The New Old Face of Control: The Mirrodin Black Review

Dross Harvester strikes me as one of the most interesting creatures in the set. Obviously you can’t just drop this into any deck and expect to succeed, but that’s a very impressive power-to-casting-cost ratio. The cool thing about this card is that he’s interesting when creatures are involved (if you can keep it to your advantage) and he’s also interesting against passive decks (which hopefully can’t race). Using him in each situation requires some specific preparation, however.

We’ve been hearing for some time now that Wizards of the Coast is tired of seeing Blue Control on the top of so many Constructed metagames. The ensuing neutering actually began some time ago – but it’s when Mirrodin rotates in over the Odyssey block that we will at last see the new face of heavy control. In the new world, heavy control decks no longer cheaply counter significant numbers of your threat cards; instead, they have to allow you to play them out, and then they destroy them as needed. That’s a significant shift from more traditional blue-based control decks, and actually hearkens back not just to recent MBC decks but even farther back to the ancient original "blow-it-all-up" style of control: Red/White.

The real difference here as a control player is that you have to allow your opponent to do what they want and then try and deal with it. The result is that this style of control has to potentially be able to take everything on the chin. Whereas counter-based control could often just Counterspell the scariest hate you could bring at them, the new breed of control will be forced to tough it out and find some way to work through it. That means dedicated late game anti-control cards are much more important than they used to be. It should also mean that control is easier to target than has been the case in the past, and I suspect this is one of the real motivating factors behind the shift.

The result of all this is that Black Control has come back with a vengeance. Wizards has called it back from its (very) brief retirement and loaded it down with so many good options that there’s bound to be not just one but several successful control archetypes to choose from. Whether heavy Black control will be the dominant archetype remains to be seen, but for now it looks clear to be one of the most important Tier 1 decks and one of the main starting points for anyone looking to explore this wide open new format.

Barter in Blood

As I mentioned in my first preview article for Mirrodin, Barter in Blood is enormously powerful in the right deck and (in combination with several other new cards) helps re-solidify Mono-Black Heavy Control as a legitimate archetype. Keeping those other new cards in mind, one of the biggest plusses to this card is the way it will shove opponents into awkward positions deciding just how fast to rush your defenses. Trying to swarm past a deck with both Barter and Oblivion Stone presents a number of difficult pacing questions, and I’m sure we’re going to see a lot of frustrated players feeling damned if you do, damned if you don’t by the need to play around Barter in Blood while also somehow maintaining enough pressure to keep Oblivion Stone in check.

Betrayal of Flesh

This will see Limited play, but both sides of the spell are far too expensive to consider for Constructed.

Chimney Imp

Sometimes cards have to be bad, sometimes they have to be awful and, every now and then, they have to be this awful. Chimney Imp isn’t a card – it’s a joke. Anybody that takes this card into a deck is (hopefully) doing it strictly as a labor of love. Some of us like to play with tourney-level cards; some of us like to play with Sorrow’s Path. Cards like Chimney Imp make sure there’s something to”hate” while also setting the effective bottom of the card pool.

Consume Spirit

Mirrodin contains several cards that will breathe new life into the temporarily-deceased control black strategies, and Consume Spirit is a big part of that movement. Particularly strong if the Extraplanar Lens approach turns out to be viable, Consume Spirit fills a specific niche by providing efficient life gain and creature (or player) removal into one outstanding threat. With outstanding options like Phyrexian Arena and Promise of Power, the ability to swing this much life in one card is going to be very useful in the coming months. That Wizards brought this back in a version superior to all its predecessors – even Drain Life – was surprising and in combination with all the other cards added seems to be a strong signal that they may be seeing the Black style of control as being the preferred successor to more countermagic-based control. The cards are now there, and you will certainly see plenty of Black-based control in the new environment.

Contaminated Bond

In Constructed you’re going to want to kill things outright rather than mess around with this kind of thing. In Limited this is a bit more interesting, where it’s able to provide at least a somewhat reasonable deterrent to a potential attacker, but little else. It’s still not ideal since (depending on the creature) they can still potentially block and trade (and/or use special abilities). This is sub-par, but there will be times it will be worth consideration for specific uses out of the sideboard.

Disciple of the Vault

Hypothetically useful in some infinite recursion artifact combo deck – but if you can infinitely recur artifacts, you can probably do better than this.

Dross Harvester

Dross Harvester strikes me as one of the most interesting creatures in the set. Obviously you can’t just drop this into any deck and expect to succeed, but that’s a very impressive power-to-casting-cost ratio. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s take it in steps:

First, the main issue is clearly that you lose the life first since it won’t hit until next turn unless you’re able to give it haste. (Hint: haste is good with this guy.) Now, against a deck with creatures if you can kill them at a reasonable enough rate you can significantly improve the Harvester, turning it into a serious tempo weapon in the right match-ups. Turn 3 Harvester, take 4, turn 4 Nekrataal (gain two) and swing for four, then next turn kill another guy and swing for six, etc.

The cool thing about this card is that he’s interesting when creatures are involved (if you can keep it to your advantage) and he’s also interesting against passive decks (which hopefully can’t race). Using him in each situation requires some specific preparation, however, so I’m not sure how usable this is going to be for a Game 1 type of strategy. As a sideboard option, I think there are many ways this card can serve. Again, a very tricky card to use and judge, but I feel this one’s better than many have realized.

Dross Prowler

Some worlds are indeed fearful places, but the plane of metal isn’t the best place to be intimidating. Given the abundance of artifacts running around right now, Fear isn’t a very impressive keyword ability for the new Limited. In Standard, you should also be able to do better in most cases – so the Prowler is probably going to have to hit the Classifieds circuit to get much companionship in the coming months.

Flayed Nim

Those kinds of stats won’t get you into the club when it comes to Constructed, so we’re clearly examining this one from a Limited perspective. This is an intriguing ability, representing an improvement over the Lone Wolf ability since you’re able to damage both the player and the creature at the same time. Combining regeneration into this package is also an improvement, giving two useful abilities that go very well together. So the question is, what do we want to use this guy for?

On defense he can inflict two (or more, depending on his power) damage on the opponent while keeping an attacker at bay – but at four mana to cast and three mana to regenerate, that’s not the kind of thing you want to rely on as "Plan A.” As an attacker, you’re looking at a two-power regenerator that essentially can’t be blocked; a useful ability, but not exactly stellar at four mana (unblockable 2/2s would normally run you around three mana). So what you end up with is a fairly flexible card, but one which isn’t ideal at either of its jobs in terms of mana efficiency. That said, it’s still worth a go, but for flexibility more than focus – so choose how high to value this based on your deck’s needs accordingly (that should be true with all cards, but goes double for cards like this).

One last thing: I suspect that even a little equipment on this guy will get unfair very quickly.

Grim Reminder

Grim Reminder is a very powerful effect, but one which lends itself best to post-sideboard play. In that role its main weakness looks to be its speed, so make sure you’re not bringing it to a match where you’re otherwise worried about being outraced. Once you can fulfill all those requirements, this card becomes a real threat, and is the kind of thing that can potentially dominate control mirrors all on its own.

Note that this even "gets around" discard like Mind Sludge, which makes it highly vexing for the typical control mirror. The card is very good at what it does; the question is going to be whether you want that function badly enough to dedicate the slots to it. The second use for this card is to build around the "Squee, Goblin Nabob" ability, since you can discard this for profit then bring it back during upkeep. I don’t see anything real sexy for this use just yet, but it’s another good thing to keep in mind.


Obviously out of the question for Constructed, the Mirrodin Limited I’ve seen so far would seem to indicate that you do actually have enough artifacts to rely on for this to be worth it, particularly thanks to its Instant speed.

Moriok Scavenger

An extra point of toughness for a more limited ability and a worse race than Gravedigger means this isn’t going to see normal Constructed play. In Limited this is just fine, however, and in that environment the extra point of toughness lines up very nicely with many of the format’s common creatures.

Necrogen Mists

There was a time when this kind of effect might have been more powerful but today’s decks are too well-honed on tempo to care much about this kind of thing. At three mana, you’re just paying too much for the effect, particularly given the non-random nature of the discard.

Nim Devourer

This is just too slow and hinges on too many things going right to really be worth the cost for Constructed. In Limited, this seems better – but that toughness of one gives me some real pause. Each time it dies you can "trade up" your worst guy, but then you have to wait another turn to attack each time due to summoning sickness, at which point they can also just trade in their worst guy. Meanwhile, you’re spending two mana to "recur" this, and presumably also trying to keep up in the tempo race by still trying to drop more of your own creatures. Without some kind of evasion or other reliable way to get through, this doesn’t strike me as all that great for the cost.

Nim Lasher

Again, without some kind of way to get them through I’m just not impressed with these one-toughness options. It’s certainly playable, but I wouldn’t pick it very highly.

Nim Shambler

Still strictly for Limited, but this is a much better way to handle things. By allowing this kind of regeneration the creature gets to continue attacking each turn, and by skipping the mana requirement it allows you to keep your fodder coming in order to maintain the tempo advantage a creature like this is looking for. Again, the single toughness is a bit of an issue, but the Shambler is one of the better ways to go about this kind of thing.

Nim Shrieker

Far better than its common Nim cousin, the Shrieker is surprisingly good for its cost. The key here is that all-important evasion ability – and thanks to the Shrieker’s flying, several players listed this as one of their MVPs after the pre-release weekend.

Promise of Power

I still stand by Promise of Power as one of the standout cards of Mirrodin. Both abilities are phenomenal, they are complimentary, and they fall straight into an archetype that Wizards has clearly made a conscious decision to encourage. In fact, given the existence of Mono-Black Control, it’s like this card was tailor-made: A high-powered card drawer that can substitute as a massive threat when needed, or provide both once the late game is attained. As it stands this is one of the best new abilities printed for black in a very long time.

Reiver Demon

This is an extremely powerful effect, but MBC has so many good tools at this point that I’m not sure you even need to resort to this kind of thing anymore. The nice thing is that this does provide an effective answer to Akroma, Angel of Wrath – but there’s some question in my mind as to whether your typical MBC should have to worry about the Angel at this point. With so many other incredible spells available to the archetype (and many of them expensive) I’m guessing this won’t see the kind of play that might otherwise have happened, but it will show up in small numbers here and there based on the sheer level of power it brings to the table. In particular, this will be very good against mid-game monster swarms – but I’m guessing that MBC will be able to handle those without too much trouble anyway.

Relic Bane

In Limited, this depends on how likely games are to stall out – and I haven’t seen enough yet to decide how viable an option this represents. Part of the question is just what you’re putting this on, since putting it on a creature means they can potentially just trade and get a two-for-one. For now, I’d rate this as "worth trying, but probably not worth it under normal circumstances.”

Slith Bloodletter

Again, not a chance for Constructed, where you need to get much more bang for your invested buck. In Limited, this strikes me as a fine option. At this cost, there’s a chance it can start hitting from turn 3 if you’re lucky – and that’s especially true if you’re going first. If not, it’s still a handy blocker that can help buy time for your evasion creatures to get their thing done while also threatening to come over himself if the right opportunity presents itself. This is already a good creature at BB, and like the other Slith anything available to make him even better (like equipment or enchantments) is going to bring this one over the top very quickly. Unlike many of the other Slith, this one can be useful whenever you draw him.

Spoils of the Vault

Wow is this bad. Even if you’re just going for basic land this is a poor deal, and the minute you step off of that track you’re in for a ridiculous amount of danger. Not a chance, folks.


Another returning Black icon, Terror has come home to a Standard environment that may be the most inviting yet. In combination with options like Smother, Barter in Blood, Nekrataal and others, Black is easily poised to pick apart the creature threats in most Standard decks and will have enough choices to pick from that you can specialize a bit on which threats you most expect to see. It should also go without saying that Terror is also quite good in Limited, as always. Yes, there are lots more artifact creatures running around this time, but you’ll still find plenty of targets to take out.


Dramatic when it works, but my guess is that Vermiculos will turn out to be too romantic for either format. Trample or evasion would have made a big difference here, and the 1/1 starting body didn’t help any.

Wail of the Nim

This strikes me as a handy trick for Mirrodin Limited, and one that comes with several bonuses to the package. The second ability (and the Entwine) both add interest and in combination with the first ability this strikes me as a good, solid card for Limited environments. Ironically, it may be best in the mirror, as Black looks to have a fairly high number of one-toughness playables in this format.

Wall of Blood

I go back and forth on this one for Limited. The ability to potentially pick off smaller fry for a one-time life payment (per creature) is attractive and should make it difficult for the opponent to keep much of an offense up if they have to keep going through this wall. Sure, you’re going to be taking damage from the payments – but if it means you kill each creature off it essentially means that each creature can only hit you once. Instead, it probably means that your opponent will have to hold off a turn or two and then start attacking en masse, and since you spent your third turn making a wall it’s not like you’re punishing them for this kind of play. My guess is that this is playable but not greatly so, but this will be one of those cards that will take a bit more time to get a good read on.


That’s a very small body for a five mana creature. In return, you get a package that’s awful in Constructed and an ability that’s going to be tough to pull off in Limited thanks to all the artifact creatures in the mix. Save some mana and stick to Moriok Scavenger – it only gets artifact creatures, but the mana is right and the effect is far more dependable.

Wrench Mind

As with several other cards in this set, Wrench Mind would have been a powerhouse of a card in some earlier environments. For now, it looks like enough decks will have some artifacts that you can’t risk this in Constructed. For decks that don’t have artifacts, losing two cards for one at such a low mana cost can be very disruptive – but the question is how often you can expect to pull this off, since taking just one artifact card is much less likely to be worth the time and mana. This would be great in the sideboard for once you know whether they’ll be more likely to hit, but most sideboards aren’t going to have that kind of room to work with. Again, a potentially powerful effect for the cost, but one that probably can’t be relied on – at least for now.

Necrogen Spellbomb

This is one of the weaker Spellbombs and just doesn’t measure up to Constructed or Limited in most cases.

Nim Replica

As a 3/1 for three, there will be uses for this in Limited and the effect is useful enough that you’ll get to take advantage of it from time to time, though it’s quite expensive for what you get.

Pewter Golem

This is actually one of the better Golems for Limited, where it will see plenty of play. As artifact creatures go, a 3/3 with a minor ability is typically about par. Switching that power and toughness around to 4/2 gives you a good attacker for the mana, and the reasonable regeneration cost ties it all up in a nice little bundle.

Skeleton Shard

Lots of people came back from the pre-release weekend complaining about this card, and it is indeed quite annoying to face (at least it’s Uncommon!). In Constructed, I’m not impressed beyond recurring Bottle Gnomes – and that’s not enough to get things going yet. There have been some very powerful graveyard effects recently (particularly Oversold Cemetery) and even they haven’t made the full splash that many expected.

Make sure to keep an eye on this one as more options are printed, however; even one more great target could potentially be enough for this card to take off.

Scott Johns

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