Have you ever thought of Magic in terms of food? I mean, if you think about it, most foods have characteristics of one of the five colors – and sometimes more. (And heck, I’ll include brown for artifacts…Or should I say silver now?)
Green is, of course, the color of your basic leafy vegetables and moldy bread. I like green; it’s right up there with blue for my favorite colors in the real world – and in Magic, it is one of the three colors I use the most. Blue, however, probably is the least-represented color in the food world and is a color I generally shun in Magic. The only blue foods I can think of off the top of my head are maybe eggplant (which is more purple, actually) and blueberries.
Turnips, too, I guess. Ugghh.
White has a few more offerings, such as eggs, milk, some cheeses and – unfortunately – cauliflower. In Magic, I also give White short shrift – but I do splash it occasionally, yet only lightly because dairy products tend to tie up my bowels.
Brown has some notable entries, my favorite being Stropharia cubensis (magic mushrooms!). (If Magic Mushrooms were a Magic card, it might be an artifact that read:”Permanently remove one million brain cells from the game: all remaining memories gain Flashback. Simultaneously.”) I really like artifacts and sprinkle them liberally and often.
Now, Red is a color even closer to my heart: tomatoes, steaks, apples – but most significantly, most of the hottest chili peppers. I love hot foods. What is Red known for? Heat, baby. Perfect.
But Black is the best.
Black is in all things.
Don’t believe me? Then take some food – anything not impregnated with preservatives (no Twinkies!), and let it sit out somewhere. Eventually, it will turn black (and around here, it would be due to ants).
Still don’t believe me? Then apply fire.
Black is within.
Black is where it’s at, and it is by far my favorite color in Magic. As a matter of fact, right now I have twenty-five different Magic decks constructed, and only eight don’t have any black cards in them. Fortunately, that’s balanced out by the eight decks that pack only black cards.
Four of my monoblack builds are suicide decks: One for multiplayer, one for Type I, one for Type II, and one for Extended. I’ve played Suicide Black decks since I opened my first tournament deck of Revised and saw Lord of the Pit, Nether Spirit, Black Knight, Hypnotic Specter, Dark Ritual, Terror, and Drain Life. My first Fallen Empires pack contained Ebon Praetor, Breeding Pit, and a black pump knight (I won’t mention the Rag Man from my first The Dark pack). Whoever was giving me signals in the beginning, they definitely weren’t from above. Ever since then, I have always had at least one Suicide Black deck on hand, updated with the best black cards from the newest set. Unfortunately, since Urza’s Saga block monoblack suicide decks have taken a beating – and though such decks surface from time to time to place well in large events, the days of Necro summer are now a distant memory.
I’ve noticed a rather large population of fellow Magic gamers love playing black as much as I do. In fact, I would venture to say that Black is probably the most-played color in the game among casual gamers, with hearty competition coming from Blue. I’m not sure, though; I’ve been disheartened by the number of Sligh players out there… Maybe I’m in denial, but I’d rather underestimate the amount of Red being played than admit stupid red burn could actually be more commonplace than good old Black. Call it a grudge, if you want. Maybe it’s just because Sligh decks have always been the main nemesis of us Suicide Black players…
In any case, there are so many of us out there that we fall into three main personality types (none of them mutually exclusive): The Goth, the Rebel, and the Truly Sick. In order to fully understand the Suicide Black phenomenon, you have to really get into the minds of these characters:
- The”Goth” is that dude described recently by Tony Marovitz as that pale, greasy, longhaired, smelly guy you don’t want to sit next to. He wears black leather, has a dog collar, and has no conception of personal hygiene. He plays Suicide Black because the shady, evil creatures fit his conception of an ideal world – that, and because no one plays Jyhad anymore.
- The”Rebel” is the kid with a chronic self-destructive urge who constantly does things that push the boundaries of common sense, such as riding skateboards on interstates and putting out cigarettes with his body. He plays Suicide Black because it mirrors his lifestyle.
- The”Truly Sick” individual, however, is really quite frightening. Usually these guys started as Goths, but somewhere along the line they actually made contact with the netherworld and lost their souls. They do unspeakable things to small furry animals, keep track of their life totals by writing with their own blood, and threaten to sacrifice you to some demon if you don’t capitulate. Seriously, these dudes are possessed and invest far more emotion into their cards and games than is reasonable. They gravitate towards black because it mirrors the internal strife within them.
Me? I’m sort of a Rebel, I guess. I get a kind of savage glee by hurting myself while I hurt others. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
Returning to the topic, I am here to tell you that since the release of Onslaught and Legions, Suicide Black as a tournament option is…Well, still dead. The main problems seem to be a lack of mana acceleration (no Dark Ritual) and the fact that Black’s low casting cost creatures, while good, just aren’t equal to those of other colors. Of course, this is by design as R&D has explained (“balancing the color wheel,” they say, conveniently forgetting the blackness inherent in all things); but things are dire enough that die-hard Suicide Black players are seriously considering mass seppuku. I’ve tried, though, I really have (the blade always seems to catch in my ribs – what am I doing wrong?). There is a lot of high-quality black removal and discard available presently… But only Psychatog and MBC builds are really using it to advantage. There are a couple zombie builds I’ve seen that come close, but those decks can’t seem to crack the Tier I barrier.
You know what I think Suicide Black needs to get it over the hump? Another decent one-drop to complement Festering Goblin, and the return of Bad Moon (or Dark Ritual or Drain Life…Dream on!) or some other permanent to pump all your black creatures. A really decent three-drop would be nice, too. Drinker of Sorrow is interesting, but maybe a bit too painful even for Suicide Black, and Hollow Specter is good but has the Nantuko Shade mana-sucking, tempo-slowing problem. The morphs Grinning Demon, Silent Specter, and Bane of the Living shore this slot up some… But also present a tempo problem. I’ll go into more detail on this.
A lot of black cards in today’s environment suck up your mana if you want to use them to greatest effect, and this effectively kills your tempo. Think about it: The Shade, Specter, Bane of the Living, Withered Wretch – all of them suck you drier than…
Hmm. I think I’m gonna keep that name secret.
Anyway, this seems to be another thing R&D is giving us: Black creatures that demand an extra mana investment to produce a desired effect. In the past the investment for black creature excellence was paid in life, which was painful but didn’t affect tempo – and was the reason Suicide Black decks worked so well. Think about it: Juzam Djinn, Carnophage, Sarcomancy, and Flesh Reaver were all solid creatures that had high power-to-mana cost ratios, but paid for that drawback in life points instead of mana – allowing for the possibility of casting one high-powered threat after another, even on the same turn. Sure, there were some really good creatures that were reliant on the continual payment of mana for an increase in effect (such as Knights of Stromgald and Order of the Ebon Hand), but these guys were solid creatures on their own without having to boost their power.
Today, you have a few creatures that have the life-for-power tradeoff, such as Graveborn Muse, Grinning Demon, and Wretched Anurid; but there is a difference between these guys and most of the previous life-sucking badasses: The life payment is mandatory, whereas most of the black powerhouses of yesteryear had conditional life payments (Juzam aside). Too low on life to attack with Carnophage? Then don’t untap it! Hurt too much to use Flesh Reaver? Then don’t use it! You can’t turn off the Anurid, Muse, or Grinning Demon (though you can keep him unmorphed).
What’s more, the black creatures that take a mana investment for excellence just aren’t all that special on their own; at least not when compared to similar casting cost creatures in other colors. A second-turn Nantuko Shade, for example, can’t hold a candle to a Wild Mongrel when your opponent has a full grip. True, you have discard and removal to clear the way – but black’s creatures just can’t go toe-to-toe with the other colors’ creatures like they used to when they have to. Festering Goblin/Wretched Anurid/Chainer’s Edict/Duress/Grinning Demon just can’t compete with Basking Rootwalla/Wild Mongrel/Arrogant Wurm/Roar of the Wurm, with or without removal and discard.
Now, when Odyssey rotates out… Oh, you can bet I’m gonna try it! Until then, though, I officially declare Suicide Black dead. It will return, though, just like a zombie from the graveyard…
Enough spiel. More deck. Here’s a black suicide build I like to play in Highlander-style multiplayer games, but it comes with my traditional warning: handle with care! Everything in this deck bites (you can take that figuratively if you want to, but I like it!)!
Straight From Hell
1 Ashes to Ashes
1 Bellowing Fiend
1 Breeding Pit
1 Brood of Cockroaches
1 Cosmic Horror
1 Corpse Dance
1 Crypt Rats
1 Coumbajj Witches
1 Demonic Hordes
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Drain Life
1 Fledgling Djinn
1 Flesh Reaver
1 Life Chisel
1 Hellfire (my first Legends card ever!)
1 Infernal Denizen
1 Junun Efreet
1 Juzam Djinn
1 Grinning Demon
1 Wretched Anurid
1 Living Death
1 Lord of the Pit
1 Minion of Leshrac
1 Minion of Tevesh Szat
1 Minion of the Wastes
1 Phyrexian Rager
1 Pit Spawn
1 Plague Spitter
1 Reckless Spite
1 Soul Burn
1 Shauku, Endbringer
1 Simulacrum (I wish they’d reprint this one!)
1 Spinning Darkness
1 Safe Haven
1 Cabal Coffers
1 Diamond Valley
This one’s 66 cards… Fitting, I’d say, for this deck. Upkeep is a bitch – if you were to have all these creatures in play at the beginning of your upkeep, you’d pay up to thirteen mana (and two swamps!), nine life, and sacrifice three creatures!
It’s a hard deck to play and win with, but it is a lot of fun. It has a lot of creature elimination and can deal with almost any non-enchantment permanents – but man, watch that life total! You can usually sacrifice the creatures that are really hurting you before things get too painful. I can sometimes stabilize by using the Corpse Dance/Life Chisel combo during my upkeep, but usually it’s a losing battle… However, I inevitably take someone with me!
The mana curve? Well, have you ever gone into a Wal-Mart store and found an isle where there’s a 500-lb woman standing right smack in the middle, oblivious to everyone around her? There’s no getting past her; you have to go all the way around. (Wanna know about the nightmare I keep having over and over again? In my next life, I’m a seven hundred-pound woman with nine kids… And I like it! Man, that’s enough to make me wanna kill myself! But -wait…that would just make it happen sooner… GGAAAAA!!!!!) The curve for this deck is like that – there’s no getting around it, ‘cuz it’s too damn big! That’s fine, though, because I’m usually not too concerned if I have to discard my big fatties most of the time. Because I’ll kill myself if I cast them.
Enough Death and Destruction for one night – next time, I’ll answer some serious mail I received and go into some real issues.