The Comprehensive 8th Edition Draft Review: Black

Welcome to the first of a series of six articles on 8th Edition drafting. Very little has been written on this topic, even though it is being drafted a hell of a lot on Magic Online right now. Kai Budde wrote a primer for 8th Edition Draft on Sideboard a couple of months ago, but I don’t recall ever seeing a comprehensive guide to draft picks in 8th Edition, so I have taken it upon myself to write one. This article will evaluate every card in the set from a draft perspective as well as giving some general info on each color. We’ll start with Black.

Hello and welcome to the first of a series of six articles on 8th Edition drafting. Very little has been written on this topic, even though it is being drafted a hell of a lot on Magic Online at the moment (though this is mostly due to the continued absence of Mirrodin). Kai Budde wrote a primer for 8th Edition Draft on Sideboard a couple of months ago, though this article gave only a brief outline of a format that I feel deserves more attention. I don’t recall ever seeing a comprehensive guide to draft picks in 8th Edition, so I have taken it upon myself to write one. This article will evaluate every card in the set from a draft perspective as well as giving some general info on each color.

First of all, a quick disclaimer: While I don’t pretend to be the best Limited player ever, I have played the format enough to consider myself competent and have sought the opinions of others who have attained respectable ratings in this format. It is to be expected that you will disagree with some of my opinions, and that is a good thing. It would be a pretty boring game if we all agreed on everything. Sometimes you will be right, sometimes you will be wrong, but most of the time you will be neither, as it is just a matter of opinion. The great thing about this format is there has been very little written on it, so there is very little consensus. Feel free to give alternative viewpoints on the forums, as it could spark some interesting discussions.

Hopefully, the terminology I will be using in these articles will all be familiar. One thing you may see me quoting a lot are the numbers 40% and 60%, and this deserves some explanation. 40% is the approximate chance that your opponent is playing any given color and 60% is the chance they are not. I use these numbers when evaluating individual color hosers and cards with landwalk, etc. It is based on the assumption that your opponent is playing two colors and has an equal chance of playing each color. I realize that a lot of people play three-color decks, so the figure for land-walking should be slightly higher than 40%, and also that people are less likely to be playing your colors. Just consider them benchmark figures and not any kind of precise math.

8th Edition Drafting

Before we kick off the series by taking a look at 8th Edition Black, here are just a few notes on the format in general and how I will be evaluating cards.

  • 888 draft is a slow format – much slower than Onslaught Block. While tempo can be an important factor in some games, many more go to the long game where creature stalemates occur and a bomb or superior evasion will win the game. On many occasions I have both won and lost games to decking in this format, after both the ground and the sky have become locked up. This rarely happens in Mirrodin, Onslaught, or Odyssey block.

  • There are no real bomb commons in the set. While there are some that are very good like Dark Banishing, Master Decoy, and Shock, these commons will not dominate the board in the way that Sparksmith or Timberwatch Elf did. However, moving up the rarity ladder, there are quite a few game breaking uncommons and a number of bomb rares. For your deck to be strong you will probably need at least a couple of good non-commons in your deck.

  • Splashing and three-color decks are no longer”the last resort,” but are a viable strategy in their own right. Both Rampant Growth and Fertile Ground provide good common color-fixing and so providing one of your main colors is Green, playing a third color is relatively painless. Also, due to the low power of commons, it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice some consistency just to play all the bomb rares and uncommons you can.

  • All color combinations are viable. It is far more important to be drafting two colors that are flowing well than to draft any pre-designated archetype. Even the much maligned G/W can work reasonably well, especially if you splash either Red or Black for removal.

  • All colors have reasonable hosers for their enemy colors, although some are better than others and very few are maindeck worthy.

  • Mana curves are very different than those in Onslaught block. Most of your spells will cost between two and five mana, with only the occasional bomb or large creature sitting outside of that. Therefore you can normally get away with running seventeen land in your deck.

8th Edition Black

All colors in the base set are designed to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of that color, and 8th Edition Black is no exception. In terms of strengths, it has some good removal, including the best common in the set, Dark Banishing. It also has plenty of discard, mainly of the playable-but-unexciting variety and decent graveyard recursion. Here are the particular characteristics of 8th Edition Black:

1) With notable exceptions, the common creatures are of poor quality, and as a result, you often find yourself shy of creatures after the draft. Therefore it is probably best to pair Black with either White or Green to tap into their good creature pool. B/R will work if you have plenty of removal, as this will make your lower creature quality less important, while B/U will work for a fast evasion deck, but you may find your creature quality to be poor overall.

2) Black’s uncommons are, on the whole, unexciting. Only Nekrataal is ranked higher than the colors best common, though there are plenty of others that will automatically make your deck. It is in the rares that Black really shines, with well over half of them being of potential first-pick quality, while only half a dozen or so may not make your deck. When you see next week’s review of Blue, you’ll notice how impressive that is. There is no color I would rather see in the rare slot than Black.

3) Many of Black’s bomb rares are flyers, but in general, Black is weak in the air, with only Dusk Imp providing value in the common slot. As a result, unless your deck is very fast, you will probably need help from your other color for flying defense.

4) Discard is plentiful and playable, but largely unexciting. However, it can potentially fill gaps in your deck if you are short of playables and help deal with opponent’s bombs.

Anyway, on to the cards. They are listed in order of how good I perceive them to be, and hence, how highly you should pick them (though obviously you will never have to choose between two rares). Note that the order is a guideline only and reflects overall power level. Some cards should be picked higher or lower depending on what else is in your deck and what colors you are playing. For example, Dusk Imp should be drafted later in B/W, where you will normally have plenty of flyers, but higher in B/G, where you will normally have very few. This applies to almost every card in the set, so this list should not be followed blindly.

Plague Wind (r)

There is a card in Onslaught called Insurrection that reads,”5RRR, Win Game”. Well it doesn’t really say that, but it might as well. In 8th Edition, this card costs 7BB with the same result. However, because 888 is a slower format than OLS, this card is actually better than its Onslaught counterpart. Chances are, if you build your deck correctly, you will get to nine mana at some point. Pick it, play it, and watch the look of dismay on your opponent’s face.

Royal Assassin (r)

Kind of the opposite of Plague Wind, Royal Assassin instead makes it almost impossible to lose the game while it is active, since your opponent just won’t be able to attack. This card is probably slightly overrated insofar as it is fragile and, on its own, won’t actually win you the game. However, if you combine it with Master Decoy or Puppeteer, it becomes similar to Visara the Dreadful from Onslaught and certainly contributes to a fair share of wins. As early turn plays go, this is about as good as it gets, especially since it’s immune to Dark Banishing and Sever Soul.

Phyrexian Plaguelord (r)

This guy is an absolute beating! A 4/4 for five mana is excellent in this format anyway, and both his special abilities make combat a dismal prospect for your opponent. All of a sudden your 2/2’s trade with his 3/3’s, his efforts to gang-block are frustrated, and anything he has with one toughness will die as soon as your first creature goes away. If you want to, you can always sacrifice the Plaguelord itself for a Dark Banishing effect that also affects Black creatures. A bomb in every sense of the word.

Grave Pact (r)

How would you like to recklessly attack every turn, knowing that at the very worst, all your creatures will trade one-for-one? In all seriousness, it is almost impossible to lose if you play this card early and it stays around, as your opponent’s board position will just collapse. Obviously, it becomes even more stupid if you have a way to sacrifice creatures. The only downside is that many decks will have some way of dealing with enchantments, especially after sideboarding.

Nekrataal (u)

We now move from the cards that will win you the game on their own, and into the second group of cards: Cards that will either win you the game on their own, but only conditionally, or don’t win the game on their own, but do a specific job very efficiently. Nekrataal is in the latter of these groups and is very efficient indeed. It’s basically a Dark Banishing that costs one Black mana more and leaves behind a Sabretooth Tiger. This is an automatic two-for-one, which can cause a huge tempo swing and get rid of a hard-to-deal-with creature. No matter when you draw this, it is never a dead card. Take it first pick and be joyful.

Fallen Angel (r)

There are not many fliers bigger than 2/2 in the format and so even as a vanilla 3/3 flyer for five mana, this would be a reasonably strong card. However, its special ability puts it into first-pick category. Once you have reached a critical creatures-to-opponent’s-life ratio, this creature becomes a must block. That means your opponent must either chump block, or try to kill the Angel. The latter is very difficult if you have lots of creatures to sacrifice, while the former results in a slowly degenerating board position.

Nightmare (r)

This is one of those cards that feels like it should be better than it actually is, but is still pretty damn good. In a deck with a decent amount of Swamps (at least nine), this should always come out at 3/3 or more, and a 3/3 for six is not terrible. As the game goes on, it will get more and more powerful, and as it is immune to most Black removal, it will become extremely difficult to kill. By the end game it can dominate the board at 6/6 or more, and should win you the game. Unfortunately, the downside is that sometimes it will be a very overcosted Wind Drake, as your Swamps all gravitate to the bottom of your library.

Vampiric Spirit (r)

I have lots of good things to say about this card. If you play this on turn four, your opponent has a number of options. Here they are, in increasing order of goodness for you:

1) They can play one of the few cards that can deal with it on a one-for-one basis (Coastal Hornclaw, Volcanic Hammer, etc).

2) They can spend two turns playing flyers that can then gang-block it and give you a two-for-one.

3) They can put a succession of chump blockers in front of it until they can find a way to deal with it.

4) They can die in five turns.

None of these are particularly great for your opponent, and this makes it well worth the four mana and four life investment. Later in the game, this will be less good, but it can still be used to increase the pressure, halt an onslaught of flyers or just as a large body. The only problem is if you are low on life and draw this, it is a dead card.

Dark Banishing (c)

The best Black common in the set by some distance, Banishing is the answer to most of the problems you face. It will take down everything from the Standing Troops your opponent has just laid to halt your ground attack, up to the Two-Headed Dragon that’s about to kill you. It can also ruin well-planned double teams, clear the path for your evasion creatures, or kill an annoying Regenerator. There’s not a lot else to say about this card, if you don’t know why it’s good you have clearly never played Limited Magic.

Eastern Paladin (r)

Assuming all players play two colors, 60% of the time this will be a vanilla 3/3 for four mana which is pretty efficient and worthy of inclusion in any deck. The other 40% of the time, however, it will be a creature that will slowly decimate your opponent’s position and stop them playing half the cards in their hand.

Western Paladin (r)

See Eastern Paladin. Ranked slightly lower because White has less”must kill” creatures than Green.

Primeval Shambler (u)

This creature will dominate the board as soon as it hits. The threat of its activation makes it difficult to block, attack into, or remove. If your opponent is applying evasive beats the Shambler isn’t going to do anything to stop them (unless the evasion in question is Fear, of course), but other than that he is one of the best creatures you can hope to lay in almost any situation.

Sever Soul (u)

A slower, more cumbersome version of Dark Banishing. It costs two more mana and the fact it’s a Sorcery decreases its potential uses somewhat. The life gain is a nice bonus that may occasionally get you out of a tight spot, but most of the time it’s just gravy. Pick this high because it’s good, solid removal, but this is no Dark Banishing.

Phyrexian Arena (r)

This is a real seat-of-the-pants card, which can be excellent when wielded skilfully and dangerous when not. Two turns after it is played, you will start to reap card advantage and from that point on, you have a slowly ticking clock, which you must kill your opponent before it expires. Fortunately, you will be drawing all the tools to do so twice as fast as your opponent, which is a huge advantage. Who wouldn’t pay six life to draw five cards midway through a game, when your life total is healthy? Unfortunately, this is not a card to get you out of trouble. It takes time to reap its rewards, and during that time, it will only speed you towards your demise.

Death Pit Offering (r)

If you play this on turn 4, you will have trouble losing unless your opponent is packing Enchantment removal. Soon you will be churning out 4/3 Dusk Imps, 4/4 Severed Legions and 6/4 Giant Cockroaches, which tend to end the game very quickly. The only downside to this card is that if you don’t draw it early, it is probably going to be useless. Sure there are some games where there are very few creatures on the board after ten or so turns, but more often both players will have at least three or four men by then. If you play Death Pit Offering, you are giving your opponent a free swing with his team and tremendous tempo advantage after that. Pick this card high, but recognize its limitations.

Abyssal Specter (u)

When it comes to flyers in 8th Edition, that extra point of toughness is all-important. Four mana for a 2/2 is okay, so four mana for a 2/3 is naturally a little better. At 2/3, it will normally take two opposing flyers to take it down, and it will block the Diving Griffins and Aven Cloudchasers of this world all day. In addition to that, the Specter’s special ability, while not remotely equal to its Hypnotic namesake or Hollow cousin, will quickly decimate an opponent’s hand if left unchecked. Unfortunately, like most 8th Edition flyers, one spider shuts it down, but this doesn’t stop it being a great card.

Gravedigger (c)

When the mid-game is in full swing and both players are furiously topdecking, one of the creatures your opponent will least want to see is a Gravedigger. It gives you card advantage and gets your best creature back into your hand, possibly one your opponent expended a lot of resources to destroy in the first place. It’s also a 2/2 body in itself, which is large enough to assist with blocking or even be a threat in some circumstances. It can be used as an emergency 2/2, if you urgently need a creature but have nothing in your graveyard, though this is obviously a far from optimal play. The value of this card for your deck will depend on how many bomb creatures or creatures with comes-into-play abilities you have (Nekrataal is particularly evil), but it will always make your deck regardless.

Vicious Hunger (c)

Decent removal is at a premium in Limited and this makes the grade nicely. In Onslaught Block this would be excellent, but with less two-toughness creatures around, it is relegated to merely”good.” Though it is most often used to do something like take down an enemy flyer, its applications are many and varied. The double-Black casting cost is occasionally a pain, but you will never want to play this on turn two, it’s less painful than it could be. The two-point life gain is gravy, but may occasionally tip the balance in a race.

Ambition’s Cost (u)

Given the lack of tricks in 8th Edition, most games turn into a long battle for board advantage. Although unexciting, Ambition’s Cost can give you a decisive advantage in this battle, as it gives you a net gain of two cards. Casting this the turn after depleting your hand can give you vital additional turns applying pressure before you are reduced to topdecking. While it’s not as flashy as some cards ranked this highly, you will rarely be disappointed to see it.

Diabolic Tutor (u)

It’s no coincidence that this card should appear immediately after Ambition’s Cost. Which would you prefer for four mana – one card of your choice from your deck or three random ones (let’s pretend the three-life loss and the extra colored mana roughly offset each other)? Some of the time you will have a silly bomb in your deck that you would rather have than the random cards, sometimes you won’t and so would rather have the two extra cards. Obviously you have to make a call based on your deck, but both cards are strong.

Bog Wraith (u)

I love this guy, I sort of consider him the unsung third member of the Eastern Paladin/Western Paladin team. He can”just win” when playing against Black in the same way that the Paladins can”just win” against Green and White, and he has the same respectable 3/3 body for four mana. He is so far below the Paladins because you have more turns to find an answer before he wins the game and he can’t serve double-duty as a blocker in the meantime. Still, this card has single-handedly won me more games than any other card in 8th Edition drafts. Incidentally, he is also my most regular target with Diabolic Tutor.

Gluttonous Zombie (u)

Similar to Bog Wraith except it costs one more mana and hits the 60% rather than the 40%. On the basis of this they are probably approximately equal in power but I give the nod to the Bog Wraith as it punishes players who splash Black as well, cannot be blocked by artifact creatures, and is splashable.

Lord of the Undead (r)

Wow, what a bomb this would have been in Onslaught block. In 8th Edition, it is not as good, but is still the best of the Lords. If you have no Zombies in your deck then it is a 2/2 for three mana, which is playable if your deck is bad. How much better it _can_ be depends on how many Zombies you have in your deck.

Looking at the Zombies in the set, we have Deepwood Ghoul, Gluttonous Zombie, Gravedigger, Maggot Carrier, Scathe Zombies, and Severed Legion. If we discount the Maggot Carrier and the Scathe Zombies (which are not particularly good), this leaves three commons and an uncommon that would be in your deck anyway and benefits from the Lord. Once the Lord is in play, Deepwood Ghoul becomes a sizeable, difficult-to-kill threat, while Severed Legion and Gluttonous Zombie become larger evasive threats and even Gravedigger becomes a 3/3 problem.

Now consider the recursion ability. If your opponent is not playing Black, recurring either the Legion or the Gluttonous Zombie is going to be very difficult to overcome, while Gravedigger becomes quite ridiculous (you can hold it in your hand until you need to get the Lord back if you like). If you manage to pick up a number of Zombies, then this card is a potential bomb. However, if you open it in the third pack and don’t have many Zombies, it’s not going to make much impact; hence the lower ranking.

Severed Legion (c)

40% of the time this will be a vanilla 2/2 for three mana. That’s just about playable, but decidedly unexciting. The other 60% of the time it will be a slow-but-persistent clock for your opponent, who will have to use a removal spell on it or outrace you. Not bad, for a three-mana creature.

Zombify (u)

It falls a number of places below Gravedigger, but the power difference is not too great. Basically, Zombify saves you paying the casting cost of the creature, with the drawback that you don’t get the 2/2 body. As a result, this is still a good card, but it lacks the flexibility of Gravedigger and will sometimes be a dead card. If there were a reliable way of getting expensive creatures in the graveyard early, then this would be potentially broken. Realistically, it is too much to expect that your opponent will Coercion away your Avatar of Hope when you have this in your hand.

Serpent Warrior (c)

You don’t get a 3/3 for three mana very often in this format, Trained Armodon is the only other one available. There is no doubt the Warrior can give you a huge tempo boost if you play it on turn 3, when your opponent only punches out a 2/2 on the same turn. This creature becomes even better if backed up by removal, as it can turn a slow start from your opponent into a potentially fatal one. The downside to this creature is, if you draw it in the late game, it may not do enough for your board position to justify spending three life – especially if your life is low or you are on a clock. I still play as many of these as I get.

Dusk Imp (c)

Black doesn’t have many flyers, so a 2/1 flyer for three is nearly always going to make the cut. It is good flying defense in a color that is lacking in that particular department. Of the commons in the set, only Coastal Hornclaw and Aven Flock will survive combat with the Imp. It is also a good question to make your opponent answer on turn three. If they find themselves short of flyer defense, the Imp can get in a lot of damage and may even go all the way.

Looming Shade (c)

A cheaper, weaker Primeval Shambler. Although more than worthy of a maindeck slot, the Shade doesn’t come close to the Shambler in terms of power. While the Shambler can hold its own in most ground combat without pumping, the Shade needs two or three activations before it’s going to be of any use to you, while in the early game, you just can’t afford to have that much mana tied up, so the Shade loses the advantage of being cheaper to cast in the first place.

It is also within range of many burn spells, even if you have a couple of Black mana open. However, in the late game this can still be a huge threat, slowly picking off their chump blockers one by one. Obviously the more Black mana you are playing, the better this is.

Deepwood Ghoul (c)

This guy can be a royal pain in the arse or completely redundant, depending on how the game goes. In the early game he is a threat that is difficult to block, and in the late game he is a persistent chump blocker, albeit one that puts you on a clock. He’s a good target for creature enchantments as he is difficult to kill. In fact a turn 4 Unholy Strength on this guy can spell big trouble for your opponent, as he can regenerate even when you are tapped out. There are times when your opponent plays a Horned Turtle or Standing Troops in response to this, relegating it to the status of”bad wall”; however, you should never be disappointed to have one or more of these in your deck.

Underworld Dreams (r)

Unless you are playing very heavy Black, you will more than likely not have the colored mana to play this on turn 3, and even if you did, you may choose to spend your mana differently in order to play some early creatures. Even if you play this turn 5 or 6, though, your opponent is still on a very definite clock, especially if you are applying additional pressure in other ways. It is a good way of breaking a late game stalemate, where your opponent is on a low life total, but you can’t reach them with any creatures.

However, three colored mana is a lot to spend on a card that doesn’t affect the board at all and a lot of the time you will draw this when what you really need is a creature to pile on the pressure or stem the bleeding. Play it, but don’t pick it over a good creature.

Carrion Wall (u)

We have now got to the cards that may or may not make my deck. This one usually will, and while a 3/2 regenerator for three mana seems a good deal, its Wall status makes it considerably less useful. If you are on the offensive and are looking for something to turn the screw, then this is totally useless. Also, while it is excellent at stopping ground-based assaults, most 888 draft matches are won with evasion of some kind and this won’t really help you against flyers. Even so, if it doesn’t make your main deck, it is a good sideboard option against fast, ground-based decks, especially if you are going second.

Raise Dead (c)

This is the poorest relation of the three graveyard recursion cards. It doesn’t generate card advantage like Gravedigger, nor does it save you mana and tempo like Zombify. However, if you haven’t got either of those cards and need some way to get your bomb back, then you may have to settle for Raise Dead. Also if you find yourself short of creatures come deck-building time, this can let the ones you have serve double duty.

Slay (u)

I am always happy to have one or even more of these in my pile at the end of the draft, even though I will not maindeck it except in an emergency. The fact is, if your opponent is playing Green, then this can be sided in as removal on par with Dark Banishing, as it will only kill half their creatures, but will draw you a card when it does. A near-bomb to come out of the board in 40% of matches is almost always better than a marginal 23rd card.

Execute (u)

See notes for Slay above. As with Western Paladin, ranked slightly lower due to White having less”must kill” creatures.

Coercion (c)

I’ve heard a lot of differing opinions about how good this card is. Some people say it’s tempo disadvantage that only gets you a one-for-one and is useless after about turn 7. Other people see its potential for decimating your opponent’s early game by taking their most useful card for any situation.

Me? I can see both sides of the argument.

I have been frustrated by drawing these in the mid-game when I really needed a threat or an answer, but I have also giggled as I have played this on turn three with an empty board, and seen my opponent’s hand of three land, Remove Soul, and Shivan Dragon. In short, I will put one or even two of these in my deck, but only if I have nothing better.

Drudge Skeletons (c)

This will fill a similar role in your deck to Carrion Wall, in so far as it will slow down ground-based assaults. As a bonus, it can swing for the occasional point of damage, it costs one less mana (and your two mana slots are normally less fiercely contested), and its regeneration cost is cheaper, allowing you to leave mana open for it more regularly. However, the big downside to this over Carrion Wall is that it doesn’t pack enough punch. While Carrion Wall will discourage all but the largest ground creatures from attacking, Drudge Skeletons will just nullify the damage from one creature a turn. Not that this isn’t a useful ability, and multiples of these will cause a Green mage to have kittens, but most of the time you will want something that packs more punch. (Like the Kool-Aid Man. – Knut, feeling the need to interject something) (Hey, Kool-Aid! – The Ferrett, counterjecting)

Giant Cockroach (c)

This is a tremendous beatstick, if (and it’s a big if) your opponent has no creatures with power greater than one. Normally your opponent will have such a creature, so this guy has to resort to either trading with a lesser creature, or sitting back on defense and waiting for an opposing Wurm to turn up that it can trade with. Works pretty well in a removal-based deck that can clear a path for it on turns 5 and 6, but otherwise you can probably do better.

Deathgazer (u)

Ironically, this is a very similar creature to Giant Cockroach. Both cost four mana, both have two toughness and both are best used to sit back and trade with large Green creatures. Deathgazer has a couple of advantages in that it can take down large walls blocking your path, and creatures that are pumped in some way. However, unlike the Cockroach, it can’t beat down too well (it’s a bad Scathe Zombies, which is pretty bad to start with). Last, most of the creatures it really wants to take down have some kind of evasion and are called things like”Dragon” or”Djinn,” making its ground-pounding arse less than optimal.

Mind Sludge (u)

I made the finals of a draft a couple of weeks ago where I ran eleven Swamps and this card won me many games on turn five. If you can reliably play it on turn five with three or preferably four Swamps in play, then it is normally game over, so if you draft a deck like mine, then by all means play this card and be grateful. Way too often you will be forced to play this card with only two Swamps in play or, more likely, you draw it in the late game where it forces your opponent to discard that land they had been holding back. Like Coercion, this is weak in the late game, but unlike Coercion it is sometimes weak in the early game as well.

Persecute (r)

An interesting card more suited to Constructed play than Limited. Needless to say, if you draw this after about turn 6 it is absolutely awful. Therefore, to assess its worth, it is best to look at what it is capable of when you get to play it on turn four when it is optimal. If you go first, by the end of the third turn your opponent would have drawn ten cards and played three lands and probably at least one other card, leaving him with six cards in hand. Of those six, two will probably be lands, so let’s say that he has four non-land cards. If you assume that he is playing a two-color deck roughly split down the middle, then Persecute will net you two cards on average.

A two-for-one is pretty good, but bear in mind you have invested four mana in the card, while your opponent has not yet invested any in the cards discarded, offsetting the card advantage with some tempo. What can we conclude from this? Well, Persecute should net you card advantage when played at the optimal time, but is just plain bad if played later in the game (except possibly to check for combat tricks before attacking). The utility of this card can be increased if you have other ways off looking at your opponent’s hand to set it up cards such as Coercion or if your opponent’s deck is heavily biased towards one color. Most of the time this is not maindeck worthy, but deserves sideboard consideration.

Ravenous Rats (c)

Lots of people love these little guys, but I am not so keen. Advocates will point to the inherent card advantage of the Rats, but card advantage is only good if the”cards” it generates are good.

For example, let’s make a comparison between Ravenous Rats and Gravedigger. Gravedigger is a 2/2, which is just big enough to impact the game. However at 1/1, the Rats are most likely just going to be used as a chump block or maybe to assist in a gang block. Plus, Gravedigger gets back a creature of your choice from your graveyard – possibly a bomb – while Rats make your opponent discard the worst card from their hand. Which of these would you rather have?

I’m not saying it is unplayable, just that some people get too tied up with concepts like card advantage to see what is in front of their face, which is that Ravenous Rats is a bad creature with an okay ability tacked on.

Unholy Strength (c)

Speaking of card advantage, here is a prime way to lose it. Granted, I like this card more than most, but even I realize that it needs to be used correctly. If you just use this to make a creature better, your opponent will eventually deal with that creature, probably nullifying two of your cards with one of theirs.

Far too many times I have seen new players play something like turn 2 Grizzly Bears, turn 3 Unholy Strength and swing for four. On the plus side, if you put it on the right creature it can be very potent. For example, putting this on Bog Wraith when my opponent is playing Black is great, as this puts them on a four-turn clock and they are unlikely to have anything that can remove it. Deepwood Ghoul is also an excellent target. A 4/2 that can regenerate without use of mana, swinging on turn four is pretty potent. In short, only use this card if you have suitable targets and even then always sideboard it out against Red. The Red mage has too many ways to toast your newly beefed up creature at instant speed.

Soul Feast (u)

The card this reminds me most of Lava Axe. If you remove the fact that it isn’t splashable (although I don’t know why you would splash Lava Axe), you pay the same mana for one less damage and get four life in the bargain. I don’t really want to pay five mana for a card that doesn’t affect the game state in any way, but if you are playing a really fast deck you could possibly do worse. No doubt a lot of games have been won with this card, but probably more have been lost by someone drawing this when they needed a threat or an answer.

Mind Rot (c)

Yet another Black discard card. I’ll rehash that like Coercion, Mind Sludge, and Persecute before it, this card is rubbish after about turn seven. If you do manage to play it early, it will get you two-for-one card advantage, but only your opponent’s two worst cards. In fact, the best use for this card is probably about turn 5 or 6 when your opponent has only a few cards in his hand and you may get them to discard a good card or two. Overall, it is almost playable but not very interesting.

Spineless Thug (c)

The Black Goblin Raider. A pretty unexciting card that can be a decent beatstick in the early game, but will normally have little or no impact on the late game. He can’t even be used to block, which makes him only playable in a fast deck with a lot of removal.

Nausea (c)

I liked this card when I first saw it, but after playing with it and against it a number of times, it has consistently disappointed me. As an instant this would be a reasonable trick to kill creatures after your combat damage is on the stack, but as a Sorcery it is extremely limited. The biggest problem is that Black has more playable creatures with one toughness than any other color, so often this will sit in your hand so as not to sentence your Dusk Imps, Drudge Skeletons, and Deepwood Ghouls to death. I wouldn’t normally maindeck this, though it is worth considering as a sideboard option against the right deck.

Death Pits of Rath (r)

If you are playing B/R and have multiple Anaba Shamans, then this is a bomb as it will turn them into Visara the Dreadful. For this reason alone, if you see one of these going round the table in the first pack you may want to snap it up. In any other deck, the symmetry of this card makes it almost worthless.

Scathe Zombies (c)

Yay – an off-color morph! This is one of those cards that will often make your deck simply because it is a warm body and you are short of creatures. Sometimes when you draw your card at the start of turn, all you want to see in the bottom right corner is a P/T box in order to keep up the pressure on your opponent or help stop the beats. At 2/2 this is large enough to affect the board and is never a completely bad card. It’s just never really a good one either.

Larceny (r)

I assume this was supposed to be Black’s version of Coastal Piracy but unfortunately it is not nearly as good and is bordering on unplayable. Without acceleration this isn’t coming out before turn five, by which point your opponent’s hand will be largely depleted anyway. Plus you actually have to be doing damage for this to work, so it is more of a”win more” card than a playable rare. I guess this could be playable if you have a few Severed Legions and Dusk Imps, but even that is a stretch.

Fear (c)

Another card disadvantage machine that, unlike Holy Strength and Unholy Strength, doesn’t even make your creature harder to kill. This can be a decent card in the late game when you really need a way of breaking through, but this will only be applicable in 60% of matchups, so would be better left in the sideboard. To cut a long story short, this is one of those cards that you often draw and wish it was a Scathe Zombies.

Murderous Betrayal (r)

This is one of those cards that I keep looking at and thinking”maybe…” but fortunately my voice of reason always takes over. To even get this into play you will need three sources of Black mana, at which point it becomes a source of Dark Banishings. Now Dark Banishing is a great card, but not at this cost. The first will likely put you in single-digit life totals while the second will make your life a precarious total indeed.

I know someone, somewhere is going to argue that they have used this card to good effect and if you manage it, then all power to you. Me? I’m not playing it.

Bog Imp (c)

It’s a 1/1 creature with evasion. If your opponent has no flyer defense at all, then it will be a very slow clock. As soon as your opponent plays any flyer or any spider then, the Imp is relegated to the role of chump blocker. If your opponent plays anything that can do one damage or give -1/-1, it is dead.

Mind Slash (u)

Blah blah, useless after turn 7 blah blah. Pretty useless before turn seven as well. Four mana and a creature just to get your opponent to discard a card of your choice? Wow! If it allowed you to sacrifice a creature that was about to die then this would be okay, but only at Sorcery speed? No thanks.

Maggot Carrier (c)

I see loads of people playing this card and I have no idea why. Maybe for the one game in a thousand where your opponent manages to stabilize on one life and you can lay this down and do a triumphant victory lap around the tournament hall. You may want to side this in if your opponent shows Worship and you have no other way of dealing with it, but that’s a pretty narrow application.

Plague Beetle (c)

A twenty-turn clock, but only in 40% of games. Great.

Swarm of Rats (u)

If you play this on turn 2 and then play Ravenous rats on turn 3, you have a Coral Eel. Aren’t you lucky?

Megrim (u)

I just can’t think of any start you can make that would make Megrim good. If you play it on turn 3, then you can play Mind Rot on turn 4 and maybe Mind Sludge on turn 5. You would have probably made your opponent discard four cards and done him eight damage and all it has cost you is three cards and three turns of tempo! Meanwhile, your opponent has been playing creatures and has probably beaten you down for more than eight anyway. Oh, and all you are drawing for the rest of the game is dead discard spells that you put in to try and make Megrim good.

Warped Devotion (r)

This card just makes no sense. Returning cards to hand is a blue ability – so why is it being hosed by a Black card when Blue and Black are allied colors? Enough of the Rosewater color-wheel rant, what does the card do? In short, sod all. If you are playing B/U you can make your Unsummons and Boomerangs slightly better, maybe even maintaining card parity. Or you can punish your opponent in the unlikely event he starts abusing Fleeting Image and, er, that’s it.

If you have read this far then thank you, I hope you found it useful. Look out for next week’s article when I will be looking at Blue – probably the trickiest color to play in 888 drafts.

Until then, have fun playing the game


‘piemaster’ on MTGO

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