Black may be the most pushed color in D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms when you look at it through the lens of a core set. Most of the commons rip, the synergy payoffs are abundant, and the bombs are MOAB-sized. Combine that with an overlapping set of archetypes and you’ve got some flexibility within a draft, something I’m always down for like Shaq in a limbo contest.
Before diving into black, if you missed the white portion of my Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Limited review, you can find it here. And if you missed the blue portion, you can find that one right here.
Here our core goals are generating Treasure, venturing into dungeons, and creatures literally dying. While I think that the Golgari theme of benefiting from creature death is the weakest offering in black, it does give you a few cards that synergize nicely with a treasonous Rakdos steal-and-sacrifice deck. With generous numbers of ways to generate Treasures, I suspect there’s a Jund deck somewhere in this format, but I’d prefer to keep it two colors and fast as hell.
With powerful removal comes almost no responsibility, as controlling black decks have an ample suite of answers to opponents best threats while deploying early threats that must be blocked. Somewhat innocuous cards like Hoard Robber and Yuan-Ti Fang-Blade wind up serving as a quasi-defensive play in a roundabout way. Picking up a few ventures along the way makes this a formidable deck.
Again: the grading rubric, where your absolute bombs are rated 5.0 and the unplayable, Constructed-only cards are a sad 0.0. A 2.5 is a card you’re almost always playing, a card with two grades reflects that it’s great when it’s in the correct deck, and Sideboard indicates that a card is worthy of consideration in Best-of-Three matches.
Acererak the Archlich
I’m going to have fun speed running dungeons with my old pal Ace, let me tell you. Of course, there will be times you would rather venture elsewhere and keep them bouncing back, and other times when you’ll go straight for the jugular. Just keep in mind that while the amount of instant-speed removal that kills a 5/5 is low, the Archlich does need to make it back to your hand.
Asmodeus the Archfiend
Having to pay B and a life for every card you draw sounds like a raw deal for a 6/6. In the right deck, Asmodeus the Archfiend will be a decisive win condition, but I would be nervous without significant lifegain. That’s not something this color isn’t inherently strong at in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. The dream will be to activate the draw-seven, and then Deadly Dispute in response to draw nine plus net a Treasure token.
Antimagic Cone is a nice tool to have access to in black and should not lack for targets. Fear Ray may be your chosen mode 20% of the time, but when it’s on, it’s going to result in a lot of surprise wins. All of this on a 6/5 makes Baleful Beholder a deal.
Seven mana is just… so much mana. Black plus ramp doesn’t appear to be a thing; you’re not cheating this onto the battlefield, you’re just casting it. For decks with significant Treasure resources, this will feel bomb-like, but you’ll need to resist the temptation to crack them early. Even in a slow format, this feels like a skateboard in a world of Lime scooters. It’s cool, but you’re going to get blown past.
The Book of Vile Darkness
Hey, if you wind up improbably pulling together an Eye and a Hand, why not? Otherwise, it’s too hard to reliably lose two life on your turn just to wind up with a 2/2 Zombie, and that’s before you even discuss the egregious BBB casting cost. Do-nothing artifacts need to have powerful upside or an effect on the game the turn you untap with them, and this guarantees neither.
Check for Traps
Prime sideboard material for dealing with unruly bombs in Sealed, but otherwise I tend to deprioritize hand disruption in core sets with relatively flat power levels. Decks that are looking to enact their gameplan early want access to Check for Traps, but it feels terrible as a top deck.
Being a Skeleton is a semi-relevant creature type, so while this may trade down, there’s some upside here. Trading isn’t the worst thing in the world, as sometimes you’re looking to complete a dungeon and are happy to see Clattering Skeletons go. Three toughness doesn’t line up well in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, so keep these to a barebones minimum.
I’m higher on Deadly Dispute than I normally would because I expect you’ll wind up with quite a few Treasures lying around, and you’ll be happy to draw two for two by virtue of them existing. There’s a lack of quality enablers in a dedicated morbid deck, making this a solid go-to, as well as a tremendous payoff in Rakdos Sacrifice.
Death-Priest of Myrkul
This Dame (the title right below Lord) will boost more of your squad than you’d guess while generating some tokens in the process. Getting a trigger off of your own removal feels very solid and sometimes you can trade in a Skeleton for a bonus elsewhere. Black welcomes death in this set, and the Death-Priest of Myrkul is one of my favorite payoffs.
Demogorgon’s Clutches is still a Mind Rot, as milling your opponent is not a significant upside, and the two life is a minor bonus. If they have to attempt to sweeten a Mind Rot this much, I can’t imagine it’s going to be any more viable than usual in Draft.
Casting Devour Intellect without using a Treasure puts your opponent in charge, where they can always make the strongest decision. Generating Treasures comes at a cost, so I’m looking for better payoffs than a Thoughtseize.
Add Drider to the list of D&D references that are entirely over my head. A black Elf with reach is wild, then give it weak defensive stats and an aggressive, passive ability? My concern is this trades down on the offensive but dies too quickly when it’s sitting back, so I’m passing for now unless I have serious support for, like, Krydle of Baldur’s Gate.
By the time you complete a dungeon, a 2/1 is likely irrelevant to the battlefield. Trying to get Dungeon Crawler back a couple of times, let alone a few, seems like a stretch. If you’re all-in on a Tomb of Annihilation strategy, there are worse inclusions, but this belongs in only the most aggressive Rakdos decks.
Sit back and trade all day, then bring Ebondeath, Dracolich back. Go on the offensive and bash for five damage in the air. There isn’t a deck this doesn’t function as the best card in when you have access to black mana. Ebondeath could be a pantheon-level Limited card.
Eyes of the Beholder
If the format winds up being as slow as I reckon it will be, feel free to upgrade Eyes of the Beholder, but six-mana black removal was so ten years ago. I guess there’s the upside of it being the only card outside of Sphere of Annihilation that can answer a 7/7 version of Grand Master of Flowers?
Fates’ Reversal earns half a point for venturing, but I can’t see this making most of my decks unless I whiffed incredibly hard on mastering dungeons. I’m only upgrading this by a half point if there are a considerable number of bombs in my deck I want to recur.
Without counters mattering, it’s tough to find a home for a mediocre combat trick that doesn’t help you actually win combat unless you have a critical mass of creatures with very powerful enter the battlefield effects. There’s so many answers to your creatures at the Aura level that I’m concerned Feign Death winds up as a dead card in your hand far too often.
While I’m not convinced that Treasures Matter will be a solid theme, creating them on demand is something I’m interested in. Giving black a one-drop that can help you ramp historically leads to disasters, and not needing to tap to use the secondary ability makes this a threat at any time. Without a cheap answer from your opponent, Forsworn Paladin gets out of hand swiftly.
Finally, we know why Jell-O Jigglers moved so much! Having to do the work of actually getting their creature to the graveyard is a step I’m willing to take, given the considerable upgrade on the body we’d normally get compared to a Ravenous Chupacabra. Gelatinous Cube plays well with bounce and graveyard recursion after you’ve activated Dissolve, so be prepared to feed a lot of mana to the Ooze.
A little token goes a long way. The standard black destruction spell gets a significant upgrade by creating fixing or ramp in a color that cares about Treasures. Grim Bounty goes in every deck that has Swamps and I’m happy to take any number.
A nice payoff for attrition, Grim Wanderer comes down as early as Turn 3 and forces your opponent to come up with an answer, often trading up nicely. Flash is smart design at work, allowing you to trade against aggro or force them to sit back in fear. Control decks can even cast it on the back of a Grim Bounty, making it a sweet, weird card that I’m excited to experiment with.
Herald of Hadar
Herald of Hadar boasts the kind of effect we usually see on a smaller body to make it a relevant draw later in the game. Here, it’s all upside if you have the mana to burn. Still, I have a feeling you’d rather be finding ways to get deeper in dungeons than slowly draining your opponents.
The knock on Bears is they’re epically awful topdecks. Here, you can burn a Treasure if it’s late, and you get the body for free. That sounds like a lot of work to give a vanilla 2/2 some upside, so I’m headed back to Zip Recruiter more often than not.
Unless your opponent seriously stumbles out of the gate, I can’t imagine how you rack up a token, let alone many tokens that would necessitate an entire token rack. Still, Hoard Robber feels like a card that they’ll need to respect or risk you either ramping or fixing, a gamble most opponents will be nervous to take. Combined with Reaper’s Talisman or Thieves’ Tools, you’re going to wind up with more Treasure than you know what to do with. I like it, just not for every deck.
Deathtouch is your worst-case scenario, so these rolls seem like a lot of upside against non-Goblin, non-Skeleton decks. If you need repeatable rolls, Lightfoot Rogue is a premium uncommon, but that isn’t a theme that black is embracing.
Lolth, Spider Queen
Despite sounding like you threw up a little in your mouth, Lolth, Spider Queen is only figuratively sick. Even at parity, you’re usually ticking her down for a small horde of protectors before you start filling up your hand. With black actively trying to lose creatures, she even plays on theme, which isn’t always a given in Limited lately.
It’s been since Final-Sting Faerie that we get an assassin effect on a flyer. Count me among those who think it has been too long. Tail Spikes are the daggers of the sky, and with the amount of forced attacking you’ll be doing, Manticore plays incredibly well. This is particularly devastating with Goblin Javelineer, a card I cannot recommend you play but will see you play regardless.
Power Word Kill
Instant-speed removal for 1B tends to be gas, even if this feels like a Whom? Blade as you check your opponent’s creature types against the shortlist. No amount of Dragons will convince me to move Power Word Kill to the sideboard.
I suspect that this grade looks a little high to some people, but consider that the venture attached to Precipitous Drop will often get you close to completing a dungeon, if not being the final step itself. Black removal at common ain’t what it used to be in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, so consider this a strong play in a venture deck.
Ray of Enfeeblement
One of the few color hate cards I can see in a maindeck. For just a single black mana you get a neat combat trick that will occasionally kill something outright. If it does start the game in your sideboard, consider bringing it in against green decks, too, as this messes with their bite cards in a serious way.
Reaper’s Talisman certainly makes things annoying for your opponent and can gain you some much-needed life in Golgari decks where you can find yourself paying life for effects. In aggressive decks, it tacks drain onto relatively small bodies that can trade up at will. Keep an eye out for first strikers (Rust Monster and a souped up Hobgoblin Captain) as deathtouch makes them real beasts. This is definitely a card to keep an eye on as a potential sleeper.
With the correct morbid payoffs, Sepulcher Ghoul still feels medium to me. In a deck where you’re stealing things with Price of Loyalty or Mind Flayer, it’s a free outlet to sacrifice. Those aren’t always easy to come by. Go ahead and adjust quickly if, just like in real life, you’re swimming in skeletons.
If Shambling Ghast is how we’re expected to find Treasures, I’m shambling on to the next card in the pack. Best case scenario? You immediately Deadly Dispute it and ramp out a five-drop on Turn 3. Without being able to achieve that consistently, it’s a combo where one of the pieces is dreadful on its own.
Skullport Merchant, however, is exactly what I want to be doing. A free Treasure is hard to come by, but I love the ability to trade in excess wealth (or random creatures) for cards for only 1B. I suspect this will play like a mythic uncommon in the right decks. Consider that Sailor of Means enabled a truly busted control deck in Ixalan and it did nothing except create a token.
Sphere of Annihilation
My only concern here is that without being able to ramp with Treasure, you can find yourself in the position of not being able to wipe your opponent’s largest threat, which will leave you wondering if it was even a wipe at all (more of a bidet, frankly). Exiling is a real effect, though, and this will even wipe out the occasional planeswalker, making it a solid card that I’m exceptionally excited about in venture decks.
This seems designed for Dimir decks but shoots out a Treasure, so I’m at a loss. This feels too narrow initially with too much setup cost to be viable, but I suspect that getting an early Treasure will make this more playable than not. Consider that there are only two ways to guarantee you a Treasure on Turn 2 at common and one of them is Mimic.
Is there some Abzan lifegain deck I do not see that this would be just marginally bad in? I keep checking the set list to look for Vampire as a relevant creature type. Or a “2/3 matters” deck. Still nothing.
I’m going to ignore the “ultimate” text and see Vorpal Sword for what it is: a nicely statted Equipment that isn’t unreasonable to throw on a token and make it a real pain for your opponent. Otherwise, this isn’t a terrible backup plan for unused Treasures that you may accumulate.
An odd finisher for aggressive black decks, it’s certainly a way to replenish your hand after an opponent stabilizes. I imagine your typical play pattern is Warlock Class on Turn 1, curve out with creatures before going to Level 2, and then hoping for a Beta Strike where you get in just enough damage to hope Level 3 ends it. I’m not sold.
Sure, there are many flyers in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, but a 4/4 will often rule the skies. A single hit makes the Regent an 8/8, with ward guaranteeing they need to two-for-one themselves to answer it. It doesn’t take the Tinder profile art to get me swiping right.
Thanks to Game of Thrones, I understand what’s happening here, and it’s pretty great. Wight, however, feels like it’s outclassed pretty quickly and is a poor topdeck on every level. It’s a serviceable two-drop with occasional upside, something you’re happy to include for curve considerations.
I’m all for forcing opponents to make tough decisions. There are times when Yuan-Ti simply must be blocked to prevent venturing, and others when you want them hanging back on defense. Repeatable venturing, again, must be worth it.
Your creatures will die. This is their way. Venturing at the end of your turn is a profitable enterprise, especially with a 3/5 body that should be sticking around. Upgrade this slightly in Golgari or Rakdos decks that are dying more frequently, but I’m curious to see how this does in a Orzhov venture-dedicated deck that wants to be more controlling.
Top Black Commons
- Grim Bounty
- Precipitous Drop
- Yuan-Ti Fang-Blade
- Hoard Robber
Removal is rarely overrated in Limited and black is chock-full of it this time around, so I love it as a jumping-off point in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Draft. Whether you’re clearing the way for your aggressive decks or holding the fort while venturing for massive card advantage, it’s a powerful color that can play commons in multiple different archetypes at an advantage. A very strong start to the set thus far.
Coming up next, we’ll be looking at red and trying to figure out what it actually does outside of attack, as this is a fairly weak collection of cards when it comes to doing much else.