Welcome to the black segment of our Gladiator Jumpstart: Historic Horizons set review! Let’s get to it!
Madness is back, baby! Not only does Madness return in Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, it returns on this very versatile three power two drop with late game relevance. Additionally, both creature types have some degree of relevance. The ability to refuel your hand in the late game is powerful in black decks, especially ones that attempt to either empty their hand quickly or trade resources and out-grind the opponent. Notably, Asylum Visitor triggers if either you or your opponent are empty handed, meaning that emptying your opponent’s hand can be particularly favorable, and will help you win any topdeck war. Asylum Visitor is also able to synergize with other popular black cards like Rotting Regisaur, Rankle, Master of Pranks, and Liliana, Waker of the Dead. Additionally, the lower a deck’s curve is, the easier it is to deploy your whole hand quickly and have Asylum Visitor give you value earlier on. I would slot Asylum Visitor into Mono Black Aggro, Rakdos Aggro, and Golgari Aggro. Asylum Visitor could also fit into Midrange decks, dropping more expensive threats to lower the curve, which incidentally improves Asylum Visitor.
At first glance, this may seem similarly unimpressive as Bone Splinters and Spark Harvest. However, Bone Shards has one key difference: you are able to discard a card instead of sacrificing a creature to pay its additional cost. This is relevant because it makes casting your removal early easier, and this is abusable with cards like Skyclave Shade, Madness cards like Asylum Visitor, or in a Reanimator deck that wants to put the large creatures it draws into its graveyard. Expect to see Bone Shards in Aristocrats, Reanimator, and graveyard centric Midrange decks (which, incidentally, are improved greatly by Jumpstart: Historic Horizons).
Carrier Thrall is another creature that creates a relevant creature token when it dies, making it another inclusion into Aristocrats decks. The mana ramp from the Eldrazi Scion is important because Aristocrats is a mana hungry deck, and the ability to self-sacrifice is often valuable. I would expect to see Carrier Thrall in Aristocrats decks replacing Discordant Piper.
It’s a Bird! It’s a plane! It’s a Shapeshifter! Changeling Outcast is a staple creature with Changeling that can slot into any aggressive black Tribal deck, such as Zombies or Vampires. Changeling Outcast’s can’t be blocked text scales in power with lords and anthems, but the base case as an unblockable one drop is already playable. I would play Changeling Outcast in base black Tribal decks and also lower-curve Dimir Tempo decks, perhaps ones featuring a Ninjas package.
This Skeleton, with it’s recursive ability and enter the battlefield trigger, may have you wondering “does this go into Aristocrats?” No, it doesn’t, and for one key reason: Aristocrats’ greatest strength is stonewalling creature decks by blocking and sacrificing, a trick which Clattering Augur can’t perform due to its inability to block. I wouldn’t expect to see Clattering Augur in Aristocrats, though it might replace Dusk Legion Zealot in Orzhov Blink decks.
Cordial Vampire has a clear home: in Vampire decks! The ability to grow your creatures permanently even if the Vampire dies is very potent. The double black can occasionally be difficult, though Vampires is typically a heavy black deck with a smaller white splash. Cordial Vampire may be a strong tool for Vampire tribal decks, but don’t expect to see it anywhere else.
Draft bomb Dark Salvation is a powerful card for Zombies, but can it see a home anywhere else? For three mana, without any Zombies on board- a typical boardstate for non-tribal decks— it can kill an X/1 and and make a 2/2. This is a pretty desirable effect against Aggro, though a bit mana intensive. At five mana, Dark Salvation can kill an X/2 and make two bodies, which can help against slower Midrange decks. Does the versatility and scalability of Dark Salvation make it playable in Midrange or Control decks in Gladiator? Probably not, but Zombies will gladly take this effect as the Zombies it plays will upgrade the removal part of this spell.
Davriel, Soul Broker
We arrive at our first digital-only card in this review, and it is a crazy one. Davriel’s offers and conditions are complex, so first let us review them:
- Draw three cards.
- Conjure a Manor Guardian card into your hand.
- Return two random creature cards from your graveyard to your hand. They perpetually gain +1/+1.
- Return a random creature card with the highest mana value from among cards in your graveyard to the battlefield.
- You get an emblem with “Creatures you control get +2/+0.”
- You get an emblem with “Spells you cast cost oB less to cast.”
- You get an emblem with “Davriel planeswalkers you control have “+2: Draw a card.”
- You get an emblem with “Whenever you draw a card, you gain two life.”
- You lose six life.
- Exile two cards from your hand. If fewer than two cards were exiled this way, each opponent draws cards equal to the difference.
- Sacrifice two permanents.
- Each creature you don’t control perpetually gains +1/+1.
- You get an emblem with “Creatures you control get -1/-0.”
- You get an emblem with “Spells you cast cost oB more to cast.”
- You get an emblem with “Whenever you draw a card, exile the top two cards of your library.”
- You get an emblem with “At the beginning of your upkeep, you lose 1 life for each creature you control.”
While Davriel’s +1 ability works well against Aggro decks and Midrange decks, the randomness of his -2 makes it harder to use him effectively in proactive decks.
Though Davriel’s offers are obviously powerful, Davriel’s conditions are costly: however, the ability to choose one of three makes it much easier to take advantage of. In a controlling shell, gaining an emblem giving your creatures -1/-0 or losing life equal to the number of creatures you control every turn isn’t too bad, while in other shells, forcing yourself to exile your library as you draw cards or even losing six life can be minimal downsides.
The -3 can permanently kill most Aggro threats, including recursive ones like Scrapheap Scrounger and has combo applications with Vesperlark. Having a zero power Vesperlark allows you to return Vesperlark with its own ability an infinite number of times because perpetually makes the power reduction apply across zone changes.
Consider playing Davriel in a Mono Black Control deck, or perhaps a more discard-focused Midrange deck that can really utilize the +1.
Another digital-only card, Davriel’s Withering is a unique removal spell with combo applications. With Vesperlark, Davriel’s Withering enables you to repeatedly return Vesperlark to the battlefield, have it die immediately, and return itself again. This creates infinite enter the battlefield triggers, leave the battlefield triggers, and death triggers. Davriel’s Withering also compares favorably to Disfigure, and is probably worth playing over Disfigure due to the ability to permanently deal with recursive threats and also shrink threats Disfigure can’t kill. I would expect Davriel’s Withering to see play in Aristocrats decks that play Vesperlark and two color control decks such as Dimir Control.
Another “Zombies matter” card, Diregraf Colossus is powerful as a token producer in the early game and as a huge beater in the late game, making it a desirable effect for Zombie decks in Gladiator. While the two toughness can often be underwhelming in the early game, leaving it open to red removal, Zombies traditionally have a lot of built-in graveyard synergies and recursion that can help your Diregraf Colossus continue shambling onwards. Don’t expect Diregraf Colossus to see play outside of Zombie Tribal, though.
Despite being the final installment of the “-ling” cycle of Shapeshifters in Magic, it is the first of the cycle on Arena. Menace and deathtouch can both be powerful on offense, while deathtouch can make Endling an annoying blocker. Gaining Undying makes Endling a sticky threat for longer games, and shifting power and toughness can help it dodge conditional removal. On the other hand, Endling often struggles to find a home in various formats due to its below-rate body. Endling might make it into Mono Black Midrange decks in Gladiator, but not anywhere else.
An EDH Aristocrats staple shambles its way into Arena with Jumpstart: Historic Horizons! Fleshbag Marauder’s ability to lock down a board against creature decks with recursive tools like Phyrexian Reclamation makes it valuable. However, Fleshbag Marauder has recently been outpaced by both Plaguecrafter and Demon’s Disciple, and Aristocrats decks don’t want to overload on this effect, because it has so many other rotating pieces. In Zombies, Fleshbag Marauder puts you behind on board without the death triggers synergies that Aristocrats has, and the body doesn’t justify that. Therefore, I don’t expect Fleshbag Marauder to see play in Gladiator.
Heir of Falkenrath
Heir of Falkenrath wears many hats: discard outlet, three power evasive two drop, and tribal piece. The ability to discard a card for free can be valuable in graveyard-centric decks, while the cost of it can be mitigated by the recursive abilities of black creatures like Skyclave Shade. In Black Aggro decks, Vampire Tribal decks, and graveyard-centric Aggro-Midrange decks, Heir of Falkenrath seems right at home.
Another sacrifice outlet for Aristocrats, Legion Vanguard can grow into a large beater or smooth out draws. Though typically Aristocrats decks prefer free sacrifice outlets, due to the limited Gladiator card pool, they have to play some sacrifice outlets that cost mana. This card could make it into Aristocrats, replacing Lampad of Death’s Vigil. However, since more free sacrifice outlets are being added in this set, time will tell if Legion Vanguard makes the cut. Legion Vanguard may also see play in Vampire decks due to being a playable two drop Vampire.
Another digital-only card, Manor Guardian can not only be Conjured with Davriel, but also played in your deck. While the body is large, Manor Guardian also gives your opponent value when it dies. Your opponent doesn’t have as much ability to choose when Manor Guardian dies, because a 4/3 beater applies significant pressure. Interestingly, if Manor Guardian dies during combat on your turn, the card it seeks will likely be cheap enough to deploy immediately, meaning you will get access to the card first. On the other hand, against controlling decks, Manor Guardian will often give your opponent a removal spell, while you get a mediocre to decent threat, putting you down on the exchange. Manor Guardian also suffers from Gladiator having better three drop threats, such as Rotting Regisaur. Ultimately, I think Manor Guardian won’t see play in Gladiator, due to the death trigger being too great a downside.
The first black Overload card to be added into the format, Mind Rake has the ability to efficiently strip your opponent’s hand. In lower-curve decks such as Mono Black Aggro, you can deploy your hand and then cast Mind Rake, meaning that you will be discarding either very few or no cards to it. Additionally, with cards like Dread Wanderer and Gutterbones, the downside will often be negligible. Mind Rake might see play in Gladiator in Mono Black Aggro or in a more discard focused build of Mono Black Midrange.
A popular Pox finisher in other formats, Nether Spirit has a less defined home in Gladiator. Because Nether Spirit requires itself to be the only creature in the graveyard, it doesn’t synergize well with most graveyard-matters effects. Due to a lack of density of Stax or Pox effects (effects that force each player to sacrifice permanents), and Nether Spirit’s very below-rate body, Nether Spirit probably won’t see play in Gladiator.
Nested Shambler is the first one-drop black creature that creates a token upon death, making it a valuable effect for Gladiator. When combined with effects that increase power like Judith, the Scourge Diva, Nested Shambler can make multiple tokens as well. Notably, the token does enter tapped, meaning that sacrificing it in response to removal will leave you short one blocker, a downside other versions of these effects that are in white and red don’t have. Regardless, expect to see Nested Shambler in Aristocrats decks in Gladiator.
This two drop Zombie Goblin may look unassuming, but it has strong combo applications. In Goblins, this can go infinite with a sacrifice outlet such as the brand new Sling-Gang Lieutenant and effects that will have it return to the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter which cancels out the -1/-1 counter, like Metallic Mimic or, in the Jund variants, Grumgully, the Generous. Without a free in-tribe sacrifice outlet, Zombies don’t have access to the same combo, but Zombie decks will likely be happy just to have more playable two drops. In Aristocrats, Putrid Goblin provides utility as a creature that can die twice, and will likely see play there.
Ransack the Lab
This color-shifted Strategic Planning finally comes to Arena. Though Strategic Planning is a little below par for Gladiator Control decks because of its sorcery speed, being castable off of black mana is huge. Looking at the top three to hit your land drops or to simply cantrip is powerful, not to mention the ability to put the rest of the cards into your graveyard. Ransack the Lab will probably see play in BX Control decks without blue, Underworld Breach Storm decks, Mardu and Jund Pyromancer decks, as well as Graveyard Midrange decks.
Sling-Gang Lieutenant, or, if you prefer, Sling-Gang Leftenant, is a Modern Goblins staple. While in Gladiator, there is no Conspicuous Snoop combo line, Sling-Gang still has a lot of relevant text. Sling-Gang Lieutenant can help push through damage in the late-game and allow Goblins to shift from an aggressive tilt to a grindy midrange deck, similar to Goblins deck in Modern or Canadian Highlander. Due to the black Goblins cards in Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, I expect Goblins to start splashing black in Gladiator.
Another digital only card, this two drop has the ability to become a powerful threat in the midgame. Notably, Subversive Acolyte doesn’t say “until end of turn”, so the Acolyte will permanently stay a threat. The threat of activation often means that the 2/2 will go unblocked in early turns. Against red decks, the four toughness and lifelink are very potent to help win races. Against non-red control decks, the 5/5 Phyrexian Negator (no, not Phyrexian Obliterator) body puts on an incredibly efficient clock. The double black means that this card likely won’t see play in two color Aggro decks, though Subversive Acolyte will see play in Mono Black Aggro.
A two drop Zombie, you say? With relevant text? The graveyard-synergistic Zombie tribe often has creatures dying and coming back, which synergize with Undead Augur. The double black cost can sometimes be restrictive in Zombies as although the deck is heavily base black it still is two colors. Additionally, Zombies often have a lack of good two drops, so expect Undead Augur to see play in Gladiator Zombies.
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician
Everyone’s favorite doctor is back, here to make some HIPPA violations. Yawgmoth is one of the most powerful sacrifice outlets ever, and this will be no different in Gladiator. Additionally, Yawgmoth synergizes with Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons to shoot down your opponent’s entire board, at the cost of some life. With an effect like Blood Artist, however, you can shoot down your opponent’s whole board and regain the life you spent. As arguably the most powerful sacrifice outlet in the format, Yawgmoth will definitely slot into Aristocrats in Gladiator.
This young Liliana copycat comes into our format doing what black mages love most: bringing things back from the dead. Young Necromancer is able to reanimate creatures at the going rate in Gladiator, which is a costly five mana. Young Necromancer, however, can come with a body and is easier to recur, enabling chaining it with another reanimation spell for an additional body. While not as powerful as other reanimation effects such as Liliana, Death’s Majesty or Unburial Rites, expect to see Young Necromancer slot into Gladiator Reanimator decks.
Interested in Reading More?
Gladiator enthusiast, constant brewer, and self-proclaimed premier UG tempo and blitz pilot of the format.