Theros: Playing to Your Weaknesses – Black

(NOTE: “Playing to your Weaknesses” is a series of articles I have been doing on my own blog since Avacyn Restored that cover all of the uncommons and commons in a new expansion and which ones I would choose to use as one of the 23 cards in a 40 card limited deck. For those of you uninitiated to limited, it simply means sealed and booster draft, where you open packs and then proceed to make a deck out of them. I’ve purposely left out the rare cards because it is much more likely that you’ll see multiples of uncommon and commons in your packs/pools.)

Today I’ll be covering the black cards in Theros that you can use in sealed. Black usually has some good rares and good removal, but in Theros it feels like something is missing. The spells seem stronger, but the creatures and other support at the common and uncommon rarity seem to be lacking behind the other colors.

Tormented Hero

Tormented Hero

Tormented Hero is a solid card. He’s an aggressive black creature that will hit your opponent for early damage, and he also has a Heroic ability that could come in handy later. As I’ve been doing with the other Herioc cards, I tend to see this as a 2/1 for 1 black that lets you drain about 3 life from your opponent each game on average (if you want to). What makes him even better is that you can activate his ability even though he comes into the battlefield tapped. Later on in the game he won’t make that big of an impact, but I still think he’s worth playing in your black sealed deck. Keep in mind that you’re still going to need bombs and finishers to win the game, and that creatures in the other colors are going to be huge. While Tormented Hero plays the role of an aggressive utility creature, he’s not something you want to draft early.

Sip of Hemlock

Sip of Hemlock

Just like I said about flyers in blue, you’ll pay just about any cost in limited to get your desired effect. Sip of Hemlock is all upside. Kill any creature plus hit your opponent for 2 life. The drawback is that it’s 6 mana, but that’s right around the time your opponent will be playing their finishers or making their creatures monstrous. A high pick in draft, and you’d be crazy not to have this in the top 15 slots of your sealed deck. This format seems to be rather light on spot removal, but heavy on massive creatures battling it out. Take whatever you can get.

Returned Phalanx

Returned Phalanx

A 3/3 blocker for 2 mana, or a 3/3 attacker for 2 mana if you’re playing blue. While I don’t think that UB is going to be the optimal deck choice, the colors do play really well with each other. Black will keep you in the game by removal troublesome creatures, and blue will draw you cards and mess up your opponent’s tempo. If blue and black are your colors, this guy is an auto keep, but otherwise toss him to the sideboard. He’s a good speed bump for the larger creatures, and not much else.

Returned Centaur

Returned Centaur

This card is better than I initially though. His 4 toughness assures you that he’ll be able to block almost anything in the early game, and his ability is pretty nice. If you can combo him with Rescue from the Underworld, you can severely diminish your opponent’s late game by milling their library. Taking away 1/10 to 1/5 of an opponent’s library with just one card, especially against slower decks with multiple bombs, is pretty useful. He’d be in my draft deck as one my later picks, and if I was running blue and black (with Voyage’s End), I’d put him in my sealed deck too. Toss in a Thassa’s Bounty and it gets even more potent. With all the Scry going on, I think the Returned Centaur will prove its usefulness.

Rescue from the Underworld

Rescue from the Underworld

Speak of the Devil. If you want a creature back from the graveyard, or want to reactivate an enter the battlefield ability, Rescue will do that. It’s also an instant card which means you want to do it at the end of your opponent’s turn when they are tapped out, but that’s not the only way to use it. The combat tricks with it are endless. You could cast it to bring back a huge blocker for your next turn, you could cast it to activate an ability again . . .think of it as giving black Flash. I like it, but 5 mana is a little steep. I’ll have to have some good targets in order to consider play it.

Read the Bones

Read the Bones

Sooooo, Sign in Blood for one more mana? But I have to admit the scry is useful and makes it slightly better. If you don’t need those 2 cards, toss them back to the bottom and draw 2 more. Didn’t find the card you need? Draw 2 new ones. Two life is a small price to pay for card advantage in limited. This card becomes even stronger in UB decks, so definitely play this in sealed/draft.

Pharika's Cure

Pharika’s Cure

I like to think of this type of cards as a black Shock. Deal 2 damage, gain 2 life. There are a decent amount of targets with 2 toughness, but due to the size of creatures in this format, this isn’t a card you want to hold on until late in the game. Use it in those first few turns to slow down an opponent or save it as a final attack when you have to team up to destroy a monster. Not great for removal, but it has a few applications. It would probably hold around the 20th slot in my sealed deck, and if I didn’t have any other decent removal I’d probably play it in draft as well.

Ordeal of Erebos

Ordeal of Erebos

I usually don’t like cards that say “discard”, because usually the format is too fast and it doesn’t hit anything of value. However, in Theros limited, I think your opponent will be holding back 5, 6, or 7 casting cost cards quite often. If you can reach 3 counters before then, this could do some damage. I wouldn’t take it high in draft. I think it’s more of a support card after you’ve collected your removal and creatures. The same for sealed. If you have a solid contingent of creatures, put it in your deck. Just don’t have it in there over a possible finisher or removal. 

Mogis's Marauder

Mogis’s Marauder

Good creatures in black are pretty rare this time around. This card works best in an aggressive strategy I think, as well as in colors that people don’t choose as often. I think black won’t be drafted as much, as well as blue, so those colors would work really well together. Give everybody intimidate and swing in. I also like that he gives haste to these creatures a swell, which means if you just put 10 tokens into play and have a devotion of 10, you can attack with all of them. This card will work best in a 2 color deck of course. On average you can rely on your devotion to black to be about 5. Not bad for 3 mana. I’d take him pretty early in draft, and I’d definitely play him in my sealed deck too. Even if intimidate isn’t useful, the haste is. I could see this guy being a 4 of in standard in BR aggro along with Rakdos Cackler and other aggressive black creatures.

Lash of the Whip

Lash of the Whip

Again, decent removal but not great. Most non-monstrous creatures will be taken out by -4 toughness, but against decks playing a lot of bombs it’s not that useful. If I didn’t have any other better removal, I’d like this (I did play Augur Spree in RTR sealed as removal btw). Consider it an option, but don’t take it high in draft or keep it in your sealed if there is a better card to take it’s place after seeing what your opponent has in game one.

Keepsake Gorgon

Keepsake Gorgon

NICE! A 2/5 wall of death, that becomes a 7 mana removal spell later on. The Gorgons are probably one of my favorite creature types in Theros. They are walking masses of death. If you touch one, you die. If it looks at you, you die. As a creature it’s not bad, but it will be playing largely a defensive role in your deck. I’d treat this more as another 7 mana removal spell, even though you’d have to activate it the turn after it comes into play. If I was playing a UB tempo deck focusing on win conditions like flyers and milling somebody’s library, I’d play this without a second thought. Outside of UB, I think it still has its uses and I’d put it in both my sealed and draft decks.

Insatiable Harpy

Insatiable Harpy

Black is always light on flyers at the uncommon and common rarities, but you should take them where you can get them. A 2/2 flyer for 4 mana with lifelink isn’t bad at all. Nothing special, but the evasion is great in a black deck (especially if you aren’t playing white or blue with other flyers). It’s draw back is getting outclassed by white and blue flyers easily. If you can throw an enchantment on her, her value to your deck suddenly goes up though. Good card in both sealed and draft, but not a high pick. Top 7 maybe.

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

There have been spells like this before that siphon away a player’s life total to add to your own, but the Merchant is better because he’s a creature. He allows you to put pressure on your opponent while also giving you a blocker so you don’t just lose it again the following turn. At worse, you’re paying 5 mana for a 2/4 that does 2 damage to your opponent and gains you 2 life. However, I think that average number goes up to around 5 in sealed, and maybe even higher if you can draft an all black Devotion deck. The Gray Merchant is a great target for Rescue from the Underworld as well. I’d take him rather high in draft as an alternate win condition late in the game, and he’d be one of my top 10 picks in sealed as well. 

Disciple of Phenax

Disciple of Phenax

As I said with the Ordeal, I usually don’t think cards that make a player discard are that good, but putting them on creatures is much better for sealed. Not having to waste a spot on Mind Rot (M14) is a plus, and when you know your opponent is sitting on a 7/7 hydra or 5/5 flyer in their hand, this card can be pretty useful. It also gets rid of any removal they might have had in their hand or a counterspell. If you want to be aggressive, this isn’t the card for you, but if you’re looking to build a control deck with what you have in your card pool, this is pretty strong. 

Cavern Lampad

Cavern Lampad

This is probably one of the best enchantment creatures at uncommon and common. As I said before, I believe that black will be underplayed, allowing you to sneak through a lot of damage with a card like this. If you’re playing another color, and your opponent ISN’T playing that color, this card becomes a lot more useful. Slap it on a 8/8 in a color they aren’t using and go to town on your opponent’s life total. The evasion assures that it will probably go high in draft, and in sealed you should definitely play it. Black is a little light in the enchantment creature department, so take what you can get. 

Blood-Toll Harpy

Blood-Toll Harpy

Like I said, black totally lacks any flyers, so take what you can get. I’d play it in both sealed and draft if I was in black, but if I had another card that was better I’d consider dropping it. Also a good combo with the Gray Merchant and Rescue from the Underworld. A combo like that would really hit your opponent’s life total, doing at least 4 damage and gaining you 3 life.

Other Cards that might see Play

  • Baleful Eidolon – it’s a deterrent against giant monsters, but not aggressive at all. The bestow is too high for my tastes as well. 
  • Cutthroat Maneuver – Good for Heroic decks. 
  • Erebos’s Emissary – Good card if you have a way to draw a lot, but in sealed you’ll probably just be holding onto to extra lands to activate it. Decent 3/3 though. I’d say it’s playable. 

Wrap Up

Like I said at the start of this article, I’m just not that impressed with black in Theros. The creatures are underpowered (but have some nice enter the battlefield abilities), and the spells need support from another color to work well. Black will be a good second color in a deck, but not the main. It has some amazing rares such as Thoughtseize and Whip of Erebos, but I’m really disappointed with the commons that are the backbone of a sealed deck. If you disagree otherwise, or see some strategies that I missed, please let me know down below. Otherwise, look for the next color, Red, to be out sometime on Friday morning. Thanks for reading!

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