Flores Friday – Ten Underrated Black Cards In Standard

One of the things that I have noticed playing Standard since the printing of Innistrad is how underplayed many options in black are. When playing black, consider some of these alternative choices.

Confession: I actually had a really good idea RE: just one or two cards I wanted to write about, but that doesn’t really make for a particularly meaty article; so I upped the list to ten.

As a fun challenge that you can game against yourself, see if you can figure out which cards were the ones that motivated this article. All of them are underplayed, mind you!

Okay, onto the list itself…

One of the things that I have noticed playing Standard since the printing of Innistrad is how underplayed many options in black are. Black is a color that is mostly played in B/U Control decks and Solar Flare decks (outside of black’s signature Monopoly board of Infect)… so for the most part is a lender of a couple of Grave Titans and maybe some Doom Blades, but the color can actually offer quite a bit more or can at least do what it is doing in a more diversified way; I don’t know that everything that it is capable of in Standard is appreciated (or even considered).

Now most of the cards in this list are similar to Doom Blade… That is, they are mostly removal cards, but I think you can see that there might be something going on here that can improve your tuning, tweaking, and overall choices when playing black.

One Mana: Dead Weight, Despise, and Virulent Wound


Let’s face it… Despise is kind of despised in Standard. Players who were used to running Inquisition of Kozilek just kind of resent the inflexibility of Despise, so the card doesn’t get played hardly at all.

Is Despise as good as Inquisition of Kozilek? Even for the purpose of what I am about to suggest, the answer is no… But it is still a very good tool for a particular purpose: Dungrove Elder duty.

Dungrove Elder is one of the three non-Top 10 pillars of the format. Anyone who thinks Dungrove Elder is a Top 10 card is… Well… I think there are just lots of good players who would disagree with them. However, like Druidic Satchel, Dungrove Elder helps to define what decks are good despite not being in the Top 10. Basically, if lots of players run Dungrove Elder decks, a certain type of deck becomes very bad; if they don’t, those same decks will be very good. Its effect on what decks are good is much more exaggerated than more potent cards played in the same decks (i.e. Primeval Titan). Mana Leak and Dissipate are pretty much quite good against Green Sun’s Zenith for Primeval Titan and Primeval Titan itself; however if players go Dungrove Elder, clunky permission gets awful, whereas if they go Robots, it is quite good. You see, it has very little to do with the awesome card (Primeval Titan).

Druidic Satchel is kind of the same way. If everyone is playing Mono-Black Infect, the card Druidic Satchel is kind of bad. However if the average opponent is complaining about a tapped Isolated Chapel on the second turn, Druidic Satchel is about the best three-mana play you can make in the format.

Anyway, back to Despise

The problem with Dungrove Elder is that, especially on the play, especially with Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves setting it up, the card can be too fast for control decks to stop. You can be kind of happy to see a Dissipate in your opener (remember, we said that card is good against flagship Primeval Titan), but you might end up losing to a Dungrove Elder in the meantime.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that having a turn one Birds or Elves is going to give the Elder automatic insurance against the main cards that deal with it (Liliana of the Veil, Geth’s Verdict, etc.).

Sometimes a two-mana Mana Leak is too slow to stop Dungrove Elder, but a first-turn Despise is generally going to be effective, even when the opponent has an accelerator.

A lot of mages think Thrun, the Last Troll is a dangerous play by the green competitors, but, again, a well-placed Despise can take a lot of the teeth out of that guy. Again, you are generally always going to be faster than Thrun with a one-mana play.

Dead Weight and Virulent Wound

I started thinking about Virulent Wound when discussing the Top 10 Cards in Standard on Twitter last week. @smi77y claimed Virulent Wound was a Top 10 card on the basis that it is one of the strongest cards in Mono-Black Infect.

Um… so what?

Virulent Wound is maybe a Top 50 card. It is still certainly good enough to play, just not Top 10.

But like I said, I got to thinking about it.

Why is Wring Flesh a work of Neeman genius but Virulent Wound is like whatever? Why is Virulent Wound only played in Infect? Might Virulent Wound be more-or-less the same thing as Wring Flesh in B/U Control?

Think about it.

Both cards give essentially -1 toughness, but Virulent Wound sticks around. Obviously it isn’t going to be better all the time (you can duck a fully loaded Stormblood Berserker with a Wring Flesh for a turn), but Virulent Wound does a lot of the same killing, while setting up a bonus.

With Snapcaster Mages, you can get most of the way to poisoning your opponent in some games, and many B/U decks actually just play Inkmoth Nexus. Personally I don’t see a huge disconnect with playing the card Tezzeret’s Gambit if you are going to try to build your own Mulldrifter with Divination anyway.

Sales Pitch: Basically you get most of the same functionality as Wring Flesh, but a bonus. One of the fun things about playing essentially an incremental burn suite is that it can bring focus to your play. If you are actively looking for how to complete the ten points of poison, you are much more likely to find them.

Dead Weight

Just an idea for Solar Flare… Actually a bit more versatile than Wring Flesh and / or Virulent Wound… You just have to play it on your own turn. The reason I like it for Solar Flare is the ability to re-buy it over and over with Sun Titan. In this case, being an enchantment is actually an advantage!

Two Mana: Go for the Throat, Reassembling Skeleton, Sorin’s Thirst, and Victim of Night

Reassembling Skeleton

I am just surprised this card isn’t seeing more play; the first week of the season Reassembling Skeleton teamed up with Forbidden Alchemy for more and more free card advantage (bin Reassembling Skeleton with Forbidden Alchemy, re-buy it immediately-ish).

I lost to a deck last week that just kept re-buying Skeletons and using them to either block my one big threat and/or just pay for upgrade costs. Reassembling Skeleton isn’t the kind of card I typically want in my deck, but like Billy Moreno said when it first came out, Reassembling Skeleton doesn’t seem like it offers much, but it asks for so little while working hard. If your plan is to just kill them with one Batterskull or something, the card is next to unbeatable long term. Super good with Nephalia Drownyard, obviously.

Go for the Throat and Victim of Night

These cards I have grouped together in my mind (and only because I am writing this article… Originally I was just thinking about Go for the Throat). Basically I think you can sideboard this card, not just as a redundant point removal card, but to bring in against control decks.

The most common big guy finisher is Consecrated Sphinx; Go for the Throat, like Doom Blade, can kill a Sphinx. Now there are lots of reasons a Sphinx might resolve. You tried for your own Sphinx (or Titan, or maybe you are awful and you tried a Wurmcoil Engine). That got countered, and your opponent had the opening for a six. Unsurprisingly, it sticks.

Now if you are in this spot, no problem; you can often just kill the Sphinx on your upkeep, and they will never draw.

The problem is when the card is not Consecrated Sphinx but Grave Titan. Grave Titan is the hardest big guy finisher to deal with for a pretty obvious reason: Grave Titan by contrast does not die to a Doom Blade. However it does die to Go for the Throat!

Victim of Night is a card with all kinds of restrictions on what it can’t answer, but the fact is it can answer quite a bit. For example, it is one of the few cards that will reliably kill both an Inkmoth Nexus and a Grave Titan. I am actually suggesting a paradigm shift here.

Typically when we are the control siding against another control, we will take out removal. What happens when we start bringing it in, instead? This is a technology that Erik Lauer, then the Mad Genius of Magic (now a stalwart of the Development Team), taught me like 14 years ago. Control decks typically have a small number of ways to win. In 2011 it is unrealistic to believe they can protect every card if all you want to do is remove their sixes with cards that cost two. This is an unconditionally defensible strategy for some decks.

Victim of Night is obviously a harder splash than Go for the Throat, but I think in dedicated B/U decks that have a reasonable expectation of having BB in play during the middle turns, it is probably generally better. This is a card that might not be able to kill a first-turn Stromkirk Noble but makes up for that with being able to kill literally every played infect dude (neither Doom Blade nor Go for the Throat can hit all of them) and is great against Consecrated Sphinx AND Grave Titan AND even Wurmcoil Engine.

Just a note on the “killing Grave Titans and Wurmcoil Engine” … Obviously some guys are going to get left over. The question is if you are really going to lose to two 2/2 guys versus a 6/6 engine that makes roughly DI of them per turn. Same thing with Wurmcoil Engine tokens. Yes, two 3/3s can be significant; they are also pretty easy to contain with lots of transition level cards (Thrun, Garruk tokens, a Titan), whereas a Wurmcoil Engine will really do a number on a Titan heads up, etc.

Sorin’s Thirst

This card don’t get no love.

I remember when I innovated Vicious Hunger back in 2000. Lots of pundits scratched their heads and criticized; obviously Snuff Out was the right card. Obviously. Now actually obviously in 2011, those guys are all morons, and Vicious Hunger was the defining defensive card of one of the most important decks of all time.

Sorin’s Thirst is an upgrade to Vicious Hunger. While everybody is upgraded relative to their 2000 counterparts, I think Sorin’s Thirst can still contribute. As a sideboard card, there are many decks that would prefer to have it than the ones that can kill bigger creatures, viz. Victim of Night. Say you are actually bad against Stromkirk Noble but are confident in your ability to compete with other control decks on turn six. Which card do you want to play?

All these cards—the unmentioned default Doom Blade—to Go for the Throat, to Victim of Night, to Sorin’s Thirst do similar things. Each one is better in a certain situation; as far as I can tell, the only elite designer to have figured this out is Caleb Durward :)

Three Mana: Phyrexian Crusader

Generally I think that this is a guy who is under appreciated generally because he is considered a “Mono-Black Infect” card. There is no reason that it should be played only in that one deck. For instance, Phyrexian Crusader is probably pretty good in B/U Tezzeret.

The other thing is to sideboard Phyrexian Crusader as a sideboard card against Red Decks and to a lesser degree the many popular white decks. I mean can the typical Red Deck get through this Stop Sign at all? I mean random B/U Control deck siding Phyrexian Crusader against RDW? Right?

As you probably know, my favorite way to contain beatdown with control decks is to make momentum-breaking plays on my own turn, from tapping out for Keiga, the Tide Star to suggesting Volcanic Hammer to Chapin for his Regionals-winning Korlash build. I can see Phyrexian Crusader filling in a role in between those two.

Four Mana: Olivia Voldaren

By the time you are reading this there will doubtless be coverage about Olivia Voldaren from the World Championships, probably as the brainchild of Patrick Chapin.

Patrick told me to try Olivia out, and I’ll tell you the same.

I don’t know that I would say that “she is the best six in the format” yet, but Olivia has been a good six for me. You can play her with Mana Leak mana open, which is great, and she can get bigger than a typical six in a hurry.

Probably my favorite thing about Olivia is her ability to contain a Moorland Haunt. Jon Finkel liked by U/R Druidic Satchel deck, but lamented its ability to compete with the popular Moorland Haunt. You are trying to win with 2/1 creatures, one Batterskull, and some burn cards; a producer of 1/1 [chump] blocking tokens can be highly problematic given that setup. Now obviously Moorland Haunt is a Top 5 card in Standard and the reason that Illusions and some of the various Blade and Humans decks have so much staying power. Olivia laughs off Moorland Haunt like it’s nothin’.

The most impressive thing I did with Olivia this week was to beat an opponent with B/U using a Jund build after he had activated Consecrated Sphinx six times. Olivia was in play holding the Sphinx off until I got my second black, and eventually he had to sweep the board, albeit with a three cards-in-hand advantage. I had a Garruk in play and crawled back on the strength of that planeswalker and a Wolf Run.

Six Mana: Grave Titan

Funny to mention this as the tenth card, but it is worth repeating: Grave Titan is about the hardest threat in the format to deal with easily. Its resilience against Jace was what allowed it to overtake Frost Titan last year, and while it is less sexy in Solar Flare than Sun Titan, the fact is Sun Titan just dies to a Doom Blade (and is getting back a Forbidden Alchemy-driven Isolated Chapel half the time, let’s be honest). As a clock, Grave Titan is almost without par, and as long as people are on Doom Blades, it seems a heck of a lot easier to win with than Consecrated Sphinx in the mirror (just dies to Doom Blade).

So… Which were the two cards?