Core Set 2021 Constructed Set Review – Black

Constructed_Black

It’s time for the third part of my set review, as we move on to Black. Keep in mind this review highlights only cards that are likely to see play in Constructed.

Grading Scale

When reviewing cards I will be using a grading scale. This is basically the same letter grading system you might find at school.

  • A: This grade is rare, because it will only be used on cards that look like they will be heavily played, possibly even dominant in a format, or ban worthy. These cards often go beyond Standard, and see play in older formats as well.
    Examples: Teferi, Time Raveler, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath.
  • B: Format staple that’slikely to see plenty of play in multiple different archetypes, both in the sideboard and maindeck.
    Examples: Rotting Regisaur , Light Up the Stage.
  • C: This could be a card that is only played in single, but popular archetype. It could also be a heavily used sideboard card.
    Examples: Cindervines, Absorb.
  • D: Cards that see some play from time to time, but aren’t a major part of the top tier archetypes.
    Examples: Ajani’s Pridemate, Genesis Ultimatum.
  • E: Cards that don’t see play, but people might think are good when they are first printed. These cards have some hype but end up being duds.
    Examples: Luminous Broodmoth, Happily Ever After

Archfiend’s Vessel

Archfiend's Vessel

Grade: C+

This card is really cool, and could be powerful in sacrifice decks that have ways to bring it back out of the graveyard. You need to have a sacrifice outlet to get it in the graveyard, and then follow it up with a way to get it out of the graveyard like Lurrus or Call of the Death-Dweller. These cards are already popular, so it’s possible Archfiend’s Vessel is good enough to simply slot into certain versions of Rakdos Sacrifice. The potential to create a huge Demon token for a one mana investment is pretty awesome. You can only make the Demon one time though, since Archfiend Vessel gets exiled, which is pretty unfortunate. If bounce effects are popular the value of this card does go down a bit, just because your Demon could get bounced.

Demonic Embrace

Demonic Embrace

Grade: B-

We have a unique card in many ways, as it’s hard to find another black aura to compare it to. Normally the vulnerability to playing an aura is the potential of getting two-for-one’d, by the opponent killing the creature the aura is attached to, and the enchantment falling off. In this case however, there is the ability to cast it out of the graveyard, which is very important. We also give whatever creature this goes onto flying, so it will have some evasion. The less cheap removal in a format the better auras are going to be. This may end up being a sideboard card in aggressive black decks to out race green creatures, but also could be a maindeck option in Mono Black Aggro.

Duress

Duress

Grade: B

Duress is a sideboard staple in most aggressive black decks, and that shouldn’t change. Sometimes it is even worth maindecking some copies, but it’s also a card that should look very familiar. We want Duress against combo and control decks, where the majority of their spells aren’t creatures.

Eliminate

Eliminate

Grade: C

I think Eliminate would be significantly better if it exiled, rather than destroying the creature or planeswalker. It falls in a category of cards similar to Glass Casket. Most likely to be a sideboard card out of black control decks, as another removal option against aggro, but I don’t think it will be as strong as many people’s expectations for it. Not getting rid of expensive creatures caps its upside.

Grasp of Darkness

Grasp of Darkness

Grade: C+

We actually have another two mana removal spell in black to compare Eliminate to. Grasp of Darkness saw play during it’s time in Standard, and has the potential to do so again. The double black casting cost makes you want to be playing black as your primary color, in order to be able to consistently cast Grasp of Darkness. Grasp of Darkness can scale up to get rid of something like a Questing Beast, but if we see a decent number of three mana planeswalkers, or you aren’t base black, the Eliminate could be the preferred removal spell. It will be interesting to see between these two black removal spells, which one sees more play.

Grim Tutor

Grim Tutor

Grade: E

Diabolic Tutor has never become a popularly played card, and I don’t actually know if Grim Tutor is better than Diabolic Tutor, as the three life lost when casting this is pretty brutal. I’m treating Grim Tutor as a bulk rare.

Hooded Blightfang

Hooded Blightfang

Grade: D

There has never been a deck with only deathtouch creatures in it. On the flipside there has never been a payoff for putting a ton of creatures with deathtouch in your deck. I don’t think the payoff is worth going out of your way to build around Hooded Blightfang, and based on its stats it doesn’t seem like an aggressive creature. This is likely best used as a sideboard card against small creature decks that will have trouble killing it, or used with something like Chevill, Bane of Monsters.

Kaervek, the Spiteful

Kaervek, the Spiteful

Grade: C+

This is the card you want to be playing as a way to beat Rakdos Sacrifice decks, that have multiple one toughness creatures. Kaervek can’t be hit with Claim the Firstborn, and creatures like Gutterbones, Dreahorde Butcher, and of course Cauldron Familiar will immediately die upon hitting the battlefield. There is no opportunity to sacrifice them if Kaervek is in play, even the Woe Strider Goat token dies to Kaervek. This card is matchup specific, but against decks with lots of one toughness creatures and not many ways to get rid of it, Kaervek will really shine. I expect to see it primarily as a sideboard card.

Kitesail Freebooter

Kitesail Freebooter

Grade: C+

Kitsesail Freebooter has seen plenty of play in Modern Humans, and saw some, but not a ton of usage during its time in Standard. This goes to show how important the surrounding pieces are in order to make certain cards really shine. A Yorion deck won’t want to play Kitesail Freebooter because it’s not as strong a blink target as Yarok’s Fenlurker or Burglar Rat.

Liliana, Waker of the Dead

Liliana, Waker of the Dead

Grade: C

The issue with Liliana, Waker of Dead is that a lot of the time players will have already used a lot of the cards in their hand by the 4th turn of the game. Then it becomes a matter of if losing three life is going to be relevant. This means if you are playing a control deck with Liliana, Waker of the Dead and the opponent is on an aggro deck, it may not match up well. As much as I want to be excited by one of the signature planeswalkers of the set, the easiest comparison to me is Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage. The ability to be a removal option or force the opponent to discard a card are both nice effects, which makes Liliana, Waker of the Dead tough evaluate. I think it will be at its best in midrange mirror matches, where both players often have cards in hand later in games.

Liliana’s Devotee

Liliana's Devotee

Grade: D-

This is a card that plays well alongside sacrifice outlets, as you can potentially make Zombies each turn. This is a little bit on the slow side though, and most of the sacrifice based creatures aren’t Zombies themselves. Furthermore Liliana’s Devotee occupies a three mana creature slot that is already chalk full of other options for the same mana cost.

Liliana’s Standard Bearer

Liliana's Standard Bearer

Grade: C-

A black creature that can provide some card advantage is always a welcome sight. It is a comparable card to Midnight Reaper. Timing when your creatures die is the tricky part, like it may not be convenient to sacrifice all your creatures in order to draw cards from Liliana’s Standard Bearer. If you don’t have to do a ton of work for it drawing two or more cards from Liliana’s Standard Bearer makes it well worth playing. Notably this does count token creatures dying as well, which is significant in the case of sacrificing a Goat off Woe Strider for instance.

Massacre Wurm

Massacre Wurm

Grade: C-

Massacre Wurm is in fact pretty similar to Massacre Girl, in terms of what it’s trying to do. The weird part about the card is that the lifeloss isn’t often going to be too relevant unless you are getting rid of a ton of opposing threats. The reason is you are unlikely to be playing this in an aggressive deck that is trying to win a damage race. I actually don’t think it is better situated than Massacre Girl in Standard, but will shine in Historic against the Field of the Dead decks. This can actually take the opponent all the way from 20 life to zero if they go too wide with Field of the Dead. It will have to compete with Virulent Plague as a sideboard card for that matchup.

Necromentia

Necromentia

Grade: B

This is a pretty reasonable Cranial Extraction effect, because oftentimes the opponent won’t have the named card in hand, and if they do it’s still going to be worth it to take it, even if they end up getting a Zombie, or potentially even multiple zombies. This is a great answer to Field of the Dead because you can in fact name nonbasic lands with it. Sometime the Field of the Dead player will already have one in play by the time you cast it, but beating one Field of the Dead is much easier than four.

The effect is only going to be good against combo decks that rely on one or two specific cards to win the game. This makes it a sideboard card. We could actually see Necromentia played in older formats as well. In Pioneer, Mono Black Aggro often plays Lost Legacy sideboard for instance, and there is a good argument to be made that giving the opponent a Zombie token is better than letting them draw a card.

Peer into the Abyss

Peer into the Abyss

Grade: D

What a crazy card this one is! It’s really hard to make sense of it, or what decks might actually want to play it, but at the same time drawing 20 cards or so is just so many cards to draw form a single card! The investment cost is big though, as not only does it cost seven mana, but you also are losing a decent chunk of life, and still need to discard down to hand size at the end of your turn. I would be more excited if it was as instant so you could cast it at the end of the opponents turn, and untap with a huge grip of cards. As is, it’s a very powerful effect, but that doesn’t mean there is a good way to use it. Peer into the Abyss will likely not be very good against decks that pressure your life total in the early game.

Pestilent Haze

Pestilent Haze

Grade: D+

This is a flexible sweeper because it can do two different things. That does not mean it’s better than Cry of the Carnarium, but could make more sense than a card like Cry of the Carnarium in the maindeck. It’s going to be good against small creature decks, but at the same time could end up being an answer to a planeswalker. Still, if the opponent has multiple planeswalkers in play, the card you really want is The Elderspell. It provides two different effects, but neither of them stands out in a meaningful way.

Sanctum of the Stone Fangs

Sanctum of Stone Fangs

Grade: D-

This is how a Sanctum deck can win the game, you don’t actually need to attack the opponent. If more shrines get printed in later sets then there could be some real value here. I’m skeptical the Sanctum deck makes it onto the competitive scene in its current form.

Silversmote Ghoul

Silversmote Ghoul

Grade: E

If, and this is a big if, but if White-Black lifegain starts gaining traction, then Silversmote Ghoul is worth looking at. It still isn’t clear to me that in that deck this is the three mana play you want to be making. The ability to bring it back from the graveyard is nice, but does seem to be pretty mana intensive to get a lot of card advantage from it.

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

Grade: D+

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose is a more exciting three drop to me in White-Black lifegain, which is the only place I see it really fitting. As of right now though, because you need to have a deck full of good lifegain effects, and creatures that are large enough that giving the lifelink is going to be relevant, I still can’t say anything too positive about this card with any real confidence.

Witch’s Cauldron

Witch's Cauldron

Grade: D

Witch’s Cauldron is the sequel to Witch’s Oven. However, it isn’t as good. The fact is that you need to put mana into it in order to use it, and it doesn’t work alongside Cauldron Familiar because of course no food is being generated. Drawing cards from the sacrificed creature is nice, but tapping to do it also means you are using two mana that could be going towards advancing your board position.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield

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jzsbrewhouse
13 days ago

I agree with most of your assesaments but I am hesitant to writeoff the life gain cards as easily as you have. A golgari, radkos or jund shell for a sacrfice type deck is pretty viable in standard right now. They have gotten some decent adds in this set, note that vito reads “player loses THAT much life.” Did you see Life Goes On this card is easily triggered inside of a cat oven shell for 8 life at one green mana, pair that with Vito and suddenly you have done 8 dmg to the dome for a super efficient… Read more »