fireworks as other players worry about what color their silly beasts are. Third, you can use artifact creatures, including an Alloy Golem here and there to use as removal. I’ll add a fourth strategy: Rainbow Crow (or Shyft, or Kavu Chameleon), to adjust the colors of your creatures to use Spreading Plague to its fullest.
Countermeasures: Blind Seer and Distorting Lens sure will come in handy.
[1B Sorcery. Each player returns a creature card in his or her graveyard into play.]
Similar Cards: Twilight’s Call is a massively expensive sorcery that you can play at instant speed to return all creatures from all graveyards into play.
One of black’s few”plankton” based cards, Exhume is responsible for one of the most roll-your-eyes tricks in the multiplayer book: On your first turn, draw a card, fake land screw, drop nothing, discard Multani… And then on turn two, drop a swamp, play Dark Ritual, and burn yourself for one as you play Exhume and bring your untargetable beast out to master the board.
As always, I salute Carl Critchlow for the illustration here, still among the best Magic artwork to date.
Enhancements and Countermeasures: Graveyard hosers like Carrion Bettles, Cremate, and Tormod’s Crypt will radically affect what Exhume does. Also, being able to discard a creature card from your hand at instant speed (Vampire Hounds, Funeral Charm, or Survival of the Fittest) is greatly helpful in response to an Exhume. Early graveyard-building, through Buried Alive and Hidden Horror, are also good ideas.
14. KHABAL GHOUL
[2B, 1/1 Creature. At end of turn, put a +1/+1 counter on this for each creature put into a graveyard from play this turn.]
One of black’s top three creature guns for group play, the Ghoul is an expensive rare that most newer players have never even seen. It needs other things to happen for it to become the amazing powerhouse it can be. Note that you can kill creatures, then put the Ghoul into play… And it still gets the counters.
Enhancements: Keep it simple… Why not just Wrath of God? If you want something easier on the mana curve, consider a Plague Spitter or No Mercy. Or you can get fancy and generate your own sackables, through Breeding Pit, and let them go to a Phyrexian Plaguelord.
Countermeasures: You can either prevent creatures from going to the graveyard (Confound, regenerators, Paladin en-Vec), or wait until the Ghoul swings at you and use simple spot removal. The Ghoul does lose a bit of stock in a world with Terminate…
13. TOMBSTONE STAIRWELL
[2BB Enchantment. Cumulative upkeep 1B. During each upkeep, each player puts into play a Tombspawn token for each summon card in his or her graveyard. Treat these tokens as 2/2 black creatures that are unaffected by summoning sickness and count as Zombies. At end of any turn or if Tombstone Stairwell leaves play, bury all of these tokens.]
Speaking of enhancements to Khabal Ghoul, how about this combo-ready nightmare? (With four players, each with three cards in graveyard, you can expect something on the order of an 87/87 by the time you pay the Stairwell’s second upkeep. An 87/87 seems reasonable for ten mana. Do find a way to give it trample, and let me know how that works for you.)
Enhancements: The best enhancements are born of triggered abilities based on entering or leaving play. Why not the painful Carnival of Souls? Or you can put those tokens to good use through Goblin Bombardment.
Countermeasures: Its dependence on a cumulative upkeep makes a Stairwell strategy dependent on lots of mana. It also means that the controller needs to work quickly. Stall her out with land destruction or mana denial, like Sunder or Wildfire. Evacuation is a nice, instant Wrath for zombie tokens who may try to swarm you. And as long as it doesn’t play into the combo’s hands, Aether Flash shuts down the zombies right away.
[2B Enchantment: During your upkeep, sacrifice a creature or sacrifice Contamination. Whenever a land is tapped for mana, it produces B instead of its normal type and amount.]
Contamination cripples at least two-thirds of most players in a given game, immediately. With Invasion block, three- or four-color decks out there, Contamination can be downright brutal to everyone. Just remember that one of those colors may be black, and some people will be able to operate just fine. It’s still worth it: Short of discard, this is the best black can do to stop opposing enchantments from hitting the board.
Enhancements: For creatures to sack, try Hornet Cannon or Breeding Pit. Nether Spirit, Ashen Ghoul, and Nether Shadow are also viable, though a bit specialized. Consider a way to destroy artifact mana, as well: how about including a Bloodstone Cameo (cc3), and playing Void to sweep for 2cc artifacts (the Diamonds)?
Countermeasures: Consider Contamination as land destruction. Use artifact mana, and Contamination barely bothers you. Black and artifact-based decks, naturally, don’t mind Contamination one bit.
[2BB Sorcery. If an opponent controls a plains and you control a swamp, you may play Massacre without paying its mana cost. All creatures get -2/-2 until end of turn.]
Similar cards: Plague Dogs is a creature you can force into the graveyard to make all creatures —1/-1 until end of turn. Forced March is also similar in that it tends to remove the lower casting-cost Â— and therefore the lower defense Â— creatures more easily. Wave of Terror also goes after small game… And not nearly as well.
Another card that I think many people have forgotten in this crazy Invasion block age. One day, look around the Magic table and note how many people are splashing plains into their decks. Every time you see one, tell yourself,”Gee, if I had a swamp, I could give all creatures -2/-2 without tapping a single land.” And it would kill all weenies with protection from black. And all those tiny, annoying regenerators. Then go find four Massacres and get them into your five-color deck with the Questing Pheldagriff… You know, the one that makes 1/1 hippo tokens for opponents whenever you pump it.
Enhancements: If you don’t feel like going five-color, why not just use Maggot Therapy, Enfeeblement, and Fevered Convulsions to weaken big game before playing Massacre?
Countermeasures: One of the swell things about global sweepers is that there isn’t much opponents can do beyond countermagic. You can work around the Massacre with pump, or larger creatures: otherwise, building your own deck to take advantage of mass kill (e.g., Sadistic Glee) can’t hurt.
[2B Enchantment. Whenever any opponent discards a card, Megrim deals two damage to him or her.]
The must-have card for multiplayer discard decks, Megrim serves as the necessary kill condition.
Enhancements: Obviously, discard. There will never be one better than Hymn to Tourach: Lose two cards, take four damage.
Countermeasures: The timing of the Disenchant should be in response to a discard spell. Remember that your simple CoP: Black will also help here; I’ve seen players have one and forget that it’s not just for creatures.
9. AVATAR OF WOE
[6BB, 6/5 Creature. If there are ten or more creature cards total in all graveyards, Avatar of Woe costs 6 less to play. Avatar of Woe can’t be blocked except by artifact or black creatures. Tap: destroy target creature. That creature can’t be regenerated.]
The Avatar is the second-best creature black can play in a group game. It’s a vicious rattlesnake, a threat to both remove and attack, and a bomb that comes out way earlier than it should — a two-point Earthquake can often get five or six creatures into all graveyards, alone.
Enhancements: Turn one, cast Dark Ritual and Hidden Horror, discard the Avatar. Turn two, Exhume. Turn three, with green mana, swing for six, and then play Emerald Charm to untap and kill the first real threat played that round.
Countermeasures: Sink everyone’s graveyard with Planar Void, so the Avatar costs eight mana. Honestly, the best countermeasure I’ve seen for an Avatar of Woe is a second one, played before your opponent can do so. If you’re not playing black, play blue and use Bribery.
8. BOTTOMLESS PIT
[1BB Enchantment. During each player’s upkeep, that player discards a card at random.]
Like Winter Orb or Stasis, Bottomless Pit is a merciless control card that absolutely no one likes to see. It is a critical part of discard decks, since it serves as a continual drain on opponents that makes it much tougher to gather permanents on the board against you.
Enhancements: Bottomless Pit was released at the same time as Megrim, in an obvious Wizard-encouraged combo. If you’re reducing yourself to topdecking, you’ll want a path to victory that takes advantage of the fact that you (and everyone else) is playing lands out of their hands rather than lose them: Death Grasp, Acidic Soil, Desolation Angel, Corrupt, whatever.
Countermeasures: Cheap, direct damage will give you playable cards each turn. You can also time your bounce so that it affects everyone except you; but realize that you are, in effect, discarding your bounce spell to the Bottomless Pit. Blue just weeps at this card; there’s not much you can do.
7. LIVING DEATH
[3BB Sorcery. Set aside all creature cards in all graveyards. Then, put each creature that is in play into its owner’s graveyard. Then, put each creature card set aside in this way into play under its owner’s control.]
Sometimes this card reeks in group play. But usually, it is a massive momentum swing — not just for you, but for one or two other players as well. It’s a challenge to break the symmetry of this card in a room where everyone is playing complex creatures and plenty of comes-into-play triggers on enchantments and artifacts… But it’s worth the effort.
Enhancements: If you want to take a different path from Survival of the Fittest (an Extended tournament classic), you can just blow other people’s graveyards with Repopulate, Thran Quarry, and Phyrexian Furnace.
Countermeasures: The enhancements above will work fine; or you can take a mono-white route with Swords to Plowshars, False Prophet, Parallax Wave, and Liberate.
6. THE ABYSS
[3B Enchantment. During each player’s upkeep, that player buries one target non-artifact creature he or she controls.]
Is there anything more fun than forcing opponents to target and kill their own creatures? Abyss defined frustrating control decks for a long time, in the Time before The Dark.
Enhancements: Well, artifact creatures are rather obvious. Use Forge[/author]“]Thran [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] if you somehow can’t find enough in your collection.
Countermeasures: Sorry, I’m still reeling from the fact that I’ve now used Forge[/author]“]Thran [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] as an enhancement or countermeasure twice, in the same section of the Hall. Please, everyone, don’t go buying lots of Forge[/author]“]Thran [author name="Forge"]Forges[/author] expecting to win your multiplayer games!
5. THRASHING WUMPUS
[3BB, 3/3 Creature. B: Thrashing Wumpus deals 1 damage to each creature and each player.]
Similar cards: Crypt Rats is a”sackable” 1/1 that can pump all damage through itself at once. Plague Spitter is a Dry Spell each turn, and when it hits the graveyard. Festering Evil is a Plague Spitter-styled enchantment (and can be sacked to do three to everything). And of course, the root card for all of these cousins is Pestilence. Readers have asked me often to replace the Wumpus with one of these above cards. Respectfully, I will not. Thrashing Wumpus tops them all, for it combination of versatility, sheer power, and longevity.
The best black creature for multiplayer. Please don’t write to me and tell me how Abyssal Gatekeeper, or Devouring Strossus, or Blood Pet is just so much better. The Wumpus just has it all, typically doing a game-shortening two to the board every turn while threatening a more massive effect if anyone gets in the way.
Enhancements: These range from the clever to the boring. Chimeric Idol is clever (and credit goes to Adrian Sullivan and Sol Malka for their Masques Block”Roshambo” deck along these lines… They also included Death Pit Offering). Spirit Link is boring; both are incredibly effective. Also consider Lashknife Barrier; Theo has a BUW deck that packs this combo and touches Plague Spitter and Dromar’s Charm.
Countermeasures: As a black creature, the Wumpus enjoys near-automatic protection from green, blue, and black. Earthquake usually plays into the Wumpus mage’s hands; Wrath of God is a bit cleaner.
4. GRAVE PACT
[1BBB Enchantment. Whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard from play, each other player sacrifices a creature.]
Like The Abyss, Grave Pact forces tough choices on your opponents. Unlike The Abyss, Grave Pact slides around strategies with artifact creatures and untargetable creatures. The Pact was the card that inspired the first Hall of Fame, and will always be a bit special to me. It dominates one of the only two mono-black decks I’ve ever felt worthy of group play. (Thrashing Wumpus dominates the other.)
Enhancements: Any card (usually black) that allows you to sacrifice a creature to get an effect will work beautifully. Attrition, Bottle Gnomes, Skittering Skirge, Bloodfire Colossus… It’s hard to even begin a list, because 270 other great cards come to mind that I hate to leave off the list. Hell, even Root Greevil might look good in a Grave Pact deck.
Countermeasures: Red has the best strategy: burn the controller into the ground, fast and hard. Other black mages can use Drain Life or Death Grasp to the same effect. Green mages are in trouble — even relentless squirrel or saproling generation can have a hard time keeping up with a well-designed Pact deck. White mages need to stop the Pact itself; they have no backup plan to their excellent enchantment removal. Blue mages are in the best position to go creatureless, which means they may not care about Grave Pact.
3. PLAGUE WIND
[7BB Sorcery. Destroy all creatures not under your control. Those creatures cannot be regenerated.]
All of the other removal cards are, really, amateurs. They’re conditional (Extinction), or slow (The Abyss), or replace dying creatures with new ones (Living Death). Plague Wind stops messing around, and does what every black mage really wants to do: Get rid of everyone else’s creatures so that she can go about the job of tearing off heads. It won’t win you the game on its own, but it comes pretty close.
Enhancements: What, you want to enhance this?
Countermeasures: Reins of Power. That’s about it.
[3BB Enchantment. During your upkeep, each of your opponents loses 1 life. Gain 1 life for each 1 life lost this way.]
Similar cards: Syphon Soul is the most requested card by readers; I’m not sure if they don’t see it listed here under Subversion (which is usually more effective, since it lasts longer) or if they feel the one-shot burst is a better deal. Either way, I can’t list them separately; they have way too much in common. If you’ve advocated for Syphon Soul in the past, feel free to make your case specific to how it’s better than Subversion. You have an uphill battle to convince me; but I’m listening…
One of the few black cards that, left untouched, can win you an entire multiplayer game on its own. Worship becomes useless. Early damage you’ve taken disappears. Cards you felt impossible in multiplayer (Hatred, Necropotence) become viable.
And I’ll say it again: It WINS. See, this is the difference between white lifegain, which is absolutely useless for anything but making seven-player games interminable, and black lifegain, which comes with a purpose. Black lifegain is incidental to the relevant cards’ primary purpose: hurting your opponents.
Enhancements: Any strategy will work with Subversion in your deck. Fuel Phyrexian Processors, throw up Walls of Souls and Fogs of Gnats to stop the retaliation, or just blow up everyone’s hands with Bottomless Pit. Splash with white and green to make a real nasty enchantment base:
4x Sterling Grove
4x Necra Sanctuary
Countermeasures: There’s not much out there. Forsaken Wastes gets half the job done (stopping the lifegain); but everyone still loses the life to Subversion. Perhaps a Subversion of your own will help. And yes… Using white lifegain may help give you time to come up with a more permanent solution.
Okay, we’re about to get to number one here, which is new, and which I warned people not to scroll to. Of course, most scrollers are just scanning through the numbers; their eyes have rolled right over these words and are focusing in on the big bold”one” they see below. Those of you who have stuck with me this long, of course, get a little reward right about now: The true number one choice is hidden beneath the first. I felt my fake choice had to be realistic enough to fool careless readers who don’t pay attention to the fact that the card would have to have been around a long time for me to be embarrassed. So bear with me here: I need to make the last paragraph look like a transition. I’ll be saying things that aren’t necessarily true. You know better.
Meanwhile, let’s throw up a freakish deck that may or may not use Subversion:
4x Death Grasp
4x Wild Dogs
4x That elephant I can’t remember from Nemesis that works like Wild Dogs… You know, that really bad one? (Wild Mammoth – The Ferrett, who secretly does all of Anthony’s research)
4x Spike Feeder
4x Skyshroud Elves
No, I don’t know if it will work, either. But we all know that’s not why I really put it up there, right?!?
And that brings us to my #1 pick, which really breaks the mold for black and gives multiplayer decks an entirely new direction to go into…
1. DESOLATION ANGEL
[3BB, kicker WW, 5/4 creature. Flying. When this comes into play, destroy all lands you control. If you paid the kicker cost, destroy all lands in play instead.]
Well, here it is, the card I just can’t believe I forgot in two years of writing and updating this Hall of Fame! I know what you’re thinking:”But Anthony, Desolation Angel just came out in Apocalypse! How can you possibly be embarrassed?!?” To which I rejoin:”HA! You dirty scroller, you. Get the hell back to the top of the list and read the first twenty-four cards like I told you, dammit.” (And I must admit with an embarrassed glance that I, too, looked ahead – The Ferrett, wincing)
That said, I’ll spare a kind word for Desolation Angel here, which like I said above almost made it in ahead of Phyrexian Infiltrator for the splash slot on #25. The Angel gives black a thoroughly nasty way to stay ahead of several players. Turn seven is quite early in multiplayer. Through careful use of artifact mana, and a spell such as No Mercy to discourage post-Angel attention, a smash of everyone’s lands at that point in the game can often prevent the intricate set-up of enchantments and artifacts that are black’s bane.
Of course, if you’re splashing double white for the Angel, you may as well pack Disenchant, which also solves the problem. So, Desolation Angel: you’re a cool mama, and that outfit is killer, but no Hall for you. Thanks for the red herring duty, though…
The real first pick for black Hall of Fame is Underworld Dreams, a true old-school enchantment for BBB that deals one damage to a player when he or she draws a card. I’d rate its funky animal as follows: Rattlesnake at 6, Gorilla at 11, Spider at 6, Pigeon at 1, and Plankton at 2. The Dreams are a path to victory on their own, and with Dark Ritual you can get kicking on turn one. It fits beautifully into Pestilence-style decks, as well as decks that manage to get cards in your hand (or play) without drawing them:
4x Underworld Dreams
4x Temporal Aperture
4x Thrashing Wumpus
4x Syphon Soul
4x Serra Avatar
4x Warrior Angel
4x Wall of Swords
4x Bottle Gnomes
4x Death Grasp (not terrific synergy with the Aperture; but we’re in brainstorming, not evaluation, mode here)
Caves of Koilos does damage to you, so be careful; but a land mix of 12 Swamps, 4 Caves, and 8 Plains might work just fine.
Cripes, that stuff earlier was a lot of work just to throw scrollers off the scent! But now that you all know how freakish I am about it, I’ll bet next time you behave. Plus, those of us who read stuff patienty just had a good chuckle at everyone else’s expense. Hey, what can I say: we’re anal-retentive readers; we get our entertainment where we can.
Let’s go on to white…