Time Spiral In Limited – Black and Artifacts

Jeron sizes up the darkest color in all of Magic, chock-full of removal and… Well, what else does it have? Jeroen talks about the viability of Black in Limited and discovers that his Word spellchecker actually recognizes “Phthisis”!

[Time Spiral Limited Review, Part I: White][Time Spiral Limited Review, Part II: Blue]
[Time Spiral Limited Review, Part III: Red] – [Time Spiral Limited Review, Part IV: Green]

Heya, kids! Welcome to the last chapter of this here set review, bringing you the worst of the worst: Black. I am pretty happy to get this over with, as though I love writing set reviews and all, they are a lot of work in a row. That gets in the way of me being a lazy bum.

A little recap: What we have seen so far is a set with some decent common strategies, but mostly, it’s just a huge load of insane rares for Limited play. Normally this would scare me, as it doesn’t seem like that would make a healthy format, but at this point I still feel it’s not all that bad. Maybe that’s just ‘cause I have been getting my fair share of rares and stuff… Or it could be that I haven’t lost to enough of them. We’ll see what’s really true once Kobe’s finished.

As for Black? It is the worst color. And to be honest, it isn’t used to that at all. Black always has a bunch of removal, and with removal being king and all, it tends to be very good in Limited. This time around it once again has a lot of removal, but that’s basically all there is… Removal. This makes it more of a splash color than anything else. Let’s see, though:

The Commons.

The Early Picks.

Strangling Soot.
Basically, the best common in the set; what you see is what you get. Two insane removal spells in one card, killing most everything, and being card-advantage at that. The only problem is that B/R is the worst draft strategy by far I think, which makes it a splash card. Still, that doesn’t mean the card itself isn’t unreal and awesome.

Dark Withering.
Black’s second removal spell is also very good, simply because almost every color has some good discard outlets to lend a hand. The more Spellshapers you have, the better this gets — since when you are expecting to hard-cast it, it will be a huge disappointment. This card truly shines in U/B though, where you have the best discard outlets in the set.

Tendrils of Corruption.
I forced myself to put this here. It isn’t all bad by itself, but I don’t like it at all. Due to Blacks weaknesses, you will hardly ever draft a good deck that is heavy on the Black mana, which means most of the time this card will just be a removal spell for very little guys. On paper this card is unreal, as it is just a cheaper Corrupt for most intents and purposes… But in reality, you will hardly ever have a successful deck with enough Swamps in it to warrant this.

As far as removal spells go, this is a pretty bad one. Black doesn’t have the card advantage or control elements to play the waiting game, and has to go and attack as soon and as often as possible. This means that killing creatures is good, but killing tapped creatures isn’t. (Unless it is a Magus of the Disk, of course. Then it’s fine.) Still, removal is removal, and it sure as heck is better than any of those creatures they gave this color.

And that’s it. Sure, I usually make top 5’s, but Black really doesn’t have much more to give. Now I really would like to skip the next category, but I’ll do it anyway, just to be nice. Note that this is a bit of a stretch, as most of these cards would not be any higher than 23rd card material in any other color.

The Middle of the Road.

Trespasser Il-Vec.
This is arguably Black’s best creature, and that’s only because it does one thing: It lets you discard stuff. Black has a theme called madness — you may have heard of it — and that works peachy with this guy. Of course, in a format that hates one-toughness guys, this man has a huge liability. You have to take what you can get, though.

Gorgon Recluse.
Black’s second-best man is basically just a Thicket Basilisk, but with one big exception: it’s basically only two mana and an instant. This guy is great if you have a madness outlet, or just fine if you don’t, and it will be your main attacker most of the games. I saw Jelger Wiegersma blocking this guy with all his men, without a Lure involved, so clearly not all of us understand the Venom effect just yet.

Mana Skimmer.
Another premier Black creature that would be pretty mediocre anywhere else. It has the ability to suck your opponent out of a color, and winning the game by mana screw, but other than that it is just a 2/2 flyer for four – nothing great, but fine.

Pit Keeper.

Ah, two-drops. As far as those go, this is good in the early game as well as the late game, making it pretty dandy. The fact that it only has a toughness of one does not, as this means he’ll probably only deal a couple of points before dying. You still need it as your only actual two-drop though, so play it and be happy about it.

There we go – one of Black’s more important commons. It’s the only way for you to gain card advantage, and to be honest, it is pretty good. The bad part is that this is a horrible topdeck later in the game. We all loved Hypnotic Cloud, though, and this is probably better.

Urborg Syphon-Mage.
Another madness outlet, but this one is a little on the expensive side to activate. The ability isn’t great either, though you can finish games with it, or simple go all-in and start racing on turn 4 with it, but most of the time, it’s just a 2/2 for 3.

Skulking Knight.
Normally, I would not be happy about playing this guy. In this format though, you have no choice. As you can see, it is one of the very few Black creatures that manages to have a power higher than two, so this will be your primary offensive threat once you have stopped being able to kill every guy in play. Luckily there are relatively few things this dies to that it otherwise wouldn’t have (Like pingers, healers and Kestrels), and most of them are in white, so in general, this should be fine.

Corpulent Corpse.
Another overcosted creature that isn’t all that, but will have to do for Black. If you play this on turn 1 it is a fairly long wait for a 3/3 that, despite being nearly unblockable (since even the generally-2/2 Black creatures can’t block this very well). A 3/3 just isn’t all that exciting on turn 6, and it will be overshadowed by a lot of things by that time. This is one of those cards that looked so much better on paper, but ended up being very mediocre in play.

Thanks to the fact that there are so many good one-toughness guys in the format, this becomes fairly good. Even if that doesn’t work for you, it is still a fine giant growth spell (basically giving +1/+2 to your man) or a pseudo-removal for a 2/2 evasion guy.

And that’s it basically for decent uncommons – a bunch of 2/2s and awkward men. This is why Black is so bad, since it really needs to clear out every guy in order to deal damage with its bunch of mediocre creatures — and without card advantage, that just won’t work very well as a game plan.

On to the rest of the commons, though….

The 23rd cards.

Viscid Lemur.
Because Black is the worst color, you shouldn’t expect to see all that many Black drafters at a table. This means that the token swampwalker of the set will not be very good maindeck most of the time. Just like Sewerdreg before him, he is just too much of a Sea Snidd to be maindeckable, even with the extra power.

Deathspore Thallid.
Only really good in a Thallid deck, as it takes three turns to get any use out of this guy otherwise. He is just basically a 1/1 for two, which takes way too long top get anything going, and even then it is only a -1/-1 effect.

Psychotic Episode.
Discard usually isn’t all that great in Limited, and this is basically the same as cards like Coercion. It does help that it also prevents a topdeck – but still, the cost and tempo loss is usually not worth the effect.

Basal Sliver.
A pure Grey Ogre, since sacking him will not be worth it. Yuck! (But he’s playable if you have to, I guess.)

Drudge Reavers.
Despite the fact that the flash can be tricky, this is still essentially a five-mana blocker with two power. Let’s not even talk about attacking with it and its useless body. Still, dem bones, dem bones…

I have seen this guy get a lot of play, despite really being horrible in any sort of racing situation. The fact that is 3/3 makes up for a lot in Black, though, and I guess that is why you could play it in very aggressive decks. I would never want to maindeck him, but I have seen Kenji be happy about playing him, so that’s why I don’t dare put him in the unplayables.

Cyclopean Giant.
Sometimes, just sometimes, you’ll need a warm body, and this is all you got. A 4/2 for two. It’s a great combo with the Lemurs, though, since “making it die” won’t be much of a problem.

The unplayables.

Traitor’s Clutch.
Holy cow – five mana? I remember when we got good game finishers in Black, like Dirge of Dread.

Mindlash Sliver.
A 1/1 for one with no relevant ability. I guess if you really have infinite madness… But still, it’ll cost you a card for the trick, namely this guy himself.

Call to the Netherworld.
Now if this could get back any guy, it wouldn’t be good, but I could see it being played somewhere or somehow. Now, it only gets back all these Black guys… The ones that we didn’t even want in the first place.

And that’s it for the sordid state of affairs in Black commons. Let’s hope it gets better in the uncommons, cause right now, I don’t really see how we’ll ever beat a Penumbra Spider.


The Bombs.

The thing I am most amazed about is that Word Spellchecker actually recognized the word. (Me too — The Ferrett) This is a card that will be slow and hard to cast against most opponents, but when you finally do, it will be sensational. It can win you the game by itself, which is basically what bombs are about. Eight damage on average and killing a creature will often do that. It’s definitely not for every deck though, as BBBB is pretty rough in this format.

The good ones.

Sudden Death.
As far as removal spells go, this is as good as it gets. Split second is very good, and this will take down most if not all creatures in the format (with or without a little help in combat).

Nightshade Assassin.
The real pimp daddy of the madness deck, this is actually the best madness card in the format. He kills something, he sticks around with a fine body, and he does it all for free. Even without madness, he would still be a slightly worse Nekrataal, and with it he is just… Better. Too bad he needs you to have all these Black cards in your deck, though. Enough stuff like this, and it might be worth it.

Premature Burial.
Like I said before, bad removal is still removal. This is pretty bad removal, but still good. (It’s better than Assassinate, though that is not saying much.) The thing about it is that it is actually very good in a beatdown deck, where you basically just want to kill any creature. This kills any creature.

Vampiric Sliver.
Hill Giant, baby! The fact that this is bigger than the average Sliver really helps, since it will be just better than the original article.

Haunting Hymn.
This is basically interchangeable with Mindstab, as they basically do the same thing. The good thing about the Hymn is that you can use it on your opponent’s draw step, denying him a draw, making it a bit better in the late game. Unfortunately, it’s a bit worse early on due to the lack of suspend, but that’s not that big a deal.

Faceless Devourer.
The lack of many shadow guys means its ability will often not do anything. When it does, though, this is insane. And when it doesn’t? Meh. This is still fine as a 2/1 for three with uberevasion.

Evil Eye of Urborg.
I am still on the fence about this one, as I am not sure if it’s actually good or if it’s just bad. The creature itself is unreal, as it will often be a walking The Abyss, making your opponent chump with a guy every turn…. But it also means that you will not be able to attack with anything else anymore, which can be quite tricky. Knowing when to cast it and when not is very key, as I won a bunch of games with this guy, but I also won a bunch of games because my opponent cast it.

Skittering Monstrosity.
Being big and efficient counts for a lot in Black, and the fact that the creatures tend to be bad and the spells good definitely helps this guy. Not for every deck, of-course, but if you are removal-heavy, this is the man for you.

The Bad ones.

Dread Returns.
You will never use the flashback, basically making this a bad Vigor Mortis. I guess I could see it being played if you have a real bomb to protect… But in general, this will always bring back a guy that is a lot less impressive than the cost you paid for it.

Fallen Ideal.
Despite this being a decent finisher sometimes, what Black decks really want is removal and guys, not this kind of trickery. The fact that it doesn’t give you any bonuses immediately makes it worse, as it’s just a Black Flight with a small bonus.

The Ugly Ones.

The best Black uncommon for Constructed also is the worst in Limited. In Constructed, playing this in a creatureless (or creature-light) deck means you will be able to always get some sort of advantage. In Limited, you will almost always have guys out yourself, making this completely symmetrical and costing you a card. It even slows you down for another turn before you can cast a man…

The uncommons help a little, as there are some pretty good spells there, but Black has the worst bomb of all, as well as “just” removal spells. Nothing special, and nothing like, say, Red.

The Rares.

The nuts.

Sudden Spoiling.
Great at killing multiple problem guys if you have something out yourself, not so great at actually being direct creature kill. Still this solves many a problem, and it does so without chance to respond. It is a Fog at worst — not awesome, but hey, it’s something. At its best, it’s a full-blown Plague Wind.

Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder.
Untap with this in play, and most of the time you will win. Despite the fact that he is quite fragile, the effect is so strong that this is an actual bomb.

Liege of the Pit.
If you can unmorph this, it is an actual powerhouse, even if you can’t or don’t want to pay the upkeep. Sure, he hits you for seven, but your opponent gets the same treatment, and you get first swing. If you can’t pay the morph, it is pretty expensive, though it is versatile in that it isn’t useless in your opener, as it can just be a beater.

Sengir Nosferatu.
Ah, Sengir vampire, you got better. Air Elementals are very good in limited, and unkillable ones are actual bombs.

Stronghold Overseer.
You don’t need me to tell you that unblockable dragons that can dominate the board with their abilities are bombs if you can cast them, right?

Plague Sliver.
A 5/5 for four, with no real drawback. I like it. Now imagine playing against a Sliver deck. Ding!

The not so nuts.

Lim-Dul the Necromancer.
At seven mana, you would expect to get something a little better then a vulnerable 4/4, and even then, his ability only works if something dies and you have mana open. It’s not bad by any means, and it can win you games, but the fact that he costs so much make him not quite the nuts.

Curse of the Cabal.
Forcing your opponent to sac a land every other turn is not worth spending four mana. This is basically just a land destruction spell at best, and only gets good when games go really, really long. They seldom do.

Demonic Collusion.
If you really, really want to get that one bomb you have that automatically wins the game, you could play this. Most of the time, though, paying five mana for the effect is just not worth it (and you won’t ever want to pay its buyback). At five mana, it is just worse than Diabolic Tutor, which never really saw play.

Magus of the Mirror.
Another playable, but it’s not a very exciting card thanks to its cost and vulnerability. This has the possibility to win you games, but most of the time it will be clunky and die. It is playable, but don’t pick it high, for the same reasons I gave with Lim-Dul. Now if this didn’t have summoning sickness….

Nether Traitor.
As a 1/1 for two, a card better have a very exciting ability to be playable. This just attacks, and comes attached with a horrible BB casting cost. I can only see myself boarding this in if my opponent had a couple of Looters to block.

Living End.
As I said in other articles, symmetrical effects that your opponent can see coming and play around are not very good, and three turns of waiting is just a little too much if you are already behind.

And that’s it for Black, which seems to have a higher amount of bad rares then any other color, and thus fewer actual bombs. Combine all these factors — bad creatures, no real uncommon bombs, fewer bomb rares — and you have the worst color in the set. And that is a first, since usually Black is up there.

Here’s a glance at the purples real quick for completeness’ sake:

The Purples.

Sengir Autocrat.
I see this guy go around a lot, but I think he is actually pretty good, setting you up with three chump-blockers, giving you time to find something else that is good. I am not saying he is an early pick (he isn’t great, either), but he and his Smurf tokens are definitely better than most of the common creatures Black has.

Avatar of Woe.
Dang, that’s a spicy bomb. Pick this, it’s unreal.

Twisted Abomination.
The fact that Black is often a splash color makes this even better, as you can either go get a swamp, or you can completely dominate with an awesome creature. It’s hard to imagine this was ever a common, as it is completely insane.

Shadow Guildmage.
Prodigal Sorcerers are good and this is no exception, being just about the best one around. Its blue ability is also insane, giving you multiple combos with multiple creatures around.

Soul Collector.
A great fat creature that really has nothing going against it. The Morph is actually very good here, as people won’t see it coming and you’ll often get to burgle a man.

Faceless Butcher.
The original article is also here, and also very sweet in Limited. You can’t have too many Nekrataals, I’ll tell you.

And that’s about it for exciting stuff. The think that jumped out the most to me was that despite the fact that Black is very shallow has a lot of crap in it, a lot of the good cards cost multiple Black. This means that either you commit to a weak color and hope to get lucky, or you don’t get lucky wind up with a lot of cards that are very hard to splash. Both are not very nice, so that is why I tend to want to avoid Black if I can.

That leaves us with one last thing, after sorting out all the colors, and that is to take a quick look at the artifacts, lands and the Single Split card.

The Artifacts.

The Totems.
I like a lot of these, save the Chronatog one, which I will most likely never play. They are cheap, versatile; help your mana, and are even great in the late game. I would pick these very highly in their colors, and am always happy to have one or two.

Great in (or against) the sliver decks, this gets better the more Slivers you have. It can be a great sideboard card if your opponent has a lot of Slivers.

Gauntlet of Power.
If you manage to draft an almost mono-colored deck, this is insane. Pair it with cards like Empty the Warrens or Icatian Crier, and it is an absolute first pick.

Clockwork Hydra.
This guy has been so much better than I expected him to be, as he basically just clears out any annoying one-toughness guy on the board as soon as he attacks or blocks. That means that there is not a lot to stop him, and makes him very versatile in addition to being a fine fatty.

Prismatic Lens.
This set’s Signet is worse in a lot of ways, but better when it comes to splashing. It takes care of both the Strangling Soot and its flashback, and the fact that it also accelerates is also very nice. Pick this higher than you would a Signet, though, as it is the only one around.

Stuffy Doll.
If you ever played with or against this silly-looking card, you will know that it is actually absurd, acting like a Moat and a win condition all rolled into one. This is a first pick in most every deck, just don’t try and stop flankers with it, it will die!

A pair of golden oldies rolled up in one card, and pretty good for what it costs. Sure, it’s seven mana in a fast format, but it gives you a lot of attackers or blockers as well as a solution to little threats.

Sarpadian Empires, Vol. VII.
Nice book; nice title, too. It isn’t all that great, giving you a lot of little men that aren’t quite the right creature type…. Unless you’re green. In that case this should go into your Fungus deck perfectly. Otherwise, it’s just a little too slow.

Candles of Leng.
The other book, the card-drawing kind, is also represented — and in Draft, where you generally have little doubles in your deck, this is very good. It gets even better if you have a lot of removal, like in BR, ‘cause this makes sure you will have plenty of card advantage to win that way thanks to the time your removal bought you.

Purple Artifacts.

Serrated Arrows.
This is an absolute first pick in this format full of one-toughness men, and due to its versatility shines even if there are none on the board. It even acts like a pseudo-Kabuto Moth in combat situations.

Mindless Automaton.
The fact that there are so many madness cards around means this guy is insane in any Black deck. That doesn’t mean he’s bad elsewhere, ‘cause he does replace himself at the least, and can become quite a threat pretty fast. All around, it’s a great card.

In general I feel this card is a little too slow, but can be good in the right deck — and once again, that deck is R/B. The main question is if you have enough spells to copy to balance out the fact that it is so slow… But other people tend to not have enough spells to use it either, so don’t take it very high.


None of the lands look really exciting to me, as there are no Skarrgs or the like in this set. The storage lands look to weak to be played most of the time, though in situations they do allow you to splash expensive double casting costs cards. In general though, in a normal deck, I wouldn’t bother.

I see a lot of people playing Urza’s Factory, which I feel is just too expensive to muck up peoples manabases. If you are mono though, sure, go ahead… But don’t expect it to do much most of the time.

Purple Lands.

Gemstone Mine.
The fact that this goes away pretty fast means that I would not want to play it in most decks. Sometimes you will be land-tight, and despite the fact that this fixes your colors, it will sometimes lose you the game as well. I’d rather not.

Now this is a land I would risk mucking up my mana for, as its effect is pretty spectacular. I would pick this high and play it in most every deck, especially since it is the Looter’s worst enemy, and people tend to keep hands based on just him.

Not for every deck, but despite the fact that he doesn’t give mana, you can see him as a spell. Green decks will love him, and if you have a couple of big guys, I would play this most of the time.

The Purple Split Card.

And last but not least, the single split card. Assault / Battery is of course awesome, being both a Shock effect as well as an Elephant, giving you exactly what you need when you need it. I just wanted to make sure not to forget anything.

Pffffffft. That’s it! I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on all these new cards in Limited, and I wish you luck at the coming PTQs. It looks like I’ll be playing them myself.

And as always, don’t forget to mail your questions to [email protected], for my regular column. It will be back again next week, as you can understand I was busy enough this week with all this. See you then!