Journey into Nyx: 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.)

(Please click here for a link to my Born of the Gods and Theros picks in black)

 
How the mighty have fallen. Black used to be bad ass. We used to have more 2 mana instant removal than you could shake a stick at. Now we’re stuck with double black 3 mana sorceries and 6 mana removal. There is a larger variety of removal in black right now, but black just doesn’t feel as oppressive as it has in the past. Black has largely been a support color in Theros block and with Journey into Nyx its support role grows bigger. The new set gives us some more removal spells to play with, but that’s about all we can look forward to. I think it improves BR minotaurs and BW heroic a bit, but not enough to help it go toe to toe with RW or UW heroic.
Thoughtrender Lamia

Thoughtrender Lamia

Black has some great creatures at rare, but their common and uncommon offerings are rather slim. Aside from Marshmist Titan you don’t really have any good finishers in black, which is why the Lamia is a welcome addition to the limited format. A 5/3 body isn’t bad at all, and forcing your opponent to discard cards whenever you play an enchantment isn’t a bad ability. However, since the creature costs 6 mana to play, you probably won’t be taking their best cards. In a BG deck you might be able to cheat it out on turn 4 or 5, but otherwise you might want to save it until you have about 8 mana on the battlefield so you can get some benefit out of it. It’s a 10+ pick in draft, but I think if you’re playing BR or BW this is a decent ‘beater’. Its ability just might come through for you in a clutch situation sometimes.

Squelching Leeches

Squelching Leeches

Leeches could get out of hand really quickly in a black deck. The 4 mana casting cost is right in the sweet spot as well. I would put this in a Black/x midrange deck for sure, but I think it would also have a spot in a BW heroic deck in the top end spot. It might only be a 2/2 or 3/3 those first few turns, but the longer it stays in play the better it becomes. He could rapidly become your finisher by turn 6 or 7. He’s a decent 6th or 7th pick in draft, maybe higher if your plan is to play heavily in black. The color isn’t drafted as heavily as white, blue, or green, so you could get some good quality cards in the first pack you open and there is a possibility of going mostly black to improve Leeches value.  I think he’s a good card in your sealed deck too.

Spiteful Blow

Spiteful Blow

Not great removal, but it’s just as good as Sip of Hemlock I think. The whole reason to play black in your deck is for the removal, but the problem is that most of it is very difficult to cast. It’s not something you really want to play in an aggressive BW heroic deck or UB flyer deck (where I think cheap tempo cards would be better), but it’s decent in a BG or BW midrange deck where you can curve out and then use this on turn 6 to take out your opponent’s finisher. The ability to destroy a land is also good against opponents that are using a  lot of monstrous creatures. By taking away their land, you buy yourself sometime. It’s not going to be a popular card, so you’re probably safe taking it later in draft (12th pick + maybe?). As for sealed, I think it’s a good card to finish out your 23 with, but not something I would sacrifice a creature for.

Pharika's Chosen

Pharika’s Chosen

Black and Green suddenly got another nice one drop. It figures that the color combination would be home to both the green (Sedge Scorpion) and black 1 drops with deathtouch. Good removal is still an issue in Theros block limited, so I wouldn’t mind playing this as a one drop in my deck to keep my opponents at bay. It’s also a good card to have in an aggressive B/x heroic aggro deck when you have combat tricks to back it up. I’d expect this to be an 8th or 9th pick in draft and would strongly consider playing it in sealed. It helps to lower your mana curve while also giving you good offense/defense.

 

Nyx Infusion

Nyx Infusion

There were times in BNG/THS limited where I was stuck playing Weight of the Underworld because I had no better removal in my colors, but Nyx Infusion gives you the option to use it as removal on a creature or to strengthen yours (as long as it’s an enchantment creature). It’s a solid pick in a B/x heroic strategy, and also worth a spot in your black/x 23 card sealed deck if you have a decent amount of enchantment creatures to play it on. I’d definitely play this over Weight of the Underworld because it’s easier to play and has a potential upside. It’s probably a late draft pick, especially since most people don’t play black, so don’t feel bad about passing it around the table once. 

Nightmarish End

Nightmarish End

You usually don’t want to keep a lot of cards in your hand when you play limited because you want to press your advantage early and often against your opponent. Nightmarish End isn’t an amazing removal spell, but it’s alright. Lash of the Whip costs 5 mana for a -4/-4 effect and in a best case scenario you can cast this on turn 3 for for the same effect. As the game goes on longer though, it’s ability gets worse. Turn 4 could possibly be a -3/-3 effect, and so on. The decks it would shine in would be UB tempo or a slow rolling BW midrange deck with late game finishers. Blue is obviously the best because of the color’s ability to draw cards in order to strengthen this effect. Is it a high draft pick? Absolutely not, but I would probably take it around pick 9 or so if I was playing a black deck. In sealed it MIGHT be in that 23rd card slot, but it would really depend on what creatures and removal you have already, as well as your mana curve. You don’t want this in a deck with lots of 2 or 3 drops because your hand will be empty before you know it. 

Grim Guardian

Grim Guardian

I don’t know why, but I like this guy. I especially like him when playing against aggressive heroic decks that have a lot of small creatures. BW decks saw a good amount of play in BNG/THS limited thanks to high toughness creatures like the Guardian, Servant of Tymaret, and Scholar of Athreos. The decks could set up a blockade early on, then start to drain their opponent’s life slowly but surely over the next few turns while attacking with small creatures in the air. A black/white drain deck is a distinct possibility in draft, and also a possibility in sealed. Grim Guardian is a role player though, which means you don’t want to draft him early unless you see the pieces going around the draft table. He’d be decent in UB as well, especially if you can get your hand on a Phenax and that 2/6 elemental from JOU. I’d expect him to go very late in draft. 

Gnarled Scarhide

Gnarled Scarhide

If you’re looking for raw, early power in a B/x heroic deck, then look no further than Gnarled Scarhide. He is a powerful 1 drop that doesn’t come into play tapped like Tormented Hero and gives black decks some extra power later on in the game as well. He’s also great in a BR minotaur deck, which are pretty good if you piece them together in draft. With all of the new minotaurs in Journey into Nyx, I think piecing together a minotaur deck is highly possible in draft. In those instances (BR minotaurs and B/x heroic), I’d value Scarhide rather highly in draft. I’d take him as a 5th-6th pick, but if the cards weren’t there I wouldn’t mind pushing him back to the 8th-9th spot. It’s still a solid card in just about any black deck you could make, but it’s not so indispensable that I wouldn’t cut it for something else in the deck making process. 

Font of Return

Font of Return

I usually wouldn’t play a Raise Dead type card in a limited deck, but I feel that this card has a lot of value at 2 mana. You set it and forget it, and then sometime after turn 5 or 6 you can pay the mana and return 3 creatures to your hand. This is especially great if you want to be aggressive. You can wear down the other player’s defenses, then do it again a few turns later. It’s great in BG since you can get a lot of high value creatures back, but I think it could also be good in a Black/x deck with a lot of bestow. Getting a second chance to bestow everything can turn the tide in a match, especially if your opponent used up all of their removal and combat tricks early in the game. I wouldn’t mind having this in my sealed pool or drafting it, especially if you can get your hands on a lot of value creatures. You can expect it to go really late in draft though. 

Felhide Petrifier

Felhide Petrifier

Finally those Felhide Minotaurs will get some play! (said no one ever)

Haha, all joking aside, I think the Pertrifier is a great card for BR minotaur aggro. Teaming him up with a Rageblood Shaman is going to deal a lot of damage (1 damage to kill a creature, the rest in trample damage to the player). Sometimes you get 3-4 minotaurs in your pool, and this guy makes them a lot better. Maybe you wouldn’t have played that Felhide Brawler before, but with him you definitely would. Regardless of whether you have enough  minotaurs to support him, I think you want to draft him rather high. Three drops with deathtouch and a 2/3 body are playable, so i’d probably take him as my 4th or 5th pick if my plan was to play black. He’s also a good choice for sealed decks.

Feast of Dreams

Feast of Dreams

Finally we get some black instant speed removal for 2 mana! It should be grea— what? We can only target enchanted or enchantment creatures? Well . . . I guess that’s not too bad. I’ve played main board Revoke Existence and Ray of Dissolution before because I know there will be at least 3-4 targets for the card in your deck. The added bonus of this card is that it can also kill that Ordeal enchanted heroic creature on turn 2-3 before it can deal a crazy amount of damage to you. I’d definitely take this over Revoke or Ray in draft if I was playing black, and I think it’s a good card to have in your sealed arsenal as well. It’s always a good idea to draft decent creatures first, especially when removal is so limited, so I would probably take this as my 6th-7th choice if it was passed to me. 

Dreadbringer Lampads

Dreadbringer Lampads

Dreadbringer Lampads has a decent body for 5 mana, especially in black, and its constellation ability isn’t that bad either. With everybody playing white, green, and blue, a smart black player could sneak a lot of damage through with this intimidate ability. If your plan is draft black, take this early and then start building around it with powerful black creatures and various enchantments/bestow creatures. It would work really well with the B/x defender strategy as well. Set up some big blockers, then keep dropping enchantments to whittle your opponent’s life down to nothing. Again, I’d take this as a 5th+ pick in draft once I had collected a few decent creatures to support it.

Brain Maggot

Brain Maggot

Yep, let me see there . . . okay, I’ll just take this win condition there . . . okay . . . your turn! It’s Tidehollow Sculler reborn! It’s a temporary Thoughtseize, but due to the lack of reliable removal in limited, I think you can safely count that card removed from the game for that match. Even if they do destroy it somehow to get the card back, they just used their very valuable removal on a 1/1 creature. Is it a first pick in draft? No. I think you’ll want to get a feel for the pool first before choosing it, so I’d take it as a 4th or 5th pick. If it looks like black is plentiful it would be worth picking up for sure. In sealed I’d definitely play it though, no questions asked. It would fit well in any black deck you play. 

Bloodcrazed Hoplite

Bloodcrazed Hoplite

Black doesn’t have that many heroic creatures, especially those that get bigger (the others tend to cause discard and life loss). What makes this guy awesome is that he’s the bane of heroic and monstrous decks. If you’re playing against a heroic deck you can beat them in a race with Bloodcrazed Hoplite, and it’s amazing against monstrous. They can have that 7/8 Nessian Asp, but give me a turn or two and I’ll bring it back down to size.  The same could be said for any other monstrous creature. The real question is, can you activate this ability in response something like Polukrano’s monstrosity. If it goes monstrous X = 2, can you remove one of those counters so that it only deals 1 damage? If so, this guy could lead to some huge shifts in tempo. I’m guessing not because the wording says “X damage”, but in those close battles removing that counter could mean that Polukranos dies due to the “fight”. If you’re playing a red, green, or white heroic deck and find black is wide open, it might be worth picking him up around pick 7 or 8 in draft. In a regular black midrange deck, he also fits well on the mana curve so he’s a solid pick all around. 

Other Cards that Might see Play

  • Cruel Feeding – just as the other strive cards I recommended in blue and white, this could be good, but it isn’t as useful as indestructible or flying. If you’re playing black heroic, 4 mana for two activations, +1/+0 and lifelink isn’t bad, but otherwise I think it’s a sideboard card. 
  • Cast into Darkness – good for aggressive decks, stops green’s big creatures from blocking your smaller ones which is also good. This card will see some play, but I don’t think it would work well most of the time. 
  • Ritual of the Returned – Not bad if you’re exiling a Polukranos or other large creature, but its usefulness depends heavily on your card pool. 

 

Coming up Next

Black strategies may seem more skill intensive, but I think you can draft some good decks with the color because nobody else wants it. You get your pick of removal, access to the graveyard . . . don’t pass up the color just because the pros say white and green are the best. Starting with black and adding a second color later is a good strategy that can net you some powerful cards while everybody else fights and weakens each other. 

I’ll be working on red next, but I don’t think I’ll have it ready until Wednesday night. If you have any comments on black, tips, or strategies, I’d like to hear what you think. Thanks for reading and be sure to visit again in a day or two! 

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