Champions Limited – Black

Yann Hamon, one of the top 20 players in the world for the 2003-2004 season, takes a break from his preparations for Pro Tour: Columbus to chime in with his opinions for what he calls “The Best Color in Champions.” Why does he feel it’s the best Limited color in CHK, and which cards does he feel stand above the rest? You’ll just have to tune in and find out.

Hi dear readers,

I should be testing Extended for Columbus rather than writing another article about Kamigawa Limited. However, there are three good reasons to write about Black today. First, my article series is taking such a long time that Ted will probably kick me off of his site if I send nothing this week. Second, three continuous weeks of Extended testing are probably enough, and I think I finally have a decent deck, which is a satisfying result in such an open format. Third, today I’ll speak about Black, which is by far my favorite color in this format.

Nick Eisel said here two weeks ago that Green was the best color in Kamigawa – that’s pretty surprising for a guy who is usually close to having a perfect understanding of Limited formats. Maybe that’s because there has been no Kamigawa on MTGO up to this point. Any way you look at it, you could quickly realize that the best Green common ( call it Kodama’s Reach or Kodama’s Might or Order of the Sacred Bell, whatever) are by far inferior to the top commons in the four other colors. For our daily example, the four best Black cards are certainly better than any of the Green ones, and in my mind the fifth, Wicked Akuba, is a more interesting creature than any of the more expensive Green monsters. Red and Green are globally tied for the worst color in Kamigawa, with Green having more (mediocre but) playable card, while Red has at least two really good burn spells to offer.

In this format, Black has just everything you need for Limited in the common slots: four removal spells, a really good curve, some evasion creatures, a gamebreaker, some way to gain the card advantage… It can be a base for really good aggro and control decks. If you play mono-Black, which is actually my favorite archetype, you have to choose between eighteen playable commons out of twenty-two in this set.

In a classic two-color deck, you still have sixteen picks. The Black/Blue and Black/White deck are two excellent choices, if you want something fast and efficient. Just pick the solid creatures in the other colors, like Kitsune Blademaster, Kabuto Moth, or Teller of Tales, while the Black will give you removal and good weenies. An aggro Black/Red deck is also possible, but in this color combination I recommend to draft something slower, just packing all the removal you could find (including Yamabushi’s Storm or Frostwielder), even if your creature base seems really poor. When playing this kind of deck, you’d rather let your opponent play first, as your plan is not to beat him down, but rather to gain card advantage.

Let’s start with the card rankings, which is really difficult here, because there’s not a lot of difference in Black between the sixth and the fifteenth pick. There are certainly two distinct power levels – the strong top five cards, and the other playables – but among these categories the cards are really close, and may actually depend a lot on you own card evaluation, and obviously of your color combination and what you’ve already drafted.

1. Befoul

As always, the main reason to draft Black is the access to good removal, so the top trio isn’t too surprising here. Drafting a good removal before good creatures is usually the right decision, because in the end you’ll always find enough creatures to finish your decks – even if the last ones are poor – while you’ll never have enough removal. Befoul is a reliable removal, which puts it higher than its two cheaper counterparts. If you’re not convinced, just draft Rend Flesh and Rend Spirit over Befoul one time, and be careful to keep an eye on the consequences. Situations where your instant removal will be unable to kill an annoying creature that Befoul could have will probably occur. At this moment, please don’t say ” I’m so unlucky, he had Teller of Tales and I drew my two Rend Flesh…”

2. Rend Flesh

As with everyone else, I rank this card higher than Rend Spirit because it’s an arcane spell. The good creatures in this format are equally split between spirit and non-spirit, so there’s no other way to separate the two spells. If you can, try to mix the two. Usually, you won’t have the choice.

3. Rend Spirit

What can I add ? Rend Spirit will usually be better against Blue and Green decks, while Rend Flesh is good at shooting White samurai and Frostwielder. In Rochester draft, a good tech is to count the number of Teller of Tales and Kitsune Blademasters – that may help you to choose between Flesh and Spirit, and it will be a lot easier than trying to count all playable spirits and non spirits.

4. Nezumi Cutthroat

As a really cheap two-power evasion creature, the Nezumi Cutthroat is a good inclusion to all Black decks, and a perfect weapon in the aggro builds. Actually, a lot of players refuse to play Yamabushi’s Storm main deck, which means his one toughness is not a great problem, especially if you have drafted enough removal to kill the Frostwielders.

5. Wicked Akuba

In an heavy-Black or mono-Black deck, this card is arguably better than the Rat, as long as you have a lot of efficient removal, or other ways to let this horrific beater came through, like Soratami Mirror-Guards. The additional damage the Akuba can deal, his ability to block, and his spirit nature are as good as the fear factor of the Rat; but the double Black in the casting cost are troublesome in a real two-color deck, which means you have to take the Rat in the early picks of the draft, when you don’t know what will happen.

6. Cruel Deceiver

After this great top five, we fall to less spectacular cards. They wont be your all-stars, but the core of your team. Black in Kamigawa is strong because of them, cause they are more numerous and cheaper on average than in the other colors. Cruel Deceiver is a 2/1 spirit for two. That’s not amazing, but you need this kind of card in aggro builds. Picking him early will ensure you a better curve than most of your opponents. His ability is quiet useful, as it may occasionally allow it to deal free damage when your opponent has a good blocker. Looking at the top card and attacking even if it’s a spell is usually the best choice when your opponent has a potential blocker he really wants to keep. Another interesting option when you absolutely need to kill the opposite creature is to attack without looking at the top card. That way your opponent will be tempted to block, and you will have a 40% ratio to exchange it against your Deceiver.

7. Devouring Greed

It’s now pretty clear that this card and his Red counterpart are good – in fact, they are necessary in all aggro decks to deal the last damage when your opponent has achieved a ground stall. However, you need one or two Devouring Greed, not more, so it’s unnecessary to take the first one too high, except in the last booster. I would place the second Devouring Greed in the twelfth rank on this list in an aggro deck, while I think two are just too much in a more control-oriented build.

8. Nezumi Ronin

Not exceptional by any means, the Nezumi Ronin will usually do his job. He beats hard if you can kill the blockers, and can trade with most of the ground creatures when blocking. A River Kaijin can’t block him, in important detail, as the new Horned Turtle’s popularity is actually pretty high.

9. Villainous Ogre

With the two powerful uncommon demons, you may need ogres in your deck. If you already have the demons, take this guy higher – just after the top five commons. In other cases, Villainous Ogre is a really decent addition to your beatdown deck, and a bad idea in anything slower, as you really don’t want to play this card as your first ” blocker Â”…

10. Gibbering Kami

This one is an interesting 2/2 flyer for four, because with Cruel Deceiver and Wicked Akuba, you have two easy targets for his Soulshift ability. It’s also the only common Black flyer you’ll want to play, so try to grab one or two. There’s no competition at this casting cost in Black, which helps him a lot. That said, in the awful Black/Green combination, you’ll have to avoid him, as Order of the Sacred Bell, Feral Deceiver and Burr Grafter are a little better.

11. Pull Under

I know that I said higher that you’ll never had enough removal, but this one costs six mana, and you’d better limit the number of non-dragon card for this price. One Pull Under is cool, two are acceptable – more will lead you to disappointing defeats with five mana on the table. If you lose because you haven’t drawn your sixth land, that’s not what I call manascrew.

12. Ashen-Skin Zubera

Not as good as the Blue one and lost in the numerous Black aggressive creatures, this guy is still acceptable in many cases, as he’s ready to chump block anything in the early game and increases your spirit count and your important two-drop count. Sacking two of them to cast Devouring Greed early in the game is usually a good option.

13. Scuttling Death

I really didn’t like this guy in my first drafts, but the more I play it, the more I like it. It’s better in control builds, where it can give you a little bit of card advantage, especially when you could return a Gibbering Kami in the graveyard, or a cheaper spirit waiting his turn. It’s also the only Black common creature for five mana, so Scuttling Death shouldn’t break your mana curve.

14. Waking Nightmare

There are two playable discard spells in common slots, and in Limited, you don’t want too many of them, because you mostly want creatures and removal. That’s why this card is so low on the list – by itself, it’s useful, cheap, and it’s arcane. The first one can be a nice addition to your deck, but more than that will just give you dead cards in the late game.

15. Soulless Revival

You don’t want two copies of this one for the same reasons than Waking Nightmare – the more efficient cards in Limited are removal and creatures. Of course in the end, the number of arcane spells in you deck (please, don’t count the Devouring Greed you should cast only to finish your opponent), and the other Splice cards will determine your interest in additional Revivals.

16. Cursed Ronin

I put this one here figuring you’ll play a classic two-color deck – if you managed to play mono-Black or heavy Black, this merely playable guy will suddenly rise a lot – just after the top five commons in mono-Black. If you play ten Swamps or more, consider it seriously. In other decks, you won’t play him, but you can take him high in the beginning of the draft, just in case. The fact that this guy actually sticks around until the end of the packs sometimes is the main reason that could lead you to play mono-Black.

17. Distress

Playable in an heavy Black deck, and usually a decent 24th card in mono-Black. It’s not arcane, it costs two colored mana, and it won’t gain you card advantage, so there’s no reason to play it before Waking Nightmare maindeck. Siding in Distress in against dragons or other expensive spoilers is a good idea though.

18. Midnight Covenant

For many players, it’s totally unplayable and will be a fifteenth pick in some boosters. In fact, this card is really good in a deck with fourteen or more Swamps. The good number in a mono-Black deck is two – it’s gonna be a kind of finisher, especially when played on Nezumi Cutthroat or Gibbering Kami. But with five or six Swamps on the table, it will be powerful even on a Wicked Akuba. In fact, it’s better than a lot of the card ranked higher on this list in a mono-Black deck, but you hope to grab them for free in the end of the packs. So you don’t need to take them before any of the playables creatures and spell in mono-Black – the difficult part of a mono-colored deck is too find enough cards, so you have to take that kind of risk.

19. Rag Dealer

It’s not a spirit, so it’s not as good as Wandering Ones.

20 Kami of the Waning Moon

1/1 flyer for three. WOOOO! You’d be better playing an additional land, even the twentieth. In desperate cases, you can side it in against a player with a lot of Soratami.

21. Deathcurse Ogre

For the same price you could have a Dragon.

22. Ragged Veins

There’s always a totally unplayable common.