M19 – 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. For the most part, I will focus mainly on cards from 2.5 to 5 stars in my article. 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. Example: A creature that fills the curve, a spell that destroys an artifact.
- 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. Example: A creature with a good ETB effect or decent activated ability. A spell that has a great effect but costs too much or has a big drawback.
- 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. Example: A creature that will win the game on its own if left unchecked and wins head to head battles often. A spell that has multiple effects or creates a huge swing in tempo.
- 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. Example: A creature that is almost impossible to due to special abilities or recursion. A spell that wipes the board or gives you massive card advantage.
Black might not seem as strong as it has been in recent memory, but don’t be fooled. The synergies between the vampire and zombie tribes are powerfully deceptive, and as always black should have some good removal. If my previous guess that the limited format will be bomb dependent, then removal will be key to gaining the upper hand in M19 sealed or draft. Let’s take a look at what black has to offer us.
Removal is always a good indicator of how strong black will be. If there are a lot of good removal options, then you can count on a lot of people using the color. Our first card, Lich’s Caress, is a slightly better Sip of Hemlock, or should I say those 6 mana kill spells of old. Even at 5 or 6 mana, unconditional kill spells are always a good choice. Being 5 mana instead of 6 helps out a lot in this format of 4 and 5 mana bombs, and the 3 life you gain helps in a variety of strategies/synergies.
Once such synergy is with Nightmare’s Thirst. This card is great alongside Vampires with some life gain ability, as well as many of the white cards. For example, you could kill a creature with Lich’s Caress, gain 3 life, then kill another creature with a -4/-4 effect, all for a total of 6 mana. Not bad at all. If I was playing BW, I would draft Thirst rather highly, but I think both that and Caress should be close to first picks.
Murder’s double black in the casting cost isn’t enough to keep people away from probably the best non-rare removal in the set. Instant speed, 3 mana, kills anything. Probably first pickable in a lot of situations. The last removal card I wanted to talk about, Strangling Spores is serviceable and a little bit less reliant on synergies like Nightmare’s Thirst, but that 4 mana for a -3/-3 effect means it won’t be your first choice when it comes to removal. Not a high pick, but if you can’t get your hands on any other good removal then definitely grab it.
Lich’s Caress – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Nightmare’s Thirst – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Murder – RATING: 4 Stars
Strangling Spores – RATING: 3 Stars
Since we’re on the topic of life gain synergies, I think it’s a good idea to quickly touch on some of the vampires in the format. Most, if not all, have some sort of life based effect/ability, so they’d go really well with cards like Nightmare’s Thirst. Vampire Sovereign is a great flyer at 3/4 for 5 mana, and her ETB (enter the battlefield) ability does a great impression of Siege Rhino from KTK. Tempo change and evasion on a stick!
Skymarch Bloodletter only drains for 1 life, but it’s still a flyer which gives it more points in my book. Since tribal synergies aren’t really present in M19, I don’t think it will absolutely need to be in your “life gain” deck, but I wouldn’t mind having it in a BW life deck. It fits on the curve well and it has evasion. There are a lot worse choices.
Now if you’re paying one of these BW life gain decks, then you’ll definitely want to play Epicure of Blood. He effectively doubles damage from all of these ETB effects. Vampire Sovereign suddenly drains 6, Bloodletter 2, and even a card like Child of the Night will deal 4 damage if unblocked and Epicure is in play. I really like this card in a devoted life gain deck, but outside of it I don’t think it’s worth playing unless you need a 4/4 beater for 5 mana.
Vampire Sovereign – RATING: 3.5 Stars
Skymarch Bloodletter – RATING: 3 Stars
Epicure of Blood – RATING: 3 Stars
To keep with the tribal theme I have going here, I’ll continue with zombies. Death Baron makes its triumphant return to standard in M19, and there are a decent number of zombies that you can play along with it. With Death Baron in play, which gives your zombies +1/+1 and death touch, cards like Two-Headed Zombie become incredibly strong. A 5/3 with menace and death touch is either going to suck up your opponent’s removal or they are going to lose 2 creatures blocking it, no matter how strong they are. It’s biggest draw back is getting chumped by 2 1/1 creatures if you don’t have any combat tricks.
Doomed Dissenter makes another appearance from Amonkhet block, giving you a 2/2 zombie when it dies (and also providing good sacrifice fodder for cards like Blood Divination), and to let you do it all again, Gravedigger brings anything you want back to your hand. Good old zombie card advantage. None of these would be high picks in my opinion, but they are decent roleplayers. You definitely want to play them if you get a Death Baron in your pool, but otherwise I think they’d be good choices to help you finish out your 23 card deck.
Two-Headed Zombie – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Doomed Dissenter – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Gravedigger – RATING: 2.5 Stars
But wait, there’s more! Death Baron not only pumps up zombies, but also gives Skeletons +1/+1 and deathtouch as well. That means Skeleton Archer becomes unconditional removal with the Baron in play, and Reassembling Skeleton becomes a never ending death touch wall against your opponent’s creatures. I’ve always like Reassembling Skeleton, especially when there are sacrifices that need to be made (literally). Cards like Blood Divination become great, and Demon of Catastrophes also becomes much easier to cast. I would take Reassembling Skeleton early in draft sheerly on versatility alone. It’s a great card to have in any black deck. The archer is decent as well, and can ping a player or snipe a 1/1 creature, but without Death Baron its merely mediocre.
Skeleton Archer – RATING: 2.5 Stars
Reassembling Skeleton – RATING: 3 Stars
Two other creatures I really like from black in this limited format are Plague Mare and Ravenous Harpy. Plague Mare is crazy good against token strategies, but also good post combat after blocks for that last bit of damage to kill off your opponent’s creatures. I expect white to be rather popular in M19 limited as well, so the top ability isn’t that useless either. Great post combat tempo card, I’d draft it relatively highly and pick it early if I could.
As I stated earlier about the versatility of Reassembling Skeleton, the pile of bones and Ravenous Harpy are best friends. For 3 mana you can put a +1/+1 counter on the Harpy and bring back your skeleton from the graveyard. This can be pretty big late game if you have 6+ land to spare and it can turn into your finisher rather easily. I’d value it pretty highly in draft, but not first pick it. Look for those synergies and grab it quick if it looks like you can be in black. Also a good card to play with Gravedigger to give you more value.
Plague Mare – RATING: 3 Stars
Ravenous Harpy – RATING: 3 Stars
My last pick in black to talk about is Blood Divination. I’ve always thought effects like Altar’s Reap were decent in limited, but Blood Divination gives you 3 cards instead of 2. This is huge card advantage for black, and I could see quite a few people giving this card at least one of their slots in their black decks. The value of 3 cards can’t be understated.
RATING: 3.5 Stars
Other Cards that Might See Play
- Bogstomper – good vanilla beater for the top end of your curve.
- Diregraf Ghoul – if you have the zombie synergy its good, especially with cards like Death Baron and Liliana.
- Child of the Night – Great in “life gain matters” decks, solid roleplayer in most black/X decks.
- Hired Blade – the flash is nice if you’re playing with a lot of combat tricks, otherwise I think it will just end up being filler for your curve.
- Infectious Horror – The loss of life can add up quickly, especially if you can pump it up and make it difficult to kill. A 2/2 for 4 mana is kinda harsh though.
Coming Up Next
This article took entirely too long to get out. I played MTG all day on Sunday and some on Monday, and on Saturday I was out with friends most of the day, so I didn’t really have much time to work on it outside of work. I’m hoping that red and green get done a little bit faster, but I think it’s going to be tough to get everything done before GP Chiba this weekend. Thanks for reading and if you have any limited suggestions for M19 or want to talk about some of the cards, feel free to leave your thoughts down below. See you again in a few days.