‘Cuz I Hate Black: Thoughts On Torment’s Preview Cards

sounds like a fun idea in principle. You take a set and then you dramatically focus it on one of the colours – in this case, black. Given that I’m one of those people who both enjoys the story and playing Magic, this seems like an excellent deal to me. As Magic became more story-driven,…

Torment sounds like a fun idea in principle. You take a set and then you dramatically focus it on one of the colours – in this case, black. Given that I’m one of those people who both enjoys the story and playing Magic, this seems like an excellent deal to me. As Magic became more story-driven, I find I begin to really enjoy cards on both levels. So Torment sounds good. I have no qualm with Torment.

But I’m really baffled by the people who write about Torment. While it’s clear that there is going to be a focus on one colour, which means that by normal averages there will be more”Good cards” in Torment’s black cards, what’s this I hear about”Monoblack sucking” and”Monoblack is going to make a comeback”? Why is everyone so deeply concerned with the return of Monoblack?

First off, given Invasion’s focus on multi-colour cards and decks, why is it some deep, big deal that mono-black comes back into focus? Mono-coloured decks simply haven’t been doing that well since Invasion came through, and that was (From my perspective) totally intentional. Multi-colour decks are dominating over mono-coloured decks. Until Invasion block rotates out, taking its powerful kickers, gold cards and multi-lands with it, it would seem that multi-coloured decks will be so easy to integrate and so powerful that Torment’s dreams of mono-coloured black decks ruling the roost seem almost ill-timed. In general, Invasion’s concept gives it a leg up on any concepts that were introduced in the following block.

Also, what is mono-black? In my recollection, which is not that of a perfectly educated player, mono-black has been one of two major decks: Necropotence and Suicide black. Necropotence was, from what I recall, based around a little card called (fittingly enough) Necropotence. Phyrexian Arena came out in Apocalypse and I didn’t see a rise of mono-black then, so are they going to provide us with a new Necro to build our mono-blacks decks around? Oh, I don’t know; maybe people will start using Greed with its oh-so-witty 7th edition flavour text.

As for Suicide Black, the days of Tempest are long gone. Although there are many well-priced black creatures hanging around in Standard, I haven’t seen anyone revitalise the deck type. Will we see new Carnophages and new Dauthi creatures to pray on hapless players with self-destructive glee? I don’t think so. Maybe one day, Wizards will decide to explain to us what happened to the Soltari or Lyna’s connection to Urza, but it occurs to me that the Dauthi didn’t make it out of Rath alive. But let’s keep our hopes up.

So we’re talking about, perhaps, a rise of a whole new type of mono-black. What kind of mono-black will it be? To be frank, I don’t know – and what they’ve shown me before doesn’t paint a very clear picture.

Wizards has been dutiful in their attempts to showcase new cards, to get our hopes up and put dreams into our heads so we pre-order boxes, hit pre-releases, and be dutiful little Magic players. There’s nothing wrong with that – if you play Magic, you probably like Magic and want to play Magic, so really, it’s a happy team. They feed us excitement; we get excited and happily play Magic. Even when people downright say a set sucks (like, say, Odyssey) they will still manage to squeeze some enjoyment out of it. It’s almost impossible not to.

So I’m not bad-mouthing Torment or saying that I’m any less excited than anyone else. For me, this will be the first time I get to hit a pre-release since Urza’s Saga came out. But what exactly are they telling us about this new, golden age of black?

The first of the new mechanics in Torment is Nightmare horrors, who”scare” resources away from opposing players. Sounds delightful in practice, doesn’t it? Oh yes. However, so far I’ve seen one card that made me sit up and take notice. Okay, I lied – Hypnox’s ability certainly gets your attention… Until you take a look at the casting cost and mouth”eleven” in regards to its ability. Granted, he’s a hell of a finisher, but he’s still eleven mana. Perhaps there will be decks based around accelerating out a Hypnox, but those decks sound like they’d use green or blue, which doesn’t give me any thoughts on mono-black.

Mesmeric Fiend sounds interesting enough, but if I’m going to go mono-black, I want to completely remove my opponent’s card – not give them a tricky option. Say I pull my opponent’s counterspell on turn 2, and then manage to force a Persecute through a few turns later. I’ve stripped his hand, except for one thing: The Mesmeric fiend holds a card out of my reach. Sure, my opponent might lose and never get it back, but he might Repulse the Fiend at a key moment and get the Counterspell he needs back.

Soul Scourge and Slithering Stalker both have fair abilities; however, they’re expensive for their power and toughness, which makes them less about being creatures and more about being their nightmare abilities. A mistake on Wizard’s part. Sure, the Scourage takes out three life – however, for the same mana I can nab four with Soul Feast, get four life, and there’s no risk of the Life returning to my opponent via the Soul Feast”death.” For the Stalker’s price, I can nail almost any creature and not have a 1/1 handicap sitting around waiting to release it from its prison. So what’s the point here?

Faceless butcher may or may not be playable. For four mana, you get an almost fair priced body – unlike the Scourge and Stalker – but 2/3 is almost, not quite. So you put him into play and remove an opponent’s elephant token from the game for good. That’s akin to Nekrataal in”goodness,” but trading one-for-one with a Call of the Herd hasn’t been noted as impressive so far. Might be in Block, or it might not. The Butcher earns low marks in my book for the impressively moronic”Three Butcher draw infinite loop” that Buehler talked about. There’s nothing good about that. Sure, I know people have been drawing games since the time of Alpha with Earthquake, but that doesn’t make it a good thing.

There have been some points made about how bouncing Nightmare horrors out of play before their comes into play effect resolves will allow you to re-banish creatures or re-banish cards over and over again, as well as escaping the main drawback of the nightmare creatures. Positive as this may be, it’s not mono-coloured – and if I really want to kill creatures, I’ll just keep rekilling stuff by comboing a Stronghold Assassin and a Squirrel Nest. I tap one land to do that.

Laquatus’ Champion does, indeed, look impressive. At six mana for a 6/3 regenerator, I’m not quite befouling my underpants, but I am at least going to give it a strong look – especially in block, where dealing with fatty regenerators doesn’t look great. Add in the six-life nightmare effect, and we do have ourselves what looks like a playable card. Or maybe we’ll end up trading them to little kids.

So far, we’ve seen only a few of the Madness cards. The Orb of Insight gives us twenty mentions of the word”Madness” in torment, although, we don’t know if that counts the explanation text – so it might be only ten madness cards. (Funny, that’s the same number that Bennie Smith came up with! – The Ferrett) Of those, I can only recall Psychotic Haze as being a black madness card – it’s effect being an over-priced instant Dry spell? It’s madness cost being the same as Dry Spell’s? Dry spell is from Homelands, isn’t it? Well, I guess that’s… Uhhhh… Yeah, okay. Enough about Madness.

So far, I haven’t been painted much of a picture of mono-black. Nightmare looks like an over-costed, Limited-friendly effect. Sort of like flashback on spells like Fervent Denial. Madness doesn’t look like it favours black – unless, of course, Psychotic Haze’s Homelands-level power gets you aroused. Maybe the other madness Black spell is down right amazing, although I’m figuring more on something like”1B, target player discards a card. Madness B” and that’ll wrap that mechanic up.

We then turn to the no-mechanic cards in Torment to try to figure out what their goal of the new mono-black is going to be all about. The first card that pops up in people’s minds might just be the Sengir Vampire. Yes, it’s five mana for a 4/4 flier with a moderate combat-related ability. Large evasion creatures are well-known to be the kings of Limited… But the Sengir’s four toughness currently puts it at a disadvantage against the standard environment. I don’t really need to continually shove down people’s throats the graces of Flametongue upon the environment. That the Sengir is a perfect target for this doesn’t get me filled with glee. In less than a year, Planeshift rotates out – but Torment is coming in now, and they keep telling us that mono-black is going to rule.

Mutilate presents itself as a card that, personally, I’m not all too happy to see. The slow decline of White removal and the presence of a card like Mutilate presents a feeling of Wrath of God being on its last legs in the Standard environment. That being said, what is Mutilate? Well, it’s a Wrath of God which suffers the drawback of being slightly out of your control; you need enough swamps to kill what needs to be killed, and not too many swamps as to kill what you don’t wish to kill. Okay, so… Mono-black is going to have strong mass creature removal? Given all these nightmare horrors I’ve been looking at, Mutilate seems ill-placed in a set where my creature’s deaths returns resources to my foe.

Ichorid, the new Ashen Ghoul (or whatever you want to call it), presents a whole different side of Torment. I might get into the habit of calling it a reverse Nether Spirit. This card could see coupling with the aforementioned Mutilate – but why bother with the finicky Mutilate when you can just light the whole place on fire with the mighty Obliterate? Again, we’re led down a path where mono-black gets over-shadowed by the ease and power of utilising another colour. While the Ichorid may see usage in block as a mono-block powerhouse, this still doesn’t tell me what is going to revitalise mono-black in Standard. Maybe I have to use Black creatures to feed my Ichoridic wrath, but there’s plenty of gold cards or non-black spells to make me sway from watching the mono-black path.

Last Laugh looks like it could fuel”Domino” decks that trigger massive, destructive, and board-clearing explosions of sadistic laughter… Or maybe it’s just a useless card and Laughing Estate is just a bad idea. That being said, the best ways to sacrifice permanents are through enchantments or artifacts – which aren’t in black. Overgrown Estate comes to mind, and so do land destruction spells – trick an effect that destroys his creatures, his lands, and his life. Neither of which are solely black, although a focus on black cards could be made.

Chainer, Dementia Summoner, has the potential to run wild with his mighty reanimation powers. Granted, it’s three life, but who cares when you can reanimate stuff like enhanced Skizziks and enhanced dragon legends fresh from the grave for a low, uncounterable activation cost that doesn’t include tapping? Life/Death generally isn’t considered quite playable, but why the fuss when for the same price in life you can have a 6/6 Sabertooth Nishoba and a 7/7 Crosis the Purger? Not me! Whether or not Chainer ends up being a piece to put Reanimation decks ahead or becomes a forgotten rare isn’t the point. Reanimation decks do want to have the reserve of actually casting the creatures it normally reanimates, or activating their abilities, or basically having the right creature for the job. While Chainer himself may be lacking two points of toughness to make him sturdy, rather than just out of Firebolt range, the main point here is that he’s going to be reanimating stuff that isn’t purely black. Oh, you’ll be black-focused, but not mono-black.

The effects on Torment from Invasion block – at least in Standard – tell me that mono-black will not be directly influenced by the cards in the spoilers I’ve seen. There are good cards or maybe cards – Mind Sludge could present a pretty large discard threat, assuming you can cast it against an opponent with a full hand and no counters. Chainer’s Edict is a somewhat dumbed-down Diabolic Edict, but it’s still likely to see tournament play. Nantuko Shade has been heralded by some people as a”powerhouse.” Although I’m not exactly excited over it, it certainly looks like an excellent two-drop. It’s also rare, which doesn’t please me.

Perhaps I’ll win games with Mortal Combat? Perhaps I’ll just drop a Mortivore and beat my opponent to death with a creature that’s larger than 20/20 anyways?

Further more, I go back to the earlier point – why does anyone care about mono-black? Although I personally feel black and white are a little behind in the overall scheme of things (not including gold cards), I’m not sure any colour truly has anything strong enough to really burden itself with going mono-colour right after Invasion block. There are occasional reports of Sligh doing well, but mono-red has always been able to win with bad cards. People will mention mono-green in chat rooms, but that’s about it. Maybe a little mono-blue? Whatever.

But no; I reiterate. Why does anyone care about mono-black? The memories of Academy decks breaking the Standard format are enough to get other people riled and angry at Research and Development over Urza’s block. They shout out long strings of obscenities and shake their grubby magic playing fists in mock-outrage. Anger and resentment for what I consider R&D’s best sets ever made – although that’s personal opinion based on the fact I found the cards in Urza’s block to be neato. And that’s over a combo deck that got banned out pretty dang quick. (Although there was Memory Jar/Megrim right afterwards, and then Replenish, so ick.) Necropotence and its offspring dominated formats for years, and yet no one really seems to shake their fist at Ice Age. Like I said, Necro-decks and Suicide black are the two strongest memories of Mono-black I can come up with.

Guess what, guys? We’re probably not seeing”Mono-black” come back. Although I’m sure there will be a mono-black deck or two in our future, it won’t be what people are talking about in forums, chat rooms, or yelling at me from their nicely written articles. The players are expecting the”Return” of Mono-black with Torment: R&D isn’t showing me cards that scream Suicide black or Necropotence. What we’re likely to get is mono-black which is something we’ve never really labeled as such. I’m not really sure what it will be, although there’s a number of strong cards in the format that could define things nicely. I’m working from half-complete information, of course. There could always be a number of insanely over-powered cards sitting in Torment that just haven’t been shown off yet, who knows.

There are two points to this: The first is that all this screaming for mono-coloured decks is inevitably pretty stupid. We’re still in the thick of Invasion block, even if we’re in the block after – its effects on Standard aren’t just the powerful multi-colour cards, but a large number of lands that help fix mana bases. The second is that most people are thinking of decks that revolve around quick beats/Dark Ritual, neither of which we’re actually likely to see. Whatever we do see will be something new and interesting – but not what people are, in a sense, asking for.

As for Torment itself, the set looks like a hotbed of creative concepts – so far. The idealism of”Balancing colours” (within the idealism of number of cards) is an arbitrary and restrictive rule. Be it Extended’s arguments on dual lands, or arguments on cycling sets, or how money is spent, the answer is always the same: Whatever should be done is always whatever continues to make the game interesting, dynamic and fun. Torment represents a continuing set of changes in R&D towards simply functioning more and more creatively.

Maybe that creativity will allow them to produce white cards that don’t suck. I think I’ll write Rosewater and ask him if he has any plans on producing”The White set” any time in the future. ‘Cuz I hate Black.

Iain Telfer