Time Spiral in Constructed — Black

Teddy Card Game continues his overview of the Time Spiral cards for Constructed play. Monday was White, Tuesday was Blue… and Wednesday brings the Black cards under the spotlight. Is Sengir Nosferatu direct competition for Skeletal Vampire? Will Smallpox be big? And how do you pronounce Phthisis? Click here to find out!

Hello again, and welcome back to the loss of my virginity. For set reviews, I mean. You know… this is my first time and… never mind, I think I just gave today’s installment a really creepy vibe. Good thing we’re reviewing Black today then, eh?

Ah, Black… the color of blood, roses, Cedric Phillips and Dave Williamses. Many of you probably know that Dave’s poker fame has allowed him to date exceptionally attractive Hollywood starlets like Summer Altice, Shannon Elizabeth, and he’s rumored to have seen Fergie’s London Bridge in every position possible. However, what you may not know is that fellow man of color Cedric Phillips is also quite the ladies man.

Ced’s the shy type, and has generally kept his relationships on the low, but his ex-wrestler physique and sly sense of humor sure do attract the womens. In his brief lifespan he’s gone out with erm… fabulous names like Tara Reid, Juliette Lewis, and almost proposed to Kathy Griffin before Andy Dick brought him to his senses. Cedric’s success proves once again that chicks dig card floppers and there is hope for us all. Well, it’s that or what Wesley Snipes taught us all was true… once you go Black, you never go back.

And now, on with the review.

Here’s the rating breakdown:

**** – A card I consider “list worthy” for inclusion in my top ten cards in the set. (Purples get their own list.)

*** – A good Constructed card that offers something you want at a reasonable price.

** – This card isn’t that great a deal, but it’s worth playing in the right situation or when there are few alternatives.

* – This card is unworthy of Constructed play. It might be a first pick Limited card, but that is beside the point.

There are no halves, and the system is intentionally approximate. If it’s close, I’ll chose one side or the other. If you want the real answer, read what I have to say. Like Zvi, I’m not here to soothe a card’s ego; dealing with Magic Pro egos leaves no time for it.

Assassinate – 2B
Sorcery (C)
Destroy target tapped creature.
The rulers of old Dominaria kept assassins on retainer. However, the true loyalty of these master killers was always to their peers. This elite brotherhood survived the fall of the old royal order.

When first encountering a new species in the wild, it is important to note the unique characteristics that set it apart from the rest of its breed. In this case observe the classic “Destroy target X creature” element, marking it as part of the classic Black removal breed. However, as you get closer to this “Assassinate”, observe the fact that it only kills “tapped” creatures, marking it as rather weak in comparison to its brethren. Finally note that not only does it cost 2B to cast, it also can only be cast as a sorcery, distinguishing it as the more cowardly stripe of Limited-only removal spells.

Rating: *

Basal Sliver – 2B
Creature – Sliver (C)
All Slivers have “Sacrifice this creature: Add {B}{B} to your mana pool.”
“Fascinating . . . These creatures display the paradox of tenacity and purposed self-destruction I have sought to breed into my thrulls.” -Endrek Sahr, master breeder

Slivers as combo engine? Prove it. At least Basal Sliver has good stats, but he isn’t exactly contributing much to the cause.

Rating: **

Call to the Netherworld – B
Sorcery (C)
Return target black creature card from your graveyard to your hand.
Madness {0} (If you discard this card, you may play it for its madness cost instead of putting it into your graveyard.)
The ritual was normally performed only by horrors and pit spawn. Lesser mages had but one sanity to crack in the casting.

Boy, does this card make me nostalgic. There were times I used to have to call my dad’s house just to talk to my stepmother about something, and Call to the Netherworld was exactly what it was like. I’m just hoping no one reanimates her or I will concede immediately.

Rating: *

Corpulent Corpse – 5B
Creature – Zombie (C)
Suspend 5 – {B} (Rather than play this card from your hand, you may pay {B} and remove it from the game with five time counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter. When you remove the last, play it without paying its mana cost. It has haste.)

Next from WotC: Scrotum Totem

From the department of redundant names department we get Corpulent Corpse. Thankfully, you will only need to worry about saying this card’s name in Limited, and even there it may be somewhat infrequent.

Rating: *

Curse of the Cabal – 9B
Sorcery (R)
Target player sacrifices half the permanents he or she controls, rounded down.
Suspend 2 – {2}{B}{B}
At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, if Curse of the Cabal is suspended, that player may sacrifice a permanent. If he or she does, put two time counters on Curse of the Cabal.

Ten mana! For ten mana I want a spell that says, “You win the game.” Or it can do basically nothing, but then it needs to say, “Meet me out back after you lose and I’ll show you the time of your life.” Of course, this spell isn’t meant to be cast, merely suspended. For the extremely reasonable price of 2BB, you can make your opponent sacrifice half of their permanents (rounded down, of course). There’s just one little catch… if your opponent has the slightest clue or an edge on the board, they can make certain that Curse of the Cabal never resolves. Keep a steady supply of permanents and your opponent gets to cockblock you indefinitely. I don’t know about you, but I’m the type that shies away from that sort of interaction with my opponents.

Rating: *

Cyclopean Giant – 2BB
Creature – Zombie Giant (C)
When Cyclopean Giant is put into a graveyard from play, target land becomes a Swamp. Remove Cyclopean Giant from the game.
A tomb-eye may remain shut for centuries. It opens when it sees a world as twisted and hollow as the wretch beneath its lid.

The land becomes a Swamp permanently, but they made the Giant (Cockroach) remove himself from the game to avoid… uh, abuse? One-eye’s power is good enough for the cost, but he’s got a glass jaw, meaning he probably won’t see play even in Block.

Rating: *

Dark Withering – 4BB
Instant (C)
Destroy target nonblack creature.
Madness {B} (If you discard this card, you may play it for its madness cost instead of putting it into your graveyard.)

This is underpriced if you have an available discard outlet and vastly overpriced if you don’t. Thankfully, this is Constructed, and you get to choose whether or not you will be discarding cards before you ever sit down to play. Some decks and mechanics even encourage such behavior. Shocking, I know…

Rating: ***

Deathspore Thallid – 1B
Creature – Zombie Fungus (C)
At the beginning of your upkeep, put a spore counter on Deathspore Thallid.
Remove three spore counters from Deathspore Thallid: Put a 1/1 green Saproling creature token into play.
Sacrifice a Saproling: Target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.

Like nearly all thallids, Deathspore Thallid is bad at creating Saprolings, but pretty good at using them. Thankfully, there are more efficient ways to create Saprolings, which solves the first problem, but the other problem is that he’s both fragile and his ability is a bit underpowered. Is the zombie fungus good enough to see play in a deck where efficient creation of plants is not a concern? Unlikely.

Rating: *

Demonic Collusion – 3BB
Sorcery (R)
Buyback – Discard two cards. (You may discard two cards in addition to any other costs as you play this spell. If you do, put this card into your hand as it resolves.)
Search your library for a card and put that card into your hand. Then shuffle your library.

This card isn’t bad, but I’m pretty sure you get disqualified if you cast it. Sadly, Diabolic Tutor isn’t getting any play, meaning this likely won’t either.

Rating: **

Dread Return – 2BB
Sorcery (U)
Return target creature card from your graveyard to play.
FlashbackSacrifice three creatures. (You may play this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then remove it from the game.)

Like an STD that just won’t go away even with massive doses of antibiotics, some creatures refuse to stay dead. One gets the feeling that this is potentially abusable because it doesn’t cost any mana, but one also gets the feeling that it may take an anvil, a couple of planks of wood, a candle, and perhaps a bowling ball to accomplish such a feat.

Rating: **

Drudge Reavers – 3B
Creature – Skeleton (C)
Flash (You may play this spell any time you could play an instant.)
{B}: Regenerate Drudge Reavers.
“The surface of the land is blanched with salt, but the soil beneath is reddened with death-a fertile ground for necromancy.” -Lim-DÔl the Necromancer

I have mentioned previously that making a bad creature castable as an instant doesn’t make the creature any better, it just makes it more expensive. That hasn’t changed.

Rating: *

Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder – 4B
Legendary Creature – Human Wizard (R)
Whenever you play a creature spell, put X 1/1 black Thrull creature tokens into play, where X is that spell’s converted mana cost.
When you control seven or more Thrulls, sacrifice Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder.

I see a bad moon a’risin… I see big trouble on the waaaay.

Okay, I am overselling this a bit, but Bad Moon makes this card actually worth consideration. It’s not great, but it could potentially do bad things, which at least makes your eyes focus for a moment or three. The only problem here is that even with Bad Moon on the table, he’s a snidd, making him a fine, though expensive token generator, but one that won’t live long. Points for trying, but he’s probably just a Timmy card.

Rating: **

Evil Eye of Urborg – 4B
Creature – Eye (U)
Non-Eye creatures you control can’t attack.
Whenever Evil Eye of Urborg becomes blocked by a creature, destroy that creature.
“Edahlis, what is that thing? We should have stayed in Yavimaya…” -Aznaph, greenseeker

I have much love for an Evil Eye. The first States I ever played in features Evil Eyes, Thrashing Wumpuses, and the Ankh-Tide combo. I was, of course, terrible, but the deck was pretty techy. Version 2.0 is considerably more aggressive than his Orms-By-Gore cousin, to the point that he might merit consideration in any deck that can protect a fast Black clock. OBG was used primarily as a blocker and slow finisher — Urby is a lot more fragile, but he’s still hard to deal with in combat, and he smashes but good. Then again, there might be more good burn in the environment than ever before, so that inferior behind makes me a bit edgy.

Rating: **

Faceless Devourer – 2B
Creature – Nightmare Horror (U)
Shadow (This creature can block or be blocked by only creatures with shadow.)
When Faceless Devourer comes into play, remove another target creature with shadow from the game.
When Faceless Devourer leaves play, return the removed card to play under its owner’s control.

This matters if there are enough shadows running around that scare you. Unfortunately, the stats make it a sideboard card only, but one that might see some play in block.

Rating: *

Fallen Ideal – 2B
Enchantment – Aura (U)
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature has flying and “Sacrifice a creature: This creature gets +2/+1 until end of turn.”
When Fallen Ideal is put into a graveyard from play, return Fallen Ideal to its owner’s hand.

I started analyzing this card before I realized that I was trying to figure out how playable this was in draft. That sort of information will be contained in someone else’s review.

Rating: *

Feebleness – 1B
Enchantment – Aura (C)
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gets -2/-1.

A new favorite card for Ben Feebles-Mundy to play… in draft.

Ratings: *

Gorgon Recluse – 3BB
Creature – Gorgon (C)
Whenever Gorgon Recluse blocks or becomes blocked by a nonblack creature, destroy that creature at end of combat.
Madness {B}{B}

I sense a disturbance in the force. Not only are they making all the new Madness cards Black, but they have a serious control bent to them, like your ex-goth-girlfriend with the leather boots and handcuffs who you still visit every other Tuesday. This is pretty cheap if you have an efficient way to guarantee the discard, but the stats aren’t particularly good unless you want to do silly things like block. It’s way undersized if you have to pay full price (remember what Arrogant Wurm looked like at this casting cost?), but I’ll give it an extra star based on the Madness ability alone.

Rating: **

Haunting Hymn – 4BB
Instant (U)
Target player discards two cards. If you played this spell during your main phase, that player discards four cards instead.
The hymn’s melody has persisted since Tourach’s time, but the words changed to invoke the phobias of each listener.

So it’s either Fugue + 1 as a sorcery or an exceptionally expensive Mind Rot at instant speed. Rise / Fall, anyone?

Rating: *

Liege of the Pit – 5BBB
Creature – Demon (R)
Flying, trample
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice a creature other than Liege of the Pit. If you can’t, Liege of the Pit deals 7 damage to you.
Morph {B}{B}{B}{B} (You may play this face down as a 2/2 creature for {3}. Turn it face up any time for its morph cost.)

I don’t even have anything Pit-thy to say. I am not below stooping to awful puns just to elicit a few groans though.

Rating: *

Lim-Dul, the Necromancer – 5BB
Legendary Creature – Human Wizard (R)
Whenever a creature an opponent controls is put into a graveyard from play, you may pay {1}{B}. If you do, return that card to play under your control. If it’s a creature, it’s a Zombie in addition to its other creature types.
{1}{B}: Regenerate target Zombie.

Boy, is this guy cool. I can’t wait to put him into some overcosted Black deck and wow all my friends at the kitchen table by blowing up all their guys and then making them all switch teams. Lim-Dul shall be my Dark Lord of the Sith!

At full price, Lim-Dul is exclusively a Timmy card. But we don’t always have to pay full price, especially not in this color. What if you reanimate him? Sadly, even if you reanimate him, he’s still small enough Char/Blast, and his ability is vastly inferior to certain other Black reanimation targets like Keanu (Avatar of Whoa), Angel of Despair, and the new uber shadow. I like you, Lim-Dul, but not enough to play you.

Rating: **

Living End
Sorcery (R)
Living End is black.
Suspend 3 – {2}{B}{B}
Each player removes all creature cards in his or her graveyard from the game, then sacrifices all creatures he or she controls, then puts into play all cards he or she removed this way.

Living Death was some good, seeing play at almost every juncture in its Magical existence. This isn’t quite Living End, because the earliest it can go off is on turn 7, but it has potential. Those two extra turns in the meantime can be used to further setup the rest of your combo, allowing you to dredge like a madman and use Purps like Withered Wretch to make sure only you get to play the Roger Corman card. Unfortunately, it also gives your opponent additional time to stop you, or set themselves up to reap the benefits/counter your strategy. This is another one of those classic power cards that has been nerfed with suspend to make it playable. The strategy in the past has been good enough to force me to give Living End the benefit of the doubt — even if it doesn’t find a home immediately, somewhere down the road I get the feeling we will be playing with this card and liking it.

Rating: ***

Magus of the Mirror – 4BB
Creature – Human Wizard (R)
{T}, Sacrifice Magus of the Mirror: Exchange life totals with target opponent. Play this ability only during your upkeep.
“Behold! The image of the enemy and all that she has. Trust your envy, and take it.”

The body is unimpressive (it’s a Giant Cockroach, for Pete’s sake), and while the ability has potential, I don’t see it working in any shape, way or form in Standard. Probably the worst Magus of the bunch.

(Yes, I know I will receive hate mail somewhere down the road from people who lost to this card at FNM. All I can do is apologize ahead of time, because like the Inquisition, you just never see an exceptionally fragile Mirror Universe with suspend 1 coming.)

Rating: **

Mana Skimmer – 3B
Creature – Leech (C)
Whenever Mana Skimmer deals damage to a player, tap target land that player controls. That land doesn’t untap during its controller’s next untap step.
They traverse the mana-starved wastes in search of richer lands.

I was downright excited about this card when I first read the abilities, but I always knew that you’d have to pay a premium for it, and that premium would carefully place it just out of Constructed viability. Shocking absolutely no one who pays attention to the “land destruction is no fun to play against” mantra of pretty much every player in existence, I was right.

(For the record, land destruction is no fun to play against. In fact, that’s one reason why I’m a bit nervy about Avalanche Riders coming back. Between Stone Rain, Cryoclasm, Darwin, Wildfire, and the theme of half the freaking Blue cards, we could be in for a long year or two. Dust off your Sacred Grounds, just in case, and expect me to revisit this topic later during a more appropriate color.)

Rating: *

Mindlash Sliver – B
Creature – Sliver (C)
All Slivers have “{1}, Sacrifice this creature: Each player discards a card.”
Though Dominaria’s queenless slivers lack a single purpose, in some the instinct for self-sacrifice remains extremely strong.

I could see some sort of Hellbent sliver strategy possibly, maybe coming together and being good, it a vague it could kinda happen sort of way.

Okay fine, this card doesn’t seem very good, but I’m hedging my bets because, if you’ve read the Madness reviews, there are some cards you will want to be discarding.

Rating: **

Mindstab – 5B
Sorcery (C)
Target player discards three cards.
Suspend 4 – {B} (Rather than play this card from your hand, you may pay {B} and remove it from the game with four time counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter. When you remove the last, play it without paying its mana cost.)

At first you think this gets under countermagic, until you remember what suspend actually does. Then you think this card is actually terrible, but it doesn’t have to be. I actually like the concept of forcing my counterspell-holding opponent to know this is coming at him for four turns, at which point he either finds a way to counter it, empties his hand, or discards three. Giving bad players options can induce mistakes. It’s probably too expensive/slow (these two words mean basically the same thing now), but playtesting could show otherwise.

Rating: **

Nether Traitor – BB
Creature – Spirit (R)
Shadow (This creature can block or be blocked by only creatures with shadow.)
Whenever another creature is put into your graveyard from play, you may pay {B}. If you do, return Nether Traitor from your graveyard to play.

I may have been sucked in by the siren’s song here, but if Black Aggro decks are going to do well, you get the feeling that Nether Traitor will be involved. The fact that he’s a 1/1 is ho hum, but he’s got shadow, haste, and is fully recurrable. In fact, I initially expected the Traitor to remove himself from the game if you didn’t recur him, but I guess I’m just stuck in the past and creatures have gotten better over the years. Nether Traitor isn’t good enough to play by his lonesome, but if you can get him power ups, you have an evasive, relentless source of beatdown.

Rating: ***

Nightshade Assassin – 2BB
Creature – Human Assassin (U)
First strike
When Nightshade Assassin comes into play, you may reveal X black cards in your hand. If you do, target creature gets –X/-X until end of turn.
Madness {1}{B} (If you discard this card, you may play it for its madness cost instead of putting it into your graveyard.)

If you just add the Madness cost to Nekrataal, you would have an insanely powerful creature. Therefore, Nightshade Assassin logically has to be worse than Nekrataal, and it is. The hash smoker is only good in a deck that is heavily Black, and then only if you have a bunch of Black cards (and not lands) in your hand. Since Nekrataal is still in the format, you’d have to be pretty desperate to add Nightshade Assassin to a sixty-card pile (unless you really, really need a way to kill Knight of the Holy Nimbus).

Rating: **

Phthisis – 3BBBB
Sorcery (U)
Destroy target creature. Its controller loses life equal to its power plus its toughness.
Suspend 5 – {1}{B} (Rather than play this card from your hand, you may pay {1}{B} and remove it from the game with five time counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter. When you remove the last, play it without paying its mana cost.)

Anton Jonsson told me the parseltongue removal spell is a smashing in Time Spiral Limited and I don’t doubt him. Unfortunately for you, in Constructed it has a suspend of five and is basically uncastable otherwise. I think Wizards just made it that way so we wouldn’t sound like ph***ing idiots all night at Phriday Night Magic.

Best Card EVAR

“I’ll suspend Pithifus. Er, Phithibus. Wait a sec, I can get it… I’ll suspend Sisyphus! Yeah, that’s the ticket.”

Rating: *

Pit Keeper – 1B
Creature – Human Wizard (C)
When Pit Keeper comes into play, if you have four or more creature cards in your graveyard, you may return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand.
“The undead are not ‘awakened.’ They are evicted when there is no room left in the pit for more bodies.”

He’s fine in the early game and solid in the late game as well, provided you are playing a Black creature deck. Looking at the cards thus far, if you are planning to run a heavy Black deck, I don’t think it not playing many creatures will be an option, at least not yet.

Rating: **

Plague Sliver – 2BB
Creature – Sliver (R)
All Slivers have “At the beginning of your upkeep, this creature deals 1 damage to you.”
A sliver shares everything with its hive-even its afflictions.

By himself, he’s Juzam Djinn. With friends, he’s a helluva lot worse than Juzam. If the aggro Black deck comes together, Plague Sliver is either a fine middle or end of the curve, though obviously he doesn’t have any evasion or trample, meaning it’s new chump city, and you don’t even get a performance by Ice T. Just the latest in a long line of good, but unspectacular 5/5 Black groundpounders for four. Because these rarely see play, I’m actually marking it down a star from where it usually sits in most reviews (though the return of Bad Moon may come back to bite me).

Rating: **

Premature Burial – 1B
Sorcery (U)
Destroy target nonblack creature that came into play since your last turn ended.
“This soil knows well the taste of the dead. Give it the hunger for a living meal, and it can become a deadly ally.” -Ezrith, druid of the Dark Hours


Rating: *

Psychotic Episode – 1BB
Sorcery (C)
Target player reveals his or her hand and the top card of his or her library. You choose a card revealed this way. That player puts the chosen card on the bottom of his or her library.
Madness {1}{B} (If you discard this card, you may play it for its madness cost instead of putting it into your graveyard.)

I occasionally share a room with people on the road, and though he doesn’t look like it initially, StarWarsKid is pretty freaky. For starters, he either doesn’t sleep or he dies and is impossible to wake up. Additionally, he snores and he has no idea how to use a shower curtain. So this one time, he’s been up for like 36 hours and finally passes out, and I wake up to find him snoring with a Joker-rictus grin on his face and a knife in his hand from last night’s room service. From that point forward, he was forced to sleep on the floor.

Rating: *

Sangrophage – BB
Creature – Zombie (C)
At the beginning of your upkeep, tap Sangrophage unless you pay 2 life.
The living is all it eats.

Remember Grinning Demon? He was all toothy, horny, and morphy, and he cost you two life a turn after you unmorphed him. He also never saw much play because his drawback was too steep. Sangrophage also costs you two life a turn in order to make him worthwhile, but interestingly… you can turn him off. That’s a surprisingly worthwhile ability to have, and should go a long way toward making him more playable, though he might have to wait until after Ravnica rotates out. A 3/3 for two has recently become strangely less impressive than it was a year ago.

Rating: ***

Sengir Nosferatu – 3BB
Creature – Vampire (R)
{1}{B}, Remove Sengir Nosferatu from the game: Put a 1/2 black Bat creature token with flying into play. It has “{1}{B}, Sacrifice this creature: Return to play under its owner’s control a card named Sengir Nosferatu that’s removed from the game.”

These days, all vampires seem to protect themselves, which is a marked step up from the boring old Sengir ability. Sengir Nosferatu is slightly weaker than Skeletal Vampire, but he’s also slightly cheaper and they play nice together, which is always nice to have on the undead playground. Additionally, for the low cost of 2BB, Nossy plays both offense and defense. I don’t know if this new world is ready to play Air Elementals with perks, but if it is, Sengir Nosferatu sitting at home, her crazy wisps of hair in curlers, waiting for your call. If you gave her your number when she gave you hers, I’d call… bad things will happen if you don’t. [Sengir Nosferatu’s a woman?! — Craig.]

Rating: ***

Skittering Monstrosity – 3BB
Creature – Horror (U)
When you play a creature spell, sacrifice Skittering Monstrosity.

There are a lot of Black creatures in this set that don’t really want friends around. Plague Sliver doesn’t like other slivers, Skittering Monstrosity is literally scared to death by other creatures, and Evil Eye of Urborg… well, Evil is more like an orthodox Jewish house, where you can come over and eat reasonably bland food and bad wine at his place and meet his cousin from Orms-By-Gore, but you can’t invite Evil and his wife over to your place for Thai food because you like to cook pepperoni pizza in your oven. Anyway, Skitter costs you full price for his stats, which are good for Black but not great, and you don’t even get evasion tacked on. Look elsewhere for your hefty Black creature needs — I don’t even think it’s good in block.

Rating: *

Skulking Knight – 2B
Creature – Zombie Knight (C)
Flanking (Whenever a creature without flanking blocks this creature, the blocking creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.)
When Skulking Knight becomes the target of a spell or ability, sacrifice it.

Skulking creatures are almost entirely subject to the vagaries of the metagame. Do decks have a bunch of targeted effects likely to keep a brotha down? Leave Skulky sitting at home. However, if there is a lack of spot removal, Sir Skulk becomes an excellent buy, featuring outstanding stats for his price. Two other things to keep in mind are that he’s a zombie (for those of you with unhealthy love for the undead, or who play decks that feature this trait), and that if the spells or abilities your opponent is using to target Sir Skulk would kill him anyway, then he’s still worth playing.

Rating: **

Smallpox – BB
Sorcery (U)
Each player loses 1 life, discards a card, sacrifices a creature, then sacrifices a land.
“Great losses often bring only a numb shock. To truly plunge a victim into misery, you must overwhelm him with many small sufferings.” -Ratadrabik of Urborg

Sometimes the best cards come in small, subtle packages. On the surface, this is seemingly a symmetrical do-nothing card that will likely hurt the deck that wants to cast it as much or more than the opponent. However, when you parse out what’s really happening here, you realize that Smallpox is a mashup of excellent effects if your deck is built to take advantage of them. The life loss is basically irrelevant, but it gets around things like Circle of Protection: Black, which may matter. The discard may or may not be irrelevant — remember, Black is the new color of Madness, and popping this out on turn 3 with Dark Withering and mana up against aggro will be very bad for them, plus it lets you discard a fattie to reanimate should that be your bent. The creature sacrifice is obviously useful as long as you aren’t playing mono-Black Aggro, and the sacrifice a land stunts growth on both sides, unless… you happen to be have Flagstones of Trokair on the board. Four effects, three you’d pay mana for, and three that are symmetrically abusive in the right build. Nice work, R&D.

Rating: ****

Strangling Soot – 2B
Instant (C)
Destroy target creature with toughness 3 or less.
Flashback {5}{R} (You may play this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then remove it from the game.)
“What good is your blade without your breath?” -Greht, Gathan warlord

This is expensive for the first cast, and really expensive for the second one. For Block Constructed use only.

Rating: **

Stronghold Overseer – 3BBB
Creature – Demon (R)
Shadow (This creature can block or be blocked by only creatures with shadow.)
{B}{B}: Creatures with shadow get +1/+0 until end of turn and creatures without shadow get -1/-0 until end of turn.

I know you all have Kamigawa Dragon hangover. Unfortunately, there’s no easy remedy to get rid of the headaches and dragon breath that come from partying with 5/5 Legendary Spirits who flat-out kick ass for the last two years. Trust me, I’ve tried. I even talked to Collin Farrell to see what his experience would recommend but a) he was completely unintelligible in real life, and b) he recommended deflowering a Hollywood virgin. When I asked him how that would help a hangover, he said it wouldn’t, but it would get you laid and get you in the tabloids, and any publicity is good, baby.

Where were we… oh yeah, Stronghold Overseer. This is the new big bad for Black, and he’s a doozy. He’s not only unblockable, but he’s double unblockable, meaning that unless opponents are also playing flying shadows, he’s just not getting blocked. Sadly, the shadow part works both ways, and he’s unlikely to block many creatures either. In exchange, he’ll play defense in other ways, reducing the damage you take across the board. He’s only at his best in heavy black decks, and there’s heavy competition for his spot, but you can’t deny the Overseer is good. He’s just no dragon.

Rating: ***

Sudden Death – 1BB
Instant (U)
Split second (As long as this spell is on the stack, players can’t play spells or activated abilities that aren’t mana abilities.)
Target creature gets -4/-4 until end of turn.
Some mages tapped into the time rifts, forcing upon others alternate timelines in which unimaginable horrors befall them.

This will kill a four-toughness creature dead, and there won’t be any back-talk either. This is even the price point we’ve come to expect good removal at in recent years, though it has an extra colored mana tacked on to it, presumably as payment for the no back-talk clause in the contract. Much like when Flametongue Kavu was around, in this environment, no creature with a four-butt will ever be safe. That’s something important to remember when building decks for Champs.

Rating: ***

Sudden Spoiling – 1BB
Instant (R)
Split second (As long as this spell is on the stack, players can’t play spells or activated abilities that aren’t mana abilities.)
Creatures target player controls become 0/2 and lose all abilities until end of turn.

I don’t know what I’d want this for, but I do want to know it exists, just in case. You can stunt an offensive in a race, you can make sure an opponent’s creature abilities go away for a turn, or you can turn fatties into docile little peons awaiting action from a sinister hand of God to sweep them into a graveyard. Even so, most decks won’t want to waste a card on this effect, but it’s nice to know it exists if you need it.

Rating: **

Tendrils of Corruption – 3B
Instant (C)
Tendrils of Corruption deals X damage to target creature and you gain X life, where X is the number of Swamps you control.
“Even swamps need sustenance. We will give it to them, and in turn, they will sustain us.” -Ezrith, druid of the Dark Hours

The best part about Corrupt was that it doubled as burn to your opponent’s head, meaning if your hand was already loaded with removal or you’d already dealt with the beats, Corrupt acted as a finisher. Tendrils of Corruption removes that option in exchange for allowing you to play it at instant speed. Are you going to want to pay four mana for this effect, even in the modern day? Maybe in block… but even there I am skeptical.

Rating: *

Traitor’s Clutch – 4B
Instant (C)
Target creature gets +1/+0, becomes black, and gains shadow until end of turn. (It can block or be blocked by only creatures with shadow.)
Flashback {1}{B} (You may play this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then remove it from the game.)

Vaguely useful if you are only casting it for the flashback.

Rating: *

Trespasser Il-vec – 2B
Creature – Human Rogue (C)
Discard a card: Trespasser il-Vec gains shadow until end of turn. (It can block or be blocked by only creatures with shadow.)

It has the right power, but at the cost of being way fragile. Wizards clearly learned their lesson with Wild Mongrel, so while this is an easy madness outlet and a mildly scary beater with Bad Moon in play, it’s also easily removed by uh… yeah, pretty much every removal spell ever.

Rating: **

Urborg Syphon-Mage – 2B
Creature – Human Spellshaper (C)
{2}{B},{T}, Discard a card: Each other player lose 2 life. You gain life equal to the life lost this way.

This is one of those cards where if the ability was cheap, it could very well be a new all-star in aggressive Black decks. Since the ability is moderately pricey, the fact that it’s just a Gray Ogre comes back to bite it. 2B plus Tap plus Discard is a heavy price to pay, even if you are sure you want the Madness — the life gain on the back end is the only saving grace.

Rating: **

Vampiric Sliver – 3B
Creature – Sliver (U)
All Slivers have “Whenever a creature dealt damage by this creature this turn is put into a graveyard, put a +1/+1 counter on this creature.”

A Hill Giant is still a Hill Giant, especially when it means your creatures have to be involved in combat in order to get any perks from his ability. This will get ugly in draft, but it likely has no place in Constructed.

Rating: *

Viscid Lemures – 4B
Creature – Spirit (C)
{0}: Viscid Lemures gets -1/-0 and gains swampwalk until end of turn.
“Lemurs? Is that all? Finally, something harmless…” –Norin the Wary

Wake me up when people start playing Bog Wraith in their Constructed decks.

Rating: *


At first I thought Black had another poor outing, but then I went down the list of cards and realized that it received few show-stoppers, but a surprisingly deep roster of useful cards. Many of them feature a heavy Black component to make them work, but Orzhov decks are used to that sort of silliness. Heavy hitters include Sudden Death and Smallpox, while Stronghold Overseer, Sangrophage, Sengir Nosferatu, Nether Traitor, Living End, Dark Withering, and maybe even Evil Eye of Urborg are all candidates to see a reasonable to heavy amount of play, and there are other cards that fill necessary roles. Black doesn’t have quite the air of ridiculousness that Blue did, but it doesn’t really need to, since all the Orzhov cards are still chilling, waiting for Oreo mages to find them a new home.

Tomorrow: The Red Review with special guest star “The Most Diabolical Hata.”