Rivals of Ixalan: 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.


The best thing about black was probably the removal in Ixalan, but there were also quite a few playable pirates in the color. Vampires made up the rest of the playable cards, but many of the cards were too heavy to cast and were horribly underpowered. This put a lot of pressure on white to pick up the slack, but that didn’t always end up working. I can safely say before this article that pirates will continue to be in a good condition from Ixalan’s previous offerings alone, but Vampires will need quite a few cards to gain ground on the other tribes. White did a good job, but black has to step up its game. If you’re interested in reading what I said about Ixalan black cards, check out this link to my previous article.



I’m not going to keep you hanging. I’m going to start off with vampires from the get go. Ixalan gave us lots of 4+ mana creatures to play, but Rivals gives us a little bit more to work with lower on the curve. Dusk Legion Zealot is nothing special, but it draws you a card so it will probably find its way into quite a few deck lists as that 22nd or 23rd card, and it becomes even better when you’re playing with anthem effects since it’s earlier on the curve.. Vampire Revenant also is rather vanilla, but having 3 power attacking in the air  can be rather strong if your opponent doesn’t get rid of it. There are also some vampires like Voracious Vampire that can give other vampires bonuses, and Revenant would be a good target for it. Voracious Vampire is another solid choice for a vampire deck due to its pseudo-evasion and ETB ability. Not amazing by itself, but great in a dedicated vampire deck with various combat tricks and buffs.

I really like Oathsworn Vampire’s design to tell the truth. Not only is a flavor win (suck blood and come back to life!), but also something we rarely see outside of zombies. I’d like to see WotC explore different tribal abilities like this in the future. Goblins have suicide bombs, Zombies come back from the graveyard, werewolves transform, etc, but what about some of the lesser known abilities of these creatures? What kind of ability would match the canon abilities these tribes already have? That’s what I would like to see. BW vampire decks should have at least a few vampire tokens or other vampires with lifelink, so it shouldn’t be a problem to recur this guy again and again.

Sadistic Skymarcher isn’t a Silvergil Adept, but that alternate cost reminds me of it. You don’t get to draw a card from him, but you get an aggressively costed flyer with lifelink. Another card that isn’t amazing on it’s own, but when joined with other tribal elements becomes much stronger. Most of these cards will be the backbone of vampire decks, and their lower casting cost will help push tribe more towards relevancy. 

Dusk Legion Zealot – Rating: 2.5 Stars

Vampire Revenant – Rating: 2.5 Stars

Voracious Vampire – Rating: 2.5 Stars

Oathsworn Vampire – Rating: 2.5 Stars

Sadistic Skymarcher – Rating: 3 Stars



Pirates don’t get as much in black this time around, but with all the other choices you have from Ixalan and also the new cards in blue and red, it’s not like the tribe NEEDS more powerful cards. Forerunner of the Coalition is downright amazing in this new limited format. Just like the vampire one in white, the Forerunner tutors for a pirate card, then on top of that sucks away your opponents life whenever you play a pirate. When you’re playing 8-10 pirates in a deck, that can add up rather quickly. I would love this in UB pirates the most because of the pirate flyers available that would be a double threat. I’m sure this card will be a removal magnet just as the Forerunner of the Legion will be, and it should also be drafted rather highly as well. Great if you’re splashing for a card like Admiral Beckett Brass or need to get it from your deck quickly to finish the game. Also something that I’d love to play blink/bounce effects with.

Dinosaur Hunter is a nice anti-dino card, but otherwise just a bear. If you need a 2 drop pirate, you can’t really go wrong with Dino deathtouch guy. Fathom Fleet Boarder should rarely be a drawback for you unless you’re playing it on turn 3, but even then you’re most likely playing a pirate deck so the odds of having to pay 2 life when he enters the battlefield will be low. Just like with the vampires above, most of these pirates won’t be strong by themselves, but together they can become rather fearsome. 

Foreunner of the Coalition – Rating: 3.5 Stars

Dinosaur Hunter – Rating: 2.5 Stars

Fathom Fleet Boarder – Rating: 2.5 Stars


Black’s removal package continues to be the best in the format, even if they put many restrictions on them. Ixalan already had a lot of decent black removal, and Rivals does a nice job of filling in the holes at various converted mana costs. Reaver Ambush should be very good against any non-dinosaur tribe, Golden Demise as well. Both will take quite a few 2 and 3 drops when cast, and Golden Demise has the benefit of being a one sided debuff if you can Ascend before casting it.

Impale is this set’s kill all, which is slightly better than contract killing but not as good as Walk the Plank. Too bad it couldn’t be instant speed. Moment of Craving is both a kill spell and combat trick, and is a very good card to have in BW vampires. Not only does your guy come out alive most of the time, but you also get that life gain so you can activate another card’s ability. I like it.

Reaver Ambush – RATING: 3 Stars

Golden Demise – RATING: 3 Stars

Impale – RATING: 3 Stars

Moment of Craving – RATING: 2.5 Stars


Ravenous Chupacabra

I expect Ravenous Chupacabra to be taken highly in draft since it’s both a creature and kill spell in the vein of Nekrataal. Being able to get it back from a graveyard in GB with the new land or blinking it with blue could turn it into a fearsome weapon that you can use over and over until you swing the game’s tempo into your favor.

RATING: 3.5 Stars


Mausoleum Harpy

As far as non-tribal cards go, I guess Mausoleum Harpy is decent. You get a 3/3 flyer that gets bigger and bigger as more creatures of yours die as long as you Ascended. We already talked about black having a glut of kill spells, as well as treasure making cards, so you should have no problem adding counters onto the Harpy the following turn before it attacks. Not quite a first pick, but I’d take this earlier than later in draft. Could easily turn into a dangerous finisher in the right pool. I could see it being good at the top of a curve in a BW vampire or Grixis pirate deck along with all of those 2 and 3 drops cards that will just be sitting around once your opponent stabilizes. Combos well with Ruhtless Knave as well!

RATING: 3.5 Stars


Other Cards that Will See Play


  • Canal Monitor – Decent vanilla beater.
  • Dusk Charger – Another rather plain vanilla creature that becomes a decent beater if you have Ascend. Mostly a filler though.
  • Gruesome Fate – I like it in aggressive decks that are looking to flood the board and deal as much damage as they can quickly. If you have any type of token makers you can build up your board for one huge drain.
  • Pitiless Plunderer – Well it makes extra treasure tokens that bring you closer to the City’s Blessing, but outside of a dedicated pirate deck it’s probably not worth running. Even in pirates, I’d probably consider it as a filler card.


Coming Up Next


So my final thoughts on black are that Vampires have closed the gap in power level to the other tribes, but still aren’t the best when you have optimal builds of each one. Removal should be good though. Pirates seem to be drawing almost even with Merfolk, if only because they have superior removal that can pick off things in green and blue. We haven’t really talked about dinosaurs yet however, and the terrible reptiles could change how we look at everything.

Next will be red, which I will try to get out before the start of the pre-release here in Japan. We’ll get a better look at dinosaurs after red, and I expect to have a pretty good view of how pirates match up against the other tribes as well. If you have any comments or ideas about today’s topic, feel free to comment below! Check back soon for the next article!