When your eyes and my words last met in mutual, pixilated embrace on this very computer monitor, I was teasing you with promises of more the Dark. Well, I am not a politician, and my promises, far from being empty, are quite often brimming with expectation of fulfillment. You’ve already read about the wonders of the Dark’s White and Blue. Today, we’ll take aim at the other colors, jump right into it, and mix our metaphors right from the start by sizing up Red.
Notwithstanding its color wheel affinity with Black, Red isn’t usually a color which provokes strong emotions of hatred or love from a flavor standpoint. After all, Goblins may do horrible things, but it’s usually because they don’t know any better. In the Dark, the prevailing emotion one feels for Goblins is pity. To start with, the creatures are irredeemably underpowered. Marsh Goblins is inherently worse than Plague Beetle, and in almost every case, Scarwood Goblins should be replaced with a simple Grizzly Bears. Goblin Hero is one of the few thematically-dark Goblins in Magic: In the flavor text and Mark Tedin art, one almost comes to understand the Tragedy of the Common Goblin. On the same level, Orc General (with its somber Jesper Myrfors illustration) aids in sympathizing with the smelly masses. Goblin Caves and Goblin Shrine are early companions to Goblin King, and Goblin Wizard lets you work your pumped-Goblin fun at instant speed. More impressive though is one of Red’s non-Goblin related cards. Though no longer suitable for tournament play, Ball Lightning is the Dark’s biggest contribution to Magic, and it is progenitor to a growing bevy of progeny (Yavimaya Ants, Skizzik, Blistering Firecat, Spark Elemental, and others).
The Dark’s Green is, by comparison, unexciting. Besides an inexplicable focus on forestwalk (Wormwood Treefolk and Scarwood Bandits have it; Hidden Path and Scarwood Hag can grant it), there’s not much going on. Scarwood Bandits is actually decent in this artifact-infested world of ours and is a nice fit alongside Scavenger Folk (with its creepy original art by Dennis Detwiller). In its own way, Wormwood Treefolk has a lot going for it and nicely represents the Green/Black interaction in the set. Elves of Deep Shadow (illustrated by Jesper Myfors) can help with the Treefolk’s uncomfortable activation cost and is a perennial favorite at the “Dress Up Like a Magic Card” parties held at my house every New Year’s Eve. But perhaps, I’ve said too much already. Slightly less heart-stopping is Dark Heart of the Wood, a precursor to Zuran Orb. The final well-known Green spell from the Dark is Whippoorwill, remembered not so much for its ability as for its lack of Flying.
One of the Dark’s more interesting card types is Land. Maze of Ith is a classic defensive option, and Safe Haven is the inspiration for Synod Sanctum. A great many players surely wish that I would leave it at this, but I cannot conscionably hide the truth from my readers. To write about the Dark without writing about Sorrow’s Path would be like giving a little girl a saddle for her birthday but neglecting to include a pony. Possibly the worst card in the long history of the game, Sorrow’s Path is at once frustratingly useful (hey, I dream about General Jarkeld) and yet still overwhelmingly bad. As horrible as it looks though, it’s even worse: The land has been errataed so that it only damages you and your creatures if it’s tapped for its ability (meaning, you can’t Donate it to an opponent and then get to work with Icy Manipulator).
As excited as I am about land, I’m just wild about artifacts, and the Dark contains more artifacts than it does cards of any single color. Far be it from me to claim that most of these artifacts have any play value, but there’s something cuddly and warm about cards like Bone Flute. I like to compare exploring the Dark to touring an ancient castle: In the throne room, you see gleaming suits of armor; in the Great Hall, you gasp at the splendid Dutch draperies; in the Queen’s Bedroom, you examine the fine wall painting of King Christian IV defeating the Swedes (with only one eye, mind you). Then, you come to water closet. Yes, among all this magnificence, the Royal Latrine is a mere hole in a bench. And when you leave the castle, it’s the toilet you remember best. You tell your friends back home, “It’s amazing how small people were back then. I mean, nowadays, everybody would have too big of an ass.” Still, even though it was your favorite part of the tour, and you’d love to see it again, you’re sure of one thing: You’re glad you’ll never have to use the toilet yourself.
It’s exactly the same with the artifacts in the Dark.
Tower of Coireall is one of those cards I like to use to prove to new players that, once upon a time, Walls actually saw action. For a laugh, Tower of Coireall could even be included in a Rolling Stones deck. But what sorts of Walls were available in the Dark? While Carnivorous Plant was in Green’s arsenal, any deck could run Necropolis. That damage which Necropolis couldn’t stop was easily negated by Fountain of Youth, a personal favorite of mine when I was 13-years old. Alas, neither card could do much about an attacking Mahamoti Djinn; for that threat, Scarecrow (sinisterly depicted by Anson Maddocks) was your go-to man. For my decks, though, I had other high-end artifact creatures in mind: Diabolic Machine always competed with Ebony Rhino for those precious seven-drop slots. Also from the Dark, Skull of Orm offers a unique ability, but like the set’s other artifacts, it is significantly overpriced.
In the end, however, it’s the Dark that we’re talking about, and Black inevitably piques the most interest. While Black doesn’t possess the power of White (Preacher, Exorcist, and Witch Hunter), it makes up for this in flavor. Uncle Istvan is, of course, insanely overpriced and would have been much better had its power and toughness been switched around, but it serves as a reminder that monks are not just relegated to White and Green. However, as my Uncle Toby Shandy likes to say, “If you want to win games with Uncle Istvan though, you’ll need to clear a path for him.” Few cards do this job better than Ashes to Ashes, and if there are any artifact creatures on the board that Ashes to Ashes can’t hit, they can always be swathed in a Curse Artifact (the original Relic Bane). For that final bit of damage, we could turn to Banshee, a creature particularly helpful in, yet again, a multiplayer life gain deck. Much like Diseased Vermin, The Fallen (with even more terrifying Jesper Myfors art) punishes opponents for not blocking. Much like absolutely nothing else in the game, Season of the Witch (to make no mention of Jesper Myfors) punishes opponents for not attacking. This enchantment suggests one of the more ingenious uses for Vedalken Orrery; assuming a tight board situation, it shouldn’t be hard to wipe out all of an opponent’s creatures with a Second Main Phase Season of the Witch. Finally, even though it would never be printed under the same name today, Frankenstein’s Monster is magnificently flavorful.
So, you now either know all you need to about the Dark, or you’ve been distracted by the many degrading images of women I’ve hyperlinked onto the last two articles. In any event, I’m sure you’re happy.