Amonkhet: 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.)

As for my rating system, after a lot of feedback I’ve decided to abandon my 3 tier scoring system of Low-Medium-High and I will instead be moving onto a 5 star ranking system. The system is as follows:

  • 1 star = a card that is barely playable, even as filler for your deck
  • 2 stars = this card could be a strong sideboard card, but is highly conditional and not always effective
  • 3 stars = a 3 star card is a solid role-player. These cards could be less than amazing removal effects, or a creature that is a glass cannon (high power, low defense). They could be good except for a few flaws.
  • 4 stars = Here’s where we get into the powerhouses. 4 Stars could be good finishers, or cards that can end a game if left unchecked. They also have multiple effects, and are all around good value for you. The only thing holding them back is restrictive costs or some small drawback.
  • 5 stars = you won’t see a lot of these at common and uncommon. These will usually be your rares and mythics because they are incredibly bonkers. Planeswalkers, massive creatures, etc., these are the cards you could build a deck around.

 

Black was really tough for me to evaluate. Or perhaps it’s better to say that I had a hard time deciding which cards I should feature in this article and which ones I should talk about in passing. At first glance, there seem to be A LOT of playable cards in black. Sure there are some that need synergy or certain situations to be good, but overall it feels like the color has been pushed the most in Amonkhet. The creatures, the spells, even the enchantments all seem to be pushing the envelope in limited. I feel like Wizards printed cards that they knew wouldn’t be constructed playable, but could be ridiculous in limited. Take at look at my choices below and tell me if you agree or not.

 

Baleful Ammit

As soon as the full spoiler was released, quite a few people commented on how bonkers this card is. Sure you have to weaken one of your 2 drops (I’m sure you’re fine making your 1/3 a 0/2 or your 2/3 a 1/2), but getting a 4/3 lifelinker early in the game is ridiculous. Add this card to a deck with Vizier of Remedies and there is absolutely no drawback to Baleful Ammit. I’m pretty sure this is first pickable in draft unless your rare is a bomb. 

RATING: 4 Stars

 

Soulstinger

If you’re low on removal and play your Baleful Ammit late game, put the -1/-1 counter on Soul Stinger then sacrifice him to put 3 -1/-1 counters on one of your opponent’s creatures. Even if you don’t have any other creatures, you still get a 2/3 creature that can severely weaken an opponent’s most powerful creature. It can effectively block a 4/4 creature and kill it as a 2/3. It’s not deathtouch, but it’s pretty close to it. I don’t think your opponent will be double blocking to kill this guy as often as you want. High draft pick.

RATING: 3.5 Stars

 

Ruthless Sniper

Ruthless Sniper has awesome synergy with Soulstinger. Heck, you can use him to put 5 counters on Soulstinger to kill it then put those -1/-1 counters on your opponents biggest creature when it dies. There is also the Channeler Initiate in green that would be good buddies with him because it would give you a way to consistently produce extra mana when you need it. Of course the most obvious use is “sniping” away your opponent’s creatures, but in order to do so you’ll need to have a decent number of cycling cards or ways to discard. I think you’ll be fine though. Expect to get more than a handful of uses from the Sniper each game. Strong limited card both in sealed and draft.

RATING: 3.5 Stars

 

 

Black also more than a few ways to put -1/-1 counters on creatures, and any of these 3 would be worth choosing for your limited deck. My favorite is Nest of Scarabs, because even if you’re putting the -1/-1 counters on on your own creatures to help activate abilities you still get 1/1 tokens. That card in conjunction with Ruthless Sniper could get out of control really quick. Splendid Agony can help to accelerate your Scarab making and take out some of your opponent’s creatures at the same time. The effect of the Cartouche of Ambition might not be as good as its blue counterpart, but giving a creature a slight rebuff and lifelink while also hitting another creature with a -1/-1 counter is worth the risk. I would probably play Splendid Agony and Nest of Scarabs before the Cartouche, but if you have the synergy with -1/-1 counters then I think you should play it.

Nest of Scarabs – RATING: 3.5 Stars

Splendid Agony – RATING: 3 Stars

Cartouche of Ambition – RATING: 2.5 Stars

 

Horror of the Broken Lands

It’s hard to decide which cards to cycle and which not to, but black gives you tons of choices. I don’t think I’d want to cycle Horror of the Broken Lands too much because of his pump ability. The Horror can hit really hard if you cycle once, and multiple cycles or discards makes it a very dangerous threat. Great top end card for a UB cycling deck. Should be best in draft when you can get as many cycling effects as you want.

RATING: 3.5 Stars

 

Wasteland Scorpion

Is a 1/1 deathtouch scorpion as deadly as a 2/2 deathtouch scorpion? I’d say so. We’ve seen a lot of 1/1 deathtouch creatures over the past few sets in either black or green, and Wasteland Scorpion is a nice upgrade. While it’s great to hold back as a deterrent against big attackers, having the option to cycle the scorpion later in the game when you’re searching for ways to finish the game is a nice effect. The cost performance of this card is just right. It doesn’t feel too expensive for its abilities, nor does it feel under-powered.

RATING: 3.5 Stars

 

Stir the Sands seems like a very powerful card. You either get 3 tokens for 6 mana, or you get to draw a card and get a 2/2 token for 4 mana. Both costs seem worth paying, and having that option to cycle it for another effect like Ruthless Sniper’s or Drake Haven makes it highly playable in my opinion. I’d definitely take it without a second thought if it was passed to me in draft. In some situations, I might even draft it first.

Pitiless Vizier is somewhat situational as you need a lot of cycling and discard effects to take advantage of his higher power on offense, but using him on defense and keeping a cycle card hand to trade favorably is a good trade off. His 4 power makes him a great blocker that can trade with a lot of creatures.

Gravedigger’s ETB ability is always amazing in limited. What makes it even better is that now you don’t have to worry about cycling away one of your bigger creatures earlier on for card advantage because you can just get it back when you play Gravedigger. It’s creature type, zombie, also works very well with cards like Liliana’s Mastery and Lord of the Accursed. As a limited all star, I’d definitely grab one of these as early as I could.

Stir the Sands – RATING: 4 Stars

Gravedigger – RATING: 3.5 Stars

Pitiless Vizier – RATING: 2.5 Stars

 

Doomed Dissenter

Doomed Traveler from Innistrad was an efficient creature getting you 2 creatures from work card for 1 mana, and Doomed Dissenter is almost as good. If only it had been a 2/1! Still getting a 2/2 zombie when he dies is pretty cool, and at 2 mana I really can’t complain. I wouldn’t mind putting one of those -1/-1 counters from Baleful Ammit on Doomed Dissenter and then getting a 2/2 in return. Producing a zombie token is nice if you have the Lord of the Accursed or Liliana’s Mastery. I think DD should make it into your limited deck 70% of the time.

RATING: 3 Stars

 

Grim Strider

Grim Strider seems pretty strong late game when you only have 1 card in your hand, but even early on you’re looking at a 3/3 or 4/4 for 4 mana which is decent. Pair it with some cards with cycle or the ability to discards for value, and you’re looking at a card with a built in combat trick. Your opponent will always be guessing if you can cycle away your hand or play an instant to two for one them. If your limited deck has a lot of those type of effects, Grim Strider is pretty good.

RATING: 3 Stars

 

Lord of the Accursed

Between black and white, there are tons of different ways to make zombies in this format. And don’t forget that any time you Embalm a creature, you’re making a zombie token. I think these sorta interactions will go over the heads of some players at first, but the amount of synergy Lord of the Accursed has with other Amonkhet cards is pretty high. Giving a Honored Hydra or Angel of Sanctions zombie tokens Menace can create a devastating effect as well. Could you imagine having to decide how to block a 4/5 flyer or 7/7 trampling zombie? No imagine that there are a handful more 3/3 zombies that are threatening you as well. If I’m playing white or any other color that has a decent number of embalm effects, I wouldn’t mind splashing the Lord. Not sure if it’s first pickable in draft, but you should grab it as soon as you see it.

RATING: 3.5 Stars

 

Bone Picker

There aren’t any Fatal Push or Lightning Bolts to help you play Bone Picker on turn 2, but I think it’s possible to play it on turn 3 if you have a card that puts -1/-1 counters on a turn 1 creature. Realistically you’re probably looking at a 4 mana turn 4 flyer, but late game you can play it right after you play a removal spell for 1 mana. It’s a dangerous card both when attacking and defending, and I expect it to be drafted very highly.

RATING: 4 Stars

 

Blighted Bat

If you don’t draw it early and play it on curve, Blighted Bat still lets you get in damage quickly with haste. Sure it dies to everything in the air and doesn’t kill much, but if you’re looking for evasion and have some combat tricks Blighted Bat can get some hits in. Also has zombie as a creature type which means it works very well with Lord of the Accursed.

RATING: 3 Stars

 

Final Reward

It’s rare that black gets an exile effect, and the last time I can remember it getting one was in Theros block (Silence the Believers). I stated in white that exile effects will be the most powerful type of removal in this format, and even at 5 mana I think Final Reward is almost first pickable. It’s an instant, and it stops any nasty embalm shenanigans or reanimating effects. If your opponent is playing with a God or Gideon, you better hope you have this, especially if you aren’t playing white and don’t have access to cards like Cast Out. Good card to have in your pile early on in a draft. The only reason I’m not rating it higher

RATING: 3.5 Stars

 

Trial of Ambition

Drawing cards is nice with blue, and getting an anthem effect is good for white, but playing an early sacrifice effect has my vote for best Trial at the moment. The other Trials are quite mana intensive, and while you will run into decks using a lot of creature with embalm, I think Trial of Ambition gives you the best bang for your buck. I think I’d like it best in a BG or BU build playing 1-2 of the Cartouches, but even by itself it’s not a bad removal effect for what it is (a 2 mana enchantment).

RATING: 3 Stars

 

Other Cards that Will See Play

  • Cursed Minotaur – somewhat vanilla, but works well in a deck with an anthem effect like Lord of the Accursed, especially with Menace.
  • Festering Mummy – on defense it’s basically a 2/2, but otherwise it’s just a 1/1 zombie. Probably good to slot into the 23rd spot of your limited deck if you’re focusing on zombie tribal or have a -1/-1 theme.
  • Miasmic Mummy – nice discard effect if you have cards to combo with it like Horror of the Broken Lands. Also good for zombie tribal.
  • Scarab Feast – good sideboard card for opponents playing a lot of Embalm effects.
  • Supernatural Stamina – interesting combat trick. Works great if your creature has a ETB effect.
  • Trespasser’s Curse – between embalm effects and other token makers, it just might be playable in a more controlling build.
  • Wander in Death – get 2 creatures back or draw a card. If you’re looking for more cycling effects or want to be able to cycle your creatures away and get them back for later use, it’s worth having in your deck. I just think most of the time you’ll have better options than this (like Gravedigger).

 

Coming Up Next

 

So am I wrong? Does black not seem incredibly powerful with the overall synergy of cycling and discard effects? The Zombie tribal effects are just icing on the cake. None of these cards at uncommon or common are too powerful, but you can’t help but feel that they create a powerful effect when the they synergize. The -1/-1 counter theme will be a strong strategy in Amonkhet limited, and black will be the defacto color for decks building around Cycling effects. WB Zombies, UB cycling/discard, GB -1/-1 counters . . .  there are lots of combinations where black can shine.

I’d like to hear what you think about black, so if you have any thoughts on the color, please feel free to leave them down below. I’ll have some time to write my red article tomorrow but might not be able to finish it until Friday. My goal is to get both that and Green done by Friday night, and I think at my current pace it’s not entirely impossible. Be sure to check back before the pre-release!

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