We’re back yet again for my Limited series on Oath of the Gatewatch. We’ve covered a few colors thus far, but we have a long way to go before we’re through with this format. Black cards: you’re up.
Common Creatures By Curve:
Top Tier Commons:
Potential Top Tier Commons:
Look, yet another color with a curve that tops at five. This really is not an “expensive mana cost” set.
The Eldrazi here are a little more passable than the blue ones without colorless mana. 3/2 for three and 2/2 for two are more likely to put you in a good board position if you curve out while Colorless screwed (yes, that is a phrase) than a 1/3 for two and a 2/3 flier for four.
Kozilek’s Translator is really important here. The body is well sized and it actually produces multiple colorless mana per turn cycle. You can Blinding Drone on their turn and pump Kozilek’s Shrieker on your turn, or, looking ahead to uncommons, just drain each turn with Essence Depleter. It’s a five-drop so you can’t really overload on it, but the first copy or two is huge in making that deck come together.
Zulaport Chainmage is better than past 4/2s were for multiple reasons. The first is that you can easily Support it up to a 5/3 that is much harder to trade with, and the second is that it is still a threat when your opponent is holding it off. Similarly to Kozilek’s Translator, you can easily overdo it here as multiples do not get better, but the first copy does work in non-U/B decks.
Sky Scourer feels pretty bad. There are too many ways to hold off a 2/2 flier, and that’s the best-case scenario of the card most of the time. Slaughter Drone is also pretty mediocre as the trade of it for a 2/4 isn’t even that tempo-efficient, but there are a couple of things you may need it to hold off, so it is likely better in a defensive deck.
The three-drops are at least fine. Kozilek’s Shrieker makes for some weird combat steps for opponents as they try to maneuver around menace and a fourth power on a cost-efficient body, but at its core it’s just a 3/2 and is really only great when ahead.
Vampire Envoy is actually pretty exciting as a Horned Turtle that blocks a ton of things and can help close a game, and I can easily see it playing a lot better than it looks on paper. It’s also the only cheap common Ally in the color, which is another big deal if you pick up the good cohort cards. Oh, and it even triggers on cohort activation. It’s still just Horned Turtle so I don’t want to get too excited, but it does a lot of work without looking super shiny.
Unnatural Endurance is the combat trick of the set. Boon of Erebos was a huge blowout in Theros block but at times a liability, and this takes the whole cost part of it out. Again, as a combat trick there is a limit to how many you can play but any turn you play this and a creature is a massive tempo swing. Just note that it doesn’t save creatures from a lot of the relevant removal as it all exiles.
Oblivion Strike is just obviously good as a card that says “kill a thing” for less than five mana, but Tar Strike does not impress me. -3/-2 is not going to kill a lot of things without a boost in combat, which basically makes this a three-mana pump spell, which is really unexciting.
I’m unsure how I feel about all the “Other” spells here. I think Corpse Churn might be the thing a specific control deck wants to function, but it’s also possible that it’s a two-mana Raise Dead when I already wouldn’t want to pay one for that effect. Untamed Hunger is like a bad Iona’s Blessing, a card I already didn’t like. Witness the End is a card I can see being very good in the format as there’s a lot of random dorks running around to make anything that puts you +1 card good, but the four mana gives me pause. I have a feeling I’m only going to play that card if I don’t stumble into a Mire’s Malice pack three.
Uncommon Creatures By Curve:
Top Tier Uncommons:
Possible Top Tier Uncommons:
Black’s uncommons are really nice in this set.
Grasp of Darkness basically reads “kill anything that costs less than five for two mana.” Best uncommon so far. By a lot. Visions of Brutality honestly might not be far behind. It’s not quite Pacifism, but it’s close.
Malakir Soothsayer is a 4/4 body (well sized for a 2/4 format) that just draws cards in a board stall. Really not a lot to say here. Big creatures that draw cards are good. Sadly it has the drawback of there not being a ton of Allies in Black, but that’s something you somewhat solve by knowing which color pairs do have the enablers for it.
Either of the colorless-required Eldrazi gets out of hand real fast if you can activate it twice a turn. Essence Depleter is a Scholar of Athreos in a format that is much less about snowballing huge creatures, and Havoc Sower just is the huge creature. Both are strong high picks and reasons to make colorless mana work.
Null Caller feels like the kind of card that can get out of hand, but it’s possible it runs out of fuel too fast or costs too much to really dominate the way a true Guildmage style effect would, hence why I’m putting it down as just possibly good. If it didn’t have four toughness, it definitely would be not good as it would not progress your board fast enough to matter. It’s worth noting that this and Havoc Sower are making it more and more likely that I’m cutting Zulaport Chainmage and Witness the End from my deck to avoid four drop glut. The competition is just brutal.
Reaver Drone is in the wrong color. There’s no Support for it, so it has to live life as a 2/1 that is going to be bricked in combat instead of a relevant body to carry counters.
Flaying Tendrils is a game-ending sideboard card…that costs double black. The same issue as all the double blue cards applies here. Definitely not maindecking it, and while it’s getting boarded in against the color White, I expect to hear people complain about not being able to cast it in the window they need to do so.
Black’s rares are also great.
Bearer of Silence is probably the worst of the “great” category as it’s just a flier with an Edict instead of a growing lifelinker that makes tokens (Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet), an undercosted well-sized body that makes tokens (Sifter of Skulls), or just a creature that spews out tokens (Drana’s Chosen). Notice a theme?
Dread Defiler is one of the few huge things in the set. It’s possible that you just don’t want a huge thing anymore because it “dies to Oblivion Strike”, but Defiler at least feels close enough to mattering in terms of size and ability that it might stand up to that test. I’m not trying to pick this early, but it’s a card I’m likely playing if I have it.
I’m probably underrating Remorseless Punishment a little bit. It feels like this might just be pushed enough that you can force the choice to be miserable regardless or that you can force enough trades to make it straight-up ten to the face. I’m at least willing to give it a try before writing off another Punisher card.
Inverter of Truths isn’t actually a four-drop, but I really think it stands a chance as a 6/6 flier that just gets cast on turn 8 and wins the game. Similar to Dread Defiler in role, and you can set it up so that you only draw action for the four to seven turns you have left to play pretty easily.
Second Pick at Battle For Zendikar:
Common Creatures By Curve:
Kalastria Nightwatch. 4/5 is huge, and Vampire Envoy triggers on tap before blockers are declared to take Nightwatch to the skies. Of course this card was already common Air Elemental, so it’s more that the secret is really obvious instead of a secret.
Kalastria Healer suffers from the drop in Ally density and in lifegain payoff cards.
Ingesters. Dorky bodies that basically lost a keyword. Sludge Crawler is a good body but loses out a lot because you have less time to set up big pumps on it.
Grave Birthing. Less durdling, more bashing. This card is the absolute definition of durdling.
Uncommon Creatures By Curve:
Hagra Sharpshooter. Smaller creatures with closer sizing means -1/-1 matters more.
Skitterskin. Fewer things with five toughness exist to brick it.
Bloodbond Vampire. The first trigger matters more as 4/4 is real nice.
Retreat to Hagra. Fewer payoff cards for a narrow effect.
Grip of Desolation. Fewer Awaken cards mean fewer two-for-ones, and fewer Processors mean the exile matters less. Still good, but not “top ten cards in set” good anymore.
Maybe Guul Draz Overseer gets better? 3/4 is a slightly less embarrassing size and the +1/+0 matters a bit more? I’ve been burned on this card before so I’m still super skeptical.
Wasteland Strangler. Less Ingest, less Procession, fewer blowouts.
Takeaways from Black:
Black has a lot of filler but also a solid number of real winners. I feel like that means it is a color that will dry up quickly as people fight over first picks, but I’m going to have to try it out as I’ve been wrong on that before.
A lot of it is going to have to do with overlap on the color pairings. Just like how U/B and B/W didn’t fight for cards in Battle for Zendikar draft, I doubt that they will fight over cards in Oath of the Gatewatch draft.
I guess this means you have to be really careful to draw the black deck that is open and not just the color. A bit of the old set is seeping through, but the synergies aren’t playing out quite the same
There’s also the issue that a lot of the black cards get worse in multiples. Too many colorless mana symbols required or Allies needed to Cohort is a problem. You need a spread…. of the right cards for your archetype. Yet another reason the second color is so key.