Welcome back to our Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set review! Lets check out some of the interesting black cards that have come out, and try to find a home for them.
Acererak the Archlich
This card isn’t here for the stats relative to mana value. No, he’s here because he bounces himself repeatedly, with no limit to how often you can cast him per turn, only stopping once you’ve finished a dungeon. That kind of effect is what Paradox Engine decks in the format are interested in; a card to repeatedly cast at lower cost than other cards such as Ancestral statue. While you need colored mana for him, that deck runs its fair share of colored mana rocks, and is already running black for Demonic Tutor. Otherwise, the card isn’t worth playing due to how much you have to play subpar cards to get him to stick consistently, and Control decks have better win conditions.
Asmodeus the Archfiend
While Asmodeus offers very potent draw power, he comes at some major costs that make the card hard to fit into most decks. He’s a 6/6 for six mana with no keywords, making him poor as a finisher since he gets blocked very easily. He also punishes you just by being on the field, turning every draw you make into a Phyrexian Arena effect you have to pay mana for. His draw seven effect is flashy, and you can remove him after putting it on the stack to just draw seven cards, but at that point you’re relying on spending your own removal to get five cards of card advantage (seven, minus one for the removal, and minus an additional card for killing Asmodeus). That combined with the restrictive mana cost and taking seven or eight damage to use the effect as intended means that Asmodeus is only going to see play in Mono-Black Control, and even then might not see widespread play beyond being a pet card.
Check for Traps
Hand attack in Gladiator is historically uneven, with cards such as Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek being far more effective than other examples. However, Agonizing Remorse sees some amount of play as a disruption card in varying black decks, whether Aggro, Combo, or Control, as a way to limit your opponents options. Check for Traps is a very similar card, trading out the potential upside of graveyard exile for the potential upside of removing the life loss, inflicting it on your opponent. Decks may want to run both, if they have need of the density.
Deathpriest of Myrkul
Zombie Tribal has not had any meta relevance in the format before. We have cards from Amonkhet Remastered and War of the Spark that would go into that deck, but given we’re a singleton format it hasn’t really managed to put in any notable results. It’s definitely something to experiment with; this set has plenty of Zombies with solid playability, though lords are inherently balanced towards Aggro or Midrange lists. Zombies do need to identify a unique niche for playing them, though; a common problem with tribal lists is simply playing ‘all the effects that synergize’, and then removal, and at that point you’re Aggro with a gimmick. More graveyard synergies would help with giving the deck an identity. Give it a shot, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the list is still lacking.
Don’t pay attention to the dungeon text. This card is here not because of what it does, but what it is; a one mana 2/1 in black. Mono-Black and Black/X aggressive decks are always on the lookout for that statline, and the card is going to see play just for that. It being a Zombie is also another step towards the potential for a Zombie tribal list in the format.
Ebondeath is the most relevant of all the Dragons spoiled in this set. He dies to Shock, but there are several factors to keep in mind. One, he has flash; in Aggro and Midrange decks, holding up your threats until the end of your opponent’s next turn minimizes the window in which opponents can respond to him, blanking sorcery removal and making counterspelling worse. On top of that, five power with evasion is enough to win in a few hits. The last detail is how easy Ebondeath’s recursion ability triggers; if you have four mana, and any other creature dies this turn (This includes both your creatures and your opponents creatures), you can recast him. Flash gives more opportunities to utilize this. For example, when you’re holding up removal for your opponent’s turn, but then the opponent wraths the board.
You can just spend the mana to bring him back and resume aggression. While entering tapped is a notable downside against aggressive decks or when behind, the offensive power this creature presents is too much to pass up on.
Expect this card to see play in Black Aggro decks, and see some testing in midrange variants as a flexible threat.
This card is designed for Aggro decks. One mana 1/1 with menace is not above-rate, but it comes with two relevant abilities. Treasure making lets you accelerate, and the second ability is a mana sink for buffing power. It turns this card from a bad late game draw into a better one, since you can play it and immediately buff your board at instant speed to push in some additional damage. As yet another addition to playable low mana value Knights, there is potential for History of Benalia and other tribal payoffs to make a comeback.
I’d banish any comparison to Ravenous Chupacabra, before we begin discussing this card. Gelatinous Cube is instead better compared to Hostage Taker, as both temporarily answer the threat. Cube has better stats and is in only one color, but Hostage Taker gives you control of the threat you steal, and can also nab artifacts. In addition, Cube costs one more (black) mana to activate its effect, and dumps the card into the graveyard, which can cause problems for threats that are recursive. Taker has considerably higher upside, but its weaker stats mean you aren’t playing it as a threat by itself, which you can for Cube. Cube is worth testing; you won’t be dissolving as often as you’d like, but the ability to clear a threat and hold up mana to either dissolve or use removal/a counterspell is pretty powerful.
The card could see play in Mono-Black Aggro, but I think that a Midrange or Control list could also see use for Cube, and if that list also has blue would play it alongside Hostage Taker, instead of one or the other.
Grim Wanderer is a powerful threat. While it doesn’t have evasion, it’s a 5/3 with flash. The downside is a pretty major one, but it triggers off any creature dying, and at no point in the game will a 5/3 for two mana be bad, even if you have to wait a bit. I’d compare it to Bone Picker, a card that looks better than it is, because while it has evasion and deathtouch the lack of flash means your timing for casting it is so much worse. Grim Wanderer can come down off of trading creatures, your opponent removing creatures, you casting removal, etc. The worst case scenario for the opponent is this card coming down after using a wrath, especially since holding up two mana is pretty common. It being a Goblin is potentially relevant, but at the moment the Goblins deck runs off of mono-red, with maybe some green, so I don’t anticipate this card showing up in that list for a while yet.
Lolth, Spider Queen
Lolth is a strong top end threat. Compared to Liliana, Death’s Majesty, her lack of reanimation makes her less potent in longer games. However, Lolth has a few benefits of her own; she generates card advantage with her 0, and her -3 makes two tokens with aggressive statlines. Minusing her means you suddenly have four evasive power, which could be enough of a reason to try her out in Mono-Black Aggro as a top end. I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t quite make the cut, but she’s tempting enough to try. The other obvious candidate for her home is Aristocrats; her gaining loyalty off of creatures dying also extends to tokens, meaning that it’s easy to increase her loyalty rapidly. The Emblem isn’t the key piece here, so much as just drawing cards and making more tokens to throw into the grinder that is Aristocrats, and the card draw might earn her a place in Mono-Black Control.
Power Word Kill
It’s a two mana removal that kills basically everything Green has to offer as long as it doesn’t have ward or hexproof. That’s the positive. Every other color (Besides blue, but blue tends towards less creature-heavy strategies in our format) has powerful cards in each of these tribes that Power Word Kill does not hit, and that it is vitally relevant to remove.
Relevant threats it fails to kill are Spawn of Mayhem, Hellrider, Mayhem Devil, Baneslayer Angel, Glorybringer, and Terror of the Peaks. These are dangerous cards that can single handedly win the game, and Power Word Kill doesn’t have the flexibility of Eliminate in also killing the many three mana planeswalkers in the format. For Aggro decks, this is only a concern if your opponent is stabilizing, but for Control decks it’s much more life threatening.
Now, with all the negatives out of the way, try this card out! It’s a potential budget option if you don’t want to spend a rare for a Doom Blade (Which, while it misses an entire color of creatures, has so much more game and also still hits the artifact threats that that color frequently plays). And always keep it in the back of your mind, in case the meta shifts. More discussion on this card and other black removal will be coming soon in an article.
Sepulcher Ghoul provides a free sacrifice outlet, turn-limited as it is. Our format has so few of those that Sepulcher Ghoul could make the cut off that alone, on top of having a solid body for that sacrifice. Notably, the card lets you sacrifice once for free on your opponent’s turn as well, which extends its playability for Aristocrats strategies. Outside of that deck archetype, though, it likely won’t have a home; it’s too inconsistent for too little upside for Aggro decks.
Skullport Merchant is a card that you play in slower Aristocrats strategies, and likely doesn’t see play outside of it. Having to pay two mana to sacrifice anything is painful, but drawing a card is a pretty powerful effect, and the card has a solid body that gums up the board. In addition, it enters with a treasure and has a splashy casting cost, only requiring one black mana, so I could see it being played in slower two or three color Aristocrats strategies like Abzan Aristocrats.
This card has only one potential home: Mono-Black Aggro. The flashy eight mana “win the game” ability is only going to occur when you’re already winning the game. So let us leave it aside for now, and compare the weapon to contemporary Equipment: Bonesplitter. Bonesplitter is an innocuous Equipment that does good work in the format for Aggro decks, and so the questions must be asked: Is deathtouch worth one more mana? I think it’s worth testing, for sure, since deathtouch makes your matchup against creature based decks much stronger, but is stone dead against any kind of control list. Perhaps a meta call, or a card you play alongside Bonesplitter for more consistency.
West Gate Regent
Evasion, a protection ability, and the ability to get really really big. West Gate Regent is a flashy bomb of a card, but one that might have trouble finding a home. Any deck that would play it has better threats to be playing most of the time, but it could see rotating play as an option; if it does see a home, it’s probably Mono-Black Control as a finisher or Mono-Black Midrange (As an option instead of one of the other five’s, to close out the game faster.)
This card is insane in Aggro, one of the best two drop threats the format has ever seen, and might see some play in Midrange. 3/2 for one and a black is a very strong statline for mono color and two color Aggro decks. Entering tapped is a downside, but this hasn’t stopped Gutterbones or Dread Wanderer, and won’t stop Wight. But the real meat here is that ability; this card cannot be profitably traded with. Your opponent needs to have removal on hand, or a threat that can survive fighting this. If they don’t, you get even more bodies to replace this one. They can’t really chump block this card with 1/1’s; doing so just gives you more bodies, and an important detail to keep in mind is that if multiple creatures trade with Wight, you get 2/2 Zombies equal to all the creatures that died. This is before any interactions that effect has with some of the solid fight spells green has access to. Keep an eye out for this one.
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Writer for the Gladiator Blog and perpetual Green-Black Aggro player. He has a tendency to get distracted by random digressions about food.